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Female Sufi Dance Performance Is A First For Tehran

Sufi dervishes whirl during the sama ritual in Turkey.
On July 16, a group of female musicians and dancers will perform the sama, a traditional dance of Sufi Islam, for the first time in Tehran.

Thirty-five drummers will accompany the dancers of Ava-ye Mehrbani, or the Call of Kindness, as they spin round and round in circles -- a ritual that, according to Sufism, allows one to abandon the ego and reach enlightenment

The government of Iran forbids solo performances by female singers. But a group of women singing for an all-female audience is not banned -- and in fact happens more often than one would expect

Even so, the upcoming performance could run into trouble. Since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, Sufis have been under pressure from the country's Shi’ite government, who object to their more mystical interpretation of Islam. The pressure has intensified since Mahmud Ahmadinejad became president in 2005.

In 2007, the government heavily criticized an all-male performance of the sama on the 800th anniversary of the birth of Persian mystic poet Rumi.

But if all goes as planned, this possibly provocative combination of religious minority and female performers could draw as many as 1,300 viewers to Tehran’s Vahdat Hall -- all of them women.

-- Ashley Cleek