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DARWĪSH . The Persian word darwīsh, from the Pahlavi driyosh, is most likely derived from the term darvīza, meaning "poverty," "neediness," "begging," and so forth. The word darwīsh has entered the other Islamic languages, such as Turkish and Urdu, and is even found in classical Arabic sources. It has become an English word in the form of dervish. In all these cases, including the original Persian, it is related primarily to spiritual poverty, equivalent to the possession of "Muhammadan poverty" (al-faqr al-muammadi). Hence the term darwīsh referring to a person who possesses this "poverty" is the same as the Arabic term faqīr used in Sufism in many Islamic languages besides Arabic (including Persian itself) for Muhammadan poverty. Within ūfī circles, these words are used interchangeably, along with mutaawwif, "practitioner" of Sufism.

The term darwīsh appears in Persian literature as early as the tenth century and in such early Persian ūfī texts as the works of Khwājah ʿAbd Allāh Anārī of Herat, where it carries the basic meaning referred to above but encompasses such variations as "ascetic," "hermit," and "wandering ūfī" (qalandar). Later it also became an honorific title bestowed upon certain ūfīs such as Darwīsh Khusraw, the leader of the Nuqawiyah school at the time of Shah ʿAbbās I. Throughout the history of Sufism, the state of being a darwīsh, or darwīshī, has been held in great honor and respect, as seen from the famous ghazal of āfi that begins with the verse

Rawiy-i khuld-i barīn khalwat-i darwīshānast
Māyiy-i mutashimī khidmat-i darwīshanast

The sublime eternal Paradise is the spiritual
retreat of the dervishes;

The essence of grandeur is the service of the dervishes.

There is, however, a secondary meaning associated with darwīsh that carries negative connotations, interpreting simplicity of life, limitation of material needs, reliance upon God for sustenance, and other aspects of Muhammadan poverty or Sufism as laziness, lackadaisicalness, indifference to cleanliness, neglect of duties toward oneself and society, and other injunctions emphasized by the sharīʿah, or Islamic law. This negative aspect of the term increased with the decay of certain ūfī orders during the past two or three centuries and also with the attempt by some people to pass themselves off as darwīsh without any involvement with Sufism at all. Nonetheless, the association with spiritual poverty, self-discipline, and the basic virtues of humility, charity, and veracity remains the primary meaning of the word.


Arberry, A. J. Sufism: An Account of the Mystics of Islam (1950). Reprint, London, 1979.

Birge, John K. The Bektashi Order of Dervishes (1937). Reprint, New York, 1982.

Ernst, Carl W. The Shambala Guide to Sufism. Boston, 1997.

Keddie, Nikki R., ed. Scholars, Saints, and Sufis: Muslim Religious Institutions in the Middle East since 1500. Berkeley, Calif., 1972.

Nicholson, Reynold A. The Mystics of Islam (1914). Reprint, London, 1963.

Schimmel, Annemarie. Mystical Dimensions of Islam. Chapel Hill, N. C., 1975.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr (1987 and 2005)

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