Adam Smith Blog


Defying prejudice, Islam’s mystical, musical strain appeals to New Yorkers

Every Thursday night, the music of a tanbour, a long-necked stringed instrument,  resounds across the wooden floors of a Manhattan room, wrapped with warm Persian rugs. Barefoot men and women create circles and sway to the cadence of the melody.

The music builds as their teacher, Sheikha Fariha, joins the circle. She slowly begins to spin and passes by each individual, looking into their eyes and breathing on their faces, while repeating variants of the names of God. The words are Arabic but she does not have the accent of a native speaker. Soon the faithful are making circles, whirling. 

This scene unfolds in New York City’s TriBeCa district, 12 blocks away from ground zero. It reflects the popularity of Sufism, Islam’s mystical tradition, whose appeal seems to grow among a segment of spiritual seekers even as the faith’s mainstream varieties arouse antipathy among swathes of the American public. (A new study by scholars at the University of Minnesota found that Islam has surpassed atheism as the metaphysical belief disliked by the greatest number of Americans.)

The very word Sufism can be confusing: correctly or otherwise, it is used to…Continue reading