On the communication of sacred statements: Why is Rumi so popular in the West? (2023)

(Workshop on communication, Medipol University Ankara, 25th of November 2023)

Short speech by Peter Hüseyin Cunz, Mevlevi-Order in Switzerland


Bismillahi ar-Rahmani ar-Rahim


The Pir of the Mevlevi Order, Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi, has conquered the West with his poems like no other poet. This is a new phenomenon of the 20th century. In earlier times Mevlana was no better known than al-Ghazali, Ibn ‘Arabi, and other Islamic scholars. How was this accelerated awareness possible in today’s time?


I was asked to talk about communication. Any communication includes a source and a receiver. Both contribute to the success of the transmission of a message. Would you listen to me now if you were not interested in what I had to say? Certainly not! As a speaker, I depend on your interest. Therefore, anyone who communicates must have the recipient in focus. If we want to understand the communication of Mevlana, we have first to know his personality, and then we should ask: “To whom was Mevlana’s message addressed? Who was interested and pleased by it? And who felt challenged by it?”



About Mevlana’s personality I just want to emphasize that he had great reverence for our Prophet. His thoughts and actions were guided by the Qur’an, the Hadith and the Islamic customs (Sunnah), as it was the standard for a person like him. He served as a jurist to the Seljuq rulers in Konya; Islamic jurisprudence (fıkh) was his bread and butter. From an academic point of view, he had reached the pinnacle of Islamic scholarship.


Through his meeting and friendship with the mystic Shams of Tabriz, and mainly through the loss of him later-on, his point of view shifted. He started to see the world in a new light. He began to dictate poetry and cultivated his love for music and Sema. Without having sought it, he became a great master of mysticism. He describes the achieved state in his typical way:


Those who have polished their hearts have escaped from mere scent and color;
they contemplate beauty at every moment without tarrying.

They have left the form and shell of knowledge;
they have raised the banner of certainty.

Thought has gone, and they have found light;

they have found the essence and the sea of divine knowledge.

                                                                       (Mesnevi 1:3492 ff)


After loosing his friend Shams of Tabriz, Mevlana behaved more or less the same way as before, and he continued to serve the Seljuk ruler in matters of jurisprudence. But now he addressed people who had already developed a certain openness to the divine world. They were deeply touched by him. Mevlana enlarged their view of this world and fostered their inner access to the divine.


All this happened over 750 years ago. And how is it today? One thing is clear: whoever is a serious pupil of Mevlana today will be a serious follower of the Islamic faith. I’m afraid there are not many of them in the West! Therefore, the popularity of Mevlana in the West has little to do with following his doctrine. Mevlana never asked to become a “free thinker” according to the fashion of today’s Western culture. (By the way, when I talk about the Western culture it includes that part of the population in Türkiye that loves the European and American way of life.)


We have now understood that it is not Mevlana’s doctrine making him popular in the Western culture. But why are non-Muslims and seculars touched by him? In the West we can observe a spiritual isolation of the individual. Many people reject the traditional religions for understandable reasons and look for new spiritual teachings. Thus, a veritable spiritual market has emerged in which thousands of self-proclaimed masters from East and West offer a spiritual program. The individual person is completely overwhelmed by the amount of seductive offers and thus easily falls into their trap.


Many of these offers include the claim to communicate directly with the Divine. For me this is completely pretentious and absolutely unacceptable. I learned from Mevlana that we are not entitled to a direct communication with the King. The King does not speak directly to the common people. He has ministers and officials at his court for that purpose. According to Mevlana, the way to perfection is through the Shaykh and the Prophet.


But still, despite Mevlana’s clear affiliation with traditional Islam, the spiritual market of the West has found him as suitable bait. Single verses picket out from the context lend themselves to a cheap promise, a promise of spiritual experience without effort and without submitting to an existing form. Today’s providers of books on Mevlana succeed in presenting a New Age-view on Mevlana. They do that by leaving away all what has to do with Islam, and by leaving away all statements that talk about the hardship of a spiritual path (tasawwuf). Also they simplify and shorten the verses, and they don’t indicate the source.


It just so happens that people love fantasy bubbles. Our world is full of them – we only need to observe the huge consumption of virtual worlds offered with advanced electronics. In the West, Mevlana is misused as an instrument for freedom and liberation from all religious forms. Adapted excerpts of his poems are used to legitimize a spirituality that seeks well-being. It is the spirituality of our time that mostly serves one’s own Self (nafs).


So we can conclude now that Mevlana’s popularity in the West is not based on an authentic relationship with him, but on a supply of adapted and romanticized verses of his poems. The spirituality of New Age declines his insisting to surrender to the prophetic path, and it is not interested by his repeated reminder to work hard.


Let me end with the general question of how religiosity and sacred statements can be communicated. I remind you again that the recipient of a communication is as important as the source. It is not enough to preach sacred texts if there is no interest in them. Among the Sufis we know the ritualized spiritual teaching (sohbet), in which the Shaykh speaks to the listeners. A necessary condition for this is that the listeners listen attentively. For all Sufis there is an irrevocable commandment that no one interrupts the Shaykh. If this condition is fulfilled and those present listen devotedly, an atmosphere is created where the Shaykh is inspired to say what is necessary for those listening. Thus, a sohbet does not succeed solely because of the Shaykh’s knowledge, but much more thanks to the devotion and openness of the listeners. The French philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) put what I wish to convey to you in a nutshell:


Worldly things must be known so that they can be loved.

Divine things must be loved so that they can be known.


Applied to Mevlana, this means: one must love all his statements in order to understand him. And this includes a love for Islam and the Prophet. For you this is normal because it is part of the Turkish culture, but for people in the West it is difficult. Their understanding of Islam is shaped by what they read in the newspapers, and thus they fear Islam. Without support they can’t discover its beauty. So they tend to rather follow a romanticized view of Mevlana and not bother about Islam.


In the hope for a spiritual experience many people from the West travel to Türkye. They believe that the Whirling Dervishes know the secret of spiritual experience. But then they are disappointed because they encounter only theatrical folklore. This can’t be in the interest of Turkey. Please be aware: the tourists attending Sema are not stupid, they can very well distinguish between serious spirituality and theatrical spectacle.


In your beautiful country there is an immense richness of spiritual knowledge. But the way Mevlana’s name and the Sema are currently communicated and misused for all sorts of advertisement gives me cause for concern. Türkye should be proud of its spiritual heritage and not allow its degrading to the level of cheap spiritual fantasies! Sema is not only part of the cultural heritage but much more of the spiritual heritage! I think that the authorities of this country have a responsibility to emphasize the religious aspect and the seriousness of the Sema and other Sufi rituals. They should do this in respect for Islam.


Thank you for listening!


Speech on Magic and Tasawwuf (November 2023)

Int. Mevlana Foundation Istanbul, November 20th 2023 by Peter Hüseyin Cunz



My Shaykh Hüseyin Top Dede mentioned some month ago here in this room the
problem of magic. Our Prophet was attacked by malice magic, and he needed
protection. So the Sura 113 al-Falaq (the daybreak) was revealed. This gave me the
idea to give to you some detailed information about magic.

We all believe in Angels and love them, don’t we. They protect us. But likewise
we have to accept the existence of Devils. Do you know where the angels and devils
are located? Are you clear about where they come from to help us or to create
difficulties? That’s about what I’d like to talk now. And of course, after that you may
ask questions. Read More

Introduction to Sema, October 2015 in Canada and USA

By Peter Hüseyin Cunz, Toronto and NY State, October 13th – 20th 2015

Good evening dear ladies and gentlemen! 

Let me start with the first four verses of the well-known masterpiece of poetry, the Masnawi, containing over 25’000 mystical verses dictated by Celaleddin Rumi and recorded in writing by his pupils in the 13th century. The teaching within our Sufi-Order – the Mevlevi-Order – is based on the messages of this saint and spiritual master. His interpretation of the Koran and of the Islamic tradition is highly humanistic and modern. Also traditional Muslims consider him to be one of the greatest saints in Islam. Today he is also much appreciated and loved by non-Muslims. Books with scientific translations and interpretations as well as with romantically adapted translations of his poems are nowadays much in demand. 

Listen to the reed-flute, how it is complaining!
It is telling about separations, saying,
“Ever since I was parted from the reed field,
men and women have lamented in my cries.

I want a heart which is torn, torn from separation,
so that I may unfold the pain of yearning.
Anyone who has remained far from his root,
seeks a return to the time of his union.

(Masnawi 1:1-4)

What did Rumi express in these verses? Please allow me to give some guidance:

Read More

What I learned from Şefik Can Efendi (January 2015)

Speech by Peter Hüseyin Cunz

10th Commemoration of Honourable Şefik Can Dede
Konya, 23rd and 24th of January 2015

Dear Chair-Lady, dear Maqam Çelebi, dear Ms President of Şefik Can International Mevlânâ Education and Cultural Association, dear Governor of Konya, dear Mayor of Konya, honourable Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you very much for inviting me to this event and allowing me to address a few words in remembrance of Şefik Can Efendi. It means a lot to me for the simple reason that I learned a lot from this remarkable man. I met him first in 1996 and many other times in Istanbul and in Switzerland. I thank Allah for these opportunities.

Next to Şefik Can Efendi I always felt a balance of authority and gentleness. With the time I understood that these qualities originated from his authenticity and not from being bound with his nafs. Şefik Can Efendi went through an academic and military career, and until his old age he had clear opinions on political, social and cultural questions. But it was certainly through his engagement with Hz. Mevlana’s messages that his opinions ceased to be an expression of his nafs. In his argumentation I recognized an immense knowledge with free and clear reasoning.

From time to time we invited Şefik Can Efendi to visit us in Switzerland. His sohbets were always heart-warming and elevating, and we were left with a treasure of remembrance and knowledge. Once we celebrated Sema, and of course I asked him to be Postnişin by using my destar. And we had to smile because the destar was too big for him, and we had to find a way of fixing it on his head. Şefik Can Efendi had a great sense of humour also about himself. Vanity was non-existent.

Read More

Speech of Celal Çelebi at the Vatican (September 2014)

Your Eminence, Your Excellency, ladies and gentlemen.

Since Turkey is a part of Anatolia we know that we are also former citizens of the Great Roman Empire. We are aware that, Tutte le strade portano a Roma. Tonight, as the 23rd generation descendant of Jelaleddin Rumi and a representative of the 800 year old tradition, I am glad to be with the distinguished and honoured members of your great society.

In his book On Heaven and Earth, His Holiness Pope Francis underlined the importance of dialogue and said: “In order to establish dialogue it is necessary to know how to lower the defences, open the doors of the house, and offer human warmth.” First of all, we have come here to build a better dialogue between East and West. Rumi says “I am neither of the East nor of the West; no boundaries exist in my heart.”

Read More

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.

Read More

Rumi and Shiism

(Notes from Sefik Can Efendi, 1998)


Some poems that are not Rumi’s have been added to collections of Rumi’s poems. These poems are poems by extremist, Shiite poems of the Ismailiyye creed who deify Ali. These poems have no relation to Rumi at all both in terms of form and substance. For example, there are many poems falsely attributed to Rumi in a collection of Rumi’s poems prepared by Hidayet Khan, an Iranian literary figure, and printed in Tehran in 1280/1863 under the title Divan-i Shamsu’l-Hakaik. There are also many poems that are not written by Rumi in a large size edition of the Kulliyat-i Shams-i Tebrizi printed in 1302/1884 in India.


These poems that are not Rumi’s, i.e. poems by Shiite poets, do bewilder the readers. Fortunately, the forgiven Firuzanfer, a professor at the Tehran University, has prepared a very reliable edition of Divan-i Kebir, in seven volumes, by working without taking the Shiite side, very impartially with the love of knowledge. In this edition he selected the poems that truly belonged to Rumi by reviewing all other editions of Divan-i Kebir, printed or handwritten, and showing the differences between editions. The fake Rumi poems where Ali is deified are excluded in this principal edition of the Divan-i Kebir.


Everybody wants to draw great personalities to their side no matter what their real views may be. Therefore, the Shiite who read these poems where Ali is described not as a human being but as a Deity consider Rumi one of them, just as some Bektashis who view Rumi as the deputy of Haji Bektash. (Golpinarli, Mevlana’dan Sonra Mevlevilik, p. 300) But Rumi cannot be confined to a group. Rumi is everyone’s.


Dawlatshah who very well understood this truth wrote for Rumi in his Tezkire-i Dawlatshah:

Followers of all creeds have praised Rumi and he is accepted by all groups. (Tezkire-i Dawlatshah-i Semerkandi, edited by Muhammed Abbas, p. 213)


It is for this reason that in Rumi everybody found their own approach, their own view and themselves and hence thought of Rumi as one of themselves. It is for this reason everybody saw him in a different light. Some thought that he was Melami, some Shiite, some Jaferi and some Bektashi. But in reality Rumi is a Sunni saint completely on the path of our Prophet.


In Islam, tolerance is the rule. In Quran it says that there is no forcing in religion. Therefore since Rumi is completely on the Muhammedan path, he never looked down on others and tolerance and lenience was his distinguishing characteristic. Since he treated followers of all creeds and religions with respect, Christians and Jews shed tears after his funeral along with Muslims. When he said I am of seventy two creeds, he meant to say that the essence of all creeds and religions is one according to the Divine Predestination.


If Rumi had in fact been Shiite, he would, like many Shiite scholars, never mention the names of Abu Bakr, Omar and Osman. However, Rumi loves these dear Companions of our Prophet along with Ali and remembers them in his works. I would like to point out how many times Rumi mentions these four dear Companions of our Prophet in the Mesnevi and the Divan-i Kebir to give my readers an idea:

Rumi speaks about Abu Bakr at 10 places in the Mesnevi and at 8 places in the Divan-i Kebir; Omar at 18 places in the Mesnevi and at 20 places in Divan-i Kebir; Osman at 4 places in the Mesnevi and at 8 places in the Divan-i Kebir; Ali at 41 places in the Mesnevi and at 23 places in the Divan-i Kebir.


Who doesn’t love Ali? Since one enter the city Divine Knowledge through the door of Ali, every believer who loves Allah and the Prophet loves also Ali. Ali is a close relative of our Prophet and has been subjected to injustice. He has been the victim of Muaviye who wanted to establish his own kingdom and damaged the Islamic Republic. Also the conscious tells us to love Ali. But we have to love Abu Bakr, Omar and Osman just like we love Ali. We must love Ali like we love our Prophet and his Companions. We shall not deify him because Ali himself has rejected this extreme kind of love. He had those executed who prostrated in front of him as a deity. (Izmirli Ismail Hakki, Muhassilu’l-Kelam ve’l-Hikme, p. 107, 1336, Istanbul) How nice did our friend and master Suud-I Mevlevi express love of Ali with this following quadruplet:

I am the servant of the Prophet’s family, supporter of Ali, 
I am Sunni, Hanefi, Mustafevi and Murtazawi, 
God forbid, I am neither hurufi nor an astray Shiite, 
Praise be to God, I am a strong Muslim.


One of the reasons that Rumi is mistakenly thought of as a Shiite is that some descendants of Rumi and Mevlevi Shaikhs that came after Sultan Veled behaved hereticly, drank alcohol, did not perform prayers, had Shiite and Batini beliefs, had long moustaches as the Bektashi Babas and committed unislamic acts that were renounced by the public. Those who saw such people thought that Rumi whom these people claimed to follow was Shiite. Indeed it is narrated that, like the Shiite, some Mevlevis gathered in a graveyard in Sutluce, Istanbul, on the tenth day of the month Muharrem, cooked ashoorah, whirled, shaved off their heads and wounded their heads and chests with razor for the love of Huseyin. (Abdulbaki Golpinarli, Mevlana’dan Sonra Mevlevilik, p. 226) No matter what others think we rely on the infinite tolerance of Rumi and know that we have no right to criticize anybody because of what they think, feel and do. We also know that in the Mevlevi order which was founded after Rumi died, a division soon occurred.


On the one hand, there was the path of pious Sultan Veled who was completely on his father’s footsteps, i.e. fully compliant with the Islamic Law. On the other hand, there was the path of those who followed Shams-i Tebrizi who was ardent, cheering, laughing, difficult to restrain and somewhat unconventional (rind). Some name the Veled branch “Mevlevi bigots” and the Shams branch “unconventional Mevlevis” (rind). This categorization is a purely personal opinion and inclination. It is also quite natural for everybody to differently interpret according to their own inclination the path of Islamic Law that Sultan Veled followed who was completely on his father’s footsteps who was both, a lover of God, unconventional, ardent, and at the same time was saying: I am the slave of Quran as long as I shall live, and he would spend nights with worship. Hence, Golpinarli wrote: We see that the Mevlevi spirit which froze solid with Sultan Veled regained its livelihood with Ulu Arif Celebi. Is this livelihood? Or is it a departure from Rumi’s path? I don’t know. I leave this for the consciounces of my readers to decide. But as far as I know there must be clear differences between Rumi’s lifestyle and the lifestyle of the followers of the Shams branch who indulge themselves in an unorthodox joy, abandon some of the limitations of the Islamic Law and live in a strange spiritual pleasure. Rumi who holds beads even in his imagined portrait has never reached for a glass of wine of this earth which is forbidden since his holy hand holds the glass of the heavens. Our great Rumi says the following in one of his odes:

Don’t knock on every door like a beggar. You are a supreme being. You are strong and your hand can reach the door of the heavens. So you should knock on that door. 
Once the glass of love of beyond has taken you from yourself then forget this world and do not think about it.
(Divan-i Kebir, vol. 5, no. 2933)


Does a hand that can reach for the heavens care for the glass of this earth? How nice does Rumi describe this thought in the following quadruplet:

We do not need any wine to be intoxicated. We do not want any musical instruments to make our assembly more cheerful and interesting. We are already enraptured and intoxicated before seeing the face of the beautiful beloved, hearing the musician play or drink the earthly wine from the saki.


Abdulbaki Golpinarli writes the following when describing the last Mevlevi lodges before all lodges were outlawed and closed:

In fact, the Bahariye Mevlevi lodge was well known with unorthodox and Shiite practices. Shaykh Nazif (d.1860) was a more fanatic Shiite than a Bektashi, and his son Huseyin Fahreddin Dede was in the same inclination. Shaykh Nazif and especially his son Huseyin Fahreddin Dede would drink alcohol almost every night. The Yenikapi Mevlevi logde which was previously known for unorthodox and Melami inclinations was known for piety in its last days. 
Once they asked a Mevlevi dervish why their hats were so long. He replied: “It is long enough for the bottle. When strangers come in we hide the bottle.” I heard this from Shaik Nazif.
(Abdulbaki Golpinarli, Mevlana’dan Sonra Mevlevilik, p. 211)





Links to Mevlevi websites of English language

The family Çelebi:  www.mevlana.net  


The International Mevlana Foundation:  www.mevlanafoundation.com  


Shaykh Ibrahim Gamard Efendi, USA:  www.dar-al-masnavi.org  


Shaykh Kabir Helminski Efendi:  www.sufism.org   


Website of friends in Konya: https://w1.semazen.net/eng/  


The Masnavi in Persian, English and Turkish on the Web:  www.masnavi.net