Sufism is not a sect but rather the "mystical dimension of Islam" (Annmarie Schimmel), in which the perceptual power of aesthetic objects (visual, auditory, olfactory, kinesthetic, tactile) is often harnessed for spiritual ends.
Spiritual listening in Sufi ritual is generally known as sama` (audition); its legitimacy is the subject of a great and continuing debate in Islam. In most regions of the Arab world the performance is today known as hadra (presence) or halaqat dhikr (dhikr circle). Each Sufi order (tariqa) performs this liturgy on a weekly basis, usually twice (Thursday and Sunday nights are common), as well as special performances for Muslim holidays and saints' days (mawalid).
Principle performance genres include:
- Qur'anic recitation (tilawa)
- inshad sufi: Sufi chant (often performed by one or more specialists or munshiding, sometimes responsorially, sometimes solo). This is the Arabic term, where it may also be referred to as "madih" (praise). Other terms may be used elsewhere.
- dhikr: remembrance of God by chanting the Divine Names
- hizb or wird (special prayer characteristic of the tariqa)
- asma' Allah al-Husna (God's most beautiful names, as mentioned in the Qur'an)
Typically inshad and dhikr are combined, but they can also be performed independently.
Note that Sufi performative types recur across Muslim societies, often with the same meanings and similar contexts, but the names may change. Thus Sufi inshad in South Asia is typically called qawwali, or na`t (praise). The same range of themes for inshad generally applies to inshad Sufi - praise of God and the Prophet; requests to God, Prophet, and (especially in Sufism) saints; exhortations. But in Sufi contexts another type emerges: expression of love, longing, and mystical experience, all central to the Sufi quest for spiritual closeness to God, through love.
Some hadras are specific to a particular Sufi order (tariqa) - a kind of liturgy, usually welcoming guests, but not entirely public. Others are overtly public and open. Use of instruments is closely related to the character of a tariqa or Sufi order, and location of performance. The most conservative use no instruments, only voice. Inside the mosque instruments are often avoided. Among instruments, frame drums (without jingles) are most accepted, then the nay (reed flute). Occasionally one finds other instruments, oud, violin, and even org (synthesizer), especially in public celebrations outdoors.
Here are some examples, including several from my own research:
- Weekly public hadra at the shrine of the Sufi saint Sidi Ali Zayn al-Abidin in Cairo
- Five Sufi hadras in Egypt, the first four representing Sufi orders (turuq), and the last a massive public hadra held on the occasion of the "arba`in" (40th day anniversary of a death) for a Sufi shaykh from upper Egypt, with inshad by Egypt's most famous munshid, Shaykh Yasin al-Tuhami.
- Another video example of Shaykh Yasin (he has released hundreds of videos via his YouTube channel, and on DVD)
- More examples of Sufi performance (Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, Morocco)