Hazel McHaffie

Sufi Muslims

Whirling Dervishes

Biobank wrist monitorAt the end of November I spent a week wearing a special wristband to monitor my activity. ‘Improving the health of the nation‘ is the slogan for the organisation, Biobank, and I’ve been a participant in their research before, so they have quite a lot of information about me already. This time they’re carrying out the largest study ever on the effects of directly-measured activity on health. I’m instantly glad I do power-walking – don’t want to be seen as an aging slouch, now, do I?

Exercise monitorKnowing I was being monitored made me more than usually conscious of what I was doing. Not just in terms of organised cardio-vascular activity, but domestic things – whipping up meringues, scrubbing carpets, cleaning windows, writing letters, typing furiously, sending hundreds (literally!) of emails, that kind of thing. What will the monitor make of all this movement, I wonder? Will the folk who analyse the results think I’m some kind of whirling dervish?

Ahah, but you might have a totally erroneous view of what a whirling dervish is/does, like me – until that is, I actually saw them whirling in Turkey a few weeks ago. When we use the descriptor normally, we mean someone whose movements are frenetic in some way, but in reality the real Dervishes glide gracefully, rotating as they go – you can see them in action in this short clip:  (We were allowed to photograph them after the religious ceremony but the lighting was very subdued so not conducive to good quality film). How they aren’t dizzy and sick and completely disorientated remains a mystery to me – put me in sight of a children’s roundabout and I’m reaching for the vomit bag! Which would certainly rule me out of the running for becoming a Dervish.

Whirling dervishThe Sufi Dervishes are a sect of the Islam faith who have taken a vow of poverty and love. As they say of themselves: it’s an interpretation of Islam ‘which focuses on love, tolerance, worship of God, community development, and personal development through self-discipline and responsibility. A Sufi’s way of life is to love and be of service to people, deserting the ego or false self and all illusion so that one can reach maturity and perfection, and finally reach Allah, the True, the Real.

Revolution is key because according to their philosophy, everything revolves, and ‘the human being lives by means of … 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 his returning to it.’ The Whirling Dervish ‘intentionally and consciously participates in the shared revolution of other beings.’

The whirling dance is not intended as entertainment; it’s part of a formal ceremony performed to try to attain religious ecstacy. But it’s become a tourist attraction in Turkey. I’m glad I’ve seen it, but once was enough, and I’ll use the analogy cautiously in future.

For now I must whirl off and create some more costumes for our Christmas story/play. Now what would the old Biobank monitor make of the vibration of a sewing machine, d’you think?

 

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