As a former UChicago student, I am in possession of quite a bit of fairly useless knowledge. Last night I was reminded of this, so here I am sharing it with my dear readers.
As I was falling asleep, I was listening to a Sufi ceremony happening in a street nearby. I could hear the chanting and drums that are typical of Sufi music, and I could make out the words as part of the attestation of faith: la illaha ila Allah, or, there is no God but God. I know this because I went to a Sufi ceremony several times in Chicago, plus I wrote a lot of papers about Sufi philosophers and traditions when I was in college. I also studied Arabic, and as my sister knows, I can convincingly pretend to be Muslim if I go to a mosque, in terms of knowing what to do, and also because I know both the first chapter of the Quran and the Shahada by heart. This knowledge is not relevant to my life on a regular basis, so I’m pretty excited when it comes in handy.
My friend and I were listening attentively to the wisdom of the sheikh, familiarly known as “Baba”
This morning, after hearing the beautiful chants of our local Sufis, I was excitedly telling my roommate about how there are a lot of Sufis in Morocco. I’m not so sure whether she really cared, but you should care! Here is why.
Sufism is a form of Islamic mysticism that is known for its artistic traditions. Perhaps you’ve read the love poetry of the Persian Jalal-alDin Rumi, or seen a video of Turkish whirling dervishes. If you’ve ever had a crisis of faith, you’ve probably read alGhazali in hopes of finding your path in a corrupt world (okay, maybe that one’s not so likely). Sufis are known also for their music and dance because they use the enjoyment of music to experience the love of God. I think this is fascinating, because singing to feel joyful reminds me of going to a church service (especially if the church has a drummer instead of an organ…that’s much more fun), so that is a nice reminder of what different religions have in common. Because Sufis are so interested in experiencing rather than fearing God, they are open to discussion with people from other faiths. The Sufis I met in Morocco last year were buddies with the local monks in the French monastery, and sometimes they met up with each other for some mint tea and deep discussion. I think that’s pretty cool, so I hope you do too.