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.