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Pilgrimage Moments: A Sufi Experience

Length - 08:56
Published - Mar 2024
Keystage(s) - 3 and 4

This clip comes from the BBC series: Pilgrimage – The Road to Istanbul.

The Pilgrims visit a cultural centre dedicated to Sufism – an ancient mystical form of worship that embraces all forms of Islam. Once banned by Turkish authorities, the centre now warmly welcomes people of all backgrounds, regardless of their religious beliefs.

The Pilgrims enjoy a communal meal featuring dishes from different regions of Turkey. Amar is blind, so Dom describes the various dishes on his plate.

After the meal they join the evening dhikr prayers where participants dress in traditional clothing, play music and chant in devotion to God. Men stand in a circle, and move in unison as they sing, creating an impressive spectacle. The Pilgrims find the experience incredibly moving, describing it as transcendent, extraordinary and profoundly spiritual. Even staunch atheist Dom calls it, “the powerful religious thing I’ve ever seen”.

Watch full episodes on BBC iPlayer.

Pilgrimage Moments: A Sufi Experience

Narrator:  The other pilgrims are visiting a cultural center dedicated to Sufism. An ancient mystical form of worship that embraces all forms of Islam. Local guide. Bushra greets them.


Local Guide:  Welcome. Hi there. Hello.


Dom:        How are you? Nice to meet you. Here you go.


Narrator:  Once banned by Turkish authorities, interest in Sufism has grown in recent years.


Dom:        You've got everything here like a school and a place to eat. It's like a center.


Local Guide:  Yes, exactly. It's like a community center. It's called Khulia. In Arabic. We have like, a place to eat. We have a library. We have a place where students go and learn, and we have Jahamey, you know, the center to pray.


Adrian:     And it's for Sufi Muslims?


Local Guide:  Yeah. Uh, actually, no, it's open to everybody.


Amar:       As long as you believe in God.


Local Guide:  If you don't believe in God, you can also come in. Everybody is welcome. Yeah. Everybody is welcome.


Narrator:  As guests of honor. The pilgrims are invited to a communal meal before evening prayers.


Local Guide:  So we're going to go this place. This is actually the men's dining room and the women's are over there. But we're going to do it together this time. Oh that's nice. Normally we are separated during the meals.


Dom:        And that's not a problem ladies.


Local Guide:  No because you're the guests.


Adrian:     Oh, that looks amazing. Oh, it looks wonderful.


Dom:        Let me just tell you, our things are really looking up. Really? Yeah.


Local Guide:  So our dervish ladies have prepared for your traditional Turkish food from all over the countries, actually, from the east, from, like the, like sea region, from the middle. So you will see pastry, you will see like the green, like the leaves and soft. Yeah. Meatballs and everything. Uh, you have like a special soup.


Amar:       I hope you don't have a rule that says you must eat everything.


Local Guide:  You have to finish your plate. Turkish mother said this.


Adrian:     This is the best meal we've had.


Dom:        It is incredible. The way to your heart is from your stomach.


Dom:        Definitely with me. Yeah, yeah, yeah.


Edwina:    Come this. This is good. Yes.


Dom:        This is wonderful. It is. This is magic.


Dom:        What you got there. Fried pickles.


Dom:        Fried pickles.


Dom:        Think I am a Sufi? I really, genuinely think you were.


Dom:        Born to be.


Dom:        If I enjoy the show.


Dom:        Then I'm in. Then. Then I'm in.


Dom:        See, this is absolutely fabulous. Proper food.


Amar:       Oh my goodness. I don't know what. Sweet. What's not. Is this.


Dom:        Random? Okay, these two are sweet. This is the spicy kofta okay. That's a sort of chickpea. Okay. That's vine leaves. Yeah. And these are stuffed peppers. Thank you. Okay.


Dom:        Oh, it's that good?


Dom:        I'm telling you right now that you can tell the Sufi religion has gone absolutely to the top of the charts. I mean, in the pilgrim state.


Narrator:  Evening prayers are about to begin. Known as the Zika worshipers dress in traditional clothing, play music, and chant in devotion to God.


Local Guide:  So what you're going to watch is this in Quran, God says, repeat my name hundreds of times, and when you repeat my name, I will repeat your name. So you watch. You're going to watch is like a man all in circles, and they're going to chant the names of Allah loudly with music. And when you repeat it, it's like sending the armies of Allah to your heart in order to cleanse it from the evil things. That's nice and get closer to him.


Dom:        And what would we do as visitor? Do we watch? We can't watch. We don't partake.


Local Guide:  If you want to participate, you can do. But just try to, uh. Be careful not to just, um.


Dom:        Get in the way.


Local Guide:  Right? Yeah, get in a way.


Dom:        Oh.


Local Guide:  That be a good imitator?


Amar:       Imitator?


Dom:        Okay, good. Yeah. Okay.


Local Guide:  So if you want to follow me. Lovely. Upstairs.


Dom:        Thank you so much.


Pauline:    When you pray.


Dom:        Catholics often pray. You know, what do you do? And Jesus, it's this. Yeah. Okay. Yeah.


Dom:        I am genuinely quite excited. It's literally like. It's like a gig's about to kick off. I really like this. Here we go. Ready?


Dom:        Now they're really going for it.


Adrian:     Really bending down a long way.


Pauline:    I can see how somebody partaking in that would leave in a state of bliss, because it's transcendent when they all move and sing and chant together. It was just head and shoulders above anything else that we have experienced.


Adrian:     I thought it was an extraordinary, you know, if I live near here, I'd just come all the time. I just thought it was such a great spectacle, apart from the the spiritual aspect of it, which I thought was profound. I mean, I can just imagine the release and, you know, whatever was on your mind, you know, you just by going through all that and knowing all that, you just get so much peace out of it. It was all worth it to see the mask of cynicism slide from Don Jolies face, as he was absolutely entranced by it.


Dom:        I thought that was the most powerful religious thing I've ever seen. It was incredible. It was like a heartbeat.


Local Guide:  Exactly.


Local Guide:  You coordinated with your heart.


Dom:        I was going, I was like, well, the breath like that.


Local Guide:  It's like natural.


Dom:        And because they're all wearing the same clothes, it's all in unison like that. It was amazing. It was just brilliant. We're probably a bit more cynical than other things. And the fact that we both love that.


Dom:        Yeah.


Dom:        You've done well.


Edwina:    You really have cracked two.


Dom:        You've cracked two hard nuts. That was probably the most extraordinarily powerful religious thing I've ever been to, but it kind of didn't make me feel religious. But just as a religious experience and service, that was absolutely 100% the best thing I've ever been to, you know? And I've come away thinking Sufism, you know what? If I had to, probably the one I'd go for.


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