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Sufism as an Art

Theatre is the first thing that comes to our mind when it comes to live performance. Theatre can be a combination of dialogues, music, songs and dance that is artfully and technically integrated to create a story. For me, watching theatre becomes more effective and meaningful if it has a historical and cultural background. It reminds us with our past and ancestry that will definitely inspire the audience. One of the most amazing and wonderful performance I’ve watch from videos and clips are those Muslims applying Sufism more than a religion but an art.

I was given the opportunity to watch Sufists performers in the road way home. It was a small and simple performance with little audience but the musical, art and dance elements are hard to resist. It was inevitable for me to research about Sufism since the performance I’ve watch is very much related to this Muslim tradition. Different videos of live performances of Sufi’s praise and worship entranced me. Sufi’s dance and move has a deeper and profound meaning towards them. It is their form of prayer and communion with God.

Sufism which is a communication to the divine can not be learned since this is your own personal experience and expression towards Him. But throughout the years the “swirling dervishes” as part of Sufi’s tradition of Islam fascinates contemporary arts. Swirling dervishes is a ritual twirling meditation that involves music as a source to connect one soul to God. The act of twirling which was the main movement I’ve observed came from the scientific concept that the fundamental condition of our existence is to revolve. There is no being or object which does not revolves.

All planets revolve in the universe. Our blood and our way of life revolve into an unending set of circumstances. Since all beings comprised of revolving electrons, protons and neutrons in atoms and the world itself revolves, the whirling movement is intentionally a participation in the shared revolution of other beings (“Whirling Dervishes of Rumi”). In my deeper observation with this spiritual act, Sufis move without embarrassment. They don’t care whether people outside Sufism are watching and examining them. They move gracefully and with unity deserting their ego.

Their facial expression varies that perhaps depends on the content of their prayer and meditation. Sufi whirling is a stimulating meditation where in their body spins and moves like a top. The Sufi whirling, I guess, can go on for hours without a feeling of dizziness. Their mind must be in full concentration and disciplined. It is not only a movement of the body but also a reflection of soul and mind. Since there is a continuous liberation of developing swirling techniques, some came up with the idea of colourful display of costumes particularly skirts. It is nevertheless entertaining and amazing.

In performing arts that was being inspired by Sufism, the performer while whirling manipulates her colourful and sometimes flashy skirts. It was said though those colourful performances are mostly entertainers who putted some belly dancing movements to add exaggeration and aesthetic. Traditionally, the experience of swirling is not required to use any intoxicants and adornment. Love and meditation are the only substance used. Sufi’s originally wear black cloaks which represent their tombs and their worldly attachments and upon removing, so to do they remove themselves from the world.

Traditional Sufi chants a dhikr which is the repetition of “la illaha illa’llah” (there is no god but God). I don’t particularly know the title of the music because the performers just repeat the “la illaha illa’llah”. Some Dervish Muslim in contemporary only repeat “Allah” because they know man can die at any moment. And they want to die with the name of God on their lips and on their hearts (Dunn, 1999). I realize that when the Sufism is performed on stage, the audience is not aloud to applaud while watching. “Swirling”, though it already transcends performing arts, is still a spiritual act that must be taken seriously and sacredly.

The art elements are just secondary in this performance since the line, shape, light and shadows doesn’t really matter. What I basically observed in this performance was that performers are carefree in moving with no so much choreography. The performers are surprisingly carefree that it is hard sometimes to interpret whether this performance is purely spiritual or artistic, maybe it’s a mixture. Its literary elements were the most dominant element which composes the theme, characterization, tone and atmosphere. The historical background of Sufism will help us understand its literary elements.

What is Sufism by the way? According to my research, most people misinterpreted Sufism as a practice exclusively for Islam. Sufism is neither a religion nor a sect nor a cult nor is it only from the East. Sufism encourages desire for inner transformation and personal experience of the divine. It motivates application of self discipline and right knowledge that will lead to wisdom. Sufism seeks to find the Truth, to seek illumination and harmony, to remove the false self and be a Friend of God within. A Sufi should be willing to lose himself and the world to find the Truth.

In finding the Truth, he will accumulate great power of love which he is committed to share in all created things. Sufism therefore is a philosophy and a way of life. Sufism, unlike religion that requires religious obligations, regards spirituality as the religion of the heart (Khan 2005). The principle of life and ideals must be followed unconditionally in search of truth. In order to be one with God in a spiritual and mystical dimension, Sufism used the techniques of chants, music and dance for meditation and praiseworthy.

The joyous ceremonies of blissful love, emotions and ecstasy of the union with the Divine inspired poetry, literature and stage performances that evoke emotions and self discovery in the hearts of many across the globe. Mystical experience for Sufism which is unexplainable by human language encompasses diverse art practices as a representation of spirituality. To fully understand and appreciate Sufism as a creative way of life, it is important to know at least a short historical perspective and beliefs of Sufism. Sufism originated from Islam that teaches the personal and mystical worship, and union with Allah or God (Guilley 1991).

It is probably derived from the Arabic word Sufi which means “a person wearing an ascetic woollen garment” that denotes Islamic mysticism. Sufism though was early criticised by those who feared that the Sufi’s concern for personal experiential knowledge of God could lead to neglect and denial to the established religious rituals and observances (Bijlefeld 1980). But despite criticisms, experiencing Sufism as an ecstatic union with God enriched Muslim heritage and inspired visual arts performances, practices and dance.

Work Cited Page:

Khan, Hazrat Inayat 2005. What is a Sufi?. The International Sufi Movement. http://www.sufimovement. org/whatsufiis. htm Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience. New York: HarperCollins, 1991 http://www. themystica. com/mystica/articles/s/sufism. html Bijlefeld Willem 1980. Sufism General Information http://www. mb-soft. com/believe/txo/sufism. htm Dunn, Jimmy 1999.

Whirling Dervish. InterCity Oz, Inc. http://www. touregypt. net/featurestories/dervish. htm Video Source: Produced & Directed by Aleem Karmali Written by Karim Gillani Narrated by Sofia Lakhani & Nawaz Hussainaly www. karimsangeet. com www. crescentproductions. com http://www. youtube. com/watch? v=zTHRl_GBeGA

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