Students celebrate by whirling

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A brief eulogy to Islamic prophets and a medley of flutes opened the floor for the spinning dance of worship delivered by the Whirling Dervishes of Rumi on Tuesday night.

The Islamic Dialogue Student Association presented the celebration of God through dance and song to over 200 people who attended. The dervishes, dressed in ankle-length white skirts and tan cone-shaped hats standing 1-foot high twirled nonstop for at least five minutes.

Following the dervishes, a comedic act brought about 30 children from the audience on stage to learn a Turkish dance. The show, in addition to the dervishes, traveled from Turkey to participate in last month’s 20th annual Houston Turkish Festival and agreed to travel to Austin to perform on campus before heading home.

The Whirling Dervishes of Rumi dates to the 13th century and began with Rumi, a Turkish poet, who was moved to begin dancing after an encounter with a holy man, said journalism graduate student Mustafa Oz.

“The dance, in which he spun incessantly, was done in devotion to Allah and the organic powers of the universe,” he said. “While he whirled, he repeated the name of God — Allah — until he fell into a trance state of deep worship.”

The group’s main objective is to improve interactions at UT by bridging the dialogue gap between Muslims and other faiths, Oz said.

“We value constant, positive action based on universal values such as love, respect, tolerance, mercy and compassion, which are crucial for healthy dialogue in a diverse university environment,” he said.

In its early existence, Turkey was a paradise of peace, said Ahmed Atik, Islamic studies senior and the group’s president.

“Istanbul was a civilization of all colors and religions, and they all existed peacefully thousands of years, so it’s proof that we can have that, too.”

The ritual is broken into four segments, called “selams.” Each has a distinct movement that increase in speed as the song progresses, which represents a significant element of worship.

“It’s not a performance, but a form of worship,” he said. “The [dance] speed, getting faster represents man escaping evil and getting closer to God.”

International relations senior Michelle Quinones said although she is not Muslim, she appreciated the dances because they reminded her of traditions in her own culture.

“I’ve seen Latino dances that are similar, where they spin with long flowing dresses to blend all the colors,” she said. “But this was more of a spiritual and religious dance, and in the Latino community, it’s a celebration of culture.