In a recent edition of Le Monde, Faouzi Skali, the Director of the Fes Festival of Sufi Culture, was interviewed by Joan Tilouine. In the interview he shared some interesting observations about the role of Sufism in the modern era and particularly as an antidote to Jihadist movements. Here is an edited extract...
|Moroccan Sufi followers at Sidi Ali|
Joan Tilouine: Through your festival, you defend Sufism. Is it at risk?
Faouzi Skali: Throughout the Muslim world, from Asia to Africa, the Sufi culture is very large majority. Yet his spiritual heritage, artistic and literary often remains absent from public life.
The recent tragic events committed by individuals who claim a Wahhabi ideology and a simplistic and extremist conception of religion, monopolise the attention of public opinion. Muslims themselves do not identify with this Islam. How can one identify with those barbaric acts in Mosul, in northern Nigeria, Paris or elsewhere? There is an optical effect which reverses the reality of Islam and the way it is lived and practiced. It seems to me that Sufism needs to be supported, explained, debated, to assert its reality in daily life.
|A member of the Moroccan all female Hadra Chefchaounia|
Joan Tilouine: Can spirituality to cope with destructive impulses?
Faouzi Skali: It is urgent to change the perception of Islam as some Muslims may come to believe that the reality is that of computer screens showing the crimes filmed by extremists themselves.
When we say that Islam is tolerant and open to other religions, this may seem a minority discourse and a little naive. I created the Festival of Sacred Music Fes to make a demonstration. This festival was in harmony with the city, in harmony with its spiritual history, Arab-Andalusian heritage and multiculturalism.
It seems crucial to awaken the spiritual tradition of Islam that is the daily life of hundreds of millions of people. Witness, for example, the popular Sufi tradition, the rites of sama (ritual dance), songs and music. Or dissemination of works of the Persian mystic Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, the thinker Ibn Arabi, the Emir Abdel Kader and many others. This is far from marginal. But if many know Ibn Arabi, how many really read?
Joan Tilouine: Is Fez one of the major international places to counter the influence of the Wahhabism that is so very strong in Africa?
Faouzi Skali: It would be too restrictive to say that it is to counter Wahhabism whose history is very recent [18th century]. It can not be compared to the rich Sufi heritage which born simultaneously with Islam in 8th Century.
To simplify: the same way that Saudi Arabia is an exporter of Wahhabism, Morocco, which is soaked in Sufism, contributes this to Africa.
However, Moroccans are themselves not immune to the penetration of other Islamic currents and they need benchmarks. Fez is a place that allows thinking and free expression. It is a jewel of Islamic civilisation, facing the disarray into which ISIL plunges many believers.
|A member of the Tidjannia Brotherhood at the mausoleum of Sheikh Ahmed Sharif Tidjane in Fez|
Joan Tilouine: For the uninitiated, Sufism may seem like a closed brotherhood. Is this what explains its privacy?
Faouzi Skali: The history of Sufism is first popular. In the past, Sufism was culturally and naturally integrated into the daily lives of Muslims. This reality is still very present, but it is less noticeable in modern culture.
With the Fes Festival of Sufi Culture we go beyond the limits of a particular fraternity, we bring this reality into the public arena. In Fez, strong links exist with the great mosque of Qarawiyine with the Tariqa Tijanya whose tomb of the founder Sheikh Ahmed Sharif Tidjane is located in the city and leads to a pilgrimage. Sufi Islam's Maliki rites are widespread in West Africa and the historical relationship is very deep between the guilds and the theologians of both sides of the Sahara.
I think today we have to go beyond the marabout brotherhoods and Sufism. In Africa, I meet many scholars that are sometimes embarrassed that Islam is reduced to this. There are other riches in our civilisation shared: science, art ...
Joan Tilouine: How do you counter the proselytising by radical Islamist groups who have mastered the modern means of communication?
Faouzi Skali: Radical Islamists have a very materialistic background because they offer a consumer extremism. They do business, monopolising political and economic power in the name of religion to which they give a materialist appearance. Jihadism is the monstrous son of ultra-liberalism.
I think and I want to believe that there is a need for spirituality among youth, part of which is diverted by these groups. A young person who feels the need of a spiritual quest can be enlisted.
|Whirling Dervish performers at Fez Sufi Festival 2014|
Joan Tilouine: What about the political use of Sufism by states?
Faouzi Skali: In Morocco, King Mohammed VI recognises and supports Sufism as a pillar of the country's history. In Algeria for a long time, the authorities have reduced Sufism and heritage of the thought of Abdelkadder Emir, which was almost ignored. Today, Sufism has upgraded it. Is it a manipulation?
In Tunisia too, Sufism has been undermined but now finds renewed interest on the part of authorities. Defending a Sufi cultural heritage is an emergency escape route from the tendencies of political manipulation. Basically, it is a cultural war.
|A member of a Sufi brotherhood to Massin, near Timimoun in southern Algeria|
The Fes Festival of Sufi Culture runs from the 18th to 25th of April