Members of Sufism are called Sufis, who are most commonly known to be men.
Sufism’s aim is to gain a closer connection to God, heaven and higher knowledge. This to them is gained through communal ceremonies, where trance is their main method. Today the number of Sufis has decreased compared to earlier, and the estimated number today, is less than five million in the whole Muslim world. This is an astonishing low number compared to three hundred years ago. Sufism’s strongest footholds are now in Egypt and Sudan.
Sufism got its content and rituals inside Islam, but it also picked up elements from older religious practices. Sufism developed slowly and gradually in the first centuries of Islam, but there is little proof of real Sufism before 800 AD. Sufism as a tradition has had many theoreticians, but has still been a practice used among ordinary people, and often performed without consent form the religious elite.
The core of Sufism is to leave the ordinary life, in order to close down the distance to God and by reducing the distance between man and God, man also gets closer to truth and knowledge. Even if few Sufis will claim that they can reach all the way to God, knowledge and insight increases the closer one manages to get.
Techniques vary, but they all have one thing in common: Rhythm, repetition and endurance. The actual technique can be utterance of words or phrases, singing and dancing. Sometimes this technique can cause pain or doing illegal acts. In the Koran there are not many references to Sufism and for that reason it is not readily accepted by the pious as well as those with the most knowledge, known as the learned elite. Because of the modernization of the Muslim world today, Sufism has had many problems of existing in today’s society. Normally performed in the countryside in towns that are big this allows coexisting cultures. Most Sufis are of a mature age as Sufism does not appeal to the young.
Who was Rumi?
Rumi, also known as Mevlana Jalal-e-din Mohammed Mevlavi Balkhi Rumi, was a famous practitioner of Sufism as well as a famous poet. Born in the East of the Persian Empire in 1207, which is now known as Afghanistan, he settled in Konya, which is now known as Turkey.
His life started out as a well known theologian, supporting the pillars of Islam and a scholar when he met Shams of Tabriz, who was a wandering darvish. Through this meeting he turned to Sufism.
Founded by the great philosopher Rumi in the 13th century, the ritual of the Mevlevi sect, known as the sema, is seriously religious ritual performed by Muslim priests in a prayer trance to Allah. Mevlevi believed that during the sema the soul was released from earthy ties and able to freely commune with the divine.
During the ceremony the dervishes remove black cloaks to reveal the tenure, which are white robes with skirts. They turn independently, shoulder to shoulder, both around their own axis and around other dervishes, representing the earth revolving on its own axis while orbiting the sun or possibly God. The dervishes silently perform their sema, making small controlled movements of hands, head and arms as they move.