Celebration of Prophet's Birthday highlights Morocco's deeply rooted tradition of Sufism

The Moussem of Sheikh al-Kamil al-Hadi ben Aissa is one of the most famous religious festivals in Meknes, where Sufi mysticism intertwines with supernatural practices.

Music of the soul. Drummers perform during an evening of spiritual music and meditation in the Moroccan village of Sidi Ali near Meknes. (AFP)


2017/12/03 Issue: 134 Page: 12


The Arab Weekly
Saad Guerraoui



Casablanca- The celebration of the Prophet Mohammad’s birthday — Mawlid an- Nabawi — is observed across Morocco, includ­ing at Sufi shrines. It is a tradition that is centuries old.

King Mohammed VI leads cer­emonies in Casablanca at the Has­san II Mosque, where religious chants are performed along with recitations from the Quran. The monarch, who holds the title of “the commander of the faithful,” continues a tradition of the cel­ebration carried out by his ances­tors.

Sufi shrines mark the Prophet’s birthday with ceremonies to hon­our his legacy with chants, trance dancing and hypnotic rhythms.

King Mohammed VI delivers donations, including money and gifts, to mausoleums and Sufi shrines across the country. This tradition seeks to support Sufi shrines and their message of reli­gious tolerance, moderation and harmony.

“Many Sufi traditions are in­stilled in our daily life. The reason lies in the fact that sultans that had ruled Morocco throughout several centuries kept close ties with Sufi confraternities for either political or religious purposes,” said Mo­hammed Abdelouahab Rafiki, a researcher in Islamic studies.

Cultural events and religious ceremonies, including Sufi nights, take place in many cities and re­gions of the kingdom during the Prophet’s birthday celebrations.

In Sale, the Moussem des Cierges of Moulay Abdallah Ben­hassoun coincides with the Mawlid. The moussem, which dates to the 16th century, is cele­brated in a unique way. Residents, led by Benhassoun descendants, light the streets of Sale with can­dles in a glittering parade.

Fez, considered Morocco’s spir­itual capital, draws thousands of pilgrims from around the world during Mawlid celebrations to ex­press their love for the Prophet.

The Moussem of Sheikh al- Kamil al-Hadi ben Aissa is one of the most famous religious festi­vals in Meknes, where Sufi mysti­cism intertwines with supernatu­ral practices.

Sheikh al-Kamil founded the Aissaoua brotherhood, one of the country’s leading Sufi orders, in the 16th century. He practised a rare form of spiritual Sufism and travelled across Morocco to preach Islam.

About 30km from Meknes, the Hamadchas, who are affiliated with Sidi Ali Ben Hamdouch, have a 7-day moussem each year at the tomb of their saint. Pilgrims flock to Sidi Ali to purify themselves from evil spirits by sacrificing ani­mals and dancing in a trance until they fall unconscious.

A study by the Pew Research Centre, a US think-tank, in 2012 in­dicated that approximately 86% of Moroccans asked said they believe in supernatural beings, a higher percentage than in any other country surveyed.

“We have to differentiate be­tween mystical Sufism and some confraternities’ unacceptable practices that will likely put off the new generation,” said Rafiki.

A report published by the US think-tank RAND in 2004, three years after the attacks of Septem­ber 11, 2001, in the United States, called for US President George W. Bush’s administration to encour­age Sufi movements in Muslim countries to isolate the grow­ing Salafist extremist and Wah­habi ideologies that were seen as threatening the West.

Rafiki said Sufism is an effective way of fighting radical Salafism because its principles contradict radicalisation.

“Love, beauty and the relation­ship with others are all factors in Sufism that shield people from all aspects of radicalisation,” he said, calling on Sufi to invest more on social networks to better dissemi­nate their message of peace and tolerance to the tech-savvy gen­eration.


Saad Guerraoui is a regular contributor to The Arab Weekly on Maghreb issues.


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