Featured Speakers and Abstracts


Click below for the abstract and biography of each speaker.

“Birth and Evolution : The Example of Senegal”
Sufi poetry was born in Senegal at the same time as Arab-Islamic pedagogical centers began to be established in the country. Undoubtedly influenced by Moorish merchants and marabouts, head masters of marabouts, and Senegalese teachers , this last group of individuals did not hesitate to compose poems for the purpose of demonstrating their mastery of the Arab language and their abilities as poets but also for other reasons which we will develop in this paper. The Sufi marabouts followed a well-developed teaching curriculum, rich in content, that focused on the oneness of God’s existence, jurisprudence, grammar, language and literature, rhetoric, hadiths, Sufism, the life of the Prophet (PBUH), and other such subjects. All of this followed memorization of the Coran in its entirety.

In this paper, we will touch upon the following areas: the birth and evolution of Sufi poetry in Senegal; its objectives–praise, criticism, advice, prayer, education, pedagogy, social formation; its style; the types or forms of Sufi poetry; the variations; the musicality or the different tones of Sufi songs[chants]. We also want to highlight several poets, both known and unknown, whose writings compose the literary phenomenon of Senegalese Sufi poetry. Finally, we will consider the emotional impact of these poems (on various social classes and specific confraternities of talibé-disciples); their financial impact (on singers and groups of singers); some of the poetic problems and deficiencies that have been criticized; and finally, the secret to the Sheikhs’ success with this didactic approach.

Born in the Saloum region where he first studied the Qur’an under the tutelage of his father, Djim Dramé entered the Daara Serigne Amadou Serigne Lô of Koki in 1982 and there finished his studies of the Holy Qur’an. After having received his degree from the College of Arabic Language at Al-Azhar University in Egypt in 1995, he returned to Senegal and obtained successively a teaching certificate for the middle-school level (CAEM) in 1997, a bachelor’s in Arabic in 1998, a Master’s in Arab literature in 2000, a teaching certificate for the high-school level (CAES) in 2002, and a Master’s in Science of Education from the UNESCO Chair of Science of Education in 2009 (FASTEF). In 2013, he defended his doctoral dissertation in Arab-Islamic language and civilization at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar.

He served as professor of Arabic from 2002 to 2014 at the Islamic Institute of Dakar. Since 2015, he has worked at the Islamology laboratory of IFAN Cheikh Anta Diop of the UCAD. He is the author of a book entitled: L’enseignement arabo-islamique au Sénégal: le daara de Koki [Arab-Islamic Teaching in Senegal: The Daara of Koki]. He has published academic and news articles and has presented at numerous conferences both within his field of specialization and across other disciplines.

“The Defense of Abul Abâss Ahmat At Tijânî through the Poem: ‘Fa ilayka  Yabna Mahamadine Nâdânî de Cheikh Ahmad Tidiane Sy Al Maktoum'”
Written in Nuniyya (Mâmil meter) by the illustrious thinker Al Maktûm (May Allah cause Senegal to benefit from his infinite talent), this poem illustrates many facets of the Founder of the Tijaniyya Sufi order from heroic virtue, inherent to his strong personality, to supreme consecration in the guise of a panoramic view symbolized by a mantle which covers two spiritual sources of life-giving nourishment: Shari’a and Haqiqa. The specificity of this poetic creation resides in evoking a sense of terrestrial life while simultaneously profiting from the spirituality of a specific education approach, Tariqa Tijâne. Furthermore, by citing the Coran in such a way that only the spirit of the verses is retained, Al Maktûm invites his readers to actively reflect and to resist intellectual idleness and passivity while also magnifying the plenipotentiaries of Tijâniyya in their ongoing struggle.

“Sufi Practice in Chinese Central Asia”
In Chinese Central Asia, Sufi groups among the indigenous Turkic Uyghurs have maintained their spiritual practice in the face of a century of social upheaval, political restrictions, and the massive development of recent decades. They draw on traditions emanating from India and other parts of Central Asia, but their networks are strongly localised and diffuse, focused around local khaniqa and lineages of sheikhs, and the historical shrines and pilgrimage sites that line the Taklamakan desert. The Arabic chants of their zikr are overlaid by sung Turkic language poetry, which in some orders may be accompanied on melodic instruments. Much of this repertoire has found its way into the ostensibly secular Uyghur musical canon known as the Twelve Muqam, and it enjoys a parallel life in staged and mediated performance while its spiritual roots maintain a semi-underground existence.

Rachel Harris teaches ethnomusicology at SOAS, University of London. She currently leads the Leverhulme Research Project ‘Sounding Islam in China’, and is preparing a book ‘Soundscapes of Uyghur Islam’ which encompasses village ritual practices, mediated sounds and transnational flows, state interventions, and embodied responses. She maintains research interests in intangible cultural heritage and state projects of cultural development, and she works in applied ways with performance and transmission projects which explore Central Asian Sufi heritage across borders.
Rachel Harris website

“Ambiguities of Staging Sufi Music”
The Tunisian spectacle called El-Hadhra has arguably created a new performance genre of Sufi music by selecting and recombining musical elements of different Tunisian Sufi orders and presenting them according to logics of the concert stage (rather than according to the dictates of ritual progression). I assess the implications of this modular, plug-and-play approach to Sufism and its musics and argue for the value of a close reading that identifies the organizers’ strategies for minimizing and maximizing the contextual gap between ritual and the concert stage. The result, I suggest, is a set of productive ambiguities that enables multiple readings and experiences of the staged experience of this iconic spectacle that has become a household name since its first performance in 1991 and has taken on new meanings vis-à-vis the state and the politics of religious expression in the public sphere after the Tunisian Revolution of 2011.

Richard Jankowsky is Associate Professor of Music at Tufts University. An ethnomusicologist, he is author of Stambeli: Music, Trance, and Alterity in Tunisia (University of Chicago Press, 2010) and editor of The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World Volume X: Genres of North Africa and the Middle East (Bloomsbury, 2015). He currently holds a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship to write his next book, titled Ambient Sufism: Devotional Pluralism and Music as Everyday Mysticism in North Africa.
Richard Jankowsky website

“Listening for God, Moving for the Soul: The Problem of Dancing with Listening in the Medieval Islamic Tradition”
In the history of Sufi of the medieval Arabic and Persian literature that discussed the protocols of sama’, a certain number of authors included commentary on the practice of dance (raqs). The commentary on dance presents a highly polarized perspective that suggests both the greater controversy dance presented over music in the practice of sama’, and the commonality of dance movement in premodern sama’ practices that existed both spacially and temporally outside of the Mevlevi Order. In some cases, the concerns for protocol reflect the primary concerns about utilizing the power of music to find unity with the divine. In other cases, dance represents a unique challenge to medieval concepts of proper Sufistic conduct. Conversely, discussions of dance provide insight into the presence and importance of music, even when Sufi manuals do not explicitly mention it in their discussions of sama’. This paper will consider the unique cultural background of the music-dance distinction in the medieval Sufistic tradition, and consider how additional cultural input over centuries could have changed attitudes towards dancing in sama’ traditions as Islam moved out of West and Central Asia, and into South Asia and North Africa.

Ann E. Lucas is Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology at Boston College, where she also teaches in the program for Islamic Civilizations and Societies. Prof. Lucas specializes in historiography of music in the Persian-speaking work, focusing on the relationship between musical change and major fissures in political structure. She is also currently beginning new research on the relationship between music and dance in the Middle East, focusing on Egypt.  Her short works include “The Creation of Iranian Music in the Age of Steam and Print, c. 1880-1914.” (Global Muslims in the Age of Steam and Print University of California Press, 2013) and “Ancient Music, Modern Myth: Middle Eastern Music and the Pursuit of Methodology in Historical Ethnomusicology” (Theory and Method in Historical Ethnomusicology Lexington Books, 2014). Her book, Music of a Thousand Years: A New History of Persian Musical Tradition is due to be published by University California Press in 2018.
Ann Lucas website

“The Burda, Religious Hymn and Lyric Poem: Its Introduction to Senegal”
El hadj Malick Sy (1855-1922), founder of Tydjanya amongst the Wolof people, approached teaching Islam in a very unique way. Within the framework of what he would have considered to be a cultural form of resistance to colonization, he developed a network of zawiya and mosques in the Dakar-Saint Louis corridor of Northern Senegal. But more importantly, he created pedagogical instruments in a world where illiteracy reigned: gamous, or ceremonies commemorating the birth of the Prophet Muhammed, and informal religious oral productions such as chants, wazifa, etc.

An array of Arabic and Wolof chants exist that regulate the daily lives of the faithful, outside the rhythm established by the calls to prayer, but which also link these moments inextricably together. Among these chants are the tayssir and the burda. For twelve nights preceding the celebration of the birth of the Prophet, in all the Tidjane mosques, there is what we call the Burda, a reference to the Qasidat al Burda or the poem of the mantle by Sarfuddin Abu Abdallah Muhammad Al Busiri (1212-1296).

“I Am a Woman Who Calls Allah’s Name: Women Vocalists of the Baay Fall Order”
This work focuses on the work of women of the Baay Fall suborder of Mouridya who perform the devotional zikr chants. Based on two years of Wolof-language ethnographic work with women vocalists across Senegalese traditions, it outlines the importance of women to Mouride history, including Mame Diarra Bousso and poet Sokhna Maï Mbacké. It then limns the role of prominent women vocalists including Sokhna Dieynaba Lam and Sokhna Khady Ba. The presentation ends with a screening of a ten-minute documentary film produced in collaboration with young women zirkkats in Guediawaye, Dakar.

Ali Colleen Neff, Ph.D., is a researcher, author, and multimedia producer who conducted two years of Mellon/ACLS-Funded research with the women vocalists of Dakar, Senegal. She has conducted original research on Sufi voicing and sound in the holy sites of Touba, Prokhane and Khelcom.
Ali Colleen Neff website

“Musical Aspects of Traditional Rifâî Dhikr: ‘Kıyam Kelîme-i Tevhîd’”
Dhikr is one of the key elements of sufi culture that is based on teachings of Qur’an and of the prophet Muhammed (S.A.S.). Throughout the history of sufi orders, dhikr ceremonies are frequently suggested to be performed individually and in collective manner in tekke (lodge) culture. Every tariqa – sufi order are signified in different dhikr performances, though, this variation does not involve any egocentricity that each tariqa enjoys lengthening the dhikr by performing dhikr performances from other tariqa. Thus, joy of remembrance of Allah is elevated by every tariqa in numerous ways. In this paper, Dhikr tradition by Rifâî order in Altay Tekke of Fatih – Istanbul is summarized in musical aspect. Musical structures used and the manner of the dhikr is going to be discussed. Other specifications of dhikr, like morals, meanings, folkloric aspects, expansion of the dhikr is out of scope of this paper.

Vasfi Emre Ömürlü was born in Istanbul on 1969 as a member of a musician family. His father, Yusuf Ömürlü, is one of the most famous conductors and composers in Turkish Classical Music and Sufi Music and has provided initial knowledge on music to Vasfi Emre Ömürlü. Beginning from childhood; he attended concert practices and regular music theory courses in Kubbealtı Culture and Art Group Chorus, where his father is the musical director. He had been present in numerous concerts till the age of 20 with aforementioned chorus as a soloist and a singer. Beginning from high school, he attended ney (reed flute) classes of Ömer Erdoğdular who is the student of Niyazi Sayın who is a legendary ney player in Turkey. After completing initial studies in ney, he began to provide ney lessons in Kubbealtı Art and Culture Group with the suggestion of his master. During his undergraduate education, he attended the University Chorus, which was an important milestone in his musical journey. He was in several concerts and most importantly, in radio programs in TRT (Turkish Radio and Television) with them. Additionally, at the same time, he began to study Islamic and sufi music with Hafız Kazım Büyükaksoy, who was one of the greatest authorities in this field. Especially, he has become professional in improvisational side of Islamic and sufi music, like mevlid, kaside, forms. In mevlid form, he delivered numerous ceremonies with and without his master. Mevlid is a religious ceremonial form that has been practiced during holy days and it takes almost one and a half hour. It is very dynamic form in which different musical modulations in sections are practiced in improvisational manner by voice.

After his undergraduate studies he traveled with Ahmed Özhan in Turkey for numerous different concerts. In the meantime, he was attending to radio programs with Alaaddin Yavaşça who is the master singer in Turkish Classical Music in Turkey, in TRT Classical Turkish Music Chorus and with Doğan Ergin in TRT Sufi Music Chorus. Also, with Doğan Ergin, he was present in several Mevlevî ceremonies as a singer and a kudümzenbaşı.After he met with Cinuçen Tanrıkorur who is a composer, conductor, singer, and an oud player whose name was known internationally, Vasfi Ömürlü attended almost every concert, TV show, and CD recordings with him. Among the TV shows, there was “Music Time” which was to perform Classical Turkish Music by the most famous singers in this field. Also two CD recordings are “Suite in Makam Şeddisaba & Sufi Hymns” and “Aziz Mahmud Hüdâî in the Sufi Music of Cinuçen Tanrıkorur”.

Vasfi Emre Ömürlü, individually or with chorus, has performed many concerts as a singer and a conductor. Currently, he is the conductor of Lâ Edrî Sûfî Music chorus and they have delivered some concerts nationally and internationally in Germany, India and Tanzania. Vasfi Emre Ömürlü is married and has twins as a boy and a girl.

“Compositions and Structure of Mevlevîyye Ritual in Light of Hisarbûselik Mevlevî Âyîn”
This study examines the musical composition and structure of Hisarbuselik Mevlevi ayin that is comprised of various sections. The first part of the study is consisted of explanations about what sema and music means in Turkish sufi music culture. In the historical course, the word -semâ- means “to hear” is considered to be one of the most important symbols of the Mevlevî order. Semâ, considered by the Mevlevîs- to whirl in ecstasy with the love of Allah-, is a kind of mystical ritual that has attracted the curiosity of many local and foreign people for centuries. At the second part of the study lies a big section that scrutinizes the Mevlevi music ritual explanining the compositon and structure of Mevlevîyye Ritual in light of Hisarbûselik Mevlevî ayin which was composed by Sadettin Heper.

Huseyin Özkılıç was born in Istanbul in 1976. He completed his education in Istanbul. In 1995, he was accepted to Istanbul Technical University School of Turkish Music and began his education in musicology. He has been receiving ney (reed flute) lessons from Salih Bilgin, musicology and music paleography lessons from Prof. Yalçın Tura. In 2000, he graduated from the university. The same year, he began his master in Turkish Music. During this period, he studied “religious music” with Prof. Alâeddin Yavaşça, “Turkish military music” with Haydar Sanal,  As a ney performer, he has performed in numerous concerts all around the world. Hüseyin Özkılıç, who also undertook duties as music director in various music projects, wrote music articles for “Radikal” newspaper. Özkılıç has finished his master studies at Istanbul Technical University in 2014 about sufi music and continues his career as a ney performer at the Directorate of Presidential State Classical Turkish Music choir.

“Samā and Sūfī-Gān”
Over the last 20 years or so, a highly lucrative style of vocal music called “sūfī gān” has taken shape in the recording studios of Bombay. In contrast to traditional Chishti practice, the spiritual rewards of “sufi” are attributed not to samā (disciplined listening) but to the powerful voices of virtuosic singers–many of whom are neither Sufi nor even Muslim. Most enthusiastic consumers of “singing sufi” are secular, college-educated Hindu cosmopolitans who find in the sufi revival an appealing metaphysics of unity available to all, seemingly free of the bright line between Hindu and Muslim that shapes so much of communal identity politics in India. Orthodox Chishti Sufis tend to regard the “sufi music” trend with suspicion, considering it to be at best irrelevant to spiritual life, and at worst a harmful modern innovation. But the cosmopolitan advocates of “sufi music” have aspirations far beyond mere aural pleasure. They speak in vivid ethical and political terms about the power of this music–its “freedom” from communalism, its ethic of humanistic “unity” and, most tellingly, its “transcendence” of religion. This talk examines the ethical and metaphysical friction between these two worlds.

Matt Rahaim is Associate Professor of ethnomusicology at the University of Minnesota. His first book, Musicking Bodies (2012) dealt with the transmission of bodily disciplines in Hindustani vocal music. His current book project (Voice Cultures: Indian Traditions of Resounding Virtue) investigates the cultivation of ethical vocal dispositions among a wide range of singers in North India–Bollywood singers, ritual specialists attached to Chisti shrines, classical vocalists, and purveyors of the eclectic contemporary styles known as “singing Sufi” and “singing Western.” He also is a performing Hindustani vocalist.
Matthew Rahaim website

“The Mask as Conduit for Knowing God in Indonesia”
This paper describes parallels between dzikir and masks through the prism of Muslim dancers who trace their lineage to a Sufi saint in rural Java, Indonesia. These pedigreed women and men dance to the musical accompaniment of a percussion ensemble (gamelan) led by the drummer. Music plays an important function in this rural tradition. So, too, does prayer; however, not in the usual sense of al-sama or other uttered communal forms of remembrance. Rather, the masked dancers privilege the intimate, silent dzikir that emanates from the heart. Understanding this contradiction requires turning our attention to how emotions are embodied and expressed when the most plastic part of the human body—the face—is covered with a mask. It also speaks to the power of internalized prayer in public spaces.

Laurie Margot Ross is a scholar and curator of visual culture and performance in Muslim Southeast Asia. Her book, The Encoded Cirebon Mask: Materiality, Flow, and Meaning along Java’s Islamic Northwest Coast (Brill, 2016), describes how masks and other performing objects replicate the Sufi Path, tarekat, in an Indonesian mask tradition. She served on the 2017 President’s Roundtable at the Association for Asian Studies.
Laurie Margot Ross website

“The Sufi song in Senegal: the limits of the definition of a hybrid genre”
Senegalese Sufi Islam is a blend of the sacred and the non-sacred. This is due to the conditions in which Islam entered the country and the multiple vicissitudes of its implantation on the African soil. Many of the pre-Islamic social structures and practices were maintained and adapted to the new religion. The Senegalese Sufi song is not an exception of this hybridity. Indeed, it is a very complex genre, sometimes mixing poems, written by religious guides and founders or propagators of the Sufi brotherhoods, with Wolof popular genres known as bàkk, kañ, and tagg, deeply rooted in the local indigenous culture. These multiple forms of Sufi songs gained their legitimacy and acceptability within the community by referring to Sufi clerics, but, in the meantime, raises the question of their “sacredness.” This paper aims to be a survey of the Senegalese hybrid Sufi music genre.

Mamarame Seck is a PhD holder in linguistics with concentration in discourse analysis. Among his research interests are Senegalese society and culture, the Wolof language and culture, Islamic discourses in West Africa and the functions of Sufi oral discourse in the practice of Islam in Senegal, in particular the socialization of the Sufi disciple and his relationship with the shaykh.

Dr. Seck has published a book, Narratives as Muslim Practice in Senegal, with Peter Lang Publishers, in New York. He is also the author of an Intermediate Wolof textbook, Nanu Dègg Wolof, published with the National African Language Resource Center (NALRC) at Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. After teaching at the University of North Carolina at Chapel for six years, Dr. Mamarame Seck joined IFAN (Institut Fondamental d’Afrique Noire) at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar, Senegal, where he serves as researcher in the Département de Langues et Civilisation and chair of the laboratory of linguistics.

“The Jazawu Sakkoor by Shaykh Musa Ka: A reading of the power crises among the Ceddo in Senegambia from a Sufi brotherhood perspective”

By reworking Wolof traditions of epic poetry, Shaykh Musa Kâ, the official biographer of Ahmadou Bamba, seeks to understand the exile of the Muridiyya’s founding shaykh in the poem Jazawu Sakkoor. The most popular reading of this poem labels it as an acerbic critique of colonial power that inflicted punishment on the Sufi marabout on September 5, 1895, but rarely does one consider the power of the Ceddo people living in the Wolof states of subdued Senegambia that is also brought to light by this same reading. What one discovers is an irreparable decline in Ceddo power but also the reappearance and “recycling” of Ceddo political personnel in and among the colonial administration. The author of Jazawu Sakkoor erects a moral portrait that starkly contrasts the remnants of the Ceddo aristocracy in alliance with corrupt marabouts, blinded by senseless violence, with the virtues proclaimed by the newborn brotherhood.

Taking the example of the Muridiyya, this paper will uncover the political and ideological foundations at the end of the 19th-century that contrasted what remained of Ceddo powers, severely weakened by colonial conquest, and the Sufi brotherhoods. The text of biographer Shaykh Ahmadou Bamba will be our guide.

Ibrahima Thioub has served as Professor of history at the Faculté des Lettres et Sciences humaines at Cheikh Anta Diop University since 1990 and currently occupies the post of Rector at the aforementioned university. He has thirty years of experience in teaching, both at the elementary and university levels. He is fluent in three languages: Wolof, French and English. He also serves as an editor for several scholarly journals and is a member of numerous academic associations including the Association de Recherche Ouest-africaine, where he serves as head of the organization; the Association des Historiens africains; the Conseil scientifique de l’UCAD; and the Institut d’Etudes avancées de Nantes. He directs the Groupe d’Etudes et de Recherche sur l’Exclusion et la Marginalité au Sénégal (GERMES), UCAD-Dakar and the Institut interdisciplinaire virtuel des hautes études sur les esclavages et les traits (IVHEET).
His research and teaching focus on African historiography, systems of domination and their underlying ideologies, and slavery and the slave trade in Africa. He has also devoted several studies to the history of prisons in Africa.

“Musical (Re-)Configurations of Social “Warmth:” Sensing, Suffering, and Trance in an Algerian Sufi Community”
In Algeria, it is expected and taken for granted that we can feel the energy of an event; what we sense as that atmosphere is called ḥāl. Ḥāl is often translated in formal Arabic as “a condition,” or “state of being” but these common understandings mask the affective and ephemeral qualities of ḥāl. In dīwān, an Algerian Sufi ritual, music is essential in order to “warm” ḥāl so that this musical, social warmth can cultivate a wide spectrum of trance. With this foundation of warm ḥāl, a wide variety of trance registers emerge that serve to reconfigure selves and relationships, therefore attending to personal and social pain in the dīwān community. This paper builds on eighteen months of fieldwork, scholarship on affect, the anthropology of pain and suffering, and pivotal scholarship on music and trance, proposing that dīwān dynamics of social warmth reveal the nexus of music, trance, and ritual as an affective epistemology.

Tamara Turner is a final-year PhD candidate in ethnomusicology at King’s College London where she specializes in the Sufi-related musics of North Africa, particularly the Afro-Maghrebi Bilaliyya orders and others considered within popular Islam. Her current PhD research is the first ethnomusicological study of the Algerian diwan of Sidi Blel ritual and music. Tamara’s research is funded by King’s College London, the American Institute of Maghrib Studies, the West African Research Association, and the British Forum for Ethnomusicology.
Tamara Turner website

“The ‘Sufi’ in the world: Visibility, esotericism, and local knowledge in the Panjab and Badakhshan”
Contemporary field studies of music in Sufism focus on religious orders (the practices of a particular tariqa), shrine Sufism (practices at shrines of charismatic figures), and/or world-music Sufism (i.e. as propagated through stage performances, festivals, and touring groups).  Notions of Sufism and the role of music within it vary among practitioners within each category: Sufism as promoted in world music tours and embraced in New Age visions of humanity make it possible for almost anyone to self-identify as a Sufi; by contrast some view Sufism as a condition of personhood that is hidden to the world and possibly even to the subject while he or she is alive.  Philosophies investigating the relations between outer appearance (ẓāhir) and inner essence (bāṭin) run deep in the history of Islamic thought.  This article focuses on the musical, ideological, and economic implications of visibility and presence among Ismaili Muslims in the mountains of Badakhshan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan, as well as in the capital city of Dushanbe.  I argue that here, as well as in overtly “Sufi” shrine contexts in Pakistan, bringing one’s musical-social “interior” into alignment with the “exterior” is a moral act that involves not only ethics, but also ethos—qualities of character.

Richard K. Wolf, Professor of Music and South Asian Studies at Harvard University, is an ethnomusicologist whose research has been centered in South and Central Asia.  A performer on the South Indian vina as well as an ethnographer, Wolf has published The Voice in the Drum: Music, language and emotion in Islamicate South Asia (2014), The Black Cow’s Footprint: Time, Space, and Music in the Lives of the Kotas of South India (2005, 2006), and Theorizing the Local: Music, Practice, and Experience in South Asia and Beyond (2009). Wolf is also General Editor of the series Ethnomusicology Translations.  He is currently working on a manuscript on music and moral being in South and Central Asia.
Richard Wolf website