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A portrait of Chancellor Joan Gabel.
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By Betul Tuncer, Editor-in-Chief • April 27, 2024

Newly formed Fann Club celebrates Middle Eastern arts through Sufi whirling event

A+Sufi+whirler+performs+during+Fann+Club%E2%80%99s+Sufi+Whirling+Night+on+Saturday+evening+in+the+William+Pitt+Union.
Evan Fuccio | Staff Photographer
A Sufi whirler performs during Fann Club’s Sufi Whirling Night on Saturday evening in the William Pitt Union.

In a room filled with the aroma of Persian cuisine, three dancers gracefully took the stage, whirling to the serene melodies of traditional musical instruments. This Sufi whirling event, hosted by the newly formed Fann Club, is just one expression of the various Sufi practices aimed at fostering spiritual connection.

The Fann Club began as a Middle Eastern arts and crafts club in February. In celebration of the holy month of Ramadan, the Fann Club devoted the evening of March 30 in the William Pitt Union assembly room to a vibrant celebration encompassing Sufi whirling, Arabic and Persian poetry, Turkish calligraphy, Persian cuisine and educational presentations on the essence of Sufism.

Laith Tariq, a junior geology major and president of the Fann Club, said audiences may see Sufi whirling as a performance, but it’s simultaneously a religious practice to the whirlers. 

“Sufism is a way of following Islam that’s related to loving God through dance and other arts that helps you become down to Earth,” Tariq said. “Sufi whirling is a mystic practice that Sufis do to become closer to God. They become engulfed in their whirling to the point of forgetting about life. There’s a story about a man who was whirling and was stabbed as he whirled, but he did not notice it.” 

Tariq said careful planning went into the event, taking into account that a significant portion of the attendees are fasting for Ramadan. Consequently, the evening commenced with Iiftar, a communal breaking of the fast, followed by captivating whirling performances and poetry readings taking center stage.

“We start with Iftar for people who are fasting because we want to accommodate them, and the food is catered from a local Persian restaurant,” Tariq said. “The actual event starts with the first set of whirling, which will be Turkish, followed by English, Arabic and Persian readings of poetry. We have a second set of Iranian whirling after a guest speaker. The whirling workshop happens towards the very end and is completely voluntary. People are encouraged by the performers to wear white when learning because it helps with the dizziness.” 

During the first whirling form, Turkish Mevlevi Sema, the audiences’ faces reflected awe as they beheld the whirlers spinning to the melodies of the mystical oud. Following the performance, an educational session on Sufism and the art of Sufi poetry began. 

Yasmine Flodin-Ali, assistant professor of religious studies and guest speaker at the event, said she crafted her presentation to incorporate informative content about Sufism and its historical background.

“I’ll start off by saying that Sufism is an orientation towards Islam — it’s not a sect of lslam,” Flodin-Ali said. “Sufism as a discipline is really focused on interiority and focusing on how a soul can get closest to God within this lifetime. One way which people engage with Sufism is through the spiritual benefits of things produced by Sufis such as poetry, dance and other art forms. Historically, many have converted to Islam through Sufism because it’s so integrated into the arts, which means it can easily adapt to other cultures.” 

Nariman Assadi, a California-based Iranian percussionist and the musical performer at the Sufi whirling event, said he presented two distinct forms of Sufi whirling — one accompanied by the serene music of the oud, and the other characterized by dynamic drumming. 

“I was invited to perform at this event. My main instruments are the daf and tombak, but I also played the oud,” Assadi said. “Tonight, the first part was a Mevlevi Sema which incorporated the Turkish music scale using the Iranian oud called barbat. Barbat in Farsi means ‘chest of swan,’ which is what it looks like from the side. For the Iranian Sema, I played the daf, which is originally from the Northwestern Iran or Kurdistan.”

As the Iranian Sema whirling concluded, attendees eagerly geared up for the whirling workshop, invigorated by the lively beats of the daf, which energized the atmosphere. The rest of the evening unfolded with expressions of gratitude towards the event hosts, followed by exchanges and deep conversations between the whirlers and their students.

Julie Lee, a Pittsburgh local artist and attendee of the Sufi whirling event, said the event was not only a joyous experience, but an educational opportunity as well. 

“I am not the most educated on many different cultures. I wanted to witness something beautiful while enhancing my understanding of something new,” Lee said. “It was beautiful — that’s the only way to describe it. The whirling felt very light, and I felt a lot of warmth through the entire event. I noticed even when lining up for food, everyone was introducing themselves to one another. I loved witnessing the commodity between folks and seeing how they came together. It really was just a night full of light.” 

Tariq said he established the club in February with the primary aim of promoting Middle Eastern culture. He said his mission is particularly crucial today.

“We’re trying to showcase the beautiful parts of the Middle East — right now, there are many wars and horrific events,” Tariq said. “At the same time, we want to show the beauty and parts that should be appreciated, especially the art, which I think can be a way of solving problems.” 

About the Contributor
Nada Abdulaziz, Senior Staff Writer
Nada Abdulaziz is a senior majoring in Philosophy and Biological Sciences. She loves spending her free time reading, hiking, and watching Studio Ghibli films.