Sufism in Morocco ‘a powerful weapon’ against extremism

Friday 01/04/2016
Moqaddam Ben Issa reading Machichiya prayer.

Casablanca - More than a dozen wor­shippers gather every Sunday after al-Asr prayer at the Darqawi­ya Zawiya (shrine) in Casablanca’s old medina to engage in Sufi dhikr of Allah and his Proph­et Mohammad as a way to remem­ber God’s blessing.
They start with a Quran recitation of Surate Yassin followed by Machi­chiya prayer, which is a dua (sup­plication) during which they invoke the Almighty God for his grace.
The Machichiya prayer originates from the Sufi saint Abdeslam Ala­mi Ben Mchich, who was born in northern Morocco. He later moved to Jebel La’lam south of Tangier where his mausoleum is now locat­ed. He is the founder of the Tariqa Chadiliya (Chadili School) and is believed to be a descendant of the Prophet.
“The one-day moussem is held annually during the last Sunday of September,” said Ahmed Lakrary, the supervisor of the Darqawiya Zawiya, who fondly recalled when many Europeans used to flock to the shrine about 15 years ago.
Sufism is the mystical aspect of Islam that invites worshippers to an experience billed as being full of bliss, mysticism and spiritual rap­ture.
Moroccan culture has been pro­foundly influenced by Sufism. Sufi festivals, such as the Sufi Culture Festival in Fez, are held every year, drawing crowds from as far away as South America.
One of the main influential zawi­yas in Morocco is the Boutchichiya Zawiya which has been playing an important role in political Islam since the protectorate.
The Tariqa Boutchichiya has be­come the rising star of the king­dom’s brotherhoods since King Mo­hammed VI’s ascent to the throne. It has become a privileged lever of the monarchy’s religious policy.
In November 2002, King Moham­med VI replaced Abdelkebir Alaoui M’daghri, who had been minister of Islamic Affairs for 18 years, with historian Ahmed Taoufiq, a Sufi fol­lower of the Tariqa Boutchichiya.
As the head of the powerful minis­try, Taoufiq advocated the rehabili­tation of Sufi Islam, popular among millions of Moroccans and loathed by Salafi orthodoxy.
After the deadly Casablanca ter­rorist attacks in May 2003 perpetrat­ed by Moroccan jihadists, King Mo­hammed VI reinforced his grip on religious affairs in order to promote a tolerant and moderate version of Islam in the face of rising extrem­ism.
The rise of Sufism in the North African kingdom was boosted by a US think-tank RAND report in 2004, three years after the attacks of Sep­tember 11th.
RAND’s report called for the George W. Bush administration to encourage Sufi movements in Mus­lim countries to isolate the growing Salafist extremist and Wahhabi ide­ologies that were threatening the West.
“It’s Wahhabism that has de­stroyed the image of our beautiful religion in the West,” said Ben Issa Zemrani Chahbouni, the moqaddam (rector) of the Darqawiya Zawiya, a domed shrine painted in white and green, a symbolic colour of Sufism.
Salafi/Wahhabi currents, which claim to represent orthodox Islam, seek to reduce the influence of Sufi brotherhoods in the Muslim world.
“Sufism is considered as a tool to get out of the framework of a strict and literal form of orthodoxy and a powerful weapon to fight extremist ideologies thanks to its moderation and rich history,” said Chahbouni.
Last January, King Mohammed VI delivered donations from his own money and gifts to a number of pop­ular mausoleums and Sufi shrines across Morocco on the occasion of the 17th anniversary of the late King Hassan II’s death.
This royal tradition seeks to sup­port mausoleums and Sufi shrines as the king’s words of religious toler­ance, moderation and harmony are omnipresent in Sufi life. Nearly two years ago in a letter read at the open­ing of the third international forum of Tariqa Tijaniya disciples in Fez, King Mohammed VI praised the role of Sufism in the dissemination of spiritual security and values of love and harmony in order to “block the road to the singers of radicalism, ter­rorism, dissension, dismemberment and mystifying doctrines”.

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