Home » Features » Inside The Mystic Journeys Of Egypt’s Sufis
A man reacts during a hadra (Sufi zikr and chanting) at Ali Zein Al-Abdeen Mosque. The anniversary of Imam Ali’s death is also known as the “Ragabya.”

Inside The Mystic Journeys Of Egypt’s Sufis

Up-and-coming documentary photographer Ahmed Gaber has spent the last few months traveling Egypt to document the nation’s Sufi moulids. We bring you highlights of his journey as he follows believers in search of redemption, happiness and the ultimate truth.

In the shadows at Abu Al-Hassan Al-Shazly Mosque on Humaithera.

In the shadows at Abu Al-Hassan Al-Shazly Mosque on Humaithera.

photos by Ahmed Gaber

Although he’s only 20 years old, critically acclaimed documentary photographer Ahmed Gaber is already making a name for himself with his gritty street photography.

“I began my journey in photography three years ago and for me documentary photography is my ticket to the discovery of new places, people and cultures,” says the Alexandrian-born Gaber, who has moved to Cairo to pursue his passion.

A few months ago, Gaber, fascinated with Sufi traditions in Egypt, decided to traverse the country’s governorates and villages following Sufi believers as they visited moulids to celebrate their revered teachers.

A man takes a nap inside Sidi Al-Hassan Mosque on Humaithera. People sleep on Humaithera Mountain and spend their day praying, exactly as if they are on Mount Arafat in Saudi Arabia.

A man takes a nap inside Sidi Al-Hassan Mosque on Humaithera. People sleep on Humaithera
Mountain and spend their day praying, exactly as if they are on Mount Arafat in Saudi Arabia.

Sufism in Egypt goes back to the third higri century (the hijri calendar begins its count from 622 CE, the year of the migration of Prophet Muhammad and his followers from Mecca to Medina). Today, Gaber says, there are 76 different tariqas or orders officially recognized in Egypt, with a reported 15 million followers as of 2011 believing the mystical teaching and spiritual practices will lead them to haqiqa, or “ultimate truth.”

A Sufi during Moulid Sidi Al-Sayed Al-Badawy.

A Sufi during Moulid Sidi Al-Sayed Al-Badawy.

Sufi believers are not concentrated in any one area in Egypt but are spread out across the country’s cities, governorates and villages — and the faith is growing. “It is clear that interest in Sufi sentiment has been on the rise since the January 2011 revolution,” Gaber says, adding that the fascination with the mystic traditions has encouraged Sufis to become outspoken in their beliefs and in their public displays of faith.

A young boy places a few small rocks to mark his place on the mountain. Visiting Humaithera is too arduous a journey to make more than once in a lifetime, so people do mark the spot they’ve worshipped at to honor their holy visit.

A young boy places a few small rocks to mark his place on the mountain. Visiting Humaithera is
too arduous a journey to make more than once in a lifetime, so people mark the spot they’ve
worshipped at to honor their holy visit.

Gaber visited various governorates, from Tanta (home of three annual festivals held in honor of Ahmad al-Badawi, a revered Sufi figure of the 13th century who founded the Badawiyya Tariqa in Egypt and is buried in that city’s main mosque) to Daqahliya — where Sufi followers gather to celebrate the birthday of late Sufi cleric Ibrahim Al-Dessouki at his mosque and shrine — and deep into the Egyptian desert to the mountain of Humaithera to document the “Hajj of the Poor.”

A group of Sufi dervishes pose for a portrait in their tent. Moulid-goers spend the weeklong celebration in their tents performing khedma (service) to the grand sheikh who offers them food and refuge. Each khedma has its own sheikh.

A group of Sufi dervishes pose for a portrait in their tent. Moulid-goers spend the week-long celebration in their tents performing khedma (service) to the grand sheikh who offers them food and refuge. Each khedma has its own sheikh.

“As a documentary photographer, I see there are many reasons and ways Egyptians celebrate moulids. On my travels accompanying the festival-goers, I heard many of their reasons and ideas; some of them visit moulids to worship, seek redemption and get closer to God while others see it as a chance to celebrate and have a good time.”

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INTERGALACTIC COMPANY
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Jojn Doe, CEO
Tel.: +1 (800) 123-45-67, +1 (800) 123-45-68
Fax: +1 (800) 123-45-69 (any time, 24/7/365)
E-mail: info@intergalactic.company
Website: http://www.intergalactic.company
Address:
221, Mount Olimpus,
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INTERGALACTIC COMPANY
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Jojn Doe, CEO
Tel.: +1 (800) 123-45-67, +1 (800) 123-45-68
Fax: +1 (800) 123-45-69 (any time, 24/7/365)
E-mail: info@intergalactic.company
Website: http://www.intergalactic.company
Address:
221, Mount Olimpus,
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Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy
INTERGALACTIC COMPANY
"Ridiculus enim cras placerat facilisis amet lorem ipsum scelerisque sagittis lorem tis!"
Jojn Doe, CEO
Tel.: +1 (800) 123-45-67, +1 (800) 123-45-68
Fax: +1 (800) 123-45-69 (any time, 24/7/365)
E-mail: info@intergalactic.company
Website: http://www.intergalactic.company
Address:
221, Mount Olimpus,
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INTERGALACTIC COMPANY
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Jojn Doe, CEO
Tel.: +1 (800) 123-45-67, +1 (800) 123-45-68
Fax: +1 (800) 123-45-69 (any time, 24/7/365)
E-mail: info@intergalactic.company
Website: http://www.intergalactic.company
Address:
221, Mount Olimpus,
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Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy
INTERGALACTIC COMPANY
"Ridiculus enim cras placerat facilisis amet lorem ipsum scelerisque sagittis lorem tis!"
Jojn Doe, CEO
Tel.: +1 (800) 123-45-67, +1 (800) 123-45-68
Fax: +1 (800) 123-45-69 (any time, 24/7/365)
E-mail: info@intergalactic.company
Website: http://www.intergalactic.company
Address:
221, Mount Olimpus,
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Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy
INTERGALACTIC COMPANY
"Ridiculus enim cras placerat facilisis amet lorem ipsum scelerisque sagittis lorem tis!"
Jojn Doe, CEO
Tel.: +1 (800) 123-45-67, +1 (800) 123-45-68
Fax: +1 (800) 123-45-69 (any time, 24/7/365)
E-mail: info@intergalactic.company
Website: http://www.intergalactic.company
Address:
221, Mount Olimpus,
Rheasilvia region, Mars,
Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy
INTERGALACTIC COMPANY
"Ridiculus enim cras placerat facilisis amet lorem ipsum scelerisque sagittis lorem tis!"
Jojn Doe, CEO
Tel.: +1 (800) 123-45-67, +1 (800) 123-45-68
Fax: +1 (800) 123-45-69 (any time, 24/7/365)
E-mail: info@intergalactic.company
Website: http://www.intergalactic.company
Address:
221, Mount Olimpus,
Rheasilvia region, Mars,
Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy