origin and roots of Sufism lie in the life and
practices of the Prophet of Islam and the Qur’an.
Sufism espouses a well-founded and thoroughgoing
interpretation of Islam, which focuses on love,
tolerance, worship of God, community development,
and personal development through self-discipline and
responsibility. A Sufi’s way of life is to love
and be of service to people, deserting the ego or
false self and all illusion so that one can reach
maturity and perfection, and finally reach Allah,
the True, the Real.
the Whirling Dervishes program we hope to bring to
you a hint of one of the remarkable ways of
achieving this: the way of Rumi, the great Muslim
mystic and poet.
Order of the Whirling Dervishes is one branch of the
vast Sufi tradition of Islam. The universal values
of love and service shared by all Sufis are very
much relevant to the social and political realities
of today, and this ritual, which is only performed
by the Order of the Whirling Dervishes, has come to
symbolize these values in the hearts and minds of
millions throughout the world.
The Fundamental Meaning of Sema
THE SEMA RITUAL began with the inspiration of Mevlâna Jalâluddîn Rumi (1207-1273) and was influenced by Turkish customs and culture.
It is scientifically recognized that the fundamental condition of our existence is to revolve. There is no being or object which does not revolve, because all beings are comprised of revolving electrons, protons, and neutrons in atoms. Everything revolves, and the human being lives by means of the revolution of these particles, by the revolution of the blood in his body, and by the revolution of the stages of his life, by his coming from the earth and his returning to it.
However, all of these revolutions are natural and unconscious. But the human being possesses a mind and an intelligence which distinguishes him from other beings. Thus the whirling dervish or semazen, intentionally and consciously participates in the shared revolution of other beings.
Contrary to popular belief, the semazen's goal is not to lose consciousness or to fall into a state of ecstasy. Instead, by revolving in harmony with all things in nature -- with the smallest cells and with the stars in the firmament -- the semazen testifies to the existence and the majesty of the Creator, thinks of Him, gives thanks to Him, and prays to Him. In so doing, the semazen confirms the words of the Qur'an (64:1): Whatever is in the skies or on earth invokes God.
An important characteristic of this seven-centuries-old ritual is that it unites the three fundamental components of human nature: the mind (as knowledge and thought), the heart (through the expression of feelings, poetry and music) and the body (by activating life, by the turning). These three elements are thoroughly joined both in theory and in practice as perhaps in no other ritual or system of thought.
The Sema ceremony represents the human being's spiritual journey, an ascent by means of intelligence and love to Perfection (Kemal). Turning toward the truth, he grows through love, transcends the ego, meets the truth, and arrives at Perfection. Then he returns from this spiritual journey as one who has reached maturity and completion, able to love and serve the whole of creation and all creatures without discriminating in regard to belief, class, or race.
In the symbolism of the Sema ritual, the semazen's camel's hair hat (sikke) represents the tombstone of the ego; his wide, white skirt represents the ego's shroud. By removing his black cloak, he is spiritually reborn to the truth. At the beginning of the Sema, by holding his arms crosswise, the semazen appears to represent the number one, thus testifying to God's unity. While whirling, his arms are open: his right arm is directed to the sky, ready to receive God's beneficence; his left hand, upon which his eyes are fastened, is turned toward the earth. The semazen conveys God's spiritual gift to those who are witnessing the Sema. Revolving from right to left around the heart, the semazen embraces all humanity with love. The human being has been created with love in order to love. Mevlâna Jalâluddîn Rumi says, "All loves are a bridge to Divine love. Yet, those who have not had a taste of it do not know!"
The Ritual Dance or Sema
Mevlevi (also spelled as mawlawi) Ritual dance or sema consists of
several stages with different meanings:
first stage, Naat-i
is a eulogy to the Messenger of Islam and the all
Prophets before him, who represent love. To praise
them is to acknowledge and praise God Almighty Who
created and sent them to humanity as a mercy. This
eulogy is followed by a drumbeat (on the kudum)
symbolizing the divine command ‘Be’ for the
creation of the entire universe.
is followed by a Taksim,
an improvisation on the reed flute or ney.
expresses the divine breath, which gives life to
follows the Sultan Veled procession or Devr-i
Veled, accompanied by peshrev
music; this is a circular, anticlockwise, procession
three times around the turning space. The greetings
of the semazen,
or whirling dervishes, during the
procession represent the three stages of knowledge: ilm-al
yaqin (received knowledge, gained from others or
through study), ayn-al yaqin (knowing by
seeing or observing for oneself) and haqq-al
yakin (knowledge gained through direct
itself there are four selams,
or musical movements, each with a distinct rhythm.
At the beginning, during and close of each selam,
testify to God's existence, unity, majesty and
represents the human being's birth to truth through
feeling and mind. It represents his complete
acceptance of his condition as a creature created by
expresses the rapture of the human being witnessing
of creation in the face of God's greatness and
is the rapture of dissolving into love and the
sacrifice of the mind to love. It is complete
submission, unity, and the annihilation of self in
the Beloved. This is the state that is known as nirvana
in Buddhism and fana
fillah in Islam. The next stage in Islamic
belief is the state of servanthood represented by
the Prophet, who is called God's servant foremost
and subsequently His ‘Messenger.’ The aim of Sema
is not uncontrolled ecstasy and loss of
consciousness, but the realization of submission to
Selam, just as the Prophet ascends to the
spiritual Throne of Allah and then returns to his
task on earth, the whirling dervish,
after the ascent of his spiritual journey, returns
to his task, to his servanthood. He is a servant of
God, of His Books, of His Prophets, of His whole
is followed by a recitation from the Qur’an, the Sura
(Chapter) Mary on the miracle birth of Jesus and his
the end, by the salute, the dervish demonstrates
again the number ‘1’ in his appearance, arms
consciously and humbly crossed, and, by this, the
unity of God.
ceremony ends with a prayer for the peace of the
souls of all the Prophets and believers.
the completion of the Sema,
all the dervishes
retire silently to their rooms for meditation and
further remembrance of God.
Sema is a spiritual act, so please DO NOT
applaud while watching. You may kindly do so, if you
wish, after the dervishes have left the stage