Paulo Coelho

Stories & Reflections

Dance and pray the Sufi way

Author: Paulo Coelho

I have already told Sufi stories in several of these columns, some of them in which the main character Nasrudin, the fool that always manages to be more intelligent than the wise man, is able to surprise readers with his actions time and again. Today I would like to lay these stories aside and try to write a little about the subject itself.

The encyclopaedic definition of Sufism describes it as an Islamic esoteric tradition and for that reason it has always been badly received in the Muslim world. Sufism originated around the 10th century and its guiding principle holds that its believers are able to have direct connection with God through a series of non-conventional religious practices. The most common of these practices is dancing and the transmission of its philosophy is done through small tales.

In a small apartment in an Arab country, I was invited to attend a ritual with the lights turned off, candles lit and people drumming on percussion instruments. It was possible to see how this spiritual tradition is able to preserve its purity up to this day.

The meeting was at 9 pm. For almost half an hour a man, using a tone of voice that seemed to come from the depth of his soul, sang in a monotonous way. When he stopped singing, the percussion instruments began to pound in a very similar rhythm to the one we are used to hearing at the celebrations of the Afro-Brazilian religions.

That was when, following the same ritual line of these religions we know so well, some men got up and began to turn circles around themselves.

The whole ceremony lasted for an hour, during which the dancers would laugh out loud, say incomprehensible words, and seemed to be in a deep trance. Slowly they stopped turning, the percussion dwindled and the lights in the living room were turned on. I asked one of them what he had felt.

“I have been in contact with the energy of the universe,” he answered. “God went through my soul.”
“Is it necessary to do anything else? To have a special belief, pursue a constant practice?” I asked. “According to one of the most important theologians of Islam, Sufism isn’t a doctrine or a system of beliefs. It is a tradition of enlightenment through everything that is dynamic.”

Abu Muhammad Mutaish says, “A Sufi is one whose thought walks on the same speed as his feet.” That is, his soul is where his body is and vice versa. “Wherever the Sufi is, there is also everything he is: the worker, the mystic, the intellectual, the contemplative, the one who has fun.”

Sufism is universal as it accepts that knowledge has been transmitted to man through great prophets such as Jesus, Moses, Solomon and illuminated beings of other cultures. However, its root stays entirely buried in Islam and in the Muslim conception of the world. The Sufi learning system is similar to the system of the so-called occult orders; it involves a master and disciples, its practices are revealed according to the advancement stage of these practices, special graces (Baraka), etc. The master needs to have what we call “charisma”, that is, a power that is able to connect with the heart of those who find it.

One of today’s great experts on Sufism, known by the initials A.M., says, “The central method of Sufism is the development of our perception to accept love. Love is the only thing that activates intelligence and creativity, something that purifies and frees us. Being a Sufi means being capable of loving and being alert to the needs of those we love (God), and using each gesture to get closer to Him, during the 24 hours of the day.”

© Translated by Mitchelle Aritmez

Subscribe to Blog

Join 16.9K other subscribers

Stories & Reflections


Paulo Coelho Foundation

Gifts, keepsakes and other souvenirs