During the summer of 1998 I participated in a Muslim training program in the North Jersey area. The program was run by veteran missionaries who had spent years and years in Muslim ministry in such countries as Pakistan, Turkey, and Iran. As a part of the training we would go door to door witnessing to the heavily Muslim population.

On two occasions we visited Mosques where we observed the worship and prayers of Muslims. One particular night remains crystal clear in my memory. One Friday evening we drove to a suburban area of New York, to visit a Sufi mosque. As with most every Muslim I’ve ever encountered, they were very hospitable and friendly. They served us a wonderful dinner; and to our surprise it was the men who served us! This was startling, as in most Muslim cultures, the men usually don’t wait on anyone! After a delightful meal, we moved into the large prayer room of the mosque. We sat on the outskirts of the prayer room while the men of the Mosque began a very interesting “worship service”, if you will.

The men formed a circle in the middle of the floor and few of them began playing musical instruments in a rhythmical beat. Then, they sang and recited prayers. Their prayers were different from the traditional Sunni prayers. But of course women were excluded from the prayers, as it is with Sunni Muslims as well. The singing and music went on for about an hour when finally the men began to spin around the room. If you’ve ever seen pictures of “whirling dervishes”, this is exactly what they were doing. As a part of their worship, they whirl around, arms outstretched until they reach a trance like state. In this state, they can twirl for hours on end. And this is exactly what they did! By the end of the service, I had a pounding headache. And I couldn’t wait to get out of there! The feeling of oppression was thick in the air and all of us in the group knew that these poor men were under the control of Satan. Our hearts broke for those men.

Sufi Muslims are to Sunni Islam as Mormonism is to Protestant Christianity. Sunni Muslims consider Sufis to be heretics, and shun them from traditional Islam. Sufi Islam is much more mystical and emphasizes a more personal experience with Alla. Here is how Wikipedia defines the whirling of the Sufis:

In the symbolism of the Sema ritual(whirling), the semazen’s(whirling dervish) camel’s hair hat (sikke) represents the tombstone of the ego; his wide, white skirt represents the ego’s shroud. By removing his black cloak, he is spiritually reborn to the truth. At the beginning of the Sema, by holding his arms crosswise, the semazen appears to represent the number one, thus testifying to God’s unity. While whirling, his arms are open: his right arm is directed to the sky, ready to receive God’s beneficence; his left hand, upon which his eyes are fastened, is turned toward the earth. The semazen conveys God’s spiritual gift to those who are witnessing the Sema. Revolving from right to left around the heart, the semazen embraces all humanity with love. The human being has been created with love in order to love. Mevlâna Jalâluddîn Rumi says, “All loves are a bridge to Divine love. Yet, those who have not had a taste of it do not know!”

What futility! One thing is clear concerning the Sufi movement, they are lost and need the Lord! That night I entered that mosque knowing (in my mind) that those men and women were lost, but when I left I knew in my heart that they were lost and they needed us to tell them about a man who died for them who could satisfy their every spiritual craving and deepest need! Let us not forget that Muslims everywhere need God! Thanks for reading!

*A side thought-Do you think you need to go to a far off middle east country to reach Muslims for Christ? Well, guess what, you DON’T! Islam is the fastest growing religion in the United States! Click here to read about this interesting fact!