Zikri rituals in Harar

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Author : Simone Tarsitani

Year : 2009

These web pages were prepared by Dr Simone Tarsitani during a Leverhulme Trust Visiting Fellowship (November 2008 – September 2009) at the Music Department of the Open University, drawing on over ten years of research on the Islamic rituals performed in Harar, Ethiopia. The main purpose of the work has been to develop a comprehensive analysis of the performance of the rituals, based on the large body of audiovisual documentation collected during previous fieldwork.

Zikri is the Harari word for the Arabic “dhikr” and refers to an exercise (typical of Sufism), which consists of the repetition of the name of God in order to receive his blessing. The rituals performed in the city of Harar, important centre of Islamic learning in Ethiopia, are derived from the influence of Sufi orders, widespread in the Islamized areas of the Horn of Africa. However, the cult of saints in Harar developed particular beliefs and rules that go beyond the discipline of Sufi orders and zikri rituals can be considered an original expression and one of the unique elements of the culture of this town. The wide repertoire of texts written in the local language, the sung melodies and their rhythmic accompaniment, the ritual and social function of their performance developed distinctive characteristics. Historically and contemporaneously, zikri rituals have permeated Harari life and the repertoire of songs has expanded beyond its origin of liturgical hymns, to become one of the facets of Harari identity.

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