I had arrived in Sudan the day before, and got the bus to Khartoum on a Friday (which is effectively the Islamic Sabbath). After arranging my hotel, a cool Sudanese guy approached me and told me that at Hamed el-Nabil Mosque, people would be “dancing to worship Allah” and that I should go along. Of course I was game but I didn’t want to offend anyone by infringing on their religion, so I asked a couple of sagely looking guys do they think it would be ok for me to go along..
“Of course sir”, they insisted “thank you for coming to Sudan and thank you for your interest in our faith”. Amazing country, amazing people.
So I hopped in a rickshaw and off I went to Omdurman, in the north west of the city. It apparently started around 3pm but when I got there I was told it didn’t get going until around 6 or 7 but, being Sudan, it’s impossible to be bored. So I choose one of the 10 offers of food and tea and sat down with a group of people.
When the time came I wondered into the Mosque with a local English teacher (who incidentally offered me a job teaching in his school!). There were about 2000 people who had come here to worship and, aside from 2 Italian pilots who lived there and worked for the World Food Program, there were no other tourists.
Everyone was hugely interested in my presence; one guy specifically approached me to discuss the benefits of international travel, the merits of Christianity (note: he assumed I was Christian) working alongside Islam – his monologue finished with a big smile, a hearty handshake and a huge bearhug!
Anyway, the ceremony got underway and the crowd formed a circle outside the mosque, where a couple of men were dancing and shaking instruments in the middle. The crowd began to chant slowly and quietly. A few more people joined the men in the middle and the crowd picked up the pace a little bit. Before I knew it, about 15 men where in the centre circle (turns out they were the Chiefs) and the crowd began chanting and swaying rhythmically with more vigour.
This carried on while more guys marched into join the Chiefs; they were carrying and burning frankincense which intensified the atmosphere further still. By this point the entire crowd we’re rocking back and forth in unison, closing in on the Chiefs. Whirling dervishes were running into the centre of the circle and spinning uncontrollably as they chanted in Arabic. People were being to become entranced and whole place was reaching fever pitch. I was sweating just watching proceedings.