Circassians - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Circassians in the Middle East are all Muslims of the majority Sunni sect. Islam spread late into the northern Caucasus, after the sixteenth century, although a largely syncretic form of Islam, including Christian and local beliefs, continued to be practiced. Exposure to Islamic Orthodoxy occurred mostly during the immigration process, when the Ottomans sent imams to instruct the new immigrants in beliefs and practices.

Religious Practitioners. There are Circassian imams and religious specialists, but, except where there are still ethnically homogeneous villages, there are no mosques where Circassians worship separately from fellow-Muslim Arabs and Turks. Some graveyards that were established before the settlements became heterogeneous continue to be favored by Circassians for burial, even if they do not reside nearby.

Ceremonies. The main ceremonies that distinguish the Circassians from the wider society are those relating to weddings (especially when marriage is through elopement). Several days of dancing and feasting are divided into separate phases for the different age groups. Some other ceremonies (e.g., marking age grades) are now less frequently performed. Many occasions are now celebrated at ethnic organizations. In addition, the major Islamic rituals are observed.

Arts. Folk dancing figures most prominently in Circassian expressive culture, partly because of weddings and other ceremonies in which it plays a major part. Ethnic organizations have focused on folklore troupes. In some cases, notably Turkey, Circassian dances have been incorporated into the national folklore "repertoire." In other countries as well, Circassian dancing is routinely presented at national festivals and occasions.

Medicine. Besides the use of herbs and poultices, traditional Circassian medicine emphasized forbearance of pain and the value of constant entertainment in distracting the ill or wounded from dwelling on their suffering. With the encroachment of Western medicine, these practices are being abandoned. There are no specialized Circassian healers.

Death and Afterlife. Contemporary Circassian beliefs about death and the afterlife are congruent with the Islamic faith, although vestiges of distinctive beliefs in immortality are reflected in the myths of the Narts (half-divine, giant ancestors of the Circassians) and in the tales of Susoruga, who brought fire to humankind. Distinctive funeral practices are still observed, including placement of a large, open pair of scissors on the chest of the deceased and the digging of a particular type of grave.

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: