Sufi Turning and the Spirituality of Sacred Space

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



Sufism, the mystical dimension of Islam, has long included in its sema/sama – the worship ceremony – animated practices and performances, notably the use of sound and movement to express spiritual states, which is not favored by more traditional/conventional denominations of Islam. Sufis encourage song and chant, dance and movement, and other demonstrative exhibitions of faith, as palpable demonstrations of ecstatic love and spiritual joy in communion with the Divine. One of the most notable Sufis in the history of Islam is Jalaluddin Rumi (CE 1207–1273) – or, simply, Rumi – who founded a Sufi order known popularly as the Whirling Dervishes. The dervishes adhere to a meditative practice that Rumi encouraged as part of the sema/sama, the ‘dance’ of whirling, or turning. Sufi turning is a devotional expression of dhikr, the remembrance and contemplation of God. This essay discusses how the entranced spinning of the deliberately structured Sufi body (head, hands, arms, torso) can transform a secular/profane place into a space of mystical encounter with the Divine as the dervish whirls in continuous circles around the invisible axis that binds the Sufi to Allah. The essay will draw on the poetry and prose of Rumi to illustrate the transformation of indeterminate place to sanctified space.