Sufism is a belief and practice in which Muslims seek to find the truth of divine love and knowledge through a personal experience of God – and is considered highly spiritual and even mystical. Having been forced underground by Ottoman rulers in the 13th century, it has been a private act of faith for much of its existence. But in Manhattan, worshipers are coming out and opening the doors to those curious.
Every Thursday, on the Upper East Side, Abdul Latif welcomes a group of like-minded worshippers or “beloved” as he calls them. During prayer, the group —mostly American-born converts to Islam – form a circle and lock hands as Mr. Latif leads the group in a chant, repeating the 99 sacred names of God and prayers of adoration. This is a communal meditation called Zikr – and as the pace of the chants quicken, people sway together and emotions come through.
Sufism represents all sects of the Muslim faith. “You can be a Shia or a Sunni or any type of Muslim and still be a Sufi,” says James W. Morris, professor of Islamic thought and history at Boston College. Annmarie Agosta, who grew up in an Italian-American family in Brooklyn and became a Sufi in 2009 says, “I feel a deep responsibility to stand for the true message of Islam, which is peace, tolerance, and compassion. This is the message of Sufism.”