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A Turkish dervish in the 1860s.
A Dervish or Darvesh (from Persian درویش, Darvīsh) is someone treading a Sufi Muslim ascetic path or "Tariqah", known for their extreme poverty and austerity, similar to mendicant friars in Christianity or Hindu/Buddhist/Jain sadhus.

Dar in Persian means "a door", so Dervish literally means "one who opens the doors". The word is also related to terms for "ascetic" in some languages, as in the Urdu phrase darwaishana thabiyath, "an unflappable or ascetic temperament".

As Sufi practitioners, Dervishes have been known as sources of wisdom, medicine, poetry, enlightenment, and witticisms. For example, Nasrudin became a legend in the Near East and South Asia, not only among the Muslims.

Religious practice

Many Dervishes are mendicant ascetics who have taken a vow of poverty, unlike mullahs. The main reason they beg is to learn humility, but Dervishes are prohibited to beg for their own good. They have to give the collected money to other poor people. Others work in common professions; Egyptian Qadiriyya – known in Turkey as Kadirimarker – are fishermen, for example.

Some classical writers indicate that the poverty of the Dervish is not merely economic. Rumi, for instance, says in Book 1 of his Masnavi
Water that's poured inside will sink the boat
:While water underneath keeps it afloat.
Driving wealth from his heart to keep it pure
:King Solomon prefered the title 'Poor':
That sealed jar in the stormy sea out there
:Floats on the waves because it's full of air,
When you've the air of dervishood inside
:You'll float above the world and there abide...


are various orders of Dervishes, almost all of which trace their origins from various Muslim saints and teachers, especially Ali and Abu Bakr. Various orders and suborders have appeared and disappeared over the centuries. Rifa'iyyah Dervishes spread into North Africa, Turkeymarker, the Balkans, Iranmarker, Indiamarker, Afghanistanmarker and Tajikistanmarker.

Other groups include the Bektashis, connected to the janissaries, and Senussi, who are rather orthodox in their beliefs. Other fraternities and subgroups chant verses of the Qur'an, play drums or dance vigorously in groups, all according to their specific traditions. Some practice quiet meditation, as is the case with most of the Sufi orders in South Asia, many of whom owe allegiance to, or were influenced by, the Chishti order. Each fraternity uses its own garb and methods of acceptance and initiation, some of which may be rather severe.


whirling dance or Sufi whirling that is proverbially associated with Dervishes, is the practice of the Mevlevi Order in Turkey, and is part of a formal ceremony known as the Sema. The Sema is only one of the many Sufi ceremonies performed to try to reach religious ecstasy (majdhb, fana). The name Mevlevi comes from the Persian poet, Rumi (born in Balkhmarker, modern day Afghanistan), whose shrine is in Turkey and who was a Dervish himself. This practice, though not intended as entertainment, has become a tourist attraction in Turkey.

Historical and political use of the term

A Dervish in 1913

Various western historical writers have sometimes used the term dervish rather loosely, linking it to, among other things, the Mahdist uprising in Sudanmarker, Mohammed Abdullah Hassan's ("Mad Mullah") 1920 conflict with British forces in Somaliamarker and other rebellions against colonial powers.

In such cases, the term "Dervishes" was used as a generic (and often pejorative) term for the opposing Islamic entity and all members of its military, political and religious institutions, including many persons who could not be described as "Dervishes" is the strict sense. (For example, a contemporaty British drawing of the fighting in Sudan was entitled "The defeat of the Dervishes at Toski" (see History of Sudan #British response).


While commonly the term dervish is used to describe beggars, a differentiation between mendicant Dervishes and common beggars can be made:
While they walk around praising the Lord, anyone according to his own desire may voluntarily drop some coins in it (a kashkul)... a real dervish who wears the proper robe and carries the kashkul does not beg, nor does he make any demands.

Cultural references

  • "Dervish" is a profession in Guild Wars, a cooperative multiplayer online role-playing game.
  • In the Halo series of video games, the Arbiter was originally meant to be called the "Dervish". The name was changed because it could be considered offensive to Muslims.
  • In the British sitcom, Dad's Army, Lance Corporal Jones regularly refers to his encounters with the Whirling Dervishes during his military career.
  • Is sometimes referenced in American football to describe a runner who spins quickly to avoid tackles. The term is used on the official NFL Hall of Fame site to describe George Hallas as a "whirling dervish runner at Illinois."[47412]
  • From approximately 1991 to 1995 the Grateful Dead, an American rock band, had a very small percentage of fans whom termed themselves as "spinners", whom would spin similar to dervish spinning to the band's music.

See also


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