My roommate Amy is a friend I met in Cairo who now works as the front desk girl of the Saudi oil behemoth Aramco. As such, my roommate Nadya and I are sometimes the recipients of Aramco's "extra tickets." And so I say thank you Amy, and thank you Aramco.
Last week Amy invited me to a special performance of "An Evening of Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi's poetry and Sufi music," sure to be chock full of Turks, Sufis, and whirling dervishes - yay!
Sufi's are a mystical branch of Sunni Islam. One sect of Sufis are the Mevlevi order which Rumi (a Persian philosopher who lived for 40 years in Turkey)'s followers formed after he died in 1273. Mevlevis are a community of religious devotees, whirling dervishes who spin their way to religious ecstasy and higher communion with god. There are festivals and performances of whirling dervishes everywhere in the world, but Konya, in central Turkey, is the real dervish capitol of the world. In Konya, there are festivals where dervishes literally spin for 3 or 4 days at a time. Until the 16th century, women and men sometimes whirled in the same religious performances. The whole world seems a little more chaste now, and why?
Sufis are Sunni Muslims, but they are also considered heretical by some other Muslims because of various aspects of the way they worship. Rumi is probably the most famous Sufi. His pronoucements were sometimes seen as problematic within accepted Sunni doctrine, example:
Why should I seek God? I am the same as
He. His essence speaks through me.
I have been looking for myself!
( The Essential Rumi. Translations by Coleman Barks. 1995)
Even in Walt Whitman and other contemporary writers, one can see shades of Rumi.
Rumi's influence goes far beyond the phenomenon of Mevlevi's in Turkey. His poetry serves as the basis for much of classical Iranian and Afghani music. His writings have had a great influence on Turkish literature. Persian Jewish performer Sharam Shiva's CD "Rumi: Lovedrunk" is a very popular suggestion on Myspace these days. It is thought that Rumi is the best-selling poet in the history of the world!
Rumi's major work is Masnavi-ye Manavi
(Spiritual Couplets), a six-volume poem regarded by many Sufis as second in importance only to the Qur'an
. It's also sometimes called the Persian Quran.
At the event the other night, held in a hall of the Library of Congress, it was great fun to hear Turkish spoken all around us. Members of the Turkish parliament, Turks Turks everywhere, a scene I LOVE - interspersed with various members of congress and good old Karen Hughes. The highlight of the show was a performance by Ahmet Ozhan, who used to be a very popular singer and performer in Turkey. A few people have described him to me as the Turkish Tom Cruise before Tom Cruise got wierd. One day, though, Ahmet Ozhan found God, and has devoted the rest of his life to the study of Sufism and a celebration of Sufi artists and poets, including Rumi. Ahmet Ozhan had on these tight black pants with a vest that had these little cap sleeves and made him and his band look like a gaggle of wood nymphs. They played some instruments that had been played continuously around Turkey for the past 6,000 years.
In the middle of the performance it looked as if once of the dervishes ran off to get sick. "Dont sign up for the beginning level of whirling class!" a Georgetown professor joked with me, when I relayed this story to him, since there was sure to be a puker every time.
2007 has been named by UNESCO as the international year of Rumi.
So, if you haven't ever read a little bit of Rumi, now is a good time to do it. Oh, its good stuff.
Until the next Dispatch,