Sufism is the mystical branch on the tree of Islam. Sufi practitioners strive to bring their understanding of Allah, or God, into themselves. One of their primary practices is called dhikr. Dhikr is a form of prayer reminding the worshiper of the existence of their god. The word dhikr means “remembrance” or “mention.” A Sufi practitioner will chant phrases and prayers about God’s existence. Each order of Sufis has their own posture and type of breathing that accompanies the prayer. Through practices such as this, Sufis believe that it is possible to contact divinity within this life and restore fitra, which, in Islam, is the human state of purity.
One of the truly great Sufis is Rumi. Rumi, known also as Our Master, is truly a great spirit. He is known for his insightful poetry and deeply caring poetry. He was also a masterful scholar of Islam. One of his books, The Masnavi, is a poetic interpretation of the Koran. The Masnavi is , to many, one of the world’s great mystical poems. It provides the basis for Sufi practice through love of God. Upon his death, Rumi’s followers began the Mevlevi Order, a group also known as the Whirling Dervishes.
Whirling Dervishes are dancing Sufis, and their dancing is a meditation. Through the whirling dance, the dancer hopes to relieve themselves of their ego. They focus upon the music, their physical sensations, and upon God. The motion of whirling is also meant to imitate the motion of the planets in orbit. The tall hat the dervishes wear resembles, to them, the tombstone of the ego. Their wide white skirts are the ego’s shroud. When the dancer ritually removes a black cloak, this symbolizes their being reborn into the truth. As the dancers spin, they keep their right arm directed upwards, to the sky and heaven. They kept their left hand down, towards earth. This communicates the gift of being alive. Each dancer turns around their heart, symbolizing their love of and unity with all humanity.