Dervish Who?

Other Eyes and Ears - Vol.1

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Upon hearing the word “darubisshu”, most Japanese would say “Ah, you mean the baseball player?”. As in the much talked-about pitcher Yu Darvish, who transferred from the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters to the Texas Rangers, a U.S. Major League Baseball team.

However, if then asked who the “Darvishes” are, and where the name comes from, very few Japanese would be able to answer straight away. On the other hand, most Americans would immediately think of the “Whirling Dervishes” (Darvish and Dervish being pronounced the same in Japanese).

The term Dervish (sometimes Darvish or Darvesh) refers to adherents of Sufism, a Shia Muslim sect. The Mevlevilik Dervishes of Konya, a province in the central southern region of Turkey, are known for their dances of prayer, in which they wear fezzes and whirl round and round in billowing skirts.

Asserting that “All men are equal under Allah”, they make simplicity their guiding principle, rejecting materialism and distancing themselves from worldly things, surviving by begging for alms. In some quarters the term Dervish is seen as equivalent to “pauper”, but a more appropriate interpretation would be “ascetic”.

Shia Islam, one of the two main branches of Islam, venerates the Prophet Muhammad’s disciple and son-in-law Ali as an Imam. The pitcher Darvish’s first name, Yu, is written using the character 有, which can also be read as Ari or Ali.

Darvish’s father apparently came from Iran and was likely thinking of the Shiite prophet when he named his son. Incidentally, Darvish’s full name is Sefat Farid Yu Darvish.

The United States is home to a diverse mix of every race, creed and color imaginable, and this state of affairs is taken entirely for granted. Thus the name Darvish fits in neatly with that diversity and is seen as a perfectly ordinary name. So when Americans are told that the pitcher Darvish currently playing in their country is actually Japanese, they are surprised, highlighting an intriguing cultural gap. Another “Dervish” can be found in the mid-Manhattan business district around 47th St and 7th Ave. in the form of a Turkish eatery, with a sign proclaiming it to be a “Mediterranean Restaurant”.

Sure enough, inside one can see pictures of those whirling Dervishes.

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