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Whirling Dervishes

November 17, 2014

I’m submitting this story to a travel magazine contest. The entry needs to be less than 800 words, express a feeling of gratitude, and reflect a destination that makes you feel strong and hopeful. Wish me luck.

 

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A curtain was pulled back and figures emerged from darkness in a shaft of light—a half dozen cloaked musicians with medieval instruments. They arranged themselves on rugs, the light faded out, and the sounds of reeds, drums and unfamiliar string instruments filled the dark confined space. It was surprising how these primitive devices could create such a palpitating mood of expectation.

           

My mouth was dry as the volcanic rock surrounding me. Moments earlier, I’d entered the cave and passed through a tunnel that widened into a circular arena. Outside, the air had been uncomfortably warm, but the blistering heat couldn’t reach through tons of insulating rock. I was in Cappadocia to see the famous Whirling Dervishes.

           

Apprehension had nearly prompted me to cancel my trip to Turkey, a secular country with a 99.8 % Moslem population. Back home in the States, Islam was perceived as a religion whirling into fanaticism and violence, with far too many people painting all Muslims with the same brush. I’d come to explore this religion for myself.

            

As a kid, I’d fling out my arms and spin around as quickly as I could until I was so dizzy I’d collapse on our front lawn. Was that what this was about? Watching grown men in skirts spin around without getting dizzy?

           

A voice in broken English admonished us against taking pictures until after the ceremony. The Dervishes entered, dressed in black but for their towering beige camel-hair hats. They appeared to be glowing, as if light emanated from them. To deepen my experience I’d recently read about the Dervishes, and learned that their monastic life was outlawed in the 1930s by Atatürk, founder of the modern Turkish republic. Atatürk maintained that young Turkish men shouldn’t be hidden away in monasteries. He wanted the country to shift its attention from religion to the progressive ways of the West, but his secular vision for Turkey was rapidly coming under attack.

                

The Dervishes bowed to the empty hat on far side of the circular stage, their tall hats (tombstones for the ego) seeming to defy gravity by staying on their heads when touched to the ground. According to our guide, the bow was to honor Mevlânâ, their thirteenth century spiritual leader. Mevlânâ, creator of the Whirling Dervishes, was said to have whirled for two full days. It was his belief that the fundamental condition of existence was to revolve. He knew the world to be made of revolving atoms, knew that blood revolved within the bodies of men and animals and understood the revolving nature of the planets and stars. His achievement was to acknowledge and embrace this feature of existence through an act of homage—whirling.

                

They looked exposed when they removed their black cloaks, as if the whiteness beneath was not only purity but vulnerability. Lined up, they acknowledged each other, and slowly, one by one began to spin in the confines of the cave, giving the impression of dropping into a fathomless void like falling snowflakes. We sat close enough to feel the uplift of wind from their skirts as they spun in the same direction as the Earth on its axis, one hand pointed upward to receive the blessings of Allah while the other was turned downward to pour Allah’s blessings onto the people. Nothing was kept for themselves. Their simple gestures filled my soul with gratitude.

                

I finally understood that this was not a performance, it was a ritual, a re-creation of infinity and creation, a thousand year old version of a high energy particle accelerator operating in the bosom of the Earth.

                

No one has ever been able to point out for me the differences between Allah and God, and I’ve come to assume that, if there are any, they’re insignificant. I can’t claim to know what these Whirling Dervishes believe, what thoughts animate their spirits, but their sincere commitment to Allah and His universe lead me to accept that they’ve achieved a harmony with existence that I can only imagine. I might not understand their beliefs, just as I don’t understand many of the tenets of my own religion, but this manifestation of faith made me feel strong and hopeful that the pendulum of religious hostility outside this cave might one day swing in the direction of peace and tolerance for people everywhere.

           

The thought was enough to set me whirling.

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

24 Comments
A most interesting post, good luck with your entry!
By: John on November 17, 2014
Well, THAT was a story about Islam which didn't tick me off! Well done! And good luck!
By: Al Penwasser on November 17, 2014
As you know I cancelled my trip there. I was going with a group of Catholics (I am not Catholic) and with the war now on their borders, I just felt we would be too obvious. I do not think all Muslims are terriorists, but when going into a country with war on its border, I felt anonymity was a better venue.
By: Tabor on November 17, 2014
This story is as close as I'll ever get to seeing them--good luck!!
By: fishducky on November 17, 2014
One of the differences between "Allah" and God is that you are not allowed to use the name of god unless you are muslim, as in you can get into a ton of trouble over there if anyone catches you using it (think extremism). This sounds like a wonderful experience, but I don't know if I'd feel safe traveling to Turkey these days.
By: Michael Offutt on November 17, 2014
i loved it. i loved the openness you gave to this experience, their beliefs, their tradition. and the respect.
By: TexWisGirl on November 17, 2014
What an uplifting and amazing experience. I really do applaud your determination to explore and experience what is for you and many of us so foreign and other worldly. It is difficult in the best of times not to fall victim to fear and prejudice -- and at the moment these are not the best of time...
By: The Broad on November 17, 2014
I suspect the whirling of the dervishes makes about as much sense as the rites of any other religion. You may be able to tell that I am irreligious.
By: Catalyst on November 17, 2014
Very well written, Stephen. I feel like I was in that group, absorbing the experience along with you. Good luck with the contest.
By: Hilary on November 17, 2014
Your ability to take your readers along for the ride, allowing us to see through your eyes and share in the experience is a marvel on to itself. All the best in the upcoming competition. A quick question why did you use the deprecated word Moslem? I thought it wasn't acceptable anymore.
By: Daniel LaFrance on November 17, 2014
That would certainly be some sight to see. The devil is in the details to the difference between Allah and God, and not just as a matter of speech, neither. In all fairness, it is the same with all of the different denominations in the Christian community, but our Heavenly Father makes sure that everyone, who reaches their own age of accountability, is able to recognize what is actually absolutely true or not before their time as a part of this world comes to an end. Whether or not they want to accept it is left to them, however. For it would not fulfill His purposes to force anyone to spend all of eternity with Him in His Kingdom of Heaven as an heir to all that is His in glory against their will.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on November 17, 2014
I wish you lots of luck in your entry. I think this is a fascinating story and well worth having it read by lots of people. I admire your open mind as so many as closed these days.
By: Kathe W. on November 17, 2014
I had been accused of being one when I was a child by my parents as I tore through the house. Good to know they are real and I enjoyed learning about them.
By: Akansas Patti on November 17, 2014
Best of luck in getting this piece published. It always amazes me how religions can be so disagreeable and fight over faith.
By: red on November 17, 2014
Excellent story! Good luck!
By: mimi on November 17, 2014
You know how to paint a picture, whether you have a paintbrush or a pen in your hand. This was excellent! Good luck with the contest.
By: Pixel Peeper on November 17, 2014
Best of luck in your contest quest. I think this story certainly fits the bill. You have so many travel experiences, I would think you could submit many stories for publication. Not necessarily that one about Mrs. C and the speckled pony. I liked reading about jewelry shopping in India, and Mrs. C's earrings.
By: Val on November 17, 2014
I've never heard of the whirling dervishes but it sounds kinda freaky. Your ending though is beautiful!
By: Marcia @ Menopausal Mother on November 17, 2014
We have lots of these performing in Egypt. They have beautifully decorated skirts and can take them over their heads to whirl them over tables full of guests. I prefer the performance value rather than the religious significance.
By: Lexa Cain on November 17, 2014
You've captured a vibrant moment and share the electricity of waiting and then witnessing. In the Dervishes you find a glimpse of the universality of spiritual quest.
By: Tom Cochrun on November 17, 2014
A magical account of a magical experience. Good luck in the contest!
By: tom sightings on November 18, 2014
This is a great write and read. I love that you were open to the moment and saw it as it was presented. Loved it.
By: Oma Linda on November 18, 2014
Let us know how it goes, Stephen. Best!
By: Michael Manning on November 19, 2014
You've got MY vote.
By: Mitchell is Moving on November 24, 2014

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