Rituals of Sufi orders worldwide are shaped by the environment in which they emerged. In Sudan, the Hamed el Nil is one of the most famous and well-attended rituals with people gathering from around the world to join this weekly ceremony.
Every Friday afternoon, a very special religious ceremony takes place near the Sudanese capital Khartoum, in the Omdurman region. The Sufi ceremony brings together worshippers who come together to sing, chant and praise Allah together, and onlookers, tourists, who are welcome to observe the ceremony and take pictures.
The Hamed el Nil Tomb where the weekly ceremony takes place is the final resting place of Sheikh Hamed bin Ahmed al Reeh, known as Sheikh Hamed el Nil, a 19th century Sufi leader of the Qadiriyah order (tariqa), a popular order in Sudan.
The Friday ritual activities were started by Sheikh Abdullah Saeed al Qadiri, buried in the same area, and have in the years that followed, become a major religious tourism attraction. The vast sandy area surrounding the shrine of Sheikh Hamed el Nil is transformed into a large circle surrounded by disciples who start the rituals by beating drums and singing chants and praising Allah.
They await the arrival of sheikhs and murids accompanied by dervishes, dressed in green robes and beads hanging on their necks. In addition to dancing during dhikr, dervishes handle all the Nuba’s affairs, from preparing and cleaning the place, organising crowds and attendees, to providing hospitality and ablution water.
The Nuba ritual is not restricted to men; women and children may also join, standing close to the main ring formed by men, repeating the same chants and remembrances.
One of the sheikhs of Tariqa tells TRT World that many non-Muslims come to Nuba to learn about Islam and witness Sufi rituals in an atmosphere that reflects the true nature of Islam and its embrace of all people.
He adds, “Islam spread and expanded in Sudan and Africa through Sufism and its civilisations, which took advantage of rhythms and songs to enter the hearts of people without war or weapons.”
The Nuba ritual ends as the sun sets on Friday and the sound of the call to prayer rings out. The Sufis then spread their carpets and perform the Muslim prayer.
People come to the shrine of Sheikh Hamed el Nil to pray to Allah. It could be a desperate parent praying for a child to recover from a terminal illness, to a blind man seeking to restore his sight, to a sick woman looking for a cure.
After dark, disciples wander between shrines and continue their worship in an atmosphere of serenity, while the leaders of the order gather to pray and discuss their affairs in solitude in which members of the order avoid social contact with society to devote themselves to remembrance and worship.