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Whirling dervish: the legacy of Rumi’s spiritual rituals - Daily News Egypt

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Whirling dervish: the legacy of Rumi’s spiritual rituals

Daily News Egypt attended the event and talked with Hussein Soliman.

The whirling dervish, also known as Mawlawiyyah, Mevleviyah, Turkish Mevleviyah, Mawlawīyah, the dancing dervish, and Turkish tanura, is a Sufi doctrine established in Konya, Anatolia by the Persian Sufi poet, Galal El-Din Rumi.

The name of this ritual stems from the popular title given to Rumi, Mawlānā, which means “our master” in Arabic.

In Egypt, the ritual receives attention from a number of individuals. Egyptian Yusuf Omara established the Mawlay Ensemble and is the singer of the band that continues this tradition. Not long after establishing the band, Omara was joined by 22-year-old Hussein Soliman, an agricultural engineer and a Turkish tanura performer.

The Mawlay Ensemble recently performed during Ramadan in a special Sufi night at Al-Rabee.

Daily News Egypt attended the event and talked with Hussein Soliman.

When did you start dancing the mawlawiyyah?

I started about three years ago, practicing by myself at home.

A whirling dervish circumambulates with Al-Tannura Egyptian Heritage Dance Troupe at El Dammah theatre  (Photo by Amr Nabil)
A whirling dervish circumambulates with Al-Tannura Egyptian Heritage Dance Troupe at El Dammah theatre
(Photo by Amr Nabil)

How was the experience at the beginning for you?

Dancing the mawlawiyyah is like running a marathon. At the beginning it is hard; you start running for a certain amount of time, and then you get tired. Afterwards, you increase the duration and get used to it.

So, at the beginning it was physically hard for me, but now, absolutely not.

How do you manage to spin around without getting dizzy?

I learned a lot from Samy El-Senosi, a half-Turkish, half-Egyptian professional, who lives six months of the year in Egypt and the other six in Turkey.

In Egypt, he usually teaches the Egyptian tanura. However, I was interested in learning the Turkish mawlawiyyah, which is different. He taught me the techniques used to spin around without getting dizzy. In general, he gave me a lot of useful information about Turkey and the mawlawiyyah.

Why did you choose to dance the Turkish mawlawiyyah and not the Egyptian tanura?

The mawlawiyyah is spiritual. I transcend into a different state dancing the mawlawiyyah, and the audience shares this with me.  It was formed on moral foundations. The Egyptian tanura is more artistic in nature.

What are these moral foundations?

Let me tell you the story from the beginning. In the time of the Persian poet Galal El-Din Rumi, Afghanistan was occupied.

When he went there, he found a very aggressive form of torture, where people were forced to wear chains of iron and knives around their waist. These victims had to spin around until the knives entered their bodies and killed them.

As a religious man, Rumi wanted to commemorate these victims when he went to Turkey. This is how the Turkish mawlawiyyah was born. The dancers are dressed in white symbolising angels and shrouds. The tall hat symbolises a cemetery slab. We spin around for one or two hours to commemorate the tortured victims’ souls.

What does the singer of the Turkish mawlawiyyah sing of?

The singer recites religious rituals, praising God, and commemorating the victims’ soul.

What does the Turkish mawlawiyyah represent now?

It is a way of meditation and getting closer to God. At the beginning of the scene, I am supposed to enter with a black abbaya, which refers to sins. I take off this abbaya, an act representing the shedding of these sins.

I start to spin around, concentrating on the religious rituals in connection with God.

Photo by Asmaa Gamal
Photo by Asmaa Gamal

Regarding the physical dance, I understand that your body movements have spiritual meanings. Can you talk more about that?

Well, when Rumi wrote the 40 rules of love, he discussed the rules of the Turkish mawlawiyyah.

Firstly, we turn to the left, representing earth spinning around the sun and spinning against the movement of the clock.

The hand movements are also significant. For example, when I raise my right hand while the left is down, the right hand indicates my prayers to God, and the left indicates passing his blessings to the people on earth.

When I raise both my hands up, I am asking God to wash my sins away.

So there is an alignment between your movements and the lyrics that are sung?

Of course, my movements have to match the ritual they are singing.

Photo by Asmaa Gamal
Photo by Asmaa Gamal

Do you maintain a daily routine?

El-Senosi told me that if you stopped whirling for one day, you have to start again from zero.  You will have to spin every day, even for three or five minutes, for your body to get used to it again.

He also told me that one week without training is equivalent to one month.

How many hours a day do you practise?

Almost the whole day. When I am thinking or even when I am cooking something in the kitchen, I do not waste time; I spin around while I wait for the food to cook.

When I am feeling down or in trouble, I practise. While whirling, I get inspired and find solutions for my problems.

Even my friends at university got fed up with me because I whirl even when standing in place.

Do you have any family members also involved in this field?

My brother Hassan Soliman is an Egyptian tanura dancer.

Topics: Sufi

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