The Guests was the nicest song that ever happened to me. The music I’d had for a long time, unusually, but I didn’t know what it was for. And then there was this girl who went to Persia to study with the Sufi order of the Whirling Dervishes. She became entitled to teach the dance and went back to America and began to teach. To be entitled to teach the dance, you must not only have mastered it, you must have mastered its implications. So, I’d written my song, and this girl had begun to form Sufi groups and, when she was in the Middle East, she’d formed an association with a Sheikh who was interested in her personally. After she’d been teaching for a couple of years, this man came to America to review the progress of the various Sufi groups and he told her his own were dancing to a song written by a Westerner. And she asked what song. And he said, The Guests—it has the spirit of Rumi in it. Rumi, who lived in the 13th century, was the founder of the Dervishes. He was probably the greatest ascetic religious poet—in the same league as King David.
My Long-Overdue Love Letter to Leonard Cohen by Elizabeth Boleman-Herring (Huffington Post: July 2, 2012). The quotation is from a June 18, 1988 interview.