KONYA, Turkey (AP) — To prepare for the ritual ahead, Omer Kilic and his 14-year-old son dress in white robes, drape black cloaks over them and wear cone-shaped hats called “sikke.”
Robes symbolize funeral shrouds, cloaks a grave and hats a tombstone – garments that are part of a centuries-old tradition performed by Turkey’s whirling dervishes.
Dervishes, a Sufi order of Islam with roots in mysticism, are primarily known for their ritual ‘sama’ in which they spin in unison with prayers and verses from the Koran.
Kilic has been with the battalion for 23 years. Now a tailor by profession, he teaches his craft to his apprentice and son, Toprak Efe Kilic.
Kilic says his religious path first appeared in a dream. He decided to start training as a dervish a few days later.
Each year, the dervishes of the Mevlevi order perform their unmistakable act of devotion in the Turkish city of Iconium, where thousands of people attend a week-long series of events and ceremonies marking the death of the 13th-century Sufi Islamic poet, scholar and mystic. Jalaluddin Rumi.
Rumi, who is known as Mevlana in Turkey, was born in 1207 in Balkh, a city that is now part of Afghanistan. He settled in Iconium in central Turkey, where he died on December 17, 1273. He is considered one of the most important Sufi philosophers, and members of the Mevlevi order follow his teachings.
Rather than mourning his death, the ceremonies at Iconium celebrate what his followers believe is Rumi’s union with God. The main feature of “Sheb-i Arus”, or “night of union”, is the ritual in which whirling dervishes spin with their right hands symbolically pointing towards God and their left towards the Earth.
Ahmet Sami Kuchuk, the head of the dervishes in Iconium, described the whirling as “the end” and a state achieved after years of training and discipline.
In 2005, the UN cultural agency declared the practice an example of the “oral and intangible heritage of humanity”.
The structure that houses Rumi’s tomb in Iconium is a museum and a place of pilgrimage. A pilgrim, Mohammad Mobeen Dervesh, a Kashmiri living in the UK, said all the worshipers of God come to the site to honor Rumi.
Two years after strict lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism official Abdulsettar Yarar said the site attracted more than 3.1 million visitors this year, 10 percent of them from abroad.
Mehmet Guzel in Iconium and Robert Badendieck in Istanbul contributed to this report.