25 February 2013 5:31 pm | | 1


Share     Share       Share     Share  

Sufis believe that before entering any city, one must pause outside its walls to honor the local saints, both living and dead. Yet the saints of Tunisia have not been the recipients of such reverent behavior in recent months; their shrines have been under attack by religious extremists who contend that they are heretical.

But many Tunisians consider Sufi shrines a part of their cultural identity. Even today, they are frequently visited as Tunisians embrace rituals inherited from their ancestors.

The shrine of Sidi Mehrez, the patron saint of Tunis, is perhaps the most famous in the country. Located in the southern part of Tunis’ Medina, it dates back to the eighteenth century. A descendant of a senior companion of the prophet, Abu Bakr, Sidi Mehrez played an important role in the spiritual, religious and cultural development of the Medina during the eleventh century. Earning the title “Sultan of the Medina,” he is not only a figure of piety and wisdom, but also symbolizes tolerance, as he offered protection to the Jewish community in Tunis that became a part of his cult.

”I come here whenever I am around. I cannot possibly visit these souks and not stop at Sidi Mehrez and read Al-fatiha on his soul,” explained Marwa, a college student. “This place is believed to be sacred, a place that could bless or curse you depending on your deeds.”

 

As you duck into the entrance hall, the scent of incense greets you as the clamor of the market fades away. The sounds of commerce and haggling give way to recitals of Koran and Duaaa.

Visitors knock on the doors of the shrine .

 

Certain rituals are specific to the shrine, as people believe you should knock on each of the three doors that lead visitors to the tomb as you pass through. Inside, the tomb of the Sultan of the Medina rests among candles.

”When you enter, you have to knock on each door to greet the saint, and those who live in the shrine,” said Kahgija, an old woman who lives in the Medina. “They could be living beings as well spirits of the dead.”

She continued, “he is our protector and this shrine is open for anyone who seeks a refuge, or a place to sleep.”

 

On a recent afternoon, an exhausted family sat in the outside hall eating a meal together. Across from them, a woman with her child rested after a long day. In the inside room, people stood at the tomb reading Koran and threw candles that encircled it. On their way out, visitors to the shrine accept glasses of water offered to them by the old woman; they believe this water was blessed by Saint Mehrez and it cures illnesses and fulfills prayers.

An old woman gives visitors water as they exit the shrine

While extremist religious groups believe that shrines are heretical, most Tunisians consider them part of their cultural identity. Historians have said they believe that recent attacks are fueled by ignorance, as saints are Muslims and scholars. Following the attacks on Tunisian shrines, Tunisian Muftis and religious figures alike condemned the acts.

“I really don’t believe in shrines or the blessings, but it became a ritual for me,” Marwa said. “The place gives me serenity and peace.”

 

Share     Share       Share     Share  

  From the same category

            

Martyrs’ Day Remembers Protesters Killed Under French Rule

Negligence, Corruption Threaten Tunisia’s Heritage Sites

Forbidden Ink: Tattoos in Tunisia

Tracking Down the Elusive Mloukhiya

            

Documentary Festival Calls on Tunisians to Protect Environment

Jazz Festival Coming to Gammarth in April

Government Campaigns to Protect Intellectual Property Rights

Herb Festival Brings Music and Art to Downtown Tunis

            

Students at Historic Tunis High School Organize TedX Event

‘Houmani’ Rapper Freed After 9 Month Marijuana Jailing

Tunisia’s Amazigh Identity: Deeply Embedded, Little Recognized

Converting to Christianity in Tunisia


Comments (1)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Gerald B. (Jerry) Thompson says:

    Useful, insightful posting. I wish we could read more about the various Sufi orders, in particular their social-political aspirations which influence their response to the changing environment throughout the region today.

Leave Feedback


  Follow us

Connect on YouTube Connect on Google+ Connect to itunes Subscribe via RSS Feed



  Latest Videos


Play Video

Motocross Racers in the Forests of Bizerte, Tunisia

Bizerte, the northernmost city in Africa, hosted the fourth round of the...

Play Video

Endangered Whale Brought Ashore in Tunis Suburb

Onlookers in the popular tourist spot of Sidi Bou Said, near Tunis,...

Play Video

'Kima Enti:' Mixing Tunisian Traditions With Modern Design

"Kima Enti" is a hand-made art and design project launched by independent...

Play Video

One-Year Anniversary of Chokri Belaid's Death

On February 6, 2014, family and supporters of slain Tunisian politician Chokri...

Play Video

Klay BBJ explains his arrest

Tunisia Live's Nissaf Slama interviews rapper Klay BBJ on his music, arrest,...



Tabbed Structure - Regular
UGTT Union Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize...
(1591 Views)
Unemployed Tunisians Risk Their Lives to Build Future...
(1350 Views)
Switzerland to Return $40 Million in Ben Ali...
(1212 Views)
Tunisia Returns Stolen Ancient Artifact to Algeria...
(1210 Views)
Pollution Ravages Old Port of Tunis...
(1007 Views)
NCA Approves Judicial Body, Looks Ahead to Electoral...
(995 Views)
Motocross Racers in the Forests of Bizerte...
(957 Views)
Ben Ali Officials To Be Released in Revolution...
(881 Views)
Members ‘Freeze’ NCA Participation Over Reduced Sentences for...
(860 Views)
 
Low Turnout and Mixed Feelings for Algerians Voting in Tunisia...
Update: Libyan Kidnappers Demand Militants’ Release...
New Areas Around Chaambi Declared Military Zones...
Pollution Ravages Old Port of Tunis...
NCA Approves Judicial Body, Looks Ahead to Electoral Law...
Motocross Racers in the Forests of Bizerte...
Unemployed Tunisians Risk Their Lives to Build Future in Europe...
Members ‘Freeze’ NCA Participation Over Reduced Sentences for Ben Ali Officials...
Ben Ali Officials To Be Released in Revolution Killings Case...