The whirling dance or Sufi whirling that is proverbially associated with Dervishes, is the practice of the Mevlevi Order in Turkey, and is just one of the physical methods used to try to reach religious ecstasy (majdhb, fana). The name Mevlevi comes from the Turkic (Horasani) poet, Rumi, whose shrine is in Turkey and who was a Dervish himself. This practice, though not intended as entertainment, has become a tourist attraction in Turkey.

As Sufi practitioners, Dervishes have been known as sources of wisdom, medicine, poetry, enlightenment, and witticisms. For example, Nasrudin became a legend in the Near East and the Indian subcontinent, not only among the Muslims.

Sufi whirling is one of the most ancient techniques. It is so deep that even a single experience can make you totally different. Whirl with open eyes, just like small children go on twirling, as if your inner being has become a center and your whole body has become a wheel, moving, a potter’s wheel, moving. You are in the center, but the whole body is moving." It is good not to eat or drink for a few hours before whirling. It is best to have bare feet and loose clothing.


The Dervish dancing is very deep: in it, the dancer's body spins so fast and with such totality that every cell and fiber of his body vibrates. This breaks the relationship between the body and the consciousness, and suddenly the dancer realizes that he is separate from his body.

whirling1.gifFirst stage: 45 minutes music. Keep your eyes open and feel the center point of your body. lift your arms to shoulder height, with the right hand palm up and the left hand low, palm down. Start turning around your own axis, anti-clockwise. let your body be soft. Start slowly and after 15 minutes gradually go faster and faster. You become a whirlpool of energy - the periphery a storm of movement but the witness at the center silent and still.


whirling2.gifSecond stage: 15 minutes silence. let your body fall to the ground when the music stops. (It may already have happened before). Roll onto your stomach immediately so that your navel is in contact with the earth. Feel your body blending into the earth. Keep your eyes closed and remain passive and silent.



Merton was a student of Zen master XE "Buddhism" Daisetsu Suzuki and Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh.

Merton also studied mystical Islamic Sufism XE "Sufism" . He said, “I’m deeply impregnated with Sufism” (Rob Baker and Gray Henry, Merton and Sufism, 1999, p. 109).

Sufis “chant the name of Allah as a mantra, go into meditative trances and experience God in everything” (Yungen, p. 59). They seek to achieve “fana,” which is “the act of merging with the Divine Oneness.” Some Sufis use dance and music to attain mystical union with God. I observed the “whirling dervish” ritual in Istanbul. As they whirl in a trance-like state to the music the Sufi mystics raise the palm of one hand to heaven and the other to the earth, to channel the mystical experience.



Sufi is not an ism. It is a way of life. Arab historian Al Beruni (973-1048 AD) wrote in his magnum opus on India that the word Sufi is derived from pailasopa, Greek for "love of wisdom". It has nothing to do with suf -- Arabic for wool -- or the woolen garment worn by the followers of the Sufi path. He further quotes Abu-alfath Albusti, who connects Sufis with safi or purity; thus a Sufi is one who lives purely, in the purity of simplicity.

A Sufi is not a renegade; he/she does not run away from society. He/she is not a recluse. Some Sufis may choose to live as hermits, but that is their choice. That is neither a requirement nor a condition to be a Sufi.

A Sufi today must remain in society and work for its betterment. I firmly believe that it is the Sufi thought that can save the globe.

No, both Sufism and the institutionalization of Sufis cannot be a solution to the world's problems. Indeed, they will create more problems. In our own country, we have such examples aplenty.

The moment the Sufi way of life is institutionalized and becomes an ism, it is seen as a threat by all other established institutions, especially the religio-political institutions. Such institutions, as shown by history, have always been hostile, for they cannot do what the Sufis can. They cannot hold their parties together with the power of love, as Sufis do. They are fear-based societies, whereas the Sufis are love-based.

Sufi thought or way of life, without its institutionalization, is the solution to the world's problems today. Sufi thought must permeate our thoughts and penetrate through the thick and rigid blocks of our minds. The Sufi way of life must change our entire outlook toward life, and then we will have an entirely new society. We will have an enlightened society.

"My heart has opened up in every form: It is a pasture for gazelles, a cloister for Christian monks, a temple for idols, the Kaaba of the pilgrim, the tables of the Torah and the book of the Koran. I practice the religion of love: In whatsoever directions its caravan advance, the religion of love shall be my religion and my faith," wrote Ibn Arabi (1165-1240).

A society which is based on mutual understanding and appreciation and not merely tolerance is the need of the hour. The Singaporean minister for the environment and in charge of Muslim affairs, Yaacob Ibrahim, quoted the scholar Ibn Khaldum who described a Sufi as one who retires from other things and turns to God.

Good explanation, but the retirement required of a Sufi today is that of the heart. A Sufi's heart must not be attached to worldly things. His/her mind must be freed of all temptations. With a free heart and mind, a Sufi must remain in society.

We need Sufi economists and Sufi politicians who are not greedy and power hungry -- who are in the society to serve it. We need Sufi religious ministers who do not promise heaven hereafter but strive to create a heaven on earth. We need Sufi educationists to teach us how to unite in love and not divide in hatred.

Prof. Bruce Lawrence from Duke University in the United States quoted a very famous tradition wherein the Prophet's companion Hazrat Abu Bakr made an announcement that the Prophet was dead, but Islam lived on. For the Sufis, pointed out Bruce, both the Prophet and his teachings, his way of submission to the Lord's will are very much alive.

It is not enough that we study his life; we have to live the way shown by him. For, as pointed out in the Holy Koran, at the end of the day it is our behavior which matters: "On the day when their tongues, their hands, and their feet will bear witness against them as to their actions." -- 24:24

The Writer is a spiritual activist. Visit him at

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