Sufism in Moroccan Public Life: Teaching Ethics and Performing Piety
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Sufism in Moroccan Public Life: Teaching Ethics and Performing Piety


This dissertation unpacks the role of Sufism (taṣawwuf) in the Moroccan state’s current efforts to regulate religion not only to shed light on relationships of religion and power in Morocco, but also to bring into relief the embodied aspects of taṣawwuf as a practical tradition often elided in scholarship that conceives of Sufism as Islamic mysticism. I argue that as a practical tradition, taṣawwuf involves the cultivation of virtuous piety (iḥsān) and that in its role as an element of Moroccan religious identity, iḥsān constitutes a form of public piety in which spiritual development and social reform operate in conjunction with one another. In my comparative analysis of three Sufi organizations, I analyze different dimensions of iḥsān through their varied curricula of ethical education (minhaj al-tarbiya) used in the formation of pious subjects and the disciplining of bodies capable of entering into relationships with themselves, others, and the divine. More broadly, I show how the public performance of Sufism as an ethical tradition simultaneously shapes and gives expression to alternative modes of political affiliation that cut across existing national or regional distinctions.Over the past twenty years, under the leadership of King Mohammed VI, Morocco has implemented a program of regulating and reforming the religious field (al-ḥaql al-dīnī) domestically and regionally. In the process, the state has established an array of governmental and quasi-governmental institutions aimed at constructing and propagating a Moroccan religiosity as an alternative to other global brands of Islam (e.g., Saudi Wahhabism, Iranian Shi’ism, militant Jihadism). While defined as Sunni, Maliki, and Ashʿari, this authorized Moroccan Islam is distinguished from others primarily by its inclusion of taṣawwuf as a constitutive element. As a result, Morocco has explicitly sponsored taṣawwuf as part of a strategy to combat the influence of alternative authorities within the country and to cultivate ties regionally as part of a tactic of spiritual diplomacy. Within the context of Morocco’s sponsorship of Sufism I ask: (1) What effect has Morocco’s policy of promoting Sufism had on local practices?; (2) How have Sufi groups in Morocco rearticulated and redeployed traditional practices to present visions of reform?, and (3) How do these visions at times align with and other times critique an authorized Moroccan Islam? To answer these questions, I conducted eighteen months of fieldwork in Morocco through the Fulbright-Hays program in 2017-2018. The dissertation focuses on three groups: Karkariyya-Fawziyya, ʿAlawiyya, and International Academic Center for Sufi and Aesthetic Studies (IACSAS). The ethnographic aspect involved extended stays in Sufi lodges in conjunction with observation at weekly gatherings and annual festivals, as well as interviews with members and leaders of Sufi orders and NGOs. I add to the ethnography a detailed engagement with texts published by the groups, as well as public materials published on websites or distributed at events. These public materials include video testimonials of visionary experiences published on the Karkariyya website and journals published by research institutes such as the journal Qūt al-Qulūb published by the Imam Junayd Center for Sufi Studies. I also incorporate a historical perspective that captures on the one hand the transformations wrought by these recent policies and on the other hand the continuities that are maintained through discourses of reform and renewal.

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