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An Interview with Prof. Dr. Adnan Karaismailoglu

Being together with people that have good intentions and bringing minds together are the recommendations of Hz. Mevlana.

12 Şubat 2008

Semazen: Hz. Mevlana strongly attracts people to himself. Many religious communities from varying schools of thought have adopted and followed him. Don’t you think that this situation make it harder for people to understood and learn his messages? What should people who want to learn and understand him do/read? How can they learn the Mevlevi Order and Mevlana’s genuine messages?

It’s obvious that Hz.Mevlana has been followed with great love and admiration by communities from various teachings, and even from different religions. For that reason, today there are many groups understanding and describing him differently due to their varying perceptions. First of all, we hope that every community is acting with good will. Those who have similar choices and ideas with Hz.Mevlana should bring forth his books to the public’s attention in order to sustain the circulation of accurate information about his era, his knowledge and his spiritual path. Assertive manners do not help and I guess these manners are not taken seriously, as well. Every honest step with good intentions will always have a benefit and a result. Being a sincere reader, listener, and researcher is a good path. Being together with people that have good intentions and bringing minds together are the recommendations of Hz. Mevlana. As required in all endeavors, patience is vital to both teaching and learning. Nowadays, people have the tendency to come to hasty conclusions under the direction of a person or a book, so I am not really sure if it is right to recommend a person or a book; however, you can start with Hz. Mevlana’s works, and many books and useful people are available to you. Hz. Mevlana says, “Stone and adobe are illustrative enough for people calling for explanations.”

Semazen: Could you please inform us about “Mevlevi Muhibligi”? Who are Mevlevi Muhibbi’s, and what should they do?

To become a Mevlevi Muhibligi, meaning “Mevlana Lover”, is something that we strive for in these modern times. Similarly, the path to becoming a “Mesnevi Reader” is also important. Therefore, as explicitly seen in the Mesnevi, fundamental choices including love towards the Truth (used here to mean Allah), endearment of the Prophet, love towards humanity, and sacrifices should be the key attributes of all Hz.Mevlana Muhibbis (Mevlana Lovers). Adding further to these qualifications is inadvisable, rather being on the right path is what is desired. Acting in accordance of our traditions with sincerity teaches us about the unknowns and opens the path to us. Simplification also remains a valid path to understanding. However it is easier to learn under the guidance of a “kerem sahipleri” (directly translated as “owners of beneficence and grace”). Being a part of the community and keeping in the company of good people is the advice of Hz.Mevlana. He emphasized a level at which you see with the eyes of your heart and likewise hear with the ears of your heart.

Mevlana talks about treating everyone, including your enemies, with kindness; thus, assuming that he was a local person speaking only to one region would be an obvious mistake. We wouldn’t be wrong if we would say that his “lovers” (followers) should carry the qualities taught within his works. According to our understanding, actually adopting these favorable qualities is a much more rewarding path than solely receiving titles.

Semazen: Every school of thought has a unique state which as Mevlevi’s we know as “the State of Love”. How is the State of Love reflected in our lives? Regarding our relations with other people, is it reflected as a state of kindness or a state of modesty? What makes the Mevlevi Order different from the other schools of thought?

Your questions are not only difficult, but also comprehensive. Personally, I prefer giving more plain and general answers. In essence, the traditions provide the answers. Being a sincere Dertli Insan (Sorrowful man) is a human affair. With this, regardless of the kind of the task attempted, there is always success at the end. The Almighty Truth gives to he who appeals and seeks, even if this person is a sinner or idolater. According to Hz.Mevlana, there is no limit to this notion. In our traditions and poems Al Wadood (The Loving), one of the Beautiful Names of Allah, is very important. Every sensitive person, whether a wise person or a poet, recognizes himself as a lover. Sheikh’s as well as Sultan’s consider themselves the same. Their wish was to be remembered with love, or in better terms, to be in the “state of love”.

Hz.Mevlana’s verse meaning, “Love and delicacy are the characteristics of humans, whereas anger and lust are the characteristics of animals”, is remarkable in that it is a simple yet all encompassing message. His ability to address all of humanity could be due to his being a wise man, a lover, and an intellectual. It should be considered very natural that his lovers are pleading for the companionship of society and other people. In fact, this is the course that all believers (Muslims) should follow. In fact, this should be wished and desired for everyone. Apart from that, I do not think it’s meaningful to name a special group of people to associate with.

Semazen: We hear that Sufism is a “State of Love”. Is it mandatory for everyone to reach this state? Is this necessary?

Now in our minds, the terms Sufi, Sufism and Tarikat have been used for specific people and groups. Originally, these kinds of terms were used when describing the essential and most meaningful path for every believer (Muslim). I guess that these terms were defining the effort to find a more correct and complete way of faith and manner of living. But now, these terms have become names and attributes which are not close to individuals, and thus misunderstood by most of society. In reality, what Mevlana said, without using any of these terms, is valid for everyone. Love and Dert (emotional distress) are characteristics befitting of all people. Possessing these characteristics they have to deal with the problems of people and society. When supported with faithfulness and servitude, the path, where ‘I’ (ego) and ‘We’ are forgotten, becomes open to every person who is granted by God’s will. These terms should not be secluded from the mind solely because they are considered unattractive by some people today. Love teaches sharing the essence and sacrificing sleep, food, and possessions. The passion shatters the ego, teaches sharing, and enables people to acquire high moral values. In that respect, every act of love or affection which turns this behavior into a habit is honorable, and essential for every one. That’s why our wise people claim that love is necessary for a peaceful life. Our tradition does believe that the State of Love belongs to a specific community (i.e. Sufis), but instead proclaims to everyone that it is universal.

Semazen: We see from the old Menkibeler (the collection of stories) that Sufis’ interactions with money are very limited. We know that Hz. Mevlana was never motivated by or interested in money, and gave all he had to his Halife, Celebi Husamettin. How should Sufis deal with money?

The 19th line in the Mesnevi says “Arise, O son! Burst thy bonds and be free!
How long wilt thou be captive to silver and gold?” He starts with these words in an effort to guide a Ham Person (please see the glossary below) towards becoming mature. When people are more insightful they sense how unimportant money and possessions are in reality. However, for some reason the outcome of this insightfulness is not usually perceived. Sadly, paramount attributes including love, edep, loyalty, modesty, and serenity are moving away from people due to their over-appreciation of property, title, and possessions. Our original resources recommend a more prudent approach towards earthly possessions. To highlight the dangerous results to overvaluing earthly possessions, many stories, some quite lewd & salacious, have served as a lesson to all of us and have been circulated for generations. Our culture has portrayed these sorrowful scenes so as not to allow these serious scenarios to come true, and so grim examples have been given. Many Sufis, scholars, and wise people have blundered in this endeavor. Unfortunately, this threat will always stick around us nonetheless. It is told that your “being” should be seen as worthless in order to then become worthwhile. An Efendi can serve as a slave, in that he can be humble and altruistic; however, what can a slave do apart from serving as a slave? This narration belongs to Hz.Mevlana. Similarly, a nobleman can behave as a servant, a boss as a worker, a teacher as a student, a merchant as a customer, a governor as someone in the public, or put themselves into their shoes respectively. People with good intentions should not miss these opportunities.

Hz. Mevlana also says “Hunger gives pleasure, not fresh sweetmeats--
Hunger makes barley bread better than sugar. . . . (VI/4293-4294)”. Wise people recommend that we prefer the comfort gained by the completion of the work rather then the zest in the beginning. Surely that’s what everyone wishes and desires for in reality. Happy is the man who achieves this.

Semazen: We read that Mevlevi’s have always been at the side of their state (i.e. served in the military in support of their government) even during the harshest times, such as the Turkish War of Independence and the fall of the Ottoman Empire. We see that Mevlevi’s are sincerely attached to their state and governors, what do you think is beneath this connection?

Being together and united is the path that faithful and sensitive people would follow. Mevlana says “The main idea is this: Be a friend of the society. Carve your friend out of stone like sculptor. For the crowded caravan on the road, would surely break the spears of those who block the road.” This choice which was made by our ancestors still sometimes becomes apparent; however, some people are abusing and others are misinterpreting. Oppression and defeatism should be rejected in the relationship between governors and governed people. Thus, justice and loyalty are the objectives. That was the desired stance, and it was taught in the past. Misdoings belong to the maker and should not be generalized. Our main resources help us with this issue. Conscientious people have always preferred to be loyal towards the people and the state in order to sustain the system. You pointed out good examples to this stance, the references are very well known.

Semazen: How should the Kamil Mursid (The Perfect Guide) act? Is it acceptable that either the “Mursid” (the Guide) or “Murid” (the Committed One) follow more than one path? Should it be considered as mistrust of the “Pir” (Sheikh) or simply as a respect towards Allah Dostlari (Friends of God)?

I am not educated on these topics; however, Hz. Mevlana mentions about Mursid (The Guide) or Murid (The Committed One) in the Mesnevi. These terms are used for righteous people carrying the real attributes. It does not matter if they are called, solely by name, teachers or students, as these terms do not apply to people not having the real attributes. Again, in general, good character is not hard to distinguish in people. The problem does not arise from the terms, but from the people and examples. Mevlana demonstrates many unfavorable examples about Sheikhs, Sufis, and scholars; and he makes criticism about them in the Mesnevi. This criticism does not refer to these terms and attributes but rather to these people. Confused people are coming to wrong conclusions. Certainly, there should be beacons and guides within society. A group of irresponsible people is not a society, so everybody should be responsible. The existence of more responsible people with more qualifications is always desired in a community, and the same thing apply today. What matters most is the sincerity in desire. Hz.Mevlana repeats that “A seeker finds sooner or later”. In the Mesnevi, and in our resources, there are many people whose words are cited and praised. The objective is obvious and the features pertaining to mankind are definite. Thus, it is recommended to be on the path and to try not to build up concerns and doubts. Hz.Mevlana says “An enthusiastic listener brings a dead speaker back to life”. Our ancestors’ greetings, including “May your path open, your work go smoothly” (Yolun Acik Olsun and Islerin Rast Gitsin), are good examples in this respect.

Semazen: There are so many stories in the Mesnevi; is this a unique method or style of narration that is being used? There is some doubt as to whether some of the stories in the Mesnevi were originally expressed by Mevlana. What should our stance be on this issue? How should we read and understand the stories in Mesnevi?

I already somewhat addressed this issue earlier, but would also like to direct the reader to the page hosted on your website, entitled “The Content and Shape of the Stories in Mesnevi”. Here, we have more information available. Using frightening stories to illustrate bitter truths is a style. However; forgetting the main purpose (which is to inform the reader about the bitter truth) and just looking at the story itself, is a commonly held stance. This is like mixing barley and straw together. Unfortunately, teaching people through short stories is sometimes very difficult for people. In that case, sincerity paves new paths and asking for help (perhaps from more educated people) can make it easier.

Semazen: Every Mesnevi reader interprets it differently. Is there a special reading method unique for the Mesnevi? Which books should be read or what should be known beforehand in order to understand the Mesnevi better?

Coming to hasty conclusions and meanings, and even conveying them to somebody else, has detrimental affects. In such cases (prematurely commenting on the Mesnevi) Hz.Mevlana recommends that the reader comment on himself first. Insisting on interpretations and claims block the way; however, the excitement of understanding and practicing them in daily life paves the way. A sincere person will sooner or later find the right way, but the presence of friends and good people facilitates this process. It is inevitable that things turn into an impossible situation when a lazy person is indistinguishable from a hard working person, or an illiterate person from an educated person. I wish everyone luck in finding the right path.

Lastly, I would like to make a point. We should encourage permanent studies of Hz. Mevlana’s ideas and books by utilizing the opportunities introduced today. We should encourage people and help to nourish and facilitate the study Hz.Mevlana. In my opinion, the resources have not been thoroughly studied and investigated. Can we say that the Mesnevi, or the Divan-I Kebir as well, have been sufficiently analyzed in our own country? Are the available texts, translations, and examinations satisfactory? What about the centers of research, are they still functioning? Are there enough opportunities provided for the young generation? Isn’t it important that the Persian Language and Literature Department at the Faculty of Science and Literature in Selcuk University has not functioned for years due to the absence of new students? Many researchers, including myself, have made use of the resources available at this institution, and hundreds of students have graduated from there. Please pardon me for expanding on your questions in the name of better answering them.


Semazen: Thank you very much for frankly answering all of the questions.


*We would like to acknowledge Mr. Y. Enis Diker for his efforts, thank you!


muHibb (A: lit., "lover"; spelling in T, mühib, mühip): in sufism, a lover or patron of a particular sufi master or sufi order, as well as someone loosely affiliated. In the Mevlevi tradition, it is the entry  level of a beginner who has had the first initiation.

samâ`-zan (A-P [derived from A, samâ`, "audition"; derived from P, -zan, a suffix meaning "beater," (here = (foot) beater, or "dancer"]; spelling in T, semazen; plural, semazenler): someone trained to be a "whirler" in the Whirling Prayer Ceremony [samâ`, sema]. The samâ`-zan whirls with the left foot solidly on the floor; the right foot touches the floor after a complete circle, pointing toward the center of the circle, and stepping according to the beat of the music; the arms are outstretched and held upward; the right hand is opened to the sky to receive Divine Grace, and the right hand turned downward to transmit and give it all away; the eyelids are narrowed and the gaze is upon the left thumb; the head is turned leftward (the direction of the heart), and bent toward the upheld right arm; the inward concentration has a spiritual focus on the heart, the mental repetition of the zikr, "Al-lâh, Al-lâh" with each step and rotation of the whirling, and an awareness that God is All-Present within the "Ka`ba of the heart" and in all directions: "Whichever way you turn, there is the Face of God" (Qur'ân 2: 115). During the Ceremony, the semazen's also move around the hall in a circle while whirling and then whirl in place during the fourth section [salâm].

Mathnawî (A [lit., "couplets"]; pronunciation in Iran: Masnavi, Mathnavi; spellings in T, Mesnevî, Mesnevi, Mesnavi, Masnevi; other spellings: Masnawi, MaSnawi, MaSnavi, Mathnawi, Matnawi): the name of the poetic masterpiece of Mawlânâ's last years, composed in six books, consisting of 25,700 rhymed couplets. It is a compendium of sufi and ethical teachings, and is deeply permeated with Qur'ânic meanings and references, and many sayings [aHâdîth] of the Prophet Muhammad are mentioned and referred to as well.

shaykh (A; lit., "old man," "elder"; feminine form, shaykha; plural: mashâ'ikh, mashâyikh, shuyûkh; other spellings: shaikh, sheikh; spelling in T, Seyh): In sufism, it generally means a spiritual leader, teacher, guide, master (equivalent to P, pîr; T, dede). In the Whirling Prayer Ceremony [samâ, sema], the shaykh symbolizes the presence of Mawlânâ Jalâluddîn Rûmî.

Tarîqat (A; also, Tarîqa; lit., "road," "path," "way"; spelling in T, tarikat): the sufi path of spiritual purification and training in mystical disciplines. Its foundation is the daily worship and the guidelines and boundaries of conduct in Islam [sharî`ah). Generally, the more advanced levels are mystical knowledge [ma`rîfah], and ultimate truth [Haqîqah]. the word also means one of the traditional lineages of sufism [taSawwuf] which is the mystical dimension of Islam. Well-known orders are the Mevlevi, Qadiri (spelling in T, Kadri), Naqshbandi (spelling in T, NakSbendi), Rifai (also spelled Rufai), Khalwati (spelling in T, Helveti), and Shadhili (spelling in T, Sazeli).

khalîfa (A [derivation: KHaLaFa, to succeed, follow after]; spelling in T, halife): in sufism, it means a disciple who has been appointed by his spiritual master [shaykh, murshid] to be his spiritual successor. There may be a single successor or a small number of them, but usually there is one primary successor, the chief successor [in T, baS halife, halife dede]. Those appointed are then entrusted to carry on the sufi lineage in their appointed cities or countries, usually under the continued authority of the shaykh. A khalifa who lives in the same town as the shaykh may be asked to do some or most of the training of disciples.

khâm (P; lit., "unripe," "uncooked" "immature," "inexperienced"; spelling in T, ham): A term in sufism which refers to someone who is immature on the spiritual path, equivalent to the term (in P), nâ-pokhta" (not cooked).

adab (A [derivation: 'aDuBa, to be well-mannered]; spelling in T: edeb, edep): refined manners, proper conduct, courtesy and respect, self-discipline. Meaning in sufism: the modes of conduct and discipline of the dervishes toward their spiritual guide [shaykh], toward each other, and toward other people in general.

efendi (T; derived from Greek, aphentês, "master"):

pîr (P; lit., "old man," "elder"; spelling in T, pir): a translation into Persian of the Arabic word, "shaykh," which has the same literal meaning, but means a sufi elder-- a spiritual guide, teacher, master. This word is also used to mean the founder of a sufi order. For Mevlevi's, their "pîr" in this sense is Mawlânâ Jalâlu 'd-dîn Rûmî. In the Mevlevi order the word pîr also means the current holder of rank of Makam-i Celebi, the highest ranking member of the Celebi family -- a direct (patrilineal) descendant of Mawlânâ's. Thus the pîr of the Mevlevi's has been the chief Celebi, who traditionally was in charge of the lodge [dargâh, dergah] in Konya, where Mawlânâ is buried.

dôst (P; lit., "friend"; pronounced in Iran, "dûst"; spelled in T, dost. In sufism this term means "spiritual friend," as when Mawlânâ is referred to as the "friend of God" {Haqq-dôst]. Otherwise, it refers to God as the Only Friend and Beloved. Another word in P which means the same is yâr.

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