March 5, 2013 By AbuBakr Karolia

Konya, Where The Past Transcends the Present

konyaLast year in June, during my visit to Turkey I visited the Mevlānā Museum in Konya and it was indeed an experience that I continue to cherish in my heart. Mevlana Museum is the popular name of the Green Tomb (Yeşil Türbe), a splendid shrine where Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (d. 1273), popularly known in the English speaking world as Rumi and Mevlana in Turkey, rests in peace beside the tomb of his father Bahā ud-Dīn Walad (d. 1231). The inscription on the tombstone of Rumi’s grave is his own words,

“When we are dead, seek not our tomb on the earth, but find it in the hearts of men”. It is true that much before a true lover of Rumi visits his tomb, the spiritual leader might have taken residence in his/her heart.

Rumi was a Persian jurist, theologian, Sufi mystic and poet. He is widely admired and read, his spiritual legacy transcending national and ethnic borders. His Mathnawi, Diwan-e Shams-e, Tabriz and Fihi Ma Fihi are huge works in both Sufi and Persian literature. Mathnawi, which means “Rhyming Couplets of Profound Spiritual Meaning” is a series of six books of poetry, each amounting to about 25000 verses. It teaches Sufis how to reach their goal of being in true love with God. This poetic collection of anecdotes and stories are derived from the Qur’an, prophetic traditions (Hadith) and everyday tales.

Rumi was influenced first by his father Walad, a theologian, jurist and mystic and later by Persian and Afghan poets Farid ud-Dīn Attar (d. 1220) and Hakim Abul-Majd Majdūd ibn Ādam Sanā’ī Ghaznavi (d. 1141).   When the Mongols invaded Central Asia, Rumi moved from his native village of Wakhsh in Persia and set out westward. His family went to Damascus and Nishapur, located in the province of Khorasan. From Nishapur, Rumi and his family set out for Bhagdad and Mecca for pilgrimage. Finally they settled in Karaman, a town in south central Turkey. In 1228, as the result of the insistent invitation of the ruler of Anatolia (Turkey), ‘Alā al-Dīn Kayqubād bin Kaykā’ūs (d. 1237) Rumi’s father and his family settled in Konya, Turkey. Rumi’s father became the head of a religious school (madressa) and when he died Rumi aged twenty-five inherited his position as a religious teacher (molvi).

Rumi’s meeting with Shams-e Tabrizi (d. 1248) in 1244 completely changed his life.  From an accomplished teacher and jurist, Rumi was transformed into an ascetic. Shams had travelled throughout West Asia searching and praying for someone who could “endure his company”. It is said that a voice called out to Shams, “What will you give in return?” Shams replied, “My head!” The voice then said, “The one you seek is Jalāl ad-Dīn of Konya.” It is rumoured that Shams was murdered with the collusion of Rumi’s son ‘Ala ud-Dīn. The story shows how Shams gave his head for the privilege of mystical companionship. Rumi died in Konya

After I reached Konya with my family we went to the Museum. The Mevlānā Museum, with its mosque, ritual dance hall (sama), dervish living quarters, a school and the tombs of some of the leaders of the Mevlānā Sufi Order (founded by Rumi’s son, Sultan Walad) continues to draw pilgrims and tourists from all parts of the world. The building that houses the tombs of Rumi, his father and other teachers is a place that acknowledges the legacy of great religious people who lived their lives to prefect themselves by knowing God and serving people.  At first you do wonder what all the fuss was about and that we are visiting a place where these people have long passed away. Walking around the building and entering the place where Rumi and his father are buried are well guarded and with tourist and pilgrims walking everywhere. You put a plastic covering over your shoes and enter a place that is protected and seemingly holy.

One now wishes to catch a glimpse of the exact burial place of Rumi and at first glance one immediately notices the grave of Rumi’s father, Bahā ud-Dīn Walad. Later, one notices the tomb of Rumi. On discovering the tomb one notices that all the graves display symbolical Mevlānā Sufi Order hats with turbans wrapped around them. The graves are covered with brocade, embroidered in gold with verses of the Qur’an. The grave of Rumi is located under the green dome that one sees from the outside – an architectural feature that is breathtakingly beautiful to look upon.

On looking at various tombs and praying for the deceased I did not at first feel any spiritual elation and wondered about it for some time. I went on to the adjoining mosque, which is now used for the exhibition of a collection of old illustrated Qur’ans, extremely valuable prayer rugs and other books. There is also a box containing a single strand of hair from the beard of the prophet Muhammad (PBUH). On leaving the Museum and after praying at an adjacent mosque, I visited a small mosque that is a little distant from the Mevlānā Museum. It is believed that Shams-e Tabriz is buried here. It is also believed that he is buried in the city of Khoy, Iran. I decide to let my heart decide on how I felt about where Shams was buried. After a short prayer for the hospitality of the mosque one is totally enveloped by the presence of this simple grave that is in the mosque but towards the back and on the side of the entrance. After praying a short prayer for Shams and all the deceased I felt an amazing spiritual calm that still continues in my memory.

Strangely, I began to meet people of the Mevlānā Sufi Order without making any effort to do so. I was resting at night and received a call from my son that a certain person who wishes to speak with me about future visitations to the Mevlānā Museum in Konya. This person subsequently pointed me to a living person also called Jalāl ad-Dīn, who owned a tourist shop at the immediate exit of the Mevlānā Museum. He was not only friendly and hospitable but knew friends with whom I am associated in South Africa and the US. I cannot say if this was a coincidence. Jalāl ad-Dīn is famous for the manufacture of various types of hats of the Mevlānā Sufi Order, which include the tall hat that the sama dancers wear and is usually associated with Shams. This kind and enlightened person not only invited us to meet his teacher and mentor but also showed us a beautifully renovated home where he was willing to house at least fifteen people during my future visit to Konya. I describe these experiences as they actually happen during my stay in Konya. I am not reading too much into them except to say that I truly experienced the hospitality of those that had passed away as well as the living.

It is often said that Rumi’s teachings were promoting unity among religions and the widest scope of understanding the enlightened nature of humankind. For Rumi it was an ethical and moral framework as a dignity to life. It was a personal “experience” to re-join the enlightened soul to God through the actions and deeds of perfecting the self and serving humanity.
While Rumi appreciated the unity of creation he practised the outward religious observance and teachings of the Qur’an and emulated the character of Muhammad (PBUH). The following poem of Rumi is an example of this reality.

Flee to God’s Qur’an, take refuge in it
there with the spirits of the prophets merge.
The Book conveys the prophets’ circumstances
those fish of the pure sea of Majesty.

By examining and studying how Rumi practised his faith, an individual can develop his/her moral and ethical fibre by which he/she can translate his/her enlightenment to his/her everyday life in such a way as to know peace and serve humankind by worshipping god.

Can people emulate this as an example relevant for the 21st Century?  People continue to appreciate and even glorify the achievements of the past and emulate great figures in history but the challenge is to understand the essential essence of Rumi’s teachings as dynamic solutions for the future of an enlightened and egalitarian humanity.

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