The climate of uncertainty and the moralising intention of the theologians are on the other hand the conditions in which the tawbat al-A‘râb (the repentance of the Bedouins) took place in the Maghreb, a phenomenon of conversion and sedentarisation of the nomad populations which covered all the dimensions of social life. The tajdîd al-dîn (religious renewal), the fight against fasâd (moral corruption), the imitation of Mohammed and the return to the pluralism of the salaf (the pious ancestors of the origins) became recurrent themes of a religious awakening characterised by the proliferation of those institutions zâwiya e madrasa, which were to mark the face of north African Islam indelibly.
But the most significant outcome of this period is the role that Mohammed finally assumed in the Maghrebi spiritual tradition, not only as Prophet and through the revelation, but as intercessor between Allah and the faithful.
The most visible sign of this worship was the progressive introduction of the celebration of Mawlid, the anniversary of the birth of the Prophet, and its institutionalisation as an official feast day by all the Maghrebi dynasties of the time, as well as the obsessive exhibition of the prophetic descent by people and families seeking a religious legitimation. Even if these innovations had to initially overcome the resistance and suspicions of the Malikite jurists, they were much more enthusiastically welcomed by simple believers, whose forms of piety increasingly included prayers, invocations and litanies to the Prophet. A conception of Sufi spirituality and holiness centred on the prophetic model developed in a particular way: the walâya muhammadiyya.
Starting from this time, the relationship of the saint with the Prophet – writes Amri – ‘is understood through the prism of the spiritual heritage, al-wirâtha, that of the filiation and lastly that of education, since the saint is at the same time the heir of the Prophet, his ‘son’ and he who, through his Sunna and his virtues, the Prophet has educated’ (p. 147). We are no longer before the primitive Sufi spirituality, the culminating expression of which was the mystical fusion with the Absolute, but before the search for the personal meeting with the Prophet and the actualisation of his sunna by means of the takhalluq bi-akhlâq al-rasûl, the acquisition of the same moral virtues as the Prophet (p. 154). In this sense the comparison proposed by the authoress between the mi‘raj of the famous Andalusian mystic Ibn ‘Arabî and that of a certain ‘Abd al-Rahmân Al-Tha‘âlibî (died between 1468 and 1470) is quite significant. The former, retracing the stages of Mohammed’s famous ascent into Heaven, concludes his mystic ascent in the presence of God; the final stage of the latter is on the other hand the meeting with the Prophet himself, an increasingly frequent motive of all oneiric visions. And the saints become messengers of hope just because, in an age in which the questions about personal fate are more and more pressing, the Prophet entrusts them with the message of the infinite mercy of God of that rahma which ‘now has a face: that of the ghawth (the rescue), a pole of excellence that occupies the summit of an invisible hierarchy of intercessor saints and on which rests the fate of the world and its creatures’ (p. 240).
In this book, which is solidly founded on a careful analysis of hagiographical collections, juridical opinions and theological treatises, the writer has managed to put the phenomenon of Sufi spirituality in the right perspective. By means of the theme of hope, Amri in fact removes the holiness both from the naturalistic and folkloristic spontaneism in which great part of anthropology had placed it, and from the esoteric and elitist Gnosticism, showing how, even in the continuous dialectic with the most legalist currents, the tension towards holiness makes up an integral part of Islam and its experience of people.