Fes — The Fes Festival of Sufi Culture, which runs through Saturday (April 19th) in Morocco's spiritual capital, is more than just entertainment.
At a time of growing fundamentalism and radicalism, Sufi Islam can combat backward ideology, participants and visitors agree.
The annual celebration "allows people to discover the spiritual heritage of Sufism in Morocco and the world in its various cultural, spiritual and social forms of expression", festival director Faouzi Skalli explains.
"Dozens of artists and visitors of various nationalities come every year to celebrate peace and tolerance," says Curro Piñana, a performer from Spain.
The eighth edition of the week-long event is dedicated to Arab-Andalusian mystic and philosopher Muhyiddin Ibn Al Arabi.
But the many Sufi brotherhoods, including the young singers from the Tariqa Boutchichiya, are the heart of the festival.
The goal of all participants is to encourage peace and tolerance, says Abdelwahed Afilal, a member of the national Samaa ensemble.
"Sufism is an experience that purifies the soul. Perfection comes with learning and perseverance," he says.
Morocco has always paid particular attention to Sufism, through several Brotherhoods throughout the country, sociologist Samira Kassimi told Magharebia.
"These brotherhoods play a very important role in the spread of knowledge, best practice and the principles of tolerance and peace," she said.
The festival's organisers say that Morocco's Sufi religious brotherhoods have acquired international influence over time and formed many branches in different countries.
"The roles of these Sufi paths of learning, civic and spiritual education, commitment to human development and peace mediation, in addition to a deep and creative cultural legacy, have formed a model for Islamic culture in Morocco," Skalli says.
The Fes festival "marries the spiritualism of Sufism with social action", sociologist Maria Sanoussi notes.
Exposing young people to Sufi Islam may help deter them from extremism, she says. Many of them are being encouraged by their families to move towards the Sufi path.
"Experience has shown that they have been able to make a success of their future and live in harmony with their principles and goals," she adds.
Hicham Sibari, 28, discovered the path of Sufism five years ago, thanks to his uncle.
"I never miss the Sufi music festival in Fes, even though I live in Agadir," he tells Magharebia.
"Following the path of Sufism enabled me to find spiritual peace and move forward in my personal life and my career at a time when I was lost," he adds.
His friend Hamza points out: "Sufism can prevent young people from becoming easy prey for religious fanatics, who have no hesitation in exploiting them to achieve their devilish goals."
Hamza knows what he is talking about; one of his friends almost stumbled onto the path of extremism.
"Luckily, he found people close to him who helped him climb out of the abyss of fanaticism," he says.