Now we’ve all heard of Rumi. That is, Jalal al-Din Muhammad, the Mevlana or Master (1207-1273), the Persian-born poet, scholar, and mystic. His Sufi order, or lineage, is known as the Medlevis, or more familiarly, the Whirling Dervishes. There is even a contemporary American offshoot called MOA, the Medlevi Order of America. I should know since a married couple, friends of mine in Hawaii, are leaders of the Order there and, yes, they can both whirl. Rumi, as he is commonly known, has had much of his written wisdom translated into English and no doubt into many other languages. His longest work is a 50,000-line poem, The Masnavi, considered “the Quran in Persian,” which instructs Sufis and others on how to come into the love of God. He got the name Rumi, by the way, from the place where he lived, worked, and died in southwestern Turkey. The city, Konya, was considered in its day the Rome of Turkey, in Turkish “Rum.” Hence, as someone closely associated with that place, he became known as “Rumi,” literally “Roman.” Among his many famous sayings, one of my favorites is—“Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
When my then-new wife, Cedar, and I were on our three-country Sufi honeymoon which began in Turkey, we visited Rumi’s mosque and associated tomb in Konya. The place was packed with a mixture of worshippers and tourists. I soon got a terrible headache and had to go outside for air. As I sat on a nearby bench, I was bummed that this was my body’s response to the final earthly resting place of one of my major heroes. Some days later, however, the VW van with our small group of American pilgrims arrived in an Anatolian town I’d never heard of, a place with the unusual name of Haji Bektash. It was the hometown of one Haji Bektash Veli (1209-1271), also a Sufi from Persia who ended up living and working in Turkey. If you look at the numbers, he was born two years after Rumi and died two years before him. His name indicates someone named Bektash who had gone on a pilgrimage to Mecca (hence the title “Haji”) and was considered a saint (or “Veli”; “Wali” in Arabic). His mosque and tomb were far less crowded than Rumi’s on the day of our visit. Moreover, the place gave me not a headache but a powerful sense of peace. His order, the Bektashis, were the official order of the Ottoman Sultan’s royal guard, the Janissaries. And although the latter were all men, his order differed from the Turkish Mevlevis in including female as well as male adherents. Indeed, during our visit we saw a coed group of Bektashis perform their zikr, or Remembrance of God, in song and dance. Then, outside the mosque we came upon a large stone with Haji Bektash’s “Golden Words” inscribed on it in English. Here are a few of them. Seek and Find. Educate the Women (Remember: this is 13th-century Turkey!). Do Not Vilify Any Nation or Person. And, Never Forget That Even Your Enemy Is a Human Being. Wow! I thought, I happily found that I had room for the wisdom of Rumi’s contemporary, Haji Bektash, as well as for that of the Mevlana. Thanks be to God!