Sufis beat drums during the Dhikr at Mawlid celebrations.
A Sudanese sufi dances during Mawlid celebrations.

A Sudanese sufi dances during Mawlid celebrations. Phil Moore, 2012.

A couple of weeks ago Hamid Dabashi’s article “Can Non-Europeans Think?” was making the usual hype motions on the web. The New York-based Iranian professor took righteous offense at Santiago Zambala’s list of the “important and active philosophers today,” which failed to name any thinker thinking outside Europe (except for Judith Butler [does New York count as Europe?]), and used the opportunity to reflect on the geography of Philosophy’s exclusions:

They are the inheritors of multiple (now defunct) empires and they still carry within them the phantom hubris of those empires and they think their particular philosophy is “philosophy” and their particular thinking is “thinking”, and everything else is – as the great European philosopher Immanuel Levinas was wont of saying – “dancing”.

The ‘Eurocentrism’ which Dabashi finds in Zambala’s list of good philosophers merits the analogy with Levinas (more on him here), whose dancing remark is intended to emphasise the history of this exclusion of non-European thinkers. Thought conversely, the task and activity of philosophy is not so different from that of dancing. But I’m thinking of different philosophers.

In an early work, Karl Marx defined the task of his criticism in terms of dancing: ‘these petrified social conditions must be made to dance by singing their own melody to them. The people must be taught to be terrified of itself, in order to give it courage.’ This philosophy would not, according to Dabashi’s marriage of Zambala and Levinas, be considered “important and active”; perhaps then it is only these unimportant philosophers – Marx and the non-Europeans – who are able to see how the best forms of thinking, speaking and writing are always already a kind of dancing.

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Sufis beat drums during the Dhikr at Mawlid celebrations.

Sufis beat drums during the Dhikr at Mawlid celebrations. Phil Moore, 2012.

Phil Moore is a photojournalist currently working in Islamabad but mostly based in East Africa. These images are from his 2012 series Sufism in Sudan. The following text is his own.

“If there is a family in Sudan that does not have at least one Sufi member, it is not Sudanese.”

Sufism is the mystical element of Islam, with sufis first coming to Sudan in the sixteenth century.

Every Friday at the Hamid el-Nil mosque in Omdurman, groups of sufis come together to engage in the dhikr. Come Mawlid, the birthday of the Prophet Mohamed (and a celebration which is seen as haram in certain groups of Muslims), thousands of sufis come together across the capital to hear stories about the prophet, pray and dance together.

Sufis sit during a recital of stories of the life of the Prophet Mohamed during Mawlid celebrations.

Sufis sit during a recital of stories of the life of the Prophet Mohamed during Mawlid celebrations.

Mawlid celebrations, Omdurman.

Mawlid celebrations, Omdurman.

Mawlid celebrations in Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman.

Mawlid celebrations in Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman.

A Sudanese lady fries doughnuts during celebrations for Mawlid.

A Sudanese lady fries doughnuts during celebrations for Mawlid.

Sufis celebrate the birth of the Prophet Mohamed for Mawlid in Omdurman.

Sufis celebrate the birth of the Prophet Mohamed for Mawlid in Omdurman.

A Sudanese man threads Islamic prayer beads to sell during Mawlid celebrations.

A Sudanese man threads Islamic prayer beads to sell during Mawlid celebrations.

Sweets sold during Mawlid celebrations.

Sweets sold during Mawlid celebrations.