The past winter saw me standing clueless at the Mevlana museum at Rumi’s tomb, enjoying the ambience, getting immersed in the throng of pilgrims that had come to pay their respects to the great mystic and feeling what I’ve never felt before. I can very well say that I witnessed spiritual genesis, the healing of broken hearts and torn souls. Such is the intricacy and beauty of this enchanting city. None who arrives here can escape its magic. I soon realized there is much more than what meets the eyes. Konya is a spiritual bliss. Aside from its fascinating heritage, I believe there also lays a very remedying spiritual atmosphere in the city, which only the enlightened can perceive.
What we see around the city of Konya today is not merely a city with a heritage, it is a whole civilization. This city encircling us is the place where the greatest ancient civilizations met each other and merged to form something entirely different. The Konyan civilization, in truth an amalgam of the Byzantium, the Persian, the Faustian and the Arab cultures holds the perfect tinge of every single one of them. From the Doric columns of the Mevlana University to the astounding wonders the geometric patterns display at the Mevlana museum and at Rumi’s tomb, one can only wonder how diverse, yet serene and accepted the ways of all ancient civilizations here is. The merger of these great cultures created something new, a way of life that would become a beacon of spiritual illumination for the upcoming generations and the newly emerging conventions.
The city of Konya also serves as the point of juncture of two great world religions. This is the city that witnessed the meeting of two very different ways of life when the Abbasid armies took Islam into the byzantine Anatolia. Instead of competing for dominance, the two cultures merged to create a very secular, liberal and humane culture which regards the practices of all the civilizations and the teachings of all the religions that reside inside the walls of the city. The apostles Paul and Barnabas preached in Konya during their first missionary journey in about 47–48 AD.
This culture of impartiality and acceptance, fortunately, still thrives to this day. Konya has the reputation of being one of the more religiously conservative metropolitan centers in Turkey. It was once known as the "citadel of Islam" and its inhabitants are still comparatively more devout than those from other cities
More than three millennia ancient, the city of Konya is also the oldest human settlement that fabricated the norms of civilized living. This elementary urban development also had excellent trade ties with the rest of Anatolia. Moreover, the city lies on the silk route, the most enigmatic and rewarding of all trade routes over the course of human history. Hence, ladies and gentlemen, it becomes apparent that this place where we have congregated today, has been flourishing as a center of education, both worldly and spiritual and the heart of many civilizations that veritably created it.
No mention of Konya, or Iconium- as the Romans called it, is ever complete without the mention of Mevlana Rumi. In fact, he is the life and soul of the city and its culture. Like a majestic peak that dominates the countryside around it near and far, the figure of Mawlānā Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, the supreme Sufi poet of the Persian language, dominates the whole of the later Sufi tradition in the lands of Anatolia. He stands out as a spiritual pole not only for the Persian people to whom he belongs by origin but also for the Turkish world where he spent half a century of his life and where his earthly remains are interred and even for the Muslims of the Indo-Pakistani sub-continent whose soul still reverberates to the music of his poetry.
Furthermore, the message of this towering figure which has remained alive to this day in the Islamic world is now sought ever more eagerly in the West beyond the circle of Orientalists by those who have become tired of the rapidly passing fashions of the day, of the supposedly timely and pertinent new ideas which in the twinkle of an eye turn into stale thought no longer possessing any actuality or relevance.
Today in the Western world, depleted of spirituality and suffocating in an ambience where ugliness has become the norm and beauty luxury, Rūmī is discovered by many as the antidote to the ills from which the modern world suffers. He is, in fact, one of the most read poets in the United States and indeed the antidote of love, acceptance and inclusiveness is the most effective cure to the ills of the ailing world.
In order to draw aid from Rūmī in the spiritual battle at hand one must read him not as a mere poet but as the porte-parole of the Divine mysteries who like the birds could not but sing in melodies that move the spirit. Coming into being of a new yet ancient awareness of the Truth which is always wedded to beauty and of the beauty which is an aspect of Divine Mercy and which leads to the Truth.
The works of Rūmī and his ever living spiritual presence stand as a strong beacon to guide men by means of beauty to that Truth which alone can liberate them from the illusory prison of deprivation and ugliness that they have created around themselves, a prison whose confines cannot be broken save by means of the message of men like Rūmī in whom the vision of the Truth and its expression in the most perfect human form are combined.
It is said that when Rumi lost his spiritual beloved Shams Al-Tabrezi, he went into a long stretch of distress. The longing he felt to be with his master persevered for most of his life at which’s end, he found shams hidden in his own soul. In a way, it was Rumi’s spiritual Enlightenment. I cannot help but learn from this narrative that in this materialistic world, the only way to attain calmness and inner tranquility is in finding what you have always been searching for in your soul, inside yourself.
George Orwell once famously said ‘happiness can exist only in acceptance’. He was quiet right. No one reading this is ignorant of the violence befalling the whole of earth in this era. There is so much hate, and there is so little want of the common good, that we ignore the sufferings of others and remain content in our own little illusionary worlds. Radicalism prevails and tops all the measures of ensuring peace.
Samuel Huntington has put the ongoing entanglement as a clash of civilizations, putting forward a belief that it is all a war for dominance between cultures and religions. I strongly believe that the message of acceptance and inclusiveness is what this torn and pulled-apart world needs in this hour of crisis and dilemma.
It is very crucial here to question the means through which the word of peace and acceptance is spread. Since I take Konya as the emblem of accord, I have a rigorous belief that Konya must spread its message and must come out to the world as a centre of reconciliation. Konya must step outside its walls and circulate the message and way of peace. Rumi’s way of life and his way of spirituality and tolerance is what I feel is the only way of breaking the bonds of global warfare that we finding ourselves engulfed in. To quote Rumi:
In generosity and helping others: be like the 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 soil
In tolerance: be like the ocean
Either you appear as you are, or: be as you appear
(from Rumi’s Seven Advises)
I can say from my experience that dissention of the an individual’s right to believe in something he thinks is right or refusal of someone’s right to put forward his thoughts is one enormous reason why people turn towards extremism. I would particularly like to bring into light the youth, who are ever so easily stirred with just a few words they may consider scandalous in their own interpretation.
This system of believing something to be in the absolute right and thwarting all else to be false and even punishable is sheer hypocrisy. This is the exact mind-set that has led to this world becoming a living inferno, an abyss from which there seems to be no return. It is very routine in the contemporary era to hear about acts of extremism committed between religious factions and schools of thoughts just because they think what the other teaches are wrong and blasphemous.
I live in a land where religious tensions have led to many acts of atrocities by various factions on each other. The feeling of resent towards any who does not support the similar idea is so gigantic that the communities do not even interact, living in a ghetto of their own minds and plotting against each other. How, I wonder, will we ever be able to find a way towards global peace amid such continuous displays of hypocrisy and with neither the will nor the heart to accept and listen to what others say?
The only solution that comes to my mind is the integration of the idea of acceptance and acknowledgement in the individual’s mind.
در عشق حقيقي نه وفا و نه جفاست. بي ديده اگر راه روي عين خطاست
“If you walk with your eyes closed, for sure you are lost” – Rumi
Indeed we are a community walking with our eyes closed, with our brains encased by petty problems of our own, indeed we are lost. There can be no words more befitting the plight of the Muslim Ummah than these, composed by none other than Rumi himself. We are a wounded community, torn apart by wars and grieving in the plight of our people, but as Mawlana Rumi said ‘the wound is the place from where the light enters you’. We need to take in the light, and moreover learn to perceive it and make the most out of it.
I believe peace is one necessary thing needed to create an advancing world. And this city, with all its values can do wonders in achieving the ultimate target of global tranquility.
The sun of Enlightenment hasn’t set on Konya yet, it is just masked behind a haze of forgetfulness and ignorance. We need to swipe aside that veil, realize our true potential and bring forth a renaissance. This city needs a renaissance in its whole, with the revival of all its heritage and values, so that a center of illumination is brought forth embedded in a civilization that is equally majestic and impressive.
[The writer, Abraham Haid, is the student of Aligarh Muslim University.]