Rabieh paced the perennial beach with his hands behind his back, taking in the stars and moon, and the waves whom they implored to dance.
All was silent save for the rolling of the waves; not a soul accompanied him on the sands, and for that he had no complaints.
It had been a long day with all the feasting, the trips and the drinking. He enjoyed the company of his family as much as the next guy, but Lebanese families were too much, especially during weddings.
Aunt Raghida had finally tied the knot after years of mild teasing and hundreds of dollars won from her siblings, and contrary to what she would boldly argue against, she seemed to be happier than ever.
Her groom, on the other hand, looked relieved. Michael’s family wasn’t exactly sold on the theme of interfaith marriage, despite the multiple dinners-with and legal prowess of- Ahmad, Rabieh’s father. In the end, old-fashioned persistence won out, and now the happy couple decided to cut out the middleman and say their vows in Turkey.
The decision for locale also came from the constant need for Lebanese families to outdo one another.
In any case, the universe had decided to smile upon the occasion and provided food, drink, and much cheer.
The Mediterranean replaced that cheer with its serenity and reduced Rabieh’s smile from an exhausted grin to an appreciative glow.
Good things did happen in these parts, after all.
Somewhere in the distance a tiny dot flickered. Rabieh started towards it but hesitated. His relatives would eventually notice the length of his absence and form panicked, drunken search parties to seek him out.
Whatever, he thought. That won’t be for a while. Since nobody was around he reached into his pocket for a present from one his new cousins: a neatly rolled joint of Turkish hashish. He lit the joint and took slow, deliberate hits as he neared the growing flicker.
Closer inspection revealed that the dot was a bonfire, the flickering was caused only by fire itself, but also by the shapes dancing before it.
His place slowed as the cannabis started to set in, and the fire seemed to distance itself from him. Rabieh shook his slightly and kept on his approach, taking fewer and fewer puffs until the joint finally gave out. He paused briefly to drop it into the sand, burying it with his foot before continuing.
The shadows began slowing their dance before finally freezing, petrified by an unseen force. A single voice, muffled by the distance, solemnly spoke and was answered by a choir of voices at certain intervals.
The closer Rabieh got to the congregation the clearer the voices became. He placed a hand to his ear and carefully approached until he could make out heavily accented Arabic speaking in a recitative manner.
Is he praying? Rabieh asked himself. The attire of the party seemed to answer his question: tall, thin rectangular hats. Black cloaks enveloping a faint sheet of white.
“Sufis!” Rabieh gasped, his tranquil smile stretching to an excited grin.
One of the sufis heard this and immediately turned to Rabieh, pointing and reporting his intrusion in Turkish.
Rabieh froze, the panic exacerbated by the cannabis now entrenched in his bloodstream. The others murmured among themselves, but the leader held up his hands as he approached the inebriated interloper. He placed a hand to his heart and bowed slightly, but reverently.
“As-salamu aleykum,” He spoke in heavily accented Arabic, the dark obscuring a gentle smile.
“Wu ‘aleykum as-salam,” Rabieh answered nervously, worried that the usually docile sufis would turn takfiri and descend upon him for interrupting their service. His host, apparently their sheikh, still wore his gentle smile.
“Aja-err-evet.” He replied, nodding emphatically.
Shit, that was too much! He thought, his breathing accelerating. The sheikh’s smile only warmed and he huffed a subtle laugh. He motioned to a man to his left who approached accordingly as the sheikh stepped back towards his congregation.
“Where are you from, friend?” The dervish asked in Arabic, his accent clearly Syrian.
“Lebanon. My name is Rabieh,” He stuttered, offering his hand to the dervish. He shook his hand and smiled.
“Mustafa. I am from Antakya. What brought you out here, Rabieh?”
Rabieh described to Mustafa the wedding and how he’d intended the beach-side stroll to be a brief one until he caught sight of the sufis’ ritual; he didn’t dare tell them about the hashish he’d smoked.
Mustafa relayed this to the sheikh, Afshin, in flawless, rapid Turkish, to which Afshin nodded and briefly pondered before offering his response to his apprentice.
“Sheikh Afshin says you have no reason to worry nor apologize for stumbling upon us, Rabieh. We were just about to begin the Four Salams and would be honored if you were to watch us.” Mustafa translated. Rabieh weighed his options: he could either leave now and return to a dying party where everyone was beginning to pass out or leave, or he could stay a little longer and witness something he’d only dreamed of.
“I’d be happy to stay,” Rabieh finally said. Mustafa clasped his hands together with a brightened smile and replied,
“Then let us begin!”
Mustafa turned to Afshin, who bowed to Rabieh welcomingly. Rabieh returned the gesture and watched the sheikh take his place between four other dervishes, while Mustafa walked over to a derbeke and sat upright to lead the dhikr.
The dervishes surrounding Afshin knelt and cast aside their cloaks, revealing white robes beneath that radiated with the fire and the light of the moon. They raised their right hands to the heavens and slowly began spiraling in place, as if Afshin were the sun and was holding them in orbit. Mustafa and two other dervishes guided the ritual with their instruments, while the remaining dervishes softly chanted and davened to the beat of Mustafa’s drum.
Rabieh sat down on the sand and watched with purest fascination and joy the Sufi procession; it was all too surreal for him to take in, and the effect of the hashish made it even more incredible. He gently swayed to the rhythm-a human metronome-as the music guided him into a greater chain of being far above the mortal coil he physically occupied. He marveled at the synchronicity the dervishes exhibited, as Afshin led the other four dervishes into a quicker, more frenzied spinning while they somehow remained firmly rooted in place. The music and the davening intensified, and Rabieh’s tempo likewise increased, as he and his newfound companions spiraled further and further into the infinite.