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Religion Library: Sufism

Rites and Ceremonies

Written by: Nancy Khalek

Dhikr is a devotional repetition of the names of God, which may also include supplications or prayers culled from the Quran or glossary. While anyone may perform dhikr privately, it may be performed in groups, ceremonially. Dhikr in group sessions are usually spoken aloud, and may be led by the shaykh who "feeds" lines to the disciples to let them know which incantation to say at a given time. The most basic component of Sufi communal life is the performance of dhikr, which means remembrance or invocation. This could take the form of repeating the word Allah, or the shahadah (the testification of faith) in a rhythmic manner with attentiveness to the body's posture and to breathing. For Sufis, the practice of dhikr is incumbent, not optional. In their view, all ritual, whether in the form of prayer or fasting, is aimed at remembering God. Thus the recitation of God's name and the testification of faith serve as further remembrances of the goal toward which all spiritual practice is directed.

Dhikr ceremonies vary in their precise details and format from one Sufi order to another. These varying liturgies are often derived from the practice of the founder of a tariqa, and may be personalized to different disciples who find themselves at different points along their spiritual paths. An elaborate dhikr known as a sama, or "spiritual concert," may include elaborate recitations, singing, instrumental music, dance, and rhythmic breathing, the ultimate goal of which is the attainment of a state of ecstasy or trance. Such a trance or ecstatic state marks the culmination of a dhikr ceremony, which may last for several hours.

One well-known form of sama is a ceremony of Turkish origin, which has become vastly popular in Turkey. Watch a whirling ceremony below. It includes singing and dancing (known as whirling, for the repetitive circular nature of the dance), and is easily known for the white robe worn by practitioners. This style of the ceremony is most readily associated with the Mevlevi Order, although a form of this dancing ceremony is also popular in India, with the Chishtiya order. The music associated with sama in South and Southeast Asia is called qawwali. The whirling dance is a representation of the Muslim's ascent through the intellect and into the perfection of love. Once in an ecstatic state, the practitioner transcends the ego. As the dance slows, the Sufi experiences a return from the journey, having been changed and transformed internally

 
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