Sefik Can was born in 1910 in the village of Tebricik near Erzurum, an eastern province of Turkey. During his childhood, he learned Arabic and Persian from his father. He graduated from Kuleli Military High School in 1929 and from the Academy of War in 1931. He began working as a teacher at a military high school in 1935. He retired from the army with the rank of colonel in 1965. In addition to his native Turkish, he spoke French, English, and Russian, along with Arabic and Persian. Until he passed away on January 24, 2005, he was the ser-tariq (head) of the Mevlevis (the most authoritative spiritual figure of the Order), He was also the latest Mesnevihan (Mesnevi reciter) who received his Ijazat (special certificate in the recitation of the Mesnevi) from his spiritual master Tahir al-Mevlevi. Sefik Can authored nine books on Rumi as well as on poetry and classical mythology.
Last Interview with Mawlavi Sheikh Sefik Can
The last of the Mevlevi sheikh tradition, Sefik Can Hodja, passed away at the age of 96, at his home in Suadiye the previous night (January 23). Zaman's Nuriye Akman had the last interview with him. Can Hodja made some striking explanations in this interview and also made a last request.
'One who does not know his essence cannot know Mevlana'
I got acquainted with Mevlana and loved him thanks to the translations and interpretations of his works by Sefik Can. Whenever I take the Mesnevi (Mathnawi) or other books, including some of its verses in my hands, I send my greetings from the bottom of my heart to Sefik Can and thank him over the years. I do not know why a desire to have an interview with him was delayed by me that much. I went to his house in Saskinbakkal after a momentary decision, when there was no reason for this on the agenda. Our talk lasted for hours due to the depth of the issues, as well as the difficulties caused by the old age of the deceased. If there hadn't been Nur Artiran, his student, daughter and life companion, who never left him even for a moment over the years, and to whom he entrusted his duties after his death, as he explained in his last request, I could not have been able to hold our interview so fluently and present it to you. His ears heard so little that Ms. Artiran was repeating each of my questions one by one into her grandfather's ears, a couple of times, as if she was spelling them. He was speaking in a very low voice. That's why it was again Ms. Artiran's task to translate his answers in a way that I could understand. After decoding of cassette, I received help again from Ms. Artiran in redacting the interview, because the deceased wanted to give comprehensive answers to my questions; therefore, he made deep dives into complementary topics supporting the main subject and I had difficulties following the line of logic he used. I would like to express my gratitude to Ms. Artiran, who was very well acquainted with the language of the deceased, both literally and spiritually. I think that holding the last interview with Can was allotted to me by God and the feeling that sharing his last request with the society was my responsibility. Can was the last Mevlevi, a devout follower of Mevlana and someone who not only knows the fundamentals of Mevlevism (Mawlawism) best, but who has also lived through it best. I am sure learning that he has now given the moral entrustment he received from his master, Tahir'ul Mevlevi, to a female Mevlevi, would surprise everyone. Can wants to see Artiran become a postnisin, an occupant of Mevlevi convent, of a sema, a Mevlevi ritual whirling, group composed of women and held talks about transmitting with love to the people what he received from Hak (God) with love. I kept this interview for a whole summer. I was thinking that the most appropriate time to publish it would be just after the Seb-i Arus, the nuptial night or the night Mevlana (Rumi) reunites with the Creator, the ceremonies on December 17; however, he was so ill during those days that I felt it would be appropriate to postpone it. It is today's grant.
Sir, how did you get acquainted with Mevlana?
I am the son of a town mufti. I was born in the town of Tebricik in Erzurum, and later my father became the mufti of the town. My father was interested in literature very much. He was both a valuable religious scholar who graduated from the madrasah and was a very important mufti of that era. He was also an intellectual teaching at Dar'ul Muallim. My father taught me Arabic and Persian before I started school. I can say that I learned how to speak with the words of Mevlana. Many of Mevlana's poems that I now try to say by heart, are poems my father taught me in those days. My closeness to Mevlana began with my father's love for Mevlana. The love my father felt for Mevlana affected me as well. Then, because of the First World War, we left everything, moved to Sivas, and then to Yozgat. After being to many places, we moved because of the savagery of the war, and finally arrived at somewhere between Sivas and Tokat, that is called Yildizeli. I saw and experienced all the pains of war when I was just a child. My father was appointed the mufti of Yildizeli, where we had just arrived. While I was attending primary school, my father made me memorize verses from Hafiz, Sadi and Mevlana and I read the Gulistan by Sadi. When I graduated from primary school, my father tried to teach me the masterpieces of these three wise/holy men.
Later on, I attended a military school in Tokat and then the Kuleli Military High School in Istanbul. I graduated from high school and the Military Academy, and became an army officer; however, there was a great desire in me to become a teacher. Because the love for books, science, teaching and learning that I saw in my father, who was my first guide and murshid, spiritual master, had passed onto me as well. I used to secretly attend to the Istanbul University Department of Turkish Literature. When this was understood, they took me from there and assigned me to a unit in a town called Vize in Thrace. I did not give up this love of mine even there. One day, I wrote a letter expressing my love for teaching to the commander of my unit and asked him to give me permission to complete my undergraduate education at the Department of Turkish Literature. I passed the teachers' exam with the permission of my commander. Yet, to become a teacher, I had complete a two-year internship. That's why they assigned me to the Kuleli Military High School, to be near master Tahir'ul Mevlevi, in order to complete my internship.
I met master Tahir'ul Mevlevi during those times and I had the honor of accompanying and serving him for 16 years. Look at the will of God that I received both my material and moral diploma at the hands of Tahir'ul Mevlevi. This was a great bestowment of Allah. My first master was my late father; however, Tahir'ul Mevlevi was my second murshid, whom I love as much as my father. He enlightened my way to Mevlana and guided me with his experience. Tahir'ul Mevlevi's love for Mevlana had a big mark on me. That's why I bought all the world classics, the poems of the most famous poets and I read them all. I dedicated my whole life to reading. I established a personal library with 10,000 books. Meanwhile, I set my heart on ancient Greek and classical Latin literature. I even wrote a book on classical Greek mythology. My purpose in telling all these is: I did not have a blindfolded spiritual attachment to Mevlana. I searched and read all world literature; I studied all of them. Finally, all of them seemed to me very meaningless and unnecessary.
Sir, is the quatrain (rubai) "Come! Come again! Whoever, whatever you may be, come!" understood by contemporary people, right?
This quatrain does not belong to Mevlana, and this is already known by everyone. The library official at the dergah, the Mevlevi dervish lodge, the late Necati Bey, had seen this quatrain written in old calligraphy on a sheet. Without searching for the its origin, he spread the rumor everywhere that it was a Mevlana quatrain. Whereas, this quatrain is introduced as belonging to someone else in an anthology called "Harabat," that was prepared by Ziya Pasha. I saw that in another handwritten quatrain as well; nevertheless, because Mevlana has many quatrains like this one, and even some more enthusiastic ones, it might also be accepted as a Mevlana quatrain. This is not very important. The main problem is about those who are unaware of the spirit of this quatrain and take it on the surface, in addition to those who created this situation.
"Come! Come again! Whoever, whatever you may be, come!
Heathen, idolatrous or fire worshipper, come!
Even if you deny your oaths a hundred times, come!
Our door is the door of hope, come! Come like you are!"
Our door is the door of hope, come! Come like you are!"
This specifically signifies the holy Qur'an's verse "Say: 'O my Servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah. for Allah forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.'" (Zumer, 53) and all Qur'anic verses including God's words "O ye people" as a whole. It does not matter how sinful a person is, if he/she sincerely repents and asks God for forgiveness, he/she will be cleansed of their sins. Now Mevlana means: "O human, your heart full of idols. Even if it is full of worldly idols and every side of you is stigmatized with earthbound and corporeal filth, do not fall into despair. Come to our dergah, take the ax of love and faith and break the idols inside you. If you drink alcohol, come and discipline your nafs, ego, at our dergah, hit that bottle on a stone, and then drink the sacred wine. Come and cleanse yourself with the water of the truth in our hands, get purified from your filth and become clean."
He does not say "Come, our dergah is available for everything. Do the things that people outside do not accept in our dergah, and will we welcome it." Yet, people misinterpret that. Constantly reading this quatrain had negative effects on people. They recognized Mevlana in other ways. Mevlana has been perceived as a materialist, who believes in the eternity of the world and rejects the other world as well as believing that the soul dies together with the body. Or he was perceived as if he was of another sect, meshrep or on another path. It is as if Mevlana tolerates and accepts everything that Allah does not accept and the prophet does not find appropriate. Is such a thing possible? Mevlana wrote: "I am the slave of the Qur'an for as long as I am living. I am dust on the path of Muhammad, the Chosen One." In one of his hadiths, our Prophet Mohammed says that if people repent and ask God for forgiveness, but yet commit the same sin again, they would become more sinful. If you deny your oaths a hundred times and this is perceived as insignificant, then is this appropriate in Islamic belief? Those, who are unaware of the spirit and the pith of this verse, and take it only as a face value, would definitely recognize Mevlana wrongly. Didn't Mevlana say anything else? Why doesn't someone read the quatrain, in which he says "I am the slave of the Qur'an for as long as I am living. I am dust on the path of Muhammad, the Chosen One."? Doesn't this describe Mevlana? To understand the other quatrain, one has to think deeply. Because no one can bear that, it seems suitable to everyone's path. I would like to mention an experience of mine that affected me very much. I was in Konya years ago; two foreigners were asking a Konya resident how to go Mevlana's tomb. The man from Konya first asked. " From where did you come here?" before he gave them the address. They told him where they came from. The man got a little bit angry and asked: "Look here, didn't you have anything to do so that you came here to see that man?" If that person had heard Mevlana's words, "I am the slave of the Qur'an for as long as I am living. I am dust on the path of Muhammad, the Chosen One," he would not have behaved that way.
'I did not want to be a ceremonial sheikh.'
What kind of a person is Mevlana in your eyes?
It is beyond our limits to understand him and describe him. That's why everyone understands and talks about Mevlana according to their understanding and intuition, and say what they see in their own mirrors. Great saints are like great seas and we are like little drops of water near them. Just as a little drop cannot grasp a whole sea, it also cannot describe it correctly. Mevlana, who himself saw and knew all these centuries ago, had described himself in one of his quatrains as follows: "I am the slave of the Qur'an for as long as I am living. I am dust on the path of Muhammad, the Chosen One. If anyone interprets my words in any other way, I deplore that person and I deplore his words." This quatrain is a very clear document about Mevlana's path that would enable everyone to understand him. We commemorate him as the sultan of lovers. Because he says:
"Our mother is love! Our father is love!
"We are born from love! We are love!"
"All loves constitute a bridge leading to the divine love."
"To love human beings means to love GOD."
We cannot finish describing his humility and modesty for ages and it is impossible to finish it. We do not have any right to say anything to those who say we are on his path; however, look at the words of that great person, who is an example of humanity: "They value my turban, my robe and my head, all three of them, at one dirhem (a small currency unit) or somewhat less. Haven't you ever heard my name in this world? I am nothing, nothing, nothing." Here it is a sign of modesty of a great saint, Mevlana. Being nothing, realizing his nothingness, and continuing to walk on that path is not easy. Mevlana says that he cannot complete describing a human being even until the judgment day. Then how could I describe Mevlana, an exemplary human being? Yet, again a great saint describes that great saint best. Abdurrahman Cami had said: "Mathnawi is enough to prove the value of that unique sultan of the world of meaning. What can I say about the quality and superiority of that great being? He is not a prophet, but has a book."
We know that you ascended that post a few times together with Selman Tuzun during the Seb-I Arus ceremony in Konya in the 1960s. Why did you withdraw from the post later on and did not continue this mission?
I could not ascend that post in Konya later on as a bestowment of Allah. If I had continued this mission, I would have continued to live as a ceremonial sheikh, hence, I could not have had the chance to carry out studies on Mevlana's masterpieces, since in my opinion, I have spent many of my years trying to prepare these studies only to serve Mevlana's followers. Books have always been the most important part of my whole life. For this reason, our Master gave permission and allowed me to study his works; therefore, he prevented me from dealing with idle things and wasting time. He taught me to follow his path with his own works. No matter how I thank God for this bestowal, it would not be enough.
January 25, 2005