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The Selflessly Sacred Art of Whooping It Up

An introduction to a Sufi way of listening to music​.​

Whirling Dervish Dancer, Turkey


Rumi-nations on Music — The Sufi poet Rumi (1207-1273) (Divan, no. 1296)

Come to me, for you are the soul of the soul of the soul of listening.
Come you are the cypress striding in the garden of listening.
Come there has never been, nor will there be, anyone like you!
Come not even the eyes of listening have seen anyone like you.
Come the fountain of the sun lies beneath your shadow;
You hold a thousand Venuses in the heaven of listening.
Even though the roof of heavens seventh plane is high,
The ladder of listening goes much higher than that.
Listening is thanking you, with a hundred eloquent tongues
I will only say some brief points in the language of listening.
When atoms’ embraces are filled by rays of the sun,
All enter into the dance, without the noise of listening.
When love puts his hand on my shoulder, what can I do?
I pull him in the corner, as if in the midst of listening.
Listening recites your praises, both by day and night
The light of your face gives nobility to the place of listening.
You are beyond both worlds when you enter listening.
This world of listening is beyond both worlds.
We are stamping our feet on anything that is not him.
Why? That’s the condition, in the exam of love.
God belongs to you, and you belong to God;
Listening belongs to you, and you belong to listening.
Come —for Shams-i Tabrizi is the very form of love
We all enter into dancing in the midst of listening.

This article appeared in the Spring 2002 issue of Spirituality & Health. It was a hot night in Lahore. Ordinarily we didn’t pay much attention to the temperature, since we had air conditioning, as did most expatriates in Pakistan. But this night we were down in the Old City, guests of Maharaj, for an evening o l sacred Sufi music. Here, the pressing heat made the thousand-year-old city seem even more mysterious and exotic. Nevertheless, I was unprepared for what was to come. Maharaj Chulam Hussein, the dance master who taught our daughter, was a man of extraordinary sophistication and power. When he entered a room, with long hair, his elegant long robe, and his silver-knobbed cane, he commanded it. He had studied drama with Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel laureate for literature, in the heyday of the cultural resurgence of Calcutta. His Urdu was the cultured language of Lucknow, and he had an intuitive grace that raised any event to a higher level. This night he was presiding over a performance of the Sabri Brothers, one of the premier groups performing the Sufi music known as qawwali. I knew …

Carl Ernst is a specialist in Sufism and Islamic studies. His books include The Shambhak Guide to Sufism and Teaching of Sufism (Shambhala). He is Zachary Smith Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (2002)

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