Faith Initiative is an interfaith magazine published by Initiative Interfaith Trust

Find a past issue

Issue 25

Editorial
Editorial
Lorna Douglas
Shap Award
Shap Award 2011
Heather Wells
Keynote
Freedom to choose
Richard Boeke
Tenth Anniversary
Congratulations
Various
Religious Education
Shap - then and now
Shap Working Party
Lifestory
The Homecoming
Elspeth Gibb
Poem
'Come away…'
Jerome K. Jerome
Religious Freedom
Quote from Reith Lecture 2011
Aung San Suu Kyi
The right to search for meaning
John Barnabas Leith
Co-Existence, Conflict and Collaboration
Ian Linden
The façade of freedom
Stephanie Brigden
The Gift of Diversity
Shiban Akbar
Hounslow Women's Interfaith Workshops
Charanjit Ajit Singh
Historical Insight
The Cyrus Cylinder
British Museum
Reflections of the Past
The Golden Temple of Amritsar
Parmjit Singh
Poem
Weather Notes
Rebecca Irvine Bilkau
Language of Art
Spirituality of Abandonment
Adam Boulter
Festival
A Peaceful Existence
Radha Mohan Das
Focus
Healing: A collective responsibility
BK Jayanti
United Birmingham
Bhai Sahib Bhai Mohinder Singh
Spiritual Insight
Christian Meditation
Alex Holmes
Expressions of Mysticism
Turning towards the Divine
Burak Sansal
The Shekinah
David Rankine
The Cloud of Unknowing
Peter Dodson
Timeless Devotion
Umm Hanie' Rebler
A Well Trodden path…
Michael Lewin
Devotional Script
Homage to Ahura Mazda
Dastur Dr.M.N.Dhalla
Book Review
I SHALL NOT HATE
Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg
I SHALL NOT HATE (Extract)
Izzeldin Abuelaish
Poem
Faith in Unity
Harjit Singh Sagoo
Faith & the Artist
What the eye sees
Yoram Raanan

Expressions of Mysticism
Turning towards the Divine
by Burak Sansal
Autumn/Winter 2011

Known to the west as Whirling Dervishes, the members of the Mevlevi Order (named for their founder Mevlana) from Konya lived in what we might call cloisters or monasteries - what to them was a Mevlevihane. The one at Galata in Istanbul is a product of late Ottoman architecture, and quite elaborate in having a tomb, a large chamber for the ceremony of the whirling dance (Sema), a fountain from which water was charitably distributed to the public, a time keeper's room, cells for the dervishes, separate quarters for the Master, a section for women, a chamber of silence, a large ornate fountain for ablutions, and a laundry room.

The Mevlevi Order founded in Konya during the Seljuk period is made up first and foremost of tekke analogous to the monasteries of the West. The first of these tekkes is named for Mevlana and was considered as the originator of all the rest. One figure stands out in the early spread of the order: Divani Mehmet Celebi. The celebis or gentle ones who went out to break new ground and make converts saw themselves as disciples of this great master, and an astonishing number of tekkes were established during Divani Mehmet Celebi's lifetime and thanks to his efforts; in Aleppo, Egypt and Algeria, on the islands of Chios (Sakiz) and Mitilene, and of course on the Turkish mainland. The Galata Mevlevihane is among these latter.

There is no
object, no
being which
does not
revolve

The rituals of the Rumi's followers (Whirling Dervishes) are among the enduring as well as the most exquisite ceremonies of spirituality. The ritual whirling of the dervishes is an act of love and a drama of faith. It possesses a highly structured form within which the gentle turns become increasingly dynamic as the individual dervishes strive to achieve a state of trans. The music that accompanies the whirling from beginning to end ranges from somber to rhapsodical; its effect is intended to be mesmerizing. Chanting of poetry, rhythmic rotation, and incessant music create a synthesis which, according to the faithful, induces a feeling of soaring, of ecstasy, of mystical flight.

The Mevlevi sect belongs to the Sunni or orthodox mainstream of Islam. Its doctrine never developed a revolutionary strategy - and although it was occasionally criticized for its heretical ideas, it always enjoyed the respect of the officialdom. Many later Ottoman Sultans, including Mehmed, the Conqueror of Istanbul, were enamored of Mevlevi ideals. The reformist Sultan Selim III was virtually a member. Suleyman, probably the greatest of the Sultans, held the Mevlevi dervishes in high esteem and their semahane (whirling hall) constructed for them as his imperial gift. The hall/mosque stands next to Rumi's mausoleum in Konya.

Besides Mevlevi dervishes, also Bektashi Order's dervishes were highly regarded by the sultans and other common people. The dances of Bektashi dervishes was called as Kirklar Sema dance, which didn't involve whirling like the Mevlana's.

The Whirling Dervishes played a vitally important part in the evolution of Ottoman high culture. from the 14th to the 20th century , their impact on classical poetry, calligraphy, and the visual arts was profound, while music was perhaps their greatest achievement. Since the dogmatists of Islam's orthodoxy opposed music as being harmful to the listener and detrimental to religious life, no sacred music or mosque music evolved except for the Mevlud, a poem in praise of the Prophet Muhammed, chanted on high occasions or as a requiem. Rumi and his followers integrated music into their rituals as an article of faith. In his verses, Rumi emphasized that music uplifts our spirit to realms above, and we hear the tunes of the Gates of Paradise. The meeting places of the dervishes, consequently, became academies of art, music, and dance. Today, the performances of The Whirling Dervishes includes twelve musicians (on traditional Turkish instruments) and 12 dancers. There is also a master of ceremony. A performance is broken into two parts with the introduction conducted by the master followed by 3 or 4 pieces of music. This is followed by a 4-part whirling ceremony.

The Ritual of Sema

The fundamental condition of our existence is to revolve. There is no object, no being which does not revolve. The shared similarity between all created things is the revolution of the electrons, protons, and neutrons within the atoms that constitute their basic structure. from the smallest cell to the planets and the farthest stars, everything takes part in this revolving. Thus, The Semazens, the ones who whirl, participate consciously in the shared revolution of all existence.

The Sema ceremony represents a spiritual journey; the seeker's turning toward God and truth, a maturing through love, the transformation of self as a way of union with God, and the return to life as the servant of all creation.

The Semazen (with a camel'sfelt hat representing a tombstone and a wide white skirt symbolizing the death shroud), upon removing his black cloth, is spiritually born to Truth. The semazens stand with their arms crossed, ready to begin their turn. In their erect posture, they represent the number one, testifying to God's unity. Each rotation takes them past the sheikh, who stands on a red sheep skin. This is the place of Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi, and the sheikh is understood to be a channel for the divine grace. At the start of each of the four movements of the ceremony, the semazens bow to each other honoring the spirit within. As their arms unfold, the right hand opens to the skies in prayer, ready to receive God's beneficence. The left hand, upon which his gaze rests, is turned towards the earth in the gesture of bestowal.

Fix-footed, the semazen provides a point of contact with this Earth through which the divine blessings can flow. Turning from right to left, he embraces all creation as he chants the name of God within the heart. The Sema ritual consists of seven parts:

  1. It starts with the singing of the Nat-i-Serif, a eulogy to the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him), who represents love. Praising him is praising the truth of God that he and all the prophets before him brought.
  2. Then follows the call of the drum and the slap of glory, calling the semazens to awaken and Be. This begins the procession known as the Sultan Veled Walk. It is the salutation of one soul to another, acknowledged by bowing.
  3. Then begins the Sema ritual itself. It consists of four selams or salutes. The first selam is the birth of truth by way of knowledge. The second selam expresses the rapture of witnessing the splendor of creation. The third selam is the transformation of rapture into love; the sacrifice of mind and self to love. It represents complete submission and communion with God. The fourth selam is the semazen's coming to terms with his destiny and his return to his task in creation. In the fourth selam, the sheikh enters the circling dervishes, where he assumes the place of the sun in the center of the circling planets.
  4. The Sema end with a reading from the Qur'an. The sheikh and dervishes complete their time together with the greeting of peace and then depart, accompanied by joyous music of their departure.

One of the beauties of this seven-centuries-old ritual is the way that it unifies the three fundamental components of man's nature; mind, emotion, and spirit, combining them in a practice and a worship that seeks the purification of all three in the turning towards Divine Unity. But most significantly, the enrichment of this earth and the well-being of humanity as a whole.

Photograph © David Rose. Please see www.shap.org for more photographs by David Rose

Article with kind permission: www.allaboutturkey.com