Islam made its deepest and longest lasting impact in Sudan through the activity of the Islamic religious brotherhoods or orders. These orders emerged in the Middle East in the twelfth century in connection with the development of Sufism, a mystical current reacting to the strongly legalistic orientation of orthodox Islam. The orders first came to Sudan in the sixteenth century and became significant in the eighteenth. Sufism seeks for its followers through a closer personal relationship with God through special spiritual disciplines. The exercises (zikr) include reciting prayers and passages of the Quran and repeating the names, or attributes, of God while performing physical movements according to the formula established by the founder of the particular order.
A mystical or devotional way is the basis for the formation of particular orders, each of which is also called a tariqa (sing) or turuq (pl). The specialists in religious law and learning initially looked skeptically at Sufism and the Sufi orders, but the leaders of Sufi orders in Sudan have won acceptance by acknowledging the significance of the sharia and not claiming that Sufism replaces it. Each tariqa is founded by an individual who has some particular teachings and ways of conducting a zikr, but all share common principles and similar practices. For all, the sheikh is important as the person who guides each devotee, or murshid, on the path of spiritual development. The sheikh leads the prayers and zikr but also gives personal advice to his followers on most matters, including career, marriage and family.
It is believed Sufis received their names for wearing rough woolen clothes as part of their spiritual discipline. The word suf means wool in Arabic. Hundreds of Sufis gather at a Sufi mosque on Fridays and stand in lines facing each other for the zikr, or remembrance of God, that is the most important Sufi ritual.
The oldest and most widespread of the turuq is the Qadiriyah founded by Abd al Qadir al Jilani in Baghdad in the twelfth century and introduced into Sudan in the sixteenth. The Qadiriyah’s principal rival and the largest tariqa in the western part of the country was the Tijaniyah, a sect begun by Ahmad at Tijani in Morocco, which eventually penetrated Sudan in about 1810 via the western Sahel. Many Tijani became influential in Darfur, and other adherents settled in northern Kurdufan. Later on, a class of Tijani merchants arose as markets grew in towns and trade expanded, making them less concerned with providing religious leadership. Of greater importance to Sudan was the tariqa established by the followers of Sayyid Ahmad ibn Idris, known as Al Fasi, who died in 1837. Although he lived in Arabia and never visited Sudan, his students spread into the Nile Valley establishing indigenous Sudanese orders, the Majdhubiyah, the Idrisiyah, the Ismailiyah, and the Khatmiyyah.
They spend Friday afternoon bowing deeply from side to side hundreds of times, repeatedly chanting “la illah il Allah,” meaning there is no god but God, or other devotional lines, or simply the word “Allah”. Every moment directed by their sheikh, they turned from side to side and jumped up and down. The zikr combines chants, prayers, meditation and various related body movements to induce a total absorption of the individual in the worship of God. It requires real stamina to go the full five or six hours, especially when summer temperatures soar to well above 40 degrees Celsius. The various groups operate independently but have good relations among themselves. On the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday called al mawlid is a 12-day Sufi get-together in Khartoum that brings together all the groups in a massive celebration. When the Sufis meet for their zikr, they all wear the white jalabiyas with a special leather belt that signifies their devotion. Another common dress for Sufis in Sudan is a green jalabiya with red patterns. Many political leaders in Sudan are Sufis themselves, including several ministers in the present government. Jaafer Nimeiri, Sudan’s president throughout the 1969-1985, was a Sammaniya Sufi.
Fareed. “Sufism in Sudan the Sammaniya Tariqa”. Sunni Forum. vBulletin Solutions. Web May 2007. [http://www.sunniforum.com/forum/showthread.php?29534-Sufism-in-Sudan-the-Sammaniya-Tariqa]
“Sufism in Sudan part one”. Tawheed is Unity. Web 12 Oct. 2011. [http://tawheedisunity.com/2011/10/12/sufism-in-sudan-part-1/]
Wedeman, Ben. “Sufis hoping for divine intervention in Sudan”. CNN World. Web 20 Jan. 2011. [http://articles.cnn.com/2011-01-20/world/new.sudan_1_southern-sudan-divine-intervention-darfur?_s=PM:WORLD]