UNC Films on Sufism and Saints
available from The Ellen-Fairbanks D. Bodman Collection of Middle Eastern and Islamic World Films
 
 

Aşkilar: Those Who Are In Love. 1995 38min V5204 [Turkey]

The tradition of the aşik, the Shi’a Alevi wandering minstrels who sing of love for humanity accompanying themselves on the saz, is almost extinct now in Turkey. The filmmaker roams through villages, interviewing old men - and one woman - who reminisce about their devotion to their saz, never played for money but always for the love of God and others. Insightful examination of Sufi practice. Turkish with English subtitles. Dir./Prod: David Grabias for Sinema Productions.
Al-Tannoura. 1995 27min V5212 [Egypt]
The religious ritual dance of the Sufi order of the Mehlevi dervishes of Turkey diffused to Egypt in the 13th century. Today it is found transformed into a folk artistic performance seen at public festivals as well as at international conferences. Dir./ Prod: Hani Fakhouri, Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan/Flint, Flint, MI.
Bayt-al-Deen Revisited (AKA Durus al-Qalb) V2081. 33 min (U.S.)
Bayt-al-Deen is a prototype madrassah [Qur’anic school] near San Antonio, Texas, with much of the teaching in English conducted by Shaykh Fadhlalla. This film offers an overview of the 140-acre institution, farming, family life together with vignettes of a ’Id al Adha conference, salat [prayer], and one scene of a Sufi zikr [ritual of ecstasy]. Produced by Abdullah Nouri and Charles White for the American Academy of Qur’anic Studies.
Beaming One (Bahauddin Naqshband) V4816. 19 min [Uzbekistan]
Dedicated to the 675th anniversary, this eulogy of Khayrat Bakhauddin Nakshband born in 1318 recreates moments from his life in the spectacular setting of Bokhara, quoting his adage that ’the soul should belong to Allah, the hands to work.’ One sequence addresses his Quiet Zikr; there is reference to the expansion of his brotherhood to 20 million today, of which a million are in Turkey. Dir: Shukhrat Makhmudov. Prod: Ibragim Ahmodov. Ozma Productions for the Foreign Trade Association, City of Bokhara.
Celebrating The Prophet In The Remembrance Of God: Sufi Dhikr In Egypt. 65-V5692. 39 min
Study of an Islamic mystical exercise that has evolved into a major communal ritual with important spiritual, social and psychological functions. Sufi dhikr, the chanting of the names of God, is a regular activity in the lives of many Muslims, particularly those who live in urban areas and villages that are home to the shrine-tombs of important saints. In Egypt, communal dhikr is performed to the accompaniment of music and song, and the film explains the interaction of music with excerpts from performances by several Sufi singers. It also examines the influence of social setting on dhikr, and such issues as the participation of women and children and the function of dhikr as entertainment. Directed by Prof. Valerie Hoffman.
For Those Who Sail to Heaven. V2738. 48 min [Egypt]
This splendid study of the moulid (festival) of Abu’l Hajjaj which is held annually in Luxor not only offers personal involvement in the rites, but stresses the ecumenical participation which has evolved. The content is enriched by clips from the films made by Henry Barnes of the same festival in 1925. Dir./Prod: Elizabeth Wickett.
Habiba: a Sufi saint from Uzbekistan. V7097. 31 min [Uzbekistan]

Documentary about Habiba, a Muslim healer (Tabib) who represents the feminine side of the Naqshbandi lineage of Sufi teachers in Uzbekistan. Her clients include Russian Christians as well as Uzbek Muslims, and she employs a savvy New Age rhetoric that ranges from the Qur'an and the Prophet Muhammad to the Sufi master Baha'uddin Naqshband, the snakes, and the mother goddess. Narrator, Louise Landes-Levi. Director, Costanzo Allione. [Presented by] Where the Eagles Fly. New York, NY : Mystic Fire Video, Inc. ; New York, NY : Distributed by Fox Lorber Associates, Inc., c1997.


Inner Life: Traditional World of Islam #6). J206. 16 mm 30
addresses certain aspects of Sufism - the mystical aspect of Islam - the quest for spiritual union with God. Worship at saints’ shrines, retreats for ascetics, ritual chanting and whirling dervishes all exemplify different paths towards one goal. Lacking is any example of lay Sufism integrated into society, the personal rather than communal practices.
Master Musicians of Jahjouka. VHS.1 min [Morocco] 62
This visually striking documentary preserves the rich musical heritage of Jahjouka, a remote Moroccan village south of Meknes. The lame, barren and mentally ill came to seek cures by listening to the music which had association with the local saint’s tomb, music believed to have special baraka - blessing power. The film studies the impact on the villagers and the music in the 1960’s when Westerners such as the Rolling Stones rock musician Brian Jones, counter- culture figure Timothy Leary and author Paul Bowles arrived with followers. Prod/Dir.: Mendizza/Schuyler
Saints and Spirits. (16mm) 26 min [Morocco]
The relationship of the individual to the super- natural through mediating influences is an aspect of Islam often ignored in orthodox literature and films. Here three such personal dimensions are explored through the experiences of one woman in Marrakech, Morocco. The indigenous music and sensitive narration compensate for the technically uneven footage. Detailed background for this film is essential for student understanding and appreciation; it is ably provided by the accompanying guide. Prod/ Dir.: Davie and Fernea, Granada TV.
La Sama, Danse Mystique des dervishes. V3274. 20 min [Turkey]
This careful, beautifully photographed study of the meaning of the whirling dervishes is valuable for the studies of religion and dance forms as well as of Turkish culture. In addition it is an aesthetic delight. Cine and Tele Production for the Ministry of Tourism and City of Konya. In French.
Topkapi Palace, 5, The Sacred Relics .V4357. 23 min [Turkey]
This video details the collection of sacred relics amassed by Yavuz Sultan in the early 16th century and also the special building in which these are housed. Viewers are given close examination of the robe, letter, seal, swords and other possessions of the Prophet Mohammed as well a pieces of the arm of St. John the Baptist.
Turning (Whirling Dervishes). V2607. 48 min [Turkey]
This beautifully presented memorial for the 700th anniversary of Jalul’uddin al Rumi’s death traces the evolution of the human concept and appreciation of Universal Nature from the Anatolian Neolithic city of Catal Huyuk through Ephesus to Konya. The ritualistic dance Sema of the whirling dervishes, in which Man is the link between God and Creation, is both displayed and explained. Dir./Prod: Dianna Cilento for Beshara Fouad
Whirling Dervishes. VHS. 12 min [Turkey]
Brief photographic essay of a performance of the Mehlevi dervishes dancing the sama, the Sufi ritual seeking spiritual union with God. Dir.: Giraard Vericruysse. Prod: Marc Mopty

Other films on Sufism available elsewhere (listed on WorldCat):

Dervishes of Kurdistan. Brian Moser, 1987. New York, N.Y.: Filmakers Library. The Disappearing world series. Describes the rituals and beliefs of the Qadiri Dervishes, Kurds who live along the border between Iran and Iraq. Explores the intertwining of religious and political power in the culture.

Heart of the Koran. Lex Hixon, 1989.  VHS tape  (29 min.) Wheaton, Ill.: Theosophical Society. Discusses unity of all major world religions, the Islamic world view, and daily practices in Islamic spiritual life.

An interview with Sheikh Muhammad Nazim Al-Haqqani Al-Qubrusi Al-Naqshbandi, Grand Sheikh of the Naqshbandi Sufi Tariqa. VHS tape  (60 min.). Altadena, CA: Islamic Information Service, 1999. The Shaikh talks about the role of Sufism in Islam, the Sufi approach to Islam and key terms.

Beyond the Pyramids lie fairgrounds of the faithful. Knowledge 2020, 1996. VHS tape  (45 min.). Venice, CA: Knowledge 2020. (Egyptian Sufi festivals).

Hubb ‘inda al-Sufiyah (Love among the Sufis). Abu al-Wafa Tiftazani, ‘Uthman Mahmud, 1980, 1984. Arabic motion picture film reel (26 min.); 16 mm. al-Qahirah: Wikalat lil-Sinima wa-al-Tilifiziyun. Documentary on Sufi habits with emphasis on three Sufi groups in Egypt: al-Dimirdashiyah, al-Shadhiliyah, and Rifa‘iyah.

Indian journeys. Dalrymple, William; Thomson, Hugh. New York, N.Y. : Filmakers Library, 1999.  Layer upon layer of archaeological ruins in India mirror its history of religious strife. Historian William Dalrymple guides viewers through the remains of edifices in the City of Delhi that played a role in religious confrontations. He shows where the Muslim Turks from Afghanistan built their mosque from the ruins of Hindu temples. Hindus and Muslims were always at war with only Sufism, a mystical religion of Persia, able to span the two religions....

Aatish, the fire within.
Asif, Khan; Khan, Zaheeruddin. Sadaf DVD, 2006, 2004.  DVD video of an Urdu soap opera. Yashir, an architect, is ill-treated by Sarfarz, his business partner. After Yashir joins another firm, he rejects the love of Asiya, the daughter of the new firm's owner. Asiya's father arranges her marriage to his nephew, Amir, a man interested only in Asiya's money. Asiya struggles to find meaning in her life, eventually turning to Sufism.  

Ishq, Dastan-e-Sufi.
Ali, Murad; Mehrotra, Rajiv, and others. New Delhi : Public Service Broadcasting Trust. DVD video. A cinematic document set in the village of Nizamuddin, built around the dargah of the Chishti saint Sheikh, Nizamuddin Auliya- a village which has survived over seven hundred years into to 21st century. "Sufism is the spiritual quest ,the heart of Islam. It is founded on ISHQ ,the love between the saints and God,the Pir (Master) and his Mureeds (Disiple) - an excessive love that finds no boundaries....

Ayodhya se Magahar tak. Rawat, V. B. Delhi: Social Development Foundation, 2001. Hindi documentary on Sufi shrines of Ayodhya.

City of Djinns. Dalrymple, William.; Thomson, Hugh. New York, N.Y. : Filmakers Library, Inc., 1999. Layer upon layer of archaeological ruins in India mirror its history of religious strife. Historian William Dalrymple guides viewers through the remains of edifices in the city of Delhi that played a role in religious confrontations.

Shan-i auliya. Shakir, `Usman. Lahaur: Darulhuda, 2006.  Panjabi speech on the the eminence of sufis according to ahl-i Hadith school of thought.

Soufis d'Afghanistan. Desjardins, Arnaud. Paris: Alizé diffusion, 2006. Documentary about the traditional culture of Islam in Afghanistan, produced in 1973 just before the start of the political conflicts and civil wars that have blighted the country since then. The documentary observes the Sufi rituals and the sufi disciples: the film maker reports on the social and private life of the Sufis, their cult to the Ancestors, their ascetic rituals (dhikr) and their holy sanctuaries....

The lamp in the niche. Karnad, Girish Raghunath; Zaidi, Shama, and others. India: Films Division, 1989. "A history of the mystical branch of Islam, Sufism, as it is practiced in India." Official Indian view of Sufism as secular and not Islamic.




Additional films on Sufism recommended by the Study of Islam Section of the American Academy of Religion:

I am a Sufi, I am a Muslim (Variety of sufi phenomena, sparks good discussion of “orthodoxy” and popular Sufism.)
 
Mystic Iran (Problematic but good footage of separate meetings of Kurdish men and women in Hadrah.)
 
Ways of Faith (Part of the PBS series by Basim Musallam named The Arabs.  It is about the community at Umm Duman in Sudan and makes too strong a conflict between Sufism and non-Sufism, but the dhikr, meetings with the shaykh, and the songs of praise are great.)

Rumi Returning: The Triumph of Divine Passion (2008, 57 minutes. Shown on PBS, the documentary of Rumi’s life was filmed in Afghanistan and Turkey.)

The Mystic’s Journey: Islamic Mysticism (Good old one by Huston Smith, nice and short, emphasis on South Asian celebrations but with footage of Moroccan, Iranian, and Turkish groups)
 
Three fantasy feature films by Nacer Khemir: Wanderers of the Desert; The Dove's Lost Necklace; and (the best one) Bab 'Aziz.  (Arabic and Persian with subtitles)

“I named her ‘Angel’” (About a Mevlevi girl. 30 minutes)
 
Door to the Sky (Feature film about Moroccan women with spiritual power, centered in a beautiful traditional courtyard Moroccan house which the main character turns into a shelter for abused women and Sufi gatherings.)
 
Hideous Kinky (Kate Winslett is confused about life and truth and wanders Morocco.)
 
Monsieur Ibrahim (Omar Sharif feature film with some Sufi flavor.)

A Voice from Heaven: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (The master of Qawwali, preferable to showing YouTube clips.)

Live Concert at the Royal Festival: Abida Parveen (For her fans, a feast. Of interest for the accomplishments of a female Qawwali singer.)

Takva (2006, directed by Ozer Kiziltan: The portrayal of one man's struggle within a Sufi order in Turkey is complex, and does not shy away from the problematic aspects of tariqas. The film has some extraordinary dhikr scenes. It works best if students have some background in Sufism. The final scenes are painful for the students but it balances “all-is-sweetness” films on Sufism.)

Meetings with Remarkable Men (The film is Peter Brook's adaption of Gurdjieff's book. It works best when students have some background historically tracking Euro-American interest in esoteric traditions and comparative spiritual practices.)

Rumi: Poet of the Heart  (Very good for talking about issues of translation.)

Rumi: The Wings of Love (Very good for the different dhikrs filmed, as well as interview clips with the late Martin Lings.)

     
Circle of Iron, also known as The Silent Flute--a martial arts film co-written by Bruce Lee.  While the film might be recommended on its own for attempting to represent "Zen" philosophy, there is a series of scenes in the film that closely mirrors the interaction of Moses and Khidr (see commentaries on Q 18:60ff) which is a popular story among Sufis.
 
Sufi Soul, a documentary by William Dalrymple (who mostly gets it right, though is a bit heavy on the "Sufism is the cure" for extremists and clash of civilization theorists alike). It focuses on musical traditions and is beautifully filmed in Morocco, Pakistan, India, Turkey and a bit in Syria.