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This Sufi man is dancing in Cappadocia, Turkey, 2008.

Photo of a "whirling dervish," member of the Sufi sect of Islam.

myhsu on Flickr.com

Sufi: A member of the mystical, ascetic branch of Islam. Sufism emphasizes personal experience with the divine rather than focusing on the teachings of human religious scholars. Sufis may also be members of either the Sunni or Shi'a division of Islam.

Many of the great poets, singers and dancers of the Islamic world have been Sufis. Practices such as chanting and spinning help Sufi practitioners achieve a natural trance state in order to experience God (hence the English phrase "whirling dervish.") As with other religions such as Buddhism, the ultimate goal of Sufism is to extinguish the self.

The word "sufi" likely comes from the Arabic suf meaning wool, in reference to the traditional rough woolen cloaks that ascetic Sufis wore.

Pronunciation: "SOO-fee"
Also Known As: dervish, tasawwuf
"Sufi mystics have been highly influential in the histories of the Ottoman Empire, India and Pakistan, Morocco, and other parts of the Islamic world."
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