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Sudan writer mistrusts US diplomat`s visits to Sufi schools
BBC Monitoring Middle East
March 11, 2013

Whirling Dervishes, a mystical order of Sufi Moslems, dance their way into a trance during their weekly ceremony October 23, 1998, on the outskirts of the Sudanese capital Khartoum. The Sufi Moslems, originally from Iraq, dominated Sudan until the Egyptian invasion in the early nineteenth century.

Commentary by Dr Abd-al-Latif Sa`id: “The American Ambassador in Khartoum Wears Sufi Garb and holds a Cane”

Reports say that the American Ambassador in Khartoum is touring these days Sufi communities in Sudan, meeting senior Shaykhs, making gifts to libraries, and promising the Shaykhs financial, moral, and cultural support.

It is said that he speaks Arabic as well as you and I speak it and that he behaves amicably and affably.

The example of the Western diplomat who speaks Arabic and mixes in Arab societies is not new. Some have gone even farther than the present American Ambassador in Khartoum. Some wore the Arab attire. Some even made the call to prayers, prayed, performed the pilgrimage, and converted publicly to Islam.

One of the most famous was Lawrence of Arabia who led the Arab Revolution against Turkey and destroyed the railroads line linking the Turkish Caliphate with the Arabian Peninsula [the Damascus Railroads]. He was the spearhead in establishing the Arab regional entities after the dismantling of the Caliphate in the wake of World War I.

We in Sudan have the most famous Europeans who claimed they had converted to Islam, spoke Arabic, lived in Sudan, and even married Sudanese women [Fatima al-Bayda] and attended with Caliph Abdallah Al-Ta`yishi the five prayers. This was Salatin Pasha al-Nimsawi [the Austrian]. It was discovered after he fled or was “smuggled” to Egypt that he was also the spearhead for the 1898 invasion of Sudan which paved the way for its occupation.

We are not saying without proof that the present American Ambassador in Khartoum is an extension of that Western conduct. But we say that since he is the Ambassador of the United States we judge him from the conduct of the United States in Sudan which has been until now an aggressive conduct. The United States places Sudan on the list of terror-sponsoring states. It was the main proponent of charging Sudan`s Head of State at the UN Security Council with genocide and war crimes and making him wanted by international justice. It was the United States that also sought diligently to separate the south. It refused to honour the promises it made to Sudan after Sudan fulfilled all the requirements of Naivasha. Actually, the United States now supports with its allies the Revolutionary Front which announces in broad daylight that it seeks to topple the Sudanese State by force. The United States boycotts Sudan economically, politically, and culturally. It stands as an obstacle to any Sudanese effort for progress.

The question: Is the affable American Ambassador who donates libraries, meets the Sufi Shaykhs, and speaks in Arabic the official spokesman for the US policies listed above? Or is he doing these good things out of his own accord and without the approval of the US State Department?

Is he an American diplomat or the head of a charitable organization that sponsors the poor and those who memorize the holy Koran?

Further, why the emphasis on Sufi centres in Sudan?

Have the United States and its allies become certain that the Arab and Islamic peoples will bring Islam to power through the ballot boxes so want to amend this Islam, which will inevitably come, through a Sufi Islam that is better than the other “Islams” they fear?

Who said Sufi Islam would accept what the United States and its allies are doing in the Arab and Islamic worlds? The Sufis are pious and patriotic. The Muslims cannot be penetrated from the Sufi side as the West imagines.

Any rapprochement between the United States and its allies on the one hand and the Arab and Islamic worlds on the other hand, even at the popular level, would be welcome as a step in the right direction. But what is more proper, easier, and more respectable is to deal with political issues with justice, equality, and objectivity. The Arab and Islamic peoples do not hate the United States but hate its bias and its dishonourable use of its formidable power against the weak. They hate its obstruction of the road of progress sought by those who want a dignified life.

The Sudanese people are a responsible people who accept goodness and favours. They are a noble people who hate to be treated lightly.

My last advice to His Excellency the American Ambassador in Khartoum is that he should be tolerant while visiting Sudanese Sufi communities. There are dervishes in these communities who do not know protocol. He might find one of them asking him to follow the first tradition of Abraham, peace upon him [Abraham is said in the Koran to have been “a true Muslim” since he was neither Jewish nor Christian]. I hope the respectable ambassador will not be angry then with this dervish.

Source: Al-Sahafah, Khartoum, in Arabic 11 Mar 13

© 2013 The British Broadcasting Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

US diplomat visits to Sudan`s Sufi sects aims to promote moderate Islam
BBC Monitoring Middle East
March 07, 2013

A Sudanese Sufi performs during their Friday traditional weekly gathering in Omdurman, west Sudan`s capital of Khartoum, April 16, 2010. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

Commentary by Mahfuz Abdin: “Is the American Ambassador in Khartoum Sitting on a Hot Tin Roof?”

The US Charge d`Affaires in Khartoum Stafford has visited the Sufi sect sheikhs in the Provinces of Khartoum and Al-Jazeera. He also recently visited, together with the Italian Ambassador, festivities marking the Birth of the Prophet. These visits have raised several questions about this American interest in the Sufi sects and their sheikhs. Is this a personal interest by the American Charge d`Affaires or is it within the framework of a strategic US plan for the future? Is this connected to the fluency of the US diplomat in Arabic, which could facilitate understanding the issue for him on the personal level and in his diplomatic and other tasks if the Embassy has other work to pursue under various covers? In all events, the outcome ultimately serves US interests.

Despite the intense US presence in the Arab area, whether in North Africa, the Levant, or the Gulf region, there were many issues that did not attract the attention of American embassies in the region or US research centres focusing on the Middle East.

[Passages omitted on Shi`i practices in Iraq and other countries in commemorating Ashura as an example of the traditions the Americans recently sought to study in depth to improve their understanding of the region]

It appears that the issue is different in Sudan from what it is in Iraq. This is why the American Charge d`Affaires is undertaking this task personally to get acquainted with the Sufi sects, their extensions in society and officialdom, and their role in promoting social coexistence, security, and peace in their communities. These extensions go even farther than national and regional borders. We often find European admirers participating in Sufi “dhikr” sessions and dressed in Sufi clothes, for instance in the Burhani sect events which draw Westerners from Europe, particularly from Germany.

The American Charge d`Affaires is thus carrying out a new task which is outside the acknowledged diplomatic norms. He wants to fathom the inner workings of the Sufi sects by direct exposure, instead of just relying on the deductions and recommendations of distant research centres in the United States which might not reflect the actual realities.

A question that arises is why the number one man in the American Embassy should undertake that mission himself when he has tens of other means and ways to explore the inner workings of the Sufi sects without appearing personally in the picture. It appears that the Charge d`Affaires wants to send several messages through these visits, in addition to getting his personal assessments. One of these messages is to show esteem for the Sufi sects since the visits are undertaken by the number one man in the US Embassy.

All this could pave the way for a new era sought by the United States through the Sufi sects, especially since they have sizeable extensions in Arab countries like Morocco, Egypt, Mauritania, Iraq, Somalia, and Eritrea, and to a lesser extent in Jordan, Syria and Turkey. There is Sufi presence even in some Southeast Asian countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

As is known the United States has tackled radical Islam in all its battles and wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia. It fears that Hizballah will have a great influence in determining the future of Syria. It also fears that radical Islam will have the upper hand in the region`s future, especially as it sees Hizballah`s tenacity in the face of Israel in South Lebanon and the Islamic resistance the French are facing in Mali and in West and North Africa in general.

It consequently appears that the American Ambassador is trying to pave the way for a bigger role in the coming phase for the Sufi sects that are known for tolerance and aversion to violence. This would enable the United States to promote a major expansion for tolerant Islam through the Sufi sects at the expense of radical Islamic groups. This provides a low-cost basis in financial and manpower terms for the United States to implement its strategy in the r egion without having to worry too much about radical Islamic groups. If these radical groups were to join hands with the extremist groups in Sudan, including the one that assassinated the US diplomat Granville, the US Charge d`Affaires would be sitting on a hit tin roof in Khartoum.

Source: Al-Sahafah, Khartoum, in Arabic 7 Mar 13

© 2013 The British Broadcasting Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

The Koran as a Cure-All? Listen to the Sufi Sheikh
The New York Times
March 10, 1998

A member of the Whirling Dervish Sufi Sect lies March 8, 1996, in a trance while other members of the sect chant and dance around him. The Sufis are a Mystic Islamic Sect originating in the Middle East and North Africa that seeks union with God through dance and ritual chanting. REUTERS

OMDURMAN, the Sudan -- A crowd starts gathering in the dusty warehouse yard an hour before he appears. They come from all over the Sudan, the diseased and the disabled, the blind and the melancholy. They sit cross-legged in long rows in the dirt under a desert sky and wait for the healer, each wrapped in a private pain.

At 4 P.M., Sheik Abdel Aziz ibn Ali arrives with a megaphone. He is 32 and wears his hair in dreadlocks under a shiny green shawl inscribed with a Koranic verse in golden letters. His assistants wade through the crowd of 800 men and boys, carrying the crutches and walking sticks of those they say he has already cured.

“Leave your disease here,” he says, as an assistant in a motley green costume holds the speaker up. Then he begins to sing the Koran, verse by verse. As his voice rises hoarse and plaintive into the clear afternoon, some in the crowd begin to sway and rock. A few cry out in pain. Others vomit. Some scream.

As the Sheik`s eerie chant grows in intensity, the men in the crowd begin singing amen at the end of each verse. They raise their open palms to heaven. Their muted voices sound like waves crashing on a distant beach, an hypnotic bass under the Sheik`s voice. At times his voice cracks and he weeps the words. One man beats his chest and screams.

“Get out of me, devils!” he says. “I am a Muslim man. I am a Muslim man.”

Sheik Abdel Aziz says he is the only Islamic faith healer in theSudan. To his admirers, he is a miracle worker. Dozens of people will testify that he has cured their diabetes and reversed blindness by reciting the Koran. His followers say he has helped polio victims to walk, fixed leaky heart valves, removed goiters, made ovarian cysts vanish and healed ugly skin diseases.

But to his detractors, the Sheik is a charlatan who is raking in more than $2,400 a day from impoverished people in desperate circumstances. The authorities have arrested him on more than one occasion. After noise complaints from neighbors, the police have barred him from preaching at his home, forcing him to set up shop in an old warehouse on the outskirts of Omdurman.

For his part, the Sheik declines to accept responsibility for healing people. He says he is doing nothing more than reciting the sacred words Mohammed received from God. God, he says, does the rest.

“This is different from the Christian faith healers you have in the United States,” he said in an interview at his house. “We are just reading the Holy Koran.”

Then he shows a visitor a foot-high stack of pink and green medical folders. Each one, he claims, contains proof of a miraculous cure. He points out one woman whose ovarian cysts apparently disappeared after attending his sessions, according to radiology reports. Another file has X-rays detailing the case of a man whose failed kidney repaired itself.

The Sheik points to a line of 10 pairs of eyeglasses on a coffee table. They were taken, he says, from people whose vision was suddenly restored during his prayer service. In another corner he keeps a stack of canes and crutches from disabled people who have walked on their own after listening to his chanting.

“I do the same things that doctors do,” he says. “For this the doctors have become angry with me and they have complained to the Government. That is why they try to stop me.” Asked why he charges people 60 cents to enter his sessions, he says: “There are some cases where people have spent thousands of dollars on doctors. I can cure them for less than 60 cents.”

It was impossible to verify the Sheik`s claims. But people who have attended his service are living testament to the power of prayer to at least ease discomfort and depression, if not to heal.

Tariq Issa, a 45-year-old police officer from Dubai, said he had suffered from migraines for years, as well as double vision and bad dreams. He saw several doctors, who could find no obvious cause. Since he has attended six sessions with the Sheik, he says, his symptoms have disappeared.

“It`s not magic,” he said. “It`s just the Holy Koran. He asks people to close your eyes and concentrate and listen to the Koran.”

But many people apparently believe something supernatural is taking place. Hundreds bring dates and jugs of water to the sessions. They said they believe the spirit of God transforms the water and fruit into medicines that can cure malaria and other illnesses.

“The Koran can help people without dates or water,” the Sheik explained. “But people when they bring water and dates feel they have something spiritual at hand when they go home. It`s a matter of psychology.”

One believer in the crowd, Abbas Yusef, a 50-year-old unemployed man, said he went blind in one eye and lost some vision in the other at the age of 5 when a goat butted his head and damaged an optic nerve.

He began going to the Sheik`s services about a month ago. After three sessions, he said, he had a sensation of water coming from his eyes. Thirteen sessions later, he began to see blurry images, then figures, faces, objects. “I believe it`s Allah,” he said. “He`s just a liaison between people and God.”

Whatever the merits of the Sheik`s techniques, his popularity reflects the deeply religious nature of Islamic society in the Sudan. He often preaches up to four times a day and more than 800 people attend most sessions.

His success is also a measure of the influence here of Sufism, a more mystical branch of Islam that emphasizes tolerance, introspection and meditation. A vast majority of Sudanese Muslims belong to various Sufi sects.

Sheik Abdel Aziz comes from a famous family of Sufi religious leaders in the central Sudanese region of Karary al-Jezira. After graduating from high school, he attended Al-Zhar, the famous Islamic university in Cairo, where he studied theology. He first began healing people while living in Jordan in 1994, and returned to the Sudan in 1996.

In general, he said, Sufis are less likely to use religion as an instrument of political power than people from other sects, like the Shia branch that dominates political life in Iran. It is ironic, Sufi people say, that a hard-line Islamic party has come to power in the Sudan in the last decade and has set up a Government based on Islamic principles.

“Sufism is the real meaning of religion,” the Sheik said. “We do religion for religion`s sake. Others in the Sudan use the religion to gain political power. They are merchants of religion.”

© 1998 New York Times Company

Sudan`s whirling Sufi dances bring people closer together
Joelle Bassoul
November 07, 2002

Members of the Whirling Dervish Sufi Sect dance at twilight in front of the Hamed Al Niel Mosque March 8, 1996. The Sufis are a Mystic Islamic Sect originating in the Middle East and North Africa that seeks union with God through dance, trance and ritual chanting. REUTERS

KHARTOUM, Nov 7 (AFP) - Mohammed spins around barefoot on the grounds of a Khartoum mausoleum, repeating the holy name of “Allah” to the sound of rhythmic drum beats.

At random, other men jump into the circle, spinning and twisting, turning up the heat in one of Islam`s most mystical dances.

Mohammed and hundreds of followers of this Sudanese Sufi sect gather every Friday outside the red and green Sheikh Hamad al-Nil mausoleum in the arid Khartoum suburb of Omdurman. The field they stand in is bathed by the light of the setting sun.

Sheikh Hamad, the founder the Qadria sect, was buried here 104 years ago.

Men, dressed in long white robes, make a large circle in the center of which there is a pole holding up a white crescent moon, a symbol of Islam. Women stand behind the men to observe the “zikr” ceremony, which means “remembrance” in Arabic.

In one corner, musicians start to gently beat their drums, while within the circle others begin chanting Arabic poems and Koranic verses, which are repeated by dancers who begin to sway with the rhythm.

The dancers express their devotion to God by calling out “Allah” and “there is no God but Allah”, but the whirling dance is also an essential part of their spiritual expression, explained Tajeddine al- Hosni, a sect member.

More and more men join the circle at random as the dance picks up pace, spinning and sometimes making convoluted and twisted movements, inspired says Hosni, by their jobs, among them fishermen or farmers.

As the rhythm accelerates, the pitch of the voices rises, and the dancing reaches a dizzying pace. Suddenly, the drumming stops and the dancers allow the silence to settle, until a reciter breaks out with another chant launching the dance with even more vigor.

The aim of the “zikr” says one cleric, Qazem Yussef, is “to bring people closer together, no matter who they are.” Foreign visitors and non-members of the sect are welcome to join in the ceremony.

Sometimes a child can be seen hopping into the circle, imitating the adults and waving his arms around.

People come to the mausoleum grounds on Friday not only for prayer or dance, but also to socialize. People meet with friends, sip tea, buy peanuts and even debate politics.

Just outside the mausoleum, vendors prepare coffee with cardamom, serving clients seated on a handful of low stools and tables located between mounds of earth that, in fact, are graves. The grounds also serve as the Hamad al-Nil cemetery.

The whirling dance continues until the call to prayer at sunset. At this point the large circle disperses, with some gathering for prayer under the sky, while others head to a small yellow colored room near the mausoleum building to meet with a descendant of Hamad al-Nil, Sheikh Mohammed Al-Rayyah al-Sheikh Ishaq Hamad al-Nil.

The 20 or so men and women take off their shoes, and sit down on carpets in the incense-filled room around Sheikh Mohammed, to ask his advice.

Outside it is already dark, but inside, the people sit attentively listening to the words of Sheikh Mohammed, whose forefather was a man who “got close to God”, says another cleric Kamaleddine Ahmad.

© Copyright 2002



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