Herald: Sufism’s devoted and very powerful servant - Amer Eltony

Sufism’s devoted and very powerful servant - Amer Eltony

10 Feb 2019 04:40am IST

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10 Feb 2019 04:40am IST

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Amer Eltony is not just one of the most influential voices of peace,on the foundation of Sufi, he is an important global ambassador for unity of humans and the purity of religions

They whirl on the wind of God. Nimble on their feet, they dance as if on air, lifting their bodies with their souls, like whirling planets around the sun. And there is indeed the sun. The rays of energy that permeate through his soulful renditions. They are the calls of the Sufi, they are evocations of the saint, they are assertions of a musical warrior.

     These are songs of Egypt’s Sufi singer and the only war that he fights is the war for compassion, of unity, of ringing together people in his once torn country. To many he was the spring in the steps of the Arab spring- Amer Eltony.

     On his second visit to Goa, Amer Eltony mesmerised the audience at the recently concluded Sur Jahan Festival.

     As he stands in the centre of the whirling dervishes, he doesn’t quite come across as a musical performer but a monk in prayer, agnostic to strands in religion which divide but an absolute devotee of faithful who are in prayer to unite humanity.

     As a Mevlevi in the truest sense, he sees the Mevlevi tradition, which has passed down from Jalaluddin Rumi. For years the Mevlevis, (also known as mawlawi) proponents of peace have been subjugated by the Ottoman Empire in Turkey, and as he is quick to point out, in regimes in Egypt and other places in the Ottoman Empire. Tariqats (Sufi organizations) were declared illegal and tekkes (Sufi centres) were shut down.

     The cultural hypocrisy of the Ottoman’s was noticed. A serious attempt was made to make a dent in Mevlevi tradition and at the same time keep the visually appealing aspects like the whirling of the semazens (whirling dancers) and using the semazens to promote tourism, calling it the dance of the whirling dervishes. Reducing this to merely a cultural manifestation takes away from the pure energy that Mevlevi semazens get from a superior calling as they chant the name of the almighty as they whirl. As in Turkey, Amer Eltony was one of the voices who have, through music, re-established Mevlevi singing and dancing as a prayer, a tribute and only as a cultural rendition which is just tourist friendly.

    It’s not simply Turkish folk dancing. It’s much, much deeper than that. Taking a deep breath, during the conversation, and speaking with his eyes, he says “In many countries (and he speaks of his own) religion is used by politics. Religion has rules, politics breaks rules. Religion is a direct connect between God and humans. Politics is where the dark forces work”

   As he said this, both he and this writer paused. In those thirty seconds of silence, Cairo and Calangute, Turkey and Tivim became one. The intrusion of politics in religion is universal, but the work of people like Amer Eltony is indeed special.

   Eltony is quite obviously a cultural, social and perhaps even a political influencer. It’s also a tribute to the Egypt of today that strong voices, which emerge through writing, speaking, activism and music are allowed to be sustained. Eltony is the head of the Creative Centre of the Cairo Opera House, combining his stage performances, his tours and his musical compositions with running an internationally well known institution of the 

arts. As he sat on the sit out next to his room at the International Centre Goa, after his performance, on a balmy morning last week, he received a call from the Egyptian Ambassador, giving us (inadvertently) a glimpse of his standing in Egyptian society and in its arts.

    But his calling is from up above, says Eltony. “Sufism grew in Morocco, Spain, Tunisia. The Sufi idea is global. But we sign to God. The audience comes for him. Thus if I lose my voice I’m not afraid because I sing for him and the semazens when they dance and when we sing, we do it for ‘HIM’, and the people who come to listen also listen for ‘HIM’. Semazens simply fly. When they jump and whirl, they have an energy from within.

    What do you call him? A mystic, a preacher or just a spontaneous servant of the almighty. Perhaps all fit but he is indeed really a servant, of the art he espouses, fuelled by the spirit of Sufism, which is his life.



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