ISTANBUL (RNS) Each Sunday, visitors line up outside of the old Sufi lodge, now a museum, in Turkey’s tourist-filled Galata district, informational pamphlets, cameras and $20 tickets in hand.
The site is but one of the many places tourists flock for performances by the country’s famed white-robed whirling dervishes.
Cafes, hotels and former Sufi lodges reinvented as tourist attractions, like the one in Galata, have all cashed in on the ritual’s popularity.
The “sema” ceremonies, as they’re called, promise attendees a peek into a 750-year-old practice that is as graceful as it is spiritual.
Yet as more ceremonies spring up, excitement has been met by skepticism by descendants of the very 13th-century mystic who first popularized it.
“It’s becoming like a show,” said Faruk Hemdem Celebi, a 22nd-generation descendant of the famous poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian and Sufi, Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-1273). “There are people doing this now to make money and attract tourists.”
Faruk Hemdem Celebi is a 22nd-generation descendant of Rumi and president of the International Mevlana Foundation. Behind him hangs a picture of his father and predecessor as the alleged hereditary leader of the Mevlevi order. Religion News Service photo by Michael Kaplan
Rumi was a highly revered Persian mystic who preached inclusivity and respect for all. His poetry and writings on divine unity and love have attracted a global following.
Celebi, who leads the International Mevlana Foundation, believes that Rumi’s practices have been wrongly appropriated for profit.
Last month, he announced the launch of a campaign to reclaim Rumi’s practices.
Through familial lineage, Celebi claims to be the heir of the Mevlevi (meaning “My Master”) order, which was founded by Rumi’s followers after his death and includes a collection of disciples who follow Rumi’s teachings.
Celebi is working to bring Rumi’s name under his foundation’s control. He has trademarked 10 terms related to the Sufi saint. But that has, so far, failed to stop its appropriation.
Celebi said he has meetings coming up with some high-ranking government officials, including Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, to discuss how the foundation can have more say in decisions related to Mevlana traditions, and particularly sema.
Istanbul’s Galata district is not the only site for Rumi’s practices.
Thousands of people gather in a sports arena in Konya — the site of Rumi’s shrine, about 450 miles southeast of Istanbul — each December to commemorate the saint’s death through a week of dancing and whirling. (Rumi died in Konya in 1273.)
Legend has it that Rumi, a devout Muslim, was walking through Konya’s gold district when, upon hearing the rhythmic hammering of goldsmiths and their chanting of God’s name, the religious scholar broke out into ecstasy. His body slipped into a trancelike state as his hands raised toward the sky, his body…