Archive for February, 2015

Morocco a bridge between East and West

Taking any tour in Morocco is stepping back in time without missing anything modernity has to offer. It is all there, your travel time machine will start in Casablanca. All you can imagine of the modern world including heavy traffic and noticeable greed. travel towards Fez by Casablanca to Moulay Idriss, Meknes will gradually take you to medieval time. Fez is the city of Islam, the intellect and the heart beat of Morocco. Crossing the Atlas Mountains is to discover life out of the neolithic era. the Sahara desert at the foothills of these mountains is timeless. Cultures that would take you to Mesopotamia and its hanging gardens, sun baked bricks and lush oases. Travel to Morocco is in itself an experience yet an adventure that would enrich your life. Arts and crafts, music and dance, sacred and spiritual are year around festivals in Morocco.

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Camping over the dunes in the sahara of Morocco

Camel rides, trekking over the dunes of Merzouga in the sahara desert of Morocco, hiking in the Atlas Mountains, encountering Berber nomads in their migrations. All these adventure can be realized in one week exploring the beauty of Morocco. Any trip to Morocco would a feast for the senses. enjoy this little experience in the Sahara desert and over the Atlas Mountains.

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Five reasons to go to Morocco

5 Reasons to Go To Morocco Now
By Carlotta Cavallari

Oh, the magical Morocco! I have discovered this amazing country relatively late, in 2014, thanks to a road trip that took me from Marrakech all the way up to Tangiers. I left with a big desire to go back, buy a riad and just live there permanently! Ok ok..let’s not get carried away! But it truly is an incredible country.

Here are MY 5 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD TRAVEL TO MOROCCO NOW (and a few personal tips).


From beautiful beaches to canyons, lush forests to the Sahara desert.. Morocco is a million countries in one. How crazy it is that near Fez there is a mountain town modeled after a Swiss ski resort surrounded by a timber forest? I couldn’t believe my eyes, especially since we drove into it coming from sand dunes!

2-SHOPPING ..just not in Marrakech

I dare anyone to leave Morocco without a bag full of all sorts of carpets, pottery, spices, Argan-everything and the list goes on and on!! Having traveled with just a backpack each, me and my boyfriend still managed to cram a brightly colored ottoman, amazing kilim cushions, mint tea to last us a lifetime, a leather bag and several jars of AMLOU (the “Moroccan peanut butter”.. just 1000 times more delicious) into them.

Most travelers start their Moroccan adventure in Marrakesh and tend to do all the shopping there, because of the incredibly vast souk and variety of products on offer. However, I find that it is not only the most overpriced city in the country, it is the one were stall owners haggle most tenaciously (getting you to pay exactly the price they want in most cases) and where travelers are most prone to getting scammed.

I personally loved shopping in Fez or smaller towns such as Chefchaouen: smaller souks, friendlier owners, entertaining haggling sessions and (but this is true everywhere in Morocco) amazing quality.


There’s animals everywhere in Morocco! And we interacted with them throughout our trip… from the horse carriages in Marrakesh, donkeys in Fez and in smaller mountain towns, to camels and dromedaries in the region bordering the Sahara and funny Barbary macaques in the Middle Atlas mountains. And then there are the cats.

Cats basking in the sun, sleeping in tiny alleys, patiently waiting for food outside a restaurant kitchen… yes, cats are Morocco’s national animal.


Or should I say, achingly beautiful architecture. Your eyes will be filled with wonder as you walk through the colonnade of a demurely private riad (only here modesty can be so magnificent), and contemplate the intricacies on the tile and wood works. Or when you decide that the joltingly bright Majorelle blue is indeed your new favorite color.


The sun works wonders to deliver the most delicious dates, olives, lemons, oranges and grapefruits: in Marrakech I couldn’t resist the orange juice stalls in Jamaa el Fna, truly fresh and sublime! Food in Morocco is heavily spiced and intense, which fits perfectly with the country’s very own nature. The air is pervaded with the scent of orange blossoms, spices, freshly baked bread and fresh mint.


The highlight of my Marrakech stay was the startlingly beautiful Riad Dixneuf La-Ksour , in the Medina.

This is a Riad in the true sense of the word: an enclosed world of its own where the rooms form a square around a courtyard, one long chamber on each side, with their windows looking inward. The courtyard has a lovely lap pool set in marble – which is where you will have a delicious Moroccan breakfast (and strong coffee!) everyday before taking on the buzzing souk.

On the road we slept at Ait Ben Moro, an amazing mud Kasbah in a palm oasis (refurbished by a Spanish expat to include a fabulous pool).

The family-run guesthouses in smaller towns are usually the go-to accommodation for backpackers, due to the lack of hostels. Among the mid-price range options Casa Perleta in Chefchaouen, with rooms starting at 35£ (45 Euro) including breakfast was a fab deal, we loved basking in the sun on the roof terrace and the food was to die for!


We tried several means of transportation during our travels. In large cities we usually hailed the (very cheap) official cabs (beware of gypsy cabs!), went for leisurely rides on horse carriage or walked. From town to town we used the CTM buses which we found very reliable and still quite affordable ( a 4.5 h journey from Fes to Chefchaouen-with a/c- sets you back £5 or 6.5 EUR). For the majority of the trip though we chose to travel with a local guide and I can’t recommend Jalil of Morocco Unplugged enough! He can provide you we best insights and help you create the tour of a lifetime.

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Sufism in Spain, a quiet devotion

Known as the gateway to the Alpujarra mountains in Andalusía’s Granada province, Órgiva is also one of Spain’s most culturally diverse places, a bustling market town of around 6,000 people and according to the local council, home to 68 different nationalities.

And Baraka, a restaurant and tearoom with tables and chairs outside on a quiet street in the town center, is a pleasant reminder of Órgiva’s relaxed multiculturalism. It’s run by 41-year-old Pedro Barrio, a former wine taster and restaurant owner from Bilbao who changed his name to Qasim when he converted to Islam more than a decade ago.

Like around 35 other families in Órgiva’s Spanish Islamic community, Qasim adheres to Sufism, described by 14th-century Arab historian Ibn Khaldun as “dedication to worship, total dedication to Allah most High, disregard for the finery and ornament of the world, abstinence from the pleasure, wealth, and prestige sought by most men, and retiring from others to worship alone.”

We converts are seen as strange. Islam isn’t what people think it is. Islam is peace”
Sufi convert Bahía
Qasim says his faith gives him “hope and security,” but admits it has also caused him problems, particularly with his family and friends, who have come to associate Islam with jihadists and Salafists, and a radical interpretation of the Koran. Spain’s Sufi community has also been monitored by the National Intelligence Center.

Mansur, formerly José Carlos Sánchez, explains that Sufis live in the world without necessarily being of this world. “Every day I ask Allah to help me convert my ego into my prayer mat,” says the 41-year-old university graduate. “There is an undoubted rejection of Muslims in our society.”

His wife, Bahía (María José Villa), aged 35, agrees: “We converts are seen as strange. Islam isn’t what people think it is. Islam is peace. Islam is asking God for love, so that you can share that love with others. Unless your intention in life is to become pure love, then your Islam makes no sense.”

Muhammad Iskander, a former merchant seaman in his mid-fifties, says it is precisely the pacifist element of Sufism that Islamist radicals find so hard to accept: “They do not tolerate us, and are trying to abrogate the Koran’s message of mercy for that of the sword.”

Ali writes calligraphy under the watchful eye of his son. / FERNANDO SÁNCHEZ ALONSO
Most Spanish Sufis belong to the Naqshbandi order, which traces its spiritual lineage back to Abu Bakr as-Siddiq, the first Caliph and a companion of the prophet Muhammad. The order’s emir in Spain is Umar (formerly Felipe Margarit), who was appointed in the mid-1970s by Shaykh Nazim al-Haqqani, the leader of the Naqshbandi order who died in May of last year at the age of 92.

Umar describes the Naqshbandi order as “a cross between a spiritual center and a hospital. “Nazim welcomed all those who had been wounded by our society. He described himself as a zero, saying his life was only meaningful if God, the One, was at his side. His son, who has succeeded him, believes the same.”

There are around 1,200 Naqshbandi Sufis in Spain, and the largest community is to be found in Órgiva. The reason for this is a happy accident: it’s where Umar was living before he converted to Islam. And once he had been proclaimed emir by Shaykh Nazim, those Spanish Sufi Muslims who could, moved to the town. The second-largest Sufi community in Spain is in Villanueva de la Vera, in the western province of Cáceres.

Amid weak winter sunshine, a group of Sufi farmers gathers olives in the mountains that surround Órgiva. They and their families live a simple life, but are not isolated from the world, like other religious groups such as the Amish are. They are connected to the internet, watch television, and read newspapers, and their children attend local schools.

Órgiva, in Granada’s Alpujarras, is home to people of 68 nationalities. / FERNANDO SÁNCHEZ ALONSO
On Thursdays at nightfall, the community meets in the dargah, a temple hidden away in the olive and orange groves around three kilometers outside Órgiva to celebrate the dhikr, or the recitation of the names of Allah, along with the hadra, a meditational process that consists of intoning a series of chants in praise of God, accompanied by rhythmic swaying and percussion.

“This reminds us of the moment when God filled Adam with breath,” says Amin (Andrés Fernández). “On Fridays, the holy day of Islam, we also celebrate Jummah prayers, and then the community sits to eat together. All our prayers are recited in Arabic, although that is all we know of the language. Our Islamic education has come from many sources, from conversations with other, wiser, brothers, and from the Shaykh’s sermons. The Naqshbandi are probably the least intellectual of the Sufis: we are more interested in the heart.”

Around 500 kilometers away, in Cáceres, is the tiny community of Aldea Tudal, a district of Villanueva de la Vera, which is home to Spain’s second-largest Naqshbandi Sufi community, led by Abdul Wahid (Cristóbal Martín). In the outskirts of the village, we’re met by Omar Ibrahim, originally from Madrid, but who lived in Germany for 35 years, where he ran a chain of restaurants: “Then I sold up and came to live here.”

The Salafists in Egypt and Libya, as well as the Taliban in Pakistan, have all persecuted Sufi communities

It’s Thursday, and Omar is waiting for his fellow Sufis to arrive at his house, which doubles as the community’s dargah, to celebrate dhikr. “I converted to Islam almost 30 years ago. That was when I first felt like a true Christian. There is no contradiction, because Jesus Christ is respected as a prophet in Islam. We believe in the saints: we venerate their tombs and their relics. This distinguishes us from other Muslims,” says Omar.

He goes on to explain why Spanish converts to Sufism have adopted new, Arabic names. “You choose your Arabic name. This new name expresses the essence of who you really are and the disciple aspires to reach its meaning. Omar, for example, means force or sustenance.”

As with the community living in Órgiva, the Sufis of Villanueva de la Vera are all Spanish. “In fact, there is only one Moroccan here,” says Yamaluddin (Juan Andrés Molina). The bearded 44-year-old from Madrid is wearing the traditional Naqshbandi ring as worn by Muhammad, along with a waistcoat and baggy pants, and a green turban that will eventually serve as his winding sheet when his naked body is buried.

Sufi women also wear ample, baggy clothing, along with a headscarf, as 41-year-old Hawa (Ana Rosa Soto) explains: “Women should dress modestly. But we also cover ourselves to protect two energy centers on our body: the head and the throat. Thanks to Islam, I have recovered my femininity,” she says. “And nobody has ever given me any problems for dressing like this.”

A group of Sufis chats as they sell vegetables in Villanueva de la Vera (Cáceres). / FERNANDO SÁNCHEZ ALONSO
Mariam Sakina Scott, who was born a Muslim in Órgiva 22 years ago, to American and Spanish parents who had converted to Islam, says that wearing the headscarf has created problems for her, particularly at school. “Everybody knew I was a Muslim, but I don’t make a big deal about it. In our society, there is this idea that Islam is a fanatical religion. But people have absolutely no idea about Sufism. There are people who ask me if I belong to a sect. I tell them that Sufism is about respect and love between all God’s creatures.”

Shaykh Umar Magarit explains that Sufism “obliges us to ask at who we are in reality. And that question can only be answered by looking for Allah in our hearts. And to do that, Sufis comply with all the precepts of Islam, and then try to transcend them.”

The Salafists in Egypt and Libya, as well as the Taliban in Pakistan, have all persecuted Sufi communities, branding them heretics. But Sufism is an integral and ancient part of Islam, and some studies suggest it even predates Muhammad, and emerged in Khorasan in what is today Iran as a result of Christian, Hinduism, Buddhism and Greek philosophical thinking, along with shamanistic influences from Central Asia.

Sufis say that while their religion is embedded within Islam, its purpose is the same as all the great monotheistic faiths: union with God. The only way to achieve this is through unconditional love for everything and everybody. Ibn Arabi, the Sufi mystical poet who lived in Spain in the 12th century, wrote: “My heart can adapt to all forms. It is pasture for gazelles. And a monastery for Christian monks, and a temple for idols, and the Kaaba of the pilgrims, and the tables of the Torah, and the book of the Koran. Because I follow the religion of love.”

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