Mevlana: Released from the cage

It is said that during his last hours his wife pleaded with Mevlana not to leave and asked God to let him stay here a little longer. Mevlana’s reply was this:

“Am I a thief?

Have I stolen someone’s goods?

Is this why you would confine me here

and keep me from being rejoined with my Love?”

Mevlana’s reply reveals his opinion of death. He sees it as the time of release from this cage of the body; the time when the bird of the soul flies free. My interest in theology and religion led me to visit Konya on a couple of occasions in the past. I wanted to see what the attraction was that brought people from all over to this city in Central Anatolia. Mind you, it is not only foreign tourists who flock there; even your middle-class educated secularist may pay the city a visit.

I learned from a research trip that many visitors view it as a sort of pilgrimage, while others go out of curiosity. Throughout the year, and particularly during December, the mausoleum of Mevlana continues to draw pilgrims from all parts of the Muslim and non-Muslim world to pay their respects.

Rumi is admired by many as a philosopher and mystic of Islam. His doctrine advocates unlimited tolerance, positive reasoning, goodness, charity and awareness through love. Spiritual master and poet Rumi is also known as Mevlana, which means master. Rumi’s works are read today by millions around the world. He lived from 1207 to 1273.

Islam in Turkey used to be centrally led by sultans in their capacity as caliphs, the spiritual leaders of all Muslims. The caliphate was abolished by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of Turkey. In the modern Republic of Turkey, the state still oversees religious affairs. Mystical Islam has always attracted Westerners in their personal and spiritual search of truth and purpose, thus leading them to Turkey. And this trend seems to be on the rise.

You may be wondering where Konya is. It is a city located on the Central Anatolian high plateau and is loved by many. One of my favorite Turkish authors, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, mentions it as one of the cities in his popular 1946 literary work “Bes Sehir” (Five Cities). Rumi was buried in Konya but lives on in his writings and devoted followers. More than anything, Rumi makes it clear that he believes happiness comes from living life fully, urging people to always put aside any fears and to take risks to do so.

The majority of Turks have always followed mainstream Sunni traditions. Among the well-known smaller groups or sects present in Turkey are the Sufis — who are Sunnis who emphasize spiritual cleansing — and Alevis. Both groups appreciate and use music as part of their worship and their beliefs include mysticism.

If you are interested this month in a visit to Konya, Dec. 17 marks the night of Mevlana’s death and thousands of people from all around the world gather in Konya and other historic places every year to celebrate and watch the whirling dervishes. Tour agencies organize official religious tours to commemorate the death of Rumi at ceremonies that are held every year between Dec. 7 and Dec. 17 in Konya. Full flights and busloads of people travel to Konya to be there during this celebration. The main event of this is the “sema” dance with the whirling dervishes.

Rumi’s doctrine is loved by many. It advocates unlimited tolerance, positive reasoning, goodness, charity and awareness through love.

A well-known expression of Rumi is: “Come, come, whoever you are, wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving. Ours is no caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vow a thousand times. Come, yet again, come.”

May the words of wisdom and compassion and peace expressed by Rumi bring comfort to a troubled world.