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The Celebration of Aid al-Kabir in the French Protectorate of Morocco, 1912-1937

Abstract of paper to be presented by Stacy Holden, Purdue University at the conference "Fez, Morocco, Crossroads of Knowledge and Power: Celebrating 1,200 Years of Urban Life"

The public celebration of Aid al-Kabir (cid al-adha) played a central role in legitimizing the French Protectorate of Morocco.  Aid al-Kabir marks the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, when Muslims reenact the offering made by Abraham in place of his son.  The Alaouite Sultans usually went to Fez and sacrificed a ram on behalf of his subjects that day.  This sacrifice took place in the royal msalla, a field located beyond the city walls.  The scholars of the al-Fassi family led prayers for this holiday, and their presence next to Alaouite Sultans emphasized the continuity of this family's dynastic rule.  From early in this dynasty's rule, this celebration highlighted the religious underpinnings of his political rule.

After establishing the French Protectorate of Morocco in 1912, colonial administrators would preserve the reigning Alaouite dynasty as well as the public celebrations of Aid al-Kabir.  In this way, the French legitimized their rule by demonstrating respect for this Morocco's Islamic traditions.  Despite colonial efforts to co-opt this Muslim holiday-or, more likely, because of them-the public celebration of the Aid al-Kabir became an arena for colonial conflict in the 1930s.  My talk will show how and why the Sultan Mohamed ben Youssef (1927-1961) and the nationalist leader Mohamed al-Fassi reclaimed the public celebration of Aid al-Kabir.  In so doing, these leaders not only motivated colonized Moroccans to oppose French rule, but also highlighted the conservatism of state institutions in the modern state of Morocco.

Center for Near Eastern Studies