Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Fes Festival of Sufi Culture ~ Day Five

Batha Museum Round Table - Sufism and Literature

A small but appreciative crowd attended the day's second round table discussion once again lead by Festival Director Faouzi Skali. One delightful addition to the event was the performance of a beautifully sung pray at the beginning of proceedings.

Evening Concert ~ Samāa with Tariqa Rifaiyya from Palestine

Tonight's concert was something of a surprise and certainly different from what many in the audience expected. Given the history of the Tariqa Rifaiyya it was expected that we were in for a high octane spiritual boost. However, what was delivered was not the samāa we have become accustomed to, but rather a superbly delivered concert performance.

There is tremendous popular support for Palestinians in Morocco and this was evident by size of the crowd that filled the Batha Museum venue to its absolute capacity. The organisers and security are to be congratulated on the way they managed the huge crowd.

The nine member group comprised electronic keyboard, kamam (violin), an oud playing lead vocalist, a single back-up singer, qanun, nay (wooden flute) and three percussionists including tabla and daff or tambourine.

It was apparent from the moment they walked on stage that this was to be a musical rather than deeply spiritual performance. Eight of the orchestra were dressed in black, while the lead singer and oud player was in a shiny suit that looked as though it was straight from the wardrobe of a Bollywood pop star.

The music began with a short and simple introduction in the style of a taksim, played on the qanun. Following this the singer launched into a very different style of music from that experienced at the festival so far. Far from the raw emotional impact of the Tariqa Boutchichiya or the driving rhythms of the Tariqa Charqawiyya, this was polished professional performance that tended towards Arab popular music.

The audience were treated to some beautiful music on the nay

The solo instrumental breaks on kamam, nay or qanun were greeted with warm applause from the audience. However as several audience members remarked, there was a lack of an emotional link with the audience. In the previous concerts there was a tangible connection that was about more than simply the music. Tonight we were "played at" rather than "shared with".  It is entirely possible that many European visitors are not familiar enough with the music of the Middle East and missed the subtleties. It is also true that regular Sufi Festival attendees have been spoilt by immersion and inclusion in some remarkable evenings of samāa and dhikr. However, this was not one of them.

Programming a festival is no easy task, but when done skilfully, a festival acquires a momentum that builds from day to day. After a reasonably low-key first night this festival has taken off and the past few nights have built on each other. Tonight, rather than go further, we reached a plateau. Tomorrow, with the Tariqa Khalwatiyya, we will hopefully ascend again.

The qanun

la ilaha illa l-lah

The dervish must not or should not expect anything from people or desire what belongs to others. He should be unmindful of things which he needs, for to have no need is the mark of honour and the distinguishing trait of piety of the pious. The biggest honour and wealth and the highest level is to put one's whole trust in Allah only. Only with this attitude can the dervish be pious. Worship matures with this attitude. This is the state and action of one who give himself to Allah ~ Sultan-ul Awliya Shaikh Abdul-Qadir Gilani
The Rifaiyya

The Rifaiyya order(Arabic, الرفاعية) was founded in 1183, as an offshoot of the Qadiriya, upon the death of the extremely pious Ahmad ar-Rifa'i of Basra and developed in the lower Iraq marshlands between Wasit and Basra.

The Rifa'i order has always stressed the importance of an ascetic life style. Poverty, abstinence and self-mortification are central virtues. Ahmad ar-Rifa'i also promoted the doctrine of not harming even the smallest living creature. Also when a person was sick or in trouble, it believed he should fight his situation.

Presently the order is said to maintain particular influence in Cairo, Egypt.  Its distinctive features include walking on hot coals and (according to some sources) consuming live snakes. Ibn Battuta, a famed traveler of the Islamic world in the 1300’s, wrote with horrified fascination about these practices. The early Rifaiyya was extremely widespread, found in Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Asia Minor, and even in the Maldives. It has spawned a very large number of sub-groups and associated branches under a variety of names. Together with other Sufi orders, the Rifa'i were outlawed in Turkey in 1925.

An early illustration of a Rifaiyya prayer circle
Come, Come whoever you are, wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving.  Our's is not a caravan of despair. Come even if you have broken your vows a thousand times, Come, come yet again ~ Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

Text: Sandy McCutcheon
Photographs: Suzanna Clarke & Sandy McCutcheon

10am Round Table - Sufism and Social Thought
4pm   Round Table Enterprise and Spirituality
8.30pm Samāa with the Tariqa Khalwatiyya from Turkey
in the presence of Sheik Fatih Nurallah

See our full Sufi Festival coverage

Day One
Day Two
Day Three
Day Four
Day Five
Day Six
Day Seven
Final Night 

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