Love doesn’t involve divinity — sometimes it takes a visit to a mystic place to realize the depth of tolerance. In Konya just to stop at the tomb of Jalal Eddine Rumi one can vehemently feel the love for humanity.
By Abdennour Toumi
Konya, Turkey — In the heart of Anatolia in the middle of its great wild plain surrounded by mountains and endless prairies, lies Konya, Turkey’s most culturally conservative city. The profusion of colorful headscarves and young men clean shaved in elegant qamis and taqia were reminders to me of the city of Urfa. While Konya has the largest Syrian refugee “guest community” in Anatolia, Urfa matches it in size and number in Mesopotamia.
Urfa, known as the “Prophets’ City” that Arab-Islamic traditions meet the city’s social heterogeneity, though the Sufis’ city embraces a more diverse sampling of expressions of divine spirituality.
Each year Konya is the destination for thousands of visitors and pilgrims, who come here to gather at the shrine of Jalal Eddine Rumi, known more simply as Rumi, a Muslim theologian and widely-read poet. His family originally came to the region from Greater Persia in the 13th century from what is now Afghanistan, seeking refuge in the Konya province.
Sufi pilgrims and curious visitors line up to enter the Mavleva Mosque, passing through a rose garden to the inner courtyard where the falling waters of a fountain enhance the spiritual calm. Inside the Mosque a sparkling light plays on the tombs of Rumi and his followers.
This splendid shrine, stunningly restored by the Ottomans, has retained the beautiful turquoise faience dome, which highlights the Mosque like the blue eyes in a a pretty lady’s face.
Some Sufi pilgrims read Koran verses, others read Rumi’s poetry, and most take pictures. There are those who remove their shoes and enter the prayer room making an invocation (dou’aa). Others, curious about the calligraphy, seek out the shrine’s guides, but most are simply moved by the tranquillity and pervasive feeling of love and pace.
The notes of a flute sound lightly on the air, but in reality, it is the sound of melancholy that rises and falls within the visitor’s soul. This is not the wailing of some Koranic verses, but the sound of a beating heart playing into one’s consciousness.
Rumi’s tomb is covered by a lavishly embellished cloth of gold, which seems to emit light and peace wherein the mind meets the heart.
Turquoise blue is the emblematic color of the city and it is present on buses, official buildings and cars, in hotel lobbies, and in mosques of the Selcuk style.
More interesting perhaps is the color of the city’s bicycles. No way! but yes, there are bikes available to the public, and Konya is a flat city ideal for riding. I was quite surprised when I saw bicycles for public use lined up in the city’s parks. For a moment, one’s mind flies to Amsterdam, but wait! how can it be true in Turkey, where the road is never shared and the motorist is Sultan!
As for turquoise, did one know this fancy haute couture embellishment was the Selcuks political symbol as well as Konya’s sparkling light? It did not make much sense, like aubergine versus dark purple. Eggplant is even a popular item on the Turkish menu. So, the Turks are clever with their colors!
Rumi’s tomb is Turkey’s second most visited tourist attraction after the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. Interestingly, as Konya is the most conservative city in the country, by contrast Istanbul is the most liberal one.
Yet, both cities are considered the origin of the resurrection of Islamism in Turkey. Konya is the city of the newly-appointed Prime Minister Dr. Davutuğlu and was represented by the founding father of neo-Islamism, Dr. Nejm Eddine Erbakhan. Istanbul is the political workshop and birthplace of President Erdoğan, who started his political career in the country’s economic capital, launching his political program based on a liberal economy and the centrist conservatism of political Islam.
But the notes of irony sound in Turkish politics, and in a sense, reappear.
Rumi was a mystic, a Sufi Mavelana (Saint in Turkish, Alim and Wali Saleh in Arabic), who embraced all religions. There is a legend, which persists that his religion was one of love and peace. Frankly one did not have the feeling of Western romantic love like in Paris, but perhaps a more divine ethereal love, which leads to a complete release from all worldly temptations.
In Islamic philosophy it is called isolationism (el-Ea’atezal).
Whirling dervishes are certainly the trade mark of Turkey’s tourism campaigns and the source of national pride sentiment for secularist Turks. Dervish music caresses one’s ears in all the city’s business places, shops, restaurants and hotels. At the junction of the old city and its anarchical urban neighborhood is the A’ala Eddine Mosque, the city’s edge point. From the top rose garden, the boulevard, lined with shops and restaurants, leads to Rumi’s tomb.
When the Selcuks converted to Islam, they kept some of their shamanic rituals and ancient Turkic names from central Asia. While the Ottomans were native Muslims, singular in their practice of faith, the Selcuks comprised a multi-ethnic Turko-Persian empire. Later, however, the Ottomans expanded and established a multi-ethnic Turkish empire of their own.
Initially the Selcuks’ puritanism and venture in the Islamic arts was not well developed, as one can see in mosques built in their era. The Ottomans, however, were more creative in the Islamic style, especially after the 1450’s. They were much more urban, civilized and settled. On the other hand, the Selcuks were still living mostly beduin lives in tents, as shepherds and warriors. This comparison fits the Ibn Khaldoun dialectic of fanaticism and chauvinism of a group in charge of social order.
One could draw a parallel here regarding the recent militant duality in political Islam and to some extent a comparison between the Islamist legalists and the jihadist/conformists. In this instance, the Ottomans incorporated the Rums (Greek minorities) in their empire, unlike the Selcuks, who repelled them in western Anatolia. The Ottomans were more knowledgeable and visionary about religious pluralism and tolerance, whereas the Selcuks saw religious tolerance as irrelevant.
Konya is Turkey’s soul, where visitors and pilgrims can lose themselves in reverie over Rumi’s words bearing his message of love and peace. By coming to Konya, there is hope that the light of that message will shine out to countless souls from konya, Tehran and Afghanistan and all the troubled regions of the world.
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