Nubians - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practitioners. The Nubians are Sunni Muslims who believe in one God and his Prophet Mohammed, in the angels created by God, in the prophets through whom his revelations were brought to humankind, in the Day of Judgment and individual accountability for actions, in God s complete authority over human destiny, and in life after death. They also follow the Ibadat, or practicing framework of the Muslim's life: the Five Pillars. In Islam there is no hierarchal authority, no priest or shaman. Islam also permits its intermingling with local tradition. In Nubia this process of intermingling is expressed in the animism that is predominant along the Nile and in the activities of the local shuyukh (sing. shaykh ), who regulate daily concerns about health, fertility, and marriage.

Ceremonies. Nubian ceremonies can be divided into three kinds: the rite de passage, the religious ceremonies, and the agricultural rituals. The latter have completely disappeared from the Nubian culture given that the crop that was celebrated, palm dates, is no longer cultivated because of environmental changes in the new settlements. The rite-de-passage celebrations include the naming ceremony (Subu), birth, circumcision for males and females, marriage, and death. The religious ceremonies include the seven main Islamic celebrations: al-Fitr, the feast that clebrates the end of the fasting month; prepilgrimage celebrations; al-Adha, the feast that follows the pilgrimage to Mecca; Lilat al-Qadar, celebrating the night of the first revelations of the first Quranic verse; Isra' Wal Mirag, commemorating the night the Prophet Mohammed flew to Jerusalem, and from there to the seventh sky, to establish the Five Pillars of Islam; al Sana al-Higriah, the Islamic New Year; and Mulid al-Nabi, the Prophet's birthday. In all these celebrations drums and religious songs are recited for the duration of the feast, which may extend up to fourteen days. After relocation, ceremonies in general have become limited to the village because the homes were built so close to each other. Also, owing to increasing costs, the length of celebrations (but not their conspicuousness) has decreased.

Arts. The art forms in old Nubia are divided into three categories: utilitarian, decorative, and symbolic. The utilitarian arts included the making of plates, mats, fans, and jars from material available in the environment, such as straw and clay. Women practiced this art form. Bright colors distinguished the Nubian form from other Egyptian or Sudanese plates or jars. After resettlement, this art form disappeared because the utensils are available in the market. The decorative art included mainly bead necklaces and bracelets. Grooms and brides used these ornaments to decorate themselves. Since resettlement, modern decorative jewelry, including silver and gold, has replaced these items. Women traditionally made the bead necklaces, and today a commercial version of these necklaces is sold in the market. The symbolic arts included wall and door decoration. Relief decoration was typical of Nubian houses. Icons of animals were made to protect houses from the evil eye. After resettlement, relief decorations were replaced by painting. Most paintings have religious motifs, and some of the decorations indicate that someone in the house recently completed the holy duty of pilgrimage to Mecca.

Medicine. Prior to resettlement, government medical care was almost nonexistant in old Nubia. Today, in Egyptian Nubia, there are small clinics and health units that provide both in-patient and out-patient services. In Nasr town, in Aswan, there is a hospital. In New Haifa, the government provides basic services including sanitation facilities, piped water, and medical care. Health units provide out-patient services, and an in-patient hospital is available in Haifa town. In the late twentieth century infectious disease is on the rise among Sudanese Nubians, largely owing to population increase and lack of maintenance of water filters. On the other hand, change in the water supply in the Nile has decreased the prevalence of schistomosomiasis (a debilitating parasitic disease caused by a blood worm that inhabits the water). A more severe strain of schistosomiasis, however, has developed.

Death and Afterlife. Nubian traditions with regard to death follow Islamic teaching. At death, a Muslim's body must be washed, dressed, wrapped in white cloth, and buried appropriately (the face pointing toward Mecca) before the first sunset. For women, the mat on which the deceased was carried to the grave was "shaded with arches of palm branches over which a red silk cloth worn by women at weddings was laid" (Dafalla 1975, 54).

The picture of life after death in Islam both serves to comfort the bereaved and challenge the community to live lives of integrity and responsibility with the sure knowledge that the labor of today will be enjoyed in the hereafter and that both justice and mercy will prevail in the life to come. Islamic teachings emphasize two levels of judgment. The lower—often referred to as the "tomb judgement" or barzakh —takes place before Judgment Day; it is directed to the individual soul only. The higher judgment in Islam is reserved for Judgment Day, a day when humanity (Muslims and non-Muslims) will meet their creator.

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