“A Presence that was Not Theirs”

The year is 1868; the place, Damascus. A self-taught mystic calling himself Abd el Matar left his wife, family, and home to found a group of disciples in Damascus, the Shazlis, basing it on a Sufi brotherhood established in the middle ages. About forty or so people gathered about him to pray and seek God. In the words of Isabel Burton, wife of the Sir Richard Francis Burton, the consul of Damascus…