While Sufism originated in Persia and other eastern Islamic nations, it reached the pinnacle of its popularity much later in the Turkish territories of Asia Minor. This was due in large part to one Jala Al-Din Rumi, one of the greatest and most revered of Sufi philosophers, who came to Konya as a refugee fleeing the Mongols. He contributed much in the way of original thinking and ideas to Sufism, and founded the Mevlevi Order, better known as the Whirling Dervishes. His legacy has been honored and maintained by the Mevlevis and his descendents. His tomb is generally considered to be one of Sufism’s most sacred places.
During the 12th and 13th centuries Sufism slowly worked its way westward across the Middle East, penetrating through Persia into Mesopotamia and Asia Minor. It was in the latter that the sect reached the height of its golden age under the Sufi mystic and poet, Jalal Al-Din Rumi. Born in Persia around 1207 AD, his family fled westward in an effort to escape invading Mongols. During the trek a local mystic named Attar identified the young Rumi as a future philsopher and holy man of great importance. It was not long before Rumi began to live up to Attar’s expectations.
After making a pilgrimage to Mecca, Rumi’s family settled in Konya where he exceled as a star pupil at the local madrassa. At the age of twenty-five, he became the school’s headmaster. At the same time he continued his own studies in the Sufi tradition. Locally he became a popular teacher and philosopher, and was an important and respected voice in Konya’s Islamic community. Around 1244 Jalal Al-Din Rumi became acquainted with another mystic, the dervish Shams Tabriz. Tradition holds that they became friends until Allaedin, Rumi’s son, killed the dervish. The only explanation for this unexpected event was that he was jealous of his father’s friendship.
This murder devastated and haunted Rumi, and his devotion to non-violence can likely be traced to this event. He took to writing extensively, encouraged by another friend, Husam. By the time he reached old age, he had a large following of disciples, students and avid readers of his poetry. At the time of his death, his followers formed the Mevlevi Order, also known as the whirling dervishes. Devotees of Sufi Islam, the order became dedicated to the ideals, philosophies and writings of Rumi. Their rituals and celebrations incorporated significant elements of music and dancing, for which the Mevlevis have become famous. Leadership of the Whirling Dervishes passed to the descendents of Jalal Al-Din Rumi, and has continued in an unbroken, hereditary chain for over eight hundred years.
Because of their devotion to Islam, their education, non-violence and energetic celebrations, the Mevlevis became one of the most popular and trusted orders of the Islamic world. By the end of the 14th century the Whirling Dervishes could be found in many places in the Middle East, often in positions of influence. This was especially true during the reign of the Ottomans. After the establishment of the Turkish Republic, the Mevlevi Order was banished, at least in theory. However, the cultural importance of the Whirling Dervishes was eventually recognized by the government, who now allows them to perform occasionally. Whirling Dervish festivals are now the most popular religious celebrations in Turkey.
The Mevlana Museum was originally built as the Mausoleum of Jalal Al-Din Rumi during the late 13th and early 14th centuries as a gathering place for the Mevlevi Order, as well as to accommodate the crowds of dervishes and pilgrims that began visiting the Sufi saint’s tomb. The layout consists of a large irregularly shaped brown-brick building with few windows and little in the way of exterior decoration. A trio of increasingly tall minarets tower over the main building. Two large twin domes top the Shrine, accompanied by several smaller domes and a blue-tiled tower above the original burial vault.
The interior of the Shrine is much more interesting and beautiful. Like many other important religious sites in Turkey that did not sit well with Ataturk, the Shrine of Jalal Al-Din Rumi was converted into a museum in the early 20th century. However, the interior and its expensive decorations were largely left intact, as was the Tomb of Jalal Al-Din Rumi. The tomb is now draped in a magnificent gold-embroidered cloth to protect it from the overly curious. Other sarcophagi in the place contain the bodies of Rumi’s father, sons and other important Sufis. The remainder of the building, which was once used as housing, now has exhibits on the Mevlevis.
The Shrine of Jalal Al-Din Rumi is the major religious and tourism site in Konya, approximately 140 miles south of the Turkish capital of Ankara. Officially it is now a state-run museum, and accessible to the general public. It is open daily from 9:00am-5:00pm (later opening on Mondays). The cost of admission is TL5.00. Web: www.360tr.com/mevlana (official website of the museum)
The city of Konya has among its many sites a number of mosques as well as museums with some of Turkey’s best exhibits on Islamic culture and art. Highlights include the Masjid Alaeddin, where a number of Seljuk sultans are buried; the Masjid Aziziye; the Masjid Selimiye Mosque and the Ince Minare Museum. In addition to the Shrine of Jalal Al-Din Rumi, other Sufi shrines in the region include the Shrine of Somunca Baba in Darende and the Holy Mountain and Shrine of Duzgunbaba, which is said to have healing powers.