Mevlevi Women

From a Book by Shambhala:WomenofSufism
Women of Sufism, A Hidden Treasure

~Camille Helminski

In Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi’s family there had long been a tradition of the recognition of the spiritual beauty, yearning, and wisdom of women. It was his grandmother, the princess of Khorasan, who first lit the spark of inquiry in Rumi’s father, Bahaeddin Weled. It was under her care (Bahaeddin’s father died when he was two years old) that he grew to be the “Sultan of the learned” and a great spiritual light for his world. Mevlana’s mother, Mu’mine Hatun, a devout and saintly lady, was very dear to him. Mu’mine Hatun was the beautiful daughter of Rukhneddin, the governor of Balkh in what is now Afghanistan.

As the threat of the Mongol hordes approached, when Mevlana was about seven years old, his mother and father and he and his older brother together with loyal students of his father and extended households all set out together to emigrate from Balkh. His sister, Fatima Hatun, having already married, chose instead to settle with her husband in her native country. She came to be known as one of the wisest women of her time and was often consulted on legal matters.

The caravan of family and friends journeyed to Mecca and Damascus and then after some years passed, heading north, came to rest in Larende or Karaman where they remained for almost seven years. Just as Bahaeddin Weled was about to move his family to Konya where he had been invited to teach by Sultan Alaedin Kaykubad, Mu’mine Hatun passed away. Her tomb remains in Karaman as a place of pilgrimage for many of the women of Anatolia. Nezihe Araz in her book, Anadolu Evliyalari (Saints of Anatolia), describes her meeting with Mu’mine:

[Mu’mine Hatun] was one of the faithful, and her countenance and her morality were both beautiful. Mirrors would say as she looked into them: We wish she had a fault that we could show her but she has none!

. . . Mu’mine Sultan’s tomb is now visited by many. There is almost no woman in Anatolia who has not visited her. Most of her visitors are women who arrive in her presence, lower their heads and ask for her assistance. . .

I also arrived in her presence and had a great deal I wanted to say. I had gone over in my mind many things I wanted to say to her, and with which I wished to ask her assistance. But as soon as I entered her tomb, my mind went blank!! I could neither speak nor extend my hand; I was overwhelmed by the encompassing presence of this sacred mother, a mother who had given such love to the world!

Mu’mine Hatun was laid to rest shortly after Mevlana’s marriage to Gevher Hatun, the daughter of one of Bahaeddin Weled’s closest disciples, Shefereddin Lala. Gevher Hatun had grown up beside Mevlana Jelaluddin listening to his father’s discourses. This beautiful woman, who was known to have the heart of an angel, became the mother of Sultan Weled to whom Shams of Tabriz conveyed many mysteries. Shams himself in his Conversations (Maqalat of Shams-i Tabrizi) also reminded those who might forget, of the equal capacity of women for intimacy with the Ineffable and the ability to “die before death.”

When his dear wife, Gevher Hatun, passed away, Mevlana married the widowed daughter of Izzeddin Ali, Kerra Hatun, who also was quite spiritually gifted and well trained in mysticism. She became known for the many miracles that occurred around her, and many notables and ladies of the city of Konya became her students. Kerra Hatun and Mevlana together had a son and a daughter, Melike Hatun, who also became known for her pure spirit:

One day a group of women passsed by Kamil of Tebriz who cried:
“A bright light bums in the midst of these women. Such clarity must come from our Master’s mine of lights.”

In the Menaqib al-Arifin, Aflaki also describes the young woman, Fatima Khatoun, whom Sultan Weled married:

The friends told us that when Sultan Weled reached puberty, our Master arranged a marriage with Shaikh Calaheddin’s daughter, Fatima Khatoun. [Mevlana himself] taught the young girl to read and write, and spent a great deal of time with her since he held her in high regard.

One day he said: “Fatima Khatoun (May God be pleased with her and with her father) is my right eye and her sister, Hediyye Khatoun is my left. All those honourable women who visit me, come partially veiled, with the exception of Fatima and her sister who come unveiled.”

Concerning Latife Khatoun who was their mother, he said: “Latife Khatoun is the embodiment of God’s grace; she is the namesake of the Shaikh’s mother. (May God sanctify their sweet souls!)”

One day, our Master said to his companions, “When Fatima Khatoun married our Behaeddin (Sultan Weled) all the archangels and houris in Paradise rejoiced and beat their drums congratulating each other and lifting their voices in a chorus of praise.” And on their wedding night, [Mevlana] composed this elegy of love:

‘Blessed be those weddings and festivities of this world
ordained by God for us;
Our hearts have opened, and kindred souls are joined.
Care has flown away thanks to the kindness of our Lord.’

Fatima performed many miracles both in the inner and in the manifest world. She constantly fasted during the day and stayed awake at night. When she did eat, it was but once a day. She gave food to the poor, to orphans and to widows, and distributed clothes and gifts to the needy. She made a rule of speaking and eating as little as possible.

Fatima could see very clearly the mysterious forms that are the spiritual beings of heaven and she showed them to those of her friends who were capable of such an experience, to Gurdji Khatoun, to Koumadj Khatoun, and to the daughter of the Perwana of Toqat. She could also read people’s thoughts very clearly. In her youth, she was like the pure milk of paradise [Qur’an: 47:16]. She could not bear to be separated from our Master (Mevlana) for a moment and learned marvelous secrets of illumination from his blessed discourse. In order to achieve sanctity, inner discipline, and a pure, chaste soul, she studied with this supreme teacher and became an accomplished student.

One of Mevlana’s closest disciples and friends who rests in her own maqam on the outskirts of old Konya is Fahrunissa. Her tomb stands watch on Chai-baci Caddesi (Tea-garden Street) near the cemetery where Suleyman Hayati Dede, the last Mevlevi Shaikh of Konya, was laid to rest. A small camii (mosque) built in her name invites passersby to pause and pray there.

Aflaki relates the following story about her:

Our Friends and dervish brothers told us about Fahrunnisa (Fakr-en-Nisa), a saintly and perfect being, who was known as the “Glory of Women” (May God be Pleased with her). She lived in Konya in the time of our beloved Mevlana and was known as the Rabi’a of her day. Philosophers, Masters of Wisdom, mystics and the leaders of the community alike loved and revered her. She was pious, devoted and sincere, and could perform extraordinary miracles. Fakr-en-Nisa loved to be in the presence of our Master and he, as well, liked to be in her company.

At a certain point, her disciples encouraged her to make the pilgrimage to Mecca. This corresponded with inner guidance that she had been receiving concerning this pillar of Islam.

“Let me consult our Master first because I can’t possibly go without his permission. I’ll do whatever he wishes.”

She went to visit Mevlana, who immediately said, “It’s a very good intention; may your journey be blessed. I hope we will be in each other’s company.”

Fakr-en-Nisa only bowed her head and didn’t say a word in reply. Her friends and followers, puzzled at her reaction, wondered what had taken place during the meeting. That night, Fakr-en-Nisa remained in conversation with Mevlana at his home, until quite late. Shortly after midnight, Mevlana went up on the terraced roof to pray. After he had completed his nightly devotions, he began to shout excitedly, signaling to Fakr-en-Nisa and calling her to join him on the roof.

“Look!” he said, pointing at the sky. “There is your destination.” And to her amazement, Fakr-en-Nisa saw the Kaaba spinning around our Master’s head like a dervish in his sacred dance. It was clearly visible and Fakr-en-Nisa gasped as she plunged deep into ecstatic bewilderment.

After a while, she bowed her head again and told Mevlana that it no longer seemed a good idea to go on the pilgrimage and that she would like to relinquish the journey. Mevlana’s reply was this beautiful ghazel:

The Kaaba spins like a dervish around the abode of only one idol.
O Lord, who could this possibly be, so distraught and so full of longing?
Compared to her, the full moon is a broken plate and her sweetness puts the flowers to shame.
All the Masters of the Way, all the faithful angels, bow to her, crying, “O Adored One, for the love of God, have mercy on us.”
The creatures of a thousand foam-covered seas are the shells which contain this pearl of Love; her elevated thoughts reveal Honour and Glory . . .
She is his paradise, his dancing girls, his infinite pleasure.
In her over-flowing light, one sigh of worship is like an entire verse of the Qu’ran.
Listen to this short tale and be aware that one of the sun’s tiny atoms has befriended an idol.
O you, who are the Shams of Tabriz of Mercy and Compassion, a sun bestowing a thousand blessings;
Your words have become like a jug full of wine — let’s drink of it forever.

In the 1980’s when the City of Konya needed to conduct some road renovations that required the moving of Fahrunissa’s tomb, Suleyman Dede, the Mevlevi Sheikh of Konya, was asked to attend the repositioning. He related to us how after seven hundred years, when her grave was opened, her body was still intact and the fragrance of roses filled the air.

Another woman of the time of Mevlana who has long been beloved by many was Tavus Hatun or “Peacock Lady.” In her book Anadolu Evliyalari, Nezihe Araz tells the following story about this beautiful woman who had heard of Mevlana and journeyed like many others from Bukhara and Samarkand, Shiraz, and many areas of Central Asia to Konya to be in his proximity, though as Mevlana said to those near him, “Since our fame has increased, and so many people have begun visiting us, I am no longer comfortable; no wonder Muhammed, peace be upon him, has said, ‘Fame is hardship, comfort comes from lack of fame!’ But if the divine order is such, what can be done? Because I was told to show my qualities to the people, ‘so that whoever sees you, would see Me (God).’ ” This beautiful lady whom no one knew arrived by caravan like the countless others who came to meet Mevlana. Like many of them, she also remained in Konya.

She picked a small hill called Gullu (Rose) Hill in the Meram vineyards around Konya and had a house built on it. This hill was like a paradise with its beautiful fire-colored roses, and hyacinths.

The lovers of Mevlana, as they were returning from a sema ceremony in the Meram vineyards early one morning, heard a sweet sounding rebab. This sound invited all souls to awaken. The ensuing ecstasy of the lovers erased their weariness, and they cried out for the Friend. The sema ceremony continued as long as the wailing of the rebab lasted up on the hill.

From that morning on, the lovers of Mevlana always passed by that small hill. Every morning as the sun rose and their souls awoke with the sound of that beautiful woman’s rebab, the sema ceremony would begin and Mevlana and his friends would bathe their souls in the sweet sounds flowing through Konya’s renowned roses and hyacinths.

Konya was drunk with love but sometimes still found time for gossip and envy. Some prying people started asking whether this lady was veiling her beauty from Mevlana, too.

Early one morning, as the lovers of Mevlana waited by the foot of the Gullu Hill and watched life awaken, they could not hear the sound of the rebab for which they were waiting. They became worried and their hearts were in a quandary as to what to do. They all looked at Mevlana, while he waited in silence. Once the sun had risen in the sky, Mevlana asked one of his young students to go and check the house on the hill. Those who went to the house saw nothing but a few peacock feathers in the middle of the house, still warm from having just left a live body.

When they recounted this to Mevlana, he ordered that a tomb (turbe) be built for her. To this day, the people of Konya bring their relatives who are sick with tuberculosis at early dawn to the small brick building (the turbe) and pray to Tavus Hatun (Peacock Lady) for assistance with their health. These days there are no roses or hyacinths around the turbe. A few years ago, some people claimed that the person lying there was not a woman but, in fact, a man called Tavus Baba and that he was not a Mevlevi but a Hudai. The nameplate was changed from Tavus Hatun to Tavus Baba because it was considered by some that the name “hatun” should not be spoken. However, whomever I have asked among Konya’s people, they have not forgotten and have all recounted to me this story of Tavus Hatun as they knew it; they so love the Peacock Lady.

Over the centuries, many women have followed the path of Sufism opened by Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi. His granddaughters (the daughters of Sultan Weled), Mutahhara and Sheref Hatun, both were women of great spiritual depth who had numerous mureeds throughout Asia Minor. Mevlana endearingly called them Abide (adoring one) and Arife (the mystic knower). Devret Hatun, daughter of Divan-i Celebi, wife of Sultan Beyazit I, and mother of the next sultan, Mehmet Celebi, was also an important Sufi student and teacher of her time; her tomb is in Bursa, Turkey. Divani Mehmet Celebi’s great grand-daughter, Destina Hatun (Shah Mehmet Celebi’s daughter) was appointed the sheikha of the Kara Hisar Mevlevi Tekke. She wore the traditional khirka and sikke and made sema together with men, standing as the representative of the order in the Mevlevi mukabele (sema or whirling ceremony). When she translated, Kutchuk Mehmet Celebi took on the leadership but then after his passing, rather than the leadership passing to his son, his daughter, Gunesh Hatun, who was regarded as having the greater spiritual attainment, assumed the post. She was known for her abundant love and consideration for everyone irregardless of their sex, race, or religion. Each of these women took responsibility for teaching both men and women on the Sufi path as did Arife-Hashnika Hanim of Konya who held the position of Sheikha for the people of Tokat, both men and women.

The Mevlevi tariqat is known for its emphasis on beauty and the refinement of the arts, as well as the art of living the life of a true human being. “Many of the more influential Ottoman musicians, composers, musical theorists, calligraphers, and other visual artists traced their artistic geneology through the Mevlevi Order” and a substantial number of these were women. The hundred most important composers in Turkey have been followers of the Mevlevi tariqat, according to the former Celebi, Dr. Celaladdin Celebi, who passed away in 1996. Dilhayat Khalifa was a female Mevlevi tanbur player who lived in the early 1700’s who wrote numerous ilahiler (sacred songs). Layla Saz who lived in the late 1800’s was another brilliant female Mevlevi composer and musician who rests in the hamushan (“the place of the silent ones,” ie., the cemetery) of the Galata Mevlevihanesi.

Women have also always performed the sema , the mystical whirling ceremony of the Mevlevi Way. In the early days of the Mevlevi order women and men were known to pray, share sohbet (spiritual conversation), and whirl within each other’s company, though more often as the centuries unfolded, women held their own semas and men also whirled in zhikr separately from women. However, in the time of Mevlana, spontaneous semas would occur including both women and men. There was an intimate friend of Fahrunnisa’s, Nizham-Hatun, whose love for God had been deeply inspired by Mevlana. A yearning arose in her to host a sema gathering. She had little with which to provide for the guests, so she determined to sell the only thing of any value that she owned, a piece of cloth from Bursa she had been saving for her shroud. However the next morning, Mevlana and the friends appeared at her door. He told her to keep her shroud, that he and the friends had arrived for the sema. That sema continued for three days and nights.

In the summer of 1991, during a visit to Turkey, we discussed with the Celebi, the then presiding head of the Mevlevi order, Celalettin Bakir Celebi, the issue of men and women turning in sema together in our time. No formal permission had yet been given by the Order to hold such mixed ceremonies. The Celebi recognized the need to seriously consider the appropriateness of mixed ceremonies that might be held in our current era, and especially the public sharing of a mixed sema. He requested that all those whom we had trained as semazens, both men and women, might write to him of their experience. Many did so. After deep reflection, in October of 1991, he responded (in his own English):

“I don’t think anybody has the right to differentiate between women and men, as God gives this right for the existence and the continuation of being of human beings. We are obliged to give the same rights to both of them as creatures of God.

“. . . we are all under a great responsibility regarding women in a mixed sema, because it will be a rule once this permission is given. Any person wishing to become semazen must have certain perimeters of behaviour or code of ethics. How do you mean to practice if we do not lay down rules so that in the future this may be carried out? Please can you guarantee the same maturity for all the groups existing in the world or which will be formed in the future? It is for this reason that we need to clarify certain outlines at the outset so that in the future all the essence and the beauty of the SEMA will be preserved and seen by all, just as it was in the beginning–pure love.”

Some weeks later, we at last received the following letter from Dr. Celebi (again in his own English): {include scan of original for documentation}

The 11- 11-1991
Dear Helminski,

I receive the holy message that I was waiting from Hz_Mevlana:
Till when will continue the patience of these clean and pure hearts in the soil? Go all toqether, jump, blow up, exit from the tombs. A favour of forces comes to you as help . . .
You can do a mixed ceremony every 30 September and 17 December in public.

Whish always the best to everybody.
The servant of Mevlana and his followers.
The Celebi Celaleddin
(Signature)

Note : The permission of guiding given to you by Suleyman Dede was with my approuval. I am and will be always morally responsable of everything concerning you and your followers, To day I fill my self obliged to remember you that there is a rule who was followed respectively by all dervishes in the tekkes: The reunion was beginning by conversation and discussion..- followed by a prayer… by a zikr (only the name of God) –then the sema and immediately after the sema, staying alone in a cell or a room, as long as the social obligation of the participant person permits.

God willing, a new time is opening for the greater sharing of spirituality among men and women, in purity, patience, and mutual support, as we turn in steadfast and trustworthy devotion to the One who turns us all. As the sheikh or shaikha prays in one moment of the whirling ceremony:

May Allah grant you total soundness,
O travelers on the Way of Love.
May the Beloved remove the veils from your eyes
that you may see the secrets of your time and of the true center.

…and may it be for each of us that Wherever you turn, there is the Face of God [2:115].

2017-01-29T15:57:11+00:00

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