Rumi 3: The poet and his tomb draw pilgrims globally

The Mevlâna museum, located in Konya, Turkey, is the mausoleum of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, a Sufi mystic also known as Mevlâna or Rumi. It was also the dervish lodge (tekke) of the Mevlevi order, better known as the whirling dervishes. PHOTO by Ron Stockton.

This week, we’re celebrating the publication of Rumi: The Big Red Book: The Great Masterpiece Celebrating Mystical Love and Friendship, by Coleman Barks.

Part 1 in our series includes a new Rumi poem, rendered by Coleman Barks for the new book. Then, Part 2 is our interview with Coleman Barks about the enduring popularity of Rumi and the astonishing range of his work. Today, in our concluding Part 3, we’re publishing a story by scholar Ron Stockton who recently visited Rumi’s tomb in Turkey.

ALSO: ReadTheSpirit publishes a series of books called, “Interfaith Heroes,” written by Daniel Buttry, a contemporary global peace negotiator. Rumi is honored among the 31 mini-profiles in Volume 1 of that series. We’ve published the Rumi chapter online, if you’d like to learn more about Rumi.

Here is Dr. Ron Stockton’s story …

A Visit to Rumi’s Tomb with This Year’s 2 Million Pilgrims

Rumi’s tomb inside the mausoleum. PHOTO from Wikimedia Commons.On the day I visited in early October, Rumi’s Mausoleum was crowded, which is not surprising because this global landmark draws 2 million visitors a year.

I am not a Rumi scholar, although I have taught about the Middle East for many years. I have only a general acquaintance with Rumi and his poetry, but I have visited Sufi services in Egypt and Syria. These gave me an appreciation for the Sufi tradition and I was eager to visit this site in Konya in central Turkey.

My journey was not a disappointment. The mausoleum is an impressive structure with a dramatic green dome dominating the clear blue sky. There are gardens all around and tombstones of prominent followers, often featuring turban and rose designs. Inside, the mausoleum is exceptionally beautiful. There are coffins of Rumi’s family and key followers. His own tomb is under a striking green dome with ornate designs and full-color scenes from nature. It is covered with a brocade cloth featuring Koranic passages in gold letters. It is even more spectacular than the tomb of Suleiman the Magnificent in Istanbul.

The mausoleum was filled with visitors, but the followers of Rumi were quiet and unobtrusive. They paused to say a prayer, palms up, lips moving in silence. Then they moved on. This is a striking contrast to my experience in the Holy Relics room in Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace. There the already-crowded site became congested as individuals stopped to remain in the presence of venerated objects. One particular choke point involved the wooden box containing the cloak of the prophet Muhammad. A follower in a long white robe and a green turban with a rose design on top stood in front of the display case with his palms up, having an epiphany. Frustrated Turks urged him to move on, but he was impervious. Nothing like this happened in Konya.

In the Mevlana Museum attached to Rumi’s masoleum (“mevlana” means “teacher,” his title), there was an ancient book with a drawing of the prophet Muhammad on Buraq, the flying creature that took him to Jerusalem for his famous “Night Journey.” Off in the distance was the Holy City, beams of light radiating from it. It was quite beautiful. I had never before seen a visual depiction of the Prophet except reproduced in books.

Rumi’s Sufism is associated with whirling dervishes. The dervishes spin endlessly in a trance-like manner, their white skirts spreading forth like the wings of angels. This ritual is to bring people closer to God. Their hats are shaped like a traditional tombstone to remind followers that they will someday face God and should live righteous lives. We visited one of these services and came away humbled and inspired.

It was a bit of a shock to see that the nearby four-star hotel had in the middle of its revolving door a full-sized whirling dervish, his dramatic white skirt in full flight. Everyone took a photograph, but it was a case of faith put to the service of corporate need. If Rumi were alive, he would spin in his grave.

RON STOCKTON is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. He teaches and writes on Middle East topics. This was his first visit to Turkey. He was part of the research team that produced the book “Citizenship and Crisis: Arab Detroit After 9/11” He has a particular interest in graves and gravestones.

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