The Hymns (anāshīd)

The recitation of the wird, which lasts about a half hour, is sometimes followed by a brief period of spiritual exhortation (mudhakarah) during which the shaykh reads and comments upon some passage of a treatise on Sufism or exposes an aspect of the mystical path and then answers disciples' questions concerning the subject discussed.

After this comes the part called the spiritual concert (al-sama'), which includes first the performance of several sacred songs taken from the vast repertoire of Sufi poetry, odes, and quatrains from Arab, Persian, or Turkish poets, or poems in the local dialect often composed by anonymous bards. One very popular category of hymns is made up of praises (amdāh, mawlidāt) which traditionally celebrate the anniversary of the birth of the Prophet (mawlid al-nabī) the 12th of Rabī'l of each lunar year but which, for the past century, have slowly been introduced into the ordinary meetings of the turuq.

At their gatherings, the Shādhilī dervishes of Syria, whose order is representative of a large number of initiatic circles, sing, among others, hymns drawn from the collection of poems (Dīwān) of the Sufi 'Abd al-Ghanī al-Nabulusī (from Naplus, in Palestine) who lived from A.D. 1641 to 1731. Here are some of the verses that a young murshid with a beautiful voice sang recently ( 1964) in a zāwiyah in Hama. Unfortunately, only the meaning of the words can be given, translation being unable to convey the harmony and the rhythm of this psalmody:

O thou who appearest at the rising of the spheres
of the Invisible,
O thou who stoppest in the tent of the men of the heart!
Do not blame me, O censor, for loving the beautiful
ones with supple bodies.
Since I have no other attachment but towards the
One who is present behind the veils.
The perfume of secrets is exhaled in the garden of
the meeting,
And its emanation has made us drunk.

This piece is typical of the symbolic images used by the Sufi poets, be they Arab or Persian. Thus, "he who stops in the tent of the men of the heart" is the intellect, the First Intellect (al-'aql al-awwal), which the Sufis consider to be the first created thing and, consequently, like a ray of light that unites all the worlds. "The beautiful ones with supple bodies" are the incorruptible beauties of the subtle world, the houris, who are, for the mystic emanations, rays from the Absolute Essence. "The perfume of secrets" is the tangible manifestations of the Divine Presence, each of which intoxicates because it brings to the heart the light and warmth of this Presence, itself often associated with wine 22 or with Layla, the Beloved.

As for the evocation of the Prophet, which is also made in the form of sung poems, it possesses the same virtue as the salāt (prayer) contained in the second formula of the wird: Prophet Mustafa (Allah bless him and give him peace) , "the best of created beings," "the evident prototype" is the channel through which Divine Benediction descends to earth and spreads among men; he is the intermediary (al-wasitah) for anyone wishing to return to the very source of benedictions, the prayer to him leading to the Lord by a path of love and beauty.

Thus, in their weekly gatherings of recollection, the fuqarā' of the Shādhilī order from Morocco to Iraq sing in unison passages from the Burdah ("the Coat"), a poem of the Egyptian shaykh al-Busuri (d. 694/ 1296) which came to him in a vision. Such verses as, "When you see him, to him alone is demanded respect equal to that for an escort, or for an army"; or again, some extracts from the Hamziyyah (poem rhyming with hamzah), in which the same author, after having described the virtues of the Prophet, concludes: "The image that men can give of thy qualities is none other than that of the stars reflected in water." 23

The hymns dedicated to the Prophet never fail to create a climate of intense fervor in which the listeners commune with the beloved and, through contact with him, are stripped of their egotistical pretensions and prepared to enter into the rite that is the heart of the Sufi meeting-the ecstatic dance.