“There is no way to the extracting of [the heart’s] hidden things save by the flint and steel of listening to music and singing, and there is no entrance to the heart save by the ante-chamber of the ears.”
Sufi Muslims, who observe a mystical dimension of Islam, are renowned for their rich musical tradition. Their instruments are quite simple and their songs are usually mere incantations of poetry – the music itself is not stylistically extraordinary; rather, it is the resulting musically-induced state of divine ecstasy (wajad) that matters most. This musical trance is most apparent in the meditative dances of the so-called Whirling Dervishes. The famous Sufi poet Jalal al-Din Rumi claimed that listening to Sufi music was like listening to the divine creaking of the gates of Heaven, and was always astounded by how such deeply spiritual music could come from such worthless inanimate materials as wood and string (Schimmel 1995). The remarkable power of Sufi music to separate one’s mind and body is essential in helping Sufis to attain spiritual ecstasy.
Sufis are not moved to sing and dance by virtue of the music itself, but rather by the intangible, spiritual aura that the music engenders. This part of the music is supposedly experienced by our highest auditory faculty, which is known in Arabic as sirr. Most pieces feature a singer, a reed flute, and percussion, such as drums and tambourines. They are always paced at a rather brisk tempo, as if to facilitate dancing. The dancing is unique as well: it involves whirling in place (counterclockwise) with one arm pointed toward the heavens and one arm pointed toward the earth. In such a position, dervishes aim to channel divine energy which enters and exits through their extended arms; this musical trance can allow a dancer to “take the human being out of himself, [bringing] him into another sphere” (Schimmel 1995).
The tradition of whirling dance began as early as the ninth century, but has only recently been experiencing a revival in some Islamic countries. In the beginning, scholars would meet every great while in order to relax after many days of intense religious exercises. During these reprieves, the scholars would have an opportunity to forget their rigorous studies and contemplate love and divinity while listening to traditional Sufi music, known as sama (Nasr 1997). In these states of clairvoyant reflection, people would stand up and whirl about, lost in musical rapture. Sama also refers to the whirling dance, which pervades all of creation. As Rumi astutely notes, the movement of whirling is universal: “Out of this dance, stars and suns, atoms, animals, and flowers emerge, all of them moved by the creative Divine music” (Schimmel 1995). The dancing is a result of being completely taken over by the power of the music, and completely overwhelmed by emotion (Erguner 2005).
Sufi music is also said to have healing powers. Music was introduced as a form of magical therapy in the medieval Muslim world, and its efficacy was well known. In fact, such therapy is still used in Turkey, India, and many areas of central Europe. In the “music clinics” of the past, large central basins would slowly drip water into small pools; the soft sound of falling water, coupled with the trance-inducing music, was known to cure both physical and mental illnesses. This further illustrates how Sufi music was viewed as having magic qualities (Schimmel 1995).
Intriguingly, many of the instruments themselves are said to have great metaphorical value, especially the ney (otherwise known as the reed flute). The musical tone of the ney is very close to the sound of the human voice, and it is said to have a very personal relationship with whoever plays it. The ney requires the musician’s breath, and the instrument uses it to “sing.” The reedflute is often compared to the human being; starting its life as a reed, it is removed from its home on the riverbed, evoking a state of separation. It is only said to be reconnected once it is being played by a human’s lips. Rumi claims that the reedflute has become “the unsurpassable expression of the soul’s constant longing for its homeland in God’s infinity.”
The ney’s mournful tone is reminiscent of a man’s voice during supplication. It is also said that a reedflute can carry secrets, and reveal them upon being played aloud. These anthropomorphic qualities – keeping secrets, having a voice, having breath – are representative of a human’s “pure spirit” before it is covered in flesh (Erguner 2005). Additionally, the drum and the tambourine are representative of the lover, “for without the touch of the beloved’s fingers, the drum would be silent” (Schimmel 1995). Evidently, Sufi instruments are regarded as far more than instruments; they are almost like separate beings, in and of themselves.
Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali once said, “There is no way to the extracting of [the heart’s] hidden things save by the flint and steel of listening to music and singing, and there is no entrance to the heart save by the ante-chamber of the ears” (Nasr 1997). Indeed, music does have the mysterious quality of being able to deeply affect us all. Yet, for the Sufi Muslims, music has an even greater power: to forge a connection with God. Their musical traditions are different from those of Western culture in almost every way. Their instruments have near-human significance, their music is believed to have healing powers, and their dancing has the power to achieve spiritual ecstasy. By integrating song and dance with prayer and meditation, Sufi mysticism is perhaps one of the most musical religions in the world.Tags: abu hamid al ghazzali, album, baroque, best classical music, cd, classical, classical music, classical music cds, classical music composer, classical music Mozart, classical music online, classical piano music, composers, concert, dervish, erguner, General, instrument, islam, islamic music, jalal al din rumi, met opera, metropolitan opera, music, nasr, ney, opera, opera house, opera singers, piano, reed flute, reedflute, religious music, reviews, rumi, sama, schimmel, sirr, sufi, sufism, wajad, whirling dervishes, World Music