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Mevlana’s path of love and ‘being freed’ by the sema


Human beings are equipped in the best possible way, both materially and spiritually. The human being is potentially able to achieve the level of “the best of creation,” which is dependent on his ability to use and develop his endowment of spiritual attributes


Those who can escape from the material world and escalate toward the higher ranks of the heart and soul will experience this world in a different way and they will become conscious of the secrets of creation. When they look, they will see things that others cannot; and everywhere they look, they will see the manifestations of the Beautiful Names of God. Without doubt, they would never trade such moments filled with the indescribable flavors of spiritualism for anything. Instead, they will spend all the bounties given to them for the sake of God with the sole intention of reaching Him. Those who have achieved such nearness to God are always careful in their relations with the Beloved and thus extremely cautious to retain their sensitivity and maintain this level. These people are nothing more or less, in effect, than Friends of the Truth.

Mevlana Muhammed Jelaluddin Rumi is one of these Friends -- one of the perfect representatives of the many Sufi devotees whose way of life is to love and be of service to people, to become a perfect human being and thus to have the good pleasure of God. Rumi’s path of love within Sufism’s inclusiveness has always attracted people from all cultures and backgrounds and this is certainly the major reason for Rumi’s appeal in both the East and the West.

The theoretical aspect of this path is Sufism, while the practical aspect is Dervishood. Rumi led the theoretical path, as a leader in his time and all times to come after him; in addition, his mature dervishood, taken from this world and decorated with angelic qualities, set a good example of devotion to God through the passion and love with which he inspired millions. During his lifetime, there were many people of other faiths around Rumi, listening to him and respecting him for what he was teaching. Thus, Rumi emerged in a period in which disorders, conflicts and exploitation lay heavy on the peoples of the world. Throughout this period, Rumi proved himself to be both a powerful personality and an eminent scholar. For not only did he talk about compassion and tolerance, but he actually produced an exemplary atmosphere where these values were upheld, thereby opening the door to dialogue through his message. Today, we are experiencing rather similar turmoil, unrest and conflicts everywhere. Yet instead of raising the awareness of the need for understanding, religious devotions are simply being manipulated in the so-called “clash of civilizations.” Therefore, at this time in history, it is most imperative that we find the time to come together, to talk and try to understand one another, to find a common ground and shared references. Once again, then, we need this most outstanding poet, a revered mystic renowned for his understanding and wide embrace, to shed light on the relation of human beings to their Creator as well as their interrelations with others.

The East and West’s fascination with Rumi

The world has never been without representatives of love and peace. Rumi was and is one of the perfect representatives of such a complete human being and one of the greatest teachers of universal love and peace. Rumi has always been a major figure in the Middle East and Western Asia, where he has had an exalted and comprehensive impact among a wide variety of people. The great Islamic scholar and poet, Muhammad Iqbal, became fascinated with Rumi’s view of discovering the Divine Entrustment in one’s self. Embracing Rumi’s understanding of the perfect human being and seeing Rumi as a spiritual guide for himself, Iqbal states: “I received a share of his light and warmth. My night has become day due to his star … In Rumi, there is sorrow, a burning that is not strange to us. His union talks of going beyond the separations. One feels the beauty of love in his reed and receives a share, a blessing from the Greatness of God.”

Yet Rumi is not merely a Mevlana (”our master”) -- one of the titles assigned to him and widely used among Muslims -- whose scope is limited to one part of the world. Rather, he is the master of people from both the East and the West. In fact, Westerners have increasingly been amazed that his presence seems so alive eight centuries after his death. In a tribute to Rumi, Andrew Harvey puts forward that Rumi, the remote star shining in the West, will help lead the West out of its materialist manifestation of ego-over-everything. Thus, Harvey sees Rumi as “an essential guide to the new mystical renaissance that is struggling to be born today … and the spiritual inspiration for the 21st century.”

Rumi was born in Balkh, Khorasan, (present-day Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Iran), the home which he and his family left at the age of five. The very mystical foundations of Mevlevi Sufism were, actually, laid as a result of the fusion of the Khorasan school of Sufism, which began entering Anatolia at regular intervals from the early 13th century onward, with Seljuk culture. Rumi’s family likewise journeyed to Anatolia, in present-day Turkey, where Rumi composed all his works and spent most of his adult life. Here, in the Seljuk Turks’ cosmopolitan capital city of Konya, he resided until he passed away on Dec. 17, 1273. It is narrated that he had requested his funeral prayer to be lead by Sheikh Sadreddin of Konya. When the Sheikh came to the front for the prayer, Tabib Akmaladdin warned the people by saying, “Mind your manners and be respectful. He was the sultan of the true sheikhs; that is who has passed away.” Sheikh Sadreddin, after hearing this, was moved to tears and could not continue with the prayer. So instead, Qadi Sirajaddin led the prayer. People from various religions, cultures and backgrounds honored him at his funeral. Local Muslims, Christians, Jews, Turks, Arabs, Persians and Romans all followed the bier of this lover of God. The Mevlevi dervishes have kept the date he died as a festival, which is called Şeb-i Arus, because Rumi, a true devotee of God, saw life as a corridor for meeting with God and defined death as the meeting time, which he described in this poem:

On the day of death, when my coffin is on the move,

Do not suppose I have any pain at leaving this world.

When you see my hearse, say not

“Leaving! He’s leaving!”

That time will be for me union and encounter.

When you commit me to the grave,

Say not “Farewell! Farewell,”

For the grave is a veil over the reunion of Paradise.

Rumi’s love and awe for God, combined with his poetic character, blossom in the “Mesnevi.” Rumi was in his fifties when he started the “Mesnevi,” a work which he completed in eight years. Apart from his “Mesnevi,” written in rhyming couplets, Rumi has four other major works: “Divan-i Kebir” (lyrical) and three others (prose). With more than 40,000 couplets, “Divan-i Kebir” is full of an enthusiasm and awe that reflects the inner spiritual world of Rumi. The works in prose are: “Fihi ma Fihi,” which contains Rumi’s teachings to his students and the public on various topics; “Majalis-i Sab’a,” which contains his sermons; and “Maktubat,” which contains his letters to various people. For centuries, Rumi, the remote star, has been speaking to people from diverse faith communities, cultures and backgrounds through the language of love. He has opened up his blessed heart to all those who find something of themselves in his words. And while it is now 800 years later, people from all over the world are reading Rumi more than ever -- Rumi himself had anticipated, in fact, that his works would one day cross all boundaries.

Rumi and the sema

The “sema” (whirling dance) symbolizes many exquisite aspects of life: the creation of the universe, the creation of human beings, our birth into this world, the progress of human beings after the realization of servanthood as supported with the love of God and our escalation toward the ranks of a perfected human (insan-i kamil). As for the emergence of the sema, it is reported that one day Rumi was passing in front of his friend Salahuddin Zarqubi’s jewelry shop in Konya. In the shop, Zarqubi was shaping gold by hammering it in rhythm. Enraptured by the rhythmic sounds of the hammer used by Zarqubi, Rumi said:

The souls that have clung to water and clay,

Are pleased on being freed from them,

And begin to dance in the air and breezes of love,

Becoming perfected like the full moon.

Seeing the manifestations of the Beloved’s Beautiful Names everywhere, what this great mystic heard in the hammering of gold was the very word Allah, Al-lah, Al-lah in the rhythmic sound, and it inspired him into a state of ecstasy which resulted in his sema, or whirling. Rumi, whose spirit was already full of love and awe of God, was able to discern the “universal movement” of creation as he raised his hands towards the sky and started to turn round on his own axis, while also moving in orbit in a state of awe throughout his sema. For Rumi, the rapture and attraction of all existence, from the smallest atoms to the largest celestial objects, is due to a hidden attraction to the Divine. During the sema, his excitement was great with the emotion of intoxication, imbibed from the wine of the All-Loving.

The sema and contemplation

The sema is contemplation in action. Contemplation was initially carried out silently in the inner self. Under the enlightenment of hadiths (sayings of the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him) which warn not to contemplate on the essence of God Himself, for God in His essence cannot be comprehended, meditation came to be focused on the manifestations and actions of God. As an aid to meditation and to minimize any outside interference during periods of profound thought, simple, rhythmic sounds were used to induce a meditative state intent on the love of God. At first, only natural sounds were used, but with time, the sounds of different musical instruments with spiritual essences were introduced into the sema. In the early days, usually the ney (the reed-flute), rabab (the three-stringed violin), daf (the tambourine with cymbals), and zurna (a woodwind instrument) were used, but over time, only the ney and rabab survived.

Music is defined by Rumi in the following couplet:

Music is the nutrition of the souls of the servants of the Lord, Since in music there is the hope of reaching God.

Therefore, music, when combined with meditation and contemplation, is seen as being a faster way to reaching God. On the other hand, music brings out physical movement, as it addresses bodily impulses and desires. At first, these motions were restricted to the swinging of the body while seated. However, with time, people started to accompany the musical harmony with swaying and larger movements and this gradually evolved into the sema. In this way, contemplation became the union of the soul, sound, and motion, as both the heart and body achieved a state of meditation, overcoming all physical and intellectual interference. Thus, the sema symbolizes the escalation of the human spirit: the servant’s turning of his face toward the Truth; being exalted with Divine love; abandoning personal identity and the self to become lost in God; and finally returning to servanthood, mature and purified.

The semazen, the whirling dervish, with the sikka (the traditional “hat”) on his head and with the tannura (a shroud-like gown) on his body, is born into the truth as he symbolically removes his jacket at the onset of the dance and begins his revolutions -- thus, his evolution -- on the path of profound contemplation. During the sema, his arms are wide open, with his right hand turned toward the sky as if praying, ready to receive honor from the Divine One, and his left hand turned down, transferring the bounties that come from the Lord to those who are willing to receive them. As the semazen whirls from right to left, circling with the full devotion of his heart, he embraces all the nations of the world, and all of creation, with utmost love and respect.

Ultimately humanity was created to love and to be loved. According to Rumi, all types of love are bridges to divine love and, believing this completely, Rumi spent his whole life dedicated to God Almighty. Not only did he try to reach the Lord himself, he earnestly strove to help others to do the same. In the end, he was a traveler on the journey of love, describing this love as one that “did not leave anything of me, nor on me.” And through these travels of the soul, he allowed his feelings and emotions to be heard by countless others, leaving a powerful trail of inspiration that would long outlast his own life and come to nurture millions of souls.



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