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Whirling Controversy

Whirling Dervish

I found our lectures on Sufism and mysticism to be some of the more interesting ones. In my experience, Sufism is one of the sides of Islam that many people are familiar with even though many Sufi traditions directly oppose traditional Islamic stereotypes. Most notable is the Mevlevi order also known as the Whirling Dervishes. The order was founded by the followers of the famous 13th century poet Rumi and has gained notoriety for its practice of stationary spinning as a means of dhikr, literally meaning remembrance of God. Whirling is representative of how the planets turn around the sun and is a way of abandoning the nafs or ego. This is a central concern of sufi rituals as the dervishes attempt to revive memories of their real identity. It is their belief that humans are “in the sleep of negligence and have forgotten their true identity” and their souls “yearn to return to the primordial state of union with God”.

When I visited Istanbul two summers ago I was fortunate enough to attend a performance by the Whirling Dervishes which you can see a portion of in the attached video. This brings up an interesting question about the “commercialization” of a religious practice. Under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, all religion was outlawed except for tourism purposes. However, this is in direct contrast to the belief that Sufi song and dance should be reserved for those “mystical elites who are capable of understanding spiritually the powerful emotional message of love poetry put to music”. How is it that these dervishes are able to reconcile the original intentions of whirling with its current purpose?


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