ALBANIA, The Rufais


Allah, Allah, Allah… » Two dozen~worshippers chant the name of their God while swaging back and forth to a staccato rhythm. Half naked, wearing small white caps, half in trances, they stab short rods through their cheeks tearce their tongues, their ears, their stomachs. Beads of sweat form on their chest but no blood flows. The only sound is the chanted name of Allah.

The ceremony takes place in an old « teque which during the black Years of communism was used as a warehouse. The small room is packed, people crowding in to see the incredible sight, a sight which existed until recently only as something lost far in the past.

The Dervishes continue their litany while assiduously licking pokers that have been heated to a hot white. they don’t seem to suffer, they are in adoration before their God, the God of Mohammed and of his prophet Ali: these are Rufais one of the dozen sheete sect which existed in Albania before the Cultural Revolution. Once again the liberating cry resounds: « Allah, Allah, Allah… » the suffering that they inflict on themselves today actually represents for them the symbol of a miraculous renaissance. they are breaking with 26 Years of dictatorship, 26 years during which the practice of religion was punishable by death.

In 1969, after a speedy and bloody Cultural Revolution, the dictator Enver Hoxha abolished God by legal decree: Catholics and orthodox priests and mollahs were sent to concentration camps and executed, churches and mosques were destroyed or transformed into warehouses or gymnasiums. God has abandoned Albania. Forever it seemed, and the black night of a dictatorship was the only light the people were allowed to see. There had once been in the pre-communist Albania, a very active religious life. In addition to the three main religions, Greek orthodox, Catholicism and the Sunni branch of Islam, there were about a dozen of cheetes sects: Bektachis, Kadris, Halveti, Rufais, etc… Eittle by little, religion is now making his appearance again. Sacred objects, the cross, holy books are being unearthed, replacing the symbols of communism and its cult of the « New Man ». The statue of the dictator have been pulled down, God has returned.

Photo: in the « teque » of Skodra, Northern Albania, the first dervish ceremony in 26 Years, since the banning of religion.

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ALBANIA, The Rufais

THE RETURN OF RELIGIOUS SECTS Allah, Allah, Allah… » Two dozen~worshippers chant the name of their…


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Michel Setboun

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