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Dervishes

DERVISHES

Members of one of the mystic Islamic orders practicing austerity and poverty and living in special quarters or wandering as mendicants are known as dervishes. The word "dervish," as commonly explained, comes from the Persian darvīš, "beggar" (one at the dar or city gate), written in Arabic script as darwīš. In Arabic-speaking countries a dervish is called a faqīr (poor man) or sūfī (see sufism). From the prolonged repetition of strange bodily movements or of shouted religious formulas that some of the dervish groups use for the sake of inducing a sort of trance or ecstasy, these groups are commonly known as dancing (or whirling) or howling dervishes.

In the early centuries of islam, small groups of pious men would gather around a shaykh (muršid, guide) seeking religious instruction and guidance and would later either return to the world or continue to live with him. They were usually men who found no spiritual satisfaction through intellectual knowledge and sought it by striving for a closer personal approach to God through inner light and emotional processes. In the 12th century, no doubt influenced by early Christian monasticism, they were organized into several religious fraternities (see islamic confraternities). Their technical vocabulary has several words of Syriac origin.

Bibliography: j. p. brown, The Darvishes, ed. h. a. rose (New York 1927). d. b. macdonald, Encyclopedia of Islam, ed., m. t. houtsma et al., 4 v. (Leiden 191338) 1:975976.

[p. k. hitti]

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