Sufism and Spiritual Dancing


The main theme of this research project is the analysis of Sufi whirling. The work includes the discussion of its origin and general features. The topic has been chosen because it is relevant and interesting to explore. To complete the study, only scholarly resources in religious studies and theology have been utilized in order to provide clear and reliable information. The aim of the research is to define the nature, importance, and controversy of this ritual. Comparative analysis and cognitive synthesis have helped to divide the material into several units and distinguish its general characteristics. Consequently, it was possible to determine the general characteristics and significance of the Sufism and spiritual dancing.

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Sufism exists as the esoteric branch of Islam, which preaches asceticism and increased spirituality. In fact, this doctrine has a number of important rituals. Sufi whirling is an essential spiritual practice in Sufism that based on the repeated utterance of certain prayers and Sufi whirling. Sufi whirling combines playing musical instruments, songs, dancing, and readings of poetry or prayers. Moreover, people are wearing special clothing that has a symbolic meaning. This ritual has a very high popularity and importance within Sufism. Eventually, whirling became the basis of Sufi ritual Sama. The training of Sufi whirling takes place over a long period and has many specific characteristics. Besides, the spiritual practices of Sufism have several differences that have emerged over time. Sufi whirling has different kinds, unique history of emergence, and disagreements about its conduction.

The Origin of Sufi Whirling

This ritual has arisen due to the poet and mystic Rumi, who later became the mastermind behind the Sufi order called the Mevlevi. One day, he was walking in the city market and heard the rhythmic sound of hammers. Between them, the poet heard the dhikr “No God but Allah.” Then he fell into a deep state of ecstasy and began to spin in a circle and stretching out his arms to the sky. This story became the cause of the ritual and emergence of the Order of Dervishes in Mevlevi. This ritual has Turkish and Persian roots, so it is associated with oriental style. Furthermore, the nature of this ritual is a cross between the ancient ritual dances and silent self-contemplation of Buddhist monks in meditation. In fact, ceremony begins in silence and stillness. Participants are obliged to control themselves as long as they do not feel wajad, the experience of the divine presence or discovery of God in themselves. This condition, according to the Sufis, is also achieved by reading the verses of the Qur’an, when students fall into an ecstatic state, crying and even lose consciousness. There are a number of elements that important to this ritual. Reading or singing of poems and prayers that takes place under this ceremony is ones of them. Participants of the ritual often recite different poems and perform religious songs such as the Kavli. These elements have a peculiar effect on the people who take part in this event. Besides, people could use any of the poems. For example, it could be even love lyrics. The main thing is that the thoughts of all the participants must be pure and sinless.  However, participants never used verses from the Quran because the text of this sacral book is not intended for such actions. In fact, Shariah provide specific rules when Sufi spiritual ceremonies and meditation are permissible. Thus, the representatives of all social groups could take part in this ritual. However, not all Sufis agree that neophytes are able to achieve communication with God.

The Importance of Sufi Whirling

The importance of this ritual is fundamental. Sufi whirling is the way to contemplation of God through music and dance. Besides, the main purpose of this ritual is to achieve a state of ecstasy that called wadjda. In fact, external signs of this condition are unpredictable movements and excessive dancing. There is another state of trance such as khamr, and everyone who take part in the Sama is seek to achieve this spiritual condition. However, the ritual meaning is not to cause strong emotions, but to take off the symbolic shackles of human doubts that prevent direct communication with God. In other words, the participants of the ceremony in a natural way immersed into a trance but continue to control their behavior, since during the ritual they must adhere to certain rules. Thus, the essential goal of the ritual is the knowledge of the mysteries of the universe and the spiritual enrichment of knowledge. As a result, achieving of spiritual trance condition is the goal of every believer. The founder of this Sufi whirling compared this ritual to the pilgrimage to Mecca, thus emphasizing the symbolic character of the ritual. Moreover, some believers are confident that the ritual ordeal recreates the soul in the mystical ascent to perfection. Thus, Sufi whirling helps to create a path to the highest spiritual essence. The participants of the action say that they come out of the trance with mature thoughts, filled with divine love, and ready to give it to others. Therefore, this ceremony has an essential importance for Sufism.

The Controversy about Music and Dance

One of the major issues in the ritual tradition of Islam is a dispute about the status of music and dance. Some religious people believe that listening to music is a great sin. This situation has led to a number of different points of view, from an absolute prohibition to complete approval of all musical forms. Between these two extremes, there are many intermediate options. In one, the presence of vocal music is allowed, but the use of any musical instruments is forbidden. In another, the vocals may be accompanied by drumming, but the use of other instruments and the inclusion of dance elements are not allowed. In fact, Sufism is the direction of Islam, where music plays the most important role and is actively used in ritual practice. As a result, people created opposition to the concept Sufi music. Some religious trends carried out a total ban on production and listening of music during the spiritual rituals. However, this view does not reflect the position of music in Islam. First, the musical elements can be found in almost any ritual practice of the Islam. Second, the views on music and dance within the Sufi are also different because some rituals are conducted without music or some instruments. Therefore, the attitude toward Sufi whirling is contradictory. Some communities are tolerant to different musical ideas, while others are subjected to their judgment. Other reputable theologians and mystics believe that dance and music are integral components of the religious activities. Opponents object to them, and compare the impact on human rhythmic movements with the influence of alcohol. Therefore, the relationship of music and dance in Sufism is ambiguous.

The Use of Music and Special Instruments

Musical instruments that are used as accompaniment during this ritual have symbolic and sacred meaning. With the wide spread of Sufi brotherhoods, many of which have included music in their rituals, the Islamic musical professionalism intensified cooperation with mystical and meditation practice. By resorting to the help of music, sheikhs realized that a certain kind of music improves the efficiency in the implementation of spiritual practices, and whirling is one of the most essential. This ritual could contain highly professional performance with great unique kinds of instruments. In fact, Jalaluddin Rumi became the founder of the Order Maulaviya, which was common in many countries. He was wonderful Persian poet and mystic, and was one of the first who engage music that was capable to help a man’s heart to feel the breath of others. Rumi gave particular preference to reed flute-nai. It sound has become a symbol of the Sufi value, and expressed the original separation between man and God, and eternal human aspiration for the Divine. Besides, his little drum symbolized the sound of the divine guests and was included in the practice of many Sufi brotherhoods. Consequently, flute and a small drum became the essential instruments of Sufi whirling.

The Changes in Sufi Practices

There are many reasons for the emergence and development of mystical trends in Islam. Among the most common were the social and political turmoil of the first two centuries of the Muslim community, which gave rise to escapist mood, as well as the overall complexity of the religious life. Besides, it is the influence of other religious and philosophical systems. Typical features of the practice of the early Sufis was thinking about the meaning of the Qur’an, strict adherence to regulations, multiple additional prayers, vigils, and fasts. In fact, Sufis differed by the detachment from all worldly things and piety in daily life. In XII-XIII centuries, Sufism became an important element in the religious life of Muslim society. Sufis and their organizations had a tendency to get closer to the masses, and the cult of Sufi “saints” occupied an important place in the beliefs and practices of “folk” Islam.

The vulgarization of Sufism led to the simplification of its theory and practices. In each region, the local ethnic religious characteristics and traditions have influenced the ideology of Sufi organizations and their spiritual practices. Many of the provisions of Sufism mixed with pagan beliefs. Due to the wide spread of the ideas of Sufism among the various strata of the Muslim society, speculative esoteric side of the Sufi doctrine was developed in the XII-XIII centuries. In the first place, educated Muslims had interest to this spiritual knowledge. Furthermore, practical Sufism was focused on meeting the spiritual needs of the masses and simplification of the spiritual practices. Sufi intellectual elite fully assimilated ideas of philosophers. However, flexibility of Sufism and openness to strangers made it an extremely heterogeneous phenomenon. Spiritual practices were originally preaching of humility. Throughout its history, Sufism became the ideology of the Mahdi insurgent movements and anti-colonial struggle. All of these changes have led to the transformation of the sacred practices of Sufism. For example, in early Sufism, Tawil process lay in deep meditation on the text of the Koran, in which were born various theosophical concepts. In the 12th century, the doctrinal Sufism transformed Tawil, and it became a way of philosophizing.

The Forms and Kinds of Sufi Whirling

The spiritual training in Sufism is constructed in such way that each student, depending on individual characteristics receives specific tasks and exercises from Sheikh. At the initial stages of psycho-energetic practice, Sheikh offers a wide variety of exercises for participants to develop the ability to concentrate, to stop the continuous flow of thoughts and achieve mental pause. Then, a person begins the use of a variety of mental and physical exercise. Using all of these activities provides an excellent cleaning effect and develops the energy structures of the body. The most common types of rituals are rhythmic dervish movements such as zikhr, Sufi whirling, and its kinds. These exercises cause a cleaning of the body, mind, and consciousness. Dancing of dervishes require participants to an absolute emancipation of the body and achievement of the full mental pause. On the background of this meditative setting, a person makes the spontaneous movements. As a rule, dervish dances performed by using of meditative music because such atmosphere gives an appropriate attitude to all the dancers. In fact, the most common technique is Sufi whirling. It allows a person to bring the consciousness from the general chakras, which provides the possibility of entering into a state of trance. There are various modifications and kinds of this technique. For example, people could take part in whirling with music or without it. Besides, they could use only mantras without a certain concentration or concentration in different energy structures of the organism. Furthermore, people could use only some certain instruments or vocal. However, in all cases, whirling contribute to the spiritual self-improvement.


Sufism is one of the mystical currents of Islam and its followers take part in many religious ceremonies. Sufi whirling is the ancient practice of prayer in the movement, which is based on the Dhikr. This ritual is important because it is the path of purification of the human soul from the effects of negative qualities, imparting commendable qualities for spirit, and rapprochement with God. There are kinds of whirling, which differ in their methods of conduction. Some of them are with music, without music, with individual instruments, in a group or independently. The most common spiritual instruments are flute and a little drum. Sufi practices at different times had some changes. For example, Tawil became ritual that with philosophical, but not spiritual origin. Consequently, Sufi whirling is the essential element of the Sufism.

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