Acting with and in relation to Hz. Mevlânâ’s message in Europe (December 2010)

Workshop in Konya, 16 December 2010

Peter Hüseyin Cunz,


1. Our organization and purpose

We are acting as the official Mevlevi Order (tarîqah) in Switzerland, following its tradition and purpose under the auspices of the International Mevlânâ Foundation. The members meet every Thursday evening in Zurich for ritual prayer (salâh, nâmâz), the remembrance of God (Dhikr Allâh), the whirling (Semâ) and teaching (sohbet). 4 times per year a full Semâ is celebrated in a church with access to friends and newcomers who wish to celebrate with us. In spring we organize a 3-days workshop together with members of the Mevlevi Order from Germany and the Netherlands. In summer we organize a hike in the mountains for our families and children.

2. Assertion of challenges and experiences

We are embedded in a European cultural environment with its strong and advanced academia in theology, philosophy, orientalistic and social science, and – as contrast – a public with limited knowledge on Islam. Animated by populist parties Europe faces political debates on social problems with immigration also from Islamic countries, leading to strong and negative emotions about Islam. These debates give prominence to the European values of secularization, democracy, the right for free expression, citizenship and laic ethical values with equal rights for men and women. Any claim contradicting such values are rejected, and therefore concepts of Islamic Law (sharî’ah, Sunnî schools of law) contradicting to these values are heavily criticized.

To lead a Mevlevi Tarîqah in such an environment creates obvious challenges of which I want to mention four in particular: 

  1. We have to accept that the world is continuously changing. The Mevlevi tradition has to move along in our time, all in line with the truth expressed by Islam and the teaching of Hz. Mevlânâ. This requires the courage for interpretation (ijtihâd) and the upbringing of a strong standing against claims from orthodox Muslims who would not accept the deviation from traditional theology.
  2. In Europe religion is seen as a private matter. But the freedom of religious choice requires the ability to discuss theology in a rational way, all in knowing that spiritual experiences happen beyond the limits of rational thinking. As a consequence many seekers for religious fulfilment jump from one spiritual offer to the other in search of clarity, security and certainty. Therefore we do not expect from a newcomer to first become a Muslim before he or she is accepted in our circle. Rather we are – in small steps – showing to them the beauty and universality of Islam and its living according to the message of Hz. Mevlânâ.
  3. Our Tarîqah consists of approximately half Muslims and half from other and different religious backgrounds. To us this balance is a strong sign of being on the golden middle path between tradition and the new world. While the challenge of non-Muslims is the embracing of Islamic teaching, the challenge of the Muslims is to overcome the fear of interpreting the Koranic message (ijtihâd). With this balanced mix of attendees there is a great mutual learning.
  4. Interestingly the Muslim communities and organizations show little interest in other religions. Yes, their priority is to fight for their integration in Europe, but the conviction that Islam is of higher value than Christianity and other religions hinders them to fully respect other religious values. Our Tariqâh is not of direct interest to them, and their religious values clash with our open way of addressing Islam. 

Besides individuals also some churches and related organisations have understood and accepted the relevance and rightness of other religions, and they are keen to learn about them. Beside Buddhism it is Sufism that attracts most interest, and in particular the Mevlevi Tradition.  Hz. Mevlânâ’s verses, and stories from the Sufi tradition touch the hearts of Christians, agnostics and atheists; and multimedia on “Whirling Dervishes” increases the curiosity for the mysterious practices of the Sufis. This is surely one reason why – as head of the Swiss Tarîqah – I’m frequently asked to give speeches and seminars about Sufism and to be available for TV and radio broadcasting. This gives me the opportunity to explain about the universality of Islam, and that Sufism is one of many faces of Islam.

3. Suggestions for improvement

Spreading a message happens only if there are sufficient recipients. Therefore, the first question to ask is: “What do people yearn and search for, and what do they need to hear?” Unfortunately today this question is not sufficiently asked.  Musicians with Semazen performing Semâ on stage may offer a certain taste of a mysterious Sufi-practice, but after such a show the spectators mostly are left with the disillusion of having merely seen some Turkish folklore without spiritual content. Europeans want to hear of the deep and touching message and teaching of Hz. Mevlânâ. Only qualified and respected teachers can transmit this. Fortunately, in Switzerland I’m sometimes asked to give an introduction before the start of a Semâ performed by a Turkish group, which helps the audience to understand the inner meaning of the ritual.

The authenticity of the Mevlevi activities should be safeguarded. The spiritual practice of the Mevlevi has to be separated from folkloric performances for tourists. According to the tradition the Maqam Çelebi with the certified Shaykhs are in charge to overlook the Mevlevi teaching, while the Turkish Authorities should continue to maintain and foster the cultural heritage and the respective academia. People on a spiritual quest – even if they are tourists – should be offered an official address where they may find the spiritual and humanistic content of the Mevlevi tradition.

The Mevlevi Tarîqah should publish basic rules under which a person or an organisation can candidate to be a member of the Mevlevi Tarîqah. The leadership should be clarified with rules for the congregation and the election of the Maqam Çelebi, the Sertarik, the Shaykhs and the Dedes. All rules should be in agreement with modern ethical values including equal rights for women to exercise the function of Shaykh or Dede, and all rules should be published and in agreement with the laws and customs of the countries where the Tariqâh is active. Under such conditions the Turkish cultural heritage would become more meaningful for today’s time and – at least for Europeans – gain in value.