Friday, April 03, 2009

Close to Him

By John Thorne, "Morocco moves to mysticism" - The National - Abu Dhabi, UAE
Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sale, Morocco : On Thursday evenings a mystic called Abderrahim Harrati goes down to a small white shrine with a green dome beside the sea to transmit spiritual energy.

Every week men gather there to soak up Mr Harrati’s “baraka”, a blessing from God that they believe flows in his bloodlines, traceable to the Prophet Mohammed.Together they lift their voices in ritual song, uniting in the practices of Sufism, Islamic mysticism that is moving to centre stage in Moroccan society as a new generation updates it for the 21st century.

Some Sufis worry that their traditions are being watered down in the process. But Moroccans increasingly consider Sufism’s tolerant brand of Islam a welcome alternative to a fundamentalist streak in the country that has occasionally turned violent in recent years.Morocco is home to dozens of tariqas, or Sufi orders, anchored to the land by shrines where holy men such as Mr Harrati’s ancestor, Sidi Abdel Kader el Harrati, lie entombed.

While only a minority of Moroccans are active tariqa members, most make room for Sufism in their view of Islam, said Moha Ennaji, professor of linguistics, cultural and gender studies at the University of Fez. “The rituals are part of our lifestyle,” he said. “Dancing, singing – this is Sufi behaviour.”

That behaviour’s roots going back to the Middle Ages, when Islamic scholars developed the idea that while all good Muslims meet God after death, it is also possible to draw close to Him during life. Since then, Sufi orders seeking that closeness have arisen across the Muslim world. Some emphasise poetry, others dance, others meditation and repetitive prayer. All seek to achieve dhikr, a profound awareness of God’s love and presence.

Those Sufis most adept at doing so are sometimes said to possess baraka. “The light of baraka was carried by the Prophet Mohammed, and the saints of Islam carry it to this day,” said Lahcen Sbai, a spokesman for the Boutchichi tariqa, one of Morocco’s leading Sufi orders.

Some people say that baraka brings inner peace, others that it can cure illnesses, and still others that it brings good luck. Some say that it can do all of these things at once. “I feel like I’ve gone to the doctor and been made well,” said Abdelfettah, a shop owner who has attended prayer meetings with Mr Harrati’s group for eight years and did not wish to give his surname.

Abdelfettah and other followers of Mr Harrati’s tariqa believe that baraka resides both in the tomb of his ancestor and in his own living person.

“It’s a gift from God, and it’s a joy to pass it to other people,” said Mr Harrati, who assumed leadership of the order upon the death of his father in 1992.

The loyalty commanded by Sufi orders has led them periodically into the thicket of Moroccan politics, forging alliances with some rulers and clashing with others. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, rural Sufi leaders known as marabouts proved among the stiffest foes of encroaching French armies, while the heads of larger tariqas found accommodation with colonialism.

Following independence from France in 1956, King Hassan II slowly squeezed Sufism into a corner during decades of political repression remembered today as the années de plomb – the “years of lead”. Sidi Hamza Boutchichi, the head of the Boutchichi tariqa, was forbidden to leave his home without authorisation, while Abdesslam Yassine, the leader of the Sufi-inspired Islamic movement al Adl wal Ihssane, or “Justice and Charity”, was placed under full house arrest.

However, Hassan’s son Mohammed VI has led a rapprochement with Sufism as Morocco has scrambled to contain a violent strain of Islamic fundamentalism that produced suicide bombings in Casablanca, the commercial capital, in 2003 and 2007.

Some formerly aloof Sufi orders have similarly relaxed strictures, said Mr Sbai, from the Boutchichi tariqa. The order no longer requires members to wear traditional wool robes and undertake periods of isolation, leading to a steady rise in numbers, he said.

Meanwhile, Sufi music has gripped young Moroccans, filling the airwaves and internet with the beat of skin drums, the clatter of brass castanets, and the twang of the guembri, a three-stringed lute.

The government sponsors hundreds of music festivals each year, where Sufi musicians mix traditional sounds with those of hip-hop, reggae and jazz.For some, going professional is a necessary adjustment to a modernising country.

“Thanks to rural exodus and the television, the brotherhoods are disappearing from the countryside,” said Frédéric Calmès, a French oud player who has lived and performed with the Hamadcha tariqa in Fez since 2002. “But festivals allow them to reach a wide audience.”

“My father was our sheikh, and we used to have prayer meetings at our house in the evenings,” said Abderrahim Amrani, who today leads the Hamadchas on the festival circuit.

“It’s not like before, but it keeps the tariqa alive,” he said. “And if we’re lucky, we still pass on a little baraka.”

Picture: sufis in the coastal city of Sale at the shrine of Sidi Abdelkader el Harrati, a 17th century Sufi saint. Photo: John Thorne/The National.

1 comment:

usofc said...

It's great to see this. In contrast with the fundamentalism we hear so much about that is driving conflict in the Middle East (and the fundamentalism in the West in antipathy to it) Morocco is showing that there is a gentle mystical middle path that is open to all.

The music and dance (and the toktooka learning) that I have enjoyed in Morocco suggested to me that the feminine principle is strong and powerful there.

This path to enlightenment is a powerful bridge between East and West. Grow the baraka.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Close to Him
By John Thorne, "Morocco moves to mysticism" - The National - Abu Dhabi, UAE
Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sale, Morocco : On Thursday evenings a mystic called Abderrahim Harrati goes down to a small white shrine with a green dome beside the sea to transmit spiritual energy.

Every week men gather there to soak up Mr Harrati’s “baraka”, a blessing from God that they believe flows in his bloodlines, traceable to the Prophet Mohammed.Together they lift their voices in ritual song, uniting in the practices of Sufism, Islamic mysticism that is moving to centre stage in Moroccan society as a new generation updates it for the 21st century.

Some Sufis worry that their traditions are being watered down in the process. But Moroccans increasingly consider Sufism’s tolerant brand of Islam a welcome alternative to a fundamentalist streak in the country that has occasionally turned violent in recent years.Morocco is home to dozens of tariqas, or Sufi orders, anchored to the land by shrines where holy men such as Mr Harrati’s ancestor, Sidi Abdel Kader el Harrati, lie entombed.

While only a minority of Moroccans are active tariqa members, most make room for Sufism in their view of Islam, said Moha Ennaji, professor of linguistics, cultural and gender studies at the University of Fez. “The rituals are part of our lifestyle,” he said. “Dancing, singing – this is Sufi behaviour.”

That behaviour’s roots going back to the Middle Ages, when Islamic scholars developed the idea that while all good Muslims meet God after death, it is also possible to draw close to Him during life. Since then, Sufi orders seeking that closeness have arisen across the Muslim world. Some emphasise poetry, others dance, others meditation and repetitive prayer. All seek to achieve dhikr, a profound awareness of God’s love and presence.

Those Sufis most adept at doing so are sometimes said to possess baraka. “The light of baraka was carried by the Prophet Mohammed, and the saints of Islam carry it to this day,” said Lahcen Sbai, a spokesman for the Boutchichi tariqa, one of Morocco’s leading Sufi orders.

Some people say that baraka brings inner peace, others that it can cure illnesses, and still others that it brings good luck. Some say that it can do all of these things at once. “I feel like I’ve gone to the doctor and been made well,” said Abdelfettah, a shop owner who has attended prayer meetings with Mr Harrati’s group for eight years and did not wish to give his surname.

Abdelfettah and other followers of Mr Harrati’s tariqa believe that baraka resides both in the tomb of his ancestor and in his own living person.

“It’s a gift from God, and it’s a joy to pass it to other people,” said Mr Harrati, who assumed leadership of the order upon the death of his father in 1992.

The loyalty commanded by Sufi orders has led them periodically into the thicket of Moroccan politics, forging alliances with some rulers and clashing with others. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, rural Sufi leaders known as marabouts proved among the stiffest foes of encroaching French armies, while the heads of larger tariqas found accommodation with colonialism.

Following independence from France in 1956, King Hassan II slowly squeezed Sufism into a corner during decades of political repression remembered today as the années de plomb – the “years of lead”. Sidi Hamza Boutchichi, the head of the Boutchichi tariqa, was forbidden to leave his home without authorisation, while Abdesslam Yassine, the leader of the Sufi-inspired Islamic movement al Adl wal Ihssane, or “Justice and Charity”, was placed under full house arrest.

However, Hassan’s son Mohammed VI has led a rapprochement with Sufism as Morocco has scrambled to contain a violent strain of Islamic fundamentalism that produced suicide bombings in Casablanca, the commercial capital, in 2003 and 2007.

Some formerly aloof Sufi orders have similarly relaxed strictures, said Mr Sbai, from the Boutchichi tariqa. The order no longer requires members to wear traditional wool robes and undertake periods of isolation, leading to a steady rise in numbers, he said.

Meanwhile, Sufi music has gripped young Moroccans, filling the airwaves and internet with the beat of skin drums, the clatter of brass castanets, and the twang of the guembri, a three-stringed lute.

The government sponsors hundreds of music festivals each year, where Sufi musicians mix traditional sounds with those of hip-hop, reggae and jazz.For some, going professional is a necessary adjustment to a modernising country.

“Thanks to rural exodus and the television, the brotherhoods are disappearing from the countryside,” said Frédéric Calmès, a French oud player who has lived and performed with the Hamadcha tariqa in Fez since 2002. “But festivals allow them to reach a wide audience.”

“My father was our sheikh, and we used to have prayer meetings at our house in the evenings,” said Abderrahim Amrani, who today leads the Hamadchas on the festival circuit.

“It’s not like before, but it keeps the tariqa alive,” he said. “And if we’re lucky, we still pass on a little baraka.”

Picture: sufis in the coastal city of Sale at the shrine of Sidi Abdelkader el Harrati, a 17th century Sufi saint. Photo: John Thorne/The National.

1 comment:

usofc said...

It's great to see this. In contrast with the fundamentalism we hear so much about that is driving conflict in the Middle East (and the fundamentalism in the West in antipathy to it) Morocco is showing that there is a gentle mystical middle path that is open to all.

The music and dance (and the toktooka learning) that I have enjoyed in Morocco suggested to me that the feminine principle is strong and powerful there.

This path to enlightenment is a powerful bridge between East and West. Grow the baraka.