Monday, 11 May 2009

Zikr At Fatimah Al-Nabawiyah Shrine

©Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

Well, it did happen. Driven in the rickety taxi expertly navigated by Abdel-Fattah (aka Kojak) in the grimy labyrinthine alleys of Old Cairo, and accompanied by Badawi and Haj Zakaria (an Imam by choice and a government employee by necessity), I arrived in reasonable good form at the shrine (and mosque) of Sayyidah Fatimah Al Nabawiyya just before the afternoon Muslim prayers. It is here, just outside the mosque, that a small Sufi zikr was scheduled to take place.

Sayyidah Fatima was one of the daughters of Imam Hussein, the martyred son of Ali (nephew of the Prophet Mohammad and revered by Shi'a Muslims), who is said to be the first to know of her father's martyrdom when a black crow soaked in the Imam's blood landed next to her. She is considered to be a saint by many in the local Sufi community.

The definition of zikr is that it's an Islamic practice and a devotional act which includes the repetition of the names of Allah, supplications and aphorisms and sections of the Qur'an. What I witnessed was a small manifestation of this practice, where a band of devotional musicians sang (rather than recited) homage to various saints such as Al Badawi, founder of the Badawiyyah Sufi order, among others.

A number of tiny street cafes offered tea to the spectators, while a few veiled women occasionally swayed to the tempo of the music. An elderly woman had to helped after she "swooned" from the exertion. I have no idea if it was caused by the exertion of having sucked on a water pipe for the better part of an hour, or by her entering a state of trance.

More a block party than a serious religious event, there was a sense of neighborhood fraternity amongst the attendees. I was viewed with amused curiosity, and treated with the Egyptian customary kindness. I realized that the event wasn't packed because it coincided with an important soccer match being televised and shown in various tea-houses. Religion is important, but it's often trumped by soccer.

I considered this as a precursor to other more important events, which I'm working on. Hopefully, there'll be more to come. However as I expected, it was monochromatic...and hence the black & white photograph of this post. The highlight of the performance was to hear my name being sung when I made a modest contribution to the band's "pension fund". I had my audio recorder on for a while, and the little I listened to so far is quite interesting.

Note: Technically-speaking, I was advised that what I saw is called Madh rather than Zikr. Madh is the giving of praise to various saints, which is exactly what this ceremony was about.