Whirling is one of the most ancient and effective techniques used by the Sufis. It is a whirlwind but in the centre there is only calm. Your inner being turns into a fulcrum, your body into a circling wheel. You become the centre of the universe, totally present to your innermost self yet connected to everything. Whirling is that silent dialogue between the inner and outer universes. Music and dancing unite in the rhythm which carries you to your very own heartbeat and to the presence of others.
Through ecstasy, in the sense of blissful union, whirling takes you from the sobriety of everyday life into the sobriety of a higher order. Thus whirling can be seen as a 'stairway to heaven' or as part of tawhīd, the science of the unity of everything that exists.
Fawzia Al-Rawi has further developed whirling with a special emphasis on the feminine aspects so that it brings strength and healing to the body while at the same time awakening dormant spiritual energies.
Whirling was practised by the Sufis in Baghdad as early as in the 9th Century. Jalal Ad-Din Muhammad Ar-Rumi, the Islamic mystic and major Persian poet of the Middle Ages himself practised whirling in its spontaneous, sometimes impetuous form. Whirling was later perfected by his son, Sultan Walad, who made into an institution by founding the Mevlevi order.
In its complete form, the ṣamā' ritual is a representation of human beings' spiritual journey to the Divine and their return as servants of the Divine. Every movement carries a symbolic meaning and is carefully performed with the utmost concentration.
Neither My heaven nor My earth contain Me,
yet the heart of My pious servant contains Me.
The training lasts three years. For 1,001 days, the students learn the art of 'walking on the spot', circling without leaving that spot, not even by as much as an inch. The goal is reached when they can remain perfectly centred while whirling.
At the beginning, the circle is divided into four quarters and the right foot steps into one quarter after the other. Then the circle is divided into two halves and the whirling is done with two steps of the right foot. Finally, the whole circle is completed with a single step. From the atom to the cosmos, our whole existence is based on circling movements. Through their dance, the whirlers seek harmony with nature and with the Creator.
... and when the journey to God comes to an end, then the journey in God begins.
Ṣamā' means 'to hear', in the sense of hearing the sounds which lead to Unity. The hearing focuses on the most varied forms of the 'sounds of Unity', also known as 'the voice of silence'. Mevlana is the Turkish version of maulana, which means 'our Lord/Master' and comes from the Arabic mawlā, 'Lord'. This is how Rumi was called Mevlana by the dervishes and later by his followers. And Mevlana used to hear the sweet melody of the Divine question: "Am I not your Lord?" (sūra 7, verse 172).
The letter 'h' at the end of Allāh indicates the breath in which a reflection of His majesty eventually becomes visible to the 'eye of the heart'. At the end of their prayers, the Mevlevi dervishes call 'Huuuu'.
Muqābala means 'encounter, meditation'; meeting one's own Divine light through which one can recognise and see the light in all creatures.
Contrary to a commonly held opinion, the whirlers do not seek ecstasy. Through circling in harmony with nature, from tiniest cells to heavenly stars, they become witnesses to the majesty and the existence of the Creator. Whirling is thought for Him, praise to Him and prayer to Him. By whirling, they confirm the words of the Qur'ān: "Everything on earth and in heaven praises the One God." (sūra 64, verse 1).
One major feature of this eight centuries old ritual is that it brings together three fundamental components of human nature – mind, emotion and body.
The ṣamā' ceremony is a representation of the human spiritual path – spiritual development which, through intelligence and love, leads to perfection, al-kamīl. By whirling towards the truth, the whirlers grow through love, transcend the ego, finally meet the truth and reach perfection. They return from that journey capable of loving and henceforth serving Creation and all creatures regardless of creed, class or ethnic group.
In the ṣamā' ritual, the black cloak symbolises the grave. By removing it, the dervishes turn away from this world and start the process of being reborn in truth. The hat made of camel or goat's hair symbolises the tombstone of the ego. The white robe represents the shroud of the ego and thus the passage to being-at-one. The Persian word dervish, 'passage' and the Arabic word faqir, 'the one who owns nothing and is owned by nothing', are both used for those who follow the path of love which leads to God.
The pain of love became the remedy for all hearts;
no difficulty can be solved without love.
According to the Sufis, the illusion of separation is one of the major causes of suffering. Like a veil, it prevents the heart from experiencing unity with oneself, with others, with nature and with God. The heart is the home of the soul, which is why our spiritual health and the balance of our life depend on the state of our heart.
Traditionally healers see wounds as a training ground. When we recognise our own wounds as a very special ground where we can exercise love and compassion, the eyes and the ears of our heart open. We are then guided to the deep secrets and wisdom of our own heart, which helps us find again the very foundation of existence, simplicity and naturalness. By relinquishing the fragmentation of our life, we return to Unity.
Music holds a central place among the arts, especially in Asia and the Middle East. Sufis call it ghiza ar-rūḥ, 'food for the soul', and musical encounters ṣamā' , which means 'to listen' in Arabic, as already mentioned. During those meetings, participants try to listen with such intensity that for a few moments, they forget their limited selves and take part in the infinite Divine presence. As Sufis says, 'God rains' during these encounters. Yet their listening does not stop at those meetings but extends to all aspects of daily life. Many Sufis view the whole universe as one single symphony in which all beings participate.
Dance can induce specific changes of perception in dancers and audience alike. The best-known is intensified feelings which are used in many rituals as well as in dance therapy. Dancing can also induce or further specific states of ecstasy, trance or meditation. Last but not least, for many people and in many cultures, dance is an inner path of knowledge.