The path of ecstasy

The path of ecstasy

Noureddine Khourshid et les derviches de Damas

Mystical tales attribute a divine origin to music, recounting that the celestial soul refused to become incarnate, but was seduced by the voice of an angel ordered by God to settle inside the body so as to attract it there. Now trapped inside the body, it has kept a nostalgia for its origins. This is how the Sufis sing of their separation from the original source and their ardent desire to be reunited with it.
The ensemble on this album brings together nine hymn-singers from the Shadhiliyya order around the person of Nureddin Khurshid to present some wasla-s, suites of music and poetry. This is the musical setting for a ceremony held in the zawiya, holy places for the religious cult, with the presence of the famous whirling dervishes.


1Al-Adhân/Call to prayer – 5’21
2Tartil al-Qur’ân/Psalmody of an excerpt from the Koran, sura 33, verses 40-48 – 6’33
3Iftitâhiyyat al-mawlid/Prelude to the celebration of the Prophet’s birth – 2’58
4Ta’tîrat al-mawlid/Invocation – 00’42
5Khabbiri yâ nusayma/Tell now, oh soft breeze… – 4’09
6Yâ kâfil al-‘aytâm/Oh Thou protector of orphans – 5’46
7Mâlik ul-mulk/Oh Lord of Lords – 3’12
8Atânî zamânî/My time has given me… – 2’34
9Hibbî malak muhjatî/My beloved possesses my soul – 2’07
10Khayr al-bariyya/Oh most sublime of all creatures – 3’56
11Yâ rabbî/Oh my God – 1’40
12Nadharî ilâ wajh al-habîb/Contemplating the face of the beloved – 3’03
13 Inna qalbî dhû huyâm/My heart is passionate – 4’41
14Malaktum fû’âdî/You have taken possession of my heart – 2’22
15Yâ imâm al-rusl/Oh imam of the envoys of God – 1’52
16Yâ rabb bis-siddiq/Oh God, by al-Siddiq – 2’40
17Lammâ rabî° ibtadâ/At the beginning of Rabi’ – 4’40
18Al-salât °alâ al-mudhallal/Prayers on him who is sheltered… – 1’30
19 Hâtihâ sirfan/Serve the pure – 3’11
20Burûq al-Hayy/Lights from the dwelling places… – 1’43
21 Rufi°at astâr al-bayn/The veils of distance have been lifted – 1’47
22Adir dhikra man ahwâ/Pass round the memory of the one I love – 3’40
23 ‘Îh, yâ nasîm al-ashâr/Ah, redolent dawn breeze – 2’56
24Bashshirû ahl al-ma’ânî/Announce the good news – 1’59

Interpreters and instruments

Noureddine Khourshid (singing)
Abdulghani abou Alchaer (choir)
Omar Al Zaghouri (choir)
Kefah Antar (choir)
Hassan Arbach (singing)
Basem Kadmani (percussion)
Mohamad Kartoumeh (singing)
Ibrahim Khourshid (singing, percussion)
Mamdouh Kjij (singing)
Ayman Mohamad (singing, percussion)


The path of ecstasy

Several mystical tales attribute a divine origin to music, recounting that the soul, whose very nature is celestial, refused to take form, but was seduced by the voice of an angel ordered by God to settle inside the body so as to attract it there. It is now trapped inside the body, but has kept a nostalgia for its origins ever since it was parted from them.

All this has been wonderfully put into words by the great mystic Jaladdin al-Rumi in his famous poem “The Nay’s Lament”: Listen to the story told by the reed/ of being separated./ Since I was cut from the reedbed/ I have made this crying sound/ that draws tears in man and woman alike […]. Anyone far from their source/ longs to go back.” This is how the Sufis sing of their separation from the original source and their ardent desire to be reunited with it.

The sama’ (spiritual concert) and the trance-like dance of the hadra (divine presence) are the direct expression of the many mystical ways to God, such as that practised by the 12th century Qadiriyya order, the Mawlawis and the Shadhiliyya (13th century). The basic aim is always to grow nearer to God by purifying the soul through the practice of dhikr (remembrance/ invocation of God’s name).

The procedure for the Sufi sama can be purely vocal or have an instrumental accompaniment, according to the order and its rules. Those where instruments are used consider them to be an integral part of the ritual, so they’re not played for pleasure, but only with the express aim of praising the Creator. 

Parallel to the sung repertory of each Sufi order, the tradition of the inshad (religious hymnody) developed too in the Muslim part of the Arab world. This tradition is perpetuated by professional hymn-singers (cantors) (munshidin and maddah) who may come from the Sufi orders, though not necessarily so. They are invited to lead religious ceremonies or private parties, particularly at the time of Mawlid (the anniversary of the Prophet’s birth), and other holy days.

The ensemble and its instrumental accompaniment

The ensemble presented here, consisting of ten munshid, hymn-singers from the Shadhiliyya order, together with three dancers from the Mawlawi order, is well known for its serious approach and clear execution, and has made guest appearances at several events in Syria, the Lebanon and Jordan, as well as on Syrian national radio and television.

The Shadhiliyya order, one of the most important in the Arab world, was founded according to the teachings and spiritual authority of a great Moroccan mystic, Abu al-Hasan al Shadhili (1196-1258), who settled in Alexandria. From there his spiritual teachings spread right across the East and the Maghreb. After his death, the Shadhiliyya order was organised under the leadership of Shadhili’s Andalusian disciple, Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi, (d. 1286), then by one of al-Mursi’s pupils, the Egyptian Ibn Atallah al-Iskandari (d. 1309), a major figure in Sufism. The teaching spread, and the order exists in many different Arab countries, including Egypt, Syria and the countries of North Africa. 

The Mawlawi (or Mevlevi) order takes its name from Mawlana (our master), the nickname of Jaladdin al-Rumi (1207-1273), the spiritual master and founder of an order in Konya (Turkey), organised after his death by his oldest son, Sultan Valad. As well as the dhikr common to all the Sufi orders, Rumi instigated the whirling dance for his disciples, known in the West as “the dance of the whirling dervishes”. Originally – and in some cases the tradition continues – this dance was the spontaneous outward manifestation of an inner mystic state (hal) that seizes the adept at the least allusion to spirituality. Some Sufis explain the origins of this dance with the following anecdote: “Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, may God be pleased with him, the companion of the Prophet, was with God’s Messenger, may God’s prayer and greeting be upon him, when the Angel Gabriel appeared to the Prophet and said, “Tell Abu Bakr that God sends him greetings and says that He is pleased with him. And He wants to know if he’s pleased with God?” As soon as Abu Bakr heard the Prophet’s account of the Angel’s tidings, he began to twirl round and round on the spot, carried away by utter bliss.”

The rhythmical accompaniment for the vocalists is provided by daffs (frame drums, tambourines) played by two hymn-singers. In this context the daff has been described as shar’i (from the term sharia [religious law]), i.e. lawful and therefore permitted by certain theologians, e.g. the imam al-Ghazali (1059-111) in his treatise Ihya’ ‘ulum al-din (Revivification of the religious sciences) and the Sufi sheikh from Damascus, Nabulsi (1641-1731) in his Idah al-dalalat fî sama’ al-alat (Insights into the arguments in favour of listening to musical instruments). Both based their judgement on certain hadith and expressed their tolerance of the use of the daff and the tabl (a cylindrical, double-ended drum) to accompany the sama or for use during religious festivities, whereas some strictly orthodox ulemas, including Ibn Taymiyyah, have forbidden not only the sama, but also singing and musical instruments in everything pertaining to religion.

The repertoire

In Islam, religious songs are designated by the generic term inshad, from the root nshd, meaning to aspire to something, to desire or seek, to have an aim, to go in search of something. The word nashid, formed from the same root, means a hymn or a canticle, and a munshid is a hymn-singer, a religious singer, a cantor.

From a poetic point of view, the inshad repertoire includes invocations, songs of praise and songs glorifying God, prayers, praises of the Prophet, the story of the Prophet’s birth, his nocturnal journey and his ascension, his heroic deeds, miracles, his life in general and a large number of Sufi poems on the themes of divine love and ecstasy. The words for these songs are compilations of excerpts taken from poems around a single theme but coming from different sources and periods of history, which often makes precise author attribution difficult. The mystic poets most frequently encountered in this repertoire include Ibn al-Farid (1181-1235), al-Nabulsi (1641-1731), al-Barazanji (18th century), al-Bura’i (13th century) and al-Busiri (1213-1295), the author of the famous poem al-Burda (The Prophet’s Coat).

The inshad covers all the different repertoires of religious songs and chants, and is not necessarily restricted to those sung in the zawiya of the Sufi orders or by specialised groups. The dividing line between the sacred and profane repertories is not clear-cut; apart from the call to prayer and the Koranic psalmody, the forms in religious music can be mistaken for classical forms such as the muwashshah and the qasida, or with those of popular urban music such as the qadd (pl. qudud). Rhythms and melodies circulate freely between the different repertoires, only the words need changing for a song to be adapted to a totally different context. Modes, melodic formulae, melodies and rhythm cycles provide the raw material from which all sorts of styles and repertoires are created. All in all, the distinguishing features for the religious repertoire are the text, the absence of melodic instruments and the predominant role of the voice (either the soloist or the choir). But most important is the call-and-response pattern so typical of religious singing, offering a variety of ways for the soloist and the choir of hymn-singers to alternate with each other.

The inshad is based on the art of the maqamat and naghamat (sing. naghma, a melodic formula) illustrating the oriental Arab modal system, with particular emphasis on Syrian aesthetics. This system has evolved from traditional savoir-faire mixed with a detailed knowledge of the tetrachord scales, how they can be linked, the various forms of modulation and transposition possible, and a vast number of melodic formulae. Its musical development is intimately tied in with the psychology of human nature, in the sense that modulations within any single tetrachord, or a blend of two of them (in other words two different modes), are closely related to the various moods and feelings of human beings.

The inshad comes in various vocal forms, here the listener will hear the muwashshah, the qasida and the qadd.

The religious muwashshah, based on an initial theme sung by the whole ensemble, then develops in a measured form whose structure is determined by a certain rhythm. It consists of several couplets that the principal soloist will embellish with extemporized variations and modal coloratura in a call-and-response pattern with the choir.

The qasida is a vocal improvisation or semi-improvisation around a poem in classical Arabic or even in rhyming prose, that may be of praise, invocation, or simply telling a story. It can develop in two ways according to its function, either a certain maqam is explored according to the relevant rules of modulation, with a return to the initial mode at the end of the poem, or there’s a gradual progression through different modes, without returning to the initial maqam. This is the type presented here. The qasida’s free rhythm is determined by the poem’s metre.

The qadd is a popular urban song with a dance rhythm, midway between the song with a refrain and the classical muwashshah. Its couplets alternate with the refrain and are subject to extemporized variations, much in the manner of the muwashshah. Some qudud melodies are woven around religious poems, as is the case here. 

Apart from the call to prayer and the Koranic psalmody, which both have the force of a blessing and are therefore presented at the beginning of the present programme, this album consists of a series of suites (wasla) made up of several pieces, muwashshah and qadd, linked by the same musical mode in each suite, and sung one after another without any pauses, although they may have different rhythmic cycles in 10, 8, 6, quadruple or duple time.

There is a brief moment of silence between each suite, although they are still linked together on a more subtle level, i.e. modally by a poem improvised by a soloist (or there may even be two of them). He (or they) begins his improvisation in the maqam of the previous wasla and concludes it in that of the following wasla, passing through a number of intermediate modulations, and thereby ensuring a smooth passage from one suite to another.

Over and above the inherent musical and stylistic logic governing the link between the various wasla and the pieces forming each one, there is another major link that should not be overlooked – the spiritual one that forms the common thread running through everything, giving unity to all the songs and chanting and their fervent outpouring of love for the divine, clothed in various poetic and musical guises, but with a unique underlying sense: the One Being.

Habib Yammine, musicologist
Translated by Délia Morris

The recordings

1- Al-Adhan/Call to prayer – 5’21
By Ibrahim Khurshid, followed by a prayer to the Prophet in hijaz mode.

2- Tartil al-Qur’an/Psalmody of an excerpt from the Koran, sura 33, verses 40-48 – 6’33
By Nureddin Khurshid, in bayyati mode 
Wasla for the celebration of the Prophet’s birth

3- Iftitahiyyat al-mawlid/Prelude to the celebration of the Prophet’s birth – 2’58

“In the name of God, the All Merciful, the Very Merciful, Praise to God who has brought light to our lives with the face of the best of all men, our lord Muhammad, may prayer and peace be upon him.  
He is the moon of divine guidance, the planet of providence, 
The light proclaiming the forgiveness granted, and the sun of Islam.”

This song of praise addressed to the Prophet Muhammad and chanted by the soloist Nureddin Khurshid goes through a modal progression in three stages: hijaz-kar, rast and bayyati, the latter being the mode for the next two pieces. 

4- Ta’tirat al-mawlid/Invocation – 0’42

“Oh God, fill his noble tomb with a pleasant perfume of prayer and greeting. Oh God, may Thy prayer, Thy greeting and Thy blessing be upon him.”

5- Khabbiri ya nusayma/Tell now, oh soft breeze… – 4’09

“Tell now, oh soft breeze, the story of a man in love, tortured, passionately seized by the light of faith. Tell him of my lamenting and the state of him who lies awake night after long night in order to see the Chosen One.“ 

A mystic poem evoking the longing of the man in love with God, and requesting the Prophet’s intercession. A measured responsorial muwashshah with alternating binary rhythms in 8, 4 and 2 time.
Wasla in rast mode 

6- Ya kafil al-‘aytam/Oh Thou protector of orphans – 5’46

O Thou, protector of orphans, doctor of the spirit 
O Thou, saviour of the world, thy maqam is unique.
When His light shone on earth, it extinguished the flames of error.”

An extemporized song alternating between the two soloists Nureddin Khurshid and Mohamad Kartumeh on a qasida praising God and relating the virtues and spiritual, moral, human and social qualities of the Prophet and the caliph Omar. In musical terms this qasida serves as a bridge between the previous suite in bayyati mode and the following one in rast mode.

7- Malik ul-mulk/Oh Lord of Lords – 3’12

“Oh Lord of Lords, my destiny is in your hands. Breathe into my heart that it may bring thee grace and praise thee.”

A group invocation in the form of a measured muwashshah in 4-beat rhythm. The theme is exposed by the choir followed by a part in call-and-response pattern where the soloist’s passages are improvised. 

8- Atani zamani/My time has given me… – 2’34

  “My time has given me enough to make me happy. By God, oh time, go not away.
Oh night of friendship, return once more, for the Beloved is satisfied with us. 
He has had us drink our fill from the goblet of love and in the goblet I saw a shining light appear before my gaze.” 

Nureddin Khurshid and the choir.
A mystic poem sung in the form of a responsorial muwashshah on a 2-beat rhythm according to the same procedure as the previous piece.

9- Hibbi malak muhjati/My beloved possesses my soul – 2’07

“By his intelligence and his good fortune, my beloved possesses my soul.
He is the only person I have amongst all people and he is my only hope… ”

A mystic poem chanted in the form of a muwashshah on a 6-beat rhythm, in call-and-response between Nureddin Khurshid and the choir.

10- Khayr al-bariyya/Oh most sublime of all creatures – 3’56

“Oh most sublime of all creatures, turn your gaze towards me. You are like a treasured gift.
I will lovingly offer you prayers for my God, as long as my heart is still alive through remembrance of his name.” 

Imploration to the Prophet chanted in the form of a qadd, where the refrain sung by the choir alternates with couplets from Ibrahim Khurshid on a 4-beat rhythm.

11- Ya Rabbi/Oh my God – 1’40

“ Oh my God, by them and their family, grant us victory and consolation… ”

Imploration chanted by the soloist Hassan Arbach and the choir in a 2-beat rhythm. 
Wasla in hijaz mode

12- Nadhari ila wajh al-habib/Contemplating the face of the beloved – 3’03

“Contemplating the face of the beloved is paradise for me, and separation from the one I love is terrible.
O you planting myrtle around our tents, don’t do it, for you’re not going to stay…”

Extemporized chant alternating between the two Nureddin brothers and Ibrahim Khurshid, on a mystical qasida that forms the link with the previous suite in rast mode and the following one in hijaz.

13- Inna qalbi dhu huyam/My heart is passionate – 4’41

“My heart is passionate, the Loved One is supreme master in that domain,
Passion makes me flounder and my heart suffers.”

Measured responsorial muwashshah on a 10-beat rhythm.

14- Malaktum fu’adi/You have taken possession of my heart – 2’22

“You have taken possession of my heart as the laws of love decree, you are being watched, don’t kill me deliberately like that, for I’m a foreigner.” 

Measured responsorial muwashshah on an 8-beat rhythm.

15- Ya imam al-rusl/Oh imam of the envoys of God – 1’52

“Oh imam of the envoys of God, you are my help and my support, the gateway to God, a person I can lean on. So help me in my life now and in the hereafter.”

Madih and supplication sung in the form of a responsorial qadd between Nureddin Khurshid and the choir to a 4-beat rhythm.

16- Ya Rabb bis-Siddiq /Oh God, by al-Siddiq – 2’40

“Oh God, by al-Siddiq, our noble lord who possesses splendour, superiority and true knowledge.
Save us, oh God of the Throne, from all distress, and be kind to us in all circumstances, oh Lord.”

Measured responsorial muwashshah between Nureddin Khurshid, Ayman Mohamad and the choir, to a 6-beat rhythm.
Wasla in sigah-huzam mode

17- Lamma Rabbi‘ ibtada/At the beginning of Rabi’ – 4’40

“At the beginning of the month of Rabi’ God made the Way appear,
On the eleventh day the angel Gabriel came down and brought with him a delicious, sweet-tasting drink from the wellspring of paradise.”

The story of Mawlid in rhyming prose, chanted by two alternate soloists Nureddin Khurshid and Hassan Arbach; intervention of the choir with a measured formulaic prayer.

18- Al-salat ‘ala al-mudhallal/Prayers on him who is sheltered… – 1’30

 “Prayers on him who is sheltered by the cloud of goodness, the best of all God’s creatures, his coming brings honour to the land of Rama.”

Prayer and praise in the form of a responsorial muwashshah.

19- Hatiha sirfan/Serve the pure – 3’11

 “Serve the pure wine, my fellow-guest, if you are smitten as I am, its sparkle will shine in your heart when all is dark. ”

Poem about the mystical wine sung in the form of a muwashshah containing a response based on the word “Allah”, repeated by the choir as the two soloists simultaneously sing the melody .

20- Buruq al-Hayy/Lights from the dwelling places… – 1’43

Lights shine forth from the dwelling places and the soul of the smitten lover is filled with longing.
To hide one’s passion is to obey, but the time has come.”

A mystical poem by Nabulsi sung in muwashshah to a simultaneous reply just like the previous song, measured on a binary rhythm.

21- Rufi‘at astar al-bayn/The veils of distance have been lifted – 1’47

“The veils of distance have been lifted and the eye’s sparkle is just beginning to peep through outside material space; bear witness to this, oh Sufis.” 

A mystical poem by Nabulsi chanted in muwashshah in simultaneous response to the melody, on a binary rhythm. 
Wasla in jhar-kah maqam

22- Adir dhikra man ahwa/Pass round the memory of the one I love – 3’40

“Pass round the memory of the one I love, at least in my dreams, for the evocation of the loved one is a heady drink for my soul.” 

Improvised song on a mystical qasida by Ibn al-Farid, that acts as the link between the previous suite in sigah maqam and the following one in jhar-kah.

23- ‘Ih, ya nasim al-ashar/Ah, redolent dawn breeze – 2’56

“Ah, redolent dawn breeze, give me some delightful news of the lady with the bracelet.”

Mystical muwashshah sung in chorus to a 4-beat rhythm.

24- Bashshiru ahl al-ma‘ani/Announce the good news – 1’59

“Announce the good news to people of sense; the daytime sun is shining and my crescent moon will be revealed once it’s covered.”
A mystical muwashshah sung in chorus to a 2-beat rhythm. Finale on a single harmonised chord. 

  • Reference : 321.051
  • Ean : 794 881 746 125
  • Main artist : Noureddine Khourshid et les derviches de Damas (نور الدين خورشيد و دراويش دمشق)
  • Year of recording : 2002
  • Year of publishing : 2004
  • Music style: Sufi music
  • Country : Syria
  • City of recording : Paris
  • Main language : Arabic
  • Composers : Traditional
  • Lyricists : Traditional
  • Copyright : Institut du Monde Arabe