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Mevlevî

By:
Şerif Mardin
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The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

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Mevlevî

The Mevlevî, a Turkish/Ottoman Ṣūfī order known also by its Arabic name Mawlawīyah, takes its name from the epithet of its founder Muḥammad Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī (1207–1273). He was the son of the famed scholar Bahāʿ al-Dīn Valad, and migrated as a child with his father from Balkh (in modern Afghanistan) to Konya in Rum (the Seljuk Sultanate in Anatolia). The officials of Rum welcomed Bahāʿ al-Dīn and gave him the post of professor (müderris) in an institution of Islamic learning. In his early twenties Jalāl al-Dīn succeeded his father as teacher. The title Mevlâna (Arabic, mawlānā, our master) by which Rūmī became known to later generations betokens his brilliance not only in emulating his father but in surpassing him in the exposition of the spiritual and esoteric teachings of Islam. In contrast with the legalistic Islamic thinkers of his time, Rūmī was able through his poetic treatment of mysticism to attract a wider and more permanent audience. He also laid the foundations for an Islamic humanism that endured until the secularization of learning in twentieth-century Turkey. Rūmī's elaboration of the mystical “path of love” has attracted Muslims in modern Turkey and Iran and has also stirred interest in the West. His works, including the Dīvān (Collected Poems), the Maѕ-navī (Rhyming Couplets), and the Fīhi mā fīhi (In It What's In It, i.e., It Is What It Is), have been translated from the original Persian into Turkish and Western European languages.

The disciples of Mevlana became organized during the time of Rūmī's son Sulṭā Valad (d. 1312). The order, that of the Mevlevî dervishes, spread through Anatolia and other parts of the Ottoman Empire. All Mevlevî lodges (tekke) were responsible to a çelebi who resided in Konya and was chosen from among Mevlâna's descendants. The influence of the order grew in spite of the ʿulamāʿ's interdiction of the teaching of Persian—the language of Rūmī's poetry—in madrasahs (Islamic schools). The Mevlevîs’ influence attracted the attention of the Ottoman government, which was suspicious of potential rivals to the state. Only with the government's control of the pious foundations that provided the income of the order was the situation stabilized.

Another aspect of the Mevlevîs’ political role was their attempt to achieve influence in palace circles beginning in the seventeenth century. They seem finally to have secured this role during the nineteenth century, when they figured as “those who gird on the sword” at the enthronements of the of Ottoman sultans. In these years they received the support of Sultan Abdülmecid (r. 1839–1861) and (with some caution) of Sultan Abdülhamid II (r. 1876–1876) and Sultan Mehmed V (r. 1909–1918). Mevlevî lodges acted as cultural centers in Ottoman cities and were a key influence in the development of Ottoman upper-class culture. Some Mevlevî leaders are known to have been sympathetic to the Young Turks. Along with all other religious orders, they were disbanded in Turkey in 1925.

The Mevlevîs became well known to Europeans through their unorthodox use of music and dance—a feature they shared with the Bektāshī order—thus acquiring the name “whirling dervishes.” Although the lodges were closed after 1925, their ceremonial practices were allowed again after 1950, and a yearly Mevlevî celebration now takes place in Konya. The attendance of a much wider audience at these tourist-oriented performances may not lower the quality of Mevlevî ceremonies, but it certainly detracts from their original mystical substance.

See also MAWLAWīYAH.

Bibliography

  • Chittick, William C.The Sufi Doctrine of Rumi. Bloomington, Ind.: World Wisdom, 2005.
  • Erdinç, Yasemin Bozoğlu. “The Relationship Between the Mevlevi Order and the Ottoman State in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries.” M.A. thesis, Boğaziçi University, Institute of Social Sciences, Istanbul, 2002.
  • Fakhry, Majid. A History of Islamic Philosophy. 3d ed.New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.
  • Friedlander, Shems. The Whirling Dervishes. 2d ed.Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1991.
  • Gölpınarlı, Abdülbâki. Mevlânâʿdan Sonra Mevlevîlik (The Mevlevî Order after the Time of Rūmī). 2d ed.Istanbul: İnkılâp ve Aka, 1983.
  • İnalcık, Halil. The Ottoman Empire: The Classical Age 1300–1600. Translated from the Turkish by Norman Itzkowitz and Colin Imber. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson; New York: Praeger Publishers, 1973.
  • Nikolaisen, Bente. “Embedded Motion: Sacred Travel Among Mevlevi Dervishes.” In Reframing Pilgrimage: Cultures in Motion, edited by Simon Coleman and John Eade, pp. 91–104. London and New York: Routledge, 2005.
  • Schimmel, Annemarie. The Triumphal Sun: A Study of the Works of Jalāloddin Rumi. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1993.
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