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Dervish

Emerald Hills of the Heart
The door to the Truth is open to a wakeful person, But those who know how to sacrifice their souls can reach God. I have seen many who have come to this dervish convent, Willing and ready to sacrifice themselves on the way of truth.
| M. Fethullah Gulen | Issue 153 (May - Jun 2023)

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Dervish

In This Article

  • Heroes of truth, who have dedicated themselves to God, are content with what He has given them and are indifferent to all other things. Even in hunger and thirst they unburden themselves to God, without revealing their need to others.
  • They build relations with all existence, living or non-living, (without, however, assigning their heart to any other than the Almighty) and appreciate each according to its position. They love and embrace everything, repel hostilities with love, and evil with good.
  • For an initiate who cannot be saved from the pressure of corporeality or bodily desires, or reach the level of life lived in the heart and the spirit, austerity is essential. A guide who knows the person and can diagnose his or her disease well, will advise renunciation of the world and whatever in it relates to the pleasures of the worldly life.

Dervish is a word that means poor, destitute one. Even though it is used for the poor and helpless in worldly terms, in Sufi terminology it is used for those who are aware of their poverty and helplessness before God. Although poverty and helplessness in worldly terms are associated with beggary, travelers to God are not poor and helpless in that they do not ask anyone for anything. Heroes of truth, who have dedi­cated themselves to God, are content with what He has given them and are indifferent to all other things. Even in hunger and thirst they unburden themselves to God, without revealing their need to others.

A dervish is also regarded as being the threshold to a door. This does not mean that dervishes humiliate themselves before people; rather, it means that they are humble and in their aware­ness of their nothingness before God attribute to Him whatever they may possess that is worthy of appreciation. They are also humble among people because of the Creator and because they are precious works of God’s Art with all the Divine gems inher­ent in their nature.

Sometimes perfect people are mentioned as being the dervish­es of a certain guide. This is because it is important to stress the place of a dervish, both in the sight of God and of people. Besides, sometimes simple, humble, content, and lenient people are called dervishes, while there are some great, sagacious persons with a deep knowledge of God who are known as “a poor one with the heart of sultan,” in that they are magnanimous even though poor.

The leading scholars of Sufism describe a true dervish as one who is abstinent, pious, righteous, patient, loving, tolerant, and steadfast, severing relations with all else save God from the heart, and devoted to His service with the intention and effort of reaching Him.

A dervish takes his or her first step by holding back from sins and by fulfilling obligatory and supererogatory religious duties. The second step is to be loving and tolerant toward everyone, to see the universe as a cradle of brotherhood/sister­hood, and to try to represent the nature and morals of Muham­mad, and the truth of his being Ahmad, upon him be peace and blessings. The third step is to reach the horizon of sincerity and perfect goodness and to develop their theoretical knowledge and belief based on imitation into experience and verified truths.

At the first stage, dervishes are at the beginning of piety, and demonstrate that they are ready to understand the Qur’an and Islam and to start the journey to meet with the Almighty. They are awarded in proportion to their sincerity and purity of inten­tion and advance toward piety and the summits of being pleased with God and finally into the Gardens of Paradise.

God Almighty says: The great among you are those who are God-revering, pious. The last abode of the God-revering, pious will be Paradise and their drink will be the drink of Paradise.

In the second stage, they build relations with all existence, living or non-living, (without, however, assigning their heart to any other than the Almighty) and appreciate each according to its position. They love and embrace everything, repel hostilities with love, and evil with good. Thinking that the road that they are to follow is the road of not showing resentment, but rather that of patience and tolerance, they run toward the rank of being pleased with God, and whisper like Yunus:

You should be voiceless against those who curse, and handless against those who beat. A dervish should have no heart to resent: Therefore, you cannot be a dervish.

In the third stage, dervishes are persons of peace and spiritual vision, having entered the way of seeing, feeling, and know­ing only Him, and being faithful friends of Him. It makes no dif­ference to them whether good comes from friends or evil from enemies. This is even more so if they have heard the voice of the Friend, then they will no longer feel breaths other than His, and will be freed from interest in and worries about any other than Him, acquiring a second nature that is determined by “secret.” They know what they really should know and are freed from bearing a burden of unnecessary information.

Everyone can enter the way of being a dervish. No one who has taken a step on this way is denied. However, entering such a way has some requirements which one who is ready to take the first step on this way is expected to fulfill. Tokadizade Şekip states that the door to being a dervish is open for everybody, but warns that this is the way of offering the soul to the All-Beloved and therefore requires sincerity and perfect goodness:

The door to the Truth is open to a wakeful person, But those who know how to sacrifice their souls can reach God. I have seen many who have come to this dervish convent, Willing and ready to sacrifice themselves on the way of truth.

Prophet Abraham is an excellent example to remind one that reaching God is possible by sacrificing one’s soul on His way. He breasted the fire of Nimrod [1] on this way and, leaving his home and native land, set up his tent in the desert—may our cas­tles and palaces be sacrificed for that tent. In utter submission to God, he took his wife and son and left them in a desolate valley. He offered the “fruit of his heart”—his son who had been bestowed on him in return for many years of desiring a son—to the Ultimate Truth, as a sacrifice [2] In short, he showed such resolution, power of will, and determination at every step, that except for the pride of humankind, upon him be peace and bless­ings, he has no equal in human history. It is as if Seyyid Nig­ari [3] uttered the following couplet about him:

Does one who seeks the Beloved struggle for his own life? And can another who seeks his own life be in quest of the Beloved?

So, being a dervish means aspiring to be a hero of meeting with the All-Beloved, which signifies devoting one’s life to acquiring God’s good pleasure and approval in the conscious­ness of the meaning and purpose of the religious command­ments. It has also been described as being in quest of the Ulti­mate Truth under the guidance of love and zeal and by dominat­ing one’s essence, voice, and carnal soul. This description is also significant. Riza Tevfik, a late Turkish poet and philoso­pher, presenting the characteristics of being a dervish, enlight­ens this point as follows:

Being a dervish means dominating one’s essence; one who is a captive of his ego is not a dervish. It is adopting love as a guide and finding God; it is not sweets, an axe, a staff, a needle or a skewer. Do not sit absentminded in the name of devotion; do not shout, nor dance violently, nor beat your breast! Nor foam by crying “O He, O the All-Living!” Mentioning God is not a part of digestion. Learn the secret about God from your heart; it is the heart which sees the Beloved through love. What causes a wakeful one with knowledge of God to feel that pleasure, is not henbane, nor wine, nor opium, nor anything else. Do not expect wonder from the stone of Najaf, [4] nor separate from human beings, your brethren. You cannot see the Ultimate Truth from graves or tombs; a true man of God is a sultan, not a hermit. Everywhere are heaps of crude souls, what is your relation with them? Take refuge in your heart that tends to seclusion! The world is not as spacious as the heart.

In the beginning, a dervish is a student who studies theoreti­cal knowledge; his or her practicing what is learned is represen­tation; then, feeling and experiencing more deeply what is known and practiced—by each according to his or her capaci­ty—is certainty. The first stage can also be regarded as theoreti­cal Shari‘a, the second as practical Shari‘a, and the third as Shari‘a experienced in truth. A traveler is a dervish during the whole of the journeying, through all of its stations, from the beginning to the end.

Some exacting scholars of Sufism regard being a dervish as an essential condition on the way to meet with God. According to them, being a dervish has the same meaning and importance for the purification of the carnal soul, the refinement of the heart, and the spirit’s acquiring transcendence as treatment, diet and abstention from harmful habits, food and drink do for health. As a doctor’s advice is essential for the cure of diseases, spiritual diseases also require the advice and direction of a spiri­tual guide. The character of an individual is important in the diagnosis and treatment of bodily diseases, which is why mod­ern medicine advises that every patient requires individual atten­tion. This is also true for spiritual diseases and treatment. Each patient may require a treatment which is different, at least, in its details.

For example, for an initiate who cannot be saved from the pressure of corporeality or bodily desires, or reach the level of life lived in the heart and the spirit, austerity is essential. A guide who knows the person and can diagnose his or her disease well, will advise renunciation of the world and whatever in it relates to the pleasures of the worldly life. If the initiate has fully concentrated on the pleasures of the other world without consid­ering the Truly Desired and Sought One, the guide will urge renunciation of the other world with its pleasures and concentra­tion on the Ultimate Truth. If, on the other hand, neither the world nor the Hereafter can keep an initiate from the main goal of the journeying, if both serve to improve concentration on eternity, the guide will open the doors on the world and the Hereafter wide for the initiate. Concerning this, Jalalu’d-Din Rumi says:

The world means heedlessness of God; it does not mean possessing silver coins, clothes, or a family. Our Prophet praised wealth earned in lawful ways and used for the revival and uplifting of Islam, and said: “How good is any wealth earned in lawful ways for a righteous one!” If enough water finds its way into a ship, it causes it to sink, but if it is under the ship, it causes it to float. If you do not put the love of wealth in your heart, then you can swim safely in the ocean of spiritual journeying and initiation.

True dervishes, from the time of Prophet Adam, upon him be peace, until today, have thought and acted in such a way. Even though they were not called dervishes, we can regard the People of the Suffa—the poor Companions who stayed in the antechamber or hall adjacent to the Prophet’s Mosque in Madina—as the first dervishes of the Muslim Umma. They observed both the balance between the world and the Hereafter and the Divine rights to a degree that no one else has ever been able to except the Prophets, and they became heroes of resignation (to God’s will).

After the Companions, all the people of journeying and initiation who have journeyed on the way to God under different titles, such as asceticism or Sufism or being a dervish, have per- formed great tasks, as if they were the soul and blood in the veins of the society, so long as they have had no interest in politics and concentrated all their efforts on belief in God’s Unity and maintaining the Islamic life in this belief. When they have acted to the contrary, they have both harmed society and ruined themselves.

Using being a dervish, which, in fact, is a state based on humility and a feeling of nothingness, for worldly benefits is such a means of contamination of the spirit that nothing other than a special Divine grace can clean it.

Let Mawlana Jalalu’-Din Rumi have the last word:

A luxurious life is a shame on dervishes; a burden in their hearts. How nice is feeling destitute before Him; and being in need of Him on His way. For pomp and luxury on the way to the Beloved are like thorns; they hurt the feet of dervishes.

O God! Make full of blessings my religious life, which is the guarantee of my innocence, and my other life, to which I am bound to go, and my world, in which I can be perfected. And bestow blessings and peace on our master Muhammad, and on his Family and the Companions, all of them.

Notes

  1. Nimrod was the title that was given to the Chaldaean kings in Iraq. (Tr.)
  2. Prophet Abraham, upon God’s command, left his elder son Ishmael in the valley of Makka together with her mother Hagar. (Tr.)
  3. Seyyid Mir Hamza Nigari was a Sufi poet from Azerbaijan. He wrote lyrical poems to express God’s love. (Tr.)
  4. Najaf is a city in the southern Iraq, which bears holiness for the Shi‘te Muslims. (Tr.)

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