Saturday, 27 December 2014


Firstly from all of us at Desert Detours we wish all our clients and “Blog Readers”….. past, present and future, a joyful Christmas and a great New Year, wherever you may be.
Of course particular good wishes to our December-New Year group who will be celebrating Christmas Day at the Erg Chebbie Dunes and then cross to welcome the New Year at Marrakech.

The plan was that I for once would take a much needed couple of months break over Dec/Jan and catch-up on the vehicle, office and scheduling ….as they say “best plans etc. etc.”…. hence for example this re-Christmas blog entry seeing the light late!
We always receive quite a few enquires and confirmations at this time and this year was no exception, so office work and logistics continued over the holiday period.

With the two new 40+ day Moroccan tours FOOTSTEPS OF MOORS and THE GRAND TRANS-MOROCCO now firmly scheduled [One is already FULLY BOOKED] and with all our regular [Classic, Discovery and Amazigh Tours] 2015 dates published on the web-site we are clearly heading for yet another busy year …… Not to mention our ANDALUSIA TOURS …… if you can’t wait or are already planning for 2015 you know where to find us.

Its decision time yet again regarding extra staff…… we, don’t we or is it about time we recruited a “Partner”……perhaps more of that in the next Blog issue.

Once again, have a great Christmas and New Year and wherever you may be heading safe travels...........

SADLY ………..

If you have followed any Moroccan news over the last few weeks you couldn’t have failed to be shocked at the effects of the horrendous weather in the south. A national disaster followed the worst rain in living memory with major roads washed away, bridges destroyed and whole areas cut-off…….Of course there was a tragic loss of life, over 45 souls at the time of writing and they are still counting.

It would be churlish, given the aforementioned, to say that our tour group, other than experiencing various levels of rain at tour end was unaffected …….. However, we had until then experienced excellent weather during the tour and I can honestly say that this was the only weather of consequence we had experienced during the entire year……but when it turns in Morocco it does so with a vengeance!

As our group crossed the Tizzi n Tichka Pass dark and ominous clouds were forming, leaving it behind the rain started. The rain was then so heavy that the following floods and damage closed the pass for six days.
One of the attractions of  Morocco is the almost guaranteed fine weather, even during the winter months, but it is a big country with widely different climatic regions. Don’t be put-off the winter months, just be aware of your surroundings, or ask if in doubt…..forward planning, local knowledge and knowing route diversions is an advantage ……. and I have to say one of the advantages of touring with a group. Whatever, take care in the “Off Season” months.  


Readers of this blog may recall that I wrote a piece about “Zouhri Children” some time ago [11th Oct ’13 in fact headed “If it wasn’t so tragic”] but thought it was a re-mention as I am coming across ever increasing tales. The latest being………….
Hakima Elmterfi lives in a tiny village called Sbaâ Rouadi near Fes, and recalls the dangers she says her nephew Mohammed encountered. When he was 11 years old, Elmterfi says strangers tried to kidnap the boy by forcing him into a car. She says his father intervened. “Only at that time did we find out that Mohammed had been chased by strangers because he was Zouhri,” said Ettefahi.
Zouhri is the name some Moroccans use for children whom they believe can find buried treasures. A Zouhri child has distinctive physical characteristics. According to Mostafa Aarab’s book “Magical Beliefs and Rituals in Morocco,” the belief is that a Zouhri child is a hybrid of Jinn and humans, adding that the child has a solid line across the palm of his hand and his tongue may also look as if it is divided into two parts.

Some family members of Zouhri children say they prevent the children from playing outside or going to school alone out of fear that they will be kidnapped. In the case of Mohammed, once his family realized that their son was considered a Zouhri, his grandfather decided to escort him to and from school, while his mother rarely let him play outside the house. “All this atmosphere of prudence and heavy guard kept him in fear until he got married at the age of twenty. By then, he had decided to move to Fes for work. He is a grown man now and he is able to protect himself” says his 19 year old brother, Ahmed Almterfi.
Moroccans commonly buried their valuables since there were no banks and it was unsafe to leave their money and gold lying around. They also buried their cash and gold to avoid paying taxes. Since these treasures are buried under the ground, it’s deeply rooted in the Moroccan people’s unconscious that this fortune belongs to demons. This explains why some “Rural” Moroccans believe that if they are offer the blood of a Zouhri child in sacrifice, the demons will release the buried treasure.
Of course we have to take into account the “Bogey Man” factor…..  Sometimes when a child disobeys his mother she would scare him with terrible stories of children who were kidnapped and whose families also disappeared. Are these stories true or false…who knows? But the fact is that among some Moroccans these frightening tales and the beliefs involving Zouhri children have persisted through the ages.


French newspaper Les Echo has chosen Oukaimden, Marrakech among the best skiing destinations in the world.

Oukaimden was ranked in the fourth position behind Chili Portillo, Chile in first place, followed by Gstaad, Switzerland in second place and La Thuile, Italy in third place.

The French newspaper described Oukaimden as a ski resort in fashion and a hiding confidential ski area, which exhibits a great view of the foothills of the High Atlas and the Haouz plain.


If you have already been on one of our tours this short video will no doubt bring back memories, it may even bring you back and If you haven’t already been to Morocco it may well tempt you………
We will be posting these short clips of different locations we visit over the following months……Where better to start than with TODRA GORGE……..


It’s been about 300 years since Sultan Moulay Ismaïl de Marrakech came up with a way to deal with the growing influence of the seven saints of Regraga from the Essaouira region. Seven Saints were chosen, with only one thing in common: they’re all buried in the Red City. So who, where and why them?  Not relevant now?........visitors exploring Marrakech would unlikely fail to spot the towers pictured here, no they are not part of a re-structure….. in 2005, at Bab Doukkala, these seven towers were built to honour these seven men, who are still part of the history and culture of the City of Marrakech.

Locals often call Morocco’s Marrakesh the city of Sabatou Rijal, which literally means “seven men”, but is usually translated in English as the “seven saints”. As such, a trip to Marrakech could be referred to as a visit to the city of seven saints. Their immortalized stories have lasted for hundreds of years, and have become a part of Marrakesh’s history and Morocco’s history as a whole. So who are they?
The seven men of Marrakesh are Awlya [plural of Wali]. Awlya is an Arabic word that refers to people who Allah has blessed with a special rank among the Muslims.  It’s been said that these seven saints were the seven men who shone in their times as lights of guidance because of the blessings that Allah showered upon them.

Marrakesh is home to the graves of over 200 Awlya, the late Alaouite ruler Moulay Ismail allegedly established the pilgrimage to the tombs of the seven saints in the 17th century in order to give Marrakesh extra religious significance. Since the 17th century, Moroccans from all walks of life have constantly visited the graves of the seven saints in Marrakesh to pray to Allah. They are drawn to the idea that visiting these graves could heal their diseases, help them fulfil their wishes, and allow them to achieve tranquillity of their souls.
The practice is no longer as popular as it once was, but many Moroccans still say “I am going to the city of the Seven Men”, meaning they are going to Marrakesh……..Those seven saints are…….

1 – Sidi Youssef Ben Ali……..His full name was Abou Yaacoub Ben Ali Assenhaji. He was born in Marrakesh and never left it all his life. He was nicknamed “Moul L Ghar”, or the “Cave Man”. When he was still young, he was afflicted with leprosy and would lose parts of his body, causing people to flee from him in fear of contracting the disease. His family, on the other hand, expelled him out of fear of the virus. Afterwards, he went to live in a cave in a deserted place near Marrakesh.
Locals expected him to die any moment, but Sidi Youssef Ben Ali surprised them all and survived for a long time. People started talking about his power to resist hunger and disease, and they began visiting him in the cave to receive guidance and help them solve their problems.

Sidi Youssef Ben Ali died in 1196 and is buried in Bab Aghmat, near the cave.
2 – Qadi Ayyad………Qadi Iyad ibn Musa was born in 1083 in Ceuta, then belonging to the Almoravid Empire. He was the great imam of that city and, later, a high judge in Granada. As a scion of a notable scholarly family, Iyad was able to learn from the best teachers Ceuta had to offer.
Qadi Iyad benefited from the high number of scholars in al-Andalus, the Maghrib, and the eastern Islamic world. He became a prestigious scholar in his own right, and won the support of the highest levels of society.
He died in 1149 and buried in Marrakesh.
3 – Sidi Bel Abbas…………….Born in Ceuta in 1129, Belabbas Ahmed Sebti is the most important of the Seven Saints, and is sometimes referred to as the Patron Saint of Marrakech.
It’s been said that his father died when he was still a teenager, and then his mother sent him to work. However, his obsession with his studies prompted him to occasionally escape his work in order to attend the classes of Sheikh Abi Abdellah Mohamed Lfakhar in the mosque.
His mother, on the other hand, kept punishing him and sending him back to work, until the Sheikh intervened and suggested giving his mother money in order to let her child study.
Sidi Bel Abbas was a great patron of the poor and particularly the blind in the twelfth century. Even today, food for the poor is distributed regularly at his tomb.
He died in 1204 and is buried in Marrakesh.
4 – Sidi Suleiman Al Jazuli……..Abdullah Muhammad al Jazuli was born in a village called Jazoula in Sous Massa Daraa in the 15th century. Nobody knows the exact year of his birth. Historians say he descended from Ali Ibno Abi Talib.
Imam al-Jazouli is better remembered as a character of legend rather than a real human being. “Imam al-Jazuli”, was a Moroccan Sufi leader of the Berber tribe of the Jazulah. He is best known for compiling the Dala’il al-Khayrat, an extremely popular Muslim prayer book. The book is divided into 7 sections for each day of the week.
In June 1465, he collapsed and died while performing his Subh prayer. Because of the suddenness of his death, it was rumored that he was poisoned. His body was buried near Essaouira. Seventy-seven years after his death, his body was exhumed to be transferred to Marrakech.
5 – Sidi Abdel Aziz………..Sidi Abd El Aziz was a fifteenth century theologian. His mausoleum is very near to Rue Baroudiyine, a short walk from Marrakesh Riad Cinnamon.
He was born in Marrakesh, and was illiterate during his youth. However, he later made a name for himself in Fez at the Medersat el Attarine, where he was the spiritual successor of Imam el Jazouli.
He died in 1508 and was buried in Marrakesh. It is a local tradition for women to visit his grave, drawn to the idea that he can heal their fertility and facilitate childbirth.
6 – Sidi Abdullah Ghazouani………….Sidi Abdullah Ghazouani was born and grew up in Fez. He was a follower of Sidi Abdel Aziz. He died in 1528 in Marrakesh and was buried there.
7 – Imam Souhaili………….Imam Abderahim Souhaili was born blind in 1114 in Malaga. He grew up in a poor, but religious and well-educated family. His father taught him Arabic and helped him memorize the Quran. Afterwards, he was taught other sciences by the famous scholars of that time, in Malaga and other cities in Andalusia (the southern region of Spain).

He died in 1185 in Marrakesh, and was buried in Bab er Robb, a southern gate of the city of Marrakesh, near Bab Agnaou.

OK, in relation to this blog it’s not a specific Moroccan topic but it is one that comes up in conversation time and again on every tour……and why not!
The universality of Islam invalidates the claim that veiling of any kind is mandatory for all Muslim women, and, for that matter, negates the notion of particular clothing requirements for all Muslims. The Quran states “O mankind, indeed we have created you from male and female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know one another” (49:13). The Quran recognizes and accepts cultural differences. It is hardly a controversial statement that clothing is among the most salient manifestations of culture. (Had God intended uniformity of dress upon embracing Islam, the Quran would have indicated so, but it most definitely does not.)
The majorities of Muslims, if not all, firmly believe that the Quran was sent as guidance for all of humanity and view Islam as a universal and timeless religion. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is likewise considered the final messenger of God for all people, rather than the Prophet of 7th century Arabia or a Prophet sent to the Arab tribes only. The Quran states: “We have not sent thee (Muhammad) but as a mercy to all the nations” (21:107).
Similarly, the equality of all human beings, except in good character and piety, is an undisputed principle of Islam. Prophet Muhammad stated in his last sermon that “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab…” The language is clear and without room for debate: Islamically, no culture is superior to another.
It is another uncontested fact that women in pre-Islamic Arabia used to veil themselves when going outside their homes; women in several other parts of the world have never observed a similar custom. The Quran was revealed within a specific geographical and historical context and, therefore, its particulars, or its illustrations of principles, refer to the practices common to that society. However, with the spread of Islam, “each new Islamic society must understand the principles intended by the particulars. Those principles are eternal and can be applied in various social contexts.”(1)
In Arabia, before the advent of Islam, the women belonging to rich and powerful tribes “were veiled and secluded as an indication of protection.” It is important to emphasize that the veil was not an Islamic innovation; it was in use for generations before the birth of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).The Quran, instructing modesty as a principle, illustrated it with the practices that were common at the time. However, the Quran’s mandate is the general principle of modesty, rather than veiling and seclusion, which are cultural manifestations that pertain to a specific context.
Otherwise, how could it be true that Islam is universal and timeless, all humans and cultures equal under it, none superior to another, yet simultaneously true that all women, irrespective of the time and place they exist in, who accept Islam as their faith, should proceed to adopt the dress mores of 7th century Arabia? This is entirely absurd and not Islamic but rather cultural. The particular display of modesty of 7th century Arabia is not the only “right” one or the one superior to all others.
The way modesty was expressed before and during the lifetime of the Prophet is quite different from how it is manifested in other societies. Because Islam is a religion for all times, it logically does not follow that despite the religion’s universality and timelessness, Muslim women all over the world must continue to show their modesty and piety in 1400 year old Arab standards. Moreover, “Allah intends for [us] ease and does not intend for [us] hardship” (2:185).
The notion of a veiling requirement for women is based on a fundamental error of interpretation: that of confusing the general principles of Islam with their particular illustrations and it is very damaging to the religion and to the overall progress of Muslims. This style of interpretation turns Islam into a “rigid canonical religion geared towards…external matters” and makes Muslims appear to be “confusing content and form, aim and method, spirituality and ritual.”(2)
This stubborn fixation on women’s “proper Islamic attire” strips Islam of its true nature of depth and empowering wisdom.
There is no dispute about the importance of modesty or about the fact that modesty is required and central to Islam for both men and women. But claiming that modesty demands, for instance, that a Muslim woman living in New York City in 2014, wear garb that originated, was useful in, and symbolized modesty and dignity in the desert of Arabia 1400 years ago is completely ridiculous. No person, male of female, living in a modern society, let’s say, contemporary America, Europe or Asia (and even many parts of North Africa and the Middle East), would consider a woman showing her hair to be immodest. Neither are men these days particularly provoked by the sight of a woman’s hair.
Among today’s morally questionable fashions and cultural practices, a woman’s uncovered hair is hardly a temptation or a show of moral laxity. But, let’s imagine that it were in fact a ‘temptation’. Let’s pretend present-day men were somehow so weak as to be provoked by glancing a woman’s hair, still, the solution is within themselves. Modesty is also required of, and was first mandated to, men: they are ordered to lower their gaze, purify their thoughts and dress modestly too. The answer is not for women to make it their central preoccupation to ensure by all means that they do not cause men any impure thoughts. This is, again, absurd: Islam teaches that in the eyes of God, each person is responsible for his or her own actions.

So, where do the veiling notions come from? There are three Quranic verses that deal with the issue of hijab which are commonly known as “Ayat al Hijab”:
The first of these verses deals exclusively with the household of the Prophet and is not to be extrapolated to other people. In this particular context the Quran orders that “whenever you ask them (the Prophet’s wives) for anything, ask them from behind a curtain (hijab)” (33:53). The reason for this revelation is simple:
“In Madinah, the need had arisen to protect the household of the Prophet, who had now become head of State, from easy informal access by each and every one. This was done separating the official and the private quarters which has since become routine in official residence. This division was achieved with the aid of a screen (hijab).”
It is a major tragedy that this verse has been misinterpreted to the point of requiring women in certain countries to never leave their screened-off quarters even while out in the street. During the time of the Prophet, women were free to move around in society, encouraged to learn, invited and welcome to Islamic gatherings where they sat among men and used to pray in the mosque side by side with men. The practices of secluding women are actually un-Islamic.
The other two verses that discuss women’s dress code have a general application:
“O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters as well as all believing women that they should draw over themselves some of their outer garments (min jalabibihinna); this will help to assure that they are recognized (as decent women) and not be annoyed” (33:59).
It is of utmost importance to note that this rule does not require women to wear a specific type of clothing, such as a large headscarf, and then pull it over the breast. “The Quran assumes that women wear an article of clothing that allows the covering of their breasts, and that this is done. In ancient times, this article would have naturally been worn over the head in hot, windy, dusty countries. However, a Quranic requirement for this cannot be derived from 33:59.” (3)
The final clothing regulation that appears in the Quran discusses the protective purpose of these rules: “And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their private parts and not to display their charms beyond what may decently be apparent thereof. So let them draw their head coverings (which were commonly worn at the time, not implemented) over their bosoms” (24:31).
The first two injunctions of not staring at the opposite sex in a provocative manner and hiding one’s primary sexual parts are also imposed on men with the same wording (Quran 24:30). The third rule, displaying those charms that are normally visible (ma zahara minha), “is a very sensible regulation: It takes into account that from period to period and from culture to culture there are great differences in the view of what, aside from her genitals and breasts, is erotic about a woman.”
Murad Hoffman, in his book, Islam: The alternative, cites a rector of the Great Mosque in Paris, Sheikh Tedjini Haddam, as explaining that what Islam actually recommends is that “a woman be decently dressed.” And the application of this recommendation varies depending on the social environment.

Dr. Sultan Abdulhameed perfectly explains this idea in The Quran and the Life of Excellence:
“In order to benefit from spiritual teachings, it is important to separate the essential from the peripheral. We should recognize the principle of progressive change in religious as well as in cultural and social life. Truth is eternal, but the way it is expressed changes with time, and it is experienced differently by different people.”
*It is important to note that I am not opposing or criticizing a woman’s decision to cover her hair or to dress in a particular way for a wide variety of reasons, such as announcing her moral values through her attire, expressing her disagreement with the increasing pressure (at least in the West) for women to be scantily dressed or perhaps, for identity reasons, including preserving one’s cultural identity or externally communicating one’s religion to society.

However, the idea that all Muslim women are required by Islam to veil themselves (in any form) is false and damaging to women, to Islam and to people who might otherwise consider accepting Islam as their faith......