Kosovo’s Howling Dervishes

Every year in March members of the Rifai’i order gather in their holy shrine, the tekke, to celebrate Nevruz, an annual holiday marking the beginning of spring and therefore the first day of the new year. The date also marks the birthday of Imam Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of Prophet Mohammed.

In Shiite belief Mohammed has chosen Ali to lead the Muslims and Sufis see Ali as their founder. For Sufis Ali is the origin of a continuous transmission of the spiritual heritage of Allahs Prophet Mohammed. At the climax of this celebration the Sufis will use centuries-old metal skewers to pierce their hips and cheeks.

Sufis are also known as Dervishes. The term dervish derives from the word dari which means door. Literally a Dervish is someone who walks from door to door. In ancient times Dervishes were known to be poor and lived very ascetically. Therefore they were often called faqir which means poor in front of Allah.

The collective prayer, called dhikr, is a way for Dervishes to make themselves aware of the permanent presence of God. Literally dhikr means remembrance of God, normally by the constantly repeating of God’s name. Every Sufi order has its own way of celebrating a dhikr, there is no strict rule of process.

The special dhikr of the Rifai’i order during Nevruz starts with singing and chanting. Dervishes permanent repeat God’s name and constantly shake the upper part of the body. 

After hours they have reached a religious state of trance and are ready to start with the ultimate proof of devotion. With centuries-old skewers they pierce their bodies.

No blood and no pain seem to appear. 

During new year celebrations, members of the Sufi order of Rifa’i pursue a highly painful form of devotion.
Sheikh Adrihusein Sheh is the religious leader of the Rifa’i’ order.
Two older dervishes sit inside the holy shrine, called tekke, prior to the celebration of Nowruz.
Centuries-old metal skewers and swords, which will be used to pierce the believers’ cheeks and hips, hang inside the holy dervish tekke.
Dervishes praying before the celebration.
A boy, too young to be pierced, gets ready to attend his first dhikr. Kids and women observe the ceremony from the first floor.
Sheikh Adrihusein Sheh is the religious leader of the Rifa’i’ order. He reads from the Koran before the Nowruz celebration.
For hours, worshippers pray, sing, and chant, earning the description of “howling dervishes” as they prepare themselves for a state of trance.
A dervish is piercing his cheek.
Sheikh Adrihusein Sheh pierces his son’s cheek. His eldest will be heir to the leadership of the Rifa’i order.
An experienced Sufi dervish whirls the metal skewer moments before piercing both of his cheeks himself in a state of religious trance.
A dervish with his cheeks pierced during the holy dikhr.
Two young dervish boys with pierced cheeks. The skewers are smaller than those used by the older dervishes.
An old woman is observing the ceremony from the first floor.
A young Sufi dervish with blood from where the skewer was removed. Blood is actually a rare sight.