Dervish, Darvesh, or Darwīsh (from Persian: درویش, Darvīsh)[1] in Islam can refer broadly to members of a Sufi fraternity (tariqah),[2][3][4] or more narrowly to a religious mendicant, who chose or accepted material poverty.[2][4][5] The latter usage is found particularly in Persian and Turkish (derviş) as well as in Tamazight (Aderwic), corresponding to the Arabic term faqīr.[2][4] Their focus is on the universal values of love and service, deserting the illusions of ego (nafs) to reach God. In most Sufi orders, a dervish is known to practice dhikr through physical exertions or religious practices to attain the ecstatic trance to reach God.[3] Their most popular practice is Sama, which is associated with the 13th-century mystic Rumi. In folklore and with adherents of Sufism, dervishes are often credited with the ability to perform miracles and ascribed supernatural powers.[6] Historically, the term Dervish has also been used more loosely, as the designation of various Islamic political movements or military entities.

Dervish with a lion and a tiger, Mughal painting, c. 1650
Ottoman Dervish portrayed by Amedeo Preziosi, c. 1860s, Muzeul Naţional de Artă al României



The Persian word darvīsh (درویش) is of ancient origin and descends from a Proto-Iranian word that appears in Avestan as drigu-, "needy, mendicant", via Middle Persian driyosh.[5] It has the same meaning as the Arabic word faqīr,[2][4] meaning people whose contingency and utter dependence upon God is manifest in everything they do and every breath they take.[7]

Religious practice


Dervishes try to approach God by virtues and individual experience, rather than by religious scholarship.[8] Many dervishes are mendicant ascetics who have taken a vow of poverty, unlike mullahs. The main reason they beg is to learn humility, but dervishes are prohibited to beg for their own good. They have to give the collected money to other poor people. Others work in common professions; Egyptian Qadiriyya – known in Turkey as Kadiri – are fishermen, for example.

Some classical writers indicate that the poverty of the dervish is not merely economic. Saadi, for instance, who himself travelled widely as a dervish, and wrote extensively about them, says in his Gulistan:

Of what avail is frock, or rosary,

Or clouted garment? Keep thyself but free
From evil deeds, it will not need for thee
To wear the cap of felt: a darwesh be

In heart, and wear the cap of Tartary.[9]

Rumi writes in Book 1 of his Masnavi:[10]

Water that's poured inside will sink the boat

While water underneath keeps it afloat.
Driving wealth from his heart to keep it pure
King Solomon preferred the title 'Poor':
That sealed jar in the stormy sea out there
Floats on the waves because it's full of air,
When you've the air of dervishood inside

You'll float above the world and there abide...

Whirling dervishes

Whirling dervishes, Rumi Fest 2007
Semâ ceremony at the Dervishes Culture Center at Avanos, Turkey

The whirling dance or Sufi whirling that is proverbially associated with dervishes is best known in the West by the practices (performances) of the Mevlevi order in Turkey, and is part of a formal ceremony known as the Sama. It is, however, also practiced by other orders. The Sama is only one of the many Sufi ceremonies performed to try to reach religious ecstasy (majdhb, fana). The name Mevlevi comes from the Persian poet Rumi, who was a dervish himself. This practice, though not intended as entertainment, has become a tourist attraction in Turkey.[11][12][13]


The dance of the dervishes, Athens, Ottoman Greece, by Dodwell

There are various orders of dervishes, almost all of which trace their origins from various Muslim saints and teachers, especially Imam Ali. Various orders and suborders have appeared and disappeared over the centuries. Dervishes spread into North Africa, the Horn of Africa, Turkey, Anatolia, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, Iran, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan.

Other dervish groups include the Bektashis, who are connected to the janissaries, and the Senussi, who are rather orthodox in their beliefs. Other fraternities and subgroups chant verses of the Qur'an, play drums or whirl in groups, all according to their specific traditions. They practice meditation, as is the case with most of the Sufi orders in South Asia, many of whom owe allegiance to, or were influenced by, the Chishti order. Each fraternity uses its own garb and methods of acceptance and initiation, some of which may be rather severe. The form of Sufi dervishism practised during the 17th century was centered upon esotericism, patience and pacifism.[14]

Other historical uses

A Mahdist Dervish from Sudan (1899)



Various western historical writers have sometimes used the term dervish rather loosely, linking it to, among other things, the Mahdist War in Sudan and other conflicts by Islamic military leaders. In such cases, the term "dervishes" may have been used as a generic (and often pejorative) term for the opposing Islamic entity and all members of its military, political and religious institutions, including persons who would not be considered "dervishes" in the strict sense.[citation needed]

During the Mahdist War, Muḥammad Aḥmad al-Mahdī decreed that all those who came to join him should be called anṣār, after the Prophet's earliest followers. He forbade the use of the term 'dervish' to describe his followers. Despite this, British soldiers and colonial officials continued to use the term in relation to the anṣār. While some Britons used the term to denigrate the followers of the Mahdī, it was also used with a sense of admiration in accounts by British soldiers which describe the fearlessness and bravery of the lightly armed 'dervishes'.[15] Thus, the word has become closely associated with the anṣār and is often used inaccurately in relation to the Mahdi's followers, even today.

For example, a contemporary British drawing of the fighting in Sudan was entitled "The defeat of the dervishes at Toski" (see History of Sudan (1884–1898)#British response).

In literature


Various books discussing the lives of Dervishes can be found in Turkish literature. Death and the Dervish by Meša Selimović and The Dervish by Frances Kazan extensively discussed the life of a Dervish.[16][17] Similar works on the subject have been found in other books such as Memoirs of a Dervish: Sufis, Mystics and the Sixties by Robert Erwin.[18] Majdeddin Ali Bagher Ne'matollahi has said that Sufism is a core of being and bridge between religion and science.[citation needed]

Views on Dervishes


Dervishes and their Sufis practices are accepted by traditional Sunni Muslims but different groups such as Deobandis, Salafis disregard various practices of Dervishes as un-Islamic.[19]


See also



  1. ^ "Dervish – Definition and More from the FreeMerriam – Webster Dictionary". Retrieved 2012-02-19.
  2. ^ a b c d Ebrahim, Alireza; Hirtenstein, Stephen (2017). "Darwīsh (Dervish)". In Madelung, Wilferd; Daftary, Farhad (eds.). Encyclopaedia Islamica. Translated by Brown, Keven. Leiden and Boston: Brill Publishers. doi:10.1163/1875-9831_isla_COM_035987. ISSN 1875-9823.
  3. ^ a b Dervish, Encyclopædia Britannica, Dervish, Arabic darwīsh, any member of a Ṣūfī (Muslim mystic) fraternity, or tariqa.
  4. ^ a b c d MacDonald, D. B. (1965). "Darwīs̲h̲". In Bosworth, C. E.; van Donzel, E. J.; Heinrichs, W. P.; Lewis, B.; Pellat, Ch.; Schacht, J. (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Vol. 2. Leiden: Brill Publishers. doi:10.1163/1573-3912_islam_SIM_1731. ISBN 978-90-04-16121-4.
  5. ^ a b Mansour Shaki; Hamid Algar (2011). "DARVĪŠ". Encyclopædia Iranica.
  6. ^ Frederick William Hasluck Christianity and Islam Under the Sultans, Band 1 Clarendon Press 1929 p. 281
  7. ^ Ebrahim, Alireza (2018). "Faqr". In Madelung, Wilferd; Daftary, Farhad (eds.). Encyclopaedia Islamica. Translated by Gholami, Rahim. Leiden and Boston: Brill Publishers. doi:10.1163/1875-9831_isla_COM_036099. ISSN 1875-9823. Faqr (literally, 'poverty') is a term denoting different modalities and stages of material, psychological and spiritual want and neediness which a wayfarer on the Sufi path may adopt as a means to progress in earning God's love and compassion and of acquiring purity and mystical knowledge. The term faqr is derived from the Arabic root f-q-r, literally meaning 'to hollow out', 'to perforate', 'to make/become poor', 'to be in need' or 'to be/become needy'. Hence faqr carries a general sense of being in a state of penury or destitution.
  8. ^ Jens Peter Laut Vielfalt türkischer Religionen 1996 p. 29 (German)
  9. ^ chapter 2 story 16: "The Gulistān; or, Rose-garden, of Shek̲h̲ Muslihu'd-dīn Sādī of Shīrāz, translated for the first time into prose and verse, with an introductory preface, and a life of the author, from the Ātish Kadah" a story later adapted by La Fontaine for his tale 'Le songe d'un habitant du Mogol'
  10. ^ The Masnavi: Book One, translated by Jawid Mojaddedi, Oxford World's Classics Series, Oxford University Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0-19-955231-3, p. 63.
  11. ^ Koentges, Chris (2012-06-29). "13 Things The Whirling Dervishes Can Teach You About Spinning Until You're Dizzy Enough To Puke". The Very Ethnic Project.
  12. ^ B. Ghafurov, "Todjikon", 2 vols., Dushanbe 1983-5
  13. ^ "Rumi | Biography, Poems, & Facts | Britannica". Retrieved 2022-07-18.
  14. ^ Erdoan, Nezih. "Star director as symptom: reflections on the reception of Fatih Akn in the Turkish media." New Cinemas: Journal of Contemporary Film 7.1 (2009): 27–38.
  15. ^ Nusairi, Osman and Nicoll, Fergus A note on the term ansar. Making African Connections. Retrieved December 19, 2020.
  16. ^ Milivojević, Dragan; Selimović, Meša; Rakić, Bogdan; Dickey, Stephen M. (1997). "Death and the Dervish". World Literature Today. 71 (2): 418. doi:10.2307/40153187. ISSN 0196-3570. JSTOR 40153187.
  17. ^ Frances., Kazan (2013). The dervish: a novel. Opus. ISBN 978-1-62316-005-0. OCLC 946706691.
  18. ^ Robert, Irwin (2013). Memoirs of a Dervish: Sufis, Mystics and the Sixties. Profile Books Ltd. ISBN 978-1-86197-924-7. OCLC 1015811956.
  19. ^ Syed, Jawad; Pio, Edwina; Kamran, Tahir; Zaidi, Abbas (2016-11-09). Faith-Based Violence and Deobandi Militancy in Pakistan. Springer. ISBN 978-1-349-94966-3. "They also criticises various practices including sama, qawwali, whirling etc. Whereas Sufis/Barelvi consider their beliefs and practices as mystical practices."

Relevant literature

  • Xavier, Merin Shobhana. The Dervishes of the North: Rumi, Whirling, and the Making of Sufism in Canada. University of Toronto Press. 2023.