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Dervish with a lion and a tiger, Mughal painting, c. 1650
Noor-Ali Tabandeh (Iranian spiritual leader) and Kasra Nouri Sufi’s rights activist.

Dervish or Darvesh or Darwīsh (from Persian: درویش‎, Darvīsh[1]) in Islam can refer broadly to members of a Sufi fraternity (tariqah),[2][3] or more narrowly to a religious mendicant, who chose or accepted material poverty.[3][4] The latter usage is found particularly in Persian and Turkish (Derviş), corresponding to the Arabic term faqir.[3] Their focus is on the universal values of love and service, deserting the illusions of ego to reach God. In most Sufi orders, a dervish is known to practice dhikr through physical exertions or religious practices to attain the ecstatic trance to reach God.[5] Their most common practice is Sama, which is associated with the 13th-century mystic Rumi.[citation needed]

In folklore, dervishes are often credited with the ability to perform miracles and described with supernatural powers.[6]


A Pakistani Dervish at Tulamba (May 2008).

The Persian word darvīsh (درویش) is of ancient origin and descends from a Proto-Iranian word that appears in Avestan as drigu-, "needy, mendicant", via Middle Persian driyosh.[4] It has the same meaning as Fakir, meaning people whose contingency and utter dependence upon God is manifest in everything they do and every breath they take.

Religious practice

A dervish.

Dervishes try to approach God by virtues and individual experience, rather than by religious scholarship.[7] Many dervishes are mendicant ascetics who have taken a vow of poverty, unlike mullahs. The main reason they beg is to learn humility, but dervishes are prohibited to beg for their own good. They have to give the collected money to other poor people. Others work in common professions; Egyptian Qadiriyya – known in Turkey as Kadiri – are fishermen, for example.

Some classical writers indicate that the poverty of the dervish is not merely economic. Saadi, for instance, who himself travelled widely as a dervish, and wrote extensively about them, says in his Gulistan:

Of what avail is frock, or rosary,

Or clouted garment? Keep thyself but free
From evil deeds, it will not need for thee
To wear the cap of felt: a darwesh be

In heart, and wear the cap of Tartary.[8]

Rumi writes in Book 1 of his Masnavi:[9]

Water that's poured inside will sink the boat

While water underneath keeps it afloat.
Driving wealth from his heart to keep it pure
King Solomon preferred the title 'Poor':
That sealed jar in the stormy sea out there
Floats on the waves because it's full of air,
When you've the air of dervishood inside

You'll float above the world and there abide...

Whirling dervishes

Whirling dervishes, Rumi Fest 2007

The whirling dance or Sufi whirling that is proverbially associated with dervishes is best known in the West by the practices (performances) of the Mevlevi order in Turkey, and is part of a formal ceremony known as the Sama. It is, however, also practiced by other orders. The Sama is only one of the many Sufi ceremonies performed to try to reach religious ecstasy (majdhb, fana). The name Mevlevi comes from the Persian poet Rumi, who was a dervish himself. This practice, though not intended as entertainment, has become a tourist attraction in Turkey.[10][11][12]


Dervish mannequins (Mevlâna mausoleum, Konya, Turkey)

There are various orders of dervishes, almost all of which trace their origins from various Muslim saints and teachers, especially Imam Ali. Various orders and suborders have appeared and disappeared over the centuries. Dervishes spread into North Africa, the Horn of Africa, Turkey, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Iran, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan.

Other dervish groups include the Bektashis, who are connected to the janissaries, and the Senussi, who are rather orthodox in their beliefs. Other fraternities and subgroups chant verses of the Qur'an, play drums or whirl in groups, all according to their specific traditions. They practice meditation, as is the case with most of the Sufi orders in South Asia, many of whom owe allegiance to, or were influenced by, the Chishti order. Each fraternity uses its own garb and methods of acceptance and initiation, some of which may be rather severe. The form of Sufi dervishism practised during the 17th century was centered upon esotericism, patience and pacifism.[13]

Other historical uses


Various western historical writers have sometimes used the term dervish rather loosely, linking it to, among other things, the Mahdist War in Sudan and other conflicts by Islamic military leaders. In such cases, the term "dervishes" may have been used as a generic (and often pejorative) term for the opposing Islamic entity and all members of its military, political and religious institutions, including persons who would not be considered "dervishes" in the strict sense.[citation needed]

During the Mahdist War, Muḥammad Aḥmad al-Mahdī decreed that all those who came to join him should be called anṣār, after the Prophet’s earliest followers. He forbade the use of the term ‘dervish’ to describe his followers. Despite this, British soldiers and colonial officials continued to use the term in relation to the anṣār. While some Britons used the term to denigrate the followers of the Mahdī, it was also used with a sense of admiration in accounts by British soldiers which describe the fearlessness and bravery of the lightly-armed 'dervishes'.[14] Thus, the word has become closely associated with the anṣār and is often used inaccurately in relation to the Mahdi’s followers, even today.

For example, a contemporary British drawing of the fighting in Sudan was entitled "The defeat of the dervishes at Toski" (see History of Sudan (1884–1898)#British response).



Various books discussing the life of Dervish can be found in Turkish literature. "The Death and Dervish" by Mesa Selminovic and The Dervish by Frances Kazan extensively discussed the life of Dervish.[15][16] Similar works on the subject has been found in other books such as Memoirs of a Dervish: Sufis, Mystics and the Sixties by Robert Erwin.[17]

See also

External links


  1. ^ "Dervish - Definition and More from the FreeMerriam - Webster Dictionary". Retrieved 2012-02-19.
  2. ^ Dervish, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Dervish, Arabic darwīsh, any member of a Ṣūfī (Muslim mystic) fraternity, or tariqa.
  3. ^ a b c MacDonald, D.B. (2012). "Darwīs̲h̲". In P. Bearman; Th. Bianquis; C.E. Bosworth; E. van Donzel; W.P. Heinrichs (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam (2nd ed.). Brill. doi:10.1163/1573-3912_islam_SIM_1731.
  4. ^ a b Mansour Shaki, Hamid Algar (2011). "DARVĪŠ". Encyclopædia Iranica. maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  5. ^ "Encyclopædia Britannica". Retrieved 2015-07-10.
  6. ^ Frederick William Hasluck Christianity and Islam Under the Sultans, Band 1 Clarendon Press 1929 p. 281
  7. ^ JENS PETER LAUT Vielfalt türkischer Religionen 1996 p. 29 (German)
  8. ^ chapter 2 story 16: "The Gulistān; or, Rose-garden, of Shek̲h̲ Muslihu'd-dīn Sādī of Shīrāz, translated for the first time into prose and verse, with an introductory preface, and a life of the author, from the Ātish Kadah" a story later adapted by La Fontaine for his tale 'Le songe d'un habitant du Mogol'
  9. ^ The Masnavi: Book One, translated by Jawid Mojaddedi, Oxford World's Classics Series, Oxford University Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0-19-955231-3, p63.
  10. ^ Koentges, Chris (2012-06-29). "13 Things The Whirling Dervishes Can Teach You About Spinning Until You're Dizzy Enough To Puke". The Very Ethnic Project.
  11. ^ B. Ghafurov, "Todjikon", 2 vols., Dushanbe 1983-5
  12. ^ Rumi
  13. ^ Erdoan, Nezih. "Star director as symptom: reflections on the reception of Fatih Akn in the Turkish media." New Cinemas: Journal of Contemporary Film 7.1 (2009): 27-38.
  14. ^ Nusairi, Osman and Nicoll, Fergus A note on the term ansar. Making African Connections. Retrieved December 19, 2020.
  15. ^ Milivojević, Dragan; Selimović, Meša; Rakić, Bogdan; Dickey, Stephen M. (1997). "Death and the Dervish". World Literature Today. 71 (2): 418. doi:10.2307/40153187. ISSN 0196-3570. JSTOR 40153187.
  16. ^ Frances., Kazan (2013). The dervish : a novel. Opus. ISBN 978-1-62316-005-0. OCLC 946706691.
  17. ^ ROBERT., IRWIN (2013). MEMOIRS OF A DERVISH : sufis, mystics and the sixties. PROFILE Books LTD. ISBN 978-1-86197-924-7. OCLC 1015811956.