By Rachid Acim
Beni Mellal, Morocco – Some years ago an American lady, in her forties, phoned me up. She asked me to betake myself to Marrakech, the mysterious ochre city, bewildering both indigenous people and visitors alike. Before I rushed to meet the white lady, I packed some items in my little suitcase and made myself ready for the journey.
It was spring time and that was our first encounter. This time I am not roaming in Djemaa La-Fna. I am not listening to the suspenseful fairy tales related by the story-tellers, nor watching the funny acrobats performing graceful movements and the old snake charmers mocking their poisonless snakes. I am not dropping by the antique Saadian tombs either, nor having a walk in the awe-inspiring Majorell Garden. But I will be gazing from afar at the towering mosque of Koutoubia for awhile, intermingling with some people in the old medina and finally test my indiscreet luck in marriage with those veiled women shuffling cards of hope for me.
The love of Sufism brought Nuriyya to Sidi Shikr, the International Sufi Convention, a meeting where only the language of unison speaks fervently from heart to heart, soul to soul. Differences vanished as love found a place amongst the Sufi attendants. It likewise did not impede others like her from coming to learn about an astonishing aspect of the Moroccan culture. I was not amazed. Yet, I felt as if I was having a dream where Black and White, East and West were not a serious problem. I thought this was unthinkable as Samuel Huntington and Bernard Lewis, and many others unfortunately, would pessimistically reiterate in their scholastic reports about us. Really what I saw took me back to reminisce about what Rumi wisely preached centuries ago,
Come, come, whoever you are
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving,
Ours is no caravan of despair,
Even if you have broken your vow a thousand times,
Come, yet again, come …
These people chose Sufism since it seemingly provides healing answers to some complicated questions springing from within. A wide range of Sufi orders drinking from the same source of truth gathered to pray collectively, chant one song of universal unity and debate timely topics such as: what alternatives can Sufism give now to our disordered world; How can we alter the Other’s negative view of Islam and so on? The mass gathering encouraged interreligious dialogue and put into focus the universal values Islam shared with Christianity and Judaism.
Tolerance as a culture is what Sufism tries to promote in Morocco and elsewhere. The love of the Other is a basic constituent of any Sufi teaching or doctrine. True Sufi masters would then repeatedly advise their disciples to love all people and respect all creatures. They would advocate in this respect that this love is an intrinsic part and parcel of the love of the Creator. This love entails respect, sacrifice and self-abnegation. To injure a person means injuring humanity in Sufism.
Al-Junayd al-Baghdadi, the master of the folk, reportedly, used to favour one disciple over the others. To justify his preference for a disciple, the master handed each one a fowl to kill in a place where no one could see him. All the disciples came back after killing their fowls, except the favored disciple. The wise master inquired why the disciple had returned with the alive fowl and he replied, “I could not find a place where Allah would not see me.”
That was the core of Islam, pure Sufism. Tellingly, the Prophet Mohammed (Peace and prayer be upon him!) used to demonstrate deep veneration for his neighbors, be them Jews or Christians. Though upholding a Heavenly Message of Truth, he would never violate one of the laws governing human existence-differences.
Whilst dining out with the lady, a debate was raised. E. L. Levin, president of the Bawa Muhaiyadeen Fellowship in Philadelphia, was attentively listening and expressing great concern in our talk. His exalted manners and beneficence stopped me to reflect on the wonders which Sufism did and continues to do within hearts of its affiliates. Poems were read in a low tone while Moroccan hot soup imparted sweet odors in the space, and some dates were served and some of my favorite Sufi musicians were in the show. It was Ramadan but of another flavor.
What I so much appreciated was the strong resolution of an elderly person from Sale to explain the Sufi practices of his order to the American lady. Language was not an obstacle as gesticulation and sign language rendered the task easier for the man. I was watching and mediating, when necessary, and everyone displayed much contentment. Mr. Levin would unexpectedly get some copies of his book and hand them out to us. Along The Road to Infinity, the man was inspired by many questions: Why am I here? Where did I come from? Who is my Creator? Lots of queries were boiling in his crucible like water, but water could evaporate unlike Mr. Levin’s questions.
Sufi books would never help one explore true knowledge, I came to realize. A luminous Sufi master is constantly needed to work on the hearts and help them perceive inner comfort, tranquility and other sublime feelings we miss nowadays. I passionately took the book and turned the first pages over, the content of which was delivered as the spontaneous talks given by Mr. Levin on the Sufi path in U.S. The talks, as the author propounds, were designed to maintain balance in an unbalanced world. As soon as I kept marveling at the grace of understanding that this Sufi scholar wants to communicate through the written word, my eyes fell on some fair verses to the point that I was left dumb-founded. They went as follows:
Do you have questions to ask?
Then ask them directly for it is
Not His intention to hide from you.
Know what there is to know
But with that knowledge
Comes the obligation of correct action
If action fails then knowledge is withheld.
Strangely, I had no appetite for the earthly food provided there. But the wisdom spoken around me urged me again to think of the countless gifts surrounding us as human beings, those of which we are heedless. Few indeed could recognize these numerous gifts that distinguish Sufis from all else. Hospitality, intimacy and the love of the Other are common traits we are most likely to find in any Sufi, Tijani, Qadiri, Boutshishi, Chisti, Chadhili, it does not matter.
Morocco was and still is the hub of Sufism par excellence. Since antiquity, as many bizarre stories confirm, Moroccan people displayed a great affinity for their brethren-foreigners, housing them, eating with them, and drinking with them. Even more, they were zealots about sharing everything with everyone and the best place in the house usually is given to the foreign guest. The best food is presented and compensation was hardly thought of. That was one aspect of the Moroccan Sufi culture we cherish and we do know.
We were exceptionally thankful for difference. First, we took the lead in Sufism and then we spread this culture of love worldwide not by the sword but by the sweet word. Many Westerners unmistakably love Morocco now, not because of the increasing charm of the country, but mainly because of the friendliness of its people, their altruistic selves, their infinite generosity, and the very intimate atmosphere they are capable of creating since the first meeting. But have we ever asked ourselves: From where did we borrow all these good ethical values? What made us so special in the eyes of foreigners? One fair answer would be Sufism.