Mystical Islam and the Natural World
Human beings have existed for all time in an inextricable relationship with nature. It is impossible to disengage humans, and for that matter all existing life, from its supporting and all-encompassing environment; to do so would be to end life as we know it. Within the religion of Islam, this understanding of balance and mutual support is not forgotten: the Qur’an, which Muslims consider to be the last of a series of divine revelations, makes many explicit, and subtle, allusions to the sacred and important role that nature plays in the relationship between man and God. God is referred to as the “Sustainer” and “Creator,” an indicator of His role as the singular source of existence and meaning in the universe. As the sole source of existence, every aspect of life is predicated upon God. Food, water, and the beauty of nature all flow from Him:
Then let man look at his food, (and how We provide it):
For that We pour forth water in abundance,
And We split the earth into fragments,
And We produce therein corn,
And grapes and nutritious plants,
And olives and dates,
And enclosed gardens, dense with lofty trees,
And fruits and fodder,–
For use and convenience to you and your cattle. (Qur’an 80:24-32)
From this verse it becomes absolutely clear that the benefits of nature, provided freely for the use of mankind, have their source in God: He is the one who provides us sustenance and subsequently, existence. God is also the singular source of meaning. As the Qur’an states: “Not without purpose did He create the Heavens and Earth and all between” (Qur’an 38:27). This verse points to first, God’s role as the singular, unifying purpose inherent in all of Creation, and second, the function of nature, as God’s Creation, in providing spiritual guidance to the believer. The purpose of this paper, therefore, will be to explore the relationship between Islam and nature. However, as a result of the Qur’anic worldview, this relationship will become, more specifically, an interaction between man and God, experienced through the medium of nature. In order to achieve this goal I will first, render a more complete picture of the Qur’anic perception of nature, along with relevant hadith (stories of the prophet Muhammed, who received the divine revelation known as the Qur’an); second, compare two medieval Islamic saints, Jalal al-Din Rumi and Haji Bektashi Veli, and their methods of natural interaction; and third, and finally, analyze how the Sufi orders founded upon the saintly practices and teachings of Rumi and Haji Bektash preserved, yet also transformed, their methods of natural interaction.
The religion of Islam begins with a retreat into a pure natural environment. Muhammed, craving solitude, secluded himself in the cave of Hira on Mount Jabal al-Nur. It is especially significant that he received the revelation only after he “devoted himself to Divine worship for several nights” (Ali, 4). His retreat, then, was a self-imposed one, in which he entered a purely natural environment and there, began his search for Divine revelation. Nature, in this hadith, becomes a spiritual sanctuary for Muhammed, where Divine revelation can be more easily received.
After many nights spent in Divine worship, the “Truth came to [Muhammed]” in the form of the angel Gabriel. The first command that Gabriel issues to Muhammed is “Read! (or Recite!),” to which Muhammed responded: “I…am not one who can read.” Again, Gabriel commands Muhammed to “Read!” and again, Muhammed responds that he cannot. The third time, Gabriel commands Muhammed to “Read in the name of thy Lord [and Sustainer] Who created” (Ali, 5-6). The meaning of Gabriel’s entreaties to Muhammed to “Read!” is not literal; Muhammed was illiterate, and furthermore, there was no text of any kind to be read. The reading that Gabriel commands is actually a new way to perceive the world, and importantly, it must be perceived in the name of God, as the Sustainer of all things. Ibrahim Ozdemir analyzes this interaction, writing that, “at the very beginning it is taught that God, as the Sustainer and Creator, gives existence and meaning to everything else. God, according to the Qur’an, is the real Creator, Owner, and Sustainer of all reality. Hence, all reality should be seen and read with this point of view in mind” (Islam and Ecology, 7). So, from the very beginning of Islam there is a very marked emphasis on perceiving nature as God’s creation, which implies that from God, all of nature, and more importantly, all of reality, flows from God.
The Qur’an is replete with references, anecdotes, and descriptions of nature, often in the form of animals, or remarks on natural phenomena like sunrises, sunsets, and storms. Most often, these references serve as evidence for the ingenuity of God in providing for his people. For instance, the bee is mentioned as evidence of both God’s sustaining qualities, and of the individual and special character of all animals in His creation:
And your Lord inspired to the bee, “Take for yourself among the mountains, houses, and among the trees and [in] that which they construct. Then eat from all the fruits and follow the ways of your Lord laid down [for you].” There emerges from their bellies a drink, varying in colors, in which there is healing for people. Indeed in that is a sign for a people who give thought. (Qur’an 16:68-69)
The bee in this passage is divinely “inspired” to construct a house (or beehive). Bees are known for their skill in crafting their intricate and delicate hives and so, their skill becomes a symbol of the divine wisdom of God. The second part of this passage indicates the benefits that humans receive from the bee in the form of a healing “drink,” which provides proof of God’s constant nourishment. As a whole, this passage emphasizes a respect for the unique and beneficial qualities of every creature while pointing to the important, communal aspect of nature, based on an essential interconnectedness between all created beings.
Most important, however, is the aforementioned predication of all existence upon God. The Qur’an emphasizes many times that God is the source of all sustenance. For instance, it is revealed that: “He has set the earth for His creatures; therein are all kinds of fruits and palm-trees with sheaths, and grain inside its husk and fragrant flowers” (Qur’an 55:6). Furthermore, “[there] is no moving creature on earth but its sustenance depends on God…” (Qur’an 11:6). Essentially, everything that exists is a result of God. From Him all things flow, and there is no other possibility. Concomitant with this notion of nature as an outpouring of God into creation is the idea that nature is engaged in constant praise of God, such as the revelation that: “[There] is nothing on Earth that does not praise its Creator” (Qur’an 59:24). This feeling of constant praise evoked in the Qur’an is a natural continuation of the outpouring of God into creation. If everything flows from God, everything will glorify Him in doing so.
If all of creation is predicated upon God and flows from Him, then all knowledge must be predicated upon Him as well, as knowledge is merely an aspect of human existence, which itself is an aspect of the entirety of Creation. The Qur’an supports this notion, declaring that God has “placed His signs in the heavens and within themselves, until it becomes clear to them that it is the truth” (Qur’an 41:53). Thus, there exists within creation the signature of the Creator Himself, which will lead the believer to Him. Along with the Qur’an, which “the Gracious One has taught…” (Qur’an 55:2), this foundational natural wisdom could be considered sufficient knowledge for the spiritual journey towards God.
According to a well-known hadith, God appears as a “hidden treasure who wanted to be known” (Schimmel, “Deciphering the Signs of God”, 225). This hadith reveals a relationship between Creator and created which is essentially interdependent; the Creator relies on creation in order to know Himself, and creation relies on the Creator for continued existence. Moreover, signs of the Creator within creation must exist because the signature of the Creator is always within his creation. This leads to an understanding of the natural world that is fundamentally symbolic; God is a Divine truth which can be reached by finding and following the intimations of His presence inherent in nature.
Two medieval Sufi saints, Haji Bektash Veli and Jalal al-Din Rumi, exemplify naturalistic tendencies in their contemporaneous teachings and practices; Rumi does so within a theoretical framework recorded in his discourses and mystical poetry, and Haji Bektash undertakes an experiential engagement with nature, recorded in the oral tradition of his sainthood. Both of these saints, however, are notable for their reliance upon nature as a means of attaining nearness to God. Rumi consistently resorts to natural symbols as a means of conveying mystical concepts, and Haji Bektash’s most stunning displays of saintly miracles are often connected with his harmonious relations with the natural world. Therefore, determining the character and method of these saints’ interactions with nature will be important in deciphering the broader relationship between mystical Islam and the natural world. Rumi, as the theoretical half of this comparison, will serve as both a template for understanding Haji Bektash’s experiential engagement with nature and a foundation for comparison between the two.
Mowlana Jalal al-Din Rumi was born in Balkh, present-day Afghanistan, on the generally-accepted date of September 30, 1207. At the time Balkh was a center of Islamic learning, which probably exposed Rumi early on to advanced Islamic thought, both mystical and orthodox. Rumi’s father, Mohammed ibn al-Hoseyn Baha’oddin Valad, was a noted theologian and mystic. He had a noted aversion to philosophy and its cerebral approach to religion, preferring a more emotional, and heartfelt approach. This attitude was possibly influenced by a subtle love-mysticism being espoused by another Islamic scholar, Ahmad Ghazzali, although the extent it is unclear (Schimmel, “The Triumphal Sun”, 12-13). It is undeniable, though, that Rumi’s father had an impact on his own Islamic ideas and conceptions because of both familial relation and Rumi’s clearly emotional approach to God.
More important than any of these influences, however, is the immensely formative impact of a certain wandering dervish and mystic, Shamsoddin of Tabriz, who Rumi met in late October, 1244 (Schimmel, “The Triumphal Sun”, 18). The two mystics were destined, possibly even created, for each other. Shams is portrayed in legend as “an overpowering personality who, with immense spiritual pride, wandered through the Near Eastern countries in search for a master…” (Schimmel, “The Triumphal Sun”, 19). In Rumi, he finally found one.
Shams arrived in Konya, Rumi’s current home in 1244, and the two began an intense and passionate friendship that transcended, even up-ended, the traditional roles of master and disciple. Inseparable for six months, the relationship between Rumi and Shams was dynamic and fruitful; Rumi would fulfill the role of master at one moment, and Shams would the next, with both learning and benefitting from the other’s presence. However, fearing the retribution of Rumi’s devoted followers who were jealous of his special connection with Rumi, Shams left Konya. Rumi was devastated by Shams’ disappearance, and began to channel his intense, mystical love into poetry. Eventually, word came that Shams was in Syria, and a friend of Rumi’s was sent to bring him back. Annemarie Schimmel describes this meeting: “[Rumi and Shams]…embracing each other; nobody knew who was the lover, who the beloved…” (Schimmel, 21). The attraction between the two was mutual, and is portrayed in a line from the Mathnavi, Rumi’s spiritual masterpiece:
Not only the thirsty seek the water,
but the water seeks the thirsty as well. (Mathnavi, 1:1741)
This line condenses Rumi’s entire belief structure, based on mutual love and longing, and may be interpreted as the Divine attraction between the Creator and His Creation.
Shams’ renewed presence aroused no warmer welcome than before. Again, he eclipsed every other thing in Rumi’s world, making his family and followers grow jealous. On the night of December 5, 1248, Shams was murdered by Rumi’s son, extinguishing his light from the world. After an intense period of grief and passionate longing, Rumi was able to travel back to a more peaceful state; he had finally found Shams within himself, and the light Rumi thought extinguished forever again blazed within Rumi’s heart:
When I went to Tabriz, I spoke with Shamsoddin
Without the letters of a hundred maqalat, in the Divine Unity…(Discourses, 2968:31504).
Within Rumi, a spiritual metamorphosis had occurred, its origin within Shams. Rumi had begun to experience the “Divine Unity” of God, referred to in the Mathnavi as that with which “the whole of the Qur’an is concerned” (Mathnavi 3:2520).
The concept of Divine Unity posits that anything perceived to exist possesses no reality of its own, but rather is a mere reflection of the one Divine Reality (Thackston, xviii). The world we inhabit, therefore, is simply an overflowing of the singular Divine Reality into the refractive medium of our lower plane of existence. Rumi, referencing a verse in the Qur’an which compares the world to “foam-flecks” (Qur’an 13:17), constructs an analogy of Divine Unity: God is an infinite, unfathomable “ocean of souls” from which rise the small, beautiful flecks of foam, each an individual soul or aspect of existence, that compose the created universe (Schimmel, “Deciphering the Signs of God”, 7-8).
As mentioned earlier, the Qur’an states that “[not] without purpose did He create the Heavens and Earth and all between” (Qur’an 38:27). This passage contains in addition to its revelation of divine symbols within nature a command to know the Creator. In order to achieve this task Rumi believes that God endowed humans with two natures: one animal, one spiritual. The Qur’an states that “[one] of you is a believer, the other a non-believer,” which echoes man’s physical creation from the earth, and spiritual creation from Divine breath. With this special, dualistic nature, man can simultaneously engage God’s creation with his animal nature and seek His presence within it with his spiritual nature.
Rumi sees all of nature engaged in a constant cycle of rebirth and renewal. This cycle is driven by the constant, upwards aspiration of nature towards God and the implacable, downward manifestation of God into nature, or creation (Clarke, 50). Minerals strive upwards towards the vegetative state, the vegetative strives towards the animal, the animal towards humanity, and humanity towards spirit:
I died to mineral, joined the realm of plants
I died to vegetable, joined animal
I died in the animal realm, became man
So why fear? When has dying made me less?
In turn again I’ll die from the human form
only to sprout an angel’s head and wings
and then from angel-form I will ebb away
For “All things perish but the face of God”
And once I’m sacrificed from angel form
I’m what imagination can’t contain
So let me be naught! Naughtness, like an organ,
sings to me: “We verily return to Him”
Know that death – the community’s agreed -
is like the fount of life in darkness hid (Mathnavi 3:3901-3907)
Nature is engaged in a grand, upward spiral of metamorphoses, each state of being giving way to a higher existence. “Every atom,” says the Mathnavi, “is in love with that Perfection and hastens upwards like a sapling. Their haste says implicitly ‘Glory to God!’ They are purifying the body for the sake of spirit” (Mathnavi 5:3858-59).
Accompanying that upward hastening towards Perfection, however, is a shedding of forms, necessitating the death of body, and in the case of the human transcending into angelicism, the death of ego. This is known in mystical Islam as self-annihilation, or death before dying. Humans must die in body as well as self because of their aforementioned dualistic nature. Dying to self requires what Franklin Lewis describes as “putting out the fires of ego, [and] training the carnal self and the [sensual, eagerly desirous] soul” (Lewis, 417). Essentially, it is a taming of the self, involving a complete submission to God’s will. Though difficult, the Mathnavi says: “You have seen this life to be implicit in previous deaths; how, then, are you so attached to the life of the body?” (5:807), a gentle reminder of the necessary and important role death plays in the natural upward progression towards Perfection.
In summary, Rumi believed the concept of Divine unity, which he experienced firsthand in his spiritually passionate relationship with Shams, was the foundation of all possible knowledge of God. Furthermore, because all of creation was merely a reflection of God, allusions to Gods presence could be found within nature. To discover His presence within nature, God bestowed a dualistic nature upon man, in order that man should find his way back towards the Divine source. Man is merely a component of nature, however, which is involved in a constant cycle of rebirth and renewal driven by the mutual attraction and repulsion of the manifestation of Divine unity. And lastly, in order for man to ascend from his animal state to an angelic, nearness to God, he must die to self, forgetting his own individual existence in order to reunite with God.
Haji Bektash, in contrast with Rumi, lived out an illiterate, mostly rural existence, focusing more on experiential engagements with God rather than Rumi’s more theoretical, literary engagement. The Vilayetname, a collection of tales describing “the miraculous powers and deeds of Haji Bektash,” will be the main source of knowledge utilized in this paper regarding Haji Bektash’s saintly output (Smith 15). Unfortunately, the Makalat, a collection of Haji Bektash’s teachings has not been translated out of its original Turkish, rendering it’s knowledge unattainable for the purpose of this paper. The Vilayetname, although lacking in historical facts and specific teachings of Haji Bektash, still lends itself to extensive interpretation, which I will make liberal use of in pursuing my research.
Haji Bektash was the son of Sultan Ibrahim, the lord of Horasan, and Hatem Hatun, a “priceless young maiden unequaled in beauty” (Smith 18). After twenty-four years of marriage, Hatem had not yet born Sultan Ibrahim a son. So, the lord of Horasan gathered together all the holy men of Horasan to pray to God for a son to be given to him and his wife. That night, Hatem became pregnant and eventually, “[when] her exact period had passed a son was born, whose face resembled the full moon of fourteen nights” (Smith 20). For six months their blessed son, named “Bektash,” refused to feed. But, when six months had passed, “he lifted his witness finger, and said, ‘I swear that there is no god but the One God who has no partners, and I swear that Muhammed is His servant and messenger, and I swear that Ali is the Saint of God” (Smith 20). This story is a testament to Haji Bektash’s precocious saintly attributes. He refuses sustenance, symbolizing his refusal of man’s animal nature, and instead embraces the spiritual half of human duality.
The story of Haji Bektash begins more fully, however, with his teacher, Lokman the Wander, entering a classroom where Haji Bektash sits studying the Qur’an. Next to Haji Bektash on either side sat two “heroes” helping him in his studies. The room was “bright from the divine light of [the heroes’] faces” (Smith 21). When Lokman the Wanderer, Haji Bektash’s teacher, entered the classroom the heroes instantly vanished:
Lokman was very surprised…[saying to himself,] ‘I wonder who these heroes were.’ Haji Bektash opened his blessed mouth and said, ‘[Teacher,] do you know who these two divinely illuminated beings were?…The one sitting on my right was my ancestor, the sun of two worlds, Muhammed Mustafa. The one sitting on my left was the Lion of God, the Commander of the Faithful, Murtaza Ali. One was teaching me the manifest knowledge and the other the mystical knowledge of the [Qur’an].’ (Smith 21)
The presence of the Prophet Muhammed and Imam Ali represents Haji Bektash’s deep understanding of Divine Unity. For Haji Bektash, these men are never gone, but exist within him, for the Qur’an has related that God has “placed His signs…within themselves” (Qur’an 41:53).
The story continues, however, with Lokman the Wanderer instructing Haji Bektash to bring water from outside in order them to perform the necessary ablutions (ritual purification):
[Haji Bektash] raised his hands and prayed. Lokman the Wanderer said, ‘Amen!’ [Haji Bektash] passed his hands in front of his face, and prostrated himself on his prayer rug. Immediately a beautiful little spring arose form the middle of the classroom and began to flow…Around this spring sesame plants had sprouted and elegant flowers had bloomed. When he saw this, he again prostrated himself. (Smith 23).
The creation of the spring within the classroom is evidence of Haji Bektash’s complete reliance on God. According to the Qur’an, “He has set the earth for His creatures; therein are all kinds of fruits and palm-trees with sheaths, and grain inside its husk and fragrant flowers” (Qur’an 55:6). Haji Bektash allowed God to provide for him, proving his complete acceptance of God’s role in the creation and sustainment of life.
The sainthood of Haji Bektash is notable for the numerous displays of saintly power and authority that take place in nature or utilize a harmonious, natural power. The story of Haji Bektash’s praying on a sesame leaf in order to convince the Elders of Horasan of his miraculous power is one example of this natural sainthood:
…the honorable Monarch, the Pole of the World, performed his ablutions and took his prayer rug into his blessed hand. As he said, ‘In the name of God, and by the command of God,’ he spread the rug upon the sesame leaf. By the power of God, the Creator of Greatness, the prayer rug remained suspended in the air. Then, by the mercy of God, the Quintessence of Souls, who has no beginning and no end, Haji Bektash the Saint, after climbing upon his prayer rug, performed two series of prostrations to the court of God. (Smith 26)
This story can be interpreted in numerous ways but, it is undeniable that the foremost reason for this display of saintly power is to gain respect within the religious community of Horasan. Respect increases Haji Bektash’s spiritual authority, magnifying his influence and spreading his specific beliefs and practices. Importantly, Haji Bektash’s nearness to God is authentic, as evidenced by the facilitation of the natural world, a mere reflection of God, in his display of saintly power. Therefore, because Haji Bektash’s nearness is authentic, God facilitates the bending of the natural world in order to spread Haji Bektash’s influence, which places more believers upon Haji Bektash’s true and correct path to God. Through this interpretation, Haji Bektash becomes a divine agent revealing the truth of Divine Unity to fellow believers.
There are many subsequent stories of Haji Bektash’s bending of the natural rules. His presence creates a mutability within nature, allowing him to reveal to the less spiritually fortunate God’s presence within all of His creation. For instance, the Vilayetname also recounts the story of how Haji Bektash rescued the territory of Bedahshan from an infidel occupation. First, he travels to Bedahshan in the form of a hawk to rescue the son of Ahmed of Yese, the ruler of Horasan. After discovering Kutbeddin Hayder, Amhed’s son, imprisoned within a cave, Haji Bektash nurses him back to health, which he has lost due to a long imprisonment:
When Haji Bektash entered the form of a hawk, he went to Bedahshan…Hayder was a prisoner in a cave…He changed into human form. He was upset and took saliva from his mouth and rubbed it on Hayder’s head. The ringworm disease on Hayder’s head disappeared and his hair grew…When Hayder understood that his sickness had passed, that his hair was growing, and that his strength and power had returned, he stood up opposite [Haji Bektash. Haji Bektash,] out of thin air, gave him forty dates. Hayder ate the dates and was covered with perspiration. (Smith 31).
After his rescue of Hayder, Haji Bektash remains in the cave and fasts there, praying to God for help in defeating the infidels. First he prays:
‘My Creator, blacken the bright days of the infidel. Do not allow them to see the face of the sun for forty days. I hope that because of this they will come to the faith.’ Haji Bektash’s prayer was accepted. Darkness covered the lands of the infidels. They were no longer able to distinguish day and night. (Smith 34).
This convinced the infidels of God’s truth, but after a while, they begin to disbelieve again:
This time Haji Bektash hid their water. Their streams and rivers became dry. Even if they dug wells, water would not come forth. They returned to the faith, pleading to Haji Bektash…(Smith 35).
The drying of the rivers and streams is symbolic in its reference to a Qur’anic verse: “Thereupon We opened the gates of heaven with water pouring down; and We caused the earth to burst forth with springs…” (Qur’an 54:11-12). This story is only one instance, however. In another he caresses two charging lions, turning them to stone (Smith 43), in another takes the form of a dove (Smith 46), and in yet another, the fish living in a river “lifted their heads and greeted [him]” (Smith 43).
On his deathbed Haji Bektash reaches his spiritual apex, displaying a profound spiritual knowledge of the transition between worlds that is reminiscent of Rumi’s beliefs in the natural cycle of metamorphoses and death before dying. The story begins with Haji Bektash telling his private assistant Sari Ismail of his impending death. After describing how he will die, Haji Bektash makes a final request of Sari Ismail:
Follow my instructions, and after my death sacrifice one hundred cows and one thousand sheep. Summon all the people, serve and feed them. On the seventh and fortieth day serve helva. Do not worry, the hero’s resources are never lacking…
The sacrifice of one hundred cows and one thousand sheep is possibly a granting of spiritual aspiration in order that the cows and sheep might ascend to the next form of existence; as he leaves the corporeal world Haji Bektash brings many more into it to fill the void of his absence. Next, the reassurance that “the hero’s resources are never lacking” is yet another reference to the Qur’anic depiction of God as sustainer. The “hero” is one who worships God, and for him, nothing is ever lacking. After this final request:
…Sari Ismail began to weep and he said, ‘May God never show me that day!’ The Monarch consoled him saying, ‘We shall not die, we shall only change our appearance.‘ (Smith 183).
The statement “We shall not die, we shall only change our appearance” has two implications. The first is yet another acknowledgement of the upward spiraling of metamorphoses, leading towards Divine unity. Haji Bektash’s appearance will change from that of man, to that of angel. The second, and more important, implication of this statement is of Haji Bektash’s complete identification with God, revealed by his use of the pronoun “we” in place of the normal “I”. Complete identification is a necessary component of self-annihilation, in which the “the fires of the ego” are put out and submitted to God’s will.
Though Rumi and Haji Bektash advocate a similar Divine presence within nature, their respective approaches towards the Divine presence, and methods of transmitting this knowledge to their followers differs immensely. Rumi was academic, passing his spiritual knowledge through poetry, discourse and teaching, whereas Haji Bektash was experiential, passing his spiritual knowledge through displays of miraculous power. These differences, significant in the contemporaneous lives of the saints, remain somewhat preserved in the institutions that arose to preserve their saintly charisma and authority. The Mevlevi preserve the practice of sama, a mystical dance dating back to Rumi’s life, which echoes the divine orbit of the planets, and the Bektashi preserve in their initiation ceremony a belief in the Divine unity of God. Interestingly, the differing methods of natural engagement become switched in their preservation. Rumi, while still preserved in his writings, is remembered in a mystical dance, and Haji Bektash’s immersion in nature to seek the face of God became institutionalized in an elaborate initiation ritual.
The practice of Sama is an intricate and graceful ceremonial dance which is an important part of Mevlevi worship. The typical performance space was “semicircular or even octagonal in shape…[and] the dome overhead, along with the cosmic symbolism with which the ceremony was invested, heightened the impression of circularity” (Lewis 461). Echoing the cosmic orbit of the spheres, the circular feel of the ceremony is also reminiscent of the greater circularity of life, involved in a constant cycling of metamorphosis towards and away from God. “The dervishes extend their arms, holding one hand toward heaven and the other toward the earth, symbolizing man’s situation as a spiritual creature in the physical plane” (Lewis 463). Rumi writes in the Mathnavi:
The wise men tell us that we take these tunes
from the turning of celestial spheres
These sounds are revolutions of the skies
that man composes with his lyre and throat
We were all parts of Adam at one time
In paradise we all have heard these tunes
Though clay and water fill us up with doubts
We still remember something of those songs
And so, like food, sama sustains God’s lovers
within its harmonies the mind’s composed
imagination draws its inspiration
takes its shape within this hue and cry (Mathnavi 4:732-744)
From this passage, it becomes clear that the practice of sama was a liberation for Rumi, transforming Rumi “from a preacher and thinker inclined to mysticism and asceticism into a full-fledged Sufi…” (Lewis, 312). The institutionalization of sama, then, becomes a way for modern Mevlevi to experience Rumi’s ecstatic engagement with God, an experience that could not be fully or accurately preserved through academic discourse alone.
The initiation ceremony of the Bektashi is exemplary of the preservation of Haji Bektash’s belief in Divine unity. One of the many prayers in use throughout the ceremony relates: “wherever thou lookest behold the Divine Reality, hak; do not look upon anything as separate from or other than Reality; be sincere in thy confession; know that Reality is present in thee; make known the mysteries to the eren’s [men]…Knowing this, have faith” (Birge 191). Divine Reality is perceived everywhere one looks, even within oneself. This notion is embodied in the use of space and relation of the initiates within the meydan, or initiation room. In the exact center of the meydan is the position known as “the gallows of Mansur el Hallaj” who declared “I am Reality” (Birge 180). Therefore, this position is symbolic of the self-annihilation that must occur in order to achieve nearness to God. Also, the meydan is oblong in shape, with the rest of the initiates sitting against the wall and facing inwards towards each other. The inward-facing spatial arrangement represents the Bektashi prayer that says “wherever thou lookest behold the Divine Reality…know that Reality is present within thee…” indicating that the presence of God is within both the perceiving believer and his fellow initiates.
Just as Rumi’s literary and theoretical tradition became more experiential through the institutionalization of sama, Haji Bektash’s experiential basis of worship became more formalized through the development of elaborate rituals and symbolism in the Bektashi initiation ritual. Possibly, the synthesis of both experiential and theoretical traditions within both orders is a result of the need for a more balanced faith in providing a foundation for the order. An order needed elements of both theoretical and experiential engagement of God for it to be successful in meeting the needs of its followers. In a way, the followers of Rumi and Haji Bektash, in forming a cohesive and lasting membership, moderated the respective traditions of the saints to make the resulting order more universally practicable.
From the dawn of Islam in the cave of Hira, the natural world was perceived as symbolic of the path towards God. God was the Divine Reality, overflowing into creation, and therefore, every aspect of creation was merely a reflection of God. Rumi wrote extensively on this concept in the form of mystical poetry and discourse, at one point even stating that it was the purpose of the whole Qur’an. Haji Bektash traveled through the rural countryside, experiencing the unity of God in His creation and displaying his harmonious, natural power through saintly miracles. Together, these two medieval Sufi saints represented the ends of the spectrum of worship: Rumi was theoretical, Haji Bektash experiential. Thus, in the preservation and institutionalization of their saintly beliefs and practices, the disciples of Rumi and Haji Bektash exerted a moderating influence in order to create a balanced and practicably diverse following. The end result of institutionalization for both of these orders was a more universally applicable religion that emphasized the Divine unity of all things through an intimate association with nature.
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