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Ibrahim El-Salahi Pain Relief at The Saatchi Gallery, London

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Early evening in Omdurman and the air is heavy with drums and incense.  Above, worshippers on their way to the gatherings of the Sufi turug as they celebrate the birth of the Prophet Mohammed (in Arabic, transliterated as mawlid or muulid).


Wooden prayer beads (sibha) bearing the attributes of God in white. 

Throughout the Muslim world, with the exception of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the birth of the Prophet Mohammed is celebrated with public and private gatherings dedicated to the reciting of prayers, poems (qasaa’id al madiH) and panegyrics (mawaalid) of the Prophet’s life and deeds. In Sudan, mawlid observance is deeply interwoven with Sufi traditions of the intensely physical meditative practices of dhikr.


The commemorations held in Omdurman are among the most spectacular and this year I was blessed to be in Khartoum while celebrations were taking place. This post is dedicated to the joy and vibrancy of the Sudanese mawlid.  Below, physical and spiritual intensity of the mawlid dhikr in Omdurman, 2019 


See The Eternal Dance for more on the dhikr of the Qadiriyyah Order in Omdurman

Below, stern concentration of a young worshipper belonging to one of the many Sufi schools or turuq (singular tariiqa) in Sudan as they enter the trance-like state of dhikr. 


Below, a stone’s throw from the Khalifa’s House and the Mahdi’s tomb in Omdurman, worshippers wait for celebrations to begin. Each of the many Sufi schools in Sudan has its own area for worship.


Drumming, chanting, dancing and recitation fill the air at sunset. 

See video clip below –

In 2019, the anniversary of the Prophet’s birthday fell in early November. 

This is a cultural post for Women’s Education Partnership

Learn more about our life-changing work in women’s community literacy in Literacy Circles in ActionAt a Glance and Literacy Changes Lives

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The Mawlid Celebrations, Omdurman, November 2019

Colonial Historical Perspectives,  Welcome at the Mahdi’s Tomb,  a Family Celebration, The Spiritual Whole

Colonial Historial Perspective

“Though the 12th of Rabi’ al-Awwal (third Muslim month) is accepted as the birthday of the Prophet and the chief feast-day (the actual celebration is the eve of the feast), the commemoration occupies the whole of the preceding week.  On the 1st Rabi’ al Awwal all the principal towns have a procession (zaffa) which starts from the government headquarters in the town, proceeds along all the principal streets, and ends up in the muulid square. It is headed by a band followed by the ma’muur and other officers with mounted police, then come the tariiqa groups on foot with flags and drums, the general public on horses, donkeys, or on foot, and is completed with a string of carts carrying lustily yelling children.”

Colonial historian, J.S. Trimingham, writing in the late 1940’s. 


Above, worshippers at the Mahdi’s Tomb, Omdurman 

 Trimingham noted that mawlid observance came late to Sudan, taking hold during Egyptian rule and enjoying rapid popularity. “During the Mahdiyyah it was celebrated by a great parade in the presence of the Khalifa lasting four hours.”  Trimingham, Islam in the Sudan, p 147.  References to Trimingham in this blogpost do not imply approval of his colonialist views. 


Welcome at the Mahdi’s Tomb 

Below, worshipper at the Mahdi’s Tomb welcoming our visit. Non Muslim visitors are joyfully and warmly invited to share in the celebrations in a spirit of universal brother and sisterhood. 


Below, worshippers chanting and dancing at the Mahdi’s tomb, Omdurman, while followers hold up books dedicated to the life of the Mahdi and other Sufi mystics.


This is a cultural post for Women’s Education Partnership

Learn more about our literacy work in Community Literacy and At a Glance


A Family Celebration 


Balloons, sweets, candy floss and toys for the children.  The mawlid is a time for families to come together and for children, so central to Sudanese life, to be indulged. 


Writing in 1949, Trimingham observed “At Omdurman, sections of the large square, which was once the jami’ of the Mahdi, are allotted to some twenty or more different tariqa groups who erect large and small tents (siwaans) according to their means…….Torchlight processions to the square are a feature of the celebrations.  Outside the jami’ are the usual stalls and amusements inseparable from any festival.” Reference as above.

img_2153Balloon sellers at dusk 


Above and below floating canopies of pennants and lights hang over Sufi tariqa tents at dusk, weaving a delicate frame for the drumming and chanting below. 


Below, mawlid stalls in Omdurman, 2019. Pink and green glow through the twilight gloom as Sudanese buy sweets, toys and other treats. 


Above, Sudanese mawlid sweets. Photograph – Khartoum Star 

Read more about Mawlid sweets and the Omdurman sweet factories in 500 Words Al-Mawlid


Below, flags and tent robes ripple against a darkening sky while everyday life goes on. 


The Spiritual Whole 

By the power of my design did I quaff the cup of knowledge; / By the welcome of every gift was I called. / My Beloved refreshed me with a draught of knowledge; / I am the Sayyid famous for my knowledge of the unseen. / You see, my friend, my judgement is above all creatures, / I am a pillar of the universe –  a gift from my Lord… 

From The Safina or Ship of Lailiyya of the Mirghaniyya Order, Trimingham, p 215. Below more details of the Order’s mawlid observances as recorded in the late 1940’s. 



From Islam in The Sudan, J.S.Trimingham, 1949

Below the Khatmiyyah tariiqa gathering area 



Above, a moment of quiet companionship amidst the throng.

Below, rhythmic swaying and chanting of devotees during the celebrations. And moments of solemn reflection. 



Below, Omdurman scenes – The Khalifa’s house, the Mahdi’s Tomb and Mahdist earth fortifications from the Battle of Omdurman times.


This is a cultural post for Women’s Education Partnership

Learn more about our literacy work in Community Literacy and At a Glance


Below, more scenes from the Mawlid, Omdurman 2019 




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