By Ahmet T. Karamustafa
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Extra info for God's unruly friends: dervish groups in the Islamic later middle period, 1200-1550
Poverty literally meant absolute poverty. Theophany implied the presence of God in all his Creation, and thus the meaninglessness of legal prescriptions and proscriptions. Sainthood meant the existence of saints, the dervishes themselves, who were exempt from social and legal regulations. The underlying message was always the same: the dervish had to implement an absolute break with his social past and to devote his future solely to God by means of radical renunciation. It is, therefore, not surprising that the anarchist dervishes adopted "heretic" views with ease, probably in order to strengthen their rejectionist agenda.
Illiterate and unable to do anything manly, they live like beasts, surviving on alms only. For this reason, they Page 7 are to be found around taverns and public kitchens in cities. If, while roaming the countryside, they come across a well-dressed person, they try to make him one of their own, stripping him naked. Like Gypies in Europe, they practice chiromancy, especially for women who then provide them with bread, eggs, cheese, and other foods in return for their services. Amongst them there is usually an old man whom they revere and worship like God.
They did not aim to replace the existing social order by a rival one, nor did they seek to reform society; they simply negated all cultural norms and structures. The negative, reactive nature of renunciation manifested itself in the form of blatant social deviance, which became the hallmark of dervish piety. In order to implement their anarchist agenda, the dervishes adopted numerous deviant practices. These can Page 14 be subsumed under the two general categories of asceticism and antinomianism.