On a leafy block of West 72nd Street, a Muslim Sufi order meets each Thursday evening, squeezing into Abdul Latif’s three-bedroom apartment. You don’t have to know Mr. Latif, born John Healy, to attend. Raised in the Yorkville neighborhood on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, he greeted his guests in Arabic with a thick New York accent, inviting them to sit on the floor.
A group of about 10 beloveds, as they call one another, then stood and locked hands, forming a circle. Mr. Latif, 57, weaved around the ring, leading the chants in unison, including the 99 sacred names of God and prayers of adoration.
The participants — mostly American-born converts to Islam — squeezed their eyes shut; some gently swayed, letting themselves be carried away by the rhythmic mantras. The pace of the chants quickened, one man stamped his feet, another wept silently, and after 30 minutes the beloveds were captivated and perspiring.
Sufis call this practice zikr and see it as a way of connecting with God and elevating themselves through communal meditation. Worshipers frequently lose themselves in a spinning frenzy, as with the well-known whirling dervishes.
Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam, has been cloaked in secrecy for most of its existence, having been forced underground by Ottoman rulers in the 13th century. Nowadays, however, many of these spiritual communities, like the beloveds in Mr. Latif’s apartment, are in plain view around the city if you know where to look. Some can even be found through a simple Google search.
The Murid order, for instance, meets in West Harlem and follows the teachings of its Senegalese founder, Ahmadu Bamba. The Tijaniyya group congregates on Fridays in a brownstone in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.The Naqshbandis meet on Saturday nights in a 19th-century church on Ninth Avenue in Manhattan.