Sufi Music

Sufi Music and Sufism are deep and sophisticated form of expressions defined by the cultural and religious doctrines of Turkish in specific and Islamic in broad terms understanding that is obviously a hard to understand topic for those who lack the information and experience in these expression forms. It is defined as the path to enlightenment by the transcendence into the spiritual intoxication (wajd) and a form of close unity with the God (Allah). Different kinds of meditation and spiritual techniques are used in ceremonies to express ones emotions as a result of intensified focus on faith.

Even though it is a ritual state of expression many sects have found ways and understanding of this form of self-expression that trance like states where able to be achieved with the utilization of poetry, dance like movements (samâ‘) and instrumental sufi music which were combined with some techniques of breathing control (zikr).

The Sunni brotherhoods like Rifai (Rifâ’iyya), Halveti (Khalwatiyya) and Kadiri (Qâdiriyya) indulge themselves in a dervish ceremonies called zikr, a collective musical ritual of sorts. In these ceremonies divine names of tawhid (oneness of Allah) are repeatedly uttered in a rhythmic style and a variety of hymns, merisyes and songs of spiritual love are recited. All this is based on the Qur’an recitation and the deep meanings it implies with Sufi music.

Whirling Dervishes, who are known due to their famous performance of whirling as a type of zikr (remembrance of one true God ‘Allah’), famous for Sufism do choreographs (sema) accompanied by the song poetry extracted from the Mathnawi which is a book written by Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi (Mevlana) with Sufi music.. Dervish is a well-known term for a member of Sufi path; he is also known as Semazen who performs the formal ceremony Sema. Moreover, Mevlana was the founder of the cult of the Mevlevi that has still been organizing whirling ceremonies (Sema) in many locations especially in Konya where Mevlana laid the foundation of Mevlevi. He composed the poets in the order of the Ottoman secular music based on the mode system called Makam in Turkish. Musicians performing the music of ceremonies have been trained by professionals, and sometimes composers even joined to the training of musicians.

Although there are auditions such as prayers and invocations in the whirling ceremonies, the central point of the ceremony is to concentrate on the accordance of Sufi music, poet and dance culminating in zikr. By the way, the moving speed of the whirling dervishes is accelerated by the zikr that also sets the moving and whirling speed of the dervish. Additionally, the ceremony begins with a special poem, called Naat and written by Itri (1640-1712), praising the prophet Muhammad. It is not accompanied, then a musician begins to play the end-blown flute (Ney), and a composition is being played by using a specific melodic mode (Makam) and a metric mode (Usul) comprising a great cycle of 28 primary beats that are repeated twice. Finally, dervishes walk in procession around the ceremonial space and engage in ritual bowing.

The worship begins with the Sema (whirling) performed by Semazens, and Sufi music played on classical Turkish instruments and sung by a chorus in four sections known as (selam-s). While the third selam is being performed, the tempo is increased in which segment a waltz rhythm is used, and the tempo gets slow in the fourth selam in which dervishes end the whirling. Finally, instrumentalists perform a final prelude and final composition (yuruk semai) followed by an instrumental taksim and recitations from the Qur’an with Sufi music.

Instruments, which are Ney (end-blown flute), Kanun (trapezoidal), Kemence (bowed, pear-shaped lute held vertically on the knees), tanbur (long-necked, plucked lute with frets), Ud (short-necked, fretless, plucked lute) and kudum (a pair of small kettledrums), used in the ceremony are peculiar to Ottoman Empire’s secular art music.

There are also esoteric ceremonies done in the rural areas and recently in urban areas by heterodox Alevis who live in Bektasi villages. Actually, Alevis are also living cities, but Alevis performing in ceremonies are living in the villages. Alevis’ ceremonies resemble the shamanistic survival of a Central Asian Turkic past, Shi’I tendencies where the Imam Ali is almost deified and a filiation with the Bektashi order of dervishes. Known as Kizilbas, the Alevis were seen with mistrust and suspicion due to their so-called clandestine inclinations and activities to revolt against the Sunni Ottoman authority. They were faithful for supporting Shah Ismail who was the leader of the Safavid Persia whose poem written under pen-name Hata’I. They revered in the history and maintain to revere him today.

Alevi religious practices are referred to a congregation known as cem or ayin. The aim of Alevis by the religious practice is not only to concentrate on spiritual exercises that include zikr without controlled breathing, but also with some parts of body posturing and ritual dance (sema) accompanied by mystical poem sung in the vernacular. The Alevi sacred instrument is being played in the cem. This congregation is also for empowering the social solidarity of the Alevi community as well as inculcating the important figures and sects of Alevi to young generation.