The supreme beings
All Sudanese believe in the existence of supreme powers that influence all aspects of human life. Such supreme forces can act alone or through some selected persons on earth. Some individuals, therefore, by virtue of inheritance or personal merit, are God’s intermediaries on earth, holy persons. These intermediaries can wield power through the baraka (blessing) they acquire from their forebears, and the sacred knowledge they have learned. Sometimes they even subjugate jinns and employ them to achieve results..
The Dilling tribes of the Nuba Mountains believed in one Supreme Being, called Bail who manages human life through a number of uro spirits residing in the next world. On earth, the kujurs are mediums of these spirits and intercessors between uro and people. They are also believed to induce the uro to bless people with a good crop, happiness, and fecundity, or punish them with misfortune and sterility.
The Acholi believe that the world and the people in it were originally created by one god who is still supreme (lubana) but who is more or less inaccessible. In addition to creating people he also created a parallel world of spirits (Jok) who are active forces for good and evil (generally the latter) in men’s lives. These Joks marry and have children like human beings. Every stream has a Jok—sometimes in the form of a snake—rarely in the form of a hairy dwarf. The river Jok, for example, may be annoyed in various ways and the result is usually death. All cases of epilepsy, however, are attributed to Joks, and the only treatment available is to exorcise them out of the body.
Evans-Pritchard, in his search for the concept of God in the life of the Nuer tribe in southern Sudan identified, with much reservation, Kwoth as the equivalent of God.
Muslims firmly believe that Allah Almighty is omnipotent and omnipresent. Allah shapes life and dictates people’s behaviour. He ordains all action. Christians, of course, share this general monotheistic belief. Animist tribes in the southern and southeastern regions, however, have their own religions, with totems, fetishes and gods. They worship natural objects, natural phenomena, and animals. The Nile, the Moon, some animals and celestial constellations still rank very highly in their rituals, which would seem to reflect very ancient practices.
Resignation to God
Muslims firmly believe that God punishes sin both here and in the second life when evildoers are sent to hell. Punishment may come as disease, or the loss of wealth or children. People consider this type of punishment kaffara (expiation). They see it as a test of faith. That is why, whenever they are sick or in distress, patients invariably show enviable tolerance and patience. They or their next-of-kin keep saying: Al-hamdu li-Allah (thanks are due to God). Well-wishers, on the other hand, say to the sick: kaffara (may this illness be expiation to your body). Behind this is the constant belief that whatever one does—good or bad—and whatever happens in one’s life, God has already pre-ordained.
Cures and affliction in whatever form only happen “by the will of God.” Indeed, God also rewards human efforts and there are several incentives in heaven for the good deeds on earth. On earth, positive thinking and protective measures are seen as wise moves. The proverb: “prevention is better than cure” is universal.
The baraka (benediction, or blessing) means holiness in the Muslim sense of something given by God. It is an omnipotent quality and an attribute of holiness. It emanates from the Grace of God. It passes from God to holy persons, Al-awliya wa Al-salihin (the elect), and associates itself with them irrespective of whether they are alive or long dead, whether they are physically present or absent.
Such a holy person was Al-Khidr (peace be upon him), a righteous man of great influence on holy men and Sufis throughout the Muslim world. They regarded him as their naqib (senior). Though he was not among the prophets identified in the Quran, he has been granted the title. He was also thought of as an eternal figure with exceptional power of disguise. The Sudanese firmly believe that Al-Khidr is a pious and righteous man, even if not a prophet, with a baraka that can be invoked in distress. They utter his name to protect themselves against al-harq, wa al-gharaq, wa al-sharaq (burns, drowning, and choking) against al-sultan wa al-shaytan (governors and satans), and against scorpions and snakes.
The Sudan abounds in saintly persons. Several have gained much popularity and attracted many followers. They have attracted even more after their deaths because their baraka could still be had through their remains.
Though Sufism has its roots in the first century A. H., corporate self-perpetuating Sufi orders started with the Qadiriyya in the 13th century. Sufi orders or tariqas, offered doctrines and means for the conquest of the soul through an ascetic (zuhd) and quietistic (rida) life and devotion to God.
It was Sufi missionaries who spread Islam throughout the Sudan, and it is Sufism that has dominated life in the country, and developed the cult of saint worship as a religion for the masses. It is Sufism that has made secular as well as religious practices centre round the idealized personalities of holy men.
Sufi orders, Sufi leaders, and their practices and teachings have moulded the corpus of practical Islam; indeed, they have influenced every aspect of Sudanese daily life. Traditional healing practices were among the first to be influenced in theory and technique.
Each tariqa is handed down through a continuous spiritual succession starting with the Prophet Muhammad, through his companions Ali or Abu Bakr, down along a line of successors to the existing shaikh of the order. The present shaikh is, therefore, the spiritual heir of the founder, and he derives his authority from his immediate predecessor.
Such Sufis—shuyukh, fuqara, or awliya—are God’s intermediaries on earth. They are usually ascetic and pious. They have divine blessings. They intercede with God to perform superhuman feats and miracles, known as karamat. Many walis are believed to cure intractable diseases, help in treating infertility, and even resurrect the dead.
Holy persons bestow the baraka on others in person or through delegates. All things pertaining to them—burial places, clay collected from these, or personal belongings—remain sources of baraka after their deaths. For example, the tinat (clay) of the holy man Khogali Abu Al-Jazz of Halfaya village, if given to any man in need, is enough to ensure successful intercession with the Funj Sultans. The tinat of Ahmad wad Al-Turabi, on the other hand, is a sure treatment of rabies.
It is interesting to note that the power of such blessings extends to the political spheres. The Beja tribesmen in eastern Sudan have always been acknowledged as difficult to rule. Nonetheless, they submitted wholeheartedly to the guidance of shaikh Abd Allah Abu Raiyat. It was enough for this shaikh to send his prayer beads to settle any dispute among them. Among the Majadhib tribe, the ‘ukkaz (staff) of shaikh Abd Allah Al-Naqar acted for him when he was absent or sick. Trimingham has rightly noted that:
“The people may not always be sure of the efficacy of the baraka of living fekis, but they have a blind faith in that of their dead saint, normally spoken of as ‘our shaikh’ and always as though he were living. He is in fact supposed to be slumbering and manifests himself to people in dreams or trances. His powers to bless or blight cover almost every category of human need. His power is testified by the miracles performed on behalf not only of one’s dead ancestors, but also of one’s living family. It is impossible to manage one’s affairs properly without his help, whether it is the curing of a sick child, the winning of a wife, or the blessing of children.”
People seek holy persons or sometimes-blessed natural objects for the baraka to help them fulfill special needs. It is through the baraka that the holy person’s reach becomes wider.
Holy persons use this blessing of God to heal through prayer, charms, amulets and incantations. In more serious diseases, they use more elaborate methods that require the confinement of patients in the maseed, possibly starving them, and even whipping them until subdued. Baraka can avert disease and trouble, or injure an enemy; there are different means of invoking this blessing.
Invocations usually start with ya (oh) followed by the invoked name, be it that of God or a holy person. We therefore have several formulas, such as ya Allah or ya Hamad wa Khogali, or ya Abu Hashim hoad al-’ashim, and so on. These invocations precede the specific request.
To heal a believer or give a blessing, the holy man sends his baraka directly, through spittle or in writing. As already stated, the baraka is firmly believed to permeate everything pertaining to the holy persons: their shrines, personal property, clothes or even the clay of their burial place. All such items can confer the baraka on believers.
Muslims frequently invoke holy persons from within their burial places, darihs, to help them in disease or distress. It is also believed that the sheriefs (descendants of the Prophet Muhammad)—and many tribes claim this—are untouched by fire. Crowfoot reported that there was a family among the Rubatab called the Baridab, who can pick a needle out of a pot of boiling water, and that some of them can cook upon their hands.
The shrine cult
Shrines of various kinds are prominent features throughout Muslim Sudan. Several hundreds are along the Nile north of Sennar, north of Khartoum and along the Blue Nile. Many others are scattered throughout the country. Followers of Sufi orders perform pilgrimages to those shrines where their shaikhs are buried, no matter how far they may have to travel.
The sites of shrines and tombs may impart blessings and perform healing in themselves. One’s mere presence within or near them may be enough to effect a cure or answer an invocation.
There are different types of shrines: a qubba, a domed building, a darih, a simple mud building, and a bayan, a place where there has been a manifestation. If a believer should see a holy person in a dream, he or she would immediately announce the incident. A mud wall would be built around the site, and a flag raised to mark the place.
A shrine usually stands on the turba, grave, of a holy person. This, however, is not always the case. Shrines either mark the place where the holy person lived, where his after-birth was buried, or where the holy person appeared to a believer in a dream or a trance.
Followers and believers visit (pay ziyara) and sleep in these shrines in pursuit of blessings and treatment for various illnesses. Women, in particular, come to the shrine of their patron shaikh, in search of a cure for infertility. A shrine visit is not always in search of help, or lil tabarruk, for the sake of a blessing. It may be a simple gesture of veneration for the holy person.
Often, people pay tribute to holy persons and ask them to intercede with God to solve a certain problem or resolve a distressing conflict. They may ask them to grant them children, wealth or health. Sometimes they pay a visit specifically to fulfil a nadhr, conditional vow. A qatifa is a newly born ram, goat or camel given to a holy person in fulfillment of a vow. Some people sleep in shrines, while others touch their walls or palls.
While in the shrine, worshippers tell the holy person their complaints or wishes. In the process, they make a nadhr. They state that they will be back with a sacrifice if the saint is gracious. When they leave, they leave reminders behind. They hang a stick or a rag of cloth on the shrine wall. These items are to remind the holy persons of their followers.
Sacrifices are usually proportionate to the problem solved and are also consonant with the holy person’s reputation and the follower’s social status. Most commonly, people sacrifice an animal. At other times they recite the whole text of the Quran at the shrine, or wash the tomb and palls.
Some shrines are notable throughout Muslim Sudan. A few examples are shaikh Idris wad Al-Arbab qubba at ‘Aylafun, sidi Al-Hasan’s shrine in Kasala, and those of Al-Mikashfi Abu Umar, in the village of Shikainieba in Gezira, and Al-Ubaid Wad Badr and his sons in Um-Dubban village east of Khartoum.
Mothers invoke shaikh Khogali at the village Halfaya to help children cutting teeth. Mud from the shrine of Ahmad wad Al-Tiraifi, known as dabi al wa’ar wa khasim al-sa’ar (viper of wilderness and enemy of rabies) is reliable in treating dog bites. The qubbas of Ahmad wad Al-Tiraifi of Talhatain and the eighteen ‘Araki qubbas at Abu Haraz, especially that of Sharief Yusuf Abu Shara, are famous for fertility. We read in Trimingham’s Islam in the Sudan that:
“The women must spend seven Thursday nights inside or outside the qubba within its area. They are usually accompanied by their husbands and other relatives and the night is spent in drinking and singing. After the seventh night the khalifa gives them a paper inscribed with Quranic verses. If they conceive successfully, they bring the child to the khalifa when it is four months old. He shaves it and the mother gives him a waqiyya (1.32 oz.) of gold for a boy and half the amount for a girl. These visits are very popular and lorry-loads of women will arrive from Wad Medani and surrounding villages on Thursday nights.”
These shrines are also sanctuaries for runaways seeking refuge from enemies or those escaping justice. In addition, travellers often leave their personal belongings lying on the shrine wall or somewhere within it for safe-keeping until they come back. Nobody dares to touch these items as long as they are in the holy man’s custody. Many activities that people think need protection are initiated in shrines. All such activities show allegiance and respect to the holy person.
People take halifa, solemn oaths, here, as well as performing various ritual practices, for example, blessing the erupting teeth, or giving a child its first hair-cut, which are usually performed at the patron saint’s shrine. Abbashar Abu Bashariya is notable as a shaving shaikh.
On all occasions, worshippers provide the shrine with zwara, offerings. These consist of gifts (money, food or jewelry) and sacrifices. Failure to abide by these customs, or to fulfil a vow or an oath after a request is granted, or a condition is fulfilled, can have the direst consequences. These can befall oneself, one’s possessions or one’s children. People quote many stories of persons who have developed acute illnesses or sudden paralysis, or who have lost a child or a valued possession because they did not observe some condition. Individuals remain cursed until they fulfil the promised vow or oath.
People believe that God always responds to the wali’s shifa’a (appeal), although some persons intercede between people and God more effectively than others. This is because they are more pious and righteous. Such people’s appeals and their da’wa (curses) always produce results.
Al-Tabaqat, the famous historical chronicle on the Sudan during the Funj Kingdom, abounds in stories of holy persons who could apply highly noxious or even fatal curses on others. A powerful wali is frequently described as idu lahqa (has a longer reach). Yilhaq and yifza’ are verbs indicating that the specified wali never lets down an applicant.
Parents’ curses on refractory children are invariably effective. Almost all the young strenuously seek their parents’ forgiveness before death. They would feel extremely guilty if they were to miss bidding either of them their last farewell. They insist that they hear such forgiveness in person. If this is not possible, those attending at the death-bed will convey this message speedily to the late-coming son or daughter.
Subjugation of jinns
The occult power religious healers have is not only due to the baraka. They may also possess magical esoteric knowledge that enables them to perform supernatural feats, and sometimes press jinns and shayatin into their service. The subjugation of jinns for the purpose of inflicting harm on people was the practice of fakis rather than faqirs.
Sudanese healers had access to several books of occult sciences popular in medieval Islamic countries, and there is evidence that these were studied purposefully. Faki Jibril of Al-Fadlab village was said to be so refined a Sufi that he was able to communicate with jinns and solve their internal disputes. It was narrated that he held an agreement with them called al-mudayana stating that no jinns should enter or harm any member of his village, Al-Fadlab. This treaty, it was quoted, held good at the time, and probably still does.
Pilgrimage to Makka
Sudanese people perform the hajj to the Grand Mosque in Makka as a religious obligation. While in Makka, they freely invoke Almighty God to bless them with health, wealth and a happy life both here and in the hereafter. They also drink and wash themselves with the water of the Zamzam well because of its healing and holy qualities.
The hajj, the canonical pilgrimage to the Grand Mosque in Makka, is one of the five pillars of Islam. Pilgrimage is a series of rites that take a few hours in the case of ‘umra or a few days, with high degree of hardship, in the case of the hajj. It is obligatory on all Muslims who can afford to reach the Holy City without compromising their health or means, or those of their families.
The pilgrimage starts with the tawaf, the circumambulation of the Ka’ba, This consists of seven circuits around the Holy House. Each circuit starts and finishes at al-hajar al-aswad, black stone. At the start of each circuit, the pilgrim makes a gesture at its site or kisses it if that is possible. Many pilgrims would fight their way to touch or kiss the sacred stone for the sake of blessing. This is usually difficult because of the thousands of worshippers present at the place at any particular time. When pilgrims complete the tawaf, and before embarking on sa’ai, they visit the Zamzam well. They drink freely from the water, and wash themselves. This act is a rite in both hajj and ‘umra.
Zamzam water when brought back home after the pilgrimage makes a great gift for well-wishers. The Prophet Muhammad was quoted as saying that this water ‘is for whatever it is taken for,’ which is to say, the water can be medicinal. Patients suffering from some intractable infirmity drink or rub the affected parts of their bodies with a wet hand hoping for a blessed cure.
The Mahdi’s ban on sacrilege
Practices related to the worshipping of saints must have been quite popular in the last century. The Mahdi, in his theocratic state, the Mahdiyya (1881-1898) tried to reform the morals and change the customs of the Sudanese people. In doing so, he completely banned several practices. He declared non-Islamic and, therefore, unlawful, the practice of magic, the prescription of ahjiba (amulets), and ta’ziem (spitting cures). He banned bika (loud wailing for the dead) and visiting shrines for the sake of the baraka. Nobody was allowed to take alcoholic beverages, smoke tobacco or use snuff. Even music and festivities were considered blasphemy. Processions, marriage and circumcision feasts were forbidden, as well as all types of music, except when employed in a summons to war.
The Mahdi renounced these customs and practices as earthly vanities on the grounds that this world can be kept in peace only through abstinence from amusements and through prayer. He also ordered his adherents and all the Sudanese to put aside everything that bore the slightest resemblance to the manners and customs of Turks [here meaning any fair-skinned foreigner during colonial rule] and infidels.
The practices that the Mahdi outlawed, had until then formed the essence of Sudanese social life. They remained underground throughout the Mahdiyya, but returned in full force after its downfall. The Mahdi’s adherents, known as Ansar, visit his qubba in Omdurman as a sign of veneration and lil-tabarruk, in search of blessing. Khalifa Abdu Allah, known as Khalifat Al-Mahdi (the successor of the Mahdi), reigned l885-1898, later delivered an ordinance permitting visiting the Mahdi’s tomb as a pious act. Such a visit, he added, should not be regarded as pilgrimage but as a pious visit only.
 Kujur and Kujuriya for the female (plural kujara and kujuriyat respectively) are the terms used by the Arabs who came in contact with the Nuba, to become a universal designation for mediums among other tribes.
 Grove, Captain E. T. N. Op. Cit.
 Evans-Pritchard, E.E. Op. Cit. Pages 2-3.
 Baraka is a ‘blessing’ from God. Saints possess it in its highest degrees. God bestows baraka arbitrarily on persons regardless of merit. The baraka of a saint can be transferred to posterity; it can even be inherited by those of vile conduct. Natural objects and harmless idiots can also possess baraka. Some acts are believed to be rewarded by the gift of baraka. An example of such an act is fatiha, the symbolic act of raising the hands, palms up, while reciting the fatiha, the opening chapter of the Holy Quran. The palms are, then, drawn down the face. This act is believed to merit the bestowal of baraka. See Trimingham, J. S., Islam in the Sudan for further discussion.
 Trimingham, J.S. Islam in the Sudan. London: Oxford University Press; 1949: 128.
 See Yusuf Fadl Hasan, editor. Muhammad Al-Nur Ibn Daif Allah ( -1809). Kitab Al-tabaqat fi khusus Al-awliya wa l-salihin wa l-ulama wa l-shu’ara (1805!), Khartoum; Khartoum University Press, 1985, editorial note page 37 for more details and sources of more information.
 In the course of this book a variety of holy persons’ designations will recur. These are briefly defined below:
1. The faqir (literally poor), plur. fuqara, is a sufi missionary; it also means a sufi follower, a member of a fraternity or a student of the Quran.
2. The faki, plur. fukaya or fuqara (jurist); sometimes written faqi or faqih in Sudanese chronicles; faqih, plur. fuqaha, in classical Arabic is a teacher of fiqh (jurisprudence) or simply a school master; a teacher of the Quran. He could also be a sufi. Faki is used interchangeably with faqir and the two are used without discrimination to denote a Sufi missionary. Faki may simply denote a wise person, or a dubious dealer in charms and amulets. For lack of an exact English equivalent, scholars have described fuqara as jurisconsults, clergymen, sufi mendicants, religious officiants, etc.
3. Shaikh, plur. shuyukh, is the head of a religious fraternity or a clan; many of the shaikhs are sufi missionaries.
4. A wali, plur., awliya, also described as salih, (literally righteous) plur. salihin, is a dead holy person. Awliya are people who live in the presence of God. The word is derived from wala, to be near. Wali in the Quran is applied to God as ‘patron’ or ‘guardian’; it is used for ‘guardian’ in a general sense; and as a ‘friend’ or ‘ally’ of God. See J.S. Trimingham, Islam in the Sudan, for further discussion.
5. A khalifa is the successor of a holy person, usually a family member who automatically inherits the baraka along with the office.
 Karama, plur. karamat, miracles, is an honour God bestows upon a holy person. mu’jiza and ayah (sign) are acts of God performed through a prophet to prove his mission (da’wa).
 For more examples of miracles wrought by walis, the reader is refered to Al-Tabaqat.
 Trimingham, J.S. Op. Cit. Pages 141, 142.
 Crowfoot, J.W. Customs of the Rubatab. Sudan Notes and Records; 1918; 1: 119-134.
 Trimingham, J.S. Op. Cit. Pages 145-46.
 Al-Tayib Muhammad Al-Tayib. Al-fuqara as-habb al-maratib. Jaridat Al-Ayyam 1987.
 This is a stone set in the wall of the Ka’ba in its southeast corner. A Hadith, saying of the Prophet Muhammad, says that it came down from heaven. Tradition says that Adam placed it in the original Ka’ba. Later it was hidden in the Meccan mountain of Abu Qubays. When Abraham rebuilt the Ka’ba, the Angel Gabriel brought the stone out and gave it to him. See Cyril Glasse: The Concise Encyclopaedia of Islam, for further information.
 Zamzam is a well near the Ka’ba and within the Grand Mosque of Makka. We read in Cyril Glasse The concise Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1989, that:
"the spring of Zamzam appeared when Hagar and her son Ishmael, abandoned in the desert, had exhausted the water in the goatskin given them by Abraham. Then Hagar cast herself to and fro in desperation, but God heard Ishmael (Ismail; the name in Hebrew means "God hears") and the water gushed forth, making the sound zam, zam."
 For the full text see Muhammad Ibrahim Abu Salim. Manshurat Al-Mahdiyya.