Spiritual Meetings

The advice given to the faqīr to make himself free to invoke the name of God communally underlines the importance that Sufism attaches to collective practices. Once initiated, each member can, and even in principle must, attend meetings of the tarīqah (majālis; sg. majlis), which are held at least once a week at locations and times specified in advance. These are held sometimes on Friday following noon prayers, in the same mosque where the canonical prayer is held; more often they are held in the evening, between maghrib and `isha', in the oratory, mosque, zāwiyah, takiyyah, khānaqāh, or sama`khanah (literally, "auditorium"), which serves as the seat of the tarīqah, or even in the home of the shaykh or that of one of the fuqarā'.

Although there are considerable differences among brotherhoods in terms of the rules of the meetings, the choice of the texts that are recited and sung, and the techniques of concentration practiced, the same format is found everywhere. It is made up of two parts: the first part is introductory and prepares those attending to participate in the incantory rite that forms the final and essential part of the meeting. The liturgical elements used in the course of the preparatory phase are mainly songs and cadenced recitations performed in an order that forms the "stages" (maratib) destined to lead the participants from an ordinary state of consciousness to a level of receptivity and fervor favorable to the mystical experience. As for the principal spiritual exercise, that which has the virtue of opening the doors of the "states" and "stations" of the contemplative way for the participants, it can be clothed in different modalities, which are distinguished by the respective usage they make of three technical elements: music, corporeal movement, and breathing. Given the important place they occupied or still do occupy in the spiritual life of the Muslim community, two major types of incantory rites will be brought out here. The first, which is the most widespread among the turuq such as the Qādiriyyah and Shādhiliyyah, is based on the rhythmic repetition of the Divine Name, Allāh; the second is the "spiritual concert" (samā`), the most justly celebrated example of which is found in the Mawlawiyyah (Mevlevis in Turkey) or "whirling dervishes," characterized by the use of music and the technique of a turning dance.

Before beginning a description of the various components of the mystical gathering, it is necessary to pause for a moment upon the thread that connects them and forms the woof of the gathering as it weaves together all the instants of the life of each true faqīr. This guiding thread is the remembrance, the invocation of God.