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Name: “Whirling Dervish” by Nila

Size: 100x140 cm.

2018. Acrylic.

Price: 200 USD

Whirling Dervishes in the Islamic Tradition

I. Abstract

Whirling dervishes perform a dance called the sema. It is a religious dance performed to express emotion and achieve the wisdom and love of God. It originated in Turkey, in the Islamic sect of Sufism, which was founded by Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi. The Sufis support their knowledge from the Qur'an and the words of their master, Rumi. In order to become a dervish, young boys were required to attend schools called tekkes, where they would undergo an intense 1001-day retreat before they could perform the dance. The dervish considers himself an instrument of God so he cannot direct or retain the power that enters him. In 1925, the tekkes were closed and whirling ended until recently. Today semas are performed privately in homes.

II. Scope and Purpose of Whirling Dervishes:

The dance of the whirling dervishes, also known as the sema, originated in the 13th century near Turkey. It is performed by semazens (whirlers) that belong to the Mevlevi sect of the Sufi. Sufism is the Islamic practice of attempting to achieve divine knowledge and love though a personal relationship with God. It is said that the classification of Sufi comes from the wool cloaks they wore since in Arabic suf means wool. Others think that the title comes from the Greek work sophos, which means wisdom (Friedlander 15). Muslim priests in order to free their souls and connect with Allah perform the sema. The dance is sometimes interpreted as everything spinning around the sun but most commonly is thought of as a re-enactment of death and resurrection.

III. Authority Structure

Sources and Criteria of Valid Knowledge - the sema began from the influence of Turkish culture and the inspiration of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi. However, the practice of whirling may have originated in Central Asia long before Rumi where shamans used it to induce altered states of consciousness (Helminski). By performing the sema, Mevlevis try to experience the meaning of the words from the Qur'an: "To God belong the East and the West, and wherever you turn is the face of God. He is the All-Embracing, the All-Knowing" (Surah Baqara 2:115)

IV. History:

Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-1273), a Sufi poet and mystic, established the dervish order of the Mevlevis and started the whirling dance of the sema. Rumi's life was changed the day he met a wandering dervish named Shams of Tabriz. Shams had a revelation to go to the Asia Minor where Rumi was studying in college. There are several different tales of their encounter but in all of them the meeting of Shams deeply influences the thoughts of Rumi. After sixteen months together, Shams went to Damascus to escape the attacks of Rumi's jealous disciples. Rumi sent his son to beg Shams to return to Konya but as soon as Shams came back he disappeared and was murdered. Rumi did not know that Shams had returned and had been killed so he searched Damascus for his missing friend. After Shams disappearance Rumi began the spiritual concert called the sema, which was "not only a religious ceremony, but also a spontaneous manifestation of emotions" (Vitray-Myerovitch 27).

After Rumi's death in 1273, the Mevlevis practiced prayer in a whirling manner fashioned by Rumi's son, Sultan Veled, based on the movements of his father. The practice remained virtually uninterrupted until the overthrow of the Ottoman Empire in 1924. In 1925, Kemal Ataturk passed Law 677 into the Turkish Republic that ended the whirling in tekkes. Military police entered the Mevlevi tekke in Uskudar on a Saturday in December and order it to close. The police stated that "performing dervish practices, holding meetings in the tekkes, the profession of tomb-keeping and the office of sheike and other dervish initiations were abolished and, as of the reading, against the law of the Republic" (Friedlander 111). In 1927, Kemal Ataturk opened the tomb of Rumi as a museum but said that Turkey is a modern country that had no time for dervish magic. In December 1953, the first authorized Mevlevi sema since the tekkes were closed occurred in Konya, Turkey. The amount of semas slowly increased over the years but was emphasized to be only for tourists and not to be a religious practice for the dervishes. Today the tekkes remain unopened but the dervishes still perform private semas in their homes and in Konya in December to honor their founder, Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi (Friedlander 111-114).

Warmest regards,


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