Chronis Pechlivanidis: A journey into the
world of Sufism
Islamic mysticism or Sufism is a spiritual movement formed within Islam. Sufism is an esoteric experience, a way of life, a spiritual path towards the divine aiming to the discovery of the truth and the unification with God through love and devotions. It is an experience that is not expressed in words, but is experienced with particular mystical practices. In that sense, mysticism is an esoteric movement that can be found in many religions.
The exhibition (2/5/2014-27/7/2014) presented in Benaki Museum (www.benaki.gr) the world of Islamic spirituality, its history and basic concepts. Sufi teachings and practices are estimated by many Muslims and Sufi orders continue to exist. They are distinguished according to their origins, their historical path and geographical provenance.
The exhibition had three sections: The first part was a presentation of works of art from the Islamic collections of the Benaki Museum that relate to Sufism. The second was dedicated to monuments located in different regions of Greece and constitute evidence of Sufi brotherhoods in the area. The third part was a visual journey, created by filmmaker Chronis Pechlivanides, through video presentations of ritual ceremonies from different locations.
Curator: Mina Moraitou, head of the Museum of Islamic Art.
Texts: Aggeliki Ziaka (assistant professor at the Aristotle University of Thessalonica), Mina Moraitou, Gerasimos Makris (deputy professor at the department of social anthropology at the Panteion University), Chronis Pechlivanidis cinematographer.
I travel to record.
I record to travel.
For many years I searched to find a purpose during my filmmaking wanderings throughout the world. The documentarist, they say, wherever he is always looks for a purpose to justify his role: a reason to return and a reason to stay. My own was created when I found myself accidentally in a dark Sufi tekke in the area of Findikli in Istanbul. They welcomed me. They did not know me and I did not know them. I sat with them, ate a light supper and then they invited me upstairs. I did not speak Turkish. Hesitantly I took out my camera and with a simple nod they consented. The ceremony began and I started to record. I felt I was losing myself amongst the repetitive movements and sounds of prayer. I felt as if I was swaying with my camera. After a while I left filled with unprecedented emotions, as if I had found a direction, a lonely path. It is this path that I follow for years while traveling from Afghanistan to Sudan, from there to Egypt and back to Iran, from Turkey to our parts, the deserted tekkes in Greece. I believe that I found a meaning in filmmaking, a sacred purpose and it is this mystical path.
Chronis Pechlivanidis - Cinematographer
Islamic mysticism or Sufism is a spiritual movement formed within Islam. The principal aim of the mystic (Sufi) is the unification with God by lifting the limits of his personal existence and entering the confines of the divine. It is an esoteric experience that is not expressed in words, but is experienced with particular mystical practices that are not limited to the orthopraxy of Islamic law, but exceed it through the love for the divine. In that sense, mysticism is an esoteric movement that can be found in many religions.
Devotees of Islamic mysticism describe many paths of communication and unification with god. Among others, the annihilation of the ego under the feeling of its dependence on the divine, the immersion in the essence of god, the enlightenment and the achievement of transcendental knowledge.
During centuries of Sufism evolution the centres and brotherhoods are numerous and religious literature is voluminous with some literary texts and works of art entering the global intellectual heritage. Mystical brotherhoods (tariqa) were founded in many Islamic countries from North Africa to Central Asia . For the numerous Sufi rites and practices that exist, each brotherhood has its own special way of expression. The Sunni or Shiite origin can be a major differentiating factor. Sunnis generally opt for the mentally or quiet repeated invocation of god's name, while Shiites may seek divine ecstasy though intense breathing, yelling, whirling or even more strenuous practices. Each dervish order has a central religious establishment (zawiyya in Arabic, khaniqa in Persian, tekke in Turkish) and numerous branches in Muslim countries.
During the entire Islamic history there were critics regarding
the religious theories and practices of Sufism from certain Muslim
teachers and scholars. However, from the early days of Islam,
mysticism constituted a central part of Islamic culture and
extended to popular as well as intellectual and ruling classes.
Sufi teachings and practices are estimated by many Muslims and Sufi
orders continue to exist. They are distinguished according to their
origins, their historical path and geographical provenance. For
many seekers of divine beauty Sufism continues to be the soul's
path on the journey to experience the ineffable, while for others,
it is a different aspect, another path of the religious-political
expression of Islam.
Remembrance ceremonies (zikr)
The continuous prayer by constantly invoking the name of God is the highest practice of Sufism. The repeated recitation of prayers in conjunction with dance and music help the initiate to overcome himself in order to approach the divine. The ceremonies are usually conducted in groups and regulated by a teacher (or murshid or sheikh).