Rumi, the Sufi Saint in Konya

Fig 1: The Konya Culture Centre contained exhibits of Rumi and all related events during his lifetime of Sufi work.

 

Fig 2: This particular exhibit showed Rumi discussing with his spiritual instructor, Shams of Tabriz, who changed his life forever & his manner of thinking.

Among the Middle Eastern countries, Turkey is second only to Israel in terms of having the most number of biblical sites.  According to Temizel & Attar “Faith Tourism Potential of Konya in Terms of Christian Sacred Sites” (European Scientific Journal, July 2015), Konya has biblical significance for the Christian world.  It was mentioned in the New Testament that Konya was one of the cities visited by Apostle Paul.

 

Today, however, Konya is famous for something else.  It is famous for its mosques, its theological schools and its connection with the great Sufi saint Jalaleddin Rumi (better known as Mevlana), the founder of Mehlevi order of whirling dervishes.  Rumi was a 13th century Sunni Muslim poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, Sufi mystic.  Rumi’s influence transcends national borders and ethnic divisions: Iranian, Tajiks, Turks, Greeks, Pashtuns and other Muslims.  Today three countries claim Rumi as their poet: Iran, Afghanistan and Turkey.

 

Konya is about 225 km from Goreme by road.  It used to be a one-street town in 1972.  After 45 years, it transformed into a big bustling city, modern and vibrant.  We took a bus to Konya for one reason only…….to visit Mevlana Museum.  Unfortunately, the culture centre was closed by the time we got there.  A notice at the reception hall announced that a sema was supposed to be held on 17th December, the anniversary of Rumi’s birthday.

 

A sema (according to https://turkeytravelplanner.com) is a mystic religious rite.  It is an elaboration of the whirling Rumi did while lost in ecstasy on the streets of Konya in the 13th century.  A sema ceremony has seven parts symbolizing the dervishes love for God, humankind and all creation. The seven parts are: 1) praise for God, Muhammad and all prophets before him; 2) beating of kettle drum symbolizing God’s command “Be”; 3) Soulful music of the Ney symbolizing breathing of life into all creatures; 4) greeting symbol of the soul being greeted as the secret soul; 5) whirling and dropping of their black cloaks to reveal white costumes, symbolizing the casting off falsehood and  the revelation of  truth, with each dervish placing their arms on the chest to symbolize belief in  Oneness of God “the One”; 6) Prayer involving recitations from the Quran and 7) Recitation of the Al-Fatiha, first surah of the Quran.  Often Non-Muslims mistake Sufism as a sect of Islam.  Sufism is not a sect of Islam.  Sufism is more accurately described as an aspect or a dimension of Islam.  Sufi orders or Tariqas can be found in Sunni, Shia etc groups.

 

Fortunately for us on that day, the young caretaker, Ibraheem, who saw us fiddling with door knobs trying to get the doors to open, was kind enough to open the exhibit hall just so we could have a quick visit, since we came from very far.  We went down the staircase into a hall of the Konya Culture Centre with a number of interesting exhibits on display (Fig 1).

 

It seemed Rumi used to be a religious teacher until he met Shams of Tabriz.  Shams of Tabriz completely transformed Rumi from a learned religious teacher into the world’s greatest poet of mystical love (Fig 2).  Shams once told Rumi:

Your preoccupation should be to know ‘Who am I, what is my essence? And to what end have I come here and where am I headed and what are my roots and what am I doing this very hour and what is my focus?

(From Shems Friedlander of “Forgotten Messages”).

Its only knowing where we come from, can we appreciate where we are going. Life is not something that just happens. We are created for a reason.  According to Ata’Illah

The purpose of the rain cloud is not to give rain; its purpose is only to bring forth fruit”.

The Sanctuary

Fig 1: The fishermen’s boat getting a push out to sea to the waiting fishing vessels
Fig 2: If you’re an avid rider, Telaga Papan will give you hours of riding pleasure

I was suddenly awakened by the cold breeze sweeping through the tent.  The  morning was so still  I could  hear the thud of a tiny casuarina seed on the roof of the tent.  The entire stretch of the beach suddenly came alive with squid rigging.  A local boy strutted past happily with his meagre catch of four squids. As I turned to take a peep at the sea, I was greeted by a delightful shimmering  carpet of calm sea in the first blush of the sun.

 

The azan rang clear, breaking the silence.  The birds were chirping excitedly, exchanging calls while perched at the top of the casuarina trees. A shoal of tiny fishes jump in and out of the water in chorus, fleeing the relentless pursuit of predator fishes.  A small boat was chugging by, with the fisherman standing  stoic on the bow, a posture reminiscent of a warrior in anticipation.  It was the break of dawn.  The sun was bursting through the myriad of pink and orange clouds, like cotton candies suspended in the horizon.  It was truly a sight to behold.  Telaga Papan was the perfect setting for one seeking spiritual inspiration and closeness to god through endless hours of zikir, dua and night prayer.  But for me, I was just grateful to be a temporary guest of utopia (Fig 1&2).

 

Telaga Papan is no longer the exclusive enclave it once was planned to be.  It was targeted to be a high-end development project of a serene, quiet beach resort for the rich by the Terengganu state.  The estate development was designed to be large, wooden resort-like beach houses.  Unfortunately many were built too far out to sea.  The sea had been fiercely eroding the beach-front, uprooting the casuarinas, washing away the sand and depositing it elsewhere.  A few of the resort houses were laid to waste by the relentless sea and the state development project was duly abandoned.

 

Telaga Papan is now a hive of activity, although of a different kind. The fishermen have invaded the exclusive beach.  They found the beach rather convenient, bringing in their fishing boats (Fig 3) and selling off their catch of the day on-site.  It has lately become a routine for the village people, coming to Telaga Papan on their motorcycles or lorries, armed with baskets, waiting for the fishing boats to come ashore with their catch. But of late the fishes have gotten smaller. The bigger ones have been netted off by the big fishing trawlers belonging to Thai nationals.

 

The monsoons will be coming again this year.  For four months a year, from end of October till February of the following year, there will be a lot of rain and little sunshine.  But the other eight months more than make up for it, promising beautiful dawns, exceptional sunsets, clear skies and memorable riding experiences on the beach of Telaga Papan. Then there is the fresh fish……bakar tawar, where little spice is used.  Its delightful flavor is derived entirely from the freshness of the fish  and the hot black chilli dip.