Turkey’s Whirling Dervishes, Muslims practicing mystical dances, are experiencing the same divisions existing between moderate and militant Islam throughout the world, particularly over the role of women.
The Washington Post (Dec. 25) reports that the dervishes, known for their whirling, trance-like dances which are seen as a way of communicating with God, have traditionally been for men only. But the formation of the Istanbul Foundation of Universal Lovers of Mevlana several years ago is causing controversy among the other dervishes and in Islamic Sufisim (the mystical branch of Islam) for accepting women dervishes.
When the women shed the traditional white robes for multi-hued garments, the foundation caused further waves among traditionalists. But writer Molly Moore notes that there are only seven surviving Whirling Dervishes in Turkey, some with just over two dozen active members and with few younger leaders to “step into the robes of aging leaders.” But the Modern Lovers of Mevlana have managed to attract dozens of new members; there are now more women than men members as of last year.
Even the most conservative dervish orders have modernized membership requirements in recent years. All organizations have abandoned the practice of requiring prospective whirlers to prove their abilities by making 1,001 rotations in bare feet atop a nail on a salt-covered floor.