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In Sille Basil, a small Anatolian village near where his remains lie, for more than 800 years and until the Turkish-Greek population exchange agreements of 1923, a small Greek community coexisted peacefully with Ottoman Turks, practising the Orthodox religion and using their own language.

It was all possible thanks to his intercession; perhaps this is the most insignificant legacy of Jalal-ud Din Mohammed ( 1207 - 1273 ) - also known as Mevlana ( Our Master ) or Rumi ( of the Sultanate of Rum ) - , but revealing of his universal vision of the human being.


An Islamic Sufi theologian and scholar and one of the greatest mystical poets, he is the author of the Masnavi-ye Manavi, a masterpiece of universal mysticism of all time, considered by many Sufis as the second most important work after the Qur'an.

And it is in that universality where its greatness and permanence in time lies: each one of us, beyond our social condition, race or belief, can approach the Masnavi like a mirror in which we can see reflected the innermost corners of our being.

In the Masnavi, poetry, fable and metaphysical themes are woven into a vast and complex tapestry; but Mevlana is not just a poet, not just a storyteller, not just a philosopher, Mevlana is, above all, a master of the soul, an "Insan Kamil", the Arabic term for the perfect human being.

His legacy, his teachings of tolerance and respect for others regardless of their condition, are the irrefutable proof, recognised worldwide, that it is possible to focus, as individuals and as a group, on what makes us similar rather than what makes us different.


KONYA  / 10 / 22 10:24


Mustafá Holat, at the age of 76, is the spiritual master, called Dede, of a large group of whirling dervishes, including his son Huseyin. His father, his father's father and countless generations before him belonged to the Mevlevi, a Sufi order, or tariqa, founded by Mevlana's followers and widely recognised throughout the Ottoman Empire.

He was born during the difficult years when the order was banned as a result of the proclamation of the secular Republic of Turkey in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and had to go underground, practising their rituals secretly in their homes.

In the 1960s he was one of the first to be initiated in the practice of Sema - ritual dance - in Konya, receiving Mevlevi training from the great masters of the time, and has dedicated his life to passing down this knowledge to new generations preserving the authenticity of the ritual.

Since the Turkish government realised the tourism potential of the Sufi dance ritual of the whirling dervishes in the 1950s and relaxed the bans, Semazen (Mevlevi who practice the Sema) of all ages and conditions regularly practice the ritual, which is seen by tens of thousands of tourists every year.


As a consequence, the Mevlevi community must grapple with a double dilemma: private practice or mass spectacle, mystical experience or professionalization.

Some of them, like Ismail Fenter, 67, Semazen at the Mevlana International Foundation, uphold the idea that the essence of Sema is strictly intimate, private, and that no one should practice it for any reason other than to connect with the divine.

Others like Osman Sariyer, 33, Semazen at the Irfan Civilisation Research and Community Centre, brings, perhaps rationalising, a different perspective: "Being a Mevlevi involves great responsibilities, we must follow in Mevlana's footsteps by being more understanding, tolerant and helpful to others. Being Mevlevi radically affects our lives and never affects us if others witness our rituals because, according to our belief, they also receive Allah's reward for being with those who do good." Osman insists, "The Sema is not a dance performance, it is, in a certain sense, the essence of Mevlana's teachings, it is the direct connection with God."

Be that as it may, whether in public or in private, they won't stop whirling, just as their master Mevlana taught them, to the sound of the reed flute.

KONYA  18 / 10 / 22   10:54


Legend has it that strolling through a Seljuk bazaar in Konya, Mevlana began to whirl when he heard the musical metallic sound of the hammering of the bazaar's goldsmiths.

That was the beginning of it all, Mevlana passionately believed in the use of music, dance and poetry as a means of seeking God and in the opening lines of the Masnavi he says: "Listen to the reed flute, how it wails as it tells a tale of estrangement and separation saying: "since I was separated from the reed bed my lament has made man and woman moan.... This lament is fire, it is not wind, whoever doesn’t have this fire, let it be nothing! It is the fire of Love".

Seven centuries later, the soft sound of a flute, called ney, initiates every Sema ritual. From it comes the "Hu" which symbolises the insufflation of the divine breath into the human being.

From there, there is no sound, colour, movement, gesture, exclamation or attire that doesn’t have its own symbolism.

The frustoconical headdress, called sikke, symbolising the spiritual independence of the dervish.

The long white robe, called tennure, that protects the dervish from the worldly fire.

The black cloak, called hirka, which symbolises their ego and which they take off before starting their turns.

The position of the hands during the turns, one towards the sky to receive the divine breath, the other towards the ground to transmit it to the world.

At the beginning (and at the end) of the ritual, a group of dervishes in the presence of their spiritual master, seem to be nothing more than a group of believers gathered for a common interest.

But at the climax of the ritual...

White robes unfolded by the centripetal forces of the spinning, arms unfolded, heads tilted back, eyes closed in maximum concentration or half-open in ecstatic expression, the whisper of feet spinning on the ground, the soft wind arising from the robes like circular butterfly wings.

It is all hypnotic, beautiful, electrifying.

Without solution of continuity, it seems that the feeling of community has disappeared and each one of them floats, in direct connection with the divine, in an individual and transcendent universe.

In those moments, especially in those moments, the whirling dervishes, the Semazen, represent the quintessence of Sufism seven centuries after Mevlana left his legacy, declared by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.


KONYA  8 / 10 / 22  20: 47   ©Rpnunyez  2023

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