Many historians believe that Iraq was the first cradle of Islamic mysticism, where the first Sufis such as al-Harith al-Muhasibi, Junaid al-Baghdadi, Ma’ruf al-Karkhi, Rabi’a al-Adawiyya, and others rested, and from their teachings sprouted the seed of Sufi orders, which belonged to several sheikhs.
And accompanied by literature and arts, among them was Sufi chanting, which developed and took many forms, in various countries, and became part of its artistic heritage and popular folklore.
Sufi chanting in recent years has attracted a number of Iraqi youth, and some of them participated in festivals outside the country, such as the vocalist Ali Maher, who participated in the Sharjah Forum in the UAE, and other events.
Maher prefers to distinguish between the terms chanting and singing, considering that the term chanting is more expressive of Sufi art than singing, because the latter “does not contain mystical meanings and spiritualities.” Also, both terms have a completely different musical framework from the other, and there is a radical difference between the patterns and “themes” of singing with singing, he said.
Maher says that Sufi chanting is one of the most expressive types of arts that express the artist’s vocal and musical energies, despite his influence as a chanter by the local chanting environment in Iraq in the first place. If he was also affected by some important and well-known voices in the Arab world, such as Sayed Al-Naqshbandi, Kamel Yusef Al-Bahtimi, Muhammad Omran and others.
A “dream” on the road
In recent years, groups have emerged that have chosen to specialize in Sufi singing. The group “Helm”, which was founded in 2012, initially presented Iraqi and Egyptian musical genres, before specializing in Sufi singing.
But the beginning of the “Sufi” was with a poem by Rabia Al-Adawiya, composed and sung by the founder of the band Fahd Abdul-Rahman himself, and then the band continued in the same path, and at its beginning it used mainly tambourines, influenced by the dhikr atmosphere in the Kasnazani order.
According to Abd al-Rahman, Sufi music in Iraq is almost confined to tikia only, and not as is the case in Turkey, Iran and the Maghreb, adding that they have begun to study these musical experiences and establish a contemporary style of Sufi music in Iraq.
“Dream” was not satisfied with that, but rather it mixed between Iraqi maqams and modern music, then those responsible for it included guitar and some western percussion instruments in its works, “so that there is a mixture between eastern and western music, and to reach all people.”
However, there is still a long way to go before achieving the dream. Sufi music in Iraq is still elitist, and the audience for its concerts is limited.
However, this did not prevent its members from continuing their careers, until they became heroes of a documentary film called “The Band”, directed by Al-Baqir Jaafar, in which the members of the team embodied their suffering with some religious trends that prohibit playing music and holding concerts.
The film, which was produced in 2017, participated in festivals outside Iraq and won several awards, including the “Arab World Institute” award for the best feature-length documentary film from the Arab Film Festival in Paris, and the Special Jury Prize for the best director for the first work at the “Cinema for All” festival in Egypt, among others.
Hussain al-Yakhendi, a researcher in the history of the Iraqi maqam, points out that the history of urbanization in Iraq is ancient, and with urbanization, the various forms of singing and singing arose, adding that the roots of Sufi and Iraqi singing in general go back to the era of the Abbasid state.
There are still Iraqi songs and musical pieces dating back to that time, when rulers and sultans used to celebrate the owners of beautiful voices, and they brought many of them from different countries, until an Iraqi Sufi art arose, whose colors varied between the countryside and the urban, the north, the south and the west.
He added to Al-Jazeera Net that there are many Sufi orders in Iraq, and each has its own way of performing singing, the most famous of which is the Qadiriya method, which to this day maintains a special “Tahlilah” that is read according to certain melodies and “works”, from which its reader does not deviate.
In the modern era, Mullah Othman Al-Mawsili is considered the pioneer of Sufi music, and the founder of the art of the Prophet’s veil, who left its mark on the prophetic praise in Iraq and other Arab countries.
According to Al-Yakhendi, it is the Sufi singing that enriched modern singing, not the other way around.
The same is the case with major contemporary artists, such as Nazem Al-Ghazali, who drew some of his songs from the songs of Othman Al-Mawsili, as well as in “Umm al-Ayyun al-Soud” and “Fawq al-Nakhl,” whose origin is from the prophetic praise, as the researcher asserts.
And about its development; Al-Yakhandi points out that Sufi singing in Iraq has matured greatly and its material is rich, and does not need to be developed in terms of word or melody, but it needs to be presented in a new way, through musical documentation accompanied by modern instruments and beautiful sounds, as the Turks do today, as he put it.