The family of Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi (1207-1273), a poet born in Balkh (now in Afghanistan), but later settled in Konya, Turkey, which was then the capital of the Seljuk Empire, then known as Rum, whence his name. He carried out orthodox study and teaching there and had become a highly esteemed mystic, prior to his encounter of Shams of Tabriz, the central event of Rumi’s life. This friendship led Mevlana to the innermost parts of the spiritual world.
Shams was an unknown itinerant who appeared in Konya in 1244, disappearing two years later. Under his influence, Mevlana dedicated himself to the study of Sufi mysticism, becoming a supreme master in this field. He was the spiritual founder of the Mawlawi Order and his most important work was a vast compilation of Sufi doctrine and Sufi lore, the Mathnawi-i Ma’nawi.
At the shrine built after Mevlana’s death, his followers began reading the Mathnawi, performing the Sema and also carrying out all other religious duties. Mevlana’s eldest son, who founded the Order and organized the regulations for administering the Dervish Lodges, eventually, became Sultan Veled, Master of the Lodge (Sheikh). After this, the office passed by tradition from father to son, or to the head of the family, a tradition, which really begins with Mohammed. The person occupying the position of Sheikh is given the title “Chelebi”. Each Dervish novice (murid) must be familiar with the genealogy of his fraternity. Mevlana, conforming to the Shari’a as the basis for spiritual study, regarded the Sema as a vital element in helping to achieve divine love and ecstasy. “The love of Allah leads to the lover forgetting himself in the love of the Beloved”. The principal rite in the Dervish service is the Sema (Ayin-i Sherif), while remembrance of God (Dhikr) is the chief exercise of devotion, which serves to stress the worshipper’s dependence on the spiritual world. “Spiritual maturity is the realization that the self is a reflection of the Divine”. This ritual emphasizes the emotional element of religion, and causes an ecstatic trance in the worshippers, such rituals explain how the epithets ‘howling’, ‘whirling’ or ‘dancing’ have been attached to the word ‘dervish’. However, such practice is considered to be an aid to concentration, to enable the dancers to intensify their awareness of God to the exclusion of their surroundings. While rotating, they lose all sense of the material self. Whirling Dervishes are like the planets orbiting the sun, and they are thought to make divine love an orbit of the spiritual experience. The left hand faces downward, towards earth, the right hand upward, reaching up to heaven, thus forming a link between one another. Mevlana stated that music, which accompanies the Sema, is the means of increasing divine love and ecstasy. Dervish music is largely provided by a choir singing in unison accompanied by musical instruments. Mevlana characterized the day of death as the day when he would be united with Allah, his Beloved. According to him, mysticism is the pathway to knowing Allah and being united with Him, saying that a person’s soul, mind, and love form a triangle.
The greatest message from Mevlana’s philosophy is love, charity and unity. Mevlana embraces all humanity, making no discrimination, and invites all to unity.
“Come again, again!
Come again, whoever you may be,
Whether an infidel, a fire worshipper or a pagan;
No matter whether you have broken your vows a hundred times.
Ours is not a door of despair.
Just come as you are.”
In the Sema ceremony, three meanings are expressed by the three stages in putting on the mantle. The meaning of the first is, “Allah wished to express Himself” so He created the universe. In the second stage, He created nature, and in the third, He created the whole of the animal kingdom. But none of these could express Him, Himself. At the end of the third stage, dervishes take off their mantles, which mean “Allah created mankind”. Then, representing Man, they place their hands crosswise on their shoulders. This position represents ‘elif’, the first letter of God’s name in Arabic, and expresses God’s unity. The Sema now begins with four salutations. These are: Shari’a -learning religious law; the Order -finding the pathway of love leading to God; Truth -striving for awareness of God’s truth and beauty; and Skill, meaning that having become aware of God’s beauty, one can be of service to mankind.
The Mawlawi Order is not a closed community. Its doors are open to all, whether a Dervish or not. However, there are a few traditional rules: Give, do not take; he who begs or lives off another is not one of us; our doors are open to those who make an honest living. Not only our own doors, but the doors of Allah are shut to those who do no good to themselves, to their family, to their neighbour or to others. Love is the key to unlock all doors. First, love the Creator, then love His creatures. Allah is beautiful and He loves all things of beauty. The Mawlawiyya value a beautiful voice, beautiful sayings and beautiful writings and lend their support to activities which benefit society, cherish the Arts and contribute to the economy.
The Sema is a form of worship. “Tennure” is the name given to the garments worn, and each colour conveys a meaning: red represents love, the sunrise and sunset; green is peace; pink is love; yellow is the lover’s countenance, for when a person suffers the pain of love, his/her face grows pale and wan; white is for the Prophet Mohammed’s radiance; black stands for innocence, and navy blue represents the Chelebi. It is said that in Mevlana’s time women, too, performed the Sema, but not together with men. However, there are those who oppose the participation of women and wearing the colours of the Tennure. In the Dervish Lodge at Galata, Istanbul, however, the number of women performing the Sema is increasing day by day. Here is a place where men and women together perform the Sema and where anyone may seek their own answers, regardless of their religion, race, language, age or sex.
Every prophet and every
saint has a way,
but all lead to God. All
ways are really one.
Dervishhood is not for the
sake of avoiding
entanglement with the world;
no, it’s because nothing
exists but God.
Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi
The New Year of the Shi’ites and Alevis commences at the Spring Equinox, and is celebrated as the Feast of Nevroz. For them there are two new years: one, reckoned in lunar months, is the first day of Muharram; the other is the Spring solstice of the solar year. The former is a sad day, the anniversary of genocide; the latter is a day of good omen, a joyful occasion. The Festival of Nevroz, the national festival of Iran, is called “Crimson Egg Day” and a number of beliefs and myths are associated with it: Ali’s birthday, the beginning of Spring, the grounding of Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat after the Flood, God’s recognition of Mohammed as His prophet, Mohammed’s acceptance of Ali as candidate for His successor, and the destruction by Prophet Mohammed, like the Prophet Abraham before him in the Temple of Nemrut, of 360 idols in the ancient Temple of Mecca. March 21st, when day and night are of equal length, is anticipated as a joyful day, full of hope for the future, and being sad or mournful on this day is regarded as shameful and a sin. Houses are cleaned from top to bottom for Nevroz, when, it is believed, illness and evil will cease to exist, quarrels are reconciled, graves are visited, people leap over Nevroz bonfires making various wishes as they do so, and the Festival is celebrated with assemblies and special programmes. Nevroz is the Persian word for “new day” and it is celebrated as the Feast of Life among those Parsees who are adherents of the Zoroastrian religion.
A religious order known as Bektashism, taking its name from Hadji Bektash who lived in the 13th century is distinct from, but similar to Anatolian Alevism. Only a person born into an Alevi family may become an Alevi, but anyone who joins the order may become a Bektashi. There are more similarities than differences between the two orders. The saying, “The only difference lies in the practice not in the path”; is generally used when referring to Alevi-Bektashi culture, beliefs or traditions. Hadji Bektash is of great importance to Alevis and in their centres of assembly and worship his portrait is displayed with pride alongside that of Ali. Very few historical facts are known about his life, but he is thought to have been a Turkoman, born in Nishapur, Turkistan. Having qualified as a mystic, he later travelled to Anatolia. “You alone are responsible for your words, deeds and morals” is one of his precepts, and another is “Do as you would be done by”, literally translated as ‘Do not practice on another what would be hard for you to bear.” One of the cornerstones of the Alevi-Bektashi creed is the Spiritual Brotherhood which advocates mutual help, mutual support and fraternity. Ahi-ism, a branch of Alevi which applies to commercial and professional sectors, whose tradition carries certain of its qualities to the present day, joined Bektashism after the murder of Ahi Evren, and was united and totally absorbed by it. Today many members of Alevi-Bektashi order preserve some of the old folk-religious customs, such as placing lighted candles at the tomb of a saint, kissing the door frame on entering and avoiding treading on the doorstep of a holy building, requesting prayers to be said by distinguished healers, or writing a wish or request on a strip of cloth and tying it to a sacred tree or shrine. The belief that after his death Hadji Bektash turned into a falcon and flew away can be associated with Shamanistic roots.
The crescent moon, (hilal) is the accepted symbol of Islam, and this particular form of the moon has a religious significance. It is the symbol of rebirth, because it possesses both an open and closed form, like a person caught in the throes of death, before opening up and reviving. Thus the crescent is an image of heaven and a symbol of revival.
Apart from pork, blood, alcohol and narcotics, everything is permissible. Muslims are forbidden to eat the meat of any animal that dies of natural causes instead of being slaughtered in the prescribed manner. Traditionally, animals are slaughtered after first pronouncing the name of Allah and then the blood is drained, a method similar to that used by the Jews.
Muslim women may not marry non-Muslim men, but Muslim men are permitted to marry other “Peoples of the Book”, i.e., Christians and Jews.
Like Jewish males, Muslim males are circumcised, but Muslim circumcision is performed on no fixed date just before reaching puberty and is a festive occasion, with special clothes for the boy, and entertainment provided. Islam forbids usury.
In Islam, conduct and practices which are in accordance with the words of the Prophet Mohammed are known as Sunna. The branch of study which organises this learning is called Hadith. SUNNISM is the collective name for the doctrines based on the form of belief determined and practised by the disciples according to the Prophet Mohammed’s Sunna. Sunni Muslims regard the first four Caliphs as the true successors of the Prophet. In Sunnism it is held that the Caliphs should be chosen through decisions of the Islamic community. They may be chosen from people of any race or region.
The four schools of law that have survived in Sunni Islam are Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanbali. The Hanafi is the most followed and which was accorded official recognition by the Ottoman Empire. Most Muslims in central Asia, India and Turkey, and many throughout the Middle East, follow Hanafi. The Maliki School prevails throughout northern and western Africa, in the Sudan and parts of the Persian Gulf, The Shafi’I is found mostly in eastern Africa, parts of Arabia and throughout southeastern Asia, and the Hanbali, now the least followed among the Wahhabis of central Arabia and parts of the Persian Gulf.
There are 1.3 billion Muslims in the world that is one person in every five. 20% of Muslims are from the Arabic-speaking world. 5% of Arabs are not Muslims. 83% of Muslims are Sunni, 16% Shi’ite and 1% other sects.
The mosque is not essential for worship, but provides space for meetings, study and worship, and Muslims gather there to pray, especially on Fridays. The principal officials are: the muezzin, who calls the faithful to prayer, the imam who leads the prayer, and the preacher (Khatib). It is important to be correctly dressed for prayer. Men should cover their bodies from navel to knees; women may show only their hands, face and feet. Clothing for both sexes should be plain. Traditionally, men and women pray separately, and special areas in the mosques, usually upstairs are reserved for women, although women generally pray at home. Because Muslim prayer involves standing, kneeling and prostration, an open space is provided, without chairs or benches, and a large space is required for the crowds who attend on Fridays. The direction of Mecca (qibla) towards which Muslims face when they pray is indicated by the mihrab. The raised pulpit (minbar), which the preacher mounts to deliver his Friday sermon (khutba), is the most important piece of furniture in the mosque. Every mosque has at least one minaret; though some have two or four and each minaret has one or more balconies from which the muezzin utters his call to prayer, five times daily. The mosque has no altar. For many Muslims the dome is the symbol of the oneness of God. Some mosques are decorated with beautiful wall-tiles, often bearing calligraphic designs based on verses from the Koran.
Traditionally, images are not used, and in place of these, miniatures, flower-and-leaf designs and calligraphy were developed. In the Koran as in the Torah there is no verse which clearly forbids representative art. Later in the Hadith, depiction is clearly forbidden. To make representations of Nature is considered to be a turning aside from the truth. The Hadith says that those who depict living beings are presuming to imitate God’s creation and will be punished in the afterlife. Embellishment of the Koran, which sometimes takes years to complete, is widespread. Abstract and geometric designs and many different calligraphic styles of Arabic script are used as decoration, regarded as appropriate to adorn the Word of God. From the 10th century onwards, special academies or seminaries were established to teach religious and legal doctrines.