The word “sema” means “the sky”; it also has meanings like “hearing” and listening”. As a term it means whirling around one’s self and making movements in extacy under the influence of beautiful tunes.
Sema is a form of worship, a method of praying. It is a means of acquiring closeness to Allah, expressed in movement.
Sema was performed in ancient shamanistic times also. There is serious information that whirling stimulates, accelerates and deepens trance.
Sema which developed in Islamic Sufism has a philosophical depth and an explanation within this path. This is not just whirling; it is an inclination towards the heart. As we all know the Transcendent Excellence of Allah has proclaimed that “ The universes cannot contain my greatness but I can reside in the heart of a believer.”
Because that heart can act as a mirror reflecting the emanation of Allah; the whirling in turn is towards the heart. His Holiness Mevlânâ says that the sema finds a way beyond the six paths. In the Holy Qoran in the Surah of Bakara there is the verse which says “Wherever you turn; there you will find the face of Allah”. Drawing from this point of view we can say that the external directions unite into one direction and unify with the internal essence.
Sema appears as a very ancient and a deeply rooted concept in Islamic culture. The narratives (hadith) about the sema begin as far back as the time of the Prophet (mPbuH). A poet called Lebid recites a poem and His Holiness the Prophet (mPbuH) is deeply affected and reaches extacy and makes some movements. There is a narrative (hadith) that says that while whirling at that moment his cardigan fell to the floor and was divided into pieces and distributed among ‘Companions’ (Ashab) that were present.
There are reports that His Holiness Ebû Bekir, His Holiness Ali, His Holiness Cafer and His Holiness Zeyd also performed the sema.. According to the sources sema is also present in Heaven  and that Hızır (PbuH) – The Green Prophet also performed the sema.
Sema became a very common ritual among the Sufis of the subsequent eras. Many Mystics performed the sema and sema was tolerated and adopted by many orders.
Sema reached a very coveted status after His Holiness Mevlânâ. Such that, although many Mystics performed the sema, when sema was mentioned His Holiness Mevlânâ came to the mind. Virtually sema was identified with His Holiness Mevlânâ. Sema wasn’t the only concept identified with Mevlânâ. The Masnavi is also identified with His Holiness Mevlânâ. When someone mentiones the masnavi immediately the Masnavi-i Sharif of His Holiness Mevlânâ comes to the mind. In fact “masnavi” is literary genre and in Turkish tradition there are thousands of different masnavis. Throughout history the term “mevlana” was a title given to scholars and its meaning was something like ‘Sire’ or ‘Master’. In Turkish history there are many great personalities called “Mevlana”. But, this title after it was used for His Holiness Mevlânâ solely expressed him thereafter.
The sema performed nowadays is inspired by the ‘sema mukabele’ of Pir Adil Celebi as a result of his spiritual visualization. This is a sema ritual that lasts for 40-45 minutes and is made up of orderly repeated movements.
1. Şeyh Rüsûhüddin İsmail Bin Ahmed El-Ankaravî, Mevleviler Yolu. p. 383. Abbreviated and prepared by: Mehmet Kanar. Şûle Pub., İstanbul, January 2012.
2. ibid p. 386-387.
3. İhyayı Ulumuddin v. 2 p. 748
4. Bayram Akdoğan, İsmail Ankaravi’nin Hüccetüs Sema Adlı Eserine Göre Musiki Anlayışı, Ankara 1991, p.89
5. Molla Cami, Nefahat’ül Üns, çev. Abdulkladir Akçiçek, Huzur Publishing, Istanbul 2014, p. 57.
6. Abdulbaki Gölpınarlı, Mevlevi Adap ve Erkanı, İnkılap Publishing, p.89