The Hidden World Of Sufism In Turkey

Get ready to embark on a journey through the captivating and lesser-known realm of Sufism in Turkey. Delve into the mystical practices and rich traditions of this ancient mystical Islamic tradition, as we unravel the hidden world where seekers of spirituality and enlightenment find solace. From whirling dervishes to sacred music rituals, prepare to explore the enchanting depths of Sufism in the heart of Turkey, a realm that holds transformative experiences and a profound connection to the divine.

What is Sufism

Sufism is a mystical branch of Islam that emphasizes the inner spiritual experience and the union with the divine. It is well-known for its practices of meditation, contemplation, and devotion. Sufism seeks to achieve a sense of inner peace, spiritual enlightenment, and a closer connection with God.

Definition and Origins

The term Sufism is derived from the Arabic word “suf,” which means wool. This refers to the simple woolen cloak that Sufi practitioners traditionally wear as a symbol of their asceticism and detachment from materialism. Sufism originated in the 8th century in the Middle East and gradually spread to various parts of the Islamic world.

Key Beliefs and Practices

Sufism revolves around the idea of divine love and the pursuit of spiritual knowledge. Sufis believe in the oneness of God and the importance of developing a deep personal relationship with the divine. They place great emphasis on self-discipline, humility, and compassion towards all beings. Sufi practices include meditation, chanting of sacred verses, repetitive prayers, and the use of music and dance to achieve transcendental experiences.

Sufism in Turkey: Historical Overview

Early Influence of Sufism in Anatolia

Sufism has a long and rich history in Turkey, dating back to the arrival of the first Sufi mystics in Anatolia during the 9th century. These early Sufis, known as the “yolu,” or wayfarers, played a crucial role in spreading the teachings of Islam and Sufism among the Turkish population. They also fostered a culture of tolerance, respect, and inclusivity, which became deeply ingrained in Anatolian society.

Founding of the Ottoman Empire: Sufi Influence

The influence of Sufism on Turkish culture reached its peak during the founding and expansion of the Ottoman Empire. Many of the early Ottoman leaders were deeply influenced by Sufi teachings and practices. Sufi orders, or “tariqas,” gained immense popularity and played an influential role in shaping the spiritual and social fabric of the Ottoman Empire.

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Sufism during the Turkish Republic

With the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923, a period of modernization and secularization swept the country. During this time, Sufism faced various challenges as it clashed with the state’s efforts to create a more secular society. However, Sufi orders managed to adapt and survive by diversifying their roles and engaging in charitable activities.

Current State of Sufism in Turkey

Today, Sufism continues to have a significant presence in Turkey. While no longer the dominant force it once was, Sufi orders still thrive and attract followers. The practice of Sufism has evolved and adapted to the modern context, incorporating new elements while maintaining its essence. Sufi communities, mosques, and shrines can be found throughout the country, ensuring that Sufi traditions and teachings persist.

The Hidden World Of Sufism In Turkey

Major Sufi Orders in Turkey

The Mevlevi Order (Whirling Dervishes)

The most well-known Sufi order in Turkey is the Mevlevi Order, also known as the Whirling Dervishes. Founded by the poet and mystic Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi in the 13th century, the Mevlevi Order is famous for its mesmerizing whirling dance, which is considered a form of meditation and a pathway to spiritual ecstasy. The Order places great emphasis on love, tolerance, and the quest for union with the divine.

The Bektashi Order

The Bektashi Order is another influential Sufi order in Turkey, known for its emphasis on the unity of all religions and its inclusive, egalitarian approach. The order has played a crucial role in bridging different religious communities and promoting interfaith dialogue. The Bektashi Order is also known for its distinctive rituals and practices, including the ceremonial consumption of wine as a symbol of spiritual intoxication.

The Naqshbandi Order

The Naqshbandi Order is one of the oldest Sufi orders in Turkey. It places great emphasis on self-discipline, moral values, and the purification of the heart. The Naqshbandi Order is known for its silent meditation practices, where practitioners focus on their breath and aim to achieve inner stillness and self-awareness. It has been a significant influence on Turkish Sufism, particularly during the Ottoman period.

The Rufai Order

The Rufai Order is a lesser-known Sufi order in Turkey but has had a significant impact on the country’s Sufi traditions. Founded by the mystic Ahmad al-Rufai in the 12th century, the order emphasizes the importance of personal experience and direct connection with the divine. The Rufai Order is known for its ecstatic dance rituals and its focus on spiritual healing and protection.

The Qadiri Order

The Qadiri Order, founded by the Sufi saint Abdul-Qadir Gilani, has a long history in Turkey. It emphasizes self-discipline, strong moral character, and the importance of practicing the remembrance of God. The Qadiri Order has been influential in shaping Turkish Islamic practices and spirituality, and its teachings continue to inspire many Sufi practitioners today.

Sufism and Turkish Culture

Sufi Music and Poetry

Sufism has had a profound influence on Turkish music and poetry. Sufi music, often accompanied by traditional instruments such as the ney (flute) and the daf (frame drum), aims to induce a state of spiritual ecstasy and union with the divine. Sufi poetry, particularly the works of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi and Yunus Emre, is revered for its profound spiritual insights and its ability to touch the hearts of people from all walks of life.

Whirling Dervishes: The Dance of Ecstasy

The whirling dance of the Mevlevi Order, performed by the Whirling Dervishes, is one of the most iconic and visually striking aspects of Sufism in Turkey. The dance is a form of sacred meditation in which the dancer seeks to transcend the boundaries of the self and achieve a state of union with the divine. The graceful movements and whirling motions symbolize the orbiting of the planets and the spiritual journey towards enlightenment.

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Art and Architecture influenced by Sufism

Sufism has also left its mark on Turkish art and architecture. Many historical mosques, tombs, and religious complexes in Turkey feature intricate geometric designs, calligraphy, and tile work that are inspired by Sufi symbolism and motifs. These artistic expressions serve as a visual representation of the spiritual journey undertaken by Sufis and reflect the beauty and complexity of their inner experiences.

The Hidden World Of Sufism In Turkey

Roles of Sufi Masters

Spiritual Guides and Teachers

Sufi masters, known as “sheikhs” or “pirs,” play a vital role in guiding and mentoring Sufi practitioners. They possess deep spiritual insight and knowledge, and their guidance is sought in matters of faith, spirituality, and personal development. Sufi masters provide instruction on meditation techniques, offer spiritual advice, and help individuals navigate the challenges of the spiritual path.

Community Leaders and Healers

Sufi masters often hold positions of leadership within their communities. They are seen as spiritual authorities and are responsible for maintaining the traditions, teachings, and rituals of their respective orders. Additionally, Sufi masters are known to possess healing powers, both physical and spiritual. They use various methods such as prayer, recitation of sacred texts, and energy healing to help individuals overcome physical and emotional ailments.

Interfaith Dialogue and Social Advocacy

Sufi masters have historically played a significant role in promoting interfaith dialogue and fostering peaceful coexistence. Their teachings emphasize love, tolerance, and understanding, making them natural advocates for social harmony and unity among different religious communities. Through their spiritual teachings and charitable activities, Sufi masters contribute to the betterment of society and promote a message of compassion and peace.

How Sufism in Turkey Differs from Other Countries

Blend of Islamic and Turkish Traditions

Sufism in Turkey has developed a unique blend of Islamic and Turkish cultural traditions. Turkish Sufism emphasizes the compatibility of Sufi teachings with local customs and traditions, incorporating elements of Turkish folk traditions, music, and art into Sufi practices. This blending of Islamic and Turkish influences has resulted in a distinct form of Sufism that is deeply rooted in the Turkish cultural identity.

Unique Practices and Rituals

Sufism in Turkey is characterized by its distinctive practices and rituals. Each Sufi order has its own set of rituals and practices that reflect their particular teachings and spiritual approach. The whirling dance of the Mevlevi Order, the communal meals of the Bektashi Order, and the silent meditation of the Naqshbandi Order are just a few examples of the unique practices that distinguish Sufism in Turkey from other countries.

Influence of Turkish Folklore and Shamanism

Turkish Sufism has also been influenced by traditional Turkish folklore and shamanism. Folklore tales, myths, and legends have been incorporated into Sufi teachings, adding a sense of enchantment and wonder to the spiritual experiences of Sufi practitioners. Shamanistic practices, such as trance-like rituals and healing ceremonies, have also found their way into Turkish Sufism, creating a rich tapestry of spiritual traditions and beliefs.

Controversies and Challenges

Modernization and Secularization

The process of modernization and secularization that began in Turkey in the early 20th century presented challenges for Sufism. As the country embraced a more secular outlook, Sufism was seen by some as outdated and incompatible with the modern world. Sufi practices and teachings faced criticism and were discouraged or marginalized by the state and conservative elements within society.

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Political Interference and Repression

Throughout Turkey’s history, various political regimes have interfered with Sufi orders and their activities. In some instances, Sufi orders were suppressed, their assets confiscated, and their leaders persecuted. Political interference has often been driven by a desire to consolidate power and control over religious and social institutions, resulting in the marginalization and silencing of Sufi voices.

Criticism from Conservative Muslim Groups

Sufism has not been universally embraced within the broader Muslim community. Some conservative Muslim groups see Sufi practices and rituals as deviating from orthodox Islamic teachings, considering them excessive and unnecessary. This criticism has led to tension and debate within the Muslim community, with some questioning the authenticity and legitimacy of Sufism as a legitimate branch of Islam.

Sufism’s Influence on Turkish Politics and Society

Sufism as a Cultural Identity

Sufism has played a crucial role in shaping the cultural and religious identity of the Turkish people. It has contributed to a sense of spiritual belonging and provided a framework for understanding and interpreting the world. Sufi teachings and practices have influenced Turkish customs, traditions, art, music, and literature, making Sufism an integral part of the Turkish cultural heritage.

Sufi Orders and Charitable Activities

Sufi orders in Turkey are actively involved in charitable activities, providing social services and support to the vulnerable and underserved segments of society. Sufi lodges, known as “tekkes” or “zawiyas,” serve as centers for community gathering, education, and welfare. Sufi orders have established schools, hospitals, soup kitchens, and orphanages, demonstrating their commitment to social justice and alleviating suffering.

Sufism’s Role during Political Transformations

Turkish history has witnessed several political transformations, and Sufism has had a significant impact on these transitions. Sufi orders and their leaders have played key roles as agents of social and political change, advocating for justice, equality, and the well-being of the Turkish people. Their influence has extended beyond spiritual matters, making them influential figures in the political arena.

The Resurgence of Sufism in Turkey

Increasing Interest and Popularity

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in Sufism in Turkey. Many young people are drawn to Sufi teachings and practices as a means of finding inner peace, meaning, and a deeper connection to their spirituality. This renewed interest is reflected in the growing number of Sufi gatherings, festivals, and retreats organized across the country.

Sufism and Turkish Youth

Sufism has gained popularity among Turkish youth who are seeking a more holistic and personal approach to spirituality. They are drawn to the inclusive and tolerant nature of Sufism, which provides them with a space to explore their spirituality and connect with like-minded individuals. Sufi practices, such as meditation, music, and poetry, offer a means of self-expression and a way to navigate the challenges of contemporary life.

International Appeal and Tourism

Sufism in Turkey has also attracted international interest and tourism. Visitors from around the world come to Turkey to experience the mesmerizing whirling dances of the Mevlevi Order and to immerse themselves in the spiritual ambiance of Sufi lodges and shrines. The popularity of Sufism as a spiritual and cultural phenomenon has put Turkey on the map as a destination for seekers of spiritual enlightenment and cultural immersion.


Sufism in Turkey has a long and vibrant history that has shaped the country’s cultural, religious, and social fabric. From its early influences in Anatolia to its pivotal role in the Ottoman Empire, Sufism has left an indelible mark on Turkish society. Despite facing challenges in the modern era, Sufism has shown resilience and continues to thrive as a source of spiritual guidance, social advocacy, and cultural pride. The unique blend of Islamic and Turkish traditions, the diverse Sufi orders, and their distinctive practices all contribute to the rich tapestry of Sufism in Turkey. As interest in Sufism grows and the spiritual needs of Turkish society evolve, Sufism will undoubtedly continue to play a significant role in shaping the future of Turkey.