Birds Who Sing in Many Trees: Sufi Singers and the Retuning of Moroccan Islam


Birds Who Sing in Many Trees: Sufi Singers and the Retuning of Moroccan Islam

Type of Event: Multi-media Talk
Presenter: Philip Murphy

April 18, 2019
5:30pm - 6:30pm
Faculty Center

With a royal decree in 2004, King Muhammad VI of Morocco made Sufism part of officially sanctioned Moroccan Islam. This was less than one year after the Casablanca bombings, in which many Moroccans were killed, and part of efforts to marginalize forms of Islam that are a threat to national interests and security. This political move has helped to open new public spaces for Sufism and Sufi practice. In this context, Sufi devotional song has become the dominant aural representation of Morocco in the twenty-first century and has a tremendous impact on Islamic discourse, public piety and notions of Moroccan citizenship. Many Sufi vocalists understand themselves to be involved in Sufi ethical practices in which they “retune” individuals and communities through the sounds and words of their devotional songs. These vocalists are religious authorities as well as accomplished artists. They must negotiate many roles such as ritual master and master performer as they operate in well-established and novel contexts and become, as one Sufi vocalist said, “birds who sing in many trees.” In this presentation Philip Murphy draws on his ongoing ethnographic research to give a brief overview of Sufism and Sufi song in Morocco and then introduces some Sufi vocalists and describes how they engage in local, national, and transnational projects to retune Islam in Morocco and to retune perceptions of Islam around the world.

Philip J Murphy Jr is a Visiting Lecturer at The College of William & Mary where he teaches in the department of music and directs the William & Mary Middle East Music Ensemble. He has been conducting ethnographic research in Morocco since 2007 and currently works with Moroccan Andalusian musicians and Sufi vocalists, mainly in the cities of Fez and Essaouira.

Presented by the Islamic Studies Research Network, The Department of Religious Studies, the Lloyd International Honors College, and the Muslim Student Association. With support from the International Program Center Kohler Fund.