Sufi whirling (or Sufi spinning) is a form of Sama or physically active meditation which originated among Sufis, and which is still practiced by the Sufi Dervishes of the Mevlevi order. It is a customary dance performed within the Sema, or worship ceremony, through which dervishes (also called semazens) aim to reach the source of all perfection, or kemal. This is sought through abandoning one’s nafs, egos or personal desires, by listening to the music, focusing on God, and spinning one’s body in repetitive circles, which has been seen as a symbolic imitation of planets in the Solar System orbiting the sun. As explained by Sufis:
In the symbolism of the Sema ritual, the semazen’s camel’s hair hat (sikke) represents the tombstone of the ego; his wide, white skirt represents the ego’s shroud. By removing his black cloak, he is spiritually reborn to the truth. At the beginning of the Sema, by holding his arms crosswise, the semazen appears to represent the number one, thus testifying to God’s unity. While whirling, his arms are open: his right arm is directed to the sky, ready to receive God’s beneficence; his left hand, upon which his eyes are fastened, is turned toward the earth. The semazen conveys God’s spiritual gift to those who are witnessing the Sema. Revolving from right to left around the heart, the semazen embraces all humanity with love. The human being has been created with love in order to love. Mevlâna Jalâluddîn Rumi says, "All loves are a bridge to Divine love. Yet, those who have not had a taste of it do not know!"
The origin and roots of Sufism lie in the life and practices of the Prophet of Islam and the Qur?an. Sufism espouses a well-founded and thoroughgoing 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 (God), the True, the Real.
The Order of the Whirling Dervishes is one branch of the vast Sufi tradition of Islam. The universal values of love and service shared by all Sufis are very much relevant to the social and political realities of today, and this ritual, which is only performed by the Order of the Whirling Dervishes, has come to symbolize these values in the hearts and minds of millions throughout the world.
THE SEMA RITUAL began with the inspiration of Mevlâna Jalâluddîn Rumi (1207-1273) and was influenced by Turkish customs and culture.
It is scientifically recognized that the fundamental condition of our existence is to revolve. 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 his returning to it.
However, all of these revolutions are natural and unconscious. But the human being possesses a mind and an intelligence which distinguishes him from other beings. Thus the whirling dervish or semazen, intentionally and consciously participates in the shared revolution of other beings.
Contrary to popular belief, the semazen’s goal is not to lose consciousness or to fall into a state of ecstasy. Instead, by revolving in harmony with all things in nature — with the smallest cells and with the stars in the firmament — the semazen testifies to the existence and the majesty of the Creator, thinks of Him, gives thanks to Him, and prays to Him. In so doing, the semazen confirms the words of the Qur’an (64:1): Whatever is in the skies or on earth invokes God.