By Carla Price
July 25, 2000
Much has been written about Sufism, a religion and a way of life that grew from Moslem roots. As a non-Sufi (but a potential Sufi) who attended the meetings of two very different Sufi “paths,” I am sharing my experiences with others who may be interested in this faith.
For the uninitiated, a Sufi meeting can be an alarming experience. My first experience was wonderful, as it was related to dance and exercise. My second experience, with the vastly different Shadalia Sufi path, was an orthodox religious meeting, known as a dhziker, which was extremely unsettling. This will be reported on in a second article.
I am a belly dancer of Near Eastern ancestry. A fellow dancer who is a Sufi invited me to both meetings. She said, “Sufism can liberate you as a dancer, teach you patience, and help you heal. Sufis are genuine healers.”
There was no way I would refuse these experiences. The questions are: will I return? Is the Sufi path for me? Can a Sufi also be a Christian or a Jew?
My first meeting took place in downtown Manhattan, New York, in a mirrored dance studio with a beautiful wooden parquet floor. Our teacher, Matt, was a tall and lanky white man, in his mid thirties, with long, flowing auburn hair. He was clad in loose-fitting white clothes. As he welcomed us, I liked him instantly. He was gentle.
In addition to my friend and myself, there were two other Sufi women at the meeting. My friend was well-acquainted with both.
I am tempted to call the meeting a “class.” That is because our leader, or our teacher, was sensitive to the fact that newcomers were present. He carefully explained what we would do, step by step.
Matt began by playing a cassette of Oum Khalsoum music. As a belly dancer, I have a deep and abiding interest in Oum Khalsoum, the greatest female Egyptian singer in the 20th century. I know and love her songs, and her voice helped to transport me into an appropriate frame of mind for a Sufi meeting. As we sat on mats, our feet bare, Matt led us in gentle stretching exercises, speaking to us constantly, in his gentle voice. Stretching helped our minds and muscles to relax. I was surprised at how weightless I was beginning to feel. I now realize that there was a group energy generated in the room….something far more intense than any ordinary gym class or dance class warm-up.
After about 20 minutes of stretching to Oum Khalsoum and Matt, we were invited to take blankets and lie down on our mats. Matt now played a tape of dramatic drumming. Later, I learned that the drumming was by Adnan, a great Sufi leader from Iraq. Matt, and my friend, are his followers.
The lights were turned off, except for a candle. I envisioned Moroccan copper plates colliding and producing beautiful, metallic sounds. Although the drumming was extremely stimulating, my entire body was entering a state of relaxation. I felt strangely cold, and I needed the blankets Matt had offered. My mind seemed to be hovering above my body, with all its worries and concerns stuffed into a locked box. My muscles felt as liquid as milk.
I had encountered a strange inconsistency. The longer I listened to this exciting drumming, which ordinarily would be far from soothing, the more deep my muscular and mental relaxation. I opened my eyes to look at the others. One girl, covered by a Mexican serape, appeared to be asleep. No one was stirring. My friend had assumed a lotus position.
In a soft voice, Matt said, “Now we will participate in free movement.”
I felt reluctant to move. It was rare that I had ever enjoyed such relaxation. Everyone rose. Matt invited us to borrow a coin belt and veil from the many which were scattered at the peripheries of the room. I have always enjoyed borrowing dance costumes and accessories because I can feel and share in the energy of the dancer who used them before.
“Try to use the color you feel,” he said. Despite my mellow state, I selected a flame colored coin belt….reddish-orange….and a white veil. I had never used or owned a white veil previously.
Matt turned on a small lamps on, so the room was slightly illuminated, though still dim. He played a 30-minute belly dance tape and joined in the dance. Dancers were not able to really study their movements in the mirror. That is because our goal was free expression, rather than prepared choreography. However, I was not able to reach that level. I lapsed into familiar dance patterns that I knew. I was still too new to Sufism to find a new dance “voice” or new forms of expression. I sensed that Matt and some of the others, who were not trained Middle Eastern dancers, were much more expressive than I was. The stretching, music, and drumming had awakened dance skills in them. I could see how the Sufi session could liberate lifestreams of energy….but I was not really experiencing this myself. I was too reserved, too fearful. However, the relaxation had suddenly been transformed into true energy and I wanted to dance. In all honesty, I cannot say that my dancing was improved. My friend was doing beautifully, however.
When the music ended, our dance time was over. Matt said, “Please return to your place.” I saw that some people left the room, presumably for the bathroom, while others resumed a relaxed posture on the floor. Once again, the lights were turned off. Only a candle illuminated the studio. Matt said , “Now we will chant.” Our instructions were to repeat certain Arabic phrases after him, and then, along with him.
We sat on our mats, cross-legged, and repeated “OMM.” There were other Arabic words that we repeated over and over, and some short phrases. Matt translated most of them. However, there was one word he chose not to translate, but it was a word I knew…taghrir. Freedom. I wondered why he chose not to share the meaning of the word with the group, but I kept this question within.
I found myself becoming enthusiastic, despite my reservations, and I chanted and even sang the words. Later, my friend told me, very gravely, that I had done the wrong thing. She said, “You are only to repeat what the leader says. Never add anything yourself. In some Sufi groups, you would be told to leave if you did that. Adnan would never tolerate that from you.”
After the meeting, we each paid Matt $10.00 for the session, which had lasted a full 90 minutes. I barely remember the subway ride back to the car, or what we talked about on the way home. When I arrived home, around midnight, I found myself to be extremely hungry, and I consumed an entire meal.
Because I have so many tangled threads of religion in my life, I did not return to Sufism for 18 months. However, I read a book about Sufism, and came to understand that there are numerous Sufi paths. Some Sufi leaders emphasize dance, song, and chanting. Others interpret dreams and even memories. Some are silent. All create a group energy that an individual cannot experience alone.
I was fortunate because my first exposure to Sufism related to what I love most in life – exercise and dance. The Sufi meeting with Matt was much easier for me, much more comfortable, than the second meeting, which I will write about in a second article. Eighteen months later, I attended a dhzikr, an orthodox Sufi prayer meeting. Truly, the dhzikr is not for everybody. In fact, I was so unsettled by the dhzikr that I must compose my thoughts about it before I put them on paper.
Results 1 to 1 of 1
Thread: Sufi Nights
08-03-2011 08:32 AM #1
- Join Date
- May 2000
- Blog Entries