- His origins
Sidi Muhammad El ‘Arbi was the son of Muhammad, who was son of Muhammad Sa-ih, himself son of Muhammad, who was son of Dawud, son of Muhammad, who was son of Abdelqadir, himself son of the Pole Sidi Muhammad Sharqi El ‘Umar El Faruqi, and his ancestry goes back to the second rightly guided Caliph, our Master Abu-l-Hafs ‘Umar ibn El Khattab (may ALLAH be pleased with him). His father Sidi Muhammad was among the hardworking scholars and virtuous Saints of elevated rank among the people of the town of Meknes.
- His birth and childhood
He was born at the dawn of Eid el Ad-ha in the year 1229 of the hegira (1813 ad) in their home which was opposite the great mosque of the city of Meknes. His birth brought joy, happiness, gladness and satisfaction to his parents because his aging father was, until then, without male issue. He had humbly begged ALLAH, Glorified and Exalted, to grant him a pious child who would delight him and to this end, he tried everything that people advised him, including both material and spiritual remedies. Thus, he used to visit the Saints, both dead and alive, invoking ALLAH, without losing heart, through their intermediary in order to obtain this gift.
So, when he had reached the age of seventy-five years old, ALLAH granted his request and gave him a child, as he had done for his Prophet Zakariya (peace be upon him). He named the child Muhammad el ‘Arbi, after two virtuous Awliya (plural of Wali, i.e. Saint) who had announced the coming birth: Sidi Muhammed ‘Arbi ibn Mu’ti ibn Salih Charqi and Sidi Muhammad ‘Arbi El Wazzani (may ALLAH be pleased with them). Sidi Muhammad el ‘Arbi was born twenty years old before his father returned to ALLAH. During these years, his father gave him all attention and affection and the best of educations, careful to provide him with teaching and instruction in keeping with the high rank of his origins. Thus, this sublime being grew up in a virtuous environment, bathed in faith, knowledge, virtue and love for the Messenger of ALLAH (peace and blessings be upon him), his pure family and the virtuous saints.
- His quest for knowledge
Even before he reached the age of reason, his father insured that he knew how to write and that he memorized perfectly the book of ALLAH. Then, he was instructed in the classical studies that were taught in the city of Meknes at that time. Later, he was able to join the circles of teachings in Meknes, which included grammar, jurisprudence, meter, rhetoric, legal foundations and logic until he had mastered and excelled in everything that he had been taught. Then, he went to Fes and continued to study with the greatest scholars. Finally, having shone in numerous subjects, he returned to Meknes where he provided teaching and education, thus allowing for numerous well-known students of the time to benefit from his knowledge. Then, temporarily, he worked as a judicial witness in order to provide for his worldly needs.
- His teachers
He had numerous teachers, some of whom were in Meknes and others in Fes.
The following were among his teachers from the city of Meknes:
- The scholar Sidi Muhammad Badiya son of Shafi’i Badu Meknessi
- The scholar Sidi Muhammad ibn Muhammad Fqirah Meknessi
- The scholar Sidi ‘Umar ibn Makki El Mu’ti ibn Salih Sharqi
- The Qadi and scholar Sidi ‘Abbas ibn Kirane El Fesi…
The following were among his teachers from the city of Fes:
- The scholar Sherif Sidi Walid El ‘Iraqi El Fesi.
- The scholar Sherif Sidi Muhammad Badrdin El Hamumy El Fesi…
He inherited his knowledge of Hadith from the contemporary master Sidi Abdelqadir ibn Abi Jayda, also known as Kuhan El Fesi, who is buried in Madina The Radiant. In the year 1281 of the Hegira, he also received a diploma from the scholar Sheikh AbdRahman Nabulsy when the latter came to visit Morocco.
- His affiliation to the Tariqa
In the year 1256 of the Hegira, he joined the Tariqa Tidjaniya. He was twenty-seven years old and the story of his affiliation demonstrates how special he was. At that time, he was inhabited by an intense desire to see the Master of Existence (peace and blessings be upon him) and to this end, he used one the prayers upon the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). His mother had dedicated a room for him that she used to clean and perfume so that he could perform his evocations and meditate in solitary isolation. He persevered until, one night, he saw his father Sidi Muhammad in a dream saying: “Are you seeking to meet the Messenger of ALLAH (peace and blessings be upon him)?” He answered: “Yes, o my Master.” Pointing out a group of disciples who were evoking in the mosque, Sidi Muhammad said to him: “If you so desire, then ask those noble people because the Messenger of ALLAH (peace and blessings be upon him) is attending with them.”
When he woke up, he knew that the noble people whom his father had pointed out were none other than the companions of Seyyidina Ahmed Tidjani (may ALLAH sanctify his precious secret) who, in the days before the Zawiya of Meknes was built, used to gather in the great mosque to perform the Wazifa and the Haylalah in congregation. He understood the allusion and that this was a sign for him to join the Tariqa. Thus, he took the Tariqa from the person in authority at that time: it is likely that this person was the Muqaddam Sidi Muhammad Belqacem Basri (may ALLAH be pleased with him). He received confirmation of this when reading the words of Seyyidina Ahmed Tidjani (may ALLAH sanctify his precious secret).
Later, he sat in the circles held by the scholars of the Tariqa and their elite and he examined the books that have been written about the Tariqa as well as private notes. He fervently researched everything to do with its custodian, its companions, its rules, its profundity, its secrets, its knowledge, its lights and everything else about it. With this aim, he travelled to Fes, to Marrakesh and to Rabat, to meet the great disciples of Sheikh Ahmed Tidjani (may ALLAH sanctify his precious secret) and who had received directly from him. But that is not all: he also wrote to those who were outside of Morocco.
In this way he became acquainted with numerous companions during his lifetime – approximately eighty of them- from whom he benefited greatly. He collected so much information that he became a key reference for all matters pertaining to the Tariqa, to its custodian (Sheikh Ahmed Tidjani, may ALLAH sanctify his precious secret), to its people, such that all those who came after him, took him, his book “Bughiyat el Mustafid”, his diplomas and his letters as a reference.
The following are some of the noble figures from whom he received knowledge and blessings (may ALLAH be pleased with them):
- The scholar and preacher, the Muqaddam Sidi Muhammad Belqacem Basri Meknessi
- The Sherif, the Knower, the Muqaddam Mulay Tayeb Sefiani Fesi
- The Knower, the Muqaddam Sidi Abdelwahhab ibn El Ahmar Fesi
- The great Knower, the Sherif Mulay Muhammad ben Abi Nasr El ‘Alawi
- The scholar, the Knower Sidi Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Fqirah Meknessi
- The scholar, the Knower Sidi ‘Abbas ibn Kiran
- The scholar, the great Knower Sidi Muhammad ibn Hafian Sharqawi Rabati
- His companion and friend, the scholar Abu ‘Abdallah Sidi Muhammad ibn Ahmed Kensoussi, otherwise known as “the speech of the Tariqa” from whom he received great blessings. He remained for two years in his service at his home when he was young. He spent sixteen years in his company.
He received an Ijaza in the Tariqa from the following:
- The Caliph and Pole Sidi Hajj Ali Tamacini (may ALLAH be pleased with him) in writing
- The Muqaddam, the Knower Sidi Muhammad Hachimi Sarghini (may ALLAH be pleased with him)
- The Knower, the teacher Sidi ‘Ubeyda ibn Muhammad Seghir ibn Anbuja Tichiti Shinqiti (may ALLAH be pleased with him), author of the book “Mizab Rahma Rabbaniya fi Tarbiya fi Tariqa Tidjaniya.”
- His relocation to the city of Rabat
At the age of forty, he moved to the city of Rabat in order to marry the noble lady Aicha, the daughter of his Sheikh, the scholar and knower Sidi Muhammad Hafian Sharqawi (may ALLAH be pleased with him) after his death. Sidi Arbi ibn Hafian, brother of this lady, was entrusted with taking care of her and among the conditions of the marriage, Sidi Arbi ibn Sa-ih had to settle in the city of Rabat. This coincided with the prediction that he received following his spiritual opening which indicated that he should settle near the ocean which he did in 1270 of the Hegira.
This pious wife was the reason for his relocation to the coastal city of Rabat. Here, he busied himself teaching and training students, transmitting the education and knowledge of the Tariqa Tidjaniya. He also supervised the completion of the construction of the Zawiya Tidjaniya that had been initiated by his brother in law, Sidi Arbi Hafian (may ALLAH be pleased with him) which was in the Harrarine Quarter. It was completed in 1280 of the Hegira. He used to sit in a garden near his home and where he would be buried several years later.
Here, he welcomed all who came to benefit from him. He gave both public and private lessons concerning the “Sahih Bukhari” or other volumes of Hadith, as well as the education of the Tariqa. Scholars, dignitaries, students and disciples all attended his gatherings. His reputation spread so far that people came from all over Morocco, from neighbouring countries and also from the Middle-East and the holy cities, drawn by his spiritual power and his special and exceptional knowledge. He also received letters from far and wide to which he replied in a very clear style granted all his attention to each topic and providing knowledge such that his replies constitute substantial and significant volumes.
- His wife and his children
When he died, he left behind his virtuous wife, the rare pearl, the Knower, lady ‘Aisha, daughter of the scholar and Imam, the learned Sidi Muhammad Hafian Sharqawi El ‘Umari (may ALLAH be pleased with him). This noble person was one of the great treasures of the Tariqa Tidjaniya and source of Knowledge in the region. Well-known scholars from Rabat and Salé were taught by him. He was the representative of Seyyidina Ahmed Tidjani (may ALLAH sanctify his precious secret) and transmitted the Tariqa. He died on the 10th of Ramadan 1246 of the Hegira and was buried in the Zawiya Mu’tawiya in Rabat.
The noble lady ‘Aisha Hafiyaniya (may ALLAH be pleased with her) was a virtuous wife. Her adoration was devoted and sincere, she was a Knower of ALLAH. She had great compassion and love for her husband. She took care of his every need, respected and honoured him, and was always eager to satisfy and help him until his death separated them, at which time he was entirely satisfied by her. She was endowed with great merits and great prodigies. This is illustrated by the following words of her noble husband: “I have left you everything (in terms of spiritual gifts).” She passed away during the night on Friday 15th Safar in the year 1319 of the Hegira and was buried next to her husband so that she would be his companion under the ground as she had been in life. ALLAH granted him through her, two boys and a girl but they all died at a young age.
- His disciples and students
Although ALLAH (The Glorified and The Exalted) had not granted him descendants, he honoured him with many students both of the Tariqa and of knowledge. Because of him, eminent scholars, knowers and poles and eloquent poets emerged. Every single person who attended his circles and join the Tariqa by his intermediary obtained the spiritual Opening and all those who learned from him attained the success that they desired.
Here is a short glance at some of his most well-known scholars:
- Sidi Abdallah Tadali Rabati
- Sidi Muhammad ibn Yahya Bilaminu Rabati
These two masters were constantly with him towards the end of his life and they never left his side.
- Sidi Ahmed ibn Qacem Jassus.
- Sidi Muhammad ibn El Husni El Alami Rabati.
- His brother Sidi Ghazi, father of the well-known Hafiz, our El Madani.
- Sidi Abdelqader Lubris.
- The nobles of the Benabdallah tribe : Hajj Ahmed, Hajj ‘Ali et Hajj ‘Arbi.
- Sidi Muhammad Makki Zawawi, Muqadam of the Zawiya of Salé.
- Sidi Ahmed ibn Musa, the scholar of the town of Salé.
- Sidi Hajj Tayeb ‘Awwad Salawi.
- Sidi Hajj Muhammad ibn Abdsalem Kanun El Fesi.
- The Pole Sidi Hajj Huseyn El Ifrani, buried in the town of Tiznit.
- Sidi Ahmed Mahmud buried in Rahamina.
- Mulay Arbi Muhib El Alawi.
- Sidi Muhammad Fall ibn Baba El Alawi Chinqitti
- The Mufti of Tunisia, Sidi Salah Nifari.
- The Mufti of the city of Oran, Sidi Ali ibn Abdrahman.
- The traveller Sidi Muhammad ibn Khalifat Madani Tunsi, buried in Meknes
All of the above received directly from him both knowledge and Tariqa. Those who received only knowledge but also a large part of Lordly Knowledge included:
- Sidi Ahmed Bannani, The Qadi of Rabat.
- The scholar Muhammad Sanhaji.
- The scholar Serif Mulay Kamel Amrani.
All of the aforementioned and many others witnessed prodigies and extraordinary deeds performed by Sidi Arbi ibn Sa-ih (may be pleased with him). The Sultan Mulay Hassan 1st was among those who benefited from his gatherings and Sidi Arbi ibn Sa-ih (may be pleased with him) had granted him authorization to accomplish a certain number of Salat el Fatihi.
- His writings
His written work included:
- A commentary of a poem written by Sidi Tidjani ibn Baba about the wives and the daughters of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). However, this written piece has disappeared.
- A commentary on a verse written by Imam Bussayri (may ALLAH be pleased with him)
- A text concerning Salat el Fatihi which was lost during his lifetime.
- “Miftah Sa’ad Abadiya” which was intended to be complementary to his book “Bughiya…” but only the introduction to his book can be found today.
- A text entitled “Jawab el Kafi” which is a response to the scholar Sidi Saleh Nifari, who was the Mufti Malikite of Tunisia
- A commentary of one chapter of the conclusion of the “Sahih Bukhari”
- The well-known “Bughiyat el Mustafid” which is the most important book in the Tariqa after “Djawahiru-l-Ma’ani” and which is indispensable reference for all those who wrote about the Tariqa after him. He was inspired by the famous poem “Muniyat el Murid” (a metric poem about the knowledge of the Tariqa) written by Sidi Ahmed Tidjani ibn Baba el Alawi, who was an illustrious scholar, jurist and educator from Mauritania. He died in 1266 of the Hegira and was buried in the Baqi graveyard in Medina.
One day, Sidi Arbi ibn Sa-ih (may ALLAH be pleased with him) talked with Ibn Baba about the method that he used to compose “Muniyat el Murid” wishing to know whether he preferred the words contained in “Djawahiru-l-Ma’ani” written by Sidi Ali Harazim, or those contained in the “Jama’” written by Sidi Muhammad ibn Mechri (may ALLAH be pleased with them). Ibn Baba replied that he preferred the words of Ibn Mechri because he was actually more knowledgeable about the content of “Djawahiru-l-Ma’ani” and also because the author of “Djawahiru-l-Ma’ani” was illiterate. Sidi Arbi ibn Sa-ih (may ALLAH be pleased with him) agreed.
Following this conversation, Sidi Arbi ibn Sa-ih saw Seyyidina Ahmed Tidjani (may ALLAH sanctify his precious secret) sitting with a group and holding the “Djawahiru-l-Ma’ani” in his hands, encouraging them to read it. Then he said: “if you can sleep even after reading only one line, then do so.” And then he said: “You must pay attention to this book.”
On the other hand, Ibn Baba, author of “Muniyat”, saw Sidi Ali Harazim (may ALLAH be pleased with him) in a dream who reproached him as follows: “You speak inappropriately about my book.” His beard was so long that it was folded over several times. The next time they met, Sheikh ibn Baba smiled at Sidi Arbi and they exchanged their dreams. For this reason, Ibn Baba wrote in his book “Muniyat”: “My dear brothers, as long as you live, you must pay careful attention to this book.”
As we have already mentioned, in addition to these writings should be added his letters, his replies, the impressive quantity of diplomas that he bestowed and numerous poems.
He used to utter verses whose meaning was large and deep as naturally as one would speak. Once, he humbly presented himself at the door of the Zawiya in Fes to visit Seyyidina Ahmed Tidjani (may ALLAH sanctify his precious secret). Without daring to enter the Zawiya, he recited some verses of which the first are as follows:
“In fear, I came to your door,
I have no other refuge than you…”
Then, from the tomb he heard a voice authorising him to enter. He stood in front of the tomb and uttered long verses of which the first is as follows:
“O deep joy! I have reached the door of the generous one whose hospitality is acknowledged.”
- The praise of the scholars about him
We will only give a few examples among all that was said by the scholars:
- The great Knower Abu AbdAllah Sidi Muhammad ibn Ahmed Kensoussi (may ALLAH be pleased with him), “the speech of the Tariqa”, Imam of the people of the Law and of the Truth, his friend and beloved brother, when asked about certain mysterious words proffered by the Pole Sidi AbdAllah Ghazwani (may ALLAH be pleased with him), replied the following: “[…] If Allah honours you and fills you with joy; if he leads you towards success and attainment and away from failure; if He takes you by the hand and the scruff of your neck until you sit still in the presence of our master Sidi Arbi ibn Sa-ih (may ALLAH be pleased with him ) – source of Realities, radiance of lights of secrets and of subtleties, jurist and scholar, the authority, the blessing the virtuous Knower, the provider of those who come and go – then your thoughts will be healed and your requests will be answered, your diseases will disappear, because ALLAH in His Mercy has placed the key to the treasure in his hands and has granted him the gift of understanding the mysteries. May ALLAH include both you and our self among those who harvest abundantly from the fruits of his plantations and who will be illuminated by his light.”
- The enlightened scholar, Sidi Ahmed Benmoussa Salawi (may ALLAH be pleased with him) said of him: “He had perfect mastery of all disciplines and particularly of knowledge of Hadith, jurisprudence, Arabic and meter. Regarding Sufism, he was an exception in his day and his book “Bughiyat el Mustafid” is the clearest and most convincing of its sort, as can be confirmed by those who study the books of the sufi Masters.”
- The learned scholar, Sidi Ahmed ibn Qacem Jassus Rabati (may ALLAH be pleased with him) said: “He was endowed with profound understanding. He was one of the signs of ALLAH because of his memorization and the universality of his explanations. He could develop any topic without thinking and without hesitation, drawing upon the best of knowledge and religious Law as well as subtleties of the education, linking together the prescribed rules and the inspired knowledge.”
In his book “Majaliss Asbat”, the historian from Rabat, Sidi Muhammad ibn ‘Ali Diniya (may ALLAH be pleased with him) wrote: “As a scholar, he was very well versed in intellectual knowledge and writing, traveling on the path of the rightly guided, following the steps of the virtuous. He was a skilful writer, adorned with all the characteristics of excellence, he was lenient and kind, well-mannered, dignified and grateful. He had great mastery of various fields of knowledge and specifically of the knowledge of Hadith, of Sufism, of Arabic, of meter, of jurisprudence…”
He also said: “… In conclusion, Sidi Arbi ibn Sa-ih was a great Imam, a hardworking scholar, a renowned Knower, a skilful writer and composer, all the fields of education and fine subtleties were beautified by his own extraordinary personal touch. He was one of the radiant sign of ALLAH, and one of the abundant ocean of knowledge and understanding.”
- His rank and his prodigies
Indeed, ALLAH (Glorified and Exalted) grants exceptional gifts to his chosen and intimate ones, sublime prodigies which fulfil them and incite people to love them, respect them, and have faith in their specificities and their worth with ALLAH. These elected ones inherit their prodigies from the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) as a support in order to follow him (peace and blessings be upon him) perfectly. ALLAH granted Sidi Arbi ibn-sa-ih (may ALLAH be pleased with him) a station and prodigies demonstrating his elevated position and the noble character of his worth with ALLAH. His prodigies were numerous due to the fact that they took place throughout his life and even after his death. Here follows some relevant examples:
- He was an eminent figure among those who followed the Prophetic Sunnah, following the teachings with determination in order to reform himself. The people of God agree unanimously that this is a true prodigy constituting the most important of them all, because it is the proof of the love of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and this special love leads to a perfect faith as it is indicated in the following hadith: “None of you will be a true believer until he loves me more than his children, parents and all other people.”
- As a result of his devotion, he was able to see the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) frequently both in an awakened state and in his dreams.
- Consequently, he was granted the highest rank known to the Men of God which is called “The Supreme Pole”. For he who is granted this station, the prophetic essence is no longer hidden from him wherever it may manifest, be it on Earth or in Heaven.
- He was also granted the banner of the Khilafat of Seyyidina Ahmed Tidjani (may ALLAH sanctify his precious secret) and the station of the special education within the Tariqa Tidjaniya.
- Another reason for his fame is that he had a spiritual unveiling which was brighter that the dawn. He never spoke of any event without it happening exactly as he had announced and nobody would come to him without him speaking of what was in their heart before they themselves had the time to speak.
- He also had a powerful and remarkably efficient capacity for spiritual governance which continued to increase even after his death.
- In addition to all these extraordinary gifts, others, for which he was well-known, included sufficient blessed sustenance (abundant subsistence), the fulfilment of his supplications, the contraction of time whether accomplishing zikr or covering long distances, the healing of apparent and hidden diseases, miraculous relief for the afflicted and many more.
Visiting his noble tomb for the sake of ALLAH is also a demonstration of his prodigies. Not a single distressed person has visited him without ALLAH granting relief, not a single oppressed person without the source of his oppression disappearing; not a single indebted person without ALLAH relieving his debt, not a single sick person without ALLAH healing him and taking away his disease and so on whatever the situation the person who visits him for the sake of ALLAH, with sincere intention and pure heart and with no personal desire. During his lifetime, he had alluded to this prodigy which would be granted to him after his death.
- His passing
Sidi Arbi ibn Sa-ih (may ALLAH be please with him) continued to benefit creatures and courageously devote himself in obedience and servitude to ALLAH (The Glorified, The Exalted). He educated disciples and orientated them towards the right path and the perfect way until he was called back to his Lord and tasted the certainty of death. He died at eleven o’clock in the night on Sunday 29 Rajab in the year 1309 of the Hegira. He was about eighty years old. His death occurred following sixteen days of sickness due to urine retention. During this time, he did not eat nor drink and was entirely absorbed in the zikr without ever putting down his rosary. No one was aware of his sickness because he received visitors until his very last day, smiling and serene and amiable as usual.
When the sun rose and the news of his passing spread, a considerable crowd of people from far and wide came to his funeral. The funeral prayer was led by his student, the Qadi of Rabat, the scholar Ahmed Bannani Rabati. He was then buried in the garden where he used to teach. Laudatory poems were offered by many poets, scholars, disciples and friends. Sherif Mulay Ahmed Wadghiry Zaliji, who was responsible for the building of the Sherifian Royal Palaces built a splendid dome on top of his noble tomb. Later, around 1340 of the hegira, local disciples built a Zawiya near to his tomb in order to pray and accomplish the litanies of the Tariqa Tidjaniya and to impart knowledge.
Research and translation by Zawiya Tidjaniya el Kubra in Lyon, France