Religious revolution in spin cycle

The Whirling Dervishes take turns to reach God at Ted Mann

Sara Nicole Miller

Clothed in wide, white skirt-robes and camel-haired cylindrical headdresses representing the gravestone and the shroud of the human ego, the Dervishes stand and prepare to whirl, their eyes closed, minds transfixed. Ottoman court music of flutes, string and percussion play in the background as the costumed men begin their tightly structured mystical trance. As they start to spin in circles, their arms unfold; the right arm lifts towards God and the skies while the left arm turns toward the earth. The ritualistic whirling dance can last hours.

This seven-century-old ceremony performed by the Mevlevi Order of Turkey (known in the West as the Whirling Dervishes) is one of the most exquisite spiritual rituals performed in the world today. The highly choreographed ritual, known as Sema, is so complex and perplexing that it has been widely studied in the dance, religion and culture fields of academia.

For one evening only, inquisitive Twin Citians of any faith and cultural background will have the opportunity to witness this sacred ritual performed at the University’s Ted Mann Concert Hall.

The inspiration for the ritual is based on a scientifically recognized condition: The fundamental purpose of existence is to revolve, and that every object and living being is interconnected through a cycle of revolution. Blood circulates in the body. Planets follow orbits. And humans and beasts are born of the earth only to live, die and return to it. Revolution is the ultimate worldly process.

The Dervishes seek to consciously engage in the shared revolution of all beings through their spinning movements. They slip into a trancelike state, evoking a spiritual ascent into a shared consciousness with God.

The Whirling Dervishes of Turkey are Sufi Muslims, and throughout the centuries they have widely contributed to Turkish customs, history and culture.

Founded by 13th-century philosopher and poet Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, Sufism is a moderate branch of Islam. Through the teachings of Rumi and the Quran, its followers seek to promote universal values of justice while seeking a direct experience with God and an ultimate reality.

It isn’t every day that such a world-renowned ceremony is performed here in the Twin Cities. The Mevlevi Order has been performing in Europe and North America since only the 1970s. Based in Rumi’s hometown of Konya, Turkey, the Dervishes travel the world only sporadically, performing the Sema to audiences numbering in the thousands.

The performance is sponsored by the Northern Lights Society, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting interfaith dialogue, understanding and tolerance through social interaction and the exchange of ideas. Yasir Bilgin, the interfaith dialogue coordinator for the Northern Lights Society, stressed the importance of such performances that unite people across the religious spectrum, especially in turbulent times when common ground can be hard to find.

The Whirling Dervishes represent more than just an intricate ceremony of spiritual devotion. They are symbolic of universal, humanistic ideals – such as peace, love and tolerance.