Sufism is a mystical branch of Islam that is fairly unpopular throughout the Muslim world. Sufi has an unorthodox approach that focuses more on esoteric aspects of religious life, striving for direct, personal experiences with God.
Many believe Bifatima Dualetova is the "last dervish" of Kazakhstan, being a direct descendant of an influential Sufi lineage, that dates back to the 15th century.
The vibrant history of the region has created a unique mixture of Islam with animistic beliefs of local nomadic cultures.
Apa's healing methods corresponded with both; the ancient pagan beliefs and Islamic teachings.
She started to have prophetic visions at the age of eleven and eventually was guided by spirits to the 'sacred hill' in Ungurtas - a small village on the border with Kyrgyzstan. According to her, it is the center of the earth’s energy. Here she has started to heal people with the blood of sacrificial sheep and goats.
People from all over ex-Soviet Block are visiting her, hoping to be cured of addictions, mental diseases, or just for a piece of advice. Some visitors come for a few days; others, seeing Apa as a guru, are staying for years.
I have met Bifatima during my travels in Central Asia, and end up staying with her for two months, documenting her practices, community life and making a pilgrimage through the sacred Sufi sites of the country.