Mohammed Awzal

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The first page of an 18th-century Sous Berber manuscript of Muḥammad Awzal's al-Ḥawḍ, part I (adapted from N. v.d. Boogert 1997 plate I)

Mohammed Awzal (1680–1749) (Berber: Muḥemmed Awzal, Arabic: محمد أوزال‎), also known as Muhammad ibn Ali Awzal or al-Awzali was a religious Berber poet. He is considered the most important author of the Teshelhit (southern Morocco Berber language) literary tradition. He was born around 1680 in the village of al-Qasaba in the region of Sous, Morocco and died in 1749/9.

Life and works[edit]

There are few hard facts about Awzal's life. He may have killed somebody from his tribe when he was young and this may have been the reason for him to seek refuge in Tamegroute, a village known for an ancient sanctuary, where he started his religious studies. It was probably towards the end of his studies that he wrote in Arabic, as an essay, his first work, Mahamiz al-Ghaflan. After some time he came back to his place of origin, putting himself at the disposal of the family of the murder victim. They may have taken revenge on him but instead, convinced of the sincerity of his conversion and of his new choice of life, they forgave him.

Life, however, was not always easy in his village as his preachings were not popular. It seems that in reaction to such resistance he composed his second work, in Arabic, the Tanbih ("Admonition").

When he returned to Tamegroute his master, Sheikh Ahmad, recognising his talent as a poet, supported the writing of his first work in Berber language, Al-Hawd ("The Reservoir": alluding to the basin where the Prophet will meet one day his community on Qiyamah, Last Judgement). This work, divided in two parts, represents a complete manual on Islamic law following the malikite tradition, based on two classical texts, as-Sanusi (for the first part, 26 chapters, on Ibadat "ritual obligations") and Khalil (for the second, from chapter 27 to 56, on the mu'amalat "transactions").

His following work, Bahr ad-Dumu' ("The Ocean of Tears"), an exhortation in verse and treatise on eschatology. This is probably the best known text by Al Awzal and a masterpiece of Berber literature. It can be found as a manuscript in the most important libraries and private collections. The text has been translated into French by B.H. Stricker and Arsène Roux and into English by N. van den Boogert.

Probably at the time of writing "The Ocean of Tears", 1714), the poet had already returned for a last time to his village of birth, where he worked as a teacher and a mufti until his death. He left a daughter and a son, Ibrahim.

The dating of his last and shorter work in Berber is uncertain, An-Nasiha ("The Advice"), is an ode in praise of Sidi (Saint) Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Nasir, Awzal's spiritual guide and grand master of the Nasiriyya Sufi order (founded by his grandfather), probably inspired as a funeral eulogy by his death, around 1708.

Almost a third of all known Shilha manuscripts contain parts of his works, and the largest Berber text in existence is a commentary by al-Hasan al-Tamuddizti (d. 1898) on Awzal's al-Hawd.

Awzal, in his honor, is also the name of rhymed couplets and long poems that Ishilhin women chant daily or weekly, between the afternoon and sunset Islamic obligatory prayer times, in the tomb complexes of local holy figures.

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