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Interview

Dr. Bahrihüdâ Tanr?korur:

“The Mevlevi order aims to make a person a better Muslim”

17 Ocak 2008

An Art Historian and a researcher on Mevlevi lodges Dr. Barihuda Tanrikorur:
“The mevlevi order aims to make a person a better Muslim”

Barihuda Tanrikorur

Her first name is Charmaine Angele Moo. Her current name is Sermin Barihuda Tanrikorur. She was born in Jamaica in 1946 and is the wife of the deceased Ud composer and author, Cinucen Tanrikorur. She went to the United States to attend college and was appointed assistant professor of sculpture and design at the visual art department of the California State University from 1972 to 1975. Then she came to Turkey. She lived in Konya for eight years. She lectured on English Language and Literature at the Middle East Technical University, at Bilkent University, and at Selcuk University. From 1984 to 2000, she studied “Turkish-Islam Art History” and was awarded a Ph.D degree. Her dissertation was entitled the “Mevlevi Architecture”. She has been writing about Mevlevîhâne Architecture and the Mevlevi order for the Islam encyclopedia and also has been publishing papers at various university conferences and working on panels since 1995. From 2004 to 2005, on behalf of Turkish Republic, she led a team of 65 scholars responsible for preparing the “Culture Heritage Report” which was submitted to UNESCO. TheMevlevî Âyin-i ?erifi” report (that was prepared by the same team) was nominated as the world masterpiece by UNESCO.

When was the first time you became acquainted with Mevlana and the Mesnevi?

While studying at Boston University, I read a couple of poems from Divan-i Kebir translated by Nicolson. I was researching about mysticism of religion. In fact I am an art historian. In the United States during the 1970s, there was a tendency to seek the internal meanings of religions, and I was looking into the Mevlevi order, but later on I realized that people claiming that they are the followers of the Mevlevi order were actually detaching Mevlana from Islam. They were associating Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; whereas, there was no prayer (act of worship) from Islam except only for the Kelime’i tevhid. But a Mevlevi Shaykh (that I met) taught me the true meaning. There were not any mosques or Muslims in my native country. There were only a small number of (migrant) families coming from the Middle East.

The aforementioned Mevlevi Shaykh was from Konya, and he came here to organize a Mevlevi ritual for the first time in the US. He also invited me to Konya. He understood that I wanted to become a Muslim. He said, “There is nobody to teach you, according to our traditions men and women follow different education”. And I moved to Turkey in 1976.

Why is there an increasing enthusiasm for the Mevlevi order?

The age of modernization has always kept people busy with a materialistic perspective of life. Even though more weight is dedicated to the spiritual side of life in the East; industrialization and materialism have also come to the foreground there. Family ties and social aids diminished…love disappeared. People do not devote their time to spiritual welfare. The Mevlevi order and the Mesnevi(Mathnawi) fill this gap very well. As you’ll know, Mevlana is the transfiguration of one of Allah’s names “Ya Vedud” (The Loving, the Kind One). He is the authority on love. It is analogous to Abdukadir Geylani’s being the transfiguration of Allah’s “Kadir” name (The All-Able), and Ibn-i Arabi’s being the transfiguration of Allah’s “Alim” name (The All-Knowing, the Omniscient). So Hz. Mevlana is the master of love. Besides, who doesn’t need love anyways? Therefore, they feel themselves close to Mevlana. On the other hand, there are some words that are associated with him even though they don’t really belong to him, i.e. “Come whoever you are, come again...”

Do these words not belong to him?

No, these words do not belong to him. And these words have been exploited by people. People have interpreted “Come, even if you have broken your vow a thousand times…” as asking for repentance for sinning again and again, instead of vowing not to commit the same sin one more time. Does this make any sense?

You have a comprehensive research on the Mevlevi tekkes …

I studied the Mevlevîhânes for more than 20 years during my Ph.D work. Since my work involved art history, I was engaged not only with the historical aspects but also with the architectural aspects, so I made on-site visits, measured, drew, took photos, and repaired all available archives to obtain previous records. I dedicated more of my time to the Mevlevîhânes that still exist, because to measure and compare them I needed firm data. The outcome of this work was a dissertation with 3000 pages and 3 volumes.

Have you published this work?

No, it was seen as too expensive to publish.

How many Mevlevi monasteries are there in the world?

Throughout the entire history – around 200…maybe more. We are talking about a 700-year-old institution here. Some of these Mevlevi monasteries were closed in earlier centuries. The ones located in the Balkans were closed during the decline of the Ottoman Empire, along with the ones in both Crimea and Hungary. In other words, the Mevlevîhânes that were left outside the borders of the Ottoman Empire were abolished. Being a Turkish sect, the Mevlevi Order cohabited where Turkish sovereignty existed. After the abolishment of dervish lodges in 1926, the central Mevlevi lodge in Konya was moved to Aleppo, Syria. That is because the Celebi title was passed to there. After the 1960’s, the Mevlevi Order was brought to the foreground, but even in the 1980’s I was having a hard time getting a permit from the Turkish government.

What kind of establishments replace the function of Mevlevi Tekkes in the US and in Europe?

Though not completely(functions), there are some lodges. A Mevlevi lodge was opened in Northern California near New Mexico. In Hawaii, a dervish lodge, similar to the in Mevlevîhâne Galata was opened. Mevlevis living in some of the cities of Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Germany are meeting up every week and carrying out zikr, Mevlevi rituals, and learn Sema. However, none of these lodges are functioning the same as the old Mevlevîhâne tekkes.

Is Sema considered as an important ritual in the Mevlevi order?

Of course…there is a “Mevlevî Ayin-i ?erifi”, but it is different then what is known today.

Did Hz. Mevlâna perform Sema?

Yes, but please note that during both his and Haci Bektasi Veli’s lifetimes, there was no tarikat. Most of the masters have not established any order (tarikat) during their lifespan, yet his successors and disciples, to a degree, institutionalized the orders for continuation after those scholars passed away.. That’s also the reason why the Mesnevi ?erif (Mathnawi) was written. One day Husamettin Celebi asked Hz. Mevlana, “Could you please leave the followers a book to help guide us?” So, Hz. Mevlana began to recite to him what would later become the Mesnevi (Mathnawi), and Hz. Mevlana continued this work from then right up until his death. Hz. Mevlana himself is the main guidance book of the Mevlevi order…of course along with Islamic intellectuals, but the Mesnevi ?erif(Mathnawi) should also be read.

Well, how can we change the perception of considering the Mevlevi order as a folklore element?

We have to admit that the Mevlevi Ayins are very fascinating. Western voyagers have introduced them with texts, pictures, and visual media for centuries. In essence, the meaning within the Mevlevi order is hidden from the lay person, and people who are unfamiliar with these meanings may get bored by genuine Mevlevi Ayins. The ayin has four salutations. Its music is special. There are 75 different types of Sema Ayins and each takes 45 minutes. They all start with “Nat-i peygamber”. There are special forms of music for each Ayin; UNESCO even knows it but most of the Turkish people do not. With UNESCO we made a detailed analysis of the music using ethnomusicologists.

Are the documents of the first Mevlevi Ayins available?

The first Mevlevi Ayins that are available to us date back to the 14th and 15th centuries, and continue into the 20th century, along with sheet music. Mevlevi’s invented their transcription (a note system) system as well. They used “Ebced”, written with old letters. In a sense, Mevlevi monasteries were musical conservatories and literature faculties of their times. In addition, they functioned as centers for the study of sciences, including astrology and mathematics. The philosophy of the Mevlevi order is that Allah gives each individual a different ability, encourages each one of them to use that ability, and then reveals these abilities. The responsibility of an individual during his or her lifetime is to leave something behind after they are gone. Everybody is obliged to serve the other people, regardless of his or her profession, be it a calligrapher, a repairman, a cook, or whatever. The act of serving this person, in fact, is to worship Allah. You might have heard the famous story that while walking in the street, Mevlana hears Selehaddin Zerkubi’s hammer hitting the anvil, and he began whirling.

Is there a difference also in the Music performed?

Sema originally comes from Central Asia. In the earliest performances the organizers were confused and asked themselves, “How can we fill this area?” Because in original performances only 9 to 18 people performed Sema. But what happened? They chose from the most dextrous and athletically inclined people and trained them for three months and then named them Semazen’s. They did not question if these people had faith, or if they had committed any of the acts forbidden by religion, or even if they had known of Mevlana.

For the music, no more then twelve people would play for the ceremony. The main instrument used was the ney, and it was more of an instrumental music, maybe with one instrument with plectrum: either a kanun, ud or a tambur. Now you’ll see three or four uds used in a performance. The numbers have been inflated. The motivation behind this change was trying to intensify to feeling of the music to help capture the original intent and atmosphere, but later on this was abused and the motivation shifted more towards tourism concerns. In the beginning, there were serious arguments, and consequently break offs, between people who wanted to keep the sincerity and purity of the original performance, and other people who wanted the Sema ceremony to become a popular and profitable business. Later on, it became bigger and bigger and took its current shape. The Sema ceremony, which is only supposed to be performed by people who are affiliated with a traditional system, had now been introduced as a public event, so it became more prone to abuse. Now they create a group of performers and immediately send them on tour throughout Europe. And here in Europe, people become happy because they expect to see Mevlevi Dervishes visiting them, but they see that after the Sema is over the same performers go out to bars and pubs and drink alcohol. There are a lot of similar stories about this problem.

Can women perform Sema?

Yes, but differently then men, and not publicly. In fact, there is a seraglio room in Mevlevîhânes. The Shaykh Efendi’s family resides there in this two-three level building. The person named “Valide Sultan” is the wife of the Shaykh Efendi. Valide Sultan and the other Mevlevi sisters (Mevlevi baci) gather there to go thorough their education and training. In Islam, chastity is very important; thus, these sisters refrain from being in the public as much as possible.

What is “Çile ç?karma”?

To become a “Dede” in the Mevlevi system, a dervish should undergo “1001 days of suffering”. This is called “çile ç?karmak”. It is approximately a four-year period of higher level of education and training. During this period of time, he cannot stay in his own home, and during the daytime can only go outside with special permission. But he must stay in the dervish lodge (tekke) at night, because he has to go through an extensive education and must stay in the eyes of the masters. If a dervish looses his motivation and discipline, or strays outside, then “çile” is broken. In this case, he would need to restart his training from the beginning. There is also a group of dervishes called “Zabitan” in the monastery. They are responsible to inspect the dervish’s actions during his training. Every dervish who has achieved the title of “Dede” had to go through this same training (çile ç?karmak). For example, Galip Dede, Ahmet Remzi Dede, and Hammamizade Ismail Dede. The title does not mean that they are a “Pôst-neshîn” though. And not every dervish undergoes “çile ç?karmak”. Dede’s are also sometimes sent to serve at other dervish lodges if it is needed. The lodge where the dervishes undergo “çile ç?karmak” is called the “Matbah- ? ?erif”. “Matbah” means kitchen, but here no food is cooked, rather the dervish is cooked (a metaphor made famous by Hz. Mevlana). The head educator in the Matbah is called the “Atesbaz Dede”. In addition to this education, there are eighteen more tasks in which the dervish must serve, each with a different Dede in charge of them. Every service can be considered as a different stage in the education, and each stage takes forty days. There are also collective prayers. After Salat-ul-fajr (Morning Prayer), Allah’s name and attributes are studied and the Mesnevi(Mathnawi) is read.

After they complete this education, do they start practicing Sema in Matbah-? ?erif?

Yes, but it is different than what is now known. In their training a nail is placed between the first and second toes of one foot, and the dervish whirls without opening his arms. The technique for opening the hands is taught later. Before wearing the special ceremony costume named “tennure”, three months of practice is required. Another important detail is that Sema is performed with bare feet during this stage.

The first recorded public Sema ceremony was in done in 1957. That means, people kept this ritual alive for many years. Abdulbaki Golpinarli wrote the book “Mevlevi order after Mevlana”. He wrote down all the Mevlevi prayers and Gulbengs.

Has there been any prohibition of the Sema ceremony in history?

In the 17th century, it was prohibited for a period of eighteen years. In the Mevlevi order enthusiasm is expressed by means of a Sema performance and music. This expression has received criticism for centuries even some dervish lodges were closed during Kadizade period. A couple of times decrees claiming that “Sema is not a valid religious prayer” were issued by religious ordinances (fetva). There were debates about whether “this performance is acceptable within the sheriat”.

Are the Tekkes the places where the egos are dissolved?

Yes, in these Mevlevi tekkes, no outside social status or positions have any meaning. In fact, in the Mevlevi system there is a term “can”. Everybody who enters into the Mevlevi system is called “can”. Nobody is more important than another; all fellow members are the same. In essence, there is only one guide and only one mentor, and he is the prophet Muhammad. Every member of the order and every Muslim tries to follow his example. This is fundamental to the Mevlevi system. With the understanding of “Anyone who knows his nefs, knows Allah” in mind, the answers to the questions of “why are we living” and “where are we going?” are explored. The only motivation behind this research is to utilize the lifetime as efficiently and productively as possible. The Mevlevi order does not approve of anything against Islam, and directly follows the light (guidance) of the Qur’an. You live to surrender to Allah. Man and woman…everyone; mother, father, or whatever part they are playing in life, they have to perform as dutifully as they can. This is not understood in the West. They say, “Do we need to do all of these things solely to be a servant of Allah? Shall we purify our own nefs (ego) only for that?” Yes, only for that. They are expecting miracles.

Is the relationship between Mevlana and the Prophet Muhammad understood clearly in the West?

 

Unfortunately, no. Hz.Mevlâna says, “I am the dust on the path of Muhammad, the Chosen one, if anyone quotes anything except this from my sayings; I am quit of him and outraged by these words.” Even if the words “Come whoever you are, come again” do not actually belong to him; it is an invitation to become a Muslim. Unfortunately, the institution of the Sema has deteriorated, but it still seems sympathetic to people. In reality, you will understand who a real Mevlevi is even when the ceremonial costume (tennure) is removed. Sema has been significantly abused. UNESCO believes that the Mevlevi order is losing its essence, and so they are trying to put it under their protection. Therefore, they requested this work from me. They want to learn the fundamentals and essentials, and then protect them. There is a great risk that the essence of the Sema ritual will be completely lost one day. Is the person who performs Sema a Muslim? Does he believe in Allah? Does he know Mevlana? These are all important issues. Unfortunately Turkey has not solved this, but UNESCO is trying. It’s a shame, but Turkey still has not understood this.
 

Were the Mevlevi’s “upper class” people?

 

No. There is a small village named Sikke in Bursa. All of the villagers are Mevlevi’s. Not only people of literature, calligraphers, and musicians, but also the villagers can enter the Mevlevi order. However, after the 16th and 17th centuries, Mevlevi Dergahs have opened in many large cities; thus, many “upper class” people have also started to follow the Mevlevi order. The Mevlevi order was established in Konya, but many of the beloved Dede’s have flourished outside Konya.
 

Different than Mevlevihanes there are also Mesnevihanes right?

 

Yes, they speak to the public. In Mesnevihanes all the tarikat members can come to attend Mesnevi(Mathnawi) lessons. You can even see Naksi and Kadiri dervishes attending these classes. Here they get official permission to teach the Mesnevi (Mathawi). Lately, the most reknowned Mesnevihans (Mesnevi scholars) of these times come from other tarikats.

 

For this opportunity I was given, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the readers.

Glossary:

*Mevlevihane :(spelling in T; from A-P, Mawlawî-khâna; lit.,
"Mevlevi house"): a building where Mevlevi's engage in activities
involving this sufi order.

*Tekke: dergah, lodge

*pôst-neshîn (P; lit., "skin-sitter" spelling in T, postneSin): in the
Whirling Prayer Ceremony [samâ`, sema], the Mevlevi shaykh
who stands and sits on the red sheep skin [pôst] and who is the
leader of the Ceremony. The term is also used for the Mevlevi
shaykh who is the head of a lodge [dergah, tekke]. In the Whirling
Prayer Ceremony [samâ, sema], the pôst-neshîn symbolizes the
presence of Mawlânâ Jalâluddîn Rûmî.

*Nat-I peygamber / na`t-é sharîf (A-P; lit., "the noble eulogy"): The Whirling Prayer
Ceremony begins with the singing of the praises of the Prophet
Muhammad. Traditionally a ghazal of six verses, attributed to
Mawlânâ (but not in the earliest manuscripts of his Dîvân), which
begins, "O beloved of God, you are the Messenger of the Sole
Creator" [yâ Habîbu 'llâh, rasûl-é khâliq-é yak-tâ tô'yî] and also
contains the line, "O Prophet of God, you know that your
community are weak. . ." In the traditional musical composition
(by MuSTafà `Itrî, died 1712), praise of Rumi is intermixed with
this ghazal and begins (prior to the first line in praise of the
Prophet Muhammad), "O our sublime master, friend of God!" [yâ
HaZrat-é mawlânâ], friend of God. The added lines addressed to
Mawlânâ (following the end of the eulogy of the Prophet) are: O
doctor of hearts [yâ Tabîbu 'l-qulûb], O saint of God [yâ waliyu
'llâh], O friend! " [dôst].

*Mesnevihan: MaSnavî-khwân (A-P [derived from A, mathnawi, "rhymed
couplets"; derived from P, khwân, "reciter"]; spelling in T,
Mesnevihan): a Mevlevi dervish who has become an expert on the
recitation and interpretation of Mawlânâ's Mathnawi. In each
Mevlevi lodge there used to be a MaSnavî-khwân who would
recite passages in the original Persian, as requested by the shaykh,
who would then translate the passage into Turkish and explain its
meaning.

( MEVLEVI TERMS AND DEFINITIONS by Ibrahim Gamard http://www.dar-al-masnavi.org/mevlevi-glossary.html)

 

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