1st Edition

Sufism in Morocco's Religious Politics Refractions of Piety and Iḥsān

By John C. Thibdeau Copyright 2023

    This book outlines the role of Sufism in Moroccan politics in the twenty-first century through a comparative study of contemporary Sufi organizations.

    The author begins his analysis by highlighting the strategies employed by the Moroccan state over the past twenty years, aimed at regulating and producing an authorized ‘Moroccan Islam’ in the kingdom. Despite these policies of spiritual security and spiritual diplomacy, including the state sponsorship of Sufi organizations, the author argues that this has not decreased diversity nor produced a banal interpretation of Islam, but rather given rise to diverse articulations and performances of this religiosity. Through a comparative analysis of three Sufi organizations based on eighteen months of fieldwork – two of which have never before been studied – the author brings into relief the spaces of creative enactment of Sufism as an ethical tradition. Ultimately, it is argued that each Sufi organization reflects a different refraction of iḥsān, a concept emphasising the cultivation of public piety which underpins the Moroccan state’s formulation of Islam.

    Focused on both theoretical contributions to Islamic studies and topical treatments of geopolitical issues like spiritual diplomacy, the Western Sahara, and Morocco-Algeria, the book spans multiple disciplines, including anthropology, religious studies, sociology, and political science.

    1. Introduction: Iḥsān and Practical Sufism  2. Three Histories of Sufism and Politics in Morocco  3. A Visionary Order: Shaykh Fawzi and the Karkariyya  4. Pilgrimage and Politics in the Karkariyya  5. Sufism and the Neoliberal Ethic in the IACSAS  6. Bringing the Zawiya into the World with the 'Alāwiyya  7. Lenses of Refraction: Conclusion


    John C. Thibdeau is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies in the Department of Religion and Classics at the University of Rochester. He completed his PhD at the University of California, Santa Barbara in Religious Studies in 2021.

    "In the growing reflection about the complex relationships between Islamic mysticism and politics, or between Sufism and worldly powers, Thibdeau’s brilliant book not only highlights the emblematic case of contemporary Morocco but, more critically, brings out an often overlooked phenomenon: interacting with a state which constantly tries to reshape religious life, Sufis have to reform themselves to maintain their spiritual experience."

    Alexandre Papas, National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), Paris

    "John C. Thibdeau’s Sufism in Morocco’s Religious Politics is an invaluable reference, for it highlights how Sufism has been constructed and deployed as part of ongoing contentions of religious and political authority in Morocco and globally . . . In a nutshell, Thibdeau tackles Sufism in certain thought-provoking ways: Sufism as an ethical tradition, as public piety, as a transnational ethical grammar, and as a political tool."

    Lahoucine AammariSidi Mohamed ben Abdellah University, Morocco, writing in Hespéris-Tamuda LVIII (2) (2023)