BY AMIR SULAIMAN
Over the next 10 days, thousands of visitors will walk past the sarcophagus of the 13th-century Sufi saint and philosopher Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi at the Mevlana Museum in Konya, bowing their heads in reverence to the man whose preachings and verses are now part of global popular culture, inspiring millions of people across nations.
This December marks the 748th death anniversary of Rumi, who was born in 1207 in Balch in present-day northern Afghanistan. Shortly before the Mongol invasion in 1220, Rumi’s family fled, first to Damascus, where Rumi studied theology, and later to Central Anatolia, near Konya, the then capital of the Seljuk Empire.
For over 80 years, the night of Rumi’s death has been specially commemorated in Konya from December 7 to 17. There are varied programmes consisting of lectures, conferences, art exhibitions, Masnavi readings and, of course, performances of the Mevlevi ceremony. Thousands of participants and viewers from home and abroad take part every year. This year the motto of the program is ‘Irfan Vakti’—Time of Spiritual Knowledge.
The ten-day commemoration is called Shab-e-Urs, meaning the “wedding night”. Rumi counted the day of his death as a “reunion with the Creator”. A Koranic verse recited by Muslims upon hearing the news of death, says: “From God we come and to Him we return.”
A master of mysticism
Rumi received his first instruction on Islamic mysticism from Burhaneddin Muhaqqiq from Tirmidh, who like many others came to Konya fleeing from Mongols. His great spiritual master, however, became Shamseddin from Tabriz a few years later. He neglected his learning activities at the madrasa and devoted himself to the spiritual teachings of Shamseddin for a few years until he left Konya again. After a second reunion, Shamseddin disappeared completely and Rumi was never to see him again. There are different opinions in historical sources about the disappearance of Shamseddin. Due to the close spiritual bond with Shamseddin, he took the name of Rumi, which he mentioned at the end of his poems instead of his own name.
After Shamseddin, another important person came into Rumi’s life, but he had been familiar with him for a long time. The goldsmith Salaheddin Zarkub in Konya had often attended Rumi’s meetings with Shamseddin. There was an intense spiritual exchange between the two. Mevlana married his son Sultan Walad to the daughter of Salaheddin, and thus the bond of friendship between the two mystics became even stronger. But Salaheddin died after a bout of illness. The last great and important person in Rumi’s life was his friend and loyal student Celebi Husameddin. He had also known this Konyaer for a long time, and also from his time with Shamseddin, who always praised him as a hardworking and ascetic student.
The Masnavi – a Persian lesson
The Masnavi-ye-Ma’nav, “spiritual double verse”, is probably one of the best-known didactic poems of Islamic mysticism. It is written in a simple eleven-syllable meter. Deep mystical wisdom is hidden in every single verse. Rumi repeatedly alludes to the Koran, adopts many prophetic traditions, but also uses saints, legends and Turkish, Persian, and Indian folk tales. The work is not structured systematically but seems to jump from topic to topic, from emotion to emotion. Social, ethical, philosophical and religious topics are taken up and worked on in beautiful parables.
The Persian work consists of 6 volumes and almost 26,000 verses. It has been translated into many languages and many explanatory works (Şerh) have been written on it. This also includes translations into German and English.
In addition to this gigantic work, Mawlana wrote a collection of prose writings (fihi ma fihi), Arabic sermons and some treatises.
The MAULVI order
The Rumi-inspired Mevlevi Order was not established until after his death, mainly by his son Sultan Weled and Celebi Husameddin. The first sheikh of the order was Celebi Husameddin. During this time, the green dome, which has been preserved to this day, was erected over the grave of Rumi, and the mausoleum became a pilgrimage not only for Mevlevi followers but all of Rumi’s admirers. After the death of Celebi Husameddin, the office of spiritual leader was transferred to the son Sultan Weled. The Mevlevi strengthened their relationship with the Seljuks and spread more and more rapidly. At the time of the Ottomans, the order received strong financial support,
The Sama (vortex dance) is an integral part of the Mevlevis. The Mevlevi ceremony (called Sama for short), which consists of four main parts (Selam), is always introduced with a poem of praise (naat) to the Prophet. Every single element of the ceremony has an important meaning and represents the various stages on the way to God. With the removal of the dark cloak, the dervishes leave everything worldly behind and begin to turn to God in deep immersion.
Nowadays, the sama is also often used for touristic purposes, although the other components (besides the vortex dance) are not taken into account, and thereby often lose its originally spiritual character.