PRIZREN, Kosovo (AP) — For an Islamic dervish order in southern Kosovo, it’s time for the annual celebration to mark the new year, the birthday of the sect’s founder and spring.
That means holding a religious ceremony which includes hypnotic chanting, swaying and the piercing of male members’ cheeks with long metal needles.
Prizren, Kosovo’s medieval and most religiously mixed town, is home to one of the country’s small Sufi Dervish orders, which numbers about 5,000. They are part of the estimated 200,000 Sufis among Kosovo’s roughly 2 million people.
Sufi dervishes in Kosovo celebrated Nowruz or “new year” on Thursday, a celebration also marking the birth of Imam Ali, one of the most revered figures in Islam.
The annual celebration is performed in a place of worship called a tekke. Despite being the official first day of spring, participants, most clad in black shirts covered with a white sleeveless vest and wearing traditional woolen hats, arrived in heavy snow.
A procession of male members of the order wound its way through the streets to enter the tekke, where they formed a semi-circle. Sheikh Adri Hyseini, the leader of the Prizren dervishes, led the group, chanting and swaying, into a trance-like state by reciting ritual chants.
Women are allowed to watch from a balcony above the main hall but do not participate otherwise.
The ceremony culminates in the ritual piercing of cheeks, where some of the men pushed a long metal needle through their mouths until it emerges from the other side. The sheikh also initiated a group of young boys into the order by piercing their cheeks.
Kosovo’s Dervish community carries on centuries-old mystical practices, such as self-piercing with needles and knives, as a way to earn salvation and find a path to God.
The Sufi Dervishes of the Rifa’i order, to which Prizren’s dervishes belong, were founded in the 12th century in Basra, Iraq.