Who are the Sufis?

Amazigh notables at the Sheikh’s house in Zawiya Ahansal. Photo: David Gellner, Ernest Gellner collection.

Sufis are originally Sunni Muslims who belong to an order formed under a saint whose lineage traces back to the Islamic prophet Muhammad. These orders gather for spiritual sessions in meeting places known as zawiyas in Morocco. The followers strive for perfection of worship. Westerners often describe Sufism as Islamic mysticism.

The origin of the term Sufi is disputed; however, the common belief is that it refers to “one who wears wool” from the Arabic (ṣūf)” which means wool. Woollen clothes were traditionally associated with ascetics and mystics and are still commonly worn in rural Morocco. Another explanation traces the origin to the Arabic ṣafā which means “purity”.