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MAWLAWIYAH. The Turkish Sufi order of the Mawlawlyah (Tk., Mevlevi) is known to Europe as the “Whirling Dervishes” in recognition of its distinctive meditation ritual. It derives its name from Jalal al-Din Rumi known as Mawlana (Mevlana in Turkish, meaning “Our Master”), whose life and writings had a profound influence on the development and ritual of the order.



Rumi was born in 1207 CE (AH 604) in the Central Asian city of Balkh, where his father Baha’ Walad (d. 1231) was a religious scholar and Sufi master of some renown. The uncertain religious and political situation under the Khwarazm-shahs forced them to leave for Anatolia in 1219, and Baha’ Walad and his family eventually settled in the Seljuk capital of Konya at the invitation of `Ala’ al-Din Kayqubad. Baha’ Walad was given a prominent appointment as a legal scholar and preacher, a position that Jalal al-Din inherited after his father’s death. It is from his lengthy residence in Anatolia (Rum) that Mawlana Jalal al-Din came to be known as Rumi.

There can be little doubt that Rumi was familiar with Sufism from childhood. Nevertheless, most sources insist that his formal Sufi training began in 1232 with the arrival in Konya of Burhan al-Din al-Tirmidhi, a disciple of Baha’ Walad. Rumi remained his disciple until Burhan al-Din’s death nine years later.

The defining moment in Rumi’s life occurred in 1244 with the arrival of an enigmatic wandering mystic named Shams al-Din (commonly referred to as Shams-i Tabrizi). Until this time Rumi’s public persona had been defined by his role as a legal scholar and judge, with little mention of his participation in any mystical activities; he now began to devote himself entirely to the company of Shams-i Tabrizi, whom he identified as the ideal medium for gaining access to mystical knowledge of God.

Rumi’s infatuation with Shams-i Tabrizi was a source of jealousy (and probably also embarrassment) to his family and students, who apparently forced Shams-i Tabrizi to leave Konya after about two years. Rumi rushed after him and convinced him to return, but soon after that Shams vanished forever, in all likelihood murdered by Rumi’s students with the connivance of both his son, Sultan Walad (d. 1312) and his principal disciple Husam al-Din Chalabi (d. 1283). Following Shams’s disappearance, Rumi withdrew from public life and devoted himself entirely to the guidance of Sufi disciples. He also began to compose exquisite and profuse poetry, the bulk of which is contained in two works-the Masnavi -yi ma’navi (approximately 26,000 verses) and the Divan-i Shams-1 Tabrizi (approximately 40,000 verses). The Masnavi, written at the request of Husam al-Din Chalabi, is a didactic work in six books that rapidly gained extreme popularity in the Persian- and Turkish-speaking world. It has been widely translated and commented on and has been used for prognostication, as a source of mystical inspiration, and as a religious text by countless individuals as well as by several mystical organizations such as the Iranian Khaksars. It is on the basis of this work, which is the central mystical text of the Mawlawlyah, that Rumi has become the best known Islamic mystical poet. [See Devotional Poetry.]

It is probable that a Sufi order gathered around Rumi during his lifetime. One of his early biographers, Shams al-Din Ahmad al-Aflaki al-`Arifi, mentions an assembly room (jama’at khdnah) attached to Rumi’s madrasah where learned conversations and musical concerts were held. Although Rumi had already come to be known as Mawlana, it is doubtful that his followers were called the Mawlawlyah at this early date: in his account of Konya, Ibn Battutah refers to them as the Jalaliyah (after Jalal al-Din). Rumi was succeeded by Salah al-din Zarkub, who had originally been a disciple of Burhan al-Din al-Tirmidhi and who succeeded Shams-i Tabrizi as a vessel in which Rumi contemplated God. Zarkub was followed by Rumi’s disciple Husam al-Din Chalabi and finally by Rumi’s son Sultan Walad, although for the first seven years after Husam al-Din’s death the latter was under the care of a guardian, Karim al-Din ibn Bektimur. After Sultan Walad the leadership of the Mawlawiyah was almost invariably held by a descendant of Rfimi.

The two most distinctive features of the Mawlawlyah are their process of initiation through a lengthy orientation rather than the trials typical of other Sufi orders, and the importance they give to samd` (audition) as a form of meditation. Some elements of the samd` are traceable to Rumi, although major features continued to be added until the time of `Adil Chalabi (d. 146o), a great-grandson of Sultan Walad. The only significant changes since that time concern the occasion and frequency of the samd`; these occurred under the reign of the Ottoman sultan Selim III (r. 1789-1807) and again in the period after the Turkish religious reforms of 1925.

The samd` of the Mawlawiyah is carried out in a wood-floored circular room called a sama khdnah (Turk., semdhdne). The room is normally surrounded by galleries for guests and a separate one for the musicians. Before the samd` begins, the officiating Sufi (called meydanci dede) places a skin, marking the seat of the shaykh, at the opposite end of the room from the qiblah. He then gives an order for the call to prayer to be sounded, after which the shaykh enters the room followed by the participants (referred to as sama zan; Tk., semd zen). After performing their ritual prayers the participants gather around the seated shaykh to listen to hymns and readings from the Masnavi, which are accompanied by music. The shaykh then recites the “prayer of the skin” (pust duast).

Following this prayer all participants, including the shaykh and the meyddnct dede, go through a complex and choreographed series of salutations. Accompanied by a simple beat from the musicians, the participants walk in a circle up to the skin with their arms folded under their cloaks (khirqah). On reaching the skin, each participant bows in salutation to the person in front of him, passes the skin while facing it and stepping over the diameter of the circle extending from the skin to the qiblah. turns around to face the person behind him, performs the identical salute, takes three steps back, turns around to face forward, and continues walking in a circle. Many outside observers appear to have been impressed by the sight of the semd zens wearing tall caps and black cloaks over white tunics, two of them facing each other across the skin and the remainder walking in a circle with their eyes lowered and heads bowed. After completing the round of salutations the shaykh sits on his skin and the samd` itself begins, comprising several cycles or rounds (dawra; Tk., devre), in which each semd zen extends his arms to the side with the right palm facing upward and the left downward and whirls counterclockwise, using his left foot as a pivot.

The form of the samd` is imbued with mystical meaning for the Mawlawiyah: the upturned right hand symbolizes the mystic’s receipt of divine grace, while the

downturned left hand implies that what is received from God is passed on to humanity. Thus the semd zen represents a conduit whereby God showers blessings upon the planet. A similar representation of the relationship between the celestial and the terrestrial is accorded to the hall itself, with the right half symbolizing the descent from God to human beings in the physical realm, and the left symbolizing ascent from the physical state to mystical union with God in the spiritual realm.

The Mawlawiyah has been an order of courtly art and culture since Rumi’s day and has always encouraged and nurtured court poets and musicians. As such, it is in contrast to more popular orders such as the Bektashis, which have been more in tune with the needs and aspirations of the Anatolian populace. This distinction was exploited by the later Ottoman sultans, who favored the Sunni and courtly Mawlawiyah against the more populist and predominantly Shi`i Bektashis favored by the Janissaries. By the beginning of the nineteenth century it became a tradition for the head of the MawlaWyah to gird the imperial sword on the new sultan. [See Bektashiyah.]

The importance of the Mawlawiyah to the development of Ottoman culture cannot be overemphasized. It has had a definitive impact on the development of art and music, and luminaries such as the court poets Nef i (d. 1635) and Seyh Galib (d. 1799), and composers such as Iti (d. 1712) and Zeka’i (d. 1897) were all Mawlawis. In fact, the Mawlawiyah is so closely identified with Ottoman Turkish culture that it has enjoyed almost no success in non-Turkish societies. The only exceptions are certain cities in non-Turkish regions of the former Ottoman Empire, such as Damascus, Tripoli, Homs, Jerusalem, and Beirut in the Middle East, and a larger number of cities in Greece, Bosnia, and other parts of the Balkans. However, these were all towns with significant Turkish populations, and only the center in Beirut is known to have remained active into the latter half of the twentieth century. In contrast, the founder of the order still enjoys widespread fame and reverence rivaled by only one or two other Sufi figures.

[See also Mevlevi; Sufism, articles on Sufi Thought and Practice and Sufi Orders.]


Aflaki, Shams al-Din al-. Mandkib al-drifin. 2 vols. Edited by Tahsin Yazici. 2d ed. Ankara, 1976-1980. Translated into English by James W. Redhouse as Legends of the Sufis. 3d ed. Wheaton, Ill., 1976. Primary source on the early masters of the order.

Chittick, William C. The Sufi Path of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi. Albany, N.Y., 1983. Thematically arranged translation of selections from Rumi’s poetry.

Golpinarli, Abdulbaki. Mevlana’dan Sonra Mevlevilik. 2d ed. Istanbul, 1983. Single most important study of the Mawlawiyah.

Jong, F. de. “Mawlawiyya.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 6, pp. 883-888. Leiden, 196o-.

Rumi, Jalal al-Din. The Mathnawi of Jalalu’ddin Rumi. 8 vols. Translated and edited by Reynold A. Nicholson. London, 1925-1940. Schimmel, Annemarie. Mystical Dimensions of Islam. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1975. Excellent introduction to Sufism that balances readability with exhaustive scholarship.

Schimmel, Annemarie. The Triumphant Sun: A Study of the Works of Jalaloddin Rumi. London, 1978.

Trimingham, J. Spencer. The Sufi Orders in Islam. Oxford, 1971. The most expansive treatment of Sufi orders available.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/mawlawiyah/

  • writerPosted On: August 5, 2014
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