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Sufism under the Arcades of Tripoli


Refused and historically persecuted by Wahhabi and Salafi Muslims, Sufis still practice Attariqa (the way) all around the world. They believe they are the true proponents of a pure form of Islam. Some Muslims, however, consider them outside the sphere of their religion. In the heart of Tripoli, the so-called fortress of Muslims in Lebanon, Salafists markedly flourished during the last two years. Nevertheless, Sufi shrines continue to welcome their members who rejoice their weekly ceremonies with music, chants, and dance.


Zikr! Photo (c) Ibrahim Chalhoub
Zikr! Photo (c) Ibrahim Chalhoub
podcast_sufi_tripoli_lebanon.mp3 Podcast_Sufi_Tripoli_Lebanon.MP3  (839.05 Ko)

It’s ten to seven in the evening, a Wednesday similar to that of every week in the old market of Tripoli in Lebanon. One could stumble at any moment as the darkness absorbs the light of the handheld torch. Suddenly, an open door at the corner provides hope of reaching land. Climb few steps on a wooden ladder and you’ll find yourself surrounded by the walls of the shrine of ‘Ahl al-Daawa’ (people of the divine call).

The Ceremony

Ten minutes barely elapsed before the twenty square meters room got filled with faces from almost all age groups. The observer cannot but notice the contrast with the inanimate walls from which hang drums and cymbals. Rugs carry Islamic writings and paintings of religious monuments as well as a multitude of swords and daggers. The smell of burning charcoal suggests an upcoming counter-attack against the stormy weather unable to prevent the lively ceremony.
In this old house of rocky arcades Muslims following Mevlevi Sufism gather to revive a more than a thousand years old tradition, Zikr (or Dhikr) – a form of loyalty to the Great Being, the one and only God as described with ninety nine different names in Islam.
Rhythmically repeating ‘Allah’ along with religious chants and drumming, participants swing their bodies to the method indicated by old Sheikh Eid, master of the shrine. Young whirling dervishes turn in the middle of the rectangular human chain to complete the ceremony. There, eyes and ears heat up to the smell of the burning incense.

Sheikh Eid did not content himself with what you would see in the below slideshow and video. He used to perform more of these rituals where he would pierce the jaws of participants with sharp metal objects. He used to cut through the neck of a few using the swords that now hang on the wall. He also used to let the horse step on him during certain ceremonies he conducted on the streets of Tripoli more than twenty years ago. Now, the Sheikh grew old and some Sheiks considered as references in Islamic law indicated that these practices are not acceptable in religion – the Sheikh’s son Mohammad explained. “We don’t perform these acts anymore”, he adds. Other groups of Sufi, some of which are in the South of the country still do piercing and cutting rituals in the streets during specific religious ceremonies (refer to the photos on the AFP Image Forum Website under: LEBANON-RELIGION-ISLAM-PROPHET-).

The Salafi Perspective

Sufism might have some correct principles, but it generally deviates from the way of the Prophet”, says Sheikh Daei al-Islam al-Shahal. Sheikh Daei is one of the founders of Salafism in Tripoli, Lebanon. According to the Salafi Sheikh, some Sufis practice a ‘light level’ of Sufism which deals with additional forms of devotion to God and that could be accepted. However, “some went too far so as to reach ‘kufr’ (blasphemy)”, adds Sheikh al-Shahal. He explains that “this happens because this group of people made its own interpretations in beliefs and religious practices. We, as Salafi, believe that the basics are common to all Muslims and they cannot be modified as they don’t carry any possibility for interpretations”. And regarding the ceremony of Zikr itself, the Salafi Sheikh elaborates: “It is correct to practice Zikr, which is nothing but invoking Allah, but there are specific ways and moments for that. We repeat the name of Allah in meaningful sentences like ‘subhan Allah’ (praised be Allah) and ‘la ilaha illallah’ (there is no God but Allah). What meaning is there in repeating the word ‘Allah’ alone? Add this to the humming Sufis make during Zikr. And still more, why do those people jump or move their bodies while performing Zikr? Did the Prophet do that? No! This is, therefore, wrong and not acceptable. And we definitely disapprove such practices. These would easily lead to ‘kufr’, which occurs when certain Sufis ask for the relief from Saints or dead people or even jinn. We only ask Allah for relief and help.”

According to Sheikh al-Shahal, Salafis are required to refute Sufi practices. “Salafis may not be able to stop Sufis from performing unacceptable practices sometimes. They should, in that case, definitely avoid attending such ceremonies”, assures Sheikh Daei.

Back to the Shrine

Eight thirty in the evening, the Zikr ceremony ends. The Sufi Sheikh Eid sits under a portrait of his. He was much younger by then. He now shares a cup of healthy tea to bond with Sufi participants. He has been repeating this practice every Wednesday for more than fifty years in Tripoli, north Lebanon.

Check below slideshow and video, respectively, from Sufi Zikr in Tripoli Lebanon



Ibrahim Chalhoub
Correspondant - Photographe En savoir plus sur cet auteur
28/02/2013




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