Whirling Dervishes of Damascus
Sufy liturgy from the great mosque of Ommeyyads
Great Master Junayd was asked why the Sufis felt such
powerful emotions in their spirit and the urge to move
their body when listenning to sacred music. This way his
reply : " When God asked the souls in the spirit
world, at the moment of the First Covenant : " Am
I not your Lord ? ", the gentle sweetness of the
divine words penetrated each soul for ever, so that whenever
one of them hears music now, the memory of this sweetness
is stirred within him causing him to move. "
Whirling Dervishes of Damascus
In the early 9th century, when the Muslim mystics organised
their Sufis brotherhoods or orders, they adopted music as a
support for meditation, as a means of access to the state of
grace or ecstasy, or quite simply as " soulfood "
in other words, something that give new vigour to a body and
soul tired by the rigours of the ascetic life. In sufism, the
sama' (meaning literally 'listenning') denotes the tradition
of listenning in spiritual fashion to music, chanting and songs
of various forms, all ritualised to a greater or lesser degree.
The very meaning of the world sama' suggests that it is the
act of listenning that is spiritual, without the music or poetry
being necessarily religious in content. The major preoccupation
of the Muslim mystics was to give the ecstasy a real content
and the music a true meaning.
The Sûfis mystics brotherhoad known as Mawlawiyya
(Turkish : Mevlevi-s, more familiar to us in the West as the
"whirling dervishes") was founded at Konya (Anatolia)
by the great Persian poet Jalâl al-Dîn al-Rûmi
Although we associate this ritual above all with Turkey, local
traditions have been in existence in Syria, Egypt, and Iraq
since the 16th century. They survived there after the dissolution
of all Sûfi fraternities in Turkey in 1925 and the suicide
of the Great Master 'Abd al-Halîm Thsélébî
Damascus is one of the principal centres of Islam, the former
capital of the Ummayyad dynasty and a stage in the pilgrimage
to Mecca. In their meeting-places there (takiyya or zâwiya),
the Mawlawîyah adopted the original suites (Wasla),
modes (maqâm) and rhythms. The ritual may not be
performed in the mosques, where musical instruments are either
completely forbidden or else only allowed in the form of percussion
instruments, which are generally played in the courtyard.
Certain great mosques, such as the Umayyad Mosque (also known
as the Great Mosque of Damascus) possess a specific vocal repertory
. The sacred suites are known there as nawba-s, a term
reserved for secular suites by the former inhabitants of Andalusia
and the Maghribi.
: Nicolas Nylsson
Sheikh Hamza Shakkûr and Julien Jâlal Eddine
Weiss with the Choir of Munshiddin from the Great Omeyyad
Mosque in Damascus
accompanied by a male-voice choir (bitâna),
the reciters (munshid) work into the "samâ"
(sacred concert) extracts from the repertoire of the Great
Mosque, the naming of God (dhikr-s) and extracts from
the Birth of the Prophet (mawlid). Their expressivity
(hiss) is fundamentally serene, always subtly inventive
and rigorously organized rhythmically in order to progressively
lead the assembly into a trance (inkhitâf)
or a state of meditation (ta'ammul) a choice which
depends on each individual fraternity.
Considered one of the greatest interprets of muslim songs,
Munshid of the Great Ummayad Mosque of Damascus, Sheikh
Hamza sings the praises of divine love and God's prophet
Muhammed in sublime, deep tones. Replying to his soaring,
powerful invocations to God, the musicians of the Al-Kindi
Ensemble alternate subtle flourishes and arabesques with
refined preludes, whilst the dervishes whirl on stage
following an immemorial devotional ritual. The orison
blends with dance, and prayer with art.
This is how proceeds this plendid and spell-binding sight
event, this truly spiritual concert, session of Sama'
- spiritual listenning - where the only distraction from
our state of bliss is the rustling of the dervishes'robes.
Bi hamdika yâ ilâhî
O God, I begin my entreaties by praising your goodness.
In humility and acceptance I turn to Thee.
If Thou dost not grant me forgiveness, who else could do so
Thou art Allah, our generous Lord,
I have entrusted my earthly fate to Thy heavenly powers.
Grant me Thy succour, relieve my worried breast.
Thou knowest my intimate secrets just as my outward acts,
O Thou, my God, forgiving and full of Mercy.
Allah, lâ ilâha illâ-llâ, Ataynâka
Allah, Allah, there si no other God but Allah
We come to Thee, poor and bereft,
Thou who holdest all riches
And constantly pours Thy blessings down on us.
May Thy generosity last for ever,
God, may this prayer on the Chosen One, mean for us
Protection and serenity.
With Thee at my side at all times
I can renounce all worldly goods.
Sheikh Hamza Shakkûr
Eddine Weiss - Arabic
zither (Qânun), artistic direction
Kâdî Amin - Reed flute (Ney)
Shams el-Din - Percussion (riqq)
Suleyman Al-Khechn, Abdallah Chakour -
al-Jamal, Maher al-Jamal
Hicham al-Khatib, Ghassan Janid - Dervishes (Mawlawi)