If you visit Morocco, you are bound to see groups of Gnawa, acrobats and musicians dressed in cowrie shell-covered clothing, who twirl long tassels on their caps as they dance to the sound of metal castanets and drums. These public performances appear to be just entertainment, but deep within the tradition lies a more ancient shamanic root, for in their all-night trance ceremonies they turn to the sacred and work with the Jnun spirits (genie), calling upon them to help to cure the ills of their people The name ‘Gnawa’ refers firstly to a North African ethnic minority that has its origins in the West African slaves and soldiers who were brought to Morocco from the 16th century onwards.

Moorish Gnawa moussem or Sufi Festival in Morocco.

Moorish Gnawa moussem or Sufi Festival in Morocco.

Gnawa communities trace their origins to the Sudan (Sudan is the Arabic word for a Black African) so, like the term ‘African-American,’ the Gnawa come from diverse regions of Africa but have taken on a collective identity in exile.

Marrakech and other regions in southern Morocco are home to the Gnawa Brotherhood, which claims descent from the Ethiopian muezzin Sidi Bilal. Gnaoua ceremonies (deiceba) are used to protect against mental illness, scorpion stings and malicious spirits. Deiceba may be related to Sub-Saharan African ceremonies and use a long-necked lute of African origin called the guembri, as well as castanets called garagab. Dudes playing drums

Marrakech and other regions in southern Morocco are home to the Gnawa Brotherhood, which claims descent from the Ethiopian muezzin Sidi Bilal. Gnaoua ceremonies (deiceba) are used to protect against mental illness, scorpion stings and malicious spirits. Deiceba may be related to Sub-Saharan African ceremonies and use a long-necked lute of African origin called the guembri, as well as castanets called garagab. Dudes playing drums

The name ‘Gnawa’ refers firstly to a North African ethnic minority that has its origins in the West African slaves and soldiers who were brought to Morocco from the 16th century onwards. Gnawa communities trace their origins to the Sudan (Sudan is the Arabic word for a Black African) so, like the term ‘African-American,’ theGnawa come from diverse regions of Africa but have taken on a collective identity in exile.

Read more…..http://www.nicholaswood.net/Articles/Shamans-of-Islam.pdf

Quran Surah 6:35 – Islamic Shamanism

“If their persecution of you is hard on your mind, and if you are able – then seek a tunnel in the ground or a ladder to the skies and bring them a Sign.”

What is Islamic shamanism and should Muslims and/or Sufis practice it?

The practice of shamanism, a technique, is one of the earliest revelations of Allah (the Source) to the peoples of the earth.

The shaman is one who journeys, either in the physical body or in the astral/soul body, into other realms (the hereafter) in order to gain answers to questions, seek guidance or gain power to heal and help (the “sign”).

According to the indigenous worldview, and supported by the Glorious Qur’an, there are many worlds. The existence we physically inhabit, the earthly plane, is traditionally called the “Middle World.” Surah 6:32 tells challenges us:

“What is the life of this [Middle] World but play and amusement?”

The Middle World, because of its design, is easily confused as the only world. The revelation given unto the Prophet Plato explains that we are trapped within a cave, lost, forlorn, imagining that the information received by our senses tells us where we are. Yet we are deluded. Surah 6:32 modifies Plato’s vision of our existence by telling us that we exist in a world of “amusement and play.” Hazrat Inayat Khan accurately explains this as being in a state of stupor and drunkenness. We are drunk on the senses, and have thus forgotten our true Home. Surah 6:32 continues:

“But best is the home in the other worlds for those who are al-Muttaqun?”

Who are the Muttaqun?

They are the ones whose Home, whose source of identity and power, is in the Hereafter, the other worlds. They are the ones who have remembered their origin in the Light. Throughout the ages, and depending on the culture, the Muttaqun have included shamans, prophets, Gnostics, mystics, saints, Sufis and watchers.

How does one become a Muttaqun?

To become a Muttaqun one should, according to the Rose Crescent, begin by learning to move within the realms of the other worlds. By spending ever more time in the other worlds an individual becomes sober, breaking the spell and delusions associated with the play and amusement of the Middle World.

How do these other worlds appear?

One must experience them first hand to understand. Both the “lower world” and the “upper world” are paradises, but they are of different energies and different beings inhabit them. The Lower World is a place of denser vibratory energy, whereas the upper is of finer vibratory energy. Both worlds are inhabited by beings that appear either in human, animal, imaginative or angelic form. These beings, having permission from Allah to help, serve as friends and allies to the Muttaqun. The Muttaqun is one who, by traveling into both worlds, balances the energy and thus assists the Middle World to evolve towards paradise.

How can one enter the other worlds?

Here we need to return to Surah 6:35:

“Seek a tunnel in the ground or a ladder to the skies and bring them a Sign.”

The following techniques may be of assistance for the Lower World:

Place a candle on your alter
Say “Bismallah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim”
Lie down with your eyes covered
Listen to the rhythmic beat of a drum
Imagine yourself in the countryside
Feel the wind on your skin, notice the trees around you
Seek a tunnel (it will usually be located under a giant tree)
Enter the tunnel
Let yourself slide down into the other world
Look for an animal who wants to approach you and be friends with you and guide you
Allow the animal to assist you to explore the surroundings
When you hear the callback from the drum return up the tunnel to your favorite location in front of the tree
Open your eyes
Say, “Allahu Akbar”

The following techniques may be of assistance for the Upper World:

Place a candle on your alter
Say “Bismallah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim”
Lie down with your eyes covered
Listen to the rhythmic beat of a drum
Imagine yourself in the countryside
Feel the wind on your skin, notice the trees around you
Seek a ladder (it will usually be located under a giant tree) into the sky
Climb up the ladder into the next world
You will probably come out in a beautiful city
Look around for a mosque
Enter the mosque
Within the mosque you will meet a humanlike person who will be your Shaykh
Get to know your Shaykh
Ask him or her any questions you may have
When you hear the callback from the drum return up the tunnel to your favorite location in front of the tree
Open your eyes
Say, “Allahu Akbar”

Whirling Dervishes in the Islamic Tradition

  1. Abstract

Whirling dervishes perform a dance called the sema. It is a religious dance performed to express emotion and achieve the wisdom and love of God. It originated in Turkey, in the Islamic sect of Sufism, which was founded by Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi. The Sufis support their knowledge from the Qur’an and the words of their master, Rumi. In order to become a dervish, young boys were required to attend schools called tekkes, where they would undergo an intense 1001-day retreat before they could perform the dance. The dervish considers himself an instrument of God so he cannot direct or retain the power that enters him. In 1925, the tekkes were closed and whirling ended until recently. Today semas are performed privately in homes or for the amusement of tourists.

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  1. Scope and Purpose of Whirling Dervishes:

The dance of the whirling dervishes, also known as the sema, originated in the 13th century near Turkey. It is performed by semazens (whirlers) that belong to the Mevlevi sect of the Sufi. Sufism is the Islamic practice of attempting to achieve divine knowledge and love though a personal relationship with God. It is said that the classification of Sufi comes from the wool cloaks they wore since in Arabic suf means wool. Others think that the title comes from the Greek worksophos, which means wisdom (Friedlander 15). Muslim priests in order to free their souls and connect with Allah perform the sema. The dance is sometimes interpreted as everything spinning around the sun but most commonly is thought of as a re-enactment of death and resurrection.

Whirling dervish, Al-Shuri Mausoleum, Cairo, Egypt, North Africa, Africa

Whirling dervish, Al-Shuri Mausoleum, Cairo, Egypt, North Africa, Africa

 III. Authority Structure

 

  1. Sources and Criteria of Valid Knowledge

The sema began from the influence of Turkish culture and the inspiration of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi. However, the practice of whirling may have originated in Central Asia long before Rumi where shamans used it to induce altered states of consciousness (Helminski). By performing the sema, Mevlevis try to experience the meaning of the words from the Qur’an: “To God belong the East and the West, and wherever you turn is the face of God. He is the All-Embracing, the All-Knowing” (Surah Baqara 2:115)

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  1. Methods of Inquiry

The scientific basis for the sema is the belief that “there is no being or object which does not revolve, because all beings are comprised of revolving electrons, protons, and neutrons in atoms. Everything revolves, and the human being lives by means of the revolution of these particles, by the revolution of the blood in his body, and by the revolution of the stages of his life, by his coming from the earth and returning to it” (Celebi).

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            The semas practiced today occur in the following manner: first, the dervishes bow to the Sheikh. The hats that they wear, called sikkes, represent their own tombstones and are pulled tightly onto their head so that they don’t fall off while the dervishes are spinning. Then there is the Sultan Veled Walk, where they trail the Sheikh around room while wearing black cloaks that symbolize their grave.

Next, the dervishes let the cloaks fall off as they stretch out their arms to reveal their tennures (white robes). They begin to turn around their own axis while invoking the Name of Allah. As they spin, a reed pipe called a ney and drums are played in addition to chanting by the dervishes. It is believed that during the sema the power of Heaven enters into the dervish’s upturned right palm, passes through the body, and leaves through the downward facing left palm into the Earth. The dervish considers himself an instrument of God so he cannot direct or retain the power that enters him.

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  1. Institutions and Professional Structure

Although no longer in existence, there were once several dervish schools called tekkes. Males under 18 were required to receive parental permission to enter a tekke. The boy would be guided by an older member of the tekke and would be initiated by the sheike. The boy would be given the choice between going on a 1001 day retreat and joining the Mevlevi order or becoming a muhip, which means that he does not go on retreat or live in the tekke but comes every day to be trained in the dervish practices. If the new initiate chose the retreat then he must complete several tests.

For the first test, he is brought to the kitchen where he is to sit on his knees upon the sake (a sheepskin) for three days without sleep or speaking. He could only move 5 times a day to pray, to eat, and to go to the toilet. On the fourth day he is bathed and shaved and given a black dress to wear for the rest of the retreat as well as a prayer (zikr) to repeat while working. His days then consisted of learning to dance the sema, praying 5 times a day, repeating his zikr, and doing service.

Once completing the 1001-day retreat, the initiate could then wear white garments and is a dede in the Mevlevi order. He could then chose to either stay in the tekke where he would be a teacher or live in the city where he could come back to the tekke only on Thursday nights when the sema was performed. Women were not allowed in the tekke unless they came to watch the sema on Thursdays so men that chose to live in the tekke could not marry. (Friedlander 107-109)

 

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  1. History:

            Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-1273), a Sufi poet and mystic, established the dervish order of the Mevlevis and started the whirling dance of the sema. Rumi’s life was changed the day he met a wandering dervish named Shams of Tabriz. Shams had a revelation to go to the Asia Minor where Rumi was studying in college. There are several different tales of their encounter but in all of them the meeting of Shams deeply influences the thoughts of Rumi.

After sixteen months together, Shams went to Damascus to escape the attacks of Rumi’s jealous disciples. Rumi sent his son to beg Shams to return to Konya but as soon as Shams came back he disappeared and was murdered. Rumi did not know that Shams had returned and had been killed so he searched Damascus for his missing friend. After Shams disappearance Rumi began the spiritual concert called the sema, which was “not only a religious ceremony, but also a spontaneous manifestation of emotions” (Vitray-Myerovitch 27).

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             After Rumi’s death in 1273, the Mevlevis practiced prayer in a whirling manner fashioned by Rumi’s son, Sultan Veled, based on the movements of his father. The practice remained virtually uninterrupted until the overthrow of the Ottoman Empire in 1924. In 1925, Kemal Ataturk passed Law 677 into the Turkish Republic that ended the whirling in tekkes.

Military police entered the Mevlevi tekke in Uskudar on a Saturday in December and order it to close. The police stated that “performing dervish practices, holding meetings in the tekkes, the profession of tomb-keeping and the office of sheike and other dervish initiations were abolished and, as of the reading, against the law of the Republic” (Friedlander 111). In 1927, Kemal Ataturk opened the tomb of Rumi as a museum but said that Turkey is a modern country that had no time for dervish magic.

In December 1953, the first authorized Mevlevi sema since the tekkes were closed occurred in Konya, Turkey. The amount of semas slowly increased over the years but was emphasized to be only for tourists and not to be a religious practice for the dervishes. Today the tekkes remain unopened but the dervishes still perform private semas in their homes and in Konya in December to honor their founder, Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi (Friedlander 111-114).

Sources:

Shamans of Islam

Whirling Dervishes in the Islamic Tradition

THE ROSE SUFI CRESCENT

 

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