There is only one Maulana in Turkey - Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi, known as one of the greatest mystic poets of Islam. In Turkey, he is known simply as ‘Mevlana,’ and his followers go by the title of ‘Mevlevi.’ But his poems and mystical teachings are known throughout the Muslim world.
Jalaluddin Rumi is was born in Balkh, Mazar-i Sharif (present-day Afghanistan) on September 30, 1207CE, to a family of well-known mystics and scholars. His full name was Jalaluddin Mohammed but he became known as ‘Rumi’ - meaning from Rome - because his father Baha-uddin Balad later moved to Anatolia, once the base of the eastern Roman empire, in the wake of the Mongol invasion in 1219. (The Mongols destroyed Balkh in 1220 and went on to sack Baghdad in 1258, ending the Abbasid khilafah.) Baha-uddin claimed direct descent from Hadhrat Abu Bakr, the first Khalifah of Islam.
Maulana Rumi’s first teacher was his father, but he was also greatly impressed by Shams Tabrizi, whose shrine is close to the Maulana’s in Konya, where the family finally settled after pilgrimage to Makkah and stays in Arzanjan, a small town in Armenia, and Syria. The family’s relocation to Konya was made through the request of the Seljuq king, who had made the city his capital.
When Baha-uddin moved to Laranda, a small town 35 miles south-east of Konya, he arranged for Jalaluddin, now 18, to marry Gauhar Khatun, daughter of one Lala of Samarqand, most probably a member of the travelling party. Of this union was born a son named Sultan Walid, who later composed his father’s poetic biography, probably compiled his scattered discourses, and established a school to spread his father’s teachings.
The Maulana travelled far and wide, including to Aleppo and Damascus, to study but Konya remained his permanent abode, and it was there that he died on December 17, 1273. His mausoleum is built in the garden presented to his father by the Seljuq king Kai-Qubad I (reigned 1219-1236) whose invitation brought Baha uddin to the city in the first place. Next to the mausoleum, there is a mosque built by the Ottoman prince Selim who was an ardent admirer of the Mevlana.
Visitors to the shrine enter through the main gate. No one, however, is permitted to touch the grave, a chain fence acting as a barrier. Next to the shrine, in two adjacent halls, is a museum where a number of items belonging to the great mystic are on display. The halls once served as training centres for the whirling dervishes but after the rise of Kemalism in Turkey all such institutions were shut down. The mausoleum, too, was closed to the public in 1924 but reopened in 1927. “The surrounding halls and annexe were turned into a museum,” according to a historian at the shrine.
Followers of the Maulana can be found in all parts of Turkey as well as the neighbouring countries. They converge on the mausoleum in large numbers in May and December of each year to perform their famous whirling dance, circling from right to left to commemorate the dance performed by the Maulana himself. The main event occurs from December 10-17 and climaxes on the last night, the date of the Maulana’s death. His followers call it the ‘wedding night,’ that is when Maulana Rumi was married to eternal life. The May festivities mark the arrival of the Maulana into the city.
The whirl is completed in four circles. The first symbolises the vision of Allah; the second the greatness of Allah; the third the level of knowledge one must attain after entering the domain of the Sufis, and finally, the last circle symbolises the coming together in the presence of Allah.
The museum exhibits a large number of items associated with the Maulana’s life. They include silver keys, copies of the noble Qur’an, the divan of Haifa, and lamps and robes used by the Maulana. There also a number of prayer-sheets. A large book containing the Mesnevi of the Maulana, hand-written by Hasan Shirazi, is displayed in the hall. A number of the Maulana’s works are also on display in the museum. These include the Mesnevi, Divan-e Kabir, Ruba’iet, Mecalis-e Seba, Mektubat and Fih-i-ma-Fih. There are also a number of portraits and wax statues of the Maulana shown in his now-famous dress performing the whirling dance within the shrine complex.
The fundamental teaching of the Maulana was the unification of the mind and the heart. His perception of mysticism differs from others in that he was a moralist and a reformer. He advocated these principles throughout his life. He writes: “Without demolishing religious schools (madrassahs) and minarets and without abandoning the beliefs and ideas of the medieval age, restriction in thoughts and pains in conscience will not end. Without understanding that unbelief is a kind of religion, and that conservative religious belief a kind of disbelief, and without showing tolerance to opposite ideas, one cannot succeed. Those who look for the truth will accomplish the mission.”
According to the Maulana, man is the finest creation of Allah, echoing the Qur’anic ayah that “Allah has created insan in the best of moulds” (95:04); he even considers man a part of Him in the mystical sense. All men must, therefore, be respected. A person who reaches the truth and spiritual perfection directs his attention to universalism rather than individualism. He need not abandon worldly matters but must not consider them an end in themselves. He insisted that priority to human love is a must to achieve this goal.
[Dr Mansoor Akbar Kundi, PhD in Political Science from Arizona State University, is Iqbal Fellow at Istanbul University in Turkey.]
Muslimedia: August 1-15, 1999