The Sama: Hearing with the Heart

The Sufi ritual of sama began in the 13th century with the mystic poet Jalaleddin Muhammad Rumi. The legend goes that he was walking toward a goldsmith and came away dancing to the melodic sound of a hammer. He heard harmony in the work; he sang love poems with the clangs. He performed a whirling dance and grew dizzy, his soul transcended into a trance (wajd), and he became ecstatic. As a result, the sound of the gold left, and he united with God.1 Since then, the dervishes have whirled. The site of sama is the heart of the dancer (dervish). To understand the sama more fully, we must understand ‘Sufi’ and ‘Rumi’ with which it creates a rational triangle of worship, creator, and ritual performance. The sama means “hearing”. Through this ritual, performers relate Rumi’s poetry and the importance of love, especially mystical love. Rumi asks readers to see with the heart, through instrumental music2 and whirling dances. These acts express emotion and enlighten participants on the wisdom and love of God. This ritual is buried in the roots of Islamic culture, but its transcendental characteristics honor the divine, serve as a type of healing, and connect all people from different cultures together in love. In Sufism, the humans’ movement and the way they understand the processes of time and space depend on nature, and this dependence matches the cosmic order.3 All life needs other elements – people need plants, plants need sun, etc. The dancing shapes are not circular, meaning they do not revolve and repeat, but rather spiral; they grow and expand in a way that radiates from the center out. 4 Rumi, the founder of the sama ritual, believes that white spiraling the human body dissolves into, rhythm and the soul inexplicably separates from the physical and joins with the origin for a short time to produce joy. The ceremony begins with dervishes praying in a circle, the universal symbol of unity and totality. To Rumi and Sufis, God’s names have a magic that transcends time and space. Also, historically, in Islam, God’s names have power and magical effects on physical and emotional problems as a therapy. In the center of the circle, a group of either seven, twenty–nine, or forty dancers (holy numbers in Islam, which represent the number of days in which the Earth was created, number of names of Allah, and number for multiple significant religious events, respectively. men dressed in white robes with tall, cylindrical hats kneel toward an elderly man (the Sheikh) seated with his back straight and his arms crossed. They kneel to show their respect to their elder leader, their hands show they are surrounded by power of God, and they perceive that whatever comes from Him is for their greater good. The dervishes form a large circle they believe turns in unison with everything in the universe. Rumi believed sorrow prepares humans to connect with pure joy in enlightenment. Sufi’s music is the key point in the openness of the heart, not just with circles of dancers, but also with non-dancers who watch this ritual, the reading of God’s names and narrating Rumi’s love poetry by beautiful voices of extraordinary part of ceremony. All those rhythmic movements in sama have meaning because of songs they sing; all the words, gestures, and acts do have a meaning.

They move slowly counterclockwise – to pay homage to medieval blood biology5 – around themselves and the center, and eventually begin whirling, keeping in mind the wisdom behind this practice. This portion separates the mind from the body, implying the soul’s freedom from physicality. “Just as the water reflects the stars and the moon, the body reflexes mind and soul.”6

In this transition, the dancers move so fast even eyes cannot catch them. With whirling, they step into the world of wajd7 (or ecstasy), which literally means “finding.” Intoxicated by divine love, they remain in the state of self-forgetting. Without any involvement of their wills, their feet may be stamping and hands clapping; this state is known as “The Unity Dance.”8 The ritual dance unites people with the cosmic powers and eternity. It claims that the rotation of the dance is related to three movements within the body that relate to different spiritual approaches of the self, emotions, intelligence, and physicality.9 The sama goes through four different phases. The meaning of the first phase (zehkir) is confusion about humanity: who am I? In the second phase, the dervish understands he is human and living. In the third phase, the dervish understands there is a spiritual force in his body and thought, so by forcing his body and mind to the fast pace of words and movement, his body separates from them and his soul and his heart connect with God for a few moments. Rumi stated, “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.” He believes God is inside the human soul, and humans are a manuscript of a divine letter. In the fourth phase, the mind returns to the body, and the dervish’s soul comes back from wajd to understand he is human again.”10 This may sound very much like the other metaphorical rituals, but, here, the difference is that, if there is a trance, it separates the mind and soul from the body, implying the soul’s freedom from physicality, which Rumi calls “transcendental wisdom.” Considering the body in sama is not denied, dancers can understand that the soul ascends from it to connect to the Whole, the totality of the soul, which Rumi calls a pure love. This ritual, as all rituals do, has performative practice forms, linked to a dedicated community of practice. People can join the composition of the cosmos by dancing to its rhythm, and they have done so since ancient times. Music is the display of beauty and grace of the hidden world beyond,11 and the extension of that thought brings divinity of the world’s beauty into noticeable and touchable clarity.

Rumi’s words about love are as follows:

I was dead, came back to life

I wept, began to laugh

Love’s force came over me

Fortune smiled on me forever

My eye has seen its fill

[My] spirit feels no fear

I have a lion’s gall

I’m luminous as Venus!12

To him, love is indescribable and has healing power because pure love connects humans to unconditional love, which is God.

Whatsoever I say in exposition and explanation of Love, when

I come to Love (itself) I am ashamed of that (explanation).

Love is not contained in speech and hearing: Love is an ocean

Whereof the depth is invisible.

The drops of the sea cannot be numbered: the Seven Seas are

Petty in comparison with that Ocean”13

Sufism is a process of enlightenment that transfers the essential truth forward through time, but it has a spirited and dynamic sense. In fact, its expression must not remain limited to the religious nor cultural forms of the past, because the truth of Sufism requires reformulation and fresh expression in every age. Each person must discover enlightenment through a loving connection with others, after journeying through seven steps and observing how mixed they are inside, sometimes feeling love, peace, or nearness to God, and sometimes being overcome by doubt, judgment, or resentment.

When Sufi students completely surrender their egos through physical training and self-discipline, they can learn this ritual dance. The kind of trance that is attained in the ritual dance is called “wajd,” which means “finding,” so Sufis walk in this way of love to find God and peace. Sufis are fully aware of the world’s material beauty, but those materials are shadows of truths, not real truths. The whole world reflects the unconditional love and beauty, the only true way to see beyond this world. By cleaning their thoughts and minds, Sufis join with the Beloved (Allah). So, the dance is a ritual of Divine love. In this transcendental wisdom of Sufism, if the world manifests from the Divine, then humans are also divine, so, when consciousness penetrates the essence, the lover joins with the Beloved.

Rumi established a delighted dance as part of training to forget the present and unite with the lover. For him, the sama was nourishment for the soul, as “sama” means to die to this world and to be revived in the eternal dance of the free spirits around a sun that neither rises nor sets.

Fana and baga, extermination and eternal life in God, are represented in “the movement of the mystical dance, as understood by Rumi.”14

To Rumi, humans all practice the religion of love. Love is the key to unity, because Rumi believed all religions originated from the same source for the same cause. People of different religions believe in love as he thought their veins were of the same fruit with skins of different colors and shapes, but the pulp was exactly the same. When one learns (as Fromm puts it) the “Art of Loving”15, one realizes that humans, regardless of sex, race, and ethnic background, are all the products of love and have a strong tendency to move toward the source of it, but from numerous different paths that provide spice and variety. When love takes root in the heart, one forgets the self in a process of seeing herself as one with the universe, where responsibility and creativity begin. The lover forgets him/herself, because she/he is now part of a much larger body, so this new belief brings absolute hope to the lover’s life. This individual no longer considers the self a desperate weakling or fragile mortal constantly at the mercy of nature, but an immortal being as part of nature, hence immortal and all-giving, the result of which is responsibility, creativity, and hope brought through love. However, the prerequisite factor is unity with the universe and selflessness. For a lover, it is unimportant with whom they side with since every side is God’s side, which is the religion of love:

The religion of Love is apart from all religions: for lovers,

the (only) religion and creed is _ God” 16

My religion is, to be (kept) alive by Love: life (deprived) from

this (animal) soul and head is a disgrace to me” 17

The unity brought to the sojourner through love makes one forget the numerous distractions in life, so it strengthens the concentration power to become braver, more creative, and more active. To view this philosophy in a specific way, Rumi believed all humans are caliphs on Earth. From his point of view in a reflection on Quranic verses, God created man18 and sent him to earth as His representative. God tells his angels that he has put a caliph on earth;19 though not God himself, a caliph must be very similar to the being that chose her/him for such a position. For that reason, Prophet Muhammad said, “God created man like himself.”20 Thus, to Rumi, all men connect with God’s love through enlightenment and the ability to be a caliph.

In sama, the performance is an understanding between seven or more people to benefit the dancers and the whole. Rappaport says “[P]erformatives, and most unambiguous factives, are self-fulling: they make themselves true in the sense of standing in a relationship of conformity to the states of affairs with which they are concerned.”21 However, in the modern world, many western people participate in this ritual for their own spiritual healing benefit. Throughout his ideology, Rumi uses different ways to convey meaning and expand the knowledge of the reader on how Sufi culture thinks. He wants to say that any experiencing of enlightenment is the reason the world came into being. Using details in Rumi’s poetry, elaborating more on them, and comparing them to each other were just a few of those ways to explore different myths of love and creation.


1 Jalaluddin Rumi wrote 26.000 verses of lyric poetry all on the theme of love and spiritual bondage.

2 They are principle of the dervish’s ceremony.

3 Jale Erzen P. 2

4 Shannon, P. 54

5 The theory of four elements (water, earth, air, and fire) held that four different bodily fluids — humors — influenced human health. They had to be in perfect balance, or a person would become sick, either physically or in terms of personality.

6 Rumi

7 Extremely inner peace

8 Ruzieva. P. 3

9 Chittick. P. 45

10 Zamani. Pg. 253

11 Ruzieva. Pg. 5

12 Lewis,pg. 350

13 Mathnavi, 2731-2732, 5: 164

14 Schimmel. P. 184

15 Arasteh, P. 177

16 Mathnavi. 1770, 2: 312

17 Mathnavi. 4059, 6: 482

18 This word man doesn’t have any sexual orientations in Rumi.

19 Al-Bagahreh. p. 30 ( اِنّی جائِلٌ فِی اَلارٌضَ خَلیفَة )

20 Chittick. 72 ( للهُ خَلَقَ اَلانٌسانُ عَلی وَجٌهِ )

21 Rappaport, P. 117

Works Cited

Arasteh, Reza. Rumi the Persian, the Sufi. Routledge & Kegan Paul, 2008.

Chittick, William. The Sufi Path of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi. SUNY Press. 1984.

ErzenJ, Ale. “The Dervishes Dance – The Sacred Ritual of Love.” Contemporary Aesthetics, vol. 6, 2008.

Friedlander, Ira. The Whirling Dervishes. Macmillan, 1975.

Keshavarz, Fatemeh. Reading Mystical Lyric: The Case of Jalal al-Din Rumi. University of South Carolina, 1998.

Lewis, Franklin. Rumi: Past and Present, East and West; The Life, Teaching and Poetry of Jalal al-Din Rumi. Oxford: Oneworld, 2000.

Manzura Ruzieva, Guli Salomova. “The Role of Music and Dance in Sufis Ritual Practice.” SANAT, no.2, 7031, 2008.

Nicholson, Reynold. The Mathnavi of Jalalu’ddin Rumi. Gibb Memorial, London, 1972.

Powell, Megan Andre. Assessment in Dance/Movement Therapy Practice: A State of the Field Survey. Drexel University, 2008.

Roy A. Rappaport. Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity. Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Schimmel, Annemarie. Mystical Dimensions of Islam. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1975.

Shannon, l. “Living ritual dance for women: American journal of dance therapy”. No. 4. p.54.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.