Through a glass darkly – 98

We are halfway through our time here in Ankara. I continue to be amazed by the steepness of the streets and the amazing proliferation of high-rise buildings. To be horrified by the aggression of  many Ankara drivers, who regard traffic lights as merely advisory. And to be delighted by the helpfulness and friendliness of the Turkish people we speak to – in spite of our language difficulties. 

A day out in Konya

According to Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas visited Iconium on the first missionary journey. They spoke in the synagogue there quite powerfully, but were run out of town by Jewish agitators and fled to Lystra and to Derbe. I went to Iconium, now known as Konya, for the day on Monday. There is little trace of Paul and Barnabas, nor is there any visible Christian presence now.

Konya is the sixth biggest city in Turkey. The high-speed line from Ankara makes the journey of 300 kilometres in just under two hours. It is a comfortable, modern train and the single fare [for someone as old as me] is 56 Tl. Which converts to about £2.50. For the return journey the train was almost full, and I paid four times as much for a ‘superior, executive’ seat, the equivalent of a boxed pew in church. Four of us sat behind a frosted glass sliding door, and were served a glass of tea and an acceptable boxed meal by a uniformed attendant. 

 Once you get clear of Ankara, the train speeds across the brown, treeless Anatolian plateau. There is very little grass. No cows. A single flock  of sheep. There are mountains in the distance, but little water and no rivers.. And an anonymous town with a sprinkling of high-rise, concrete blocks. I stared out of the window, dozed a little, and read Eugene Rogan’s The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East, 1914-1920. Rogan is an American historian, whose great-uncle John McDonald, from near Perth, was killed at Gallipoli in 1915.

Konya has the reputation of being a conservative, Islamic city. It is a place of pilgrimage for the Muslim world, a city that is dear to the hearts of pious Turks. [And not just Muslims and Turks. I am told that Prince Charles on a visit to Ankara was particularly anxious to visit Konya.] For this city was the adopted home of Celaleddin Rumi, the 13th century Islamic prophet,  poet, and mystic. Rumi is also known as the Mevlana [the Master], and as the founder of the Mevlevi sect, better known as the Whirling Dervishes.

Susie and I were here just after Christmas three years ago, and were predisposed to be a bit unsympathetic  because of the closeness of the word dervish to the word devilish. But Rumi’s writings major on the need for humanity to seek God’s love; and encourage us all to use music, poetry, and dance as ways of reaching out to God. “Love is the astrolabe of God’s mysteries”. And the whirling of the dervishes became a ritual form of communal prayer.

I walked from the station past election posters and a large Atatürk banner to what is now called the Mevlana Museum. It is a complex of dignified stone buildings set in a small park close to the centre of town. The original building dates from the 13th century but has been much added to. The main gate leads into a marble-paved courtyard. This courtyard contains seventeen cells for dervishes and an elaborate ablutions fountain. The mausoleum itself contains Rumi’s sarcophagus, covered with a very fine gold-embroidered brocade all set under a fluted turquoise spire. There is an adjacent Ritual Hall, where the community performed their whirling dance, and a small mosque.

Extracts from Rumi’s writings speak of an ascetic, prayerful rule of life. Not unlike, say, an early Cistercian community. The whole complex was filled with visitors, many of the women in Islamic dress, all behaving in a restrained manner. We all donned plastic overshoes to enter the mausoleum. I was glad to be back in Konya. Rumi’s writings and the teaching of the Mevlevi Order offer an attractive alternative to, say, the Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia or the horrors perpetrated by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Things to ponder over a glass of tea and a baklava on my way back to the station. 

Next week – a brief trip to Istanbul …

April 2023

Published by europhilevicar

I am a retired vicar living on the south side of Edinburgh. I am a historian manqué, I worked in educational publishing for 20 years, and after ordination worked in churches in the Scottish Borders and then in Lyon in the Rhône-Alpes. I have a lovely and long-suffering wife, two children, and four delightful grand-children

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