Worship and Multiculturalism in Sefrou

The geographical location of Sefrou has always been at the intersection of various great civilizations and important events in history. From the Roman province in the 1st century to the foundation of the Arab Kingdom in the 7th century, the invasion of the colonial countries in the 15th century and finally the independence in the 20th century, a variety of worships and beliefs were transported into Sefrou along with the occurrence of those historical events. However, Sefrou has not perceived these transports as exclusion and closure, but has welcomed all these religions brought with them in a friendly way, which has directly led to the diversity of worship and multiculturalism in Sefrou.

On these grounds, this exhibition aims to realize the analysis of Sefrou’s multiculturalism by displaying the detailed information of some major worships exist in Sefrou, and furthermore trying to explain some of the themes and absences emerging in written or photographic historical scholarships about Sefrou.

Jewish Spaces of worship in Sefrou

Today, almost the entirety of the Moroccan population consists of Sunni Muslims, a homogeneity that did not exist just a century ago. In 1956, a quarter of a million individuals adhered to the Jewish faith and coexisted peacefully among the Amazigh and Muslims. (Gershovich, 2013)

Although it is unclear when the first Jews settled in Amazigh/Berber territories, historians generally agree that the Jewish migration occurred in waves after certain historical events.  It is estimated that the Jewish community arrived in Sefrou, Morocco after the Romans destroyed the temple of Jerusalem in 70 AD. For centuries, Moroccan cities were seen as the epitome of cohabitation and respectful diversity, and Sefrou even earned the title of “Little Jerusalem.” (Chtatou, 2020)

Another wave of Jewish immigration to the African northwest took place during the Spanish Reconquista in the fifteenth century, when they were fleeing religious persecution.  (Gershovich, 2013) The Jewish community essentially established themselves among the Berbers roughly five hundred years before the Islamic advent, solidifying their presence in the region and acculturating to Amazigh lifestyles.

In Morocco, the Jews were revered as “People of the Book” and therefore were granted religious protection. The security allowed them to ground themselves in the region and enhance their skills and resourcefulness as economists and tradesmen. Their skills were further enhanced by the “economic, cultural, and educational opportunities” the French influence in Morocco provided throughout the 1800s onwards.  By the mid-1900s, the Jewish population of Morocco was transformed by Amazigh and French culture, and their significant presence is made apparent by the remnants of the Jewish Quarters (or Mellahs) throughout Morocco.

Ben Danon Synagogue – A UNESCO World Heritage Site at Fez (About 30 kilometers from Sefrou)


The Jewish Community of Casablanca and its Complex Cultural Dynamics

Unfortunately, the Jewish faith did not receive the utmost sanctity it deserved and required. The Vichy French Regime (from July 1940 – August 1944) expressed strongly antisemitic and xenophobic sentiments and the Jewish population of Morocco did not feel well protected under the Sultan of Morocco. The creation of the Israeli state in 1948 presented itself as an opportunity for religious freedom for the Jewish population globally. In 1967, the Six-Day War in the Middle East incentivized the Jewish communities of Morocco to immigrate once again to the newly formed Israeli state.

Jewish Families in Israel Reluctant to Return to Morocco

In 1956, the Sefroui city of Morocco contained a vibrant and intercultural population of roughly 15,000, a third of whom ascribed to Judaism and practiced their faith freely and indiscriminately in the Mellah (Jewish quarters). Today, only a few Jewish families exist in Sefrou, and the Mellah serves as a sorrowful remnant of a diverse and deep-rooted culture that disintegrated due to political and cultural tensions.

Moroccan Jewish Families in Sefrou – Enjoying Dinner
The views of Mellah
Temple Em Habaneem (“Mother of the Boys”) in Sefrou

Muslim Places of Worship in Sefrou

Unlike the half-way-joined Jewish culture, Muslim culture can be considered as one of the traditional cultures of Sefrou.

The ancient residents of Sefrou consisted mainly of Arabs, descendants of Berbers and Vandals. After the division of the Roman Empire, one of the Vandals crossed the Mediterranean and controlled part of Morocco, while the native Berbers controlled the other half. This divisive situation lasted until the 7th century, when the Arabs arrived in Morocco and established the Arab Kingdom in the 8th century. In this process, most of the remaining Berbers were assimilated by the Arab culture, which contributed to the Arab culture becoming the main culture of Sefrou ever since.

As the state religion of the Arab world, Islam and its culture were also introduced to Sefrou when a large number of Arabs moved into Morocco. With the assimilation and flight of indigenous natives, there was a huge fault in the original religion and culture. In contrast, Islamic culture has gradually flourished unimpeded, and has gradually become the local mainstream culture, a trend that continues to this day.

Zawia in Sefrou
Messid, A place located in the mosque for both Worship and Education porpuses.
The Mills and the mosque of Sefrou

Places of Sufi Worship in Sefrou

It seems better to understand Tasawwuf by first asking what Sufism is; the fusion of the sacred and the secular, the soul and the body, and the local and the universal…Ahmed Kostas notes, are the basic tenets of Sufi philosophy. This Sufi spirit alludes to Sefrou’s aura, an interfaith dialogue where deity thrives in the multi-ethnic fabric of the city. Yahweh, God and Allah coexist metaphysically, like their disciples coexist corporeally. Sefrou is described as ‘’la petite Jerusalem’’ of a Maroc pluriel where what Hassan Rachik calls ‘’ l’identite molle’’ fosters the multi-faith spaces of worship. The interplay of religious ideas and prac-
tices with the world in which they existed is manifested in the procession to the grotto of Kaf al-Moumen organized by locals on the early days of the Cherry Festival (moussem hab l-mlouk). Kaf El Moumen is believed by Jewish locals to house the tomb of prophet Daniel and to Muslims, it is where the seven pious men (sab’atu rijal) and their dog have fallen asleep for centuries. This procession is organized to pay tribute and ask for the grace and baraka of the respective saints.

A natural cavity on the flank of Jbel Bina is located at the entrance to the city. The cave of believers, Kahf Al Moumen, keeps many legends. She is revered by Jews and Muslims.

A saint in Morocco may be known by various names, mainly a Wali, Siyyed or in French, a marabout. These people, as Durkheim writes, maintain order in society by approaching the scared. This is also Gellner’s formula of ‘’rule of saints’’. In Morocco these saints are Shorfa, which means Baraka endowed persons who are descendants of the prophet Muhammed. In order to understand these mystical theology in all its breadth and depth we must first abandon the traditional “two-tiered” model of orthodox Islam in which scholars have distinguished between the enlightened religion of the learned elites and the superstitious semi-paganism of the ignorant masses. This distinction has allowed the ignorance of its cen-trality to the religion of the time. If saints are illusions, man is only an animal with an attitude. If shrines are illusions, man is only a god with a disguise. In Sefrou,  the zaouiya(mausoleum) of saint Sidi Ali Bousserghine is regarded as a shield that protects the city from evil.

A postcard from 1913/1914 of Sidi Ali Bousserghine, also known the Marabout of Fort Prioux( named after lieutenant Fernand Prioux who has been killed there in 1911 )

These saints simultaneous residence in heaven and presence at their tombs and the location of these shriness at the frontier between city and countryside has transcended the barriers between heaven and earth, the divine and the human, the living and the dead, between tomb and altar, public and private, urban and rural.

Sidi Ali Bousserghine overlooks the city from the height of a hill, next to a tomb and source of a woman waliya called Lalla Rqya, who is believed to cure women sterility. Just like the fluidity of the source, the coalescing spiritual distinctiveness of Sefrou is fluid and this is epitomized in the convergence of its cult of saints. For instance, in Djebel Binna, we find Kef Lihoud, or the grotto of the Jews. In this cave, rabbis have been buried and it is praised as the home of a genius. This indicates that there has been in this place a very old habitat or a place of worship. Muslims and Jews worship in this place as it is called also the name of Kef el ‘eubbâd(the cave of worshippers)  and the Kef el Moumen (the cave of believers).

The entrance of Kef Lihoud or Kef el Moumen.

Work Cited

Chtatou, Mohamed. “Sefrou, the Moroccan Capital of Tolerance and Coexistence”,


Gershovich, Moshe. “In Search of Morocco’s Lost Jewish Heritage”,


Producers of this exhibition:

Sara Hayyat

Yue Luo

Zehra Al-Timimi

Zineb Yadane

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *