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Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine

By Rabbi Joseph Schwarz, 1850

The Dervishes, Saints, Sheichs.

I will now give a brief description of this singular class of men. The proper meaning of the word Dervish is an innocent, who, so to say, knows nothing which has the least traces of wrong and injustice, and is therefore quite childlike. The main business of the Dervishes is praying and preaching; and thus you will frequently see and hear them in public places and the open streets, teaching the people morals with a loud voice. Their exterior is by no means inviting, their whole dress consisting of a long and loose shirt, which is very dirty, not having been washed perhaps for a year, over which they have a broad leathern girdle or rope; and add to this a cudgel in their hand, and you have the attire of this class. Their feet are bare, their head is uncovered, and many have their hair hanging down in a disordered, wild state on their back, and a long beard; and they thus present more the aspect of terror than sanctity. Their second business is begging; and many gather for themselves, under holy pretences, a considerable quantity of money. They are regarded by the faithful as though they possessed a superior power, and knew future events. Some few holy (i. e. unintelligible) words written by them on a bit of paper are said to guard the possessor against all things, though surely not against superstition and stupidity. The manner of their devotion is very curious, and has much in common with the ancient followers of Baal, as stated in 1 Kings 18:28. They utter fearful sounds by producing a rattling noise with throat and breast, so that often the blood runs out of their mouth; besides, they keep up an uninterrupted moving backward and forward, till at length they fall down on the ground quite exhausted, in entire unconsciousness. Near my dwelling lives such a dirty, miserable saint, and I am often disturbed half the night through by his edifying devotion; but he has in addition a sort of tambourine, which he strikes, and this pleasant music forms a glorious harmony with his frightful rattling and guttural noise.

Their food is said to be most miserably limited, if a person might depend on their own assertion; but their looks by no means confirm this; and let no one therefore believe that their abstemiousness is real; the whole is mere deception and mere outward appearance, assumed to obtain thereby the means of support. But little confidence can be reposed in them. Many of them are nothing else than hypocrites, deceivers, and rogues; and you meet among them real wits, who, when they find a person who understands them, say distinctly that, as they have no occupation, they make it their business to point out to the world the way to heaven. One came to my door to beg, with snow-white beard and hair, and actually represented an old man; but I soon discovered that it was a deception, and that the hair was only dyed, he being a young and active fellow.

It is now some years since a respectable Mahomedan died at Damascus; he had a large funeral procession, which was preceded by two Sheichs, quite naked, without any covering whatever. These were to represent the image of innocence, and therefore were to appear thus as the first pair in Paradise, without shame. What a religious sentiment!

They are also wonderful physicians. I saw once in the public street a sick woman whom a holy Sheich endeavoured to cure by wonder-working prayers and conjurations, whilst he made a terrible smoke with a panful of coals, on which he sprinkled some spices.

Stupid and simple as this class of men appear to be, they still are not rarely enabled to deceive the worshipful Pachas and other state officers. It is now some years past when a very holy Dervish revealed to the Pacha of Jerusalem, having had a prophetic vision, that a great treasure was buried near the pool of Burak. The Pacha immediately sent thither some troops, and they dug deep with might and main to discover the hidden treasure; but the prophet had in the mean time escaped, and like that for which they dug, remained invisible thereafter.

In the same manner they dug, several years back, by order of the Pacha, near the hot spring of Tiberias, upon the assertion of a holy Sheich, to find there a lump of gold. But there seems to have been an error in the prophetic knowledge of this saint, since instead of the gold they only found a large stone.

Jews and Muslims in Palestine