Art is religion: Dance to understand, capture love in a melody

I feel fortunate that I visited Istanbul during the Ramadan sawm, or the spiritual period marked by a month of daily fasting, purification from evil deeds, words and intentions. However I was unfortunate to miss the Sema ceremony performed by Dervish whirling dancers, thanks to Istanbul’s never ending traffic jams.


The Islam religion just like other religions was the primary theme and influence on Ottoman Art in the past. In recent articles I wrote about Iznik tiles, the importance of floral and geometric patterns and Calligraphy in Islamic art, but I still haven’t mentioned other forms of art such as poetry, music and dancing as spiritual and religious practices integral to Islam.

Sufism is a branch of Islam that interprets the religion through poetry and meditative dances that in turn liberate the mind and the ego, ultimately linking the individual with God and the universe. Sufism was originated by poet and philosopher Jalal ad-Din Rumi who believed that religion is an emotional practice, not a rational one. Furthermore, he believed that the Universe and everything in it has an endless flow of life; when we die we are reborn and life itself is an infinite continuum.

Sufis transcend labels and have a open relationship with other religions. What is more they separate their religious practices from politics and rational thought because they believe that the former blurs the meaning of religion and blocks the road to enlightenment. According to the prophet Mohammed “music is to develop the consciousness and poetry is to develop wisdom”- Sufis take this proclamation seriously and use music, poetry and dance movements to enhance their spirituality and move closer to God.

The most remarkable example or Sufi religious practice is the Dervish Sema ceremony which I unfortunately missed now but will attend on my way back from Asia, during the one night stop-over in Istanbul before my flight back to London and will write a more detailed article on it so watch out for it! Dervishes’ rotational whirling is symbolic to life and how planets rotate around the sun, how seasons follow a rotational pattern or how night is followed by day and vice versa. It is a physical meditation because repetitive movements change the state of mind- most describe it as a liberating experience.

At last I would like to share with you a beautiful poem from Rumi called Only Breath

Not Christian or Jew or Muslim,
not Hindu, Buddhist, Sufi or Zen.
Not any religion, or cultural system.
I am not from the East or the West,
nor out of the ocean or up
from the ground, not natural or ethereal,
not composed of elements at all.
I do not exist, am not an entity in this world
or the next,
did not descend from Adam and Eve
or any origin story.
My place is placeless, a trace of the traceless.
Neither body nor soul.
I belong to the beloved
have seen the two worlds as one
and that one call to and know,
First, last, outer, inner, only that
breathing human

Jalal Ad-Din Muhammad Rumi- Poet, Sufi philosopher

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