The family of Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi (1207-1273), a poet born in Balkh (now in Afghanistan), but later settled in Konya, Turkey, which was then the capital of the Seljuk Empire, then known as Rum, whence his name. He carried out orthodox study and teaching there and had become a highly esteemed mystic, prior to his encounter of Shams of Tabriz, the central event of Rumi’s life. This friendship led Mevlana to the innermost parts of the spiritual world.
Shams was an unknown itinerant who appeared in Konya in 1244, disappearing two years later. Under his influence, Mevlana dedicated himself to the study of Sufi mysticism, becoming a supreme master in this field. He was the spiritual founder of the Mawlawi Order and his most important work was a vast compilation of Sufi doctrine and Sufi lore, the Mathnawi-i Ma’nawi.
At the shrine built after Mevlana’s death, his followers began reading the Mathnawi, performing the Sema and also carrying out all other religious duties. Mevlana’s eldest son, who founded the Order and organized the regulations for administering the Dervish Lodges, eventually, became Sultan Veled, Master of the Lodge (Sheikh). After this, the office passed by tradition from father to son, or to the head of the family, a tradition, which really begins with Mohammed. The person occupying the position of Sheikh is given the title “Chelebi”. Each Dervish novice (murid) must be familiar with the genealogy of his fraternity. Mevlana, conforming to the Shari’a as the basis for spiritual study, regarded the Sema as a vital element in helping to achieve divine love and ecstasy. “The love of Allah leads to the lover forgetting himself in the love of the Beloved”. The principal rite in the Dervish service is the Sema (Ayin-i Sherif), while remembrance of God (Dhikr) is the chief exercise of devotion, which serves to stress the worshipper’s dependence on the spiritual world. “Spiritual maturity is the realization that the self is a reflection of the Divine”. This ritual emphasizes the emotional element of religion, and causes an ecstatic trance in the worshippers, such rituals explain how the epithets ‘howling’, ‘whirling’ or ‘dancing’ have been attached to the word ‘dervish’. However, such practice is considered to be an aid to concentration, to enable the dancers to intensify their awareness of God to the exclusion of their surroundings. While rotating, they lose all sense of the material self. Whirling Dervishes are like the planets orbiting the sun, and they are thought to make divine love an orbit of the spiritual experience. The left hand faces downward, towards earth, the right hand upward, reaching up to heaven, thus forming a link between one another. Mevlana stated that music, which accompanies the Sema, is the means of increasing divine love and ecstasy. Dervish music is largely provided by a choir singing in unison accompanied by musical instruments. Mevlana characterized the day of death as the day when he would be united with Allah, his Beloved. According to him, mysticism is the pathway to knowing Allah and being united with Him, saying that a person’s soul, mind, and love form a triangle.
The greatest message from Mevlana’s philosophy is love, charity and unity. Mevlana embraces all humanity, making no discrimination, and invites all to unity.
“Come again, again!
Come again, whoever you may be,
Whether an infidel, a fire worshipper or a pagan;
No matter whether you have broken your vows a hundred times.
Ours is not a door of despair.
Just come as you are.”
In the Sema ceremony, three meanings are expressed by the three stages in putting on the mantle. The meaning of the first is, “Allah wished to express Himself” so He created the universe. In the second stage, He created nature, and in the third, He created the whole of the animal kingdom. But none of these could express Him, Himself. At the end of the third stage, dervishes take off their mantles, which mean “Allah created mankind”. Then, representing Man, they place their hands crosswise on their shoulders. This position represents ‘elif’, the first letter of God’s name in Arabic, and expresses God’s unity. The Sema now begins with four salutations. These are: Shari’a -learning religious law; the Order -finding the pathway of love leading to God; Truth -striving for awareness of God’s truth and beauty; and Skill, meaning that having become aware of God’s beauty, one can be of service to mankind.
The Mawlawi Order is not a closed community. Its doors are open to all, whether a Dervish or not. However, there are a few traditional rules: Give, do not take; he who begs or lives off another is not one of us; our doors are open to those who make an honest living. Not only our own doors, but the doors of Allah are shut to those who do no good to themselves, to their family, to their neighbour or to others. Love is the key to unlock all doors. First, love the Creator, then love His creatures. Allah is beautiful and He loves all things of beauty. The Mawlawiyya value a beautiful voice, beautiful sayings and beautiful writings and lend their support to activities which benefit society, cherish the Arts and contribute to the economy.
The Sema is a form of worship. “Tennure” is the name given to the garments worn, and each colour conveys a meaning: red represents love, the sunrise and sunset; green is peace; pink is love; yellow is the lover’s countenance, for when a person suffers the pain of love, his/her face grows pale and wan; white is for the Prophet Mohammed’s radiance; black stands for innocence, and navy blue represents the Chelebi. It is said that in Mevlana’s time women, too, performed the Sema, but not together with men. However, there are those who oppose the participation of women and wearing the colours of the Tennure. In the Dervish Lodge at Galata, Istanbul, however, the number of women performing the Sema is increasing day by day. Here is a place where men and women together perform the Sema and where anyone may seek their own answers, regardless of their religion, race, language, age or sex.
Every prophet and every
saint has a way,
but all lead to God. All
ways are really one.
Dervishhood is not for the
sake of avoiding
entanglement with the world;
no, it’s because nothing
exists but God.
Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi