Sunday, October 15, 2006

Kosovo's Dervishes dance toward salvation

By AFP Agence France-Presse, Prizren (Pristina), Serbia-Montenegro
Kim Info-service, News from Kosovo and Metohija
Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Every spring the Dervishes of Kosovo -- among the last in Europe -- dance, chant and push knives into their bodies in a quest for heavenly salvation.

They are shunned by many fellow Muslims as starry-eyed mystics, but the Dervishes who gathered recently in Prizen for a centuries-old celebration do not see themselves as outside the Islamic pale.
"We are the avant garde of the Muslim religion," says Shejh Adrihusejn, a leader of the mystical order, playing down the dramatic extremes to which Dervishes go to attain religious fulfillment. "We do not accept being presented as a Muslim mystic sect or an extreme branch of our religion," says the Shejh, a title given to Dervish community leaders.

A fraternity of Sufi Islam famous for both their asceticism and their hypnotic, trance-inducing dances, the Dervish community in Kosovo is a legacy of the Ottoman empire that once held sway over this Serbian province. While 95 percent of Kosovo's two million inhabitants are Muslim, only a tiny fraction -- some 50,000 -- are Dervishes. There are also Sufi communities in neighboring Albania and Macedonia.

At the end of March the 5,000 Dervishes of Prizen in southern Kosovo celebrate the Spring equinox festival of "Sultan Nevruz," the moment when the sun begins to favor the Northern Hemisphere and day become longer than night.

The ceremony unfolds in the hilly suburbs of this picture-postcard town in special ampitheatre, or "teqe," that bears little resemblance to a traditional Muslim mosque.Some 60 dervishes of all ages dressed in black and white waistcoats and flat hats, including a few children, begin chanting before an overflowing crowd. Women, guests and journalists are kept to the side or observe from a small wooden balcony.

What is about to unfold is so dramatic as to shock the uninitiated, and even shake one's understanding of medical science.

"La-illaha-illallah" ("There is no god but God") the Dervishes intone in a subdued prayer, forming a semi-circle around Shejh Adrihusejn.
Bobbing their heads, they slowly up the tempo and volume of the prayer from a deep murmur into full-throated howl, praying for their past sins to be pardoned.The crescendo mounts for two hours until the Dervishes are swaying in a state of mystical ecstasy. "Allah Hu" (he is God), they chant in perfect unison.

That is when the skewers and knives appear.

The Shejh leads the way, coating 15-centimetre (six inch) long needles with his saliva and then piercing his two young sons. He does the same to three other children.
Miraculously, there is no blood, and the children show no sign of fear or pain, swaying silently as they hold the needles pierced through one side of their mouths.
Next come the blades: Shejh slowly eases 40-centimetre ( 1.3-foot) knives with rounded, pearl-coated stems through both cheeks of the Dervishes, one-by-one.

Driven by the rhythm of kettledrums and tambourines, the entranced worshipers sway in a semi-conscious state, repeating their calls to "Allah" over and over.
Next they begin piercing their necks with knives, proudly displaying the wounds.
"The knives symbolize the healing of all wounds. This is the blessing of God and the power of the order," says an elderly, high-ranking Dervish after the ceremony.

Finally, the intensity subsides into a prayer for the souls of all prophets and believers, as the Dervishes remove the knives and return them to the Shejh, kissing his hands.

Later, the 44-year-old Shejh talks about his flock's esoteric tradition, insisting that it has a place in modern society.
"We propagandize love among people. Belief is, in essence, love towards God, towards others and towards life," he says.
"I am against any extremism. I am a Muslim and a European of the 21st Century -- Internet is an important part of my life," he says.

1 comment:

Irving said...

Fascinating :) The PBS slow Mystics of Iran showed the same type of ecstatic skewering with knives in the mountain khaniqahs, though I forget the name of the Order.

Ya Haqq!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Kosovo's Dervishes dance toward salvation
By AFP Agence France-Presse, Prizren (Pristina), Serbia-Montenegro
Kim Info-service, News from Kosovo and Metohija
Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Every spring the Dervishes of Kosovo -- among the last in Europe -- dance, chant and push knives into their bodies in a quest for heavenly salvation.

They are shunned by many fellow Muslims as starry-eyed mystics, but the Dervishes who gathered recently in Prizen for a centuries-old celebration do not see themselves as outside the Islamic pale.
"We are the avant garde of the Muslim religion," says Shejh Adrihusejn, a leader of the mystical order, playing down the dramatic extremes to which Dervishes go to attain religious fulfillment. "We do not accept being presented as a Muslim mystic sect or an extreme branch of our religion," says the Shejh, a title given to Dervish community leaders.

A fraternity of Sufi Islam famous for both their asceticism and their hypnotic, trance-inducing dances, the Dervish community in Kosovo is a legacy of the Ottoman empire that once held sway over this Serbian province. While 95 percent of Kosovo's two million inhabitants are Muslim, only a tiny fraction -- some 50,000 -- are Dervishes. There are also Sufi communities in neighboring Albania and Macedonia.

At the end of March the 5,000 Dervishes of Prizen in southern Kosovo celebrate the Spring equinox festival of "Sultan Nevruz," the moment when the sun begins to favor the Northern Hemisphere and day become longer than night.

The ceremony unfolds in the hilly suburbs of this picture-postcard town in special ampitheatre, or "teqe," that bears little resemblance to a traditional Muslim mosque.Some 60 dervishes of all ages dressed in black and white waistcoats and flat hats, including a few children, begin chanting before an overflowing crowd. Women, guests and journalists are kept to the side or observe from a small wooden balcony.

What is about to unfold is so dramatic as to shock the uninitiated, and even shake one's understanding of medical science.

"La-illaha-illallah" ("There is no god but God") the Dervishes intone in a subdued prayer, forming a semi-circle around Shejh Adrihusejn.
Bobbing their heads, they slowly up the tempo and volume of the prayer from a deep murmur into full-throated howl, praying for their past sins to be pardoned.The crescendo mounts for two hours until the Dervishes are swaying in a state of mystical ecstasy. "Allah Hu" (he is God), they chant in perfect unison.

That is when the skewers and knives appear.

The Shejh leads the way, coating 15-centimetre (six inch) long needles with his saliva and then piercing his two young sons. He does the same to three other children.
Miraculously, there is no blood, and the children show no sign of fear or pain, swaying silently as they hold the needles pierced through one side of their mouths.
Next come the blades: Shejh slowly eases 40-centimetre ( 1.3-foot) knives with rounded, pearl-coated stems through both cheeks of the Dervishes, one-by-one.

Driven by the rhythm of kettledrums and tambourines, the entranced worshipers sway in a semi-conscious state, repeating their calls to "Allah" over and over.
Next they begin piercing their necks with knives, proudly displaying the wounds.
"The knives symbolize the healing of all wounds. This is the blessing of God and the power of the order," says an elderly, high-ranking Dervish after the ceremony.

Finally, the intensity subsides into a prayer for the souls of all prophets and believers, as the Dervishes remove the knives and return them to the Shejh, kissing his hands.

Later, the 44-year-old Shejh talks about his flock's esoteric tradition, insisting that it has a place in modern society.
"We propagandize love among people. Belief is, in essence, love towards God, towards others and towards life," he says.
"I am against any extremism. I am a Muslim and a European of the 21st Century -- Internet is an important part of my life," he says.

1 comment:

Irving said...

Fascinating :) The PBS slow Mystics of Iran showed the same type of ecstatic skewering with knives in the mountain khaniqahs, though I forget the name of the Order.

Ya Haqq!