Saturday, 6 February 2016

The Psychedelic World of Sudan's Sufis

Photo © Ala Kheir- Courtesy The Guardian

‘During dhikr, we fly to the heavens’ - Ahmed Mohamed Alamin

I am glad to have had the opportunity to photographically document the religious tradition of Sufism in a few countries, and have accumulated a reasonable amount of image inventory of its rituals, ceremonies, festivals and of portraiture as well as audio recordings of its music.

However, I have never had the occasion to photograph Sudan's Sufis. It's a particular shame because in my previous career, I visited Khartoum and Omdurman a number of times on banking business but I wasn't in photography then. I can even recall driving past the site of one of their gatherings, but it never occurred to me to stop and take a look. As I said, I wasn't a photographer then and had no interest in such cultural events. Dumb.

So it's with great interest that I stumbled on The Guardian's photographic essay The Psychedelic World of Sudan's Sufis with images by the Sudanese photographer Ala Kheir.

It features photographs made at the Sheikh Hamed Al Nil mosque, which houses the tomb of a 19th century Sufi leader. The Qādirīyah Sufi order meets every Friday outside this mosque in Omdurman and its participants hold a "dhikr" or "zikr" in praise of the saint.

Dhikr is a ritual that requires the continuous recitation of God’s names to create a state of ecstatic abandon in which the adherent’s heart can communicate directly with God. 

Sheikh Hamed al-Nil was a 19th-century Sufi leader of the Qādirīyah order, and his tomb is the weekly venue for the dancing and chanting dervishes. Each Friday afternoon at around four in the afternoon, adherents of the order gather to dance and pray, attracting large crowds of observers and participants. 

The Qādirīyah is probably the oldest of the Sufi orders, founded by the Hanbali theologian Abdel Kader Al Jilani (1078–1166) in Baghdad. The order relies strongly upon adherence to the fundamentals of Islam, and is widespread in most Arab countries and others such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Turkey, the Balkans and others.