Jewish dervishes Agha-Jaan Darvish and his brother, patriarchs of the Darvish family. Tehran, Iran, c.1922.
“Because of its specific association with Sufism and its ensuing identification with Islam, dervishhood is an order comprised almost exclusively of Muslim practicioners. The two Jewish dervishes pictured here in this rare photograph are among the very few who had successfully been integrated into the order without converting to Islam. Like the Jewish practitioners of a traditional Iranian sport in the houses of strength (zurkhaneh) — a sport that is profoundly intertwined with Islamic ritual — these dervishes represent a uniquely Iranian hybrid of Judaism and Islam.
Each of the Jewish dervishes seen here is displaying emblematic accoutrements of dervishhood: 1) The cloak, an outward sign of his state. 2) A kashkul (begging bowl) often made of such materials as mother-of-pearl. 3) A gourd, a coconut shell, or carved wood suspended from the wrist by a chain. 4) A tabarzin (short axe or hatchet) carried in the right hand and intended to fend off wild animals or highway robbers. 5) A chanta (patched bag) slung over the shoulder to carry essential items. 6) Takht-e pust (skin bed), a small mat made of animal skin that served as his bed while traveling. 7) A long rosary.”
Photograph and caption from Esther’s Children: A Portrait of Iranian Jews, edited by Houman Sarshar.