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Morocco: The Sublime Sufi Revival

The rhythms of a Sufi revival are passionately reverberating through the corridors of Morocco, and they are not going unheard, especially by the nation’s youth. A blogpost on Lonely Planet reports :

The mystical branch of Islam, with its philosophy of inner peace, social harmony and oneness with God, is seen by many in Morocco as the ideal counterweight to such strict interpretations of Islam as Salafism, which have gained ground in the past few decades, as well as answering the country’s spiritual needs.

Sufism is recognized for introducing Islam to most parts of southern Morocco in the twelfth century. Eventually, Sufi tariqats, or brotherhoods, extended their influence to northern Morocco, and as well as to the rural areas. By the late fourteenth century, Sufism became a vital aspect of Moroccan politics. After a three hundred year stint as a defining facet of Moroccan culture and mores, Sufism disappeared into the shadows of a stricter, more politicized Islam.

In the infancy of the twenty-first century, Islamic fundamentalism is rapidly advancing across the world. Sufism’s tenets of tolerance and pacifism exhibit great potential as a tonic for the looming threat of extremism.

King Mohamed VI, a descendant of the Alaouite Dynasty, which has ruled Morocco since 1666, wholeheartedly supports a Sufi revival. Since his coronation, he has faced quite a bit of criticism from right-winged opponents who want to instate a more religiously conservative administration to replace the current king’s liberal and secular governance.

Margot Boyer-Dry, a student from Wesleyan University provides her analysis on this issue.

“This is where Sufism comes to the rescue (at least in the mind of the government): Sufi Islam in Morocco is quite similar, in its liberal nature and tolerance, to the Islam enforced under Kind Mohamed VI. Ideally, the more adherents Sufism can gain within Morocco, the fewer people will be left to question the King’s role as a religious ruler.”

Even if Sufism is being utilized as a political tool in the Moroccan government, it is still welcomed by members of the younger generation who are attracted to Sufism’s rejection of fanaticism, and lenience with modernization.

For example, annual Sufi festivals are held throughout the year in Morocco. A writer on Moroccoboard illustrates the Fez Festival held this past April:

“The festival will, according to the Association of Fes Festival of Sufi Culture, continue to show Morocco as the land of the ancient home of Sufism and promoter of dialogue among cultures, but also as a bridge between the East and the West, symbolized by the mediating role that Morocco has always played, especially in its modern history.”

Festivals such as the Fes Festival feature musical acts from all over the world, but Morocco is home to several innovantive musicians as well. The three most popular brotherhoods in Morocco are the Gnawa, the Aïssawa, and the Hamadcha, and each offer their own musical styles and practices.

Joe Tangari writes:

“Gnawa musicians, mystics, and dancers provide a communication conduit between people and the jinn, unseen beings of smokeless fire that are important not to anger. The word is the source of our “genie,” and one particular type of jinn, the mluk (literally, “the owners”) is said to possess people who cross its path. One of the purposes of Gnawa ceremony is to negotiate with the mluk and send it packing– it dovetails with the Sufi quest for spiritual purity. An “Ouled Bambara” is a suite of Gnawa songs played during the Fraja, or entertainment, phase of a Gnawa ceremony.”

An example of a Gnawa invocation, or a lila can be found here.

Another notable Moroccan brotherhood is led by Bachir Attar. The Master Musicians of Jajouka is based in the village of Jajouka in northern Morocco. Members of the Attar family were knighted the royal musicians of the Kingdom of Morocco, and played for the sultans. The Attar family has been passing down music and traditions through generations for almost 1,300 years.

Despite all the enthusiasm, a fraction of Moroccans believe that the Sufism rejuvenation is a blasphemous tactic to undermine specific aspects of mainstream Islam. Idris al Faez, who defines himself as a conservative Sufi imam, imparts his position on the validity of Sufism. “There are some aspects of ignorance among some Sufis such as the mingling of the two genders and the use of music.”

Nonetheless, it is evident that Sufism is deeply rooted in Moroccan traditions, and a Sufi resurgence would, at least, be paying homage to the history of Morocco.

3 comments

  • […] Nonetheless, it is evident that Sufism is deeply rooted in Moroccan traditions, and a Sufi resurgence would, at least, be paying homage to the history of Morocco. via globalvoicesonline.org […]

  • I am not a soufi but my last poem (in French) appealed to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

  • XXX

    Yes Sufism is deeply rooted in Moroccan history and culture. We should not forget that Morocco was through the centuries safe harbour for discriminated minorities who fled AL Hijjaz ( located in actual actual Saudi- arabia). The roots of Sufism in Morocco are linked to discrimination those groups suffered from in the Hijjaz. It’s said that prophet Mohammed (pbuh) Imam Ali, as well as his daughter Fatima Zahra were first Muslim Sufi. Many Sufi fled Makkah and Medina that were once the centre of the Sufi world. They fled to preach the free mind and soul in its introspective journey within the soul. A soul free from any dogma. Many of them founded Tarika’s or Schools of thought, to teach the way they think that helped them the best finding God within themselves; accepting that truth is relative and not absolute! no one can pretend having the monopole over interpreting God’s message. Those schools spread beyond Morocco, the Kadiri Tarika stretches from Morocco, Iraq, Egypt, Hejjaz, Mali, Senegal until China and central Asia. The Tijjani Tarika, or the African Sufism is generated from the same source. You will also find the heritage left by many Shaiks as Shaik Ahmed Zerrouk from Sidi ben Daoud Tribe ( morocco : Settat/ Fez/ Marrakech/ Libya) founder of the Chadelli Tarika and ancestor of Omar Al Moukhtar, renown Libyan figure. Recently one of his decent Shaik Skeirej ( Fez) was the one who fostered the Tijjani Sufism in Africa. Sufi, fled the Hijjaz as it become more and more dogmatic and intolerant for Sufi minds and souls they found in morocco their new home and safe harbour. From there they shined all over the world with the purity of their souls, they never mixed with politics and dogma’s. Their journey was dedicated to discover god within, it was their Tarika, their way to find peace here an now! No more no less. They were ignored and suffered form the colonial decade as they were non manageable and alienable minds for colonial powers. We should not forget the first dogmatic Shariaa tribunals were instituted by colonial powers in Senegal and not by the flexible Sufis. They were much tolerant and flexible regarding local communities, believe and men’s deed ( no stoning no corporal punishment, just compassion ). All went lost, Shaiks and Marabouts were banned and attacked as heretics. The reality is known to all. But one thing remained constant, the Soufi way of being impacted the Moroccan society for good. The main reason why Moroccan are so different, so open-minded and easy going. Religion was always a private matter and oriented toward transcending its human condition rather than dictating a drastic dogma to rule and exclude. Times changed and the new dogma or the revitalisation of political Islam is again threatening this ancestral school. The truth is that Sufism is the only binding and constant philosophy in the Islamic world, from Iran to Pakistan from central Asia to Africa…the only school of thought that knows no discrimination between Ebadi, Ismaili, Alaoui,Sunni, Shiaa. In the Sufi understanding only the concept of Ummati Mohammed is the line and many Soufi clans are direct descent of the prophet Mohammed (pbuh) something they don’t promote usually but it is also the main reason why they have been persecuted from Hijjaz until recently.

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