Sufism as Youth Culture in Morocco

Morocco owes its image of a modern Muslim nation to Sufism, a spiritual and tolerant Islamic tradition that goes back to the first generations of Muslims and has sustained the religious, social and cultural cohesion of Moroccan society for centuries. Sufism provides answers to some of the most complex issues in the contemporary Muslim world, where youth comprise the majority of the population.
Most Moroccans, young or old, practice one form of Sufism or another. As a deep component of the Moroccan identity, Sufism absorbs all members of society, regardless of age, gender, social status or political orientation.
Moroccan youth are increasingly drawn to Sufism because of its tolerance, its fluid interpretation of the Qur'an, its rejection of fanaticism and its embrace of modernity. Young men and women find in the Sufi principles of "beauty" and "humanity" a balanced lifestyle that allows them to enjoy arts, music and love without having to abandon their spiritual and religious obligations.
Sufi orders exist throughout Morocco. They organize regular gatherings to pray, chant and debate timely topics of social and political importance, ranging from the protection of the environment and social charity to the war on drugs and the threat of terrorism.

Moreover, Sufi gatherings inspire young people to engage in interfaith dialogue, highlighting the universal values Islam shares with Christianity and Judaism - such as the pursuit of happiness, love of one's family, tolerance of racial and religious differences, and the promotion of peace.

Combined, Sufi seminars, chants and trances provide millions of Moroccans with a social medium where the fusion of the sacred and the secular, the soul and the body, and the local and the universal is both possible and enjoyable.

I recently asked Ahmed Kostas, an expert on Sufism and director at the Moroccan Ministry of Religious Affairs in Rabat, why this old spiritual tradition is so popular among modern youth.

"Progress and change," he noted, "are basic tenets of Sufi philosophy."

Sufis distance themselves from fundamentalists, whose vision of Islam is a strict and Utopian emulation of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions, by placing great emphasis on the community's adaptation to the concerns and priorities of modern times. Sufis neither condemn unveiled women nor censure modern means of entertainment. For them, the difference between virtue and vice is determined on the basis of intent, not appearances.

Sufism is so diffuse in Moroccan culture that its role cannot be properly understood if reduced to a sect or shrine; it pervades even those musical trends labeled as "modern" or "Western." Rai, as well as Moroccan versions of hip hop and rap, may seem too earthly or too sensual to be associated with Sufism, yet they draw on Sufi poetry to sing the primordial essence of the human body, the virtues of simplicity, and the healing gifts of Sufi saints, such as Sidi Abderrahman Majdub, Sidi Ahmed Tijani, and Sidi Boumediene-spiritual masters revered by their peers and disciples for having attained spiritual union with God during their earthly lives.

The impact of Sufism on youth culture is more explicit in the lyrics of the urban band Nass Al Ghiwan and the Saharan Gnawa musicians. These two groups have profoundly shaped Moroccan popular music since the 1970s. Ghiwan songs, informed by the hippie style of bands like the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd, inspire many listeners to a physical response called shatha, a Sufi word that Moroccans use for modern dance.

Gnawa musicians, the descendants of African slaves brought to Morocco between the 12th and 17th centuries, produce a similar effect. Their music is a mix of religious lyrics deeply rooted in the oral tradition of sub-Saharan Africa and melancholic melodies reminiscent of American jazz and blues. The Gnawa performance centers on a spinning body and a high-pitched voice, rhyming poetic verses with Sufi chants in Arabic such as "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his Messenger." These same words are terrifying when they come from the mouth of the terrorist, but lift the soul when they are sung by pious Muslims, Gnawa and other Sufi-inspired musicians.

Even Fnaire, the most recent hip hop band from Marrakech, identifies itself as a blend of Moroccan Sufi tradition and American rap.

In addition to Moroccans, thousands of young men and women from Europe, America and Africa flock to sacred music festivals organized every summer by Sufi movements throughout Morocco, to sing and celebrate their enthusiasm for life and their commitment to the universal values of peace. The scene at these festivals completely refutes the kind of image that extremists seek to convey to Muslim youth.

It is this fusion of Sufism and modernity that produces a unique aesthetic experience, which is attractive to Moroccan youth who reject extremism and uphold values of a shared humanity.

 This article originally appeared in Washington Post/Newsweek’s /On Faith/ and was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) as part of a series on lesser-known Muslim societies.

"Mokhtar Ghambou is professor of Postcolonial Studies at Yale University. He is also the founder and president of the American Moroccan Institute (AMI).

Comments (10)  

-1 #1 COMMENT_TITLE_R E Sufism as Youth Culture in Moroccoihsaan 2009-03-03 23:32
Sufism has no place in islam and is something which was innovated after the life of the prophet. We recently saw the activities of "bouy umar" a small town where a lot of sihr(magic) and sufism tied together prompted human rights organizations to complain, strange and perverse interactions with men and women and people were worshiping graves in mosques and doing strange rituals which were degrading and desecrating to the mosques of islam. Music was prohibited from the prophet. As for rap which is the worst form of music because it has it's on culture which is perverted and violent.Rap music encourages Degrading of women,using foul language,explic it directions and praise for using drugs and encourages violence against women .
Hamid Mernissi
0 #2 Read! Read! Read!Hamid Mernissi 2009-03-06 18:29
First of all I would like to congratulate Mr. Mokhtar Ghambou for bringing such interesting topic which is a fundamental part of Moroccan history and social web from the era of its Islamization up till our days. It is the duty of every Moroccan to know his or her spiritual history and the reality of the doctrine of the universal Islam from its exoteric aspect which is Fiqh and its esoteric aspect which Tassawwuf. Once again thank you Mokhtar for your article that would bring so much to Moroccans to know about themselves, their identity and spiritual understanding of a universal Islam. I can detect from your few words that you love Morocco and proud of its identity. Keep on the good work.
In response to Ms. Ihsane, I believe there is a big misunderstandin g on her part about Tassawwuf. Fundamentally, outside of Sunnah and Quran there is no Tassawwuf. Without Sunnah and the holy book there is no Islam. That where every thought starts and ends. Tassawwuf does not deviate from this context. Islam is the religion Tassawwuf is its essence. However Islam is based on knowledge, this is reached by Ijtihad. Ijtihad is a great aspect of tassawwuf in the path of our prophet “blessing be upon him” and his companions on their head an authority of esoteric Islam Sayyiduna Ali Ibn abi Talib “Karrama llahu wjhahu”.

I recommend Ms. Ihsane and all those who have any misconception about Tassawwuf to first find an abridged Arabic dictionary to understand the term Tassawwuf “tasfiyatu al Qulub”, then from that go back to Quran and sunnah “Syratu N’abi” The Path. Acquire knowledge to the practices and teachings of Imam Ali and his relation to our Prophet, early Islam education of Sahaba, Tabiaa and tabiatu Tabieen. Other authorities in Islamic school of thoughts are so many, few to mention such as Al Junaid, Imam Alghazali, Ibnu l’ Arabi, Alhallaj, Ibnu Rushd you will enrich yourself about the reality of Islam, a universal faith for all human beings. You will find out that Islam spread throughout the globe not by sword but by reaching the intellect of human beings of all social webs in every nation through the teaching of esoteric knowledge. “read!”

I will take you all back to what has made Morocco a country of coexistence and tolerance throughout history and still is. It is a country with so many contributions to the world in general and to the Islamic in particular. Neither Okba ibnu Nafii with his first expedition was able to convert Morocco, nor Hassan ibnu Nouaman in the second expedition with his Jund, only till Moussa Ibnu Noucair understood that it is not by sword to subdue the Proud Berbers but by introducing stoics to them. Eventually his plan worked and with a handful of neophytes he was able even to conquer Spain. But again, let’s remember only with the prosecuted esoteric Muslims “Ahlu lbait” Ahlu Sira who fled from Damascus and then Baghdad to North Africa that Morocco entered the era of embracing Islam marked by the arrival of Moulay Idriss to Volubilis.

Later on you will find in history that the genius of Morocco exported great thinkers to teach the understanding of Islamic reality back to the east. Quairawan, Alexandria, Damascus, Baghdad were to learn from Imam Abu Lhassan Shadhili and Ibnu l’Arabi. Even Mekka has to embrace the teaching of tassawwuf thru the Tarika lfassia up to our days.

Moroccans have to be very proud with their extensive knowledge of real Islam, proud of their Ulamaa and spiritual stoics; a knowledge of Islam that is embedded in the social life of all Moroccans, not just as religion to practice but as a way of life. Tasawwuff is not about ignorance but the contrary. Tassawwuf absolutely has nothing to do with superstition, neither charlatanism or Rap music. Islam is free of inequalities and discrimination of gender or minorities.

Please every Muslim, go back to the Holy book and study it not just memorize it or pretend; there are many books of tafssir available for you to enrich your intellect. Go back to sunnah and study it too; we have great sources in the Sahihs either AL Boukhari, Muslim or Tarmadi. They are all good and contain great understanding of a universal message of Islam to all for all times. The reality we have to recognize among us in the Islamic world today is the ignorance and illiteracy of our faith. We all can be much better off if we go back to seek knowledge about our faith. May Allah guide us all to the right path.
0 #3 COMMENT_TITLE_R E Sufism as Youth Culture in MoroccoMo 2009-03-06 20:41
Great article and Interesting Topic.
Please visit my blog spot and take a spiritual break with Rumi poems and Moroccan Sufi shants at
This invitation from me to you all to break the stereotype about Sufism and the Sufi Cheikhs(Masters ).
0 #4 Tasawuf is essential for the Heartboras 2009-03-07 04:26
Hamid Mernissi I need to thank you for a great post!

Tasawuf is an essential science of Islam. Imam Malik in his famous saying said, "man tasawaffa wa lam yatafaqa faqad tazandaqa, wa man tafaqaha wa lam yatasawaf faqad tafasaq, wa man tasawaffa wa tafaqaha faqad tahaqaq."

which means: "Whoever studied Tasawwuf without Fiqh is a heretic, and whoever studied Fiqh without Tasawwuf is corrupted, and whoever studied Tasawwuf and Fiqh will find the Truth and Reality of Islam."
0 #5 COMMENT_TITLE_R E Sufism as Youth Culture in Moroccoomar 2009-03-07 16:37
They want know to put us as suffi Moroccans/ sorry I will never accept that..I follow my ancester path..and that is the pure Islam...Sufism that means you want to follow your leaders who drink and smoke and think they are Muslim..stop your none sense
0 #6 Religious ToleranceMo 2009-03-07 20:06
Below is an example of Religious tolerance by Muslims 12 centries ago before it became a Sexy topics and a politically correct title by the "West" Today.These words were said by Mawlana Jalalu Edine and I invite you to read them,;Understan d their meanings beyond words, connect with the devine and your human self.
Without further comments,

By Rumi:

Moses And The Shepherd

Moses heard a shepherd on the road praying, "God where are you? I want to help you, to fix your shoes and comb your hair. I want to wash your clothes and pick the lice off. I want to bring you milk to kiss your little hands and feet when it's time for you to go to bed. I want to sweep your room and keep it neat. God my sheep and goats are yours. All I can say, remembering you, is ayyyy and ahhhhhhhhh."Mos es could stand it no longer, "Who are you talking to?""The one who made us, and made the earth and made the sky.""Don't talk about shoes and socks with God! And what's this with your little hands and feet? Such blasphemous familiarity sounds like you're chatting with your uncles. Only something that grows needs milk. Only someone with feet needs shoes. Not God! Even if you meant God's human representatives , as when God said, 'I was sick, and you did not visit me,' even then this tone would be foolish and irreverent.Use appropriate terms. Fatima is a fine name for a women, but if you call a man Fatima, it's an insult. Body and birth language are right for us on this side of the river, but not for addressing the origin, not for God."The shepherd repented and tore his clothes and sighed and wandered out into the desert.A sudden revelation came then to Moses. God's voice:You have separated me from one of my own. Did you come as a prophet to unite, or to sever?I have given each being a separate and unique way of seeing and knowing and saying that knowledge.What seems wrong to you is right for him. What is poison to one is honey to someone else.Purity and impurity, sloth and diligence in worship, these mean nothing to me.I am apart from all of that. Ways of worshiping are not to be ranked as better or worse than one another.Hindus do Hindu things. The Dravidian Muslims in India do what they do. It's all praise, and it's all right.It's not me that's glorified in acts of worship. It's the worshipers! I don't hear the words they say. I look inside at the humility.This broken-open lowliness is the reality, not the language! Forget phraseology. I want burning, burning.Be friends with your burning. Burn up your thinking and your forms of expression!Mose s, those who pay attention to ways of behaving and speaking are one sort. Lovers who burn are another.Don't impose a property tax on a burned-out village. Don't scold the lover. The "wrong" way he talks is better than a hundred "right" ways of others.Inside the Temple it doesn't matter which direction you point your prayer rug!The ocean diver doesn't need snowshoes! The love-religion has no code or doctrine.Only God.So the ruby has nothing engraved on it! It doesn't need markings.God began speaking deeper mysteries to Moses. Visions and words, which cannot be recorded here, poured into and through him. He left himself and came back. He went to eternity and came back here.Many times this happened.It's foolish of me to try and say this. if I did say it, it would uproot our human intelligences. It would shatter all writing pens.Moses ran after the shepherd. He followed the bewildered footprints, in one place moving straight like a castle across a chessboard; in another, sideways, like a bishop.Now surging like a wave cresting, now sliding down like a fish, with always his feet making geomancy symbols in the sand, recording his wandering state.Moses finally caught up with him."I was wrong. God has revealed to me that there are no rules for worship. Say whatever and however your loving tell you to. Your sweet blasphemy is the truest devotion. Through you a whole world is freed. Loosen your tongue and don't worry what comes out. it's all the light of the spirit."The shepherd replied,"Moses, Moses, I've gone beyond even that. You applied the whip and my horse shied and jumped out of itself. The divine nature and my human nature came together. Bless your scolding hand and your arm. I can't say what happened. What I'm saying now is not my real condition. it can't be said."The shepherd grew quiet.When you look in a mirror, you see yourself, not the state of the mirror. The flute player puts breath into the flute, and who makes the music? Not the flute. The flute player!Whenever you speak praise or thanksgiving to God, it's always like this dear shepherd's simplicity. When you eventually see through the veils to how things really are, you will keep saying again and again,"This is certainly not like we thought it was!"
Mohammad ibn Mohammad Al aarab
0 #7 Koullo hizbin bima ladayhim fariheenMohammad ibn Mohammad Al aarab 2009-04-11 10:33
I agree with Omar.
Islam and Muslims are not only victims of several wars, perpetual dictators leaders and their powerful amry, deportations or immigration if you prefer, neocolonialism, endless bluffs, chemical and medical experimentation , organ traffic, spread of perversion, but also a war that has ravaged the Muslims from inside.
The question is: who are the initiators to the new doctrines and sects as Zionist suffism, improvised from scratch and put in place by drugs and corruption of orphans and the little people.
These Satanic machinations behind the brain spheres of those instigators will surely push them to play the role that every good Muslim looks forward.
Just because they know we know that they know that we know.
0 #8 Conspiracy theorists? To Mohammad ibn Mohammad Al MO 2009-04-14 21:30
For all the conspiracy theorists out there, I am telling you that this was whispered 12 centuries ago by a man who didn't seek glamour nor fame . If you understand Persian! read the Matnawi; or its translation into Arabic, French, English or what ever language you prefer. The west and the founding fathers of the USA have read it in 1800 and/or were influenced by it. reason why they have came up with" all men are created equal...".
You Moron! are putting down Islam based on you 20 yrs ..200 yrs ... I am telling you to go back centuries and learn your true dine..
May be you are wrong! search .. keep all options opened.. I am not asking you to give up your Islam.. I am not converting you ..I am asking you to strengthen it..
!And then again you may be one of these Zionists that you claim to hate.. you just posted this commentary to put doubt in the heart of the Believers.
0 #9 COMMENT_TITLE_R E Sufism as Youth Culture in Moroccosoufian 2011-05-10 03:17
thanks lot to every body
0 #10 RE: Sufism as Youth Culture in Moroccosarawar 2013-02-20 16:40
i think you can not feel the taste of apple by reading its taste,until you touch your tong on it.if you want its prove in reality please visit and start recite what is prescribe there.while concerning musiq you need to read the book kimiae sadat by imam al ghazali rahamatulla alihe.
tassawwuf is not innovation,prop het sallallahu alaihe wasallam teach all the sahaba both fiqh,and tassawwuf but they hide tassawwuf and act in fiqh way.
and sura kahf(story of khidzr alaihe wasallam and musa alaihe wasallam) also indicate the importance of tassawwuf.

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