Polyphony of a World Religion

Iranian Dervish Robe

Like any living religion, Islam is not a one-dimensional, unified belief system. There is no such thing as one Islam; Islam comprises a variety of religious movements and manifestations which emphasize different aspects of faith – such as a turn to spirituality, which in Islam culminates in mysticism or Sufism. The term was probably derived from the Arabic word for wool, suf. The early mystics and ascetics as well as the prophet Mohammed are said to have worn a patchwork robe made of coarse woollen cloth.

A robe, a hat, a bowl …
In the “Aspects of Islam” gallery, the modern-looking patchwork robe of an Iranian beggar dervish catches the eye in the entrance area. The robe hangs spread out in a display case and was sewn from hundreds of differently sized, coloured scraps of cotton, felt, and fur. A coarsely knitted woollen hat, a blowing horn, and a beggar’s bowl complete the religious ensemble. Dervishes belong to Islamic Sufi communities committed to living for God and in voluntary poverty. Tears in the clothes were mended with patches. The robes of the masters were often cut into small pieces after their death, and the students then sewed the scraps of material into their own patchwork robes. The subject can be explored more in depth at a media station focusing on Sufi practices throughout the world. The exact circumstances under which the dervish robe displayed here was acquired in 1857 in the Iranian province of Yazd by Julius Heinrich Petermann, Professor of Oriental Philology at the University of Berlin, are not known. In the arrangement of their two display cases, the members of the Sufi Centre Rabbaniyya in Berlin draw a line to contemporary Sufi orders, in which only few still follow a strict ideal of poverty; they stress the importance of traditional dress, the remembrance of God, and the emphasis on the love of peace often characteristic of present-day Sufis.

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Room 308 – Family Space Faith