Saturday, July 14, 2007

Death and the Dervish | tale from a Bosnian Sufi

I call to witness the ink,
the quill, and the script,
which flows from the quill
I call to witness the faltering shadows of the sinking evening,
the night and all she enlivens;
I call to witness the moon when she waxes, and the sunrise
when it dawns
I call to witness the Resurrection day and the soul
that accuses itself;
I call to witness time, the beginning and end
of all things - to witness that every man always suffers loss.

I BEGIN MY STORY FOR NOTHING, WITHOUT BENEFIT FOR myself or anyone else, from a need stronger than benefit or reason. I must leave a record of myself, the chronicled anguish of my inner conversations, in the vague hope that a solution will be found when all accounts have been settled (if they may ever be), when I have left my trail of ink on this paper, which lies in front of me like a challenge. I do not yet know what will be written here. But in the strokes of these letters at least some of what was in me will remain, no longer to perish in eddies of mist as if it had never been, or as if I had never happened. In this way I will come to see how I became what I am – this self that is a mystery even to me. And yet it is a mystery to me that I have not always been what I am now. I know these lines are muddled; my hand trembles at the task of disentanglement that I face, at the trial I now commence.

Here I am everything: judge, witness, and accused. I will be as honest as anyone ever could be, for I have begun to doubt the sincerity and honesty are one and the same. Sincerity is the certitude that we speak the truth (and who can be certain of that?), but there are many kinds of honesty, and they do not always agree with one another.

My name is Ahmed Nuruddin. It was given to me and I took what was offered with pride. But now, after a great many years, which have grown on me like skin, I think about it with wonder and sometimes with a sneer, since calling oneself “Light of Faith” (nuruddin in arabic means that) evinces an arrogance that I have never felt and of which I am now somewhat ashamed.

How I am a light? And how have I been enlightened? By knowledge? By higher teachings? By a pure heart? By the true path? By the freedom from doubt?

Everything has been cast into doubt, and now I am nothing but Ahmed, neither sheikh nor Nuruddin. Everything has fallen from me, like a robe or a suit of armour, and all that remains is what was at the beginning, naked skin and a naked man.

- quoted from “Death and the Dervish” by Mesa Selimovic.

About the Book | Death and the Dervish is a masterpiece, a compelling psychological study and a spell-binding novel which approaches poetry in the intensity of its language. Death and the Dervish is a first-person narrative told from the point of view of Sheikh Nuruddin, a dervish at a Sarajevo, Bosnian monastery in the eighteenth century during the Turkish occupation.

The Book was a bestseller when published in Yugoslavia in 1966. This masterpiece by this great writer is a story how the Dervish starts his quest for the Self after being awakened from a long dogmatic existence by the brutal murder of his own brother. Selimovic once commented that the main idea of his book is to show how people often seek refuge in dogmatic systems, but life itself often forces them to seek their own path in life. (credit )

Ahmed, the dervish of the title, has lived in religious seclusion for most of his life; his searching, self-centered and at times deranged internal dialogue constitutes most of this lengthy narrative. Mesa Selimovic is one of the greatest writers to come out of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Death and The Dervish is the most famous of his books.

/ Book review by Danny Yee
/ @ complete review

"A famous novel...that generates enormous power..." -Kirkus

"Selimovic refined the technique of the internal monologue, crafting a limpid discourse that makes his Dervish an exquisite poem in prose, if not a literal representation of the higher means of expression to which the Sufis aspire. (...) His work is obviously the best available for foreign comprehension of Bosnian Muslim identity, in the past and present, as well as in the future." -Stephen Schwartz, The New Criterion

. related post : Sufis of Kosovo and greater Balkan Europe
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