Lately I’ve been feeling like a whirling dervish…except that I’ve been getting dizzy.  If you’ve ever since those Persian/Turkish dancers with their high hats, loose slacks, and robes spinning in unison, you may think, well, of course they’re getting dizzy.  But the aim is ironically the opposite; they’re surpassing dizzy.

Dervishes are like Christian Orders.  Among the Catholics, there are Franciscan Friars (which I would have been if I had been male), Dominicans, Jesuits, Paulists, and Benedictines.  The Sufis (the mystics of Islam) have their fraternal orders as well and these are called Dervishes.  Among some of the more important dervishes are the Qadir, Rifa’i, Shadhili, Suhrawardi, and the Mevlevi.  Like their Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist (known as sadhus) counterparts, individuals within the discipline of a dervish are practicing asceticism or a chosen simplicity and poverty, what the Sufis call tariqa (the path, the way to God).   

All dervishes do not whirl.  Each order follows the practices of its founder.  The Franciscans follow St. Francis of Assisi,  (the charismatic nobleman and soldier who gave up everything save God), wearing rough, plain garments, they live completely by alms, and serve the poorest of humanity and the needs of animals.   In Egypt, the Qadiryya dervish, also live humbly and give to the poor, but what sets them apart, is they are mostly comprised of one profession, they are fishermen.  Interesting to note, the more we are different, the more we are the same.  There was another famous fisher of men in Galilee, a Jesus of Nazareth, whose apostles were also fishermen. I guess you could say in some ways, that Jesus was the founder of his particular dervish.

But the dervish that whirls is the Mevlevi dervish. Founder Mevlana Jaladdin Rumi (1207-1273), the renowned mystic and prolific poet included the trance-like dancing as part of his practice of tariqa.  Rotating in a precise rhythm, the dance is part of a sacred ceremony.  The dancer represents the earth revolving on its axis while orbiting the sun.  The purpose of the ritual is to empty oneself of all distracting thoughts. Entering a meditative state, the body conquers dizziness.

There is intention.   When I am spinning my wheels, with a to-do list that is attacked like putting out a fire, tangled up in a lengthy fire hose, un-intentionally wrapped around myself like a boa constrictor; I have not entered the dance mindfully, but rather stumbled onto to the dance floor befuddled.  “Music is to develop the consciousness, poetry is wisdom”, said the prophet Muhammad.  Music, an essential accompaniment to whirling, is repetitive and rises to a crescendo of spiritual oneness, the blurring and blending of the material and cosmic worlds.

It is also about the breath.  It is bringing the body and mind just to the present.   

One of the many reasons that Rumi is known and loved across faiths and cultures is that his prolific writings speak to the timeless life of the Spirit. His message speaks of NOW:

Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu, Buddhist, Sufi or Zen.  Not any religion, or cultural system.  I am not from the East or the West, nor out of the ocean or up from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not composed of elements at all.  I do not exist, am not an entity in this world or the next, did not descend from Adam and Eve or any origin story.  My place is placeless, a trace of the traceless,  neither body nor soul.  I belong to the beloved, have seen the two worlds as one and that one call to and know. First, last, outer, inner, only that breath breathing human. (Rumi Poem, Only Breath).

Always, a returning, a turning back, no matter how many times one has strayed.

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5 replies
  1. Taufiq Khalid
    Taufiq Khalid says:

    Hullo Nun Tuck,

    I wrote a long-ish comment but have inadvertantly lost it to cyber-purgatory. At least I can share with you (with your kind permission), a little doggeral I once wrote with Rumi in my mind…

    35. Frying Bacon
    Lucius is awake and frying bacon,
    An ant crawls on Annie’s lap,
    In his office, a lawyer tidies his desk,
    And far away, in a secluded place
    A bear rests.

    Driving to work, Karim is crying,
    Alone with herself, Maria is all smiles,
    In the jungle, a tiger stalks a mousedeer,
    And on a leaf, seven angels stand in praise,
    While Artiya’il visits a grieving mother.

    And where is religion?
    For Lucius is having his breakfast now,
    And my religion is in a man who loves Lucius,
    Beyond the jealousy of theology,
    Does it makes any sense at all? Well, sensible or nonsense, I do retain some semblance of sense to wish you a merry Sunday, a God’s Day in which hopefully you will be amused constantly by thoughts of a Lord Most Loving in all His aspects.

    Oh yes, before I take leave, I am aware of another tariqa that performs the whirling apart from the Mehlevi order, its known as the Naqshbandiya order. I can safely confirm this because I saw the whirling performed ‘live’ once, here in the Naqshbandi zawiya in Kuala Lumpur. It was beautiful and surreal. Lovely bubbly.

    Take care and happy running.



    • katmon1
      katmon1 says:

      Aloha Taufiq,

      I say Aloha to you, because besides meaning hello and goodbye in Hawaii, the etymology of the word holds a deeper meaning, “joyfully sharing life’s breath or life’s energy with you” and so I say Aloha to you.

      Your everyday images mixed with the mystical presence of seven angels sitting on a leaf while a spirit (who is Artiya’il?) comforts a grieving mother, create wonderful visual snapshots, like a movie, where from cel to cel, we get to peek into what it is happening simultaneously in different character’s lives or from one enviroment to another. Artistry with a message for an open hearted God who holds the whole catastrophe we call life, in all its wonder, fragility, and pain.

      P.S. I love learning new things…never heard of that dervish…I am going to google. I wonder if my Islamic professor has heard of them?!

      Wishing you simple blessings, here and now,

      Nun “Katherine” Tuck

  2. Taufiq Khalid
    Taufiq Khalid says:

    Dear Nun “Katherine” Tuck,

    The Naqshbandi order have been around for awhile, and claims its origin to the 2nd Kalifah, Abu Bakar as-siddiq. All other tarikat comes from the line of Ali, the 4th Kalifah. It derives its name from its 16th grand sheikh. It is now in the age of the 40th grand sheikh, an old old gentleman called Maulana Sheik Nazim Al-Qubrusi. He lives in Turkish-Cyprus, ergo the title ‘Qubrusi’, as Qubrus is the Turkish name for Cyprus.

    His representative in USA, is Sheikh Hisham Kabbani. He was much maligned by some Muslims in the USA and elsewhere, because prior to 9/11 he had consultations with the US State Dept where he alleged that a large portion of suraus, madrasahs and mosques in the USA have been infiltrated by Wahhabi extremists. Oh, boy, did he get flak for that! Hehehe.

    They are considered a rather sober dervish order (but that is for you to judge, hehehe). Below is a youtube video of a whirling dzikr / salawat performed in Montreal, Canada. Of all places, in a yoga centre… how apt.

    The url is…

    The Naqshbandis can worship anywhere. Just give them a little floor space, some drums, and they will whirl and trip the Divine Light fantastic. Hehehe.

    Artiya’il is an angel. His specific job is to visit the sad, sorrowful and despairing to heal the hurt and hasten the healing. Like many arch-angels (in Muslim lore), his name ends with ‘il, like Azra’il (Angel of Death), Mikha’il (Micheal) and Gibra’il (Gabriel). There is a huge corpus on angel lore in sufism.


    Sinner “Taufiq” Almanac

    • katmon1
      katmon1 says:

      Good Stuff! It is fascinating to know of the centuries of parallel religion that grew alongside that of my own. But for some reason, the most interesting to me is that of your blessed angel, Artiya’il. Oh, what a wonderful angel. I will call him to myself. For suffering is not unknown to any of us (who have lived long enough); and he has his work cut out for him (So I will pray for his ongoing presence).

      And while I do not yet understand, whether it was angel, or spirit, or ancestor, or God, I have gratefully felt the “peace which passeth all understanding”, the gift that comes when all rational thought points to despair.

      And as for that (perhaps) “crazy” Shiekh in the US, that everyone was irritated with, perhaps he too held some wisdom, no?
      I would like to share with you a poem that I have been living with for over a week now, written by a modern American poet, one of our first poet Laureates, Stanley Kunitz (to me, a perfection of a poem):

      The Layers by Stanley Kunitz

      I have walked through many years
      some of them my own,
      and I am not who I was,
      though some principles of being
      abides, from which I struggle
      not to stray.
      When I look behind,
      as I am compelled to look
      before I can gather strength
      to proceed on my journey,
      I see the milestones dwindling
      toward the horizon
      and the slow fires trailing
      from the abandoned camp-sites,
      over which scavenger angels
      wheel on heavy wings.
      Oh, I have made myself a tribe
      out of my true affections,
      and my tribe is scattered!
      How shall the heart be reconciled
      to its feast of losses?
      In a rising wind
      the manic dust of my friends,
      those who fell along the way,
      bitterly stings my face.
      Yet I turn, I turn,
      exulting somewhat,
      with my will intact to go
      wherever I need to go,
      and every stone on the road
      precious to me.
      In my darkest night,
      when the moon was covered
      and I roamed through wreckage,
      a nimbus-covered voice
      directed me
      “Live in the layers,
      not on the litter.”
      Though I lack the art
      to decipher it,
      no doubt the next chapter
      in my book of transformations
      is already written.
      I am not done with my changes.

      Salaam, Nun Tuck

  3. Taufiq Khalid
    Taufiq Khalid says:

    Dear Nun Tuck,


    Well, that is a poem, if found in an ancient arabic or persian scroll, will be deemed of the highest form of sufi verse. Hands down, I love it enough to wish i wrote it!

    Yes, the crazy sheikh did have some form of wisdom. It is a struggle, Katherine, for the soul of my religion. The media likes to portray sufism as a small offshoot or mainstream orthodoxy, but for the sufis there is no orthodoxy, no left or right, no fundamentalist or moderate strain of Islam. It either is or is not. The contest between wahabbism-Islam and Islam has been going on for centuries…

    Islam is wide enough to encompass the tradition and culture of all ethnic groups and nationalities. A bosom companion of Muhammad was a persian called Salman al Farsi. One day, he decided that perhaps he should blend in more in the predominantly arab community in Medina. And perhaps, he also thought that it may please Muhammad. So in he walked into the Prophet’s presence one day, in his arab garb. Muhammad took one look at his companion, and told him that he looked far better in his persian dressing.

    Islam are not asking anyone to change. In all my albeit limited understanding of the faith, the constant whisper that i hear in my heart is only saying this… ‘I do not want you to be anyone other than Taufiq. All I desire is for you to be the best Taufiq that you can be.”

    So I end this with the same prayers, I do not want you to be anyone other than Katherine. All I desire is for you to be the best Katherine that you can be.

    God bless this Friday for you and your beautiful children,

    Pax Taufica!


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