by Kim Ghattas
BBC News, Damascus
February 22, 2006
For centuries, the traditional sound of Islam coming from the northern Syrian town of Aleppo, has been the rhythmical chanting of the word “Allah”, as men young and old rock back and forth in a small room in the back of a house.
Beating their drums, chanting faster and faster, the men hope to achieve a trance that will bring them closer to God in the traditions of the mystical or Sufi Islam.
The musical capital of the Arab world in many ways, Aleppo’s song and dance have been heavily influenced by Sufism.
But today, it is mostly a very austere call to prayer that can be heard around the city as a growing number of women adopt the full Islamic cover, hiding their hands and faces behind back cloth.Religion is making a comeback in Syria, where people feel the state’s socialist and pan-Arab ideologies have failed for the last four decades.
“We have a phenomenon of radicalisation taking place in schools and university,” said Salam Kawakibi, a political analyst in Aleppo.Mr Kawakibi said he was shocked when he was recently asked to get out of a city cab because the driver could smell he had a bottle of arak, a local aniseed sprit, with him; alcohol is banned by Islam.”The danger is the influence of Salafism and Wahhabism from Saudi Arabia, because all the Syrians who work there, come back with new practices which they impose on their families and entourage,” Mr Kawakibi said.