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The city of Fez in northern Morocco is the most prominent legacy of the Islamic Idrisid Dynasty (788974 CE). The first capital and Islamic spiritual center of Morocco, it was founded in 789 by Idris ibn `Abd Allah, a descendant of the prophet Muhammad, who had fled to Morocco to escape persecution by the `Abbasids. However, it was his son, Idris II, who actually began the development of the city in 809. The city received its Arab character from waves of immigrants from Cordoba in 818 and from Kairouan (Qayrawan, in present-day Tunisia) between 824 and 826, who settled on either side of the city’s river. As the city grew, important new mosques, the Qarawiyin and Andalus, were built in 859 and 862 respectively. These mosques, especially Qarawiyin Mosque and University, helped give Fez its stature as a prominent Islamic center of learning that rivaled al-Azhar University in Cairo. Although Fez fell to the Almoravids in 1075 and then to the Almohads in 1145, it continued to prosper. The Almoravid leader Yusuf ibn Tashfin unified the city within one wall; this, along with its importance for two great dynasties, gave Fez commercial, administrative, and religious roles. The city was once more captured in 1248 and became the capital of the Marinid dynasty. For three centuries Fez experienced its golden age as the political, religious, intellectual, and economic leader of Morocco.

The importance of Fez as a Moroccan city declined under the Sa’adians (1517-1666), who chose Marrakesh as their capital. Under the `Alawids Fez fared better, and its political status was rejuvenated in the period before the French Protectorate was imposed on Morocco in 1912. From the death of Sultan Sulayman in 1824 until 1912, the prominent religious families of Fez, as descendants of the Prophet and keepers of Morocco’s Islamic traditions, legitimized the actions of the rulers of Morocco. Under `Abd al-`Aziz Fez once more became the capital of Morocco; under his successor `Abd al-Hafiz the city was occupied by French forces in 1911.

Although Fez suffered politically under French rule and economically through French-imposed modernization, protest against the French first manifested itself along religious lines. As the traditional religious center and former capital of Morocco, Fez was the place where the religious protest of the Salafiyah movement and Moroccan nationalist agitation converged. Many important demonstrations took place there, and its leaders played an important role in the Moroccan independence movement. Indeed, the leadership of the Istiglal party is said to be predominantly composed of the political elite from Fez.

Currently Fez’s importance as a primary national city has diminished, although it remains the capital of a province. Its role as an administrative center has been supplanted by Rabat, and Casablanca has superseded it as the nation’s commercial center. Nevertheless, the leading families of Fez make up a fair portion of the Moroccan political elite, and the city itself remains an important national historical and religious center.

[See also `Alawid Dynasty; Idrisid Dynasty; Istiqlal; and Morocco.]


Abun-Nasr, Jamil M. A History of the Maghrib in the Islamic Period. Cambridge and New York, 1987.

Burckhardt, Titus. Fez, City of Islam, translated by William Stoddart. Cambridge, 1992.

Le Tourneau, Roger. Fez in the Age of the Marinides. Translated by Besse Alberta Clement. Norman, Okla., 1961.

Waterbury, John. The Commander of the Faithful. New York, 1970. Study of the Moroccan political elite.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/fez/

  • writerPosted On: March 10, 2013
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