Sufi in Sudan



This project is based on photographic research carried out mainly in Khartoum and its surrounding region, Jazira State and Sennar State and the Red Sea State. It relies on a five year photojournalistic journey into Sudan covering Sufi brotherhoods from inside the Burhaniya, Qâdiriyya, Sammâniyya, Mîghaniyya, Khatmiyya and Tijaniya religious communities.  The project focuses in particular on the encounters with a nation of mystics. This experience in Sudan shows through pictures the relation between Sudanese society as a whole and the enriching aspects of these Sufi groups.

A total immersion within various Sufi brotherhoods allowed me to participate in their daily practice and to consider the role played by their founding saint and the direct successors, and, always to carry out my photographic work with the permission of the local sheick. 

Sufis are followers of universal thinking descended from Islam and which has overtaken the differences among men.  From this comes a certain form of tolerance with respect to «each other» which is noticed throughout the journey.  Sufism in Sudan is part of the country‘s cultural basis and it has become «a way of life».  Most Muslim families belong to a Sufi group, beginning, say, with the father, and then the rest of the family get involved more or less deeply.

Following certain rituals, it is possible to integrate with a brotherhood and to follow the teachings of the sheikh.  Different types of initiation ceremony exist, which according to tradition should be carried out following a journey of initiation, also known as wandering (Khalva);  or again, for example, nowadays the Burhani more simply employ a prayer of initiation.

It is surprising to travel in Sudan and to discover a multitude of Sufi brotherhoods with their diverse origins and characteristics.  Some groups were formed as far back as the 15th century by Sufi masters originating from Iraq, Morocco, from Tunisia, and from Egypt by way of Nubia or the Red Sea.  Each wave of Islamic migration left diverse Sufi groups implanted across the country.  The tribal structures (numbering more than 600 tribes) of the country have largely influenced the brotherhoods, and have given their own character to each group.  Sudan is a mosaic of ethnic groups shared among the majority Islamic and Sufi population, and Christian and animist minorities.  Out of this comes a cultural wealth which remains to be explored.

© Frédérique Cifuentes / Eric Morgan