Adil Faouzi
A Moroccan Media Studies Student

Harun bin Mishaal: A Controversial Chapter in Moroccan Jewish History

Street sign "Al Mellah street" in Essaouira, 2018. [Credit: Lucyin/Wikimedia Commons]
Street sign "Al Mellah street" in Essaouira, 2018. [Credit: Lucyin/Wikimedia Commons]

In a period far removed from their perceived ancestral homeland, the Jewish community in Morocco harbored dreams of establishing their own kingdom, even if temporarily, until their return to what they call the “Promised Land”. Harun bin Mishaal, a ruler of the Taza region, sought to establish a state for Moroccan Jews, turning it into a feudal territory. His rule was marked by tyranny and oppression, affecting both Muslims and Jews alike.

Political Vacuum and Chaos

Morocco had never known a Jewish man as domineering and tyrannical as Harun bin Mishaal. His actions were so egregious that Jewish historian Daniel Schroeter disavowed him and his appalling conduct. He was known for his indulgent lifestyle, spending his nights in debauchery, and his days ruling with an iron fist, subjecting his subjects to continuous injustice.

During the transition from the Saadian dynasty (1554-1659) to the rise of the Alaouite dynasty (1666), Morocco experienced a political vacuum. Many influential figures sought to seize control of their regions, among them was Harun bin Mishaal. He took advantage of the instability in Fez during the late Saadian era to establish a Jewish province in the Bani Yaznasen region, becoming the ruler of Taza and Fez, as mentioned in the book “The Diplomatic History of Morocco: From the Earliest Times to the Alaouite Era” by historian Abdelhadi Tazi.

Harun bin Mishaal, born into a prominent Jewish family with commercial influence in the city of Oujda, inherited wealth, prestige, and a position at the royal court from his family. This enabled him to become the ruler of Taza, where he exercised absolute power, often crossing the line with his tyranny.

A Turning Point in Moroccan History

The death of bin Mishaal in the summer of 1663 marked not only the end of a tyrannical feudal lord but also a turning point in Moroccan history. This event shifted the balance of power in favor of the Alaouite dynasty, particularly Sultan Moulay Rashid, who was then a student at the University of Al Quaraouiyine in Fez. Aware of bin Mishaal’s actions, Moulay Rashid rallied his fellow students to overthrow the tyrant, using a strategy that remains undisclosed by historians.

A Woman Sparks a Rebellion

Bin Mishaal’s subjects were either fearful of his brutality or hesitant to trust him. However, his self-created aura of invincibility quickly crumbled. Historian Abdelhadi Tazi recounts an incident where bin Mishaal, while passing by a woman carrying a small child and a jug of water, asked her for a drink. When she refused, he violently reacted, causing the death of her child. The woman returned to her village and incited the people against bin Mishaal.

Bin Mishaal’s assault on this woman coincided with the rise of the Alaouite dynasty, which had committed to ensuring the security and stability of the country from the outset. This put an end to his ambitions of establishing a “Jewish state” in Morocco, especially as he was advancing towards controlling the city of Fez.

The End of a Tyrant

The death of bin Mishaal in the summer of 1663 was not just the end of a tyrannical feudal lord. It marked a turning point in Moroccan history, shifting the balance of power in favor of Sultan Moulay Rashid, the actual founder of the Alaouite dynasty. This event strengthened Moulay Rashid’s position as a rising power, and he was able to consolidate his rule over the region, despite making enemies even among his own people. The Jewish merchants were ready to pay a hefty sum for his assassination, but reaching him within his fortified palace was impossible.

The story goes that Zuleikha, bin Mishaal’s daughter, fell in love with a Muslim man. She brought him into the palace and allowed him to attend her father’s nightly parties. While bin Mishaal indulged in his drink, the young man observed the details of his daily routine, the entrances and exits of the palace, and the security arrangements. The lover relayed the secrets of the palace to Moulay Rashid, who was then establishing his rule.

The end of bin Mishaal’s reign shifted the balance of power in favor of Moulay Rashid, who used bin Mishaal’s assets to equip a strong army and march towards Fez to reclaim it. His ranks were bolstered by the joining of various tribes, strengthening his front as a rising power. Moulay Rashid did not forget the heroic stance of the students of Al Quaraouiyine, rewarding them by establishing a boarding school and a spring break. During each spring break, a “Student Sultan” was appointed, a folklore tradition that commemorates the fall of the Jewish tyrant of Taza.

About the Author
Adil Faouzi, a Moroccan student, is the founder of Murakuc, a project emphasizing Moroccan history and its Jewish heritage. With features in notable Israeli media, Adil merges his passion for education with his expertise in digital marketing. Fluent in English, Arabic, Tamazight (Berber), and French, he has a unique lens that bridges diverse cultures, drawing from his experiences in digital realms and academic pursuits.
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