In the Green Room at the Rialto Center for the Arts in downtown Atlanta, the Whirling Dervishes of Rumi kneeled and said their evening prayers before taking the stage.
In the printed program for the event, the audience was asked not to applaud. This was a religious ceremony and it would be considered disrespectful to clap, the program said.
“All the performers try to remember God in their hearts and repeat his name and try to get somehow connected with their Lord,” Fahri Ozcakil, spiritual leader of the Dervishes, told GlobalAtlanta. “The term we use for this type of spiritual gathering is Sema. Sema means to listen to the spiritual guidance and the musical guidance of God. And this is basically what we do to connect ourselves to the Lord.”
The Dervishes, from Konya, Turkey, are followers of the Sufi tradition of Islam. Twenty-six members of the group were in Atlanta Feb. 11, sponsored by the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the Atlanta-based Istanbul Center.
The Dervishes were founded by followers of Rumi, a Sufi poet and theologian, after his death in 1273.
“In terms of his teaching, love was the basic theme,” said Mr. Ozcakil. “He was a lover of God, he was a lover of nature. Basically, whatever he saw, whatever he touched, he touched with love. He made no differences between people because of their ethnic background or religious background.”
The Dervish performances are a combination of music, singing and the spinning dance known as whirling.
“What we do is to imitate the first sheik, Rumi,” said Mr. Ozcakil. “At the time he was doing Sema - whirling - actually he was getting close to the state you could call unconsciousness. But in today’s world, it is kind of difficult to get to that state because we are so attached to our worldly lives and materialistic world. We do our best but we can not say that we exactly get to that state.”
The performance, which has four phases, begins with one of the musicians reciting lyrics, written by Rumi, about the Prophet Muhammad.
The Dervishes, wearing black robes, enter and circle the stage in a greeting ceremony. They remove the black robes and are wearing white cloth, symbolizing the beginning of the Sema ceremony.
“At the second stage, the Sufi begins to think about the greatness of God, and his reflections on the earth especially the creation of the universe,” said Mr. Ozcakil.
“At the third stage, the Sufi will leave these thoughts and transform himself from thinking to loving. This is the stage that you really feel in your heart the love of God which is the highest state a Sufi can attain.”
The fourth stage represents the time that the Dervishes reflect back on their own lives as servants of God. The ceremony ends with a recitation from the Quran and a prayer.
The Dervishes hope their performances will increase understanding of Islam worldwide.
“It is very helpful for the other cultures and other religious people to have a better understanding of Islam,” said Mr. Ozcakil. “When we look at Islam what we see is that the religion is a religion of tolerance and acceptance.
“By performing Sema ceremonies, we are trying to bring this beautiful face of Islam to different parts of the world.”
[Visit the Istanbul Center in Atlanta, GA http://www.istanbulcenter.org/default.aspx].