Rumi 742nd anniversary commemorations

This year marks the 742nd anniversary of Rumi's death, also known as ‘Seb-i Arus’ or 'night of Rumi's union with God'

Photo by: AA
Photo by: AA

Whirling dervishes perform during the the "Seb-i Arus" (The Night of union) ceremony at Merinos Ataturk Congress and Culture Center, on December 15, 2015 in Turkey's Bursa province

Updated Dec 18, 2015

"I can't imagine a life without Sufism," says a Turkish woman as she describes her commitment to the 13th-century Islamic scholar Mevlana Rumi.

"Sufism creates a big difference in your life and you get great pleasure from every single thing," Saadet Ermumcu, a retired teacher, says.

She is only one of those looking to Mevlana as they find out about his message of love and hope.

Born in 1207 into a Turkic family in present-day Afghanistan, Mevlana Rumi is one of the most widely read philosophers across the world, whose teachings have transcended boundaries of race, color and religion.

"Everything has changed in my life since Mawlana [Mevlana] came to my life," says Tania Kazi from New York City. "The way I feel, the way I see the world around, my connection to divinity. My entire perspective on life has broadened."

Their remarks came in the week which marks the 742th anniversary of Mevlana Rumi's death on December 17 - also called "Shab e Arus" meaning "the night of Rumi's union with God."

Kazi, a yoga and meditation teacher, first encountered Mevlana 10 years ago when she picked up a book of poems in a bookshop in New York:

"I had heard of the great Rumi, but I did not know why he was so great. When I first started reading the poetry, I started crying. I felt like nobody but Mevlana understands how the human heart feels."

She bought as many books by Mevlana as she could and kept reading. Then, in 2010, she came to Turkey for the first time. She traveled to Turkey's central Konya province, where Mevlana lived most of his life, produced his works and died in 1273.

"I don't think I have ever experienced so much happiness and bliss in my heart as I did when I was in Konya, at his shrine," she says.

She believes that Mevlana is different than other philosophers in the world "because he directly speaks to the human heart."

"While other philosophers, I feel, approach the heart through the mind, Mevlana speaks directly to the heart and its suffering, its challenges and struggles."

Looking for "divine love" through the eyes of Mevlana, Kazi says, "This love is like a song that comforts the human spirit, that pulls man out of his mental confusion, that soothes him and leads him into light."

She says, "Mevlana holds such a bright light that it is still illuminating the world. We are seekers, we long for this light."

Ermumcu, a mother of three, agrees and says looking for that light is "a very happy journey."

"We are living in our own heaven," she stresses.

She says that Islamic Sufism is a "discipline." She thinks the discipline requires acting charitably with no thought of personal gain, not overestimating daily events, as well as not responding to an evil tongue, and fighting against cruelty forever but not the tyrant.

Ermumcu is also the president of the Cultural Association of Turkish Women Konya Branch, or TURKKAD – an association founded by a Turkish writer and Sufi Samiha Ayverdi – with the aim of "guiding women from an aimless life towards a life full of helping others through comprehending values."

"'What is the religion?" she questions herself and says it is "social ethics," and that Sufism takes a person to Islam through moral virtues.

However, Salih Eser from Marmara University in Istanbul, says Islam is not just social ethics but "a combination of faith, religious practice, and good manners."

Ariel view of Mevlana museum in Turkey’s Konya province

He says devotees of either Mevlana or other Sufi saints, including Imam Rabbani or al-Ghazali, could integrate them all.

Eser, who is studying for a doctorate in Islamic law, says it would be wrong to regard Mawlana mystically through love and tolerance only.

"Mawlana attached equal importance to Islamic law, religious faith, and moral ethics," he says.

Professor Emine Yeniterzi, from Istanbul's Uskudar University Institute for Sufi Studies, agrees with him.

"Mevlana himself states clearly in his books about his commitment to Allah, the Quran, and Prophet Muhammad [...] It would be wrong to consider Mevlana [as being] away from Islam."

She says, in other words, "If Islam is taken out from his Masnawi – the six-volume book containing anecdotes derived largely from the Quran – there is nothing left."

Yeniterzi says that Masnawi was written with the aim of teaching the orders, warnings, and advice in the Quran and in the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad.

"Mevlana preferred to do it with stories," she says, adding it is an easier way for people to remember the moral messages and abstract concepts.

Anyone who reads the Masnawi without prejudice can get something from it, the professor says. "Each time you read it, you will discover something new."

Ermumcu from Konya, for instance, has been keeping the Masnawi as a reference guide for nearly 40 years and says enthusiastically that her aim is "to be a living Masnawi."

In order to achieve it, she still takes lessons on the interpretation of Masnawi from Cemalnur Sargut, a keen researcher of Sufi studies and president of TURKKAD’s Istanbul branch.

In 2013, Kazi from New York also met Sargut and listened to her talk about Mevlana. "I found myself falling in love with the teachings," she says. Since then, she has been traveling to Konya every year, sometimes accompanied by her students who want to learn about Mevlana.

Pointing to the increasing interest in Mevlana in Western countries, Sargut says it is because the values that Mevlana tells of in his book are universal.

"Accepting the universality of Islam is very difficult for Western societies as the Muslim countries misrepresent Islam [...] Mevlana, however, is accepted much more easily, although he is not telling different things than the Prophet Mohammad."

Stating that the character of Mevlana is shaped by the ethics of Quran which were practiced by the Prophet Mohammad, she says, "Mawlana is a good opportunity to present Islam correctly."

Sargut, who continuously serves people by giving spiritual discourses and teachings on Rumi’s Masnawi, says, "Mevlana is not an ordinary philosopher."

"Every philosophy will face change one day, except the ones that are based on Quran," she says, adding, "Only those which draw their strength from Islam will be contemporary as Quran itself is a reform and appeals to all the times."

Having a number of studies and books on Sufism, Sargut says everybody can find something in themselves through the teachings of Mevlana.

"His way of divine love and remarks which take people to Allah [God] will keep him up-to-date all the time."

One of her students, Kazi from New York, says, "Mevlana’s message to humanity is what I understand Islam's message to humanity is, which is to really take the time and understand yourself.

"Our work is to practice patience with ourselves, trust the love inside our hearts and not let our minds and our egos always run our lives."

“Everything in the universe is within you. Ask all from yourself," Mevlana Rumi says in his Masnawi.