The Foundation of Peace: The Wisdom of Mevlana Jalalud-Din Muhammad Rumi


Prof Hoosen Vawda – TRANSCEND Media Service

“Make peace with the universe. Take joy in it. It will turn to gold. Resurrection will be now. Every Moment, a New Beauty.” — Rumi

3 Nov 2021 – As soon as the bus entered the City of Konya, Turkey the passengers are greeted by the display of Tulip flowers in the centre of the traffic circle.  The guide informs us that the it is the April Tulip Flower Festival in Konya, and proudly proceeds to tell all the visitors that Konya is not only a pilgrimage centre for tourists to pay respects to Mevlana Jalladundin Rumi, whose mausoleum is a major attraction in the city of Konya, but also is the origin and tulip centre of the world. The visitor is confronted, with great delight, to colours of white, red, yellow, pink and myriads of variants of tulips against the bright blue, spring sky of Konya.

Passage Tulips Konya Tulip Garden Tulip Festival

There was disquieting silence on the bus, as the European and American tourists were amazed at the colourful spectacle of the tulips.  The peace and tranquility was palpable and one could hear and feel the import of the city of Konya, which was a major centtre on the railway line which connected Istanbul to Baghdad in Iraq[1], in the era of the Osmani Empire, commonly known as the Ottoman Empire, prior to 1928.  As we all disembarked off our transport, the olfactory senses were maximally stimulated with the perfumed atmosphere of Konya, generated not by artificial scents but emanating from the delicate aromas of tulips and as we confronted the massive turquoise spire top of the mausoleum minaret , the beautiful perfume changed to that of numerous rose plants which adorned the gardens of the hallowed precincts of the burial site of Mevlana Rumi, the founder of the Mevleni sect, in ancient Turkey.

Konya[2] is a city in the Central Anatolia region of Turkey, which has protected its name for centuries. Legend says that Perseus killed a dragon that had been ravaging the town. The people set up a special monument to honor him, a stone obelisk with an icon of Perseus carved in it. This event gave the city it’s name, Ikonyon, Ikonyum, Iconium.

However, among Muslims, the followers of Islam, another legend is narated. Two dervishes, friends of God, were making an excursion through the skies from the far away countries of Horasan toward the west. When they flew over the lands of central Anatolia, one asked the other, “Shall I land?” (“Konayim mi?”). The other answered, “Sure, land.” (“Kon ya!”) So, they landed and founded the city of Konya.


Archaeology shows that the Konya area is one of the most ancient settlements of Anatolia. The results of excavations in Catalhöyük, Karahöyük, Cukurkent and Kucukoy show the region was inhabited as far back as the Neolithic Period (Late Stone Age) of 7000 BC. Other settlers of the city before Islam were; the Calcolitic Period (Copper Age) civilizations, Bronze Age civilizations, the Hittites, the Frigians, the Lydians, the Persians, the Romans and then Byzantines.

Konya is also an important place for early Christians because St. Paul and St. Barnabas came to the city on one of their journeys in Asia Minor around 50 AD. St. Paul preached in Konya but they angered both Jews and Gentiles so they had to leave the city and went to Derbe and Lystra.

The first exposure of the city to Islam happened during the time of the Caliph Muaviya[3]. Later, attacks made by Arabic Muslims, whether Emevi’s or Abbasi’s, yielded no results. Konya’s real meeting with and adopting of Islam began sometime after the victory of Seljuks at Malazgirt in 1071, in the time of Kutalmisoglu Suleyman. The attacks of the Crusaders from 1076 to the end of the 12th century could not wrench the city from Islam.[4]

Konya was the capital of Seljuk Empire between 1071 and 1308. In 1220 Alaeddin Keykubad I repaired the city wall and decorated them with towers. Historically, the city has been the site of a power struggle between the Seljuks, Karamanoglu’s, Mongols, and Ilhan’s and it changed hands a few times. In the time of Fatih Sultan Mehmet, in 1466, Konya joined the lands of the Ottoman Empire. The first general census was made by the sultan and repeated in the times of Beyazit II, Kanuni Sultan Suleyman, and Murad III.

Under the reign of Kanuni Suleyman the city, which had been named as Karaman ili, reached the status of a statehood. The borders of the Karaman state, which included the regions of Larende (Karaman), Seydisehri, Beysehri, Nigde, Kayseri (Cesarea), Aksaray, Maras, Elbistan, and Bozok, were reduced when Maras became its own state and Bozok Bozok was added to another state.

Konya was affected by the Celali Rebellion. This rebellion was an outcome of the instability in the Ottoman government and land orders in the Ottoman army was defeated by the command of Ibrahim Pasa, Grand Vizir of Sultan Suleyman, in the Battle of Konya.

The borders of the province of Konya, which was set up in 1867, included Nigde, Isparta, Icel and Teke Sanjaks. In the same year, the city was affected by a disastrous fire and in 1873 suffered a serious famine. In the 19th century the city appeared shabby and neglected and the city walls were in ruins and even the mosques were in terrible conditions. Many of the more recent houses were made of bricks and their lifespan was not more than 100-150 years, old. Commercial activity was slow. But at the end of the century, in 1896, after the railway to Eskisehir was opened, commercial activity was revived. After 1902, farming with machines developed. The period of Sultan Abdul Hamid II was a productive one for Konya. Transport, education and restoration works flourished the city.

The First World War caused the decrease of manpower in Konya and throughout the country. During the occupation of Anatolia by the Allies, Konya’s railway station was run by the British circa January 1919. The Italian powers which occupied the city in April 1919, left the city in March 1920 during the Independence War led by Atatürk.[5]

Konya is one of the oldest urban centres in the world. Excavations in Alâeddin Hill in the middle of the city indicate settlement dating from at least the 3rd millennium BCE. According to a Phrygian legend of the great flood, Konya was the first city to rise after the deluge that destroyed humanity. Still another legend ascribes its ancient name to the eikon (image), or the Gorgon’s head, with which the mythological warrior Perseus vanquished the native population before founding the Greek city.

Located near the frontier, Iconium was subject to Arab incursions from the 7th to the 9th century. It was taken from the Byzantine Empire by the emerging Seljuq Turks in 1072 or 1081 and soon became the capital of the Seljuq sultanate of Rūm. Renamed Konya, it reached its greatest prosperity under their rule and was accounted one of the most brilliant cities of the world. Its enlightened rulers were great builders and patrons of art who endowed the city with many buildings, including some of the finest existing examples of Seljuq art. Now used as museums, these include the İnce Minare, built in 1258, a former theological college housing the Seljuq Museum; the richly decorated Karatay Medrese (1251), a former theological school that now houses a ceramics museum; and the Sirçali Medrese (1242), which now contains a museum of Seljuq and Ottoman antiquities. The palace of the sultans stands on the acropolis mound. Nearby are the mosque and tomb of Sultan ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn Kay-Qubād I,

It was due the  invitation of Sultan ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn Kay-Qubād I, that the Muslim Sufi mystic, Rūmī settled in Konya and later founded the Mawlawiyyah (Mevleviye) order of mystics, known in the West as the “Whirling Dervishes.” , although Mevlana Rumi was not the founder of the Dervishes, per se, which was founded long before his arrival in Konya. The tekke (“monastery”) of Rūmī, comprising a number of buildings and his mausoleum, lies south of the city centre; since 1917 it has been used as an Islamic museum.

After the decline of the Seljuqs, Konya was ruled by the Il-Khanid Mongols and later by the Turkmen principality of Karaman until it was finally annexed to the Ottoman Empire about 1467. The city was in decline during the Ottoman period but revived after 1896, largely through the building of a rail line between Istanbul and Baghdad, which passes through Konya. Improvements in the irrigation of the Çarşamba plain led to an increase in agricultural productivity.

Until 1923 Konya was the most important city of central Anatolia, overshadowing Ankara. The southwestern part of the city has been redesigned, and a wide avenue leads through the western suburbs to the railway station, but the old city still survives to the east of the acropolis. Present industries include a sugar beet plant, flour mills, and carpet factories. Bauxite deposits were tapped by an aluminium-manufacturing complex established in the early 1970s. The city is linked by air with Ankara and by road with the principal urban centres of Turkey.

With its orchards, gardens, and monuments, modern Kon gardens, and monuments, modern Konya attracts a growing tourist trade. Its association with the Dervishes makes it a place of pilgrimage for Muslims. Christian monuments include the old church of Amphilochius inside the city and several shrines nearby. Konya is also the site of a teacher-training school; Yüksek Islam Institute, an institute of Islamic learning founded in 1962; and Selçuk University, established in 1975.[6]

The surrounding area, consisting of plains at the base of the Taurus Mountains, has numerous oases, and irrigation schemes have further extended the amount of cultivated land. Wheat and cotton are the main crops grown on the plains. North of the city, the bare Anatolian steppe provides spring pasture and supports some dry farming. The products of the steppe include wool and livestock. Lead is also mined in the vicinity. Çumra is a town and district of Konya Province in the Central Anatolia region of Turkey. According to 2000 census, population of the district is 104,576 of which 42,308 live in the town of Çumra.[7] This area is renowned for its large tulip forms which supply 90% of tulips to Eastern Europe.

The most important place to visit in Konya is Mevlana’s Mausoleum, the mystic poet on the way of sufism and the founder of the Mevleviye Whirling Dervish Order.

Another interesting attraction in Konya is the Tropical Butterflies Park which was opened in July 2015. Being the first of its kind in Turkey, the Park provides shelter to 6,000 butterflies of 15 different species, as well as 20,000 tropical plants.

Presently, more than 800 years later, Rumi’s words still manage to touch our hearts. The name Rumi, is usually associated with poetry in the western world, but little else is known about him if one enquires from an average person in New York, London, Paris or Cape Town.  The author’s personal experience in New Zealand revealed an extremely low level of Rumi awareness in cities like Auckland and Christchurch on the South Island, as to who exactly was Rumi?


Others associate Rumi with the whirling dervishes, who perform the mystical Sufi ceremony known as a sema, in which their series of mesmerising twirls help them, and the audience, reach a state of nirvana.  The author has noted, that these spiritual dancers raise their right upper limbs to point towards heavens, while their left upper limbs are pointing to the ground, as they twirl.  Furthermore, the left hand is pointing backwards.  The deep spiritual significance of this posture, while whirling, at great speeds, is to ask the Lord for His bounties with the right hand, raised up to Him, and when received, such bounties are then quietly and anonymously distributed to the needy.  Indeed, a wonderful gesture of enormous magnitude, which is most gracefully symbolised and executed, if these whirling dancers are carefully analysed, while in a state of mystic sufi trance.  The sema was graphically enacted in an epic 2008, Bollywood movie, Jodha Akbar[8] in a scene to the ecomanagement of A.R. Rahman’s[9] music by superhero Hrithik Roshan[10], when he establishes spiritual connection with the Supreme and seeks guidance.

Whirling dervish[11] ceremonies, as a form of meditation were adapted by the Persia-born, Jalaluddin Rumi, the famous Sufi Muslim mystic and poet, who was living in Konya, then the capital of the Turkish Seljuk Empire, told his followers, “There are many roads which lead to God. I have chosen the one of dance and music.” Rumi  would fast, mediate and then dance to reach a state of unparalleled enlightenment. Inspired, other sects started to spread his dance, called the sema, throughout the Ottoman Empire. The most renowned sect was the Mevlevi order; dance participants were called semazen. By the 15th century, the order had established rules for the ritual to maintain its myriad traditions. Dancers wear long white robes with full skirts, which symbolize the shrouds of their egos, art historian Nurhan Atasoy of the Turkish Cultural Foundation wrote in “Dervis Ceyizi,” her book on dervish clothing. On the dancers’ heads sit tall conical felt hats called sikke, ranging from brown to gray to black depending on their sect; these represent the tombstones of their egos. Over the robes, the dancers wear long dark cloaks, which embody the wearers’ worldly life and are cast off during the ceremony. When the dancer is finally wearing only his long white robe, he is assumed to be without fault and ready to start the mesmerising complex whirls that define the sema. The dancers, who fast for many hours before the ceremony, start to turn in rhythmic patterns, using the left foot to propel their bodies around the right foot with their eyes open, but unfocused. Their whirling is fueled by accompanying music, which consists of a singer, a flute-player, a kettle-drummer and a cymbal player. As the dancers turn, the skirts of their robes rise, becoming circular cones, as if standing in the air on their own volition. A team of researchers found that the edges of spinning skirts experience accelerations “of about four times Earth gravity”, reporting that the skirts “carry cusped wave patterns which seem to defy gravity and common sense.”

In 1925, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey’s first president, closed all the orders and hermitages as part of his secularisation policies. For decades, the dervishes had to retreat underground. In 1956, even though legislation still outlawed these Sufi sects, the Turkish government revived the whirling dervish ceremony as a cultural asset. Dancers began to perform on the anniversary of the death of Rumi, a tradition that has led to an annual nine-day December festival in Konya. During this period, Turkish dervishes worked to spread the dance outside their country to preserve the pure sema traditions. In 1963, Munir Celebi, a direct descendant of Rumi, arrived at the philosophy-based Study Society in London to teach 60 students to turn. “They wanted to preserve the dance in its original form and not just be a tourist attraction,” said Philip Jacobs, who has been whirling for 43 years and still leads twice-monthly sema ceremonies in London. Although the Turkish government eased its regulations in the 1990s to allow dervishes to perform ritualistic ceremonies, critics contended that because the ceremonies have been commercialised for paying audiences, damage to Turkey’s cultural jewel had already been done. Whirling dervishes perform during a ceremony at Galata Dervish Lodge in Istanbul. In recent years, some lodges, which were closed on the orders of Turkey’s first president, Mustafa Kemel Ataturk, have reopened. During the past decade, a number of lodges have been reestablished in Istanbul, perhaps in a resurgence of cultural pride, or in response to the fact that in 2008, the Mevlevi ceremony was cited in the Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, the arm of the United Nations that focuses on education, science and culture. These lodges include the Galata Dervish Lodge, which was built in 1491 and houses a museum; the Yenikapi Dervish Lodge, which opened as Istanbul’s largest lodge in the 16th century and is set on beautiful rolling grounds with a cemetery populated by Ottoman- Era sultans; and the Bahariye Dervish lodge, which was founded in 1613 and is located on the coastline of the Golden Horn.

During the sema, the full attention of the audience is integral to the success of the whirling performance. If spectators are engaged in the process, “you feel a light coming off them,”. Spectators sit in a semicircle around the dancers in seats or on the floor, and are not allowed to enter or leave during the ceremony, which lasts about an hour. Essentially, after a short introduction describing the history of the Mevlevi order, strobe lights lit the circular stage as five men wearing long black coats and tan conical hats came out and placed sheepskin rugs on the floor.[12] Behind them on a slightly raised stage, a small group of musicians played a ney, a long, thin reed-like flute, that produced a high, desolate sound; an oud, a wooden, pear shaped lute; and kettle drums. Then the dancers knelt, rolled up their rugs, took off their cloaks to display their white robes and started to whirl on the wooden floor.[13]  It is to be noted that Sema originated hundreds of years before Rumi.  It did not originally have instrumental music and dance and does not always have instrumental music or dance in modern Sufism.  Sema was and is controversial within Islam and in the details even controversial among Sufis.  Also, the term dervish is antiquated. Dervishes were originally mendicants and while there was some overlap with Sufis, they were not by and large Sufis belonging to tariqas or orders.  In Karamustafa’s God’s Unruly Friends[14] there is a definitive study on dervish and other interesting but not particularly Sufi pieties.  Whirling dervishes have lost their original spiritual philosophy and are now touristic concept.

Rumi was an enigmatic Persian poet during the 13th century. He was also a mystic and considered the most celebrated Sufi teacher of all time. His work gained popularity because of its universal message about peace, renunciation of materialism, love, and passion. and has long since influenced artists and thinkers with his insightful poetry and prose. While Rumi has been a crucial voice throughout the Middle East for centuries, he is also one of the all-time best-selling poets in the United States, thanks to the enduring ubiquity of his words of wisdom.[15]  Most Islamic scholars could only reach out to the hearts and minds of the literate, while Sufis could make connections with everyone, from the elite to the ignorant, relying on their verbal understanding of Islam and their imagery in communicating it. This sometimes led them to run into problems, even causing political unrest between madrasah scholars and the Sufis, with vociferous objections from orthodox Islamic scholars, countries like Saudi Arabia and the East, such as Indonesia.

However, the distinction between Sufism and scholarly Islamic interpretation was not always an ontological clash. There had been many Sufis who drew from the madrasah tradition, including Al-Qushayri and Al-Ghazali, both great Sunni scholars of the Seljuk Empire and Sufi authors in their own time. As for Anatolia, besides “heterodox” Sufi orders – such as the rather more extreme Qalandariyya[16], the Sunni Sufi orders created a bridge between the heart and the mind, between Sunni orthodoxy and mysticism. The Mevlevi order is perhaps the best example of such a bridging. Based on both the Sunnism and Sufism of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, the Mevlevis have for centuries continued their peaceful rituals, which never implied a deviation from the Sunni tradition, with Rumi becoming an icon of peace, love and faith all over the world.[17]

Jalaladdin Muhammed Rumi, as his full name, variously spelt in the west, was born in 1207 in the city of Balkh in Khorasan, presently a province of Afghanistan. He is often referred to as Mevlana, which is his epithet and title, of an Islamic priest, or religious leader, commonly spelt “Moulana” though some texts refer to him as Al-Balkhi, after his birthplace. The name Rumi, meanwhile, is most often used, given he lived his entire creative life in Anatolia, which was historically known as Rum, the West, (Rome), the heartland of the Byzantine Empire.  Mevlana literally means “our beloved friend,” which shows Rumi’s authority and fame has not faded over centuries, not least among the Turks. He is also called “Molla Hünkar” (Mullah Sultan) and “Molla-yı Rum” (the Mullah of Anatolia).

Rumi’s ethnic origins have been much debated due to the fact that he referred to himself as a Turk in one of his rubaiyat (a poem consisting of four lines). Whether or not he was of Turkish origin, Rumi undisputedly lived in what is now Turkey, though he wrote in Persian. In any event, during this period ethnic origin was not as significant as it is in our current era.

Rumi’s father Muhammad Bahaeddin Walad was a notable Sufi and scholar in Balkh, which was under Khwarazmi rule, yet had to flee the country because of a political dispute with Alaaddin Muhammad, the Sultan. Rumi was only 5 years old when his father took his family from Balkh to Baghdad, and then to Hejaz for the hajj, the sacred Islamic pilgrimage. After some years in cities such as Damascus, Malatya, Erzincan and Larende presently Karaman province), Walad settled in Konya upon the invitation of Alaaddin Keykubat, the Seljuk Sultan.  Rumi married Gowhar Khatun of Larende, having two sons named Sultan Walad and Alaaddin, reflecting his father’s and the Sultan’s names. After Gowhar’s death, he married Kara Khatun and had a son and a daughter from her, Amir Alim Chalabi and Malakeh Khatun. Rumi’s mother Mumina Khatun died in Larende, while his father Bahaeddin Walad died in Konya after teaching for two years at the Konya Altınapa Madrasah, am Islamic religious school. Rumi was 24 years old at his father’s death.

Islam’s largest sect is Sunni[18] who are often described as orthodox Muslims. and as a Sufi scholar, Rumi replaced his father at the madrasah as a scholar of the Hanafi[19] school. On the other hand, he was a disciple of Seyyid Burhaneddin[20], who was a disciple of Bahaeddin Walad. Jalaluddin served Burhaneddin for nine years before he received his “ijazah,” or permission to scatter the teaching. Burhaneddin encouraged Rumi to visit the great madrasahs of Damascus and Aleppo in order to enhance his knowledge as a Sunni scholar. He gained a better knowledge of Arabic and poetry, lexicon, law, hermeneutics and hadith[21] while in Syria. He also utilised the opportunity to interact with such great Sufis in Damascus as Ibn Arabi, Awhaduddin Kirmani and Sadreddin al-Qunawi. Having received his “ijazah” from both the madrasah of Damascus and the Sufi order of Anatolia, Jalaladdin began to act and write on his own. Especially after his master’s death, he found a freer space prepared for him by his elders and peers in which he could better write, teach and think.  Rumi met Shams of Tabriz after Burhaneddin’s death, an incident that influenced him so much that he changed to an ascetic Sufi after so many years of learning and teaching at the madrasah. There are various versions of the story of their encounter, the main idea of which implies Rumi’s transformation from a scholar with a literary knowledge about mysticism to a proper ascetic mystic. However, Rumi never left the path of Sharia. In his poems, he holds the Sharia as the basis of Sufism. One of his famous allegories suggests that knowledge has four gates, the first of which is Sharia and the last of which relates to marifa (Sufism). His teachings offer Sufism as a psychological improvement in understanding Islam.

Since Rumi lived during a socially and politically chaotic environment brought about by the Mongol invasion[22], he emphasised peace and fraternity instead of fighting back, which some scholars and intellectuals have criticised, claiming that he should have supported the resistance of the Muslim Turks against the pagan Mongols.

The question as to why is Rumi so popular, globally.  Firstly, origins aside, the mystic spent many years of his life writing his most influential works in Konya. Secondly, and more importantly, the Mevlana has a cult following in Turkey unrivalled by any other religious personage, after the Prophet Muhammed.[23]  Furthermore, he succeeds in bridging class, religion, gender, nationality and every other major social divide in the country. This makes him a truly unique figure, and one who has inspired many subsequent generations of writers, artists and theologians alike. Nothing attests to Mevlana’s universal qualities better than the poet’s own, often quoted words, addressing an audience which excludes none. One of his inviting poems of embracement, peace, love and wisdom from a large tome is:-

“Come, come again, whoever you are, come! Heathen, fire worshipper or idolator, come! Come even if you have sinned a hundred times, Our’s is the portal of hope. Come as you are.”

The life of Mevlana is one of inspiration  for all of us. His family migrated from their original home to flee Mongol encroachment in Central Asia, and they spent many years on the move before settling in Anatolia. During the first leg of their exodus, the young Mevlana was walking behind his father, when the famous dervish poet Farid ud-din ‘Attar instantly identified the spiritual eminence of the two, crying out “Here comes a sea, followed by an ocean!”. Attar gave Mevlana his book, the Asrarnama, which warns against the entanglement of the soul with the material world.

The impact Attar had on the young Rumi is immortalised in the latter’s dedication in verse. “Attar has traversed the seven cities of Love, But We are still at the turn of one street”. For the fact was, that there, a rapidly more influential Islamic world, entrenched in political division and materially wealthy, especially in its upper echelons, was felt to be unsettling the humble foundations on which it was based. This undoubtedly increased the influence of the Sufi movement in Islamic discourse at the time. The Sufis were inadvertently founded by Rabia al Basri a number of centuries earlier, who detested materialism in favour of meditation and remembrance of God, or ‘Zikir’[24]. Mevlana’s name is almost synonymous with the Sufi movement. Anyone unfamiliar with the Sufis will surely be aware of one of their most famous sects, the Mevlevis, or the Whirling Dervishes, who perform their Zikir before audiences in Istanbul and Konya.

Mevlana would have been remembered as just another scholar, perhaps worthy of a footnote or two in one of the histories of Islam, were it not for a chance meeting with a dervish called Shams of Tabriz[25], which completely changed the course of his life. Many legends surround the nature of this first meeting. One such narration has it that Mevlana was sitting by the side of a lake reading a complex legal text, when a typically scruffy dervish, Shams of Tabriz, approached Mevlana and asked, “What are you reading?”. “It’s nothing you would understand,” replied Mevlana, rather annoyed by the old man. Upon this response, the dervish suddenly snatched the book from his hands, and threw it in the lake. Mevlana was incensed, and waded in to retrieve it. When he returned and laid it out on the side of the lake he was shocked to see that the book was bone dry and completely intact. He asked Shams to explain how this was possible. The dervish smugly replied, “it’s nothing you would understand”. It certainly sounds like the behaviour of the old Sufi dervish, a fact not lost on Shams himself. As one source quotes him, he had been travelling around the entire Middle East looking for someone who would “endure my company,” and decided to seek out the Mevlana. However, from then on, Mevlana spent most of his time learning wisdom and asceticism from Shams, that could not be found in any book. The pair were re-popularised in the West and in Turkey recently, thanks to the massive success of Elif Shafak’s latest novel “The 40 Rules of Love”[26], which is inspired by their friendship. In Shafak’s own words, the story is a ‘love story with a spiritual dimension’ and jumps back and forth between the experience of a dissatisfied house-wife in 21st century America, and friendship that took place in 13th century Konya. Shafak intended to discuss “love, with its divine and human dimensions,” finding Mevlana’s story a bridge by which to explore both.

Shafak is not the only artist to take the influence of Mevlana’s work, of which the bulk is collected in his masterpiece the Mesnevi[27]. Also spelt Masnavi and as various others. The Masnevi is known by many as “The Qu’ran in Persian” and contains 26,000 lines of mystical poetry. Many writers in the later period were influenced by the Mesnevi, which cemented Persian culture as the dominant centre around which the Islamic world would pivot for many centuries. Turkish owes close to a quarter of its current vocabulary stock to this period of influence. In spite of all the last century’s changes and upheavals, the Mesnevi offers a timeless and universal message of love and respect. It is surprising to note how many people from various segments of Turkish society, some with little or no overt interest in religion, can quote some of Mevlana’s most famous verses fully. One of the most popular verse is Mevlana’s seven rules for life:-

“In generosity and helping others, be like a river. In compassion and grace, be like the sun.In concealing others’ faults, be like the night. In anger and fury, be like the dead.In modesty and humility, be like the earth. In tolerance be like the sea. Either exist as you are, or be as you appear.”

With such simple, yet eloquent verses, it is not difficult to see the secret of Mevlana’s mass appeal. Moreover, it is no accident on Shafak’s part, for example, that the main character in her novel is a Jewish North American woman with no real religious affiliation. Overcoming the distractions of worldly identity lies much at the heart of Mevlana’s philosophy:

“Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu, Buddhist, Sufi, or Zen. Not any religion, or cultural system. I am not from the East, or the West… not composed of elements at all. I do not exist, am not an entity in this world or the next, did not descend from Adam, or Eve or any creation story. My place is placeless, a trace of the traceless. Neither body or soul. I belong to the beloved.”

Mevlana was buried in Konya, where his tomb draws pilgrims from all over Turkey and beyond. His beloved friend Shams was unfortunately killed[28] on the road one night. According to contemporary Sufi tradition, Shams Tabrizi mysteriously disappeared: some say he was killed by close disciples of Mowlana Jalaluddin Rumi who were jealous of the close relationship between Rumi and Shams, but according to certain evidences, he left Konya and died in Khoy where he was buried.  Subsequently, an inconsolable Mevlana set off on a journey in order to find him. Once he got as far as Damascus however, he realised the vanity of his search, and came to a life-changing conclusion, perhaps one that should be pondered by those who pursue the unobtainable, the unattainable or travel in search of something:[29]

“Why should I seek? I am the same as He. His essence speaks through me. I have been looking for myself!”


Rumi died in 1273, as a recluse, a depressed Sufi by the death of his mentor and friend. His tomb is in Konya[30], which is a place of visit for Sufis and thousands of local as well as global tourists. His heritage includes his exemplary lifestyle, powerful poems and the Mevlevi order, a world-renowned mystical and aesthetic movement.[31] This philosophy is propagated in the west by the exiled Fethullah Gulen[32] the founder of the Gulen Movement[33], banned in Turkey, presently residing in the United States.  Rumi says “Be patient where you sit in the dark, the dawn is coming.”  “The quieter you become the more you are able to hear.” “Raise your words not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers not thunder.” “Two there are who are never satisfied, the lover of the world and the lover of knowledge.”

The Bottom Line to pursue peace and achieve amiability, is renunciation of your personal ego, pride and the importance of “I” and “We”  The overarching philosophy is “ Humanity is first and NOT any individual or nation”. In the words of Rumi:- “Somewhere beyond right and wrong, there is a garden. I will meet you there.” All your anxiety is because of your desire for harmony. Seek disharmony, then you will gain peace. Dance where you can break yourself up to pieces and totally abandon your worldly passions. When everyone is trying to be something, be nothing. Range with emptiness, according to Shams Tabrizi[34]





































Professor G. Hoosen M. Vawda (Bsc; MBChB; PhD.Wits) is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment.
Director: Glastonbury Medical Research Centre; Community Health and Indigent Programme Services; Body Donor Foundation SA.

Principal Investigator: Multinational Clinical Trials
Consultant: Medical and General Research Ethics; Internal Medicine and Clinical Psychiatry:UKZN, Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine
Executive Member: Inter Religious Council KZN SA
Public Liaison: Medical Misadventures
Activism: Justice for All

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 8 Nov 2021.

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