Abu Ishaq Ibrahim Adham
by Seyedeh Sahar Kianfar

from Vol. 2, No. 4

by Titus Burckhardt

from Vol. 3, No. 2

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by Seyedeh Sahar Kianfar

from Vol. 9, No. 2

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and the

Whirling Dervishes

The Living Tradition of Mevlana Jelaluddin

by Sheikh Abdul Azziz

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Rahim
In the Name of God, The Compassionate, The Merciful

From the Holy Qur’an, Unto Allah (God) belongs the East and
the West and whithersoever you turn, there is the Face of God.
Lo! Allah is All-Embracing, All-Knowing.

Our path, the Mevlevi path of the Whirling Dervishes, is the path of Hazreti Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi. Rumi is, apparently, now the most popular poet in the U. S., but sometimes people don’t make the connection between the poetry of Hazreti Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi and the tradition of the Whirling Dervishes. The Whirling Dervishes are the Sufis of the Mevlevi Order, the Mevlevi tariqa, or path. There are many different Sufi Orders and most of them take their names from great saints who have placed their stamp on a tradition which grew up after them. Hazreti Mevlana placed his stamp on what became the Mevlevi tariqa, the Mevlevi Sufi way and the main feature of that way is the Sema, the whirling or turning dance of the Mevlevis. In referring to Rumi as Hazreti Mevlana, Mevlana means Lord or Master and Hazreti is like a title; it means Presence.

The Sema is a ceremony of dhikr Allah, which means remembrance of God. All the various Sufi Orders do different forms of dhikr and ceremonies of dhikr. In our way, the Sema is our group ceremony of remembrance of God. We use dhikr Allah as a private, personal devotion as well as a group devotion, so when the dervishes are turning in the Sema, they are saying in their hearts, the dhikr of the order, which is simply the name, Allah. When the dervishes turn, they are focusing their attention on their inner centre and they turn around and around their own centre in this way, and there should be nothing else in their hearts except remembrance of God.

Hazreti Mevlana said: Sema is peace for the lovers of God, and, The Sema is made for the union with the Beloved. Those who have their faces turned toward the Qibla,

For them it is the Sema of this world and the other.
Even more for the circle of dancers within the Sema
Who turn and have in their midst, their own Ka’aba.

The Ka’aba for Muslims is the Holy House in Mecca, the place of pilgrimage. In our turning, we make a pilgrimage to that centre of our own being. The Ka’aba is also the place where all Muslims turn to make their prayer; wherever they are in the world, they are turning towards that centre for their prayer. Sema is prayer and the way I would ask people to view the Sema is not as a performance, but as a sharing of the experience of our prayer in the Sema. It is for this reason that we ask people not to applaud after the Sema, because it is worship. It is, for example, like going into a room and seeing us make the Muslim devotions, the Muslim prayer. After an initial moment of curiosity, you would just accept our prayer as we were doing it and join in that feeling of prayers. You would not view that prayer as a performance, as something we were doing to impress you or show you or entertain you. You would see that this prayer was given for our own personal reasons; for Allah Almighty. It is in that way that I ask people to view the Sema; as an experience of devotion and prayer that we are privileged to share with you.

The Sema is based on Hazreti Mevlana’s experience and Hazreti Mevlana was, like all the Sufi Sheikhs and Masters, a follower of the Sunna, the Way, and of the revelation of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu aleihi wa salaam, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him. Mevlana wrote: I am the slave of the Qur’an while I still have life. I am dust on the path of Muhammad, the Chosen One. If anyone interprets my words in any other way, I deplore that person and I deplore his words. The ceremony and the way of the dervishes is a way that uses and submits to the religion of Islam, the Sunna of the Holy Prophet and the saints who followed in His footsteps. Much has been said of Hazreti Mevlana’s universal message. It is universal because the truth of the way of the heart is universal and meaningful to all of us.

In the Sema, the ceremony begins with a song called the Na’at, a recitation: Ya Hazreti Mevlana, and this means: Presence of our Lord, or Master. This is commonly used when referring to Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi, but these words in the opening recitation do not relate to Rumi, rather they relate to the Holy Prophet, s.a.w.s. After this opening, there is the ney (reed flute) playing, recalling this yearning and separation of the soul from its divine origin. Then we enter into the Sema with the cycle of Sultan Veled in which the dervishes walk round three times and bow to each other. As they bow in front of the post‚ the red sheepskin throne‚ of the Sheikh, they are recognizing in each other the divine spark. There follows a period of dhikr Allah before we begin the four selams or salutations, the four greetings, which comprise the turning or whirling of the Sema itself. Finally, there is a recitation from the Holy Qur’an and often the passage used in that recitation is the one that I began with, . . . whithersoever you turn, there is the Face of God.

Hazreti Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi was from a family of Sufis and he was taught in the traditional Sufi way by his father and by other Sheikhs. At the same time, he was naturally gifted intuitively; he was one of those great ones who, when he stepped into the world, understood that there was a relationship between the seen and the unseen. However, Mevlana had an experience in his life which created a change of vast significance. Although he had been taught and trained with retreat and with dhikr by Sufi masters, it was only when a wandering dervish sheikh, a great Sheikh called Hazreti Shamsuddin of Tabriz, came into his life that Mevlana became the spiritual force which created the Mevlevi tradition and sent its vibrations down through the centuries to the point where, even today, people in the Western world, just as they have for many centuries in the Middle East and the East, are appreciating his poetry.

Shams was a great and powerful Sheikh. His name means the sun, the sun of the faith, and his energy was the energy of positive power. Mevlana said: I was raw, I was cooked and then I was burned. Hazreti Mevlana was burned by the sun of Shams‚ energy. When Shams, on his lonely path, entered Konya where Mevlana lived, he met Mevlana and Mevlana swooned with the force of the Presence of Shams. They closeted themselves away for many months, until eventually jealousy and resentment by Mevlana’s existing pupils drove Shams away because they did not understand who Shams really was; he did not fit in with their preconceptions. Mevlana, on the other hand, submitted himself to Shams completely; he didn’t hang onto any of his former status. He let it all go and followed Shams‚ energy and light. Shams, in a famous story, met another Sheikh on his travels; a Sheikh well respected in his own locale, and this Sheikh recognized that Shams was a great teacher. He said to Shams: Oh, I must follow you, and Shams said: Well, I don’t think you will be able to.

The Sufi master said: Oh, I must, I must be with you. Shams said: Then let us celebrate. Let us go down to the Jewish quarter, buy some wine and toast this beginning. Now the Sheikh immediately said: Oh, I do not think I could do that; you know I have a reputation here and people will think worse of me.
Shams said: I told you, you cannot be with me. In Islam, of course, it is prohibited by law to drink alcohol, but with Mevlana it was nothing like that. Mevlana, according to his son, Sultan Veled, said: When Shams came into my life, he lit the fire of mystic love within me.

Eventually, Shams disappeared completely from Mevlana’s life and it was rumored that he had been murdered. From that time on, as we understand it, Mevlana changed the way he taught because he was aflame with mystic passion; with the passion of love which is Mevlana’s legacy. Mevlana wrote: Know that it is the waves of love that turn the wheels of heaven. It is through the energy of love that we communicate from heart to heart and in the Sufi tradition it is said that the heart of one can communicate with the heart of another. Hazreti Mevlana wrote: There is a way from your heart to mine, and my heart knows it, because it is clean and pure like water. When the water is still like a mirror, it can behold the moon.

The dhikr, the remembrance of God, is the way that we cleanse the heart. Through the repetition of various phrases and words within the Islamic Sufi tradition, we clear the mind and then the heart so that we can listen to the voice that guides us; that guides us with love, towards success; success in the way that it is said in the Adhan, the Islamic call to prayer. Come to prayer, come to success. To know success is to be in love with the Beloved in the way that the great Sufi saints, particularly Mevlana, describe it; where there is no more self, in the personal sense, we turn only around the greater Self, the Divine Consciousness.

When Shams was gone from Mevlana's life, Mevlana began to turn in; the way that we have inherited this tradition. In Mevlana's time it was an ecstatic, spontaneous turning. There is a famous story illustrating this. There was a close colleague who became one of Mevlana's closest associates, a fellow student, Sheikh Salahuddin Zerkub, which means the gold-beater. This Sheikh earned his living beating gold and he also had apprentices. Now, it is said that once when Mevlana was walking in the marketplace in Konya, he
The dhikr,
the remembrance
of God, is the way
that we cleanse
the heart.

heard the rhythmic hammering of the gold-beater’s apprentices and of the gold-beater Sheikh. As he heard this sound, Mevlana slowly opened his arms and began to turn around and around in the marketplace in ecstasy. In that rhythmic hammering he heard the dhikr: Allah, Allah, Allah . . . and it set off within him the energy of love which made him turn. In Mevlana’s own time, he often had gatherings with music, singing and poetry and the Sema, in this spontaneous way. In later generations, particularly with his son, Sultan Veled, the ceremony became more formalized and over the centuries a musical tradition also grew up around the ceremony. There are particular robes which we wear in the ceremony and these have a symbolism which relates to dying and being resurrected. We are really referring to the great Sufi phrase of, Die before you die . . .

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Sheikh Abdul Azziz was born and educated in the UK and he is a murid of the Naqshbandi Sufi Master, Hadrat Sheikh Abdullah Sirr Dan al Jamal. Under his Sheikh’s direction, and with the permission of Rumi’s descendant, Hazreti Jelaluddin Celebi, Sheikh Abdul Aziz was guided to the Mevlevi tradition. He had been teaching the Mevlevi Sufi path in Melbourne for over ten years.

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