Sema: Traditional Sufi Worship and Whirling
February 3, 2008 § 13 Comments
For over 700 years Muslims have performed a devotional worship, a form of sema, whirling in continual remembrance of their Creator. This tradition of whirling became commonly known through the sufi poet Maulana Jalal’ud-din Rumi. The word sema, which is arabic for “sound” is described best by Shamsi Tabriz, Maulana Jalal’ud-din’s master and shaykh saying,
“There comes a Sound, from neither within nor without,
From neither right nor left, from neither behind nor in front,
From neither below nor above, from neither East nor West,
Nor is it of the elements: water, air, fire, earth, and the like;
From where then? It is from that place thou art in search of;
Turn ye toward the place where from the Lord makes His appearance.
From where a restless fish out of water gets water to live in,
From the place where the prophet Moses saw the divine Light,
From the place where the fruits get their ripening influence,
From the place where the stones get transmuted to gems,
From the place which even an infidel turns in distress,
From the place to which all men turn when they find this world a vale of tears.
It is not given to us to describe such a blessed place;
It is a place where even the heretics would leave off their heresies.”
The place Shaykh Shamsi Tabriz discusses here is the aim of sema, hearing that which all men seek when the World and its pleasures become monotonous. Sufi whirling is a way, a form of sema, to approach Allah Almighty’s Divine Presence and if He is accepting, sufi whirling becomes a means to hearing that “Sound”.
It is interesting to note here that like all forms of worship, there is no guarantee of Allah’s acceptance of our worship. Indeed, the acceptance of our worship is really unknown to us and this is mentioned concerning sema in the passage above. One way we try to secure the acceptance of our worship is by pleasing Allah Almighty. And the best way to accomplish this is to do as he asks of us. Allah Almighty has sent the Shariat and allowed the lifestyle of the Prophet Muhammad (may Peace and Blessings be upon him) to identify what is pleasing to Him and what is hated by Him; what is recommended and what is disliked, respectively.
In other words, Allah Almighty has sent manners for our conduct and messengers as examples of these manners. And as in most forms of supererogatory Islamic worship, the various forms of sema should only be attempted given proper conditions, such as under the guidance of a shaykh, ritual purity: ablution (wudu’), a clear intention (niyyah), following Divine Laws and proper etiquette (adab).
Below you will find an example of Sufi Whirling in the presence of a Sufi Shaykh, Shaykh Abdul-Kerim al-Kibrisi of the Shaykh Nazim Osmanli Naks-i’bendi-Hakkani Sufi Association in New York City. This association gathers every Friday 7pm at 353 W. 39th St. #304, and all are welcome inshaAllah.
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