Egyptian Zar

PHOTOGRAPHY: ‘Egyptian Zar Ceremony’ by Muhammed Ghouneim

Egyptian photographer Muhammed Ghouneim sheds a light on Zar, an age old religious practice of curing mental illness by making contact with the possessing spirits which are believed to cause maladies.

The practice is now uncommon in Egypt, but it has become more prominent in Southern parts of Egypt. Zar is said to have originated from Ethiopia during the 18th century but later spread to North Africa and the Middle East.

Regardless of the fact that Zar is a trance religious ceremony that uses drumming and dancing to cure an illness thought to be caused by a demon, it is technically prohibited by Islam as a pagan practice. However it continues to be an essential part of the Egyptian culture. It provides a unique form of relief to women in strict patriarchal societies.

The phenomenon of Zar can be best described as the “healing cult”. It involves hair tossing and swaying and it also acts as a means of sharing information among women of these cultures.

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