by Sefik Can


Let us hear Rumi's views on music and whirling from his own blessed mouth:

Wise men have said: "We have taken these beautiful sounds and melodies from the whirling of the heavens. These pleasant sounds that people produce with musical instruments or their voices are taken from the rotation of the heavens. We all were components of Adam. We have heard those melodies while we were in Heaven, Although entering this cage of the body made of mud and water and dressing in clay may have caused doubts in our spirits and misled us, we nevertheless still remember some of those melodies. It is for this reason that music and whirling is nourishment for lovers of God. In whirling, there is peace of heart, a connection to God and hope of finding the Beloved. When we listen to those beautiful sounds, the imagi­nation in our hearts strengthens; those imaginations even take on forms from breath.

In the above couplets, Rumi explains that man's fascination with music even from very early ages is an expression of the long­ing felt for God. It is a fact that even from the very early ages that history records, men have been very much influenced by music. Women who heard the sound of the magic flute of Krishna, a dark and handsome young man who is die equivalent of Apollo in Indian mythology, were spellbound and left their homes and ran to the forests to see Krishna. This way they would be relieved of fear, sorrow, and tiredness through the influence of the music. The last hero of Greek mythology, Orpheus of Thrace, would play such pleasant melodies with his lyre that even the predators would come out of their caves and lay down by his feet to listen to his music. When he began playing his lyre, not only animals but also even the trees would shake with ecstasy; the rocks would tear away from their places and roll down toward him.

Prophet David's voice was very beautiful and influential. It is narrated that when he began reciting the Psalms, the rivers would stop flowing and listen to him. The birds would fall on the ground, the trees would prostrate, and even the animals would become tame. In ancient times, people explained beauti­ful voices that excited their spirits with myths since they were not aware of the unseen and did not know that the music was a memory of the melodies heard in Heaven. As Rumi says, in music there are sounds that come from the beyond. Some things awaken in our hearts when we listen to the music. Beautiful voices and melodies take us away from ourselves. We forget our­selves. It is as if we enter a secret and mysterious world that we do not know and cannot really understand. It is as if we escape the cage of the body and strike our wings toward the heavens to be cleansed. We become a different being. Someone who longs for his Eternal Beloved from Whom he was separated and who feels the disparity of the exile in this world is crying inside. So then what is the whirling that Rumi refers to, the whirling that he describes as nourishment for the lovers of God?

Whirling (sama) means listening to music, moving with the excitement induced by the music, and entering into ecstasy and whirling. According to Sufis, whirling has different effects on peoples' spirits. It enhances one's love of God and produces many spiritual states. These spiritual states clean the vices in the heart and finally open the eye of the heart. In a way, whirling is an expression of the love and excitement a lover of God feels for God in the form of turning. Thus whirling saves the dervish from himself, his existence, and makes him spiritually closer to God. It is as if the chick in the egg of the ego is trying to hatch out of the eggshell; the spiritual bird imprisoned in the cage of the body is striking wings to rise to the heavens, and the Divine Entrustment that is stuck in the mud is attempting to emerge from the mire. Whirling is to find God in one's heart through the influence of the music and to turn like a moth in this excite­ment. This whirling is not the mere turning of the body. This whirling is turning with the heart, spirit, love, faith, and with all one's physical and spiritual existence.

In this kind of whirling, the lover of God escapes his imagi­nary existence, his ego, and he is annihilated in God. The annihilation of the particle in the whole is like the shivering and whirling elevation of an atom to the sun. When a true samazan (whirling dervish) who has cleansed his heart of desires, is in a state of rit­ual purity, and is dressed in a kafan (shroud-like garment) whirls to spiritual runes of the music, he is no longer self-conscious. The spectators may watch the dervishes whirl, but they are not aware that the dervishes themselves are not there. Only the images of the whirling dervishes arc seen. Their real existences have escaped and gone to the beyond. If you think these words are memorized sentences, common cliches, or frequently repeated views on whirling, you will be wrong. If you do not feel tense, if your mind is not preoccupied, and if you are at peace, during a whirling ceremony when the dervishes are floating in tune with the spiritual music in the whirling hall you also will experience the whirling in your spirit. That whirling and that harmony take you from yourself, and also you go to the beyond. When you feel all this outside the whirling, what would you have felt if you had participated in the whirling? Many people have explained the whirling. Many nice things have been said about the whirling. But the one who best explained, felt, and made others feel the whirling has been Rumi himself, as in the following ode:

Do you know what the whirling is? It is hearing the voices of the spirits saying "Yes" to God's question "Am I not your Lord?" It is deliverance from ego and reunion with the Lord.

Do you know what the whirling is? It is seeing the Friend's states, hearing the secrets of God from across the curtains of the unseen.

Do you know what the whirling is? It is escaping one's exis­tence, continuously tasting the everlasting existence in the absolute non-existence.

Do you know what the whirling is? It is making one's head a ball in front of the Friend's kicks of love and running to the Friend without head and feet.

Do you know what the whirling is? It is knowing Jacob's sorrow and remedy, it is smelling the smell of the reunion with Joseph from Joseph's shirt.

Do you know what the whirling is? It is swallowing Pharaoh's spells just like Moses's staff every moment.

Do you know what the whirling is? It is a secret from the Prophetic Tradition: "There is a moment for me with God where no archangel or no prophet can come in between God and me. " It is reaching that place without any means where no angel can fit.

Do you know what the whirling is? It is, like Shams-i Tabrizi, opening the eyes of the heart and seeing the sacred lights.

Let us now carefully read the following Mesnevi couplets and understand Rumi's views on music and whirling:

It was clapping hands because it escaped death and was danc­ing in the air like the branches and the leaves of trees.

When the branches and the leaves come out of the prison of soil they raise their heads above the ground and become friends with the wind and start to dance with it.

When the leaves break out of the buds on the branches they climb up to the top of the tree. Each leaf and each fruit sings the graces of God with the tongue of the bud.

Without mouth or lips, every branch, every leaf, every fruit recites praises and remembrance of God.

They say: "God who has a lot of graces and favors has nour­ished our root and from the root a strong tree grew, it grew wide, erect and high. "

And when the souls that had been in water and mud were saved from the swamp of water and mud, their hearts were filled with joy They dance to the tune of love and attain perfection as the moon when it reaches the full moon stage. Their bodies move and dance. But in what state are their spirits? Don't ask in what state their spirits are.

And when it comes to those in whom there remained no material body and who completely turned into spirits, do not ever ask about them. There is no way to explain them Whirling is not confined to Rumi or to the Mevlevi's. It is related that whirling ceremonies were arranged as early as the time of Abu Sa'id Abu'l-Khayr (d. 1049). There has been no exhaustive study on how whirling—acknowledged by almost all Sufis and accepted as a result of ecstasy—is performed by differ­ent Sufi orders. But it is known that the Gulshani branch of the Khalwati order has adopted the Mevlevi way of whirling.

The question of whether whirling that is based on music and dancing is religiously acceptable or not has been and con­tinues to be a matter of much debate. Even today there are peo­ple who do not associate whirling with Rumi and maintain that he did not whirl. These people who do not study Rumi's works, historical accounts from Rumi's ages such as the Sipehsalar's work and works by Sultan Valad, claim that Rumi had nothing to do with the whirling ceremonies and that these ceremonies have been later attributed to Rumi. Some others see Rumi as a reformist because of his inclination toward whirling and music. All these views are mistaken. Rumi, who professes himself as the slave of the Qur'an and the soil under the feet of Prophet Muhammad has not deviated even minimally from the Prophet's path. On the contrary, he tried to correct the heresies caused by local beliefs and customs and to restore the Tradition of the Prophet whom he loved so much.

Those who carefully read the Mesnevi see how Rumi fought against the false beliefs of Mu'tazilites and against the views of those strongly attached to the letter of the law without any regard to the spirit of the law, and how much he tried to advance his fol­lowers from the initial stages of imitation to realization. Islam does not prohibit music. In fact, in the Glorious Qur'an the beautiful voice is praised while the ugly voice is renounced. It is narrated that the Prophet permitted some of the dances that he watched. " It is also well known that when our Prophet and his Companion Abu Bakr left Makka and honored Madina, some of the women of Madina greeted them, singing the poem Tala al-badru alayna ("A full moon has risen over us") and playing tambourines. Similarly, history books record that when the first mosque was being built, the Companions were carrying stones and bricks, and our Prophet helped them in this effort. While working, the Companions sang poems in chorus, and our Prophet joined them in this singing. These poems are also recorded by historians.

When the Prophet, who has explained "There is an orna­ment for everything and the ornament of Qur'an is the beauti­ful voice (with which it is recited), " conquered Makka, he recit­ed the chapter of the Opening (al-Fa-tiha), or Victory (al-Fftth) melodically while riding his camel into Makka. The music increases the asceticism of an ascetic. According to Dhu Nun, "music is a divine influence that leads the heart to search for God, Those who listen to it from their hearts eventually attain God. " Sufis who consider the effects of music and poetry on the human spirit and the ecstasy and excitement it generates have analyzed whether music is lawful or not. It is narrated that Anas, Abd Allah bin Ja'far, Abd Allah bin 'Umar, among the Companions, and many others from the Followers, held that music was lawful. Imam Shaffi maintains that music is permis­sible as long as it does not undermine the honor of manhood and that prohibited music is the kind that is performed with bad intentions and instigates evil. Ankaravi, commentator on the Mesnevi, writes: "Imam Ghazali commends that wherever the lover of God who longs for union with God looks, he sees God's Power and Beauty there. In every pleasant sound that reaches his ear, he finds God's grace and favor. Therefore, music increases the longing, fervor, and love of the lover of God and puts his heart on fire."

The following event is related in one of the last sections of Ibn al-Arabi's book entitled Futuhat al-Makkiyyah:

Shaykh Ja'far relates; "We were on the road for the pilgrimage to Makka with Junayd of Baghdad. On our way, we climbed
Mount Sinai. We sat on the ground where Moses sat. We went under the influence of that blessed place, Mount Sinai. There was a singer with a beautiful voice with us. Junayd asked the singer to recite something. He recited such a touching couplet that when Junayd heard it he went into a state of ecstasy and began whirling. We, too, were enraptured and started whirling. We reached a state where we did not know whether we were on earth or in the heavens. There was a church nearby. There was a priest in reclusion there. He came out of the church and called out to us. We did not reply. He then called out again: 'O Muslims, answer me. ' We were in such a state that none of us was able to answer. The priest could not help but call out again, 'O Muslims, reply for the love of God. Why are you silent?' Again there was no reply from us. Afterwards we became tired of whirling and came to ourselves. We told Junayd that the priest called out to us but we did not reply although he urged us to reply for the love of God. Junayd asked us to call the priest. We called him. He came and greeted us. He asked, 'Who is your shaykh? We pointed at Junayd. The priest asked: 'Is what you did a custom of yours? Does it have a place in your religion? Do all of you whirl? Junayd replied to him, 'Whirling is for some people in our religion. That is, not all Muslims whirl. Only some of us do. ' The priest asked, 'What is your intention in whirling? Do you whirl in order to plead for some­thing from God? Or do you whirl in order to find happiness and joy inside yourselves?' Junayd replied, 'We whirl to feel the pleasure of the spiritual address of 'Am I not your Lord?' that occurred in the world of spirits. ' The priest asked again, 'What purpose do these beautiful sounds serve?' Junayd replied, 'These beautiful sounds remind us of the eternal call and take us from ourselves. When these beautiful sounds stop we again come to ourselves. This explanation touched the priest, and he embraced Islam there. "

The Sufis who lived during or close to Rumi's time viewed whirling as lawful for appropriate people. They also whirled.

Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d. 1111) allocated a separate section on music and whirling in his masterpiece Ihya'u Ulum al-Din. His brother Ahmad al-Ghazali (d. 1123) was very fond of music and whirling. Aynu'l-Quzat al-Hamadani (d. 1138) would join Ahmed al-Ghazali in whirling. It is also related that Sana'i (d. 1127), Attar (d. 1227), his vicegerent Majd al-Din (d. 1219) and Awhad al-Din Kirmani (d. 1237) all whirled. Fakhr al-Din al-'Iraqi (d. 1289) also whirled very ardently.

How did Rumi whirl? As Sipehsalar writes, at first Rumi was devoted to the order and path of his father Baha al-Din Valad. He was mainly occupied with teaching, preaching, asceticism, and self-mortification. He had never whirled before he met Shams. Thus, based on this account of Sipehsalar, we can say that Rumi did not think of whirling before meeting Shams because he devot­ed himself to teaching and preaching and perhaps because reli­gious men, the scholars and shaykhs in
Konya, did not whirl. In fact, al-Aflaki writes that Rumi esteemed whirling only after meeting Shams. His whirling caused the bigots, who only consid­ered the crust of the religion, to criticize him, and they even called him crazy. Some consider this account not very sound. However, since Rumi was attached to the order and path of Sultan al-Ulama Baha al-Din Valad and since there is no account of Sayyid Burhaniddin Muhakkik Tirmidhi whirling, the argu­ment that Rumi did not whirl before meeting Shams gains strength. It is also fair to say that, although Sultan al-Ulama and Sayyid Burhaniddin did not whirl, they had a favorable view on whirling and accepted its practice because Najm al-Din Kubra, Sultan al-Ulama Baha al-Din Valad's shavkh, counts whirling as one of the fundamentals of his order when he explains conduct of the Kubrawiyya order in his work entitled Adabu't-tariqah According to Najm al-Din Kubra, three conditions have to be observed for the whirling to be lawful and acceptable:

Place: Whirling cannot be done everywhere. Whirling should not be performed on a crowded street, a dirty place, or any place where one's heart will be distracted from God.

Time: Whirling cannot be done at any time. Whirling should not be done when the meal is ready or when the prayer time is approaching or where there will be a hostile reaction from out­siders.

Company: People attending a whirling ceremony should be noble-spirited, clean-hearted, and good-willed people, like the descendants of the Prophet. Whirling is not to be done in the presence of the people who undermine whirling, cause boredom in the assembly, have an arrogant attitude, simulate ecsta­sy, and cannot understand the value of whirling.

According to Najm al-Din al-Kubra (d. 1221), if these rules are not observed, the whirling would not yield the spiritual joy expected from it.

Whirling can be performed in group as well as alone. Rumi's whirling was mostly induced by coincidences. A truly beautiful sound that he heard, a deeply meaningful and touching word or an exciting event was enough to move him, and he would begin to whirl, as he describes in the following poems:

Whirling is the business of the spirit that cannot stay in one place. Do not sit there lazily, stand up, jump. Is there any rea­son to wait? Do not stay here thinking, if you are a man, then go where your beloved is.

Whirling is the comfort of the people whose spirits are alive. Only the one who is the spirit of the spirit knows this ,

O Lover of God, when you start whirling, you leave the two worlds. This world of whirling is out of the two worlds.

The ceiling of the seventh heaven is at considerable height. But the ladder of whirling reaches and exceeds this ceiling.

Rumi felt whirling very strongly and very importantly. He loved whirling so strongly that he did not observe the whirling conditions of time, place, and company. Since his whirling depended more on the ecstatic state that came over him rather than the place and time formalities, he was observed to whirl almost anywhere such as in schools, homes, gardens, and streets. The quality of the participants in whirling, as well as the specta- tors, also largely were ignored. One day when Rumi was passing through the jewelry bazaar, he heard the harmonious hammer beats coming from the shop of Shaykh Salah al-Din. He entered into a state of ecstasy and began whirling. During the whirling, Rumi recited an ode beginning with the following couplets:

In that jewelry shop a treasure came to be discovered. What a beautiful appearance, what a beautiful meaning, what beauty; what beauty!

How beautiful is the jewelry bazaar! The secrets of Jacob are also very beautiful. The spirit of Joseph burns with the love of God and increases the ardor of Jacob.

With the love of God, hundreds of Laylas become Majnun and broke their ties and chains. Against this fire even the patience of Job cannot withstand.


 Resource: Fundamentals of Rumi’s Thought: A Mevlevi Sufi Perspective by ?efik Can