Seeing the Whirling Dervishes in Istanbul

When Andrew and I were in Istanbul in 2007, we went to see the Whirling Dervishes.

Initially, before we had planned our trip, whenever I heard people refer to Whirling Dervishes, I pictured the Tasmanian Devil from Looney Tunes.  As I’m typing this, I’ve become curious — has anyone else made this same assumption at some point in their life?  I googled it.  Answer = yes.  Yep.  Okay.  So that makes me feel maybe a little less idiotic — apparently this has long been a natural assumption amongst most average North Americans.

So, when Andrew suggested to me that we see the Whirling Dervishes, my response went something like this:

E:  You want to see what now?  They sound crazy and chaotic.  I’m not sure I’m up for something like that.

A:  You know that they’re a group called Sufis that whirls when they pray, right?

E:  WHAT?  WHAT?  No!  That’s not what I’m imagining at all.  I had no idea.

A:  Well then, it looks like you have some reading to do.

You wouldn’t believe how many conversations we have that go something like that.

Or maybe you would believe it.

It’s just one of the MANY things I love about Andrew — he pushes me to learn.  I feel like every conversation we have is a gift.  (Except not when I’m driving.  Those conversations are NOT a gift.  But also, they aren’t so much conversations, as they are him scolding me for speeding, et cetera.  Anyhow, I digress.)

So, I did some reading, while we were there in Istanbul.  We were able to easily go online at Poem Hotel, plus there was enough information in our actual guidebook, which I had neglected to pay attention to up until this point.

I learned that the Sufi Whirling Dervishes are pretty much the opposite of the Tasmanian Devil, and I’m super-ashamed of myself that I ever assumed they were the same thing.


They whirl as they pray, and it’s beautiful and peaceful.  And hypnotic.

Sometimes I search youtube to see if anyone has uploaded a video of the same things we’ve seen in our travels.  And I do believe I’ve found a short video of the very same Sufi group that we saw — this was even recorded and posted in the summer of 2007, which was when we were there!  Here, check it out:  LINK

With my fairly limited knowledge and research, I’ll just say that Sufism is a mystical belief that has its roots in Islam, though I’m not sure everyone would call Sufism an Islamic belief today.  If you want to learn more, I found this link pretty helpful.  But I’m not going to attempt to regurgitate it here.

I did remember reading that Atatürk had banned the Whirling Dervishes… but they still perform for tourists today.  Obviously.  Because we were there.

Why did Atatürk ban the Whirling Dervishes?  And who was Atatürk?  In case you’re wondering these things and are hoping for the mostly-ignorant Erin-answer to these questions… here you go!

Following the World War, Atatürk essentially transformed the former Ottoman Empire into the modern, secular country of Turkey.  There are legions of books that could better explain this than that one shoddy sentence of mine… but anyway that kind of sums it all up for those of you that may not have known about this and don’t even feel like reading this Wikipedia article.  As for why he banned the Whirling Dervishes… well, there was a lot that he banned, because Turkey was supposed to be secular now.

There you go!  I may have over-simplified some very complex topics… but think of it as the Coles Notes version of the Coles Notes regarding politics and religion in Turkey.

I think a little bit of my own ignorance was shattered that day, as we sat and watched the Whirling Dervishes meditate.  It was a start, anyway, on my road to increased knowledge about our fellow humans on this planet we share.

Having learned a little bit, I could now sit back and relax until the next time Andrew challenged my thinking and assumptions and demanded I did a bit more reading.  Which, by the way, didn’t take too long at all.  And I love him for it.


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