In Saudi Arabia, a Resurgence of Sufism
JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia -- A hush came over the crowd as the young man sitting cross-legged on the floor picked up the microphone and sang, a cappella, a poem about Islam's prophet Muhammad. His eyes shut tight, his head covered by an orange-and-white turban, he crooned with barely contained ardor of how the world rejoiced and lights filled the skies the day the prophet was born.
The men attending the mawlid -- a celebration of the birth and life of Muhammad -- sat on colorful rugs, rocking gently back and forth, while the women, on the upper floor watching via a large projection screen, passed around boxes of tissues and wiped tears from their eyes.
The centuries-old mawlid, a mainstay of the more spiritual and often mystic Sufi Islam, was until recently viewed as heretical and banned by Saudi Arabia's official religious establishment, the ultraconservative Wahhabis. But a new atmosphere of increased religious tolerance has spurred a resurgence of Sufism and brought the once-underground Sufis and their rituals out in the open.