Sufis belong to a sect of Islam which practices a set of religious rituals aimed at communicating with Allah through self hypnosis and spiritual ecstasy. I spent two weeks scouring Damascus – a city with a large Sufi population – hoping to get an opportunity to see a Sufi chanting ritual, or sema. They were surprisingly hard to find, but after asking around at a number of mosques in central Damascus, I was directed to a mosque deep in the suburbs.
I managed to get myself invited into the ritual, and it was one of the more moving experiences I’ve had. As close to religious epiphany as an atheist can get. I, too, got carried away with the breathy chanting, and was soon jolting my torso back and forth along with a hundred or so other men. I probably looked quite silly, but I didn’t feel it. It was an invitation. A moment of real, bestial human community.
Words aren’t important. This isn’t a story, and it has no characters. Just listen to the file linked above. It is not a great recording, but it is nevertheless unspeakably beautiful. Or at least it was. You can’t record epiphany.