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”.