Tuning into Sectarian Strife

Egyptian Band Mixes Sufi Chants with Coptic Hymns

A file photo showing Egyptian band ‘Mashrou Rooh’ at one of its concerts in Cairo, Egypt. (Photo by Salwa Samir)
A file photo showing Egyptian band ‘Mashrou Rooh’ at one of its concerts in Cairo, Egypt. (Photo by Salwa Samir)

Tuning into Sectarian Strife

Formed three years ago, Mashrou Rooh (Soul’s Project) is not just a musical band to entertain its audience. According to its founder, Mohamed Bakr, it projects a positive message by mixing Sufi Chants with Coptic hymns as a way to fight sectarian strife and urging people to accept each other whatever their religion is.

“I formed the band to fight sectarian strife and to achieve peaceful coexistence between people of different religions. Religion is for God and the homeland for all.

We all worship our Lord and we all pray and fast, so I thought of this way to fight sectarian strife via art,” composer and singer Mohamed Bakr, the founder of Mashrou Rooh, told Majalla.

The band consists of 25 members including Muslim and Christian vocalists and instrumentalists.

Before forming the band, Bakr asked Dar al-Ifta and the cathedral about whether the band idea was acceptable or not. “Both welcomed the idea,” Bakr said.

“We are not sufis or sheikhs. We are not discussing religion. We just play sufi music to send positive energy to the audience,” he added.

The band plays different music genres such as rap, rock, Saidi (Upper Egyptian), Khaliji, oriental and Nubian together in a harmonious way.

The band held many concerts at El Sawy Cultural Center in Zamalek and at some events related to the foreign community in Egypt, Bakr said.

“The big number of the band’s members sometimes hampers us from holding more events or joining festivals,” he added.

Bakr pointed out that the band will perform in Morocco as a guest of honor in the Sufi Culture Festival due to be held in August next year.

“We will be the first Egyptian band to take part in the festival,” he said.


Engy Samir Salama is a hymn performer. She is Egyptian of Lebanese origin.  She joined the band a year ago.

“What attracted me to join the band is that we all respect each other. They sing Islamic invocations and I perform hymns at the same time. We all have the same god. We all pray to Him,” Salama told Majalla.

“During the concert, the audience cannot differentiate between the Christian hymns and Islamic invocations. That is our message,” she added.

She performs traditional old hymns and those related to Prophets’ stories.

“I know that not all hymn singers accept the idea of the band. There are some people opposing the idea of Muslims and Christians praying together. There is still ignorance in this matter. The discrimination is rejected between Muslims and Copts as we all pray to praise the same God. It is better than fighting each other,” she added.


Accompanying the band is a female mawlawiyah (whirling) dervishes) dancer.

Afnan Shaher, 27, graduated from the Faculty of Law, Ain Shams University in 2017. She adores acting so she joined the theater team at the Faculty and acted in many plays, including one based on a novel penned by Turkish writer Elif Shafak called “The Forty Rules of Love.”

The Sufi work is about 13th century Persian poet Maulana Jalal Eddin El-Rumi, known as Rumi, and his spiritual instructor and companion poet, Shams Tabrizi.

Shaher acted as one of the repentants at the hands of Shams Tabrizi, and appeared as a Mawlawiyah dancer. 

The Mawlawiyah was founded in the 13th century by Rumi in the Turkish city of Konya as a fraternity of Sufis.

“Bakr (the founder of Mashrou Rooh) contacted me to join his band. I agreed immediately. I liked the band’s unique idea,” Shaher told Majalla.

Shaher is the first female practitioner of the Mevlevi order of Sufism in Egypt. She said that people in Egypt wrongly linked tanoura dance with Mawlawiyah.

“Mawlawiyah is not a show. It is a way to worship our God,” Shaher said.

She added that the tanoura is a folk dance associated also with Sufism and is performed at Sufi festivals or as a concert dance. The tanoura performer wears a colorful skirt and a turban wrapped around the head “..while the practitioner of the Mevlevi order wears a wide white skirt representing the shroud, and on his/her head wears a special camel's hair hat representing the tombstone,” Shaher said. 

“While whirling, I stand on the left leg which is always fixed on the ground metaphorically for the creed and the Sharia (Islamic law), which does not accept analysis or discussion or thinking. The right leg is moving around in a circle. It represents the Donia (life). My arms are open: the right one is directed to the sky to receive Allah’s madad (beneficence); the left hand is directed to the ground, as if it transfers the madad to the earth,” she added.

When she twirls, she feels that she is not on the ground with the band but flying in the sky.

"While I am whirling on the mix between Sufi chants and Coptic hymns, I am literally fading and melting in love of Allah," she concluded.

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