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.

And he kept his sense of humour through his old age when he felt that the passing to the other world was getting near. After his neighbour died he told us that ‘Izra’il, the angel of death, wanted to pick him up, but the angel was somehow confused and knocked at the wrong door. And very honestly he added: “I know that there will be bliss and joy in the other world, but still I’m afraid!” Is this not a beautiful expression of his modesty? May Allah be pleased with his soul.

Please allow me to speak now about myself – auzu billahi mina shaytani rajim.

My own spiritual path within Islam and tasawwuf was always challenged by the cultural differences between oriental and occidental societies. I’m a person rooted in the European culture, and I always longed to see und understand Islam in harmony and not in confrontation with the European heritage and culture. The adoption of oriental thinking and behaviour under the label “Islam” was never acceptable to me. For such questions I sometimes consulted Şefik Can Efendi, and he helped me a lot, often by using verses from Hz. Mevlana.

Dear friends, I would not be here talking to you without the existence of my Shaykh. From my Shaykh Hüseyin Top Efendi I learned about the value of being rooted in a long-lasting and proven tradition. He allowed me to take root in his garden, and he allowed me to drive my roots deep into the ground. Without Hüseyin Top Efendi I would not be able to say with certainty what I want to convey to you. And it is thanks to him that I’m able to see the beauty in traditional Islamic behaviour as it is the practice in Turkey and as it was in the monasteries of the Mevlevi Order (tariqah).

Now, what did I learn from Şefik Can Efendi? Generally I can say that I found support to widen my occidental way of understanding and to open my eyes for the universality of Islam. Let me list four subjects: 

  1. Şefik Can Efendi reminded me that our Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings for him!) is the seal of the prophets. Therefore Islam is universal and valid for the entire creation, and it has meaning all over the world, independent of customs and culture of the different societies. We may find it difficult to express Islamic principles in non-Islamic cultures, but certainly it is wrong to pretend that Islam is bound to oriental habits and customs. 
  2. I learned from Şefik Can Efendi how Hz. Mevlana’s message can be a door for seekers in non-Islamic cultures to understand the principles of Islam. Hz. Mevlana’s messages are witness of the universality of Islam, valid for all human beings. That’s why Hz. Mevlana is also seen as one of the greatest humanists. To be touched by his verses is a step into Islam, independent of prevailing religious conventions, culture and traditions. I tend to respect anyone that is touched by the messages of Hz. Mevlana, and I don’t mind if this person is Sunni, Shiite, Alevi, Wahhabi, Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, agnostic or an atheist. 
  3. Şefik Can Efendi always pointed out that we are here to serve humanity with whatever capacity we are gifted. To do so we have to respect the law, customs and culture of the society we are living in. Conventions and formalities are important in this world, for the time we live. We have to live with an attitude of respect and conform to ethical values. Belief and faith (iman) are to be our guide, and we should strive for a strengthening of our virtuousness (ihsan). Hz. Mevlana was living according to Sunni belief, as it was expected from a scholar in the area he lived. Now he continues to live in our hearts, and thus he is neither a Turk nor an Iranian nor an Afghani nor a Sunni nor any of the belief-systems. His message serves the entire humanity. 
  4. For Şefik Can Efendi it was self-evident that the message of Hz. Mevlana should strive us to become Dervishes. What is a Dervish? A Dervish is detached from any worldly urge or aspiration. Titles and functions are of no interest to a Dervish. To carry the blood of Hz. Mevlana or to be honoured with the destar or the title of a Dede, a Hafiz or an Imam might be necessary to keep order in a society, but it gives no indication about the qualities of a person. Şefik Can Efendi taught me to kiss the hand of those whose hearts express the qualities of Dervishes and not to be blinded by titles, functions and worldly power. 

Dear ladies and gentlemen, before closing I’d like to remind us of how our Prophet Isa (Peace and Blessings for him!) described himself. He said: “I’m in this world but not from this world.” This describes precisely the qualities of a Dervish. Or in the words from Abu ‘l-Hasan ‘Ali Kharaqani who died as martyr in the year 1033 and who is buried in Kars: 

There is no dervish in this world; and if there be a dervish, that dervish is non-existent.
(see Mesnevi 3:3669)

Thank you for your listening and attention!