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Indian Sufic Brotherhood

Last modified: 2007-09-22 by ian macdonald
Keywords: indian sufic brotherhood | sufic |
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[Indian Sufic Brotherhood] image by Ivan Sache

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Sufism (from Arabic "sufi", mystic) is a generic term used to designate the Islamic mysticism. Sufism appeared in Iraq in the IInd-VIIIth centuries of the Hegira and progressively spread throughout the Islamic world. The Sufic brotherhoods ("tariqa", pl. "turuq") were founded in the VI-XIIth centuries. The brotherhoods are very structured and follow a rule, initially designed by their founder and updated by his followers. The biggest brotherhoods have thousands of members.

In India, a Sufic ascete is called a "fakir" (from Arabic "faqir", pl. "fuqara", lit. a poor). Initially, every regular member of a brotherhood was called a fakir. Since several of them juggle and dance in public and express their faith by piercing their chicks with needle, walking on glass slivers etc., fakir has now a more general meaning, often associated with cheap music-hall shows.

Every year, the Indian fakirs gathered in Ajmer, a city of Rajasthan, for a one-week festival dedicated to an Indian sufic saint called Kawajah. The fakirs might walk for weeks and hundred of kilometres before reaching Ajmer. Every brotherhood has its own flag. According to a TV report on the Ajmer festival (part of the program "Faut pas rever", France3), most of these flags are triangular, bright monocolour flags with a golden or silver fringe. However, the report paid special attention to one of the brotherhood flags, which was presented by his bearer, the brotherhood's leader, as a "seven-year old flag". This seems to indicate that every brotherhood flag is unique and replaced when necessary by a new one. This particular flag is rectangular, with its main field dark green with a white crescent and star ("Mauritanian" pattern). A vertical red stripe is placed along the fly. Two groups of two rectangles, white and yellow, are placed above and below the green field, so that the white rectangles touch the flag hoist and the yellow ones touches the red edge. Most of the flags shown by the TV program have a tin finial made of a crescent, often surmounted by a star and the hand of Fatima.

Ivan Sache, 30 May 2003