Phil was kind enough to reserve a minibus so a group of us could go experience the weekly Sufi dancing ritual on the late afternoon and early evening of March 23 in Omdurman, just across the Nile from Khartoum. We stopped by the teachers’ apartments and picked up Brad, Rene, Colin, and Colin’s mother who had just arrived that morning from the States. Across the street from the teachers’ apartments is a building under construction where some poor people have staked out a home of their own until the construction is complete.
We met the minibus at the Khartoum American School.
The minibus brought our group to Omdurman where we spotted the two buildings enclosing tombs of famous Sufi teachers. A Muslim cemetery surrounded the two buildings.
I went inside the tombs, after removing my shoes, to check them out. The caskets looked large and specially made clothes covered the caskets. People inside touched the tomb in prayer and/or mumbled prayers while sitting or walking around the tomb.
Before the Sufi dancing got going, we experienced many preliminaries. A guy preached about the name of Mohammed, a man was selling whips, and two others played drums along with lovely chanting. Sometimes, people would approach the drummers and dance a bit with them. Some guys sat on top of the tomb structures. Many of the Sufi dancers dress in green and red robes. A procession approached with green and red flags at one point entering the tomb complex, then departing. Gradually, a large circle of participants forms around a central pole where they hang green and red flags.
As the drumming and chanting of Islamic prayers gets more intense, the inner circle of mostly men start bobbing and bowing. Newcomers greet each other with handshakes or embraces, which become blessings. One elder Sufi, adorned in beads, embraces me, perhaps recognizing a kindred spirit from afar. Some enter the circle to shuffle forward and back in a counterclockwise direction. Some carry traditional sticks, whips, or other fetishes, which are used only symbolically in the dancing. The combination of chanting, drumming, and bowing becomes meditative, even engendering trance states. Occasional passionate dancers start twirling in the dervish fashion.
We got very thirsty went to buy juice and soft drinks after the Sufi dancing.