RABAT, Morocco (AP) - Followers of a Sufi religious order convened on a Moroccan village near the city of Nador for the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad in the first such gathering since the pandemic.
A few hundred faithful, known as Fuqaras, from France, Tunisia, Ivory Coast and other countries, met for the weeklong Islamic holiday celebration.
The order, the Karkariya, follows a mystical form of Islam recognizable by its unique dress code: A modest yet colorful patchwork robe.
In the rituals, they surrounded their order's leader and founder, Sheikh Mohamed Fawzi al Karkari, kissing his hand and pledging religious allegiance to him as they prayed and chanted. Later in the night, the faithful formed circles and danced in fervent movements that symbolize verses from the Quran according to believers.
From March 2020 until July 2021, large religious gatherings in Morocco were banned because of the pandemic. Mosques and thousands of Sufi shrines were also closed for sporadic periods.
The Karkariya Sufi order was founded relatively recently, in the are where they are now meeting.
The term Sufi is broad and includes hundreds of movements spread all over the world. Each Sufi order is defined by its leader or its books. Morocco has hundreds of Sufi orders and the kingdom encourages and supports their presence as a moderate form of religious devotion, as well as maintaining soft power with Sufi orders across West and North Africa.
As the order spread beyond Morocco, it ruffled feathers. In 2017, Algerian media and some religious figures criticized the Karkariya order for the perception that the Morocco-founded order was infringing on Algeria in a "religious invasion."
Yet Algerian members were still able to travel to Morocco, up until this year when relations took a nose dive and Algeria severed diplomatic ties with its neighbor.
Khaled El Jidoui, a Tunisian member who studies computer science at Stanford University and became a member alongside his brother and father, says joining the order was "the best decision of my life," pointing to the impact it had on the social and practical aspects of his life.
Asked about the colorful outfit, he describes the mosaic as his "identity," where every patch represents different facets of his life aiming to "merge together into one white."
Imad Ali Saeed, a Yemeni researcher and scholar described the pride he felt at being one of Sheikh Al Karkari's students, noting that he learned about the order during his time researching Sufi sects in Morocco it was the "superiority" of knowledge of the leader that convinced him to join.
Mohammed Shaibani, a businessman from Mauritania, described a 30-year search across West and North Africa for a mentor and his happiness to have gathered again after the pandemic with his fellow members.