Islam has long history in Sudan, leaving a deep and long-lasting impact in the country. Sudan is home to several Islamic brotherhoods or orders, which emerged in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region in the 12th century. One of the most popular and historic Islamic groups in Sudan is Sufism, which first came to the country in the 16th century and became significant in the 18th century, quickly developing in Sudan as a mystical reaction to the strongly legalised orthodox Islam.
Islamic scholars and experts in Islamic 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 law, claiming that Sufism has not replaced it. Many political leaders and notable figures in Sudan are Sufis. Jaafer Nimeiri, Sudan’s former president (1969-1985), was believed to belong to Al Sammaniya Sufi order.
The name of a Sufi order or tariqa (plural, turuq) originates from the name of its founder such as Al Qadiriyah founded by Abd Al Qadir Al Jilani and Al Tijaniyah founded by Ahmad at Tijani – both popular turuq in Sudan. There are indigenous Sudanese orders such as in Sudan such as Al Majdhubiyah, Al Idrisiyah, Al Ismailiyah, Al Sammaniya and Al Khatmiyyah.
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.
Sufis seek a closer personal relationship with God through special spiritual disciplines. The practices known as zikr include reciting prayers and passages from the Quran and repeating the names, or attributes, of God while performing physical movements according to the tradition originally established by the founder of a particular Sufi order. 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.
Sufism in Sudan
The oldest and most widespread of the turuq is Al Qadiriyah founded by Abd Al Qadir Al Jilani in Baghdad in the 12th century and introduced into Sudan in the 16th century. Al Qadiriyah’s principal rival and the largest tariqa in the western part of the country was Al Tijaniyah, a sect begun by Ahmad Al 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 such as Al Majdhubiyah, Al Idrisiyah, Al Ismailiyah and Al Khatmiyyah.
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 zikr combines chants, prayers, meditation and various body movements to induce a total absorption of the individual in the worship of God. They spend Friday afternoon repeatedly bowing deeply from side to side, continuously chanting “La illah il Allah“, meaning “There is no god but God” amongst other devotional lines. Some simply chant the word, “Allah“. Directed by their sheikh, they turn from side to side, and jump up and down up to five or six hours, usually taking place outdoors even in the summer when temperatures soar to above 40 degrees Celsius. When the Sufis meet for their zikr, they all wear white jalabiyas with special leather belts. Another common clothing for Sufis in Sudan is a green jalabiya with red patterns.
The various turuq operate independently but have good relationships among themselves. On Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, Al Mawlid, which is commemorated in Rabi Al Awwal, the third month in the Islamic calendar, all of the Sufi orders in Sudan come together for 12-day massive celebration in Khartoum. Thousands participate in collective Quran recitations and prayers along with a number of other spiritual activities. In addition, the richly-decorated public squares will include special colourful Al Mawlid sweets consisting of nuts, sesame, peanuts and coconut.
One of the most popular Sufi mosques in Sudan is Hamid El-Nil Mosque in Omdurman, a popular tourist destination, welcoming Muslim and non-Muslim tourists alike to their public Friday prayers.
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