On Fridays, K. rides his bicycle across the city ofFez to the cemetery of Sidi Mbarek to visit his grandmother’s grave. He parks his bicycle at the entrance and heads to the water faucet where dozens of empty cans are placed nearby. He grabs two cans, holding one in each hand and puts a few dirhams in the adjacent bowl. The scorching sun has dulled the soil of the grave. K. made it a habit of sharing the news he accumulated through the week with his deceased grandmother and reminisces about the time she was alive. He reads some Qur’an and heads back to his bicycle as the nearby minaret calls for prayer and the Friday sermon.

Cemeteries, among other places, are humans’ final abode. Upon death, the body is meant to be disposed of immediately and buried, in accordance with the Sunni Maliki school. In fiqh, religious interpretation of the Quran and the Hadith, only burials are allowed. Burying bodies is a reaction to the decadent state of corpses that are hygienically threatening.  We can also see it in our escapist attitude towards forms of existence that remind us of our creatureliness. As Becker in his Pulitzer-prize winning work The Denial of Death affirms, defecation, sex, and death reduce humans to their physical nature and therefore have to be kept out of sight.

The cemetery hosts the existential remnants of our eminent end. It collects what we do not want to see. Upon death, in the physical sense of the word, the corpse becomes stiff and liable to decomposition in the next few hours. The stench is unbearable, so the body is hastily consigned to underneath the ground for further decomposing. This bodily degeneration, if it were to remain accessible to public eye, would constitute a horrific sight, one which repulses the onlooker staring into their future corporeal state. Hence, it comes as no surprise that post-death rituals seek the ultimate purpose of concealing this horrific process. The cemetery is the closed-off place where the remnants of corpses are assembled and where they can be easily found by their relatives should they pay them a visit. Interment in a number of Muslim-majority countries is the only possible and religiously mandated manner for burial. From within the Islamic perspective, death is not the end. It is only the beginning of a new form of life. In this article, I focus on cemeteries in Fez as enclosures of two closely related concepts: placeness and placelessness and how these two concepts are implicated in a relationship of negotiation.

According to Soja, “the spatiality of human life must be interpreted and understood as fundamentally from the start, a complex social product, a collectively created and purposeful configuration and socialization of space that defines our contextual habitat, the human and humanized geography in which we all live our lives” (Soja, 1989). Placelessness signifies loss of meaning (Arefi, 2007). For Soja, “space is socially produced, life society itself, in both substantial forms (concrete spatialities) and as a set of relations between individual and groups, an embodiment and ‘medium’ of social life itself’ (1989). Both Soja and Relph concur on the inefficiency of space, as an isolated geographical entity, to generate insights that could advance the study of place within the social sciences. If Relph identifies space as elusive and not liable to scrutiny, Soja sees spatiality as “objectively measurable only as things-in-themselves,” given its focus on the physical dimensions(1989). Absent from the analysis are “the deeper social origins of spatiality, its problematic production and reproduction, its contextualized power, politics and ideology.” (1989) Interestingly, despite the centrality of the concept of space, the argument recognizes, in the line of Soja’s emphasis on the resurgence of the spatial turn in that “focusing exclusively on them [physical qualities of the real world or an essential philosophical attribute] can lead us away from a cogent and active understanding of human geographies.”

The word cemetery in Arabic is al-maqbara, which can take another variation lemqaber. Etymologically, the root word is the verb ‘qabara,” (to inter). However, another widely used term is ‘rawdah’ which means gardens or paradise. It is also a religious term; for example, the burial place of Prophet Muhammed is called ‘Arawdah Asharifa,’ the honored gardens. In contrast to the basic term of al-maqbara that directly reflect the main function of the cemetery and the act undertaken therein (interment), the latter metaphorical term captures the after-death beliefs that are context-based.

While the cemetery is a closed-off space, it remains open to the public which thus supports my choice of not declaring my research interests while I conducted fieldwork, as doing so would alter the ‘natural’ setting of the experience of visiting tombs in the cemetery. On the other hand, other privatized burial grounds do exist; they generally house deceased of a specific and ennobled descent, yet these cemeteries do not figure in this paper.

Cemeteries as rootedness

The cemetery is an important site to study because it is everybody’s final abode and a point of reference for the bereaved. The disposal of the body in Fez, as is the case of the rest of the country, is done only through burial. Indiscriminately, and regardless of religiosity, social class and other parochial differences, all bodies are meant to be buried. In this paper, I rehearse a spatial analysis of the cemetery by focusing on the rituals performed within. While the cemetery appears to be a geographically defined place, the interpretation of the practices within this space demonstrates its placeless experience for the visitors.

In this article, I develop a conception of the cemetery as placeness wherein a fixed identity is found in the concreteness of graves. In many cemeteries, it is common for a husband and wife to be buried together, or father and son, in response to strong attachments during their lifetime. It is also common to find families buried together, or who are planning to be as they buy a piece of land that could accommodate a number of graves. Hence, some people already know where they will be buried. Such moves ensure that families stay together even after their death. Moreover, as one of my interviewees mentioned, stretching her arm wide to signal the large surface that cemeteries cover, “it is easier for the visitors to pay their respects and pray from all their deceased relatives without having to move around from one corner of the cemetery to another” (Khadija, personal communication, 2022). Others prefer to be buried next to their spiritual teacher, or sheikh, since in a number of cemeteries, tradition has it that a saint should be buried there and a sanctuary, darih, is built around the grave. The motive behind these choices can delineate ethnic, spiritual, and familial ties, more importantly these decisions signal the endowment of the graveyards with the ability to create long-lasting relationships between the living and the dead.

The cemetery “connotes rootedness, belonging, envisions fate and destiny and embodies will and volition,” which contributes to the creation of a sense of ‘placeness’ (Arefi, 2007). Cemeteries are considered places of return after the body and soul have exhausted their duties in this life, which is the reason why some even chose their final resting place and purchase their own grave. Laila, a woman I met during fieldwork, shared one version of a story I have heard before. A notable pious man went home with an incredible announcement: “I have bought a piece of land.” The family burst into cheers congratulating one another, “amazing news [Hnia alina],” while thinking about their new status as real estate owners. After their initial excitement about the family’s upwards mobility, they sat still and turned to the father: “So, where is it located?” Each one of them had in their mind turned to a dream estate, a large family home with plants, olive trees, and market benefits, the father’s answer came as a blow: “It’s in Sidi Boubker Ben Larabi.” Laila said, “The family sunk in disappointment and disbelief.” Sidi Boubker Ben Larabi is the name of the cemetery of Boujloud named after the wali[1] buried there.

I also came across another version of Laila’s story about a pious man who missed the ‘asr prayer and decided to buy his own grave as an atonement. These acts strengthen a popular memory of the links between a strong faith in God and acceptance of death as return to Him. Some demonstrate their acceptance of death and readiness to meet God by purchasing one’s own shroud, a visible garment in its owner’s closet. These acts of piety are daily reminders of one’s finitude. They are also glaring accounts of social practices shaped by the firm belief in death as a return to God, rather than the end of the journey.  Cemeteries are depositories of this belief in a return, as a coming back to the commencement of human life, and the opening chapter of human existence. This “return to God”is more precisely understood as giving back what belongs to God. This belief shapes different linguistic expressions of death in Moroccan Darija. For instance, sharing the sad news about somebody’s passing usually takes this form, da moul al amana amanto, “the Owner of the trust has taken His trust back.” Taking back occurs immediately after the last breath, leaving the body in the hands of the living for a strictly observed handling of religious protocols. Immediate washing, a mosque prayer, and burial ceremony, possibly followed by other social gatherings. This acknowledgement of death, as an ultimate destination, and certainly of return continue with new reminders inscribed on graves and sometimes at the entrance of burial sites, antum assabiqun wa nahnu allahiqun, “You are the ones going before, we are the followers.” The various iterations of death as a destination not a final step produces the grave as the inaugural phase for the afterlife.

Plural Meanings in the Cemetery: A Mosaic of Interpretation beyondBereavement

Routine visits to the cemetery on Fridays before the duhr[2] prayer, foster a collective sense of bereavement among the visitors and create a collective identity bond vis-à-vis the deceased. The weekly voyages to the cemetery create a community of the bereaved who have become accustomed to seeing one another in the graveyard. It is not uncommon to see a visitor watering the grave of their relative, when, all of a sudden, they turn automatically to the neighboring graves and waters them as well.[3] Visitors also maintain relationships with gravediggers, who cater to graves in exchange for some money or sometimes out of empathy.

These modes of sociability are specific to people’s habituated practices in cemeteries. For Relph, “to be inside a place is to belong to it and to identify with it, and the more profoundly inside you are the stronger is this identity with the place” (Relph, 2008). Thus, once inside the cemetery, visitors demonstrate an awareness of a nearing death and graves as their future lodging. A conflation of tenses occurs, visitors do not only mourn their loved ones who died at some point in the past, but they also bemoan their fate as temporary beings and death as an unavoidable reality, that cemeteries do not only throb with the death of others but also recall the imminent death of all humans.

Cemeteries takes on different meanings that are discordant with the sacrosanct status they withhold for the bereaved onFridays. A visit to the cemetery fills children with joy. Cemeteries became their playgrounds, as they climb tombstones and dangle their head from their sides. And while their relatives are absorbed in prayers for their beloved deceased, the kids jump around, dip their hands inside the circumference of graves, their fists dolloped with soil. Kids use of the cemetery as a recreation ground disrupts the adults’ strict decorum and predilection for leisure in graveyards and points to the unfixed and indefinite meanings associated with a place. Hence, the cemetery is only meaningful through how they conceive of it and what they do in it.  

On Fridays, cemeteries don an aura of sacrality which they might lose, during the weekdays, notably when they are located at the center of human daily traffic or considered haunted spaces at night. For regular visitors and mourners on Fridays, the cemetery offers a connection to the deceased and a chance to honor their life. For ramblers, it confers quietness and solitude and clandestineness from judging peeks of society and law enforcement. For children, the graveyards activate their creativity and offer ample space for diversion. This diversity of experiences ranging between bereavement, substance abuse, and play suggest the fleetingness of meanings behind the occupation of spaces.

So often, the literature on the cemetery revolves around several key words in line with bereavement, memory, and rituals, and locking its meaning to expressions of grief and loss, while endowing it with the impression of holiness. However, these facets do not exhaust the meaning and practices that produce the cemetery as a multifaceted space for mourning, socializing, remembering, renewing of faith, and playing. The inconstancy of meanings as different groups walk in with different agendas attest to the inconclusiveness of classification, namely the sanctity and worldliness of the cemetery. This multiplicity of meanings facilitates the analytical movement from placeness to placelessness.

The bereaved display a collective consciousness once inside the cemetery. As a defined place, the cemetery is named and located, but the experience within, which is what this study explores, overturns the facile reference to a specific place. The visitors recognize their shared venture, a collective sense of bereavement and loss that seeks compensation through regular visits to the grave involving a stepwise process. Death, the elusiveness of the soul and the decomposition of the corpse always escape human understanding, but this loss of control is met with a thorough administration of the grave by the bereaved as the sole agents responsible for the maintenance of the deceased’ memory.

Encounters between the Living and the Dead

Cemeteries are not only places for the disposal of the dead. They make possible the encounter between the living and the dead.There is a prevalent belief that the deceased are persons/souls that can hear their visitors. One of my interviewees claimed going regularly to visit her father’s grave to speak to him, as if he were sitting opposite her and lending an attentive ear. She talks to him about how her day is going, the whereabouts of her children, who has got a new job, and the rest of the details. She tells him about all the new events in her extended family. She also asks: “father, can you hear me? Can you actually hear me? How is life in there? Is there really an afterlife?” She stated that, “while I know that this may be blasphemous, I could not stop myself from asking these questions.” These acts of locution directed to the dead are recurrent and can be detected in any cemetery. As visitors stand before graves or weep on tombstones, they can be heard saying, speaking to the dead, “May God have mercy on you, [Allah yrehmek].” These direct locutionary acts upset the rules of normalcy through which the distinction between normal and paranormal activities is known. In the cemetery of Sidi Mbarek (“My Master the blessed”), the interlocuter-listener roles are reversed. On the walls of the new section, it reads: “Oh you standing upon my grave, do not wonder at my state, for, yesterday, I was like you, and tomorrow, you will be like me [ya waqifan‘ inda qabri, la tata’ajjab min amri, bi al ‘ams kunto mithlak, wa ghadan takunu mithli].”

On Fridays the cemetery could be so crowded that its alleyways throbs with visitors. People queue up before faucets and wait for other visitors to return empty tanks. Visitors then commiserate with one another as they are bound by the same history of loss and come to the cemetery almost habitually to remember loved ones and exchange condolences. So often, visitors pray for the deceased of other visitors without necessarily knowing them. At the tip of traffic, or when casually meeting others in alleyways with water tanks in their hands, or when spotting a women dressed all in white as indication of losing a husband, visitors pay different forms of condolences, such as, “may God have mercy on everyone [Allah yerhem ljami’],” or “mayGod grant you patience [Allah yseberkom].” These instances signify an awareness of the bond between them.

The dead are kept separate from their counterparts’ everyday life. Unlike other places, the cemetery poses serious existential concerns to its visitors since it stands on the crossroads of human’s existential queries. In the cemetery of Sidi Mbarek, a habitual scene is a load of water buckets on the threshold and gravestones lined up against the walls.Adjacent shops sell rose water and incense burning kits: incense sticks and a container as well as a lighter. Visitors head to the threshold of the grave ground.On the wall is hung a big poster with the traditional greeting phrase: “Peace be upon you, O you of the believers and Muslims dwelling in these abodes.Behold, if God wills, we shall meet you. We beseech Oh Allah safety for us and for you.” Here I think you are describing one of the cemeteries, just name it so we know which one you are talking about.

I attended a tafriq, separation, a specific ceremony that takes place at the grave. Some families commemorate it the following day after the burial, but others the third day. Either way, the tafriq should not coincide with either Saturday or Sunday, respectively, Jewish andChristian holidays. This ceremony is particularly gendered feminine, or mixed, but with a majority of women in attendance, unlike in burials, from which women are banned in the Maliki school of fiqh followed in Morocco.[4] On tafriq day, the tomb is but a hill of soil covered by palm frond. InFez, families celebrate the tafriq by covering the tomb with a white shroud, incense burners, and rose water sprinkled on the grave as well as the surrounding ones. As a Quran reciter is summoned to read some specifically chosen chapters and verses, relatives pray for forgiveness for the deceased’s soul, some crouched on other tombs, others content with squatting nearby. The crowd displays different degrees of emotional distress. In the end, the family distributes bread and dried figs to anybody in their vicinity with a special focus on the visitors themselves, the Qur’an reciter, the gravediggers, who happen to be nearby, and beggars. The day of tafriq holds a special significance, that of an ultimate separation on this end and traveling of the soul on the other. Thus, a spiritually dense atmosphere assures the soul’s serene departure to the afterlife.

On that day of tafriq, as the visitors were readying to leave and while the prayers were drawing to an end, a bee caught the attention of the crowd, as it settled on the shroud that’s still covering the grave. The bee, now the center of everyone’s attention, with the Quran being recited as a background to this scene, remains still on the unfinished tomb for some short time. As the gathering comes to an end, the bee roams around under the suspended gaze of the visitors and moves to another tomb only few meters away. The designated grave happens to be that of the deceased’s stepmother. The relatives could not contain their astonishment. And the eldest daughter kept repeating: “the bee knew that they are related and was beckoning us to visit her grave as well.” The bee anecdote became a family tale. A strong justification or reasoning behind such rituals remains unclear. When asked why she observes the ‘tafriq’ gathering, L. replies: “I do not know. Our parents used to do this and passed it onto us. [Through these rituals] it’s not like we will bring back the dead [to life]. However, the above tale summarizes the significance of such practices” (Nora, personal communication, 2024).

For lack of explanation behind the strategic movement of the bee, and while refusing to reduce the anecdote to a mere coincidence, or the interpretation to intuition only, the family upheld that the bee was a messenger from the deceased parents to their children. Death grapples with questions that cannot be grasped by the human mind. This is what Baumann calls the “unthinkable” (Baumann, 1992). When faced with a stark event, too elaborate to be called coincidental, the group resorts to an ability to reach out to the afterlife as a justification. This incident is just an example among many that reflect the strong penchant towards otherworldly explanations that feed off the afterlife to outperform the unanswered questions that death straggles along. In contrast to the esteemed quietness that prevails in cemeteries, populated burial ground is fertile soil for the tug-of-war between the paucity of knowledge that humans have about death and the glaring end that stares squarely back at their face. Thus, as a resolution, experiencing the supernatural nullifies the impossible reach of insights on the afterlife. Visitors seek comfort in the thought that the afterlife may not be so distant from accessing.The cemetery then constitutes a liminal space. The description of the practices therein captures the borderline between life and the afterlife.

Maintaining Connection with Death

Houssince Riouch, in his historical perusal of death rituals in Morocco, collects other practices, derived from the pre-Islamic era that have withstood the test of time (Riouch, 2020). The following acts are known as ‘the pledge’ (al-a’hed). The bereaved write one Quranic verse on apiece of paper, insert it into a small tube (jaaba) and put it in a crevice in the tomb, and another verse between the deceased’s feet so that they are not tribulated (fitna). Through such practices, the living aim to have a hand in directing the life of the deceased towards the best outcome,Heaven.

The cemetery in Fez corresponds to a space that makes possible a spiritual connection between the dead who inhabit the ‘barzakh’,and the visitors for whom the cemetery is their imminent home. In this sense, the cemetery, aside from its basic function of lodging the dead, enacts a function for the living themselves. It constitutes a space that allows the exercise of a correspondence between life and the afterlife, substantiated, a sit were, by an authority of being the initiator of it though rituals. Thus, the cemetery resists questions of the whereabouts of this encounter, as the dead inhabit a different spatiotemporal zone, yet the prayer is believed to arrive to its destination regardless of the temporal and spatial distance separating the living and the dead. And even though the body is no longer amongst the living, the soul has merely crossed to the other world. During visits to the grave, whether routine or special such as tafriq, the bereaved reel back to the past when the person was still alive. On par with remembering the dead is the present correspondence between the living and the deceased; cemetery-going is usually associated with the ability to establish contact with the deceased, however unlikely a perceptual response is anticipated and sought.

The deceased are buried in the grave, yet they truly exist in one atemporal world shaped by this subtle encounter between the living and the dead. These encounters generate a placeless understanding of space where visits to the cemetery encroach upon unfamiliar zones that resist localization and leave room for the visitors’ imagination to ponder about their whereabouts, culminating into what Arefi calls a geography of “otherness” and “nowhereness” (Arefi, 1999).  This encounter is characterized by mystery insofar as a lack of grasp on the ontology of death remains the missing piece that convolutes the investigation of existence. It is primordial to apprehend death as itself a form of existence that differs from life as we know it and that always escapes clear-cut answers; the grave is the physical depository of the body, but the soul exists in an unidentified spatiotemporal juncture. The ritualized visits and practices at the cemetery work as a reminder of human ignorance of eschatological matters that leave questions open to the imagination. Questions about the whereabouts of the deceased requires a precise location, yet the answer to such enquiries, the identification of emplacements or the afterlife can never be reached.Cemetery visitors head to the cemetery to pray for the people whose whereabouts they do not know. The cemetery introduces extant yet discrepant spatiotemporal dimensions that extirpate the visitor from the immediacy of their experience.While I conducted observation in cemeteries to examine the lived reality of visitors and the discourse they maneuver (discourse here as both statement and practices), the experience of visiting graves displaces the visitor rather than anchoring them in it. The notion of placelessness in cemeteries is productive insofar as it reveals an alternative function of the cemetery, and we can think of the social significance of cemeteries beyond their existence as physical places dedicated to storing bodily remains.

These visits matter on three fronts in relation to allowing a continuous relationship with death, the deceased, and the environment of the grave. When going to the cemetery, visitors have in mind the spiritual well-being of the deceased, as well as the ecosystem around the grave. Hence, they recite verses or chapters from the Quran or pay for a ‘faqih’,reciter, to perform them. Some give ample attention to the botanical health of the grave, bringing their own tools to remove the dead bushes, plant new ones, and water them. Others delegate this task to the workmen hunting for new work opportunities in the cemetery and who are most of the time gravediggers also.Some visitors deliberately bring along their children to maintain contact with the deceased family members and pass on the tradition of caring for the dead and honoring their graves. A number of these children are instead more fascinated by the hills of soil and dirt dug out from the preparation of future interments. They take interest in collecting flowers from the graves and hurrying to be the first among the crowd of youngsters to decipher the text on the tombstones, according to what they have learned at school.

The cemetery, then, corresponds to Foucault’s heterotopia, since they are “different from all the sites that they reflect and speak about” (Foucault, 1984). While Foucault indeed elaborates on cemeteries as heterotopic spaces, he emphasizes cemeteries’ isolation from the city as the hub of everyday life yet its connection to everybody in the site as “each individual, each family has relatives in the cemetery, and this remoteness serves as prevention since “the dead … bring illness to the living” and proximity to the dead “propagates death itself” (Foucault, 1984). Foucault’s analysis is related to the western world; however, I find his theorization of heterotopia to suit my purpose of conveying the placelessness of cemeteries in Fez. This atemporality instantiates “an absolute break with their traditional time” (Foucault,1984). Despite the anchorage of visits in largely precise times like Fridays, tafriq, death anniversaries, and the 27th of Ramadan, the visitor, upon entrance, is transported into a timeless zone where their dates and times lose force. Some cemeteries are connected to everyday life as sites of circulation, commerce, and sociality, making of burial grounds a generator of sources of subsistence.  

The sacred and the profane

Cemeteries house the dead, in line with multiple religious traditions. In Islam, “to honor the deceased is to bury them [ikramo al mayyiti, dafnoh],” as the saying goes. Therefore, burial is not only a tactic for the disposal of the death, but it is a sacralizing act to allow for a smooth transition to the next life.During bad weather, the sanctity of the graves is put into jeopardy. For instance, graves are liable to collapse due to heavy rain, poorly-built graves, or ones built on fragile soil. Others while still firm, may give the impression of drowning as the insides of the tomb are filled with rainwater. Such seasonal sights derange the sacred status of these sites. Sacred, in this case, pertains to objects (graves) or sites (cemeteries) that have a high spiritual value, their value surpasses their physical and logistical service, i.e., housing dead bodies. Instead, this housing ensures the proper and ethical observation of death’s rights and continuing proper relationship with the living.

The cemetery is a sacred space not only in the spiritual connotations of the word, as one that demands respect for the dead, but also in the set of rules it stipulates. While the written rules are limited to the prohibition of taking pictures, the unwritten ones are more abundant. They include lowering one’s voice, keeping the inside and the circumference of tombs clean, and not using profanities. The cemetery unfolds as a place that is more about the living than about the dead. It is the living who choose the obituaries, organize burial placement, and put bread and water on graves for the roaming animals as a continuing charity on behalf of the deceased. While upholding rules, the cemetery breaks other rules of nature; it assigns speech to the dead, it is common to spot this kind of statements on the edge of tombs,“O, you standing before my tomb, pray for my forgiveness,” or in the case of the newly founded terrain of the Sidi Mbarek cemetery, the wall reads in the voice of the dead, “do not be bewildered by my state as just yesterday, I was exactly where you are.” The writings are not the only ones that attempt to give life to the dead. Visitors as well are eager to address the dead as if the latter were sitting before them in flesh and blood and all ears.

Despite the substantial creation of cultural meanings within the cemetery, it a space that points also to multiple marginalities, including spatial organization and security. Delinquency and its various forms, drug-dealing, and superstition run rampant in cemeteries. As a secluded place that the living mostly populate onFridays, it provides ample room for unsanctioned activities inside its walls.In multiple cemeteries, people have woken up, time and again, to overturned graves, a trace of a psychic who was thirsty for the superstitious benefits of a dead body. Broken glass of alcoholic drinks and cigarette butts are also are current sight, which testify to the alternances that cemeteries undergo, from land that houses the dead to the hub of socially frowned-upon practices. Given its accessibility and, very often, lack of security, cemeteries constitute a safe escape place for the enactment of practices that the larger society considers inappropriate and immoral, such as drinking, superstition, and drug-dealing. Along with the lowliness and illegitimacy of the practices enacted comes the sanctity and sacredness of the cemeteries themselves. Connotations of death, decomposition, and silence with which notions of graveyards throb convey only partially the significance of these places. Cemeteries ensure the dead can be recognized yet safely afar. Thus, dead bodies, which function as reminders of our own creatureliness are not a source of malaise in themselves but become so once they remain outside the parameters of their designated spot. The cemetery is therefore a tug-of-war between the sacred and the profane. It is a sacred haven imposing its own ethics but also morphs into a repository of heinous crimes with life-threatening consequences where the dignity and the sanctity of the dead is assailed by the ignobility of the illicit acts taking place therein. The set of rituals and practices performed in the cemetery define the relationship binding individuals to it. The veneration of burial grounds as can be seen in the decorum to maintain once inside could easily be jeopardized by unbecoming activities that are perceived as acts of errancy that denigrate the presumed inviolability of burial grounds. The importance of maintaining forms of reverence towards the cemetery and condemning crass doings inside it is also supplemented by the recognition of the cemetery as the final place of rest for all people indiscriminately as is stipulated by the law and corroborated by a thick tradition of burial.

The significance of the concept of ‘placelessness’ in relation to cemeteries lies in its generation of (a) an interpretation of cemeteries as more than a storage area of the dead per se and (b) elucidation of death as continuation rather than annihilation. Following this line of thought, death is not a total negation; the deceased traverse to another world where the notion of time and place is inconceivable by the bereaved who outlive them. However, this discrepancy does not discourage visitors from establishing chains of communication with the dead.


This paper links the concept of placelessness to cemeteries in Fez. In concert with Soja, the focus revolves around the practices that occur inside the sites rather than the place itself. The cemetery overturns basic definitions of death and dying. Within its walls, the living speak to the dead and may witness a reaction. It vacillates between a place of return and uncertainty over its (un)dignified status. If the Qur’an mentions that humans are made out of clay, then their interment is but a return to the source. However, it is also the nerve center of different forms of misconduct that sharply contradict the venerated stature of the dead. It is the space where the sacred and the profane, the natural and the supernatural, the here and the hereafter meet. In the cemetery, death changes meaning and resists traditional descriptions. Etymologically, death denotes meaning and act, process, and condition of inanimate things, cessation of all vital organs. Yet, bare definitions that only cater to the physical extent of death are not productive in analyzing the relationship between places of burial in a socio-cultural setting that is in its practices in disagreement with the forenamed reduction.



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Becker, E. (1973).The Denial of Death. The Free Press. London: Collier Macmillan Publishers.

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[1] Wali is anarabic term designating a servent who is particularly close to God.

[2] Secondprayer of the day around noon.

[3] It is a common practice to water graves using cans that can be filled with tap water found on the outskirts of cemeteries.

[4] See: al mudawwanah al-kubra li al-imam Malik.