Zhikr Project


This project offers to the CSUS campus community a five day program providing instruction, training and performance of zhikr--also conventionally called "Sufi dancing."

A team of three trainers and two musicians will meet with approximately one hundred participants for about two hours on each of five consecutive weeknights. The program cul­minates on Friday evening with a performance of the zhikr, a traditional form of carefully modulated song, dance and instrumental music. Immediately following the performance is a reception for participants and guests, featuring Middle Eastern food and non-alcoholic refreshment.

Introductory and explanatory lectures, containing descriptive and theoretical material as well as demonstration of actual techniques are included in the current syllabus for Art 113 B, Oriental Art and Mythology. Several students in recent years have contributed to gathering background material on zhikr. One student was motivated to travel at his own expense to another city in order to undertake the study and practice of zhikr. Certain students currently enrolled in Art 119 courses and other directed study projects are also working on topics related to zhikr.

The zhikr project is inspired in part by a felt need for this university to explore alternative means for the transmission of knowledge. Some of the teaching models from traditional cultures are inappropriate or impractical in the context of the modern university. Without sacrificing subtler insights, however, the zhikr affords a clear, objective example of effective teaching methodology. Indeed, the historic rise of the Western university tradition within the last millenium owes a considerable debt to earlier Middle Eastern techniques of learning. Of particular value today, it, would seem, is the intention of the zhikr to harmonize energies of the intellect and the physical being with the energy of the heart.

The word "zhikr" is transliterated directly from the Arabic, where is has meanings of remembering, or of self-rememberance, through the practice of repetition. What is repeated may be any of the several words or names by which human beings call their own consciousness, the divine essence within each of us. These words or names are widely known in Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions as the "Names of God." Thus externally described, the practice of zhikr in its many forms is an historical Middle Eastern technique of meditation and group activity. As such, the zhikr is a classical method for attaining the state of liberated consciousness. Culturally it is close to the heart of the art and music, literature and poetry of diverse peoples from Morocco and Spain, across North Africa, through Turkish, Arab and Persian lands, into Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, and as far as Indonesia.

Zhikr constitutes the central, living practice of what some people have come to know--in partial or diluted form--as "Sufi dancing." But the zhikr is REAL Sufi dancing.

Scholars such as Robert Graves have demonstrated unmistakable connections between preserved forms of zhikr and the mystical Round Dances associated with Jesus and early Christianity. There are also close parallels with certain practices of the Hasidic tradition within Judaism. The intrinsic content of zhikr thus clearly aspires to the spiritual domain--as does that of much great music, dance and art. However, the exercise itself is ecumenical in nature, and does not necessarily constitute the explicit practice of religion. Yet in these several contexts zhikr has been widely known and deeply respected for centuries. It offers a genuinely positive and uniquely powerful, objective way in which many students and other members of the campus community will be able to exper­ience actual work that otherwise would remain but theoretical and abstract. With the zhikr project we hope to provide a worked example of interdisciplinary studies, while at the same time exploring the means whereby the wisdom and humanity of such traditional practices might find their place within the general curriculum of a modern university.

Participation in the zhikr project would be open to all members of the campus community, on a first-come basis of registration. We would like to offer the program without any charge to the participants.

Proposed dates are April 6 - 10, 1981, or alternatively May 4 - 8, 1981.

We require a large room on campus, with p.a. facilities, to be scheduled for two hours each evening from Monday through Thursday, and for four hours on Friday evening to accomodate the performance and reception.

Principal budget items include:

  • Fees and travel expenses for three trainers @ $250.00 and for two musicians @ $300.00.($1350.00) Sacramento accommodations for three nights, three people, and for two nights, five people. ($
  • Reception: flowers, food, service ($500.00)
  • Advertising and publicity        ($150.00)
  • Special equipment: music tape, candle, etc. ($50.00) Allocation for use of p.a. equipment, tape deck, lights.

Kurt von Meier, Ph.D. Professor of Art
Department of Art, C.S.U.S. x6166