Built in 1776 by Sultan Sidi Mohammed ben Abdellah, the zaouia of Sidi Mohammed ben Aïssa is the focal point of the legendary Aïssaoua cult, known for such voluntary rituals as swallowing scorpions, broken glass, and poison; eating live sheep; and cutting themselves with knives in prayer-induced trances. Ben Aïssa was one of Morocco's most famous saints. He was said to have made a pact with the animal world and possessed magical powers, such as the ability to transform the leaves of trees into gold and silver coins. Thought to have been a 17th-century contemporary of Moulay Ismail (1646–1727), Ben Aïssa was known as the protector of Moulay Ismail's 50,000-man workforce and persuaded hungry laborers that they were able to eat anything at all, even poisonous plants, glass, or scorpions. Ben Aïssa went on to become the general protector of all his followers. The cult of Aïssa is still around, and has in fact proliferated throughout North Africa to Algeria and beyond. Every
year, during Ben Aïssa's moussem (pilgrimage) on the eve of the birth of the prophet Mohammed, members of the Aïssaoua fraternity from all over North Africa gather at the shrine. Processions form and parade through Meknès, snakes are charmed, and the saint's followers perform ecstatic dances, often imitating the behavior of certain animals. Although some of the Aïssaoua's more brutal practices have been outlawed, this moussem remains one of Morocco's most fascinating events.