Islam / Orientations / Sufism /
Dervishes emerged with organized Sufism, mainly from the 12th century.
Dervishes follow a shaykh and many of them live in monastery-like communities. Dervishes are sometimes compared with Christian monks, but dervishes usually marry.
Being a dervish is not prescribed in the Koran, or the hadiths, although dhikr seems to be mentioned (Koran 33:41). The practice has borrowed from non-Islamic cults and there have been many developments within each order.
The dervish practice has been much criticized by non-Sufi Muslims, and in modern days, the practice has come under heavy government control. In Turkey, dervishes were almost outlawed for decades, before becoming partially tolerated.
Some dervishes have gained much notoriety, due to expressive rituals, some which have been staged in a way which is visible to outsiders. The dervishes of the Kadiri order were called by Western observers "howling dervishes," due to their special chant. Dervishes of the Rifa'i order had a more extreme form of dhikr, involving eating glass, penetration of the body by sharp objects and swallowing of swords. But, perhaps, the most famous have been the dervishes of the Mevlevi order who by their unique dance are known as "Whirling Dervishes." Among the most known vows upon the dervishes of the now extinct Kalenderi was to wander perpetually.
With the Bektashi order, a dervish is the title for a third-level member. Being at this level involves a high degree of initiation, since the next level is reserved for the leader, the baba.
Wandering or mendicant dervishes are known as faqir, Arabic for "poor man." In modern times, there are few-to-no faqirs in Muslim societies.