The Mevlevi Order in a European Context (May 2007)

Peter Hüseyin Cunz

UNESCO-Conference in Istanbul, 9th May 2007

 

 

I’d like to start by affirming the existence of the authentic Mevlevi Order (or Tariqah) with worldwide activities, and I’d like to render some thoughts based on my personal experience as one of the appointed teachers (Shaykh) within the Mevlevi Order.

 

Known as a powerful and much respected organisation during the Ottoman Empire, the Mevlevi Tariqah’s profile changed with the confinement of all Tekkes and Zawiyahs by law in 1925 during the construction of modern Turkey and the loss of all assets as a consequence. Today the true kernel of the Mevlevi Tariqah as a religious path is relatively small and spread all over the world. In Turkey its expression is mainly seen in well-esteemed cultural activities such as classical music, Sema, fine arts and philosophical circles, whereas in Europe and North America it serves directly and openly a religious or spiritual purpose. In my speech I’d like to concentrate on the religious value of Hz. Mevlana’s works and messages, as seen from a European point of view and in a European context.

 

When analyzing the spiritual needs and yearning of people we are immediately confronted with cultural and social questions, for it is the cultural and social environment that mostly influences the psychological patterns of an individual. Culturally and socially there are remarkable differences between Orient and Occident, and these differences reflect on the way we react to and reflect on religious messages. Whereas a lot of oriental people have an understanding of the western way of thinking and feeling, the opposite is less obvious: there are very few Westerners who really understand the oriental way of reflection and feeling. I find it much easier to discuss with oriental people about western values than to discuss with Westerners about oriental values, and I feel a lot of esteem for those few who see clearly in both worlds such as the great philosopher Mohammad Iqbal.

 

We all know and hopefully agree that Hz. Mevlana’s message is not only compatible with Islam but is in fact a direct teaching of Islam. Now, how come then that people in Europe find strong inner resonance when reading works of Hz. Mevlana but decline or have at least difficulties with traditional Islamic values? One of the answers to this is the widely spread rejection of any religious dogma. In Europe the Christian church with its dogmatic approach has lost a lot of its power and given space to the values that were born in the Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th century. They include the notion of citizen, the vision of democracy, the idea of secularization and the acceptance of reason being the only and last authority for the determination of methods, truth and errors. Europeans today face much difficulty in seeing the beauty of Islam when it appears in its traditional dogmatic way. In contrast to this the poetic approach of Hz. Mevlana offers more freedom to the individual in his or her interpretation and assimilation of the religious content.

 

Be it in the Orient, be it in the West, every human being carries a treasure in the heart: it is the yearning for the first and last origin of being, the paradise with nearness to God. Those who have understood that the real paradise is not linked to richness, power and fame, will search for happiness through philosophy, esoteric values or religion. While most oriental people find it obvious that Islam offers the way to God, Europeans tend to seek for new approaches. They are receptive for various philosophies originating from Far Eastern and Oriental religions, among them Sufism. They search for an alternative to the ways offered by Christian institutions.

 

But we Europeans have a problem: in trying to find our way to God we use our reasoning and feeling as final authority for a judgement. This may be good for a start in order to prevent the falling into the hands of unfavourable sects, but does not work anymore when progressing on a religious path. We cannot comprehend God – this is impossible, by definition! The place of nearness to God is far beyond the limits of reasoning and understanding. Faith is needed to progress beyond ourselves, but faith cannot be constructed – it builds up through our experiences in life. God gave us yearning and destiny; both together may lead us to faith. In the prayers and Dhikrs of our Mevlevi spiritual tradition we daily ask and beg for the increase of our own yearning.

 

How do we European rationalists, intellectuals, disillusioned Christians, atheists – you name it – find a new door to spirituality if not by being touched in our deepest being? It is not the dogmatic speech of a priest or imam who would enflame our yearning. It needs the combination of Haqq (truth) with beauty. Hz. Mevlana offers this rare combination. It is this expression of essence that touches so many hearts in our European countries and helps us to see – at least for a moment in our life – a spark of God’s Light.

 

There are many publications of different nature using Hz. Mevlana’s verses in a simplified or distorted translation and interpretation. As an intellectual with a rather scientific mind I don’t feel attracted by such publications, but I have to admit that they do a lot of good in this world. The message of Hz. Mevlana is so powerful that it bursts even through romantic decorations and/or misinterpretations. Millions of hearts have been nourished by such publications! Of course a person already on a mystical path will most likely tend to wish for correct and professional translations.

 

To advance on a Sufi path it is of course not enough to be touched. We have to mobilize energies to create the necessary will for doing an effort and we have to use our intellectual capacity and our body to overcome psychological barriers. Many seekers remain stuck in the consuming of fascinating and emotional impulses, and the actual esoteric market is actively promoting this. Sufism fascinates many of us Europeans, but when it comes to actually walk on such a path we fear the barriers that we encounter, of which the two biggest are (1) the need for regular effort and (2) the accepting Islam. While the first barrier is common in the entire world, the second is a typical western problem.

 

Islam as it appears in the European public and media is threatening. The social separation of men and women with the restrictions for women in their public appearance – be in dressing regulations, in mosques, or in public Sema – is certainly the first stumbling-block in the endeavour to open up for an Islamic spirituality. But also those Europeans, who overcome this, will encounter more disturbing facts such as the incompatibility of the Khalifah and Shariah with democracy. Today’s Turkey is a living example of the difficulty in bringing the traditional Islam and democratic principles to a common denominator. I’m convinced that reforms in Islamic thinking are indispensable.

 

In the Ottoman Empire and before it was normal that an aspirant for membership in the Mevlevi Order was a Muslim. Common Islamic rules were not a subject to be discussed, and all tests concentrated on psychological and behavioural matters. Also the absolute submission to the Shaykh was no subject of discussion. In today’s Europe we are in an entirely different situation. Hence, as one of the appointed and responsible Shaykhs facing the wind of reality, I don’t require from an aspirant to be a pious Muslim and to accept immediately my absolute authority. If I would do so I could mainly attract people of eccentric character from fringe groups who are reacting to social frustrations and injuries. I rather welcome any seeker with an acceptable behaviour and respect and with open mind for our way.

 

Let me give you some insight on how the Mevlevi Order is functioning in Switzerland, a small country in the heart of Europe:

We meet every Thursday evening in a suitable meeting-place with wooden floor. From 19.00 to 20.00 it is reserved for a inner circle, and we do the formal prayer followed alternatively by Sohbet (teaching by the Shaykh) or the training of the Mevlevi whirling. From 20.00 to 21.30 the meeting is opened to a wider public with Dhikr (invocation of His Names) and the studying of the Mesnevi. In addition to the weekly meetings we celebrate four times per year a full Sema, gather once per year for three days in the mountains and organize once per year a trip to Turkey. There is no fixed fee to be paid, but we ask to help sharing the direct costs.

 

Regarding the observation of traditional Islamic formalities we believe that there should not be any compulsion. A peaceful heart is more worth than the exact keeping of formalities. As responsible for the Swiss Tekke I seek for the individual psychological wellbeing of the members to enable them to see, experience and live the beauty and universality of Islam. During the formal prayers women stand in the same lines as men, with a small separation between them. Those who are not yet prepared to join this Islamic ritual are sitting behind in a meditative posture. The covering of the head is a free choice, also for women. We don’t do public Sema as Turkish groups do it; we celebrate it in a private atmosphere. Sema for us is a form of prayer with no relevance for our culture. In our Sema men and women turn together.

 

Please allow me to conclude – in other words – with the following statements:

The purpose of the Mevlevi Order has always been to offer a service and a support to those who seek nearness to God. In the past this happened in monasteries offering refuge to those wishing to go beyond the accepted standard way of Islamic belief. Today we live in a globalized world with an undefined chaos of religious opinions, mainly in the economically dominating countries; and in this world the Mevlevi Order may offer a way to clarity and spiritual fulfilment. Hz. Mevlana’s message can be a door for Europeans to comprehend Islam and absorb its message for the shaping of one’s own being.

However, the basic cultural differences between Orient and Occident are to be considered. Traditional Muslims tend to believe that the observation of the traditional Shariah is an indispensable first act to reach Tawhid (unity in God), whereas Europeans widely disbelieve this, seeing the Shariah as a secondary matter developed by human reasoning during the Islamic history. This difference in view exists – also within the Mevlevi Order. This is a challenge to overcome, and I pray that it will be solved in the spirit of our Pir Hz.Mevlana. 

 

 

 

 

The Mevlevi Order

About the Mevlevi Order

(Taken from the sister-website Dar al Masnavi, and partly simplified for easy reading.)

 

The Mevlevi Order is a traditional Islamic Sufi Way (Tariqat) that has preserved the spiritual teachings of Mevlana Celaluddin Rumi, his descendants, successors, and followers for over 700 years.

 

Because Sufi organizations are still illegal in Turkey, it is not called the “Mevlevi Order” or “Mevlevi Tarikat” there, and other Sufi terms related to organized Sufi activity (such as “Shaykh”) tend to be avoided as well. At present, the hereditary leader (Makam-i Çelebi) of the Mevlevis and direct descendent of Hz. Mevlana, Faruk Hemdem Çelebi, is President of an organization in Istanbul and Konya called the International Mevlana Foundation, a cultural and educational foundation.

 

The Mevlevi order was first organized by Mevlana’s son, Sultan Veled, in Konya. It began to expand with leaders appointed to other towns and regions under the leadership of Mevlana’s grandson, Ulu Arif Çelebi. Eventually, there were 114 Tekkes (monastery-like buildings or building complexes) established throughout the Ottoman Empire, including ones in Belgrade, Athens, Cairo, Mecca, Baghdad, Damascus, and Tabriz. After the collapse of the empire, following defeat in World War I, the new Turkish government of Atatürk declared all Sufi organizations in Turkey illegal in 1925. All surviving Mevlevi Tekkes were closed down. Some were made into mosques and a few into museums, such as the main Tekke (or Mevlevihane) in Konya (where Mevlana Rumi is buried) and the Galata Tekke in Istanbul. Another Mevlevihane in Istanbul, called the Yenikapi Tekke, that burned down in 1961, has been completely rebuilt. Although the Turkish government decided to use the main building for use by a university, the rebuilt Sema hall (Semahane), which is a separate building, now has regular Sema performances (celebration with whirling Dervishes’). It is to be said that this sacred whirling prayer ritual of the Mevlevis has been largely taken over by the Turkish Government for the purpose of promoting tourism. Since 1925, Mevlevi activity has been very restricted and private in Turkey. There have been many obstacles, so that the provision of Mevlevi Dervish training to each generation has been limited.

 

For more than 700 years the highest authority for all Mevlevi centres has been a direct descendant of Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi, called “Maqam- i Çelebi” (the exalted rank of the Çelebi) or “Çelebi Efendi”. These are also descendants of Mevlana’s grandson, Ulu Arif Çelebi. This centralized authority remained intact over the centuries and over distance, whether a Mevlevi centre was in Turkey, Egypt, Bosnia, Greece or Arabia. The word “çelebi” is a Turkish word that has been long used to mean a well-bred, educated, and refined gentleman. Because it also refers to the Çelebi family who are the direct descendants of Mevlana; it also means “the leader of the Mevlevis.”

 

Traditionally, the Maqam-i Çelebi inherited the right to be the chief Shaykh of the main Mevlevi centre, (or Mevlevihane) in Konya, where Mevlana Rumi is buried. It is not necessary that the Maqam-i Çelebi be gifted with spiritual advancement and exceptional spiritual wisdom. That is needed for the number two leader of the Mevlevis: the Spiritual Director of the Mevlevi Tariqat, the chief spiritual guide (Murshid) of all Mevlevi Shaykhs (heads of monasteries and spiritual groups) and followers who is called the “Sertarik”, who is appointed by the Maqam-i Çelebi. Instead, the Maqam-i Çelebi has primarily an administrative authority to make important decisions to protect the welfare of the Mevlevi organization and the Mevlevi tradition and to further its growth, decisions that also involve Divine guidance.

 

The present hereditary leader of all Mevlevis, the Maqam-i Çelebi is Faruk Hemdem Çelebi, the son and successor of his father Celaleddin M. Baqir Çelebi, who died in 1996 (see the Çelebi Family Website at www.mevlana.net). Faruk Hemdem Çelebi is the 22nd generation great-grandson of Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi, and the 33rd Maqam-i Çelebi.

 

Only the current Maqam-i Çelebi has the authority to authorize and appoint new Mevlevi Shaykhs.

 

 

 

 

Who was Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi?

(Taken from the Website of the family Çelebi., and partly simplified for easy reading.)

 

Hz. Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi, is known as Hz. (“Hazreti”) Mevlana in the East and known as Rumi in the West. At birth, his family named him Muhammed, though he came to be nicknamed Celaleddin. As for “Hz. Mevlana”, it connotes to “our holy master”, while “Rumi” relates to “the land of Rum” or “Anatolia”, where he lived. In his lifetime, he was also referred to as “Hudavendigar”, meaning “distinguished leader”, whereas his present internationally renowned title “Mevlana” was very seldom used. The name “Rumi” was added to the end rather later on.

 

Hz. Mevlana was born on September 30, 1207 in the city of Balkh, Khorasan, which at the time was inhabited by Turkish tribes; (Balkh today remains within the boundaries of Afghanistan). His mother Mümine was the daughter of Rükneddin, the “Emir” (sovereign ruler) of Balkh and his father, Bahaeddin Veled, was “Sultanu-l Ulema”(chief scholar). Their clash of opinion with Fahreddin-i Razi, one of his contemporary philosophers, along with the probability of a Mongol invasion urged him to desert his hometown accompanied by his entire family. Their migration, via Baghdad, Mecca, Medina, Damascus, Malatya, Erzincan and Karaman ended up, on May 3, 1228, in Konya upon the invitation of Alaeddin Keykubad, the Seljuk Emperor.

 

Following his marriage to Gevher Banu in Karaman, Konya, Hz. Mevlana had two sons whom he named Bahaeddin (Sultan Veled) and Alaeddin. Years later, during his time in Konya, and after Gevher Banu passed away, Mevlana married Kerra Hatun by whom he had two more children; another son, Muzafferreddin Emir Alim and a daughter Melike.

 

As Mevlana begins attending his father’s lessons at a very early age, he pursues the divine truth and secrets. He acquires Turkish, Arabic, Persian and common Greek, as well as Classical Greek. He studies the other religions along with Islam. From history to medicine he receives his initial education from his father and then from Seyyid Burhaneddin Tirmizi and other top scholars of the time. Later on he himself, in turn, teaches hundreds of students in Madrassahs (theological universities).

 

Meanwhile, Shams-i Tebrizi, not fulfilled by the ultimate spiritual rank he has attained, is in search of another fellow acquaintance to match his own scholarly wisdom and to enjoy his company. Shams and Hz. Mevlana, who had their first encounter in Damascus, meet again in 1244, in Konya. These two God loving Velis (guardians) focus intensely on divine discussions, and together they attain heavenly wisdom. With most of his time spent in endless talks, poetry recitals and whirling rituals with his spiritual soul mate, jealousy aroused among Mevlana’s students. Unjust rumours are spread against Shams-i Tebrizi, who is offended and flees Konya for Damascus. Hz. Mevlana, in his deep grief, secludes himself from all friends and writes many of his verses which we read in the Divan-i Kebir. The instigators of this unfavourable situation express remorse, and a group led by Mevlana’s son Sultan Veled goes to Damascus and brings back Shams-i Tebrizi. Nevertheless, jealousy arises once again, and Shams this time suddenly disappears altogether. Even though his tomb is assumed to be in Konya, whether he deserted the city or was murdered still remains a mystery.

 

Hz. Mevlana enters a new stage in his life upon the disappearance of his close friend. He first appoints Shaikh Selahaddin-i Zerkub, who passes away, then he appoints Çelebi Hüsameddin, one of his own students, to teach on his behalf.

 

As long as I live, I am the slave of the Quran I am the ground of chosen Mohammed’s way. …..
Whoever carries a word of me apart from this, I am complainant of him and I am complainant of those words too.

 

As can clearly be inferred from his words above, he always pursued Hz. Muhammaed’s teachings in his divine journey, always conforming to God’s commandments, preaching and practising in the Islamic discipline. But he always complains about the fundamentalists’ ideas appended into Islam later on, and even more so about the destructive ignorance of the Madrassahs.

 

 

His Works

In addition to his best-known book of verses, the Masnawi, the first eighteen lines of which were written down personally and the rest dictated to his student Çelebi Husameddin, he also wrote the Divan-i Kebir; the Fih-i Ma-Fi, the Mecalis- i Shebaa and the Mektubat.

 

The Masnawi:

It contains 26 thousand couplets in six volumes, consisting of stories inspired by the Quran’s teachings about all that is created, as well as Hz. Mohammad’s words and their morals.

 

The Divan-i Kebir:

Preceding the Masnawi, it is a collection of poems recited by Hz. Mevlana over a wide span of time. It contains approximately 40 thousand couplets within twenty-one moderate-size Divans, as well as one “Divan-i Rubai”

 

The Fih-i Ma-Fih:

It connotes “What’s within is within” and contains Hz. Mevlana’s lectures.

 

The Mecalis-i Shebaa:

As the meaning of the title “Seven Sermons” implies, it contains Hz. Mevlana’s seven lectures.

 

The Mektubat:

It consists of the 147 letters Hz. Mevlana wrote to relatives, including his son Sultan Veled, and to friends, rulers and officials of the State.

 

 

The daily language of the time was Turkish; the scientific language was Arabic; while Persian was the language of literature. For this reason Hz Mevlana’s books are all in Persian. They were all translated into Turkish at a later time.

 

In his books, Hz. Mevlana talks about how to be a wholesome human being: one who has inner peace and harmony, one who is both aware of and appreciates God’s blessings, one who takes a stand in the face of life’s hardships, one who is tolerant and loving.

 

As an example may serve Hz. Mevlana’s advice to his son, Bahaddin Veled, to indicate his spiritual and worldly viewpoints:

Bahaeddin! Should you wish to be in Heaven forever, be a friend to everyone.
Cherish not grudge in your heart,
Demand not extra nor be extra,
Be like ointment and candle, not a needle.

Should you wish no evil from anyone,
Speak not of evil, Nor preach of evil, Nor think evil!
Should you speak of a man in goodwill, you will always rejoice,
And that joy is Heaven itself.

Should you speak of a man in hostility, you will always despair.
And this is Hell itself .
As soon as you ponder friends, flowers will bloom in your heart’s garden, filling it with roses and basil.
As soon as you ponder foes, your heart’s garden will be filled with thorns and serpents.

Your heart will grow tired and you will lie idle.

All prophets and saints did likewise, reflecting their character outwards.
Fellow human beings, overwhelmed by their beautiful demeanor, voluntarily and happily followed their path.

(Ahmed Eflaki, Ariflerin Menkibeleri II, 213, 214)

 

More than seven hundred years have elapsed since the day of this advice and it still holds true for us all.

 

Hz. Mevlana passed away on December 17, 1273 following a brief time on his sickbed and reached out to Allah and his beloved Prophet. Mevlevi disciples call this night Sheb-i Arus (wedding night), the night of unity.

 

For those who aspire to the pursuit of truth, the following advice from Mevlana may be meaningful:

There is a life in you, search that life,
Search the secret jewel in the mountain of your body,
Hey you, the passing away friend, search with all your strength,
Whatever you are looking for, look in yourself, and not around.

 

 

 

 

Home

This is the website of the Swiss Branch of the Mevlevi Order. The main language here is German, however we offer on it also some space for interested persons of other languages. This part of our Website offers some limited information in English. For a complete information please consult the websites of our brothers and sisters in English speaking regions. Their addresses are listed under “Links”. May our doing be of service to all human beings striving for the real purpose of their existence! May we be allowed to do this in the light and under the protection of our Pir Hazreti Mevlana! May Allah the Merciful, the Compassionate protect us!

Mevlana's Mausoleum in Konya
Mevlana’s Mausoleum in Konya

Mathnawi Sohbets (historical), Dec 2007

MATHNAWI SOHBETS(1) FROM THE OTTOMANS TO PRESENT DAY

This article was presented by H. Nur ARTIRAN in “International Traces of Mawlana in the World” Symposium organized by Konya Selcuk University on December 13th-15th, 2007.

Based on historical evidence, Mawlana Djalaluddin Rumi’s(2) Mathnawi(3) was written between 1260- 1267 and since then it has been read with much interest and admiration by millions of people from all denominations all over the world. Mathnawi informs mainly on Religion, Islamic Mysticism (better known throughout the world as Sufism) and Social affairs, relying frequently on verses from the Quran, ‘Hadith’s(4) and folk tales. It covers almost every topic; sociology, psychology, history, mysticism, as well as science – including its more recent discoveries.

Although Mathnawi is generally accepted as didactic work addressing to ‘Reason’, it also possesses passionate and exuberant poems appealing to the ‘Heart’, similar to the ones in Divan-i Shems-e Tabriz or Divan-ı Kabir as otherwise called.

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