A dervish or darvesh (from Persian درویش, Darvīsh via Turkish, Somali: Daraawiish, Arabic: درويش, Darwīš) is someone treading a Sufi Muslim ascetic path or “Tariqah”, known for their extreme poverty and austerity. In this respect, dervishes are most similar to mendicant friars in Christianity or Hindu/Buddhist/Jain sadhus.
Many dervishes are mendicant ascetics who have taken a vow of poverty, unlike mullahs. The main reason they beg is to learn humility, but Dervishes are prohibited to beg for their own good. They have to give the collected money to other poor people. Others work in common professions; Egyptian Qadiriyya – known in Turkey as Kadiri – are fishermen, for example.
Some classical writers indicate that the poverty of the dervish is not merely economic. Saadi, for instance, who himself travelled widely as a dervish, and wrote extensively about them, says in his Gulistan:
“Of what avail is frock, or rosary,
Or clouted garment? Keep thyself but free
From evil deeds, it will not need for thee
To wear the cap of felt: a darwesh be
In heart, and wear the cap of Tartary.”
Rumi writes in Book 1 of his Masnavi:
“Water that’s poured inside will sink the boat
While water underneath keeps it afloat.
Driving wealth from his heart to keep it pure
King Solomon preferred the title ‘Poor’:
That sealed jar in the stormy sea out there
Floats on the waves because it’s full of air,
When you’ve the air of dervishood inside
You’ll float above the world and there abide…”
There are various orders of Dervishes, almost all of which trace their origins from various Muslim saints and teachers, especially Imam Ali. Various orders and suborders have appeared and disappeared over the centuries. Dervishes spread into North Africa, Turkey, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Iran, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
Other groups include the Bektashis, who are connected to the janissaries, and the Senussi, who are rather orthodox in their beliefs. Other fraternities and subgroups chant verses of the Qur'an, play drums or whirl in groups, all according to their specific traditions. They practice meditation, as is the case with most of the Sufi orders in South Asia, many of whom owe allegiance to, or were influenced by, the Chishti order. Each fraternity uses its own garb and methods of acceptance and initiation, some of which may be rather severe. [x]