Catholic Muslim Pilgrimage – Day 5 (17 April): Ruminating on Rumi

We were up at a truly ungodly hour of 4:45am after I had only gotten to bed at 1:30am. Talk about burning the candle at both ends. Our pilgrimage now took us on a detour to Konya – biblical Iconium – after a flight of about one hour. Konya is on a plain surrounded by mountains (some of them with snow on them) in central Turkey.

We had breakfast at a boy’s college after arriving in Konya, at which all the students were on a full scholarship. They must have scored a 480 or more out of 500 in the national exams. The college is funded by charitable giving from Muslims, part of their duty as Muslims (Zakat). Fatih said that he was a scholarship student, but that his father probably gave three times as much as his scholarship would have been been worth to the school he attended.

The purpose of travelling to Konya was to visit the tomb of Mevlani Rumi, the Sufi mystical poet and founder of a kind of religious order from which the whirling dervishes derives. There is much more to learn about Rumi – and I suggest you do a google search on him to find out more if you are interested. Last year was the “International Year of Rumi”. The pilgrimage to Konya in some ways parallels our planned visit to Assisi on the Rome leg of the trip.

We have a few devotees of Rumi even among our Catholic delegation, although I admit that for me it was a little like my 2007 trip to Gallipoli – I knew very little about the significance of this part of the pilgrimage until I arrived there and realise that I have much more to learn.

On the bus on the way to the tomb, they sang a Sufi chant similar in style to our Taize chants as a prayerful way of preparing for the visit. Before visiting Rumi’s tomb, we visited the tomb of his teacher, Semsitebri. At this point a discussion/debate began among the Muslims as to the reason for visiting the tombs of Muslim saints. It turns out that there is a debate within Islam about the role of the intercession of the saints which almost directly parallels that between the Catholics/Orthodox and the Protestants on this question. The “traditionalists” accept that their saints pray for them and that one might even ask them to intercede for one, whereas other groups claim that the Prophet never enjoined such a practice and that it is therefore invalid. Heba actually said (and I quote) “Why can’t we pray directly to God? Why do we need intercessors?” – just the question that Protestants ask us about the saints.

At Rumi’s tomb we had a guided tour – although I did not follow the tour all the way through. I looked through the complex in which the tomb is situated and then went outside to write up yesterday’s events. As I said, I have no particular devotion to Rumi, and so did not find the experience quite such a spiritual climax as did some others. It was very cold outside although the sun was shining. The wind was blowing directly down from the snowy mountains.

There is a large mosque right next to the tomb, at which the Friday noon prayers were conducted. I did not go inside, as it was crowded with men present for the prayers, but the prayers and sermon were broadcast on a loudspeaker for the whole city to hear (or so it seemed by the volume!). During a lull in the proceedings, I called Cathy and the girls in Australia to see how they all were. When the prayers got going fully, not only the mosque, but the whole square outside was filled with worshippers, so it was possible to observe the prayers from outside. A very impressive display of piety.

Having completed writing, I went in search of a post office to buy stamps for the girls (they are collecting!) but was unsuccessful. I bought a couple of pairs of socks on the way back to the bus, and when I got to the bus I found everyone waiting for me. My watch was slow, it seems.

We went for lunch at a centre that appears to be usually used for wedding receptions. In fact an “MOB” (code for Mother of the Bride among the clergy) actually came to inspect the premises while we were there.

Our guides for the day were Murat and Firat. Murat asked Bishop Prowse what a Bishop was, as the only bishop he had ever heard of was in the game of Chess. He offered this reflection for us:

Life is like a chess game. And at the end of the game all the pieces are put back in the same box, the king (and the bishop) along with the pawn.

Firat then sang a couple of songs for us, and asked us to provide a song in return. Caught off the cuff, we decided that we would sing the Salve Regina together and followed that, since it is Easter, with the Regina Ceoli.

Then we all got onto the bus again and were driven to our accomodation for the evening, which was in separate accomodation for the men and the women in two boarding houses for university students. We were due to go out again for tea and whirling dervishes, but I decided to stay in and get an early night.

I spent time writing up the blog, answering emails concerning the Rome end of our pilgrimage, and then downloaded all the photos I had taken from my camera onto my computer and backed up on a USB stick. Thank goodness I did – as you will read in the next post!

I got to bed at 9pm – the earliest that I had retired for weeks! I woke when Max came in from the evening to tell me that we had to rise at 5am again to catch the first plane from Konya back to Istanbul…

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