Thursday, April 23, 2015

Fes Festival of Sufi Culture ~ Day Six

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Morning Round Table

Thursday morning's panel was on of Sufism in Amazigh, or Berber culture. The speakers, most of them scholars who study the Amazigh, all came from Morocco. Among them was El Bouazzaoui Aicha, Bouamri Karima, and Lakhdar Derfoufi, along with festival organizer Abdallah Wassani and visiting poet Omar Taouch. They talked about the history of Sufism in the country, and gave an account of a couple of the major Berber figures who worked to establish Tariqas, or Sufi schools. Because they presented in Arabic, Faouzi and Abdallah Wassani interrupted the presentations several times to provide summaries in French. These were meant to supplement the translation done through the headsets. However, the constant explanations, often lasting longer than the original statements, felt a bit overbearing. It would have been better just to hear what the presenters had to say, even if a little bit of their meaning was lost in translation.

Omar Taouch - Sadly cut short. Photo: Priam Thomas

The last speaker was Mr. Omar Taouch, an Amazigh poet and primary school teacher of Arabic and the Amazigh language. He is particularly interested in Amazigh educational needs and social situation of nomad children in the south. While the other presenters spoke from an academic or theological perspective that was often hard to follow, Omar was more direct and frankly more engaging.

He explained that the word Amazigh means “a good man of ethics” or a “free man,” in the sense that he has freed himself from bad qualities. He talked about how the Berbers easily assimilated Christian, Jewish and Islamic religion into their culture, as well as modern democratic values. He credited their openness and tolerance to what he called a long-standing quality of “straight forwardness” in their culture.

While Faouzi praised Taouch as “the embodiment of the depth and wisdom of the Amazigh culture,” the teacher and poet was only able to speak for about 5 minutes. Faouzi interrupted to state that time had run out, and that the morning talk would be concluded without audience response. This was unfortunate, as Abdullah Wassani, who dominated the morning in the joint role of moderator, had just made a separate presentation for over half an hour. The more gracious thing to do as host would have been to share the remaining time, or even let the visiting poet speak first.

Afternoon Round Table

The afternoon Round Table
The Afternoon Round Table examining the links between the occident and the orient was, sadly, poorly attended. This did nothing to dint the enthusiasm of Faouzi Skali who drew a detailed picture of the paths of Rumi and Ibn Arabi - who he described as the "two poles of orient and occident".

He went on to explain that Ibn Arabi loved Fez andcalled it the "City of light".

One panel member called for Faouzi Skali to commence a "grand jihad" to bring the "light of Fez" to counter the Wahhabi influence.

After a pause for the call to prayer Touria Iqbal, who spoke, thankfully, from her heart, about her search for connection. It was a pleasant break from the drier language of academia.

Touria Ikbal

The Tariqa Khalwatiyya
The Tariqa Khalwatiyya is probably one of the most popular visiting groups at the Sufi Festival. Their appearance in 2013 was a highlight of that Festival. Along with the Naqshbandi, Qadiri and Shadhili orders is among the most famous Sufi orders. They takes their 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 but 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).

The Evening Concert

The actual concert got off to a late start due to the problems of seating the over capacity crowd and began with Amazigh (Berber) samaà from the Rif mountains.

The Tariqa comprised eight musicians - dual keyboards, violin, clarinet, oud, kanun and two percussionists and a singer. The sound had a Andalusian feel to it and the singer proved to be a pleasant crooner. The overall samaà was a dignified and enjoyable experience of Sufi pop.

Then it was the turn of the Turks. One of the remarkable traits of the Khawhatiyya is their discipline. Not only are they drilled like an army unit, they rehearse before every performance. Not once, but several times. In the afternoon they rehearsed in the Batha garden and at 7pm they acclimatised themselves to the twirling floor, adjusting the carpets and taking good note of the low stone fountain.

Photo: Priam Thomas

The  second half of the evening began with dkir from one tariqa and the second part the samaà from the the forty member strong Tariqa Khawhatiyya.  The Brotherhood took to the stage and began what can only be described as a sensational performance.

It is almost unfair on other performances to unleash the Turks on Fez. They invade the space, and create a tsunami of sound that ranges from angelic chanting to almost animal grunts of “la illaha il Allah”.

Photo; Priam Thomas

It is a performance of unique energy - an emotional earthquake. The final circular huddle of dervishes was much like a football team celebrating a great victory. It was divine magic, powerful, seductive and difficult to capture in words. As they say, you had to be there. The audience was certainly thankful they were.

Faouzi Skali thanks Chaykh Nur Alla Fatih

Photos and text: Priam Thomas and Sandy McCutcheon

Tomorrow's Programme at the Batha Museum:
10am  Round Table Texts and Poetry of Morocco & Andalucia
4pm    Round Table Expressions of Spiritual Love in Africa
8.30pm Concert at Bab Makina: Sufis of Aleppo

Friday's weather: Sunny. Top temperature 27 Celsius. Minimum 12.

See other Festival reports

Sufi Festival  ~ Day One
Sufi Festival - Day Two
Sufi Festival ~ Day Three
Sufi Festival ~ Day Four
Sufi Festival ~ Day Five
Sufi Festival ~ Day Six
Sufi Festival ~ Day Seven
Sufi Festival ~ Day Eight

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