Mohammedan monks, corresponding in many respects to the monks of the Roman Church. These may be divided into two classes: those who belong to fraternities or societies for religious exercises, whose tenets and oaths are kept so secret that the uninitiated can only describe their outward appearance and the ceremonies which are practiced in public; and those recluses who, without belonging to any special sect, profess holiness and abstinence, and wander solitarily through the land. The word dervish is Persian, signifying poor, corresponding to the Arabic fakir, which gives name to the same order in Arabia and India. Oriental tradition traces the order of Hermits back to John the Baptist, and even to Seth. Two centuries before Mohammed, there existed in Arabia the Meschaiouns (Walkers) and the Ischrachiouns (Contemplatives). These, under the influence of Mohammedanism, merged into Mutekelim (metaphysicians) and Sufis, who were essentially pantheists. In the second century of the Hegira (729), sheik Olivan, a Sufi, established the first religious order in Islam. Dervishism doubtless took its proximate rise in Persian Sufism.
The Turkish dervishes claim caliph Ali, one of the immediate successors of Mohammed, as their founder. Ali himself founded no order; but some of his followers formed a society called Safashafei, men devoted to a monastic life. They soon fell into excesses, indulging in the use of drugs (chiefly hashish), intoxicating liquors, and, in fact, anything which would promote trances, ecstasies, and hallucinations, resulting in violent paroxysms and delirium. They formed the practice of cutting themselves, mutilating their limbs, standing for a long time in agonizing positions, and otherwise barbarously abusing their bodies. They, however, managed to reconcile with this external and public self-abuse an almost universal private sensuality. The members of this order were subsequently called dervishes, but at what time the word dervish was first used is not definitely known. There are in Turkey thirty-two orders of dervishes, having various names, and differing in their worship and practice. Outside of Turkey there are many more orders, called in the different countries by the local names Fakirs, Sufis, Santons, etc. The chiefs of the different orders are called sheiks, or pirs, who are privileged to nominate their successors. The dervishes mostly dwell in community, and have monasteries (tekiehs) in various places. Their rules are not very rigid. The declaration of Mohammed, "No monachism in Islam," had become a strong religious prejudice, and this prejudice they have never been able fully to overcome. Celibacy is not enjoined, though encouraged, and many of them are married. These, however, are not regular members of the monasteries, although they are required to pass the night there previous to any public exhibition. They may withdraw from the order at any time, and are often expelled for misdemeanors.
The mendicant dervishes are mostly foreigners, or those who have been expelled from the various orders, or impostors, who cheat and bewitch the people under the garb of dervishism. These traveling dervishes are mostly jugglers, and their skill in trickery is truly wonderful. They often become wealthy in the practice of their arts. Their power over the common people is very great, while the better-informed are beyond their reach.
The higher orders of dervishes have come to have an extensive influence not only with the masses, but with the government itself. This power was acquired
(1) through the wealth which came into their possession. Large legacies were left to them for the benefit of the poor. These legacies were applied to building up dervishism. They soon learned also to impress the people with a strong belief in the efficacy of their prayers. These came to be purchased at high prices, and thus became a fruitful source of revenue. Their power was increased
(2) by the popularity of the institution. In taking a stand against the dervishes, the government was virtually opposing a large majority of its own subjects. Sultan Mahmoud II attempted to break their power. On the 10th of July, 1826, he massacred the three chiefs of the Betacki dervishes in Stamboul, razed their tekiehs, and drove the most of them into exile. Ten years from this time they were as powerful as ever. The ulemas have always been their bitter enemies, and have affected to despise and ridicule them, but popular sympathy has been on their side.
In Turkey there are three principal orders, viz.:
I. The Mevlevy (Molowiyeh), or dancing dervishes, who claim as their founder Meolana-Jelaleddin-HoomyMuhammed, surnamed Sultan-ul- Ulema, or Sovereign of the Learned. Jelaleddin wrote a book called Mesnevy — a poetical composition — much of which has become proverbial in the East. The chiefs of this order exercise the prerogative of nominating the sheiks of the monasteries, and of girding each newly-made sultan with the sword of Osman. The dervishes of this order are humble in demeanor, and keep a fast during the month of Ramazan, in addition to the weekly fast on Thursday. Candidates desiring to be admitted to the order are placed on probation a thousand and one days, and required to perform the most menial services in the kitchens of the monasteries. The worship of this order consists in chanting the poems of their founder, reciting a prayer (fat-ha), and performing the dance, deor (circle). They have also an orchestra, who sing Persian odes, and play kettle-drums, tambourines, and fifes for the dancers. In these dances about a dozen engage at a time, and after a few minutes they are relieved by others, each set taking their turn three or four times during the service. The master of the dance (simazenbashy) watches them closely to keep them in their places. A traveler makes the following computation: "By looking at a stop-watch, I ascertained that on an average they turned sixty-four times in a minute. After spinning round for about five minutes, at a signal from the high- priest, both music and dancers suddenly stopped, but recommenced in a few seconds. The third time they kept it up for nine minutes and three quarters; my brain was swimming too, so much so that I could hardly count their evolutions. The fourth and last time they whirled for five minutes and three quarters, thus making in all 1504 turns in 231 minutes" (Auldjo, Journal of a Visit to Constantinople, Lond. 1835, p. 73).
II. The Bedevy (or Bodawy), or howling dervishes, as travelers call them, have a convent at St. Dimitry, near Constantinople. Their religious exercises consist of prayers (namoz), chants, and vociferations of the name of God, accompanied with a rocking motion of their bodies. This motion attempts to imitate the rolling of a ship on the water, and indicates their relation to God — Allah being the ocean and they the ships, They recite the attributes of God in a loud voice, putting a terrible emphasis on the word Allah as often as it occurs; and this they keep up with a kind of frenzy until voice and strength are gone, when many of them, covered with perspiration and foam, fall senseless to the floor. In the midst of their fury they cut themselves with knives and other sharp instruments; but there is method in their madness, and they seldom make deep wounds.
III. The Rufai, who had for their founder Seid-Ahmed-Rufal. Their exercises are much like those of the Bedevy. Their highest ambition seems to be to make rapid motions and loud noises. Their leader chants the hamdey-Muhammedy, or hymns in honor of Mohammed, while the rest join in the chorus Ya Allah! Ya Hu! and this chorus increases in violence until it becomes a roar. At the height of the excitement they seize red-hot irons prepared for the purpose, and hold them in their teeth until the glow disappears. They also hack their flesh with swords and knives. These wounds the sheik blows upon and anoints with his saliva, which, it is said, effects a cure in a few hours. The excited state of their bodies produces a profusion of blood from very slight wounds, and their trickery deceives the people into the belief that wonderful miracles are wrought in the healing of these wounds.
There are many orders besides these, having a greater or less importance: the Kaderijeh, founded by Abdel-Kader-el-Gilani, known-by their white banners and turbans, the Said-Ibrahim, founded by Sidi-Ibrahim-el-Dahuki, whose turbans and banners are green; the Rushenis; the Shemsirs; the Jemalis; the Nacsh-bendies, who are itinerating dervishes, and make pilgrimages to all parts of the Mohammedan realm. From the better orders the imans, or Mohammedan priests, are chosen, and many of them also exercise civil functions.
A special work on dervishes has been published by John P. Brown, secretary and dragoman of the legation of the United States of America at Constantinople (The Dervishes, or Oriental Spiritualism, Phila. 1868). According to this author, the spiritualism of the dervishes has its roots in religious conceptions prevalent in the East anterior to the rise of Islamism, and ascetic: practices like those common among them have been found equally widely spread, and are traceable to a very high antiquity. None of the dervishes, he says, separate themselves from the doctrines or precepts of the Koran, the contents of which they seek rather to spiritualize. They divide, moreover, the Koran and other books of religion into three portions — the historical, the biographical, and the purely spiritual. "The historical and biographical portions of these books may even comprise errors, omissions, exaggerations, and even may have been more or less changed from time to time by copyists; while that which is purely spiritual and essential to the soul of man, commenced with his creation, has always existed unchanged, and will so continue to the end of time" (p. 106). According to their best writers, it is held that there are four creations: "1. The creation of Adam from the clay, or mud, of which the earth is composed. 2. The creation of Eve from a rib or part of Adam. 3. The creation of the human species, that is, the children of Adam, by natural propagation. 4. The creation of Jesus Christ by a special breath of God, conveyed to a virgin — Mary — by the angel Gabriel" (p. 107). And as the spirit of man is capable of communing directly with this spirit of God, a holy person will regard all ordinary pleasures and pursuits of life as indifferent objects; and the more he is destitute of worldly goods, the less will he be liable to be drawn from that contemplation of God which leads to union with the divine spirit. Hence all orders of dervishes are tacitly or openly mendicants. But degrees are well recognized in saintly attainment. Adam was a holy man whom the angels were bidden to worship; Abraham was the "friend of God," and "Jesus Christ owes his existence as a saint to the special breath of his divine Creator, but is not, nevertheless, considered as being God. — He is held to be only a divine emanation of the most sublime character" (p. 109).
See Madden, Turkish Empire (London, 1862); Auldjo, Journal of a Visit to Constantinople, etc. (Lond. 1835); Ubicini, Lettres sur la Tursquie; Chardin, Travels (Amsterdam, 1735, 4to), 2:269-297; Paul Rycaut, The present State of the Ottoman Empire, etc. (Lond. 1668, fol.), p. 135 sq.; D'Herbelot, Bibl. Orient. arts. Derviche and Fakir; Mouradgea d'Ohsson, Tableau del l' Empire Ottoman; Rogers, in Good Words, Jan 1867; Von Hammer, Osmanisches Reich (Wien, 1815, 2 vols.); Brown, The Dervishes, or Oriental Spiritualism (Philadelphia, 1868, 12mo).