Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Konya: Mevlana Rumi & Whirling Dervishes

Alex and I ventured outside of Antalya for the first time this weekend. Our destination? The quiet, chilly, and conservative town of Konya. When we told our friends and colleagues of our weekend plans, they all asked "but why?" Apparently Konya is not a popular destination for many Turks, let alone tourists. So, why did Alex and I take a 6-hour bus to this town? Because we wanted to see another face of Turkey. That, and because I love Rumi.

Since high school, I have read Rumi's poetry. Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi is a famous 13th century Muslim saint and theologian, Sufi philosopher and poet. While he was born in Persia, he spent a significant amount of his lifetime in present-day Konya. "Mevlana," as he is famously known here in Konya and Turkey, is a revered Sufi mystic; so much so that some consider him a "hazret" (prophet). To me, Rumi is an inspiration. Anyone who has read his poetry knows that the beauty of his work lies not in the rhymes, but the depth of his words. What makes his poetry and short stories so remarkable is the fact that there are layers of hidden meanings in them. On the surface, Rumi writes about his inexplicable love for God; but beneath the surface, this love extends to his companions, friends, and family. The religious undertone therefore paves the way for everyday love, compassion, and humanity that we ought to be showing each other. It is no surprise that around the world, lovers memorize his stanzas; students study it; theologians and philosophers contemplate it; and academics try to translate it. On so many occasions, Rumi has spiritually inspired me, philosophically enlightened me, and physically motivated me to new heights of life's adventure. My favorite poem by Rumi is "Guest House," which describes human emotions as guests who come and go. Each guest has a purpose and some guests are more pleasant than others. It’s so powerful.

Mevlana Rumi's tomb in Konya.
Mevlana's tomb is buried in Konya, and this weekend Alex and I got to see it in person. His casket is covered in velvet robes which are decorated with intricate Persian designs. Mevlana's big, elevated tomb was surrounded by smaller tombs of his family members and followers. Next to this "indoor graveyard" was a room full of artifacts including books in Arabic, writings in Persian, and clothes Mevlana wore during his lifetime. The walls were adorned with frames of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and Allah's names, as well as the Shahada written in beautiful Arabic calligraphy. Some people prayed at his tomb to pay respects, and others took photos with their phones. I did both. I couldn't believe I was standing three feet from the white-bearded, black-robed, short and hunched-over man I had only seen on the covers of my poetry books.

Alex and I stayed with our Fulbright friends placed by Fulbright in Konya: Lily, Ben, and Casey. All three of them were very hospitable and showed us "their" city. On Saturday, Lily and Ben accompanied us on an excursion to the small yet beautiful village of Sille (pronounced "sea-lay"). There, we saw the former Greek Orthodox church of Agia Eleni and climbed a mountain to an archaeological site where ancient tombs were dug out from the ground. The smell of sheep stool and burned wood reminded me of my childhood growing up the village of Bandi Dhundan in Pakistan. A Turkish man showed me an ancient coin he had found, and after seeing my excitement in speculating the metal, he decided to gift it to me. I couldn't believe it! I can't wait to add this to my coin collection...it even has an Ottoman seal on it!

With Alex, Ben, and Lily inside the Greek Orthodox church.
Later that evening, Casey joined us for a performance of the Whirling Dervishes. At the show, we had a serendipitous encounter with Lizzie and Michelle (the two Fulbright girls from Eskisehir who visited us during Kurban Bayram). They were with their colleague who is originally from Konya. We all enjoyed the beautiful performance of Whirling Dervishes, who spun around and around in a religious tradition known as dhikr. Dhikr (also known as zhikr) is “a form of devotion, associated chiefly with Sufism, in which the worshipper is absorbed in the rhythmic repetition of the name of God or his attributes.” During this process, the worshipper is trying to achieve closeness to Allah. By whirling around, they reach an ecstatic state in which they leave the Earthly world behind and elevate to heaven for a spiritual connection with Allah. 

It is unfortunate that Konya is not on many Fulbrighters' list of places to visit this year. I am glad Alex and I went. I felt a special connection with Konya. It felt like déjà vu when I walked the vintage streets, heard horns of clunky cars, smelled fresh vegetables and fruits being sold in alleys, and saw Muslims dressed in sweaters, jackets, and scarves. I smiled every time I saw a man in a white topi (hat) and tasbih (prayer beads). It's hard to describe the feeling that overcame me this weekend. Imagine the air thick and heavy with whispers of prayers. It's hard to escape the religiosity of this atmosphere when you are in Konya. It's hard not to submit yourself to Allah. Just by being in Konya, I felt spiritually closer to Allah.


  1. Your comments and trip to Konya, has inspired me to hopefully read it to my high school prep students and even include a book of Mevlana they can read this semester and next semester... Why try looking elsewhere for english reading and/or ways to motivate them into writing when all the inspiration is right here in Turkey :))
    Maybe you can even write back to us and that way any insight or readings u may recommend, we can use in class :) thx...

    Kind Regards,

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