1902 Encyclopedia > Dervish


DERVISH is a Persian word meaning " the sill of the door," or those who beg from door to door. The Arabic equivalent is fakir, or fuqueer. The dervishes of the Turkish empire may be said to constitute the regular religious orders, and are distinguished from the ulemas, or secular clergy. In Turkey, Egypt, Persia, Hindustan, and Central Asia, however, dervishes, or fakirs, are to be found in great number who belong to no society, but are simply mendicants or single devotees, many of whom subsist by professional jugglery. Especially is this true of the Byragis, the Dundis, the Bhikshooks, the Wanuprusts, the Sunyasis, the Aghorpunts, the Gosaens, the Jogis, the Oodassis, the Jutis, and the Lingaet Jungums of northern Hindustan, and still more emphatically of the Bonzes, or Buddhist monks. But in the more favourable sense of the word, the dervishes represent Sofism, or the spiritual and mystic side of Islam. Long before the time of Mahomet, Arabic thought was divided, as if by Greek and Indian influences, into the schools of the Meschaiouns (the walkers) and the Ischrachaiouns (the contemplators). When the Koran appeared, these became the Mutekelim (metaphysicians), and the Sofis (mystics). The latter put an esoteric interpretation on both the Koran and the Hadisat, or collected sayings of the Prophet-; they dispense with the jemaat and other formalities of the mosque ; they in many cases recognize the fact of spiritual religion outside Islam; and in general they observe the rules of poverty, abstinence from wine, and. celibacy. The name fakir, indeed, comes from the saying of the Prophet, " El fakr fakhri," poverty is my pride. The six Erkian, or pillars of the Tesavvuf, or spiritual life, are (1) the existence of God, (2) His unity, (3) the angels, (4) the prophets, (5) the day of resurrection, and (6) good and evil through God's predestination. But it is only the Tarikats, or orders (lit. paths), among the more orthodox or Sunnite Mahometans who attach much importance to positive dogma. The Shiite party, especially the Persian dervishes, who trace their descent through various sheikhs and peers from Ali, the fourth caliph, believe that " the paths leading to God are as many as the breaths of his creatures." These form the great majority of the orders ; for it is stated in a work called the Silsileh id Evlia Ullah (Genealogy of the Saints of God), last edited in 1783, that, out of 36 well-defined orders, 12 of which were in existence before the beginning of the Ottoman empire, only 3, viz., the Bestamis, the Nakshibendis, and the Bektashis, are descended from the congregation of Abu Bekr, the second caliph, and that all the others are descended from the caliph Ali. As the dervishes do not recognize the legal exposition which the ordinary tribunals give of the letter of the Koran, and acknowledge no authority but that of their spiritual guide, or of Allah himself speaking directly to their souls, the Ottoman sultans have always regarded them with jealousy; and in 1826 Mahmoud entirely suppressed the order of the Bektashis, which had for centuries been closely connected with the Janissaries, or Hoo Keshans (him scatterers), and which is said to have formed part of a Fermason (freemasonry) extending through Palestine, Syria, and Turkey. The other orders, however, or most of them, have survived to the present day, and are generally popular,—one of them, the Mevlevis, being joined by persons from the highest and wealthiest ranks. But membership, when it does not proceed beyond the first stage of Shi'at or Sher'iat, i.e., legal religion under the supervision of a murshid, may be satisfied by the repetition of a few prayers at home and the wearing of the sacred cap for a few minutes each day.

The regular dervishes live in tekkiehs, khanakahs, or con-vents, which are endowed with lands or wakf, just as the Muths of Hindustan are endowed with enam lands, incapable of mortgage or alienation. Thus, in 1634, the sultan Amurath IV. gave to the Bektashis of Konieh the whole tribute paid by that city. Over each convent presides a sheikh, or murshid, who represents the pir, or original founder of the order. This corresponds to the mohunt, malik, or guru of Hindustan. Among the Persian Nosairis (who consider Mahomet an impostor, and perform no ablutions), the succession of sheikhs is hereditary—elsewhere by seniority or election, confirmed by the Sheikh ul Islam. In Hindustan the selection takes place in a dusname, or council of mohunts, called among the Sikhs a muta. The murid, or disciple, has to undergo a long initiation (called in Turkey Ikrar, in Egypt Alid) before he obtains the taybend, or woollen belt, with its palenk. or cabalistic " stone of contentment; " the mengusay, or ear-rings shaped like the horse shoe of Ali; the khirka, or mantle ; the tesbeeh, or rosary, containing the ismi jelal, or the 99 beautiful names of God; and finally the taj, or white cap, with the proper number of terks, or sections, belonging to the order. Similar distinctions are preserved in Hindustan by the barbarous method of marking on the forehead the sandal-wood stripes of Siva, or the white and red trident of Vishnu. In the Mevlevi order the murid goes through 1001 days of menial labour, and is during that time called the karra kolak, or jackal. It is not necessary, however, to give up one's private property ; and many dervishes are permitted to remain in trade on the principle stated by the Prophet, that " the seeker of gain Is the friend of God." Some also are permitted to marry, just as among the Sikh fakirs of Nanuk those named Bashara (with the law), or Salik (travellers), are allowed to marry and to move about; those named Beshara (without the law), or Majzub (the abstracted), are condemned to celibacy and seclusion. But their lives are mainly directed to the production in themselves of the ecstatic state in which the soul enters the Alem-i-misal, or world of dreams, and becomes one with God. This part of Sofism strongly resembles Vedantism. Kaif, or quiescence, is often caused, by the use of hashish (the Arabic khoshkhosh, sold at Constantinople in pastilles called esrar), or by khalwet, retirement, and the erba'cin, or fast for 40 days. Then they indulge in excessive and rapid repetitions of particular phrases, as the Esami Ilahi, or seven attributes of God, viz.—La ilaha ill' Allah (no God but Allah), Ya Allah (O God), Ya Hoo (0 Him), Ya Hakk (0 just God), Ya Hay (O living God), Ya Kayyoum (O living God), Ya Kahhar (O revenging God). The Zikr consists mainly in a chant, always becoming louder and more violent, of the first attribute; thus—

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This leads to the Devr, or rotation, in which the Bufai, or Howling Dervishes, stand in a circle, shoulder to shoulder, each on his right foot, and swaying the body and the left leg backwards and forwards or from side to side ; the Sem'a of the Mevlevis, or Spinning Dervishes, in which a pirouette is performed all round the khaneh on the left heel, the eyes being closed, the arms outstretched; and other more violent dances, accompanied by the music of the nay, or flute, and tambourine, and by the cries of the dancers. In the Halet, or final ecstasy, the dervishes take hold of red-hot implements, place glowing charcoal in the mouth, and exhibit prodigies of muscular strength, which are in some cases the genuine and interesting effects of excitement, in others mere calculated imposture. At last the Jezbed, or attraction of God, begins to operate. Besides daily readings from the Koran, an infinity of small figurative prayers, or terjumans, is repeated. These are connected with the khirka, the palenk, the postaki, or seat, the seggadeh, or carpet, and with almost every act and motion of the dervish within the monastery. A rabouta, or silent prayer, is also practised. In return for these mystical rites the dervish obtains spiritual powers, of which the most remarkable is that called fascination, kuvveh iradat, the power of the will, which depends on certain physical conditions, and seems to include prophecy and the phenomena of mesmerism. By vifk, or the science of numbers, a charm, composed of the names of the matloob, or patient, and the arif, or knowing person (each letter of the alphabet has a numerical value), is placed on the knee of the latter, and by diligent blowing and mental concentration he is able to summon before him the spirit of the matloob. Some dervishes cure diseases, sell talismans, called tilsims and nushkas, charm snakes, and some are musicians and dancers. It is in Egypt and Hindustan that the extreme degrees of squalor, of imposture, and also of self-mortification are found. Some spend their lives in absolute nakedness, their bodies smeared with wood ash, their unkempt hair twisted into a turban ; some roll head over heels for hundreds of miles ; some contemplate the tip of the nose from 84 different postures; some live by the fraudulent sale of drugs or by feats of legerdemain. All Mahometan dervishes hold a powerful belief in the per-petual agency of the evlia, or saints, and the departed salihin (pure ones), the "unseen men or masters of destiny," who are sent forth from the kutb, or centre of the roof of the Kaaba, to control the spiritual affairs of the world. This is closely connected with the doctrine of tenassuh, or metem-psychosis, which, however, is held chiefly in a spiritual sense. The Bektashis believe that every one has a mesal, or equal (doppel-ganger 1), who watches over him from the unseen region.

For an account of dervishes in Persia, where mysticism has been refined by the poetry of Jelaleddin, Saadi, and Hafiz, and where the seven original orders of Hulullieh, Ittihadieh, Vusoolieh, Ashkieh, Telkinieh, Zurikieh, Wahdettieh, are still preserved, see Malcolm's History of Persia, andDe Gobineau's Three Years in Asia, 1859 ; for Central Asia, the works of Vambery and other travellers ; for Hindustan, The Peoples of India, by Kaye and Watson, 1868- 72, and Steel's Hindu Castes. For Egypt, where four orders are presided over by the Sheikh el Bekri, and where the ceremony of the Doseh, or the mounted sheikh riding over the bodies of the dervishes, is still practised, see Lane's Modem Egyptians; and for the general subject, The Dervishes, or Oriental Spiritualism, by J. P. Brown, Constantinople, 1868, which contains a number of valu- able translations of Dervish MSS. (W. C. S.)


This jealousy was not without foundation. The great political factions which disturbed Constantinople, tne Reds, the Whites, the Masked, the Intimates, the Interpreters, the Hashashins (from Hashish, whence assassins), were to some extent connected with the dervish orders. The Kalenderis, founded by an Andalusian dervish who .was expelled from the Bektashis, furnished several pretenders to the title of Mehdee, the 12th imam, whose second coming is looked for by all the mystics.
The subsequent stages are Tarikat, mystical rites, Mearifat, know-ledge, and Hakikat, truth.

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