The thirteenth-century Muslim mystic and poet Jalal al-Din Rumi (1207–1273) is a popular spiritual icon. His legacy is sustained within the mystical and religious practice of Sufism, particularly through renditions of his poetry, music, and the meditation practice of whirling. In Canada, practices associated with Rumi have become ubiquitous in public spaces, such as museums, art galleries, and theatre halls, just as they continue to inform sacred ritual among Sufi communities.
The Dervishes of the North: Rumi, Whirling, and the Making of Sufism in Canada (University of Toronto Press, 2023) explores what practices associated with Rumi in public and private spaces tell us about Sufism and spirituality, including sacred, cultural, and artistic expressions in the Canadian context. Using Rumi and contemporary expressions of poetry and whirling associated with him, the book captures the lived reality of Sufism through an ethnographic study of communities in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. Drawing from conversations with Sufi leaders, whirling dervishes, and poets, Merin Shobhana Xavier, Associate Professor of Religion at Queen’s University, explores how Sufism is constructed in Canada, particularly at the nexus of Islamic mysticism, Muslim diaspora, spiritual commodity, popular culture, and universal spirituality.
In our conversation we discussed the history of the Sufi communities in Canada, Rumi’s rise in popularity in North America, the public performance versus the ritual practice of whirling, poetic remembrance ceremonies, the commemoration of the death anniversary of Rumi, gender dynamics in Sufi rituals, women’s positions of authority, the appropriation and commodification of Rumi, and future directions in the study of “Sufism in Canada.”
The book is available an as open access title HERE.
Kristian Petersen is an Associate Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies at Old Dominion University. You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at email@example.com.