In the middle of the vast steppes of Central Anatolia lies Konya. Konya is a traditional caravan stopping place but was also the capital of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum during the 13th century. Its history goes back more than 4000 years. From 1240-1273, one of the world's greatest mystic philosophers Celaledin Rumi Mevlana lived here. Rumi is also known as Jalal ad-Din Muhammed Balkhi, as Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, and in Turkey and the West he is popularly known as Mevlana which means "Our Guide"). Rumi was born in 1207 at Balkh in Afghanistan. When the Mongols invaded his hometown the family fled to Mecca and subsequently to the Sultanate of Rum of which Konya was the capital city. Rumi's father was a famous preacher and was known as the Sultan of Scholars. Rumi himself was a brilliant student of Islamic theology and studied in Aleppo and Damascus. After his return to Konya in 1240 he met Mehmet Şemseddin Tebrizi (Şems of Tabriz) a Sufi disciple of his father. Tebrizi influenced Rumi profoundly, but Rumi's own disciples became jealous and murdered Tebrizi in 1247. Following this tragic event, Rumi withdrew from the world to meditate and to write his massive poetic work the Masnavi-I Ma'navi, short Masnavi (also called Mathnavi, in Turkish Mesnevi). The Masnavi-I Ma'navi, which means "Rhyming Couplets of Profound Spiritual Meaning", was written in Persian and consists of 25,000 verses collected in 6 books reflecting Rumi's Sufi philosophy.
Mevlana instructed his disciples to pursue truth and beauty, while avoiding ostentation, and to practice infinite tolerance, love, and charity. His religious tolerance and ecumenical teachings are demonstrated in this beautiful verse:
Whoever you may be, come
Even though you may be
An infidel, a pagan, a fire-worshipper, come
Our brotherhood is not one of despair
Even though you have broken
Your vows of repentance a hundred times, come
After Rumi's death in 1273, his son Sultan Veled gathered Mevlana's followers in a brotherhood called the Mevlevi, more popularly known as the whirling dervishes. The head of the order received the honorary title Celebi meaning "fully initiated." The Mevleviye flourished and many sultans (e.g. Mehmet the Conqueror, Suleyman the Magnificent) were Sufi Mevlevi. However, Dervish orders had a strong conservative influence on society. Consequently. the order was banned by Atatürk in 1925.
Mevlana is buried, together with his Sultan Veled in his mausoleum in Konya which has now turned into the Mevlana Museum. In 2002, taking pictures inside the museum was still allowed. At my last visit in 2010 photography was strictly forbidden. Surprisingly, there are still descendants of Mevlana, the Celebi family. They are still active in Sufism and philosophy.