Worshipping God Through Meditation: Whirling Dervishes


Meditation is a common practice in many Eastern religions, including the Sufis. It has been a tradition in Turkey for approximately 800 years, though like most ancient religious traditions, it probably has its roots from much longer ago.

By examining religious traditions from around the world, we open our hearts to be more accepting of people who love God as we do, expressing that love and worship in their own unique traditional practices. When we watch and listen with an open heart, we allow ourselves to experience God within the prayers and praise of other cultures.

Let's begin our exploration with where the tradition originates, in Sufism itself. What is Sufism? 

From The Threshold Society:

"Sufism is a way of life in which a deeper identity is discovered and lived. This deeper identity, beyond the already known personality, is in harmony with all that exists. This deeper identity, or essential self, has abilities of awareness, action, creativity and love that are far beyond the abilities of the superficial personality. Eventually it is understood that these abilities belong to a greater life and being which we individualize in our own unique way while never being separate from it.

"Sufism is less a doctrine or a belief system than an experience and way of life. It is a tradition of enlightenment that carries the essential truth forward through time. Tradition, however, must be conceived in a vital and dynamic sense. Its expression must not remain limited to the religious and cultural forms of the past. The truth of Sufism requires reformulation and fresh expression in every age.

"Reformulation does not mean that Sufism will compromise its challenge to a stubbornly materialistic society. It is and will remain a critic of "worldliness" — by which it is meant everything that causes us to be forgetful of the Divine reality. It is and must be a way out of the labyrinth of a secular, commercial culture. Most importantly, however, it is an invitation to meaningfulness and well-being.

"Sufism, as we know it, developed within the cultural matrix of Islam. The Islamic revelation presented itself as the expression of the essential message brought to humanity by the prophets of all ages. The Qur'an recognizes the validity of 120,000 prophets or messengers who have come to awaken us from our selfish egoism and remind us of our spiritual nature. The Qur'an confirmed the validity of past revelations, while asserting that the original message was often distorted over the course of time.

"Sufism's claim to universality is founded on the broad recognition that there is only one God, the God of all people and all true religions. Sufism understands itself to be the wisdom realized by the great prophets — explicitly including Jesus, Moses, David, Solomon, and Abraham, among others, and implicitly including other unnamed enlightened beings of every culture.

"In the Western world today diverse groups exist under the name of Sufism. On the one hand there are those who would say that no true Sufism can exist without appreciation and practice of the principles of Islam. On the other hand some groups exist that more or less ignore the Islamic roots of Sufism and take their teaching from further downstream, from "Sufis" who may or may not have had contact with specifically Islamic teachings."

The Sufis call the whirling "Sema". Here is the meaning and explanation from the same website linked above:

"...Sema or "whirling," is not just an individual practice but a community awakening. First, with each breath, with each turning of the body in coordination with the zhikr of "Allah" within the heart, there is the "community of oneself" that is called to awaken to harmony. But as one develops inner harmony, one is also called into deeper relationship with one's brothers and sisters, with the whole community of creation.

"Within the Sema ceremony, before the whirling begins, we pass three times in procession during the peshrev or Sultan Weled walk. With each passage we bow to each other, essence to essence, meeting each other in mukabele, the meeting Face to Face. We share the progression from mineral, to vegetable, to animal, dying and birthing to a new state with each passage before our Creator. And then together we are born whirling as human beings–with greater movement, greater flexibility, with potential for deepening awareness of our Sustainer. Together we fly through the heavens of Being to merge with our Creator in the intensity of the third selam, the third greeting or period of whirling in the Sema ceremony. And then in the fourth selam, we cluster around the sun of the sheikh and return, radiating Light as we move back into this world, sharing in service."

  Akbar the Great

Akbar was the Muslim Emperor of India beginning at around 1555 at 14 after his father's death. Although he was born a Muslim, Akbar unified the people under his rule by allowing them, of all things, freedom of religion. He did not force his religion on his people and instituted policies that won him the hearts of his subjects.

"Akbar was a cunning general, and he continued his military expansion throughout his reign. By the time he died, his empire extended to Afghanistan in the north, Sindh in the west, Bengal in the east, and the Godavari River in the south. Akbar's success in creating his empire was as much a result of his ability to earn the loyalty of his conquered people as it was of his ability to conquer them. He allied himself with the defeated Rajput rulers, and rather than demanding a high "tribute tax" and leaving them to rule their territories unsupervised, he created a system of central government, integrating them into his administration. Akbar was known for rewarding talent, loyalty, and intellect, regardless of ethnic background or religious practice. In addition to compiling an able administration, this practice brought stability to his dynasty by establishing a base of loyalty to Akbar greater than that of any one religion.

"Beyond military conciliation, he appealed to the Rajput people by ruling in a spirit of cooperation and tolerance. He did not force India's majority Hindu population to convert to Islam; he accommodated them instead, abolishing the poll tax on non-Muslims, translating Hindu literature and participating in Hindu festivals.

"Akbar also formed powerful matrimonial alliances. When he married Hindu princesses—including Jodha Bai, the eldest daughter of the house of Jaipur, as well princesses of Bikaner and Jaisalmer—their fathers and brothers became members of his court and were elevated to the same status as his Muslim fathers- and brothers-in-law. While marrying off the daughters of conquered Hindu leaders to Muslim royalty was not a new practice, it had always been viewed as a humiliation. By elevating the status of the princesses' families, Akbar removed this stigma among all but the most orthodox Hindu sects."

To read more about Akbar the Great, click here.

Several years ago, I watched the Bollywood movie "Jodhaa Akbar," which I found to be a stunning portrayal of this king, even if not 100% historically accurate. However, I have read about Bollywood, that up until more recent times they have tried to stay within tradition when making movies, and tended to stay away from the more ridiculous nonsense of our own movie industry. From that movie, I particularly enjoyed the Sufi whirling scene in which King Akbar meditated to the sounds of the singing dervishes. Suddenly, a heavenly light engulfs him, and he joins the dance. Watch below.

Fundamentalist religions usually don't recognize the mystical side of their religion. Just as Christianity does not recognize Christian mysticism as legitimate, so Islam does not recognize Sufism. Words such as "cult" are examples of the labels applied to anything outside of current fundamental acceptance. One can find this attitude in nearly every major religion in the world. I conclude that anything that leads to the aspirant seeking union with God is suppressed by the "powers that be" in every church, synagogue, or mosque. Just as mystical Judaism, known as Kabbalah, is labeled as something that comes from Satan, other mystical traditions are considered evil. We must begin to ask ourselves why it is that if you don't go along with the common narrative, you are in danger of being labeled a heretic or some such other fancy name for "dangerous."


Who was Origen of Alexandria, and why was he declared a heretic 300 years after his death? We explore this question, along with Origen's belief in reincarnation, when the concept of reincarnation was removed from the Biblical canon and why it was removed.


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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Beverly · 2 years ago
    I love learning new words, ideas and their meanings.
    I have thought I was a whirling dervish myself a few times but apparently not in the true sense of the meaning! LOL..I love this!
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