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5. The Dervishes

The word darvīsh (poor) is simply the Persian for the Arabic faqīr (fakir), a word used, along with the North African marabout, for Ṡūfī ascetics and mystics. But "dervish" has come to be applied primarily to the adherent of a Ṡūfī order, or ṭarīqa.

The earliest Ṡūfī shaykhs had had their circle of disciples, and with the neo-orthodox revival of the eleventh century Saljūq restoration, the building and endowing of monastic establishments for Sūfīs, as well as the orthodox madrasa schools, became a favorite activity of Muslim rulers.

With the thirteenth century A.D. there appeared regular international orders, with daughter chapters, a rule and a prescribed order of dhikr, or samā‘. The first of these was the sober and orthodox Qādirī ṭarīqa, founded about A.D. 1200 at Baghdad by ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī. Others followed: Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī's Mawlāwī, or Mevlevī order, the Transoxanian Naqshbandīs, with their silent dhikr or prayer service, the Shādhilī order of North Africa, the Chishtīya of India, etc.

With the breakdown and transformation of much of organized society following the Mongol invasions, the ṭarīqas provided a convenient form of social organization, and undertook such disparate duties as civil defense, public relief and public security. In some areas dervish brotherhoods governed cities, organized revolutions and converted pagan tribes. The brilliant Ṡafavī dynasty of

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[paragraph continues] Persia was founded by a family of Ṡūfī shaykhs carried to power in the early sixteenth century by para-military forces organized as a brotherhood among the nomad Turcoman tribes.

At the same time, the orders popularized the teachings of the Ṡūfīs and carried them down to the lowest ranks of the population, though not without some vulgarization and damaging of the original values Ṡūfism had represented, substituting emotional revivalism for interior devotion.

Nevertheless, the ṭarīqas deserve great credit: few world religions have tried to teach--or succeeded in teaching--mystical religion to the masses, and the orders provided valuable social services and comforted the common man, besides doing much to color the religious life of later Islam. Professor Gibb puts it succinctly: "Islam in the eighteenth century was like a richly colored tapestry into whose pattern had gone not only Qur’ān and Ḥadīth, shari’ī puritanism, (non-conformist) malāmī ethics, Hallājī exaltation, bāṭinī (esoteric) interpretation, the monism of Ibn al-‘Arabī, the aesthetic sensibility of Rūmī, and the hypnotic or thaumaturgic rituals of the ecstatic orders, but also astrology, divination, wonder-working, and above all, the cult of saints, dead and alive." 47

Almost every male Muslim belonged to one or more ṭarīqas, which took the place of church denomination, social club, Masonic lodge, night school, burial association and marching society. Every guild was affiliated with a ṭarīqa, and almost every village supported some resident Ṡūfī holy man.

The core of the ṭarīqa's life was the collective dhikr at the lodge, or tekke, where the dervishes under the leader-

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ship of an adept would contemplate, chant or dance in unison until some fell into a trance.

Today these dhikrs can still be seen in some areas of the Muslim world; the observer may encounter things which seem to belong in a case book of abnormal psychology, or witness what looks remarkably like demonic possession. But unless he is wholly unsympathetic, he may find also in these sweating ecstatics examples of pure and devoted attendance upon the Holy.

The dervish was not himself an adept, though he might become one; rather, by following the example and practice of the Stiff saints, he attempted to share in their mystical experiences.

While the orders today are everywhere on the retreat, their influence remains. The manuals of prayer used by the humble faithful in all the great centers of Islam today, for instruction in prayer which goes beyond the often mechanical repetition of the official ritual prayers, were once composed for the dervishes. 48

I have naught but my destitution
  To plead for me with Thee.
And in my poverty I put forward that destitution as my plea.
I have no power save to knock at Thy door,
And if I be turned away, at what door shall I knock?
Or on whom shall I call, crying his name,
If Thy generosity is refused to Thy destitute one?
Far be it from Thy generosity to drive the disobedient one to despair!
Generosity is more freehanded than that.
In lowly wretchedness I have come to Thy door,
Knowing that degradation there finds help.
In full abandon I put my trust in Thee,

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Stretching out my hands to Thee, a pleading beggar 49
     [Attributed to ’Abd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī as well as to Abuyad al-Tijānī]

My Master, My Master, if Thou hast shown mercy to any like me, then be merciful to me. If Thou hast received any like me, then receive me.
Oh God, Thy pardon of my sin, Thy passing over my errors, Thy covering of the ugliness of my doings,
Thy long patience with my many wickednesses
Whether I did them of error or of set purpose, have
Made me ask in hope that to which I have no right." 50
     [‘Alī Zayn al-‘Abidīn]

O saints of God, to I am sick, and before you is medicine and healing.
Then of your favor look on me for treatment, and grant me of your goodness what is needed.
How many a sick one sought you at your door, and left it, sickness gone from him in healing.
How many a chronic sufferer have you helped, bedridden, whom your bounty has sufficed.
You are the door, and God is generous.
He then who comes to you finds grace and health 51
     [Muhammad ‘Alī, Muftī al-Jazā’ir]

O Lord of the clear heavens and the light and the darkness in them;
O Lord of the outspread lands and the creatures and created things in them:
O Lord of the steadfast mountains:
O Lord of the sweeping winds:
O Lord of the airy clouds balanced between the heavens and the earth:
O Lord of the stars sent by Thee on their business and flashing in the air of heaven 52
     [Prayer for the 27th of Ramadān]

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Thy truth, Thy righteousness, Thine excellence, Thy might, Thy free favor have never failed me for a moment since Thou didst send me into the abode of experience and reflection and discursive thought, to see what I should bring with me to the lasting abode and the session of the blessed. I am Thy slave: make me, then, to be Thy freedman. 53
     [al-Ḥizb al Sayfī]

O Lord, call down a blessing on Muhammad in the cooing of doves, in the hovering of birds, in the pasturing of cattle, in the excellence of the strong, in the might of the full-grown, in the sleeping of slumberers . . . in the brightening of morning, in the murmur of the winds and in the tramp of cattle, in the girding on of swords and the brandishing of lances and in the health of bodies and spirits 54
     [al-Ṡalāt li-al-Buṡīrī]

Praise to Thee, glorified be Thy Majesty, while I live, and when I die . . . and when I am brought forth to Thee astounded by the awful cry (calling to) the Assembly, and when I stand dumbfounded in Thy presence at the publishing of the pages of my past life. And when Thou askest me and my very members are witnesses for Thee against me. . . 55
     [Prayer for the first day of the New Year]

My God and my Lord, eyes are at rest, stars are setting, hushed are the movements of birds in their nests, of monsters in the deep. And Thou art the Just who knoweth no change, the Equity that swerveth not, the Everlasting that passes not away. The doors of kings are locked, watched by their body-guards; but Thy door is open to him who calls on Thee. My Lord, each lover is now alone with his beloved, and Thou art for me the Beloved 56
     [Tahārat al-Qulūb]



172:47 Gibb and Bowen, Islamic Society and the West (London, 1957), Vol. I, Part II, p. 201.

172:48 Cf. Constance C. Padwick, Muslim Devotions (London, 1961).

172:49 Ibid., p. 218.

172:50 Ibid., p. 203.

172:51 Ibid., p. 242.

172:52 Ibid., p. 250.

172:53 Ibid., p. 253.

172:54 Ibid., p. 257.

172:55 Ibid., p. 280.

172:56 Ibid., p. 219.

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