Transcribed Notes of Professor Neathery Fuller

Information in brackets ( ) added to clarify but not part of the original notes. (Neathery was 5 months pregnant with Amira Fuller during the visit on this hot July night. One significant event of the evening was that the baby seemed to sense the drum sounds and began to move inside Neathery during the evening. The Sufi women found this to be very symbolic of her future as a woman who would respond to music and be moved to dance.)

Neathery Fuller
Notes for 12 July 1994 (Tuesday)

Persons involved in these notes:

Neathery Fuller, Adjunct Professor of Anthropology, SLCC
Michael Fuller, Professor of Anthropology, SLCC
Sharon, an undergraduate student studying at both Grinell College and SLCC
KT, a longtime friend of Professor Fuller and well-known scholar in Damascus, Syria
Sheik Muhammad (alias), important Sufi leader in Damascus, Syria
Umm Muhammad (alias), wife of important Sufi leader in Damascus, Syria

Neathery's sketch of the courtyard where she participated with Sufi women in a ritual

KT picked us up in his car and took us to this backstreet. Fortunately, we parked across the street from a scarf shop where Michael bought Sharon and I white scarves.

At first we greeted the hostess (Umm Muhammad) who was wearing short flowered house dress and her friend (neighbor, too, I believe) who was wearing a motor coat [type of conservative Muslim woman's dress common in Jordan and Syria] and scarf. Our hostess got a scarf to cover her legs from a wardrobe, then, after a while [Umm Muhammad] got a long dress and put it on. She had some trouble with her knees getting up and down although she was not really old. Looked 50 (years old), probably 40 (years old).

Her husband looked much younger, early 40s. He has dark hair. She has silver streaks.

Michael says the Sheik is 34 years old. Their daughter looked between 18 and 20. Umm Muhammad's daughter was there. She was dressed in conservative modern dress, but no head covering. Umm Muhammad has a son who drums fantastic.

We moved outside where it was cooler.

Around 10 PM, 2 women dressed very conservatively, almost veiled, black around her head and neck, like Jordan, arrived with a daughter who looked like Brook Shield and who had conservative head gear in nice bright yellow. The two older ladies rocked back and forth in time to beat (of the drums) and did prayer beads - the full 99 kind (devote Muslims will repeat the 99 Arabic names of God as a meditation/prayer).

Sharon and I could get up occasionally when motioned to so and go look in the grill (to the room where the men were praying and dancing...also where Michael was with KT). Hot, moist air poured out through the grilled window (into the courtyard where the women were praying). The Sufi women made a motion like washing their face in the air passing though the grill. Sharon said the motion was what people do when praying and that the women do not kneel.

We sat some more listening to the chanting. It was very hypnotic. The chanting reached a crescendo and then broke off. Lots of men shouting the word Allah (Arabic, "God") and two loud screams then silence, then bang!

The youngest son burst into the room and all of us went up about 3 feet into the air. It turned out that he was scared and reporting that a man had charged either Michael or the picture of Mecca with a sword.

We listened for a while longer. All during the ceremony the boys would bring small drums, streched skin on wood - to the kitchen area and place them on a gas burner to tighten the skin. I guess the incredible moisture in the Sufi's room was making the drums go slack. Some of the wood hoops showed signs of scortching.

Umm Muhammad appeared with a fright bowl like one we had purchased in Aleppo. It has dingle-dangles on the inner bowl rim and 2 lines from the Quran around the outside rim. She filled the bowl with water pouring it into the inner cup. First the boy (who had been so badly frightened by the mad man) drank, then Sharon and I, then everyone, since we had all had a fright.

A little girl kept hanging on the grill and then talking and everyone hushed her.

I could only see straight through the grill and see Michael and huge poster of Mecca, and a man in a white galabeya (Arabic, traditional man's long cotton tunic) with microphone.

Green light in the room. Green banner. Around the top of the wall were swords, knives, flagellating things - all objects I recognized from Saint's grave, weli (Arabic, "Holy Person's grave") in Aleppo.