Great Sufi tradition
Sufi music, sacred voices, whirling dervishes…
Sufi ensemble from Damascus: Sheikh Hamed Suleiman Dawood, Diaa Eddin Dawood, Mahnoud Alkharrat, Ziad Kadi Amin, Imad Harirah, Ahmad al Bizm.
In 1974 Sheikh Suleiman Dawood along with the late Sheikh Hamza Shakkour and Sheikh Tawfiq al Monajjed, the best and most famous Sufi chanters then, established the association of vocalists in Syria. The first leader was the late Sheikh al Monajjed, followed by Dawood, then Shakkour after whose death in 2009, his eldest son and disciple Hamed Suleiman Dawood took over. Hamed has also been tutored by the big late Syrian musician Adnan Eloush.
Hamed’s profound knowledge of the deep rooted art of singing has put him in the right place to establish his Group together with his brothers dr Hassan and Diaa Dawood in collaboration with the most famous musicians of Syria and the Middle East Ziad Kadi Ameen (nay player), Ayman Alnazer (cayman), Imam Harera (qanun player) and Ahmad Albezem (percussion) and with the best panel of whirling dervishes in Damascus. The mission of Hamed Dawood Group is to maintain the Sufi music heritage of Damascus and carry through that the Brotherhood values of tolerance, love and peace to the world.
Sheikh Hamed and his brother Diaa represent the modern face of a 400-year-old Syrian musical tradition. In the ceremony comprising poetry, music and whirling one enters a trance-like state that releases the soul from its earthly ties to communicate with God in a performance that is both relaxing and uplifting. As the music builds to a crescendo, the dervishes begin to whirl wildly, their huge white woolen skirts fanning out around them, their faces lifted skyward seeking connection with the divine.
Sufism or tasawwuf, as it is called in Arabic, is generally understood by scholars and Sufis to be the inner, mystical, esoteric, or psycho-spiritual dimension of Islam. In spite of its many variations and voluminous expressions, the essence of Sufi practice is quite simple. It is that the Sufi surrenders to God, in love, over and over; which involves embracing with love at each moment the content of one’s consciousness (one’s perceptions, thoughts, and feelings, as well as one’s sense of self) as gifts of God or, more precisely, as manifestations of God. Tariqas (Sufi orders) may be associated with Shi’a, Sunni and other currents of Islam, or a combination of multiple traditions. Sufi thought emerged from the Middle East in the 8th cent, but adherents are now found around the world.
Sufism has produced a large body of poetry in Turkish, Persian and Urdu languages, which notably include the works of Mawlānā Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (Celâladin Mehmet Rumi in Turkish, 1207–73 AD, a poet, lawyer, and Sufi theologian), as well as numerous traditions of devotional dance, such as Sufi whirling, and music, such as qawwali.
The Mevlevi, one of the most well-known of the Sufi orders, was founded by the followers of Rūmī in 1273 AD in Konya, present-day Turkey. They are also known as the whirling dervishes due to their famous practice of whirling – zikr (remembrance of Allah) in the form of a dance and music ceremony called the sema. The Mevlevi were a well established Sufi order in the Ottoman empire, and many of the members of the order served in various official positions of the Caliphate. The centre for the Mevlevi order was in Konya, in Turkey, where Rūmī is buried. There is also a Mevlevi monastery in İstanbul, where the sema ceremony is performed and accessible to the public.
The practice of Sufi whirling, is a twirling meditation that originated among the ancient Indian mystics and Turkish Sufis, which is still practiced by the dervishes (members of Sufi ascetic religious tarika or “confraternities” known for their extreme poverty and austerity) of the Mevlevi order. The sema represents a mystical journey of man’s spiritual ascent through mind and love to “perfect”. Turning towards the truth, the follower grows through love, deserts his ego, finds the truth and arrives to the “perfect”. He then returns from this spiritual journey as a man who has reached maturity and a greater perfection, so as to love and to be of service to the whole of creation.
Following a recommended fast of several hours, Sufi whirlers begin with hands crossed onto shoulders and may return their hands to this position if they feel dizzy. They rotate on their left feet in short twists, using the right foot to drive their bodies around the left foot. The left foot is like an anchor to the ground, so that if the whirler loses his or her balance, he or she can think of their left foot, direct attention towards it and regain balance back. The whirling is done on the spot in an anti-clockwise direction, with the right arm held high, palm upwards, and the left arm held low, palm downwards. The body of the whirler is meant to be soft with eyes open, but unfocused so that images become blurred and flowing. A period of slow rotation is followed by a gradual build up of speed over the next half an hour. Then the whirling takes over. When the whirler is whirling so fast that he or she cannot remain upright, his or her body will fall by itself. The whirler does not consciously make the fall a decision or attempt to arrange the landing in advance; if his or her body is soft he should land softly – and the earth will absorb the energy. If the idea of letting oneself fall is too much for the practitioner then the whirler should allow himself to slow down very slowly. If the whirler has been whirling for an hour then the process of slowing down might take some time. Once the whirler has fallen, the second part of the meditation starts – the unwhirling. Sometime and somewhere, the whirler rolls onto his stomach immediately so that his bare navel is in contact with the earth. The practitioner feels his body blending into the earth like a small child pressed to his mother’s breasts. After the meditation whirlers try to be as quiet and inactive as possible.
Damascus is one of the principal centers of Islam, the former capital of the Umayyad dynasty and a station 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, 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 nawbas, a term reserved for secular suites by the former inhabitants of Andalusia and the Maghribi.