Thursday, April 17, 2014

Turkish Whirling Dervishes ~ Tariqa Khalwatiyya at Fez Sufi Festival

The Tariqa Khalwatiyya
Allah, Allah, Allah
Allah ya Mawlana
Allah, Allah, Allah
Bifadlika Kuli

The Tariqa Khalwatiyya is an Islamic Sufi brotherhood that, along with the Naqshbandi, Qadiri and Shadhili orders,is among the most famous Sufi orders. The order takes its name from the Arabic word khalwa, meaning “method of withdrawal or isolation from the world for mystical purposes". The Khalwati order is known for its strict ritual training of its dervishes and its emphasis on individualism.

The Khalwatiyya are based in Turkey. However, though Moroccan, and more generally North African, Sufism is characterised by the devolution of multiple brotherhoods over time from a small group of orders who brought Sufism to North Africa, principally the Qadiriyya, the Shadhiliyya and the Khalwatiyya themselves, there exist a great number of similar annexes in Turkey, including orders descended from all three of those just mentioned. Rather than shedding light on some fundamental historical difference between Moroccan and Turkish Sufism, therefore, the “originality” of the Khalwatiyya, in contrast to their Moroccan counterparts, appears largely coincidental. Their origin will be seen to have played a part in the uniqueness of their rituals in comparison to the other brotherhoods.

Having said all this, it should be reiterated that the Khalwatiyya have a very strong presence in North Africa, principally through the Tijaniyya annex, which is the largest tariqa in West Africa and whose founder, Ahmed al-Tijani (d.1815), lived and was buried in Fez. Indeed it was al-Tijani who was responsible for propagating the Khalwatiyya order, which he had encountered in Cairo on his way to Mecca to perform the Hajj, in the Maghreb.

In a further example of the inter-connectedness of the brotherhoods’ histories, Tijani had also been an initiate of the Wazzaniyya and the Qadiriyya. This reflects the widespread diffusion of the oldest Sufi orders throughout the lands of Islam, and demonstrates how no order should be considered indigenously “Moroccan”, their origins stretching back to the medieval Middle-East and Central Asia. Similarly, whilst we may talk of the “Turkish Khalwatiyya”, the fact is that they originated in Tabriz, in what is present-day Iran, their master the Persian speaking ‘Umar al-Khalwati (d.1398).

Sheik Fatih Nurallah

The Concert

The Tariqa gave Fez a night of dhikr wa Samāa, or prayer and contemplation, and much more besides.

The evening began with the brotherhood chanting in a semi-circle, and progressed to one of the most spectacular and beautiful of Sufi practices - the whirling dervishes. To watch them is to have a sense of suspension, as though they are almost levitating.

The Tariqa re-grouped and began their deep, drum-like chant, over-toned by a singer on stage. Then they rose and moved into a tight circle, rotating as the chanting intensified. They opened out, and three dancers ran into the centre, leaping, turning and tossing their hair in a wild and joyous display.

The circle formed again, and more acolytes came to join, as the audience rose to add their voices to the experience.

As a finale, individual roses were thrown into the audience; a fitting token for a moving and exciting event.

Festival Director Faouzi Skali embraces Sheik Fatih Nurallah

Coming Up

Tariqa Wazzaniyya

Friday at 9pm at the Batha Museum: Ali Keeler and the Al Firdaus Ensemble followed by samaa with the Tariqa Wazzaniyya - Harraqiyya

Words and photos: Suzanna Clarke. Additional material: Fitzroy Morrissey

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