Konya – The City of Love

11_75Is there someone here from Golra? My father was surprised. He never expected someone to ask this question in this far off place. He was visiting the city of Konya, the city of Maulana (pronounced Mevlana) Rumi (Jalauddin Muhammad Rumi) sometime in the 1980s. The woman who asked the question wanted to send some gifts to the Pir of Golra Sharif – the seat of the local saint Pir Mehr Ali Shah. Our ancestral village Maira Akku is located next to the shrine of Pir Mehr Ali Shah – the saint of Golra. Golra now forms part of the federal capital Islamabad.

Allama Iqbal, the poet laureate of the South Asian subcontinent considers Rumi the best interpreter of the Quran. Rumi believed in the creed of love. His love for the Almighty found expression in the dance of the whirling dervishes.

Remembering my father’s story, it was but natural for me to visit Konya, when I got a chance to visit Ankara, the capital of Turkey to attend a conference. A fellow Turk delegate inclined towards Sufi traditions told me that Konya was less than two hours distance by fast train from Ankara. So on the last day of the conference I took afternoon off. A young PhD scholar Omar Aslan, who had come to interview me, was kind enough to drop me at the main railway station and help me buy the ticket for the train to Konya. One way journey cot me Turkish Lira 22 (roughly Pak Rs 800). The ticket counter accepted a payment through credit card. The museum of the Maulana closed at 4 pm and the train that was to take me to Konya would reach an hour and a half before that – enough time I was told to visit the mausoleum and the museum. The train was very modern and very fast. The travel speed displayed on the TV monitor was 190 km/hour. On reaching Konya I was told that I could walk upto the museum but I decided not to take any chances and took a taxi. The fare was another 11 Turkish Lira. The museum was open and the entry was free.

The Mevlana Museum houses the mausoleum of the Persian Sufi saint and the dervish lodge (tekke) of the Mevlevi order, better known as the whirling dervishes. Sultan Alaudin Kayqubad, a Seljuk sultan had invited the Maulana to Konya and had offered his rose garden as a burial place for his father Bahauddin Veled, when he when he died on 12 January 1231. When the Maulana died he died in 17 December 1273 he was buried next to his father. His successor Hüsamettin Çelebi built a mausoleum (Kubbe-i-Hadra) over the grave of his master. Several sections were added to the mausoleum until 1854.There are several graves in the mausoleum around the Maulana’s and the tombstone in each case is wrapped in the traditional turban after the pattern of the Maulana.

A government decree in April 1926 confirmed the status of the mausoleum and the dervish lodge (Dergah) as a national museum. The museum opened on 2 March 1927. In 1954 it was renamed the Mevlana Museum.

The main gate (Devisan Kapısı) to the marble-paved courtyard leads to the kitchen (Matbah) of the dervishes. On the left hand side are 17 dervish cells lined up, used to educate the dervishes, teaching them the art of Sema or mediation. In the middle of the courtyard is a washing fountain. One enters the mausoleum and the small mosque through the Tomb gate (Türbe Kapisi). Its two doors are decorated with Seljuk motifs and a Persian text from Mullah Abdurrahman Jami dating from 1492. It leads into the small Tilavet Room (the room to recite the holy Quran) decorated with rare and precious Ottoman calligraphy. In this room the Quran was continuously recited and chanted before the mausoleum was turned into a museum.

The most interesting part in the dervish lodge is a room devoted to the saint Shams Tabraiz. Shams Tabraiz became a very close associate of the Maulana. The closeness caused envy and conspiracies were hatched. After a few years in Konya, the saint died. Sham Tabraiz had extraordinary powers to travel far and wide and was hence known as parinda or bird. He is buried in Konya and a number of other places including Multan. Multan of course has a much more elaborate mazar of the celebrated saint in within the Qasim Bagh fort.

The entry into the Tilavet Room is through a silver door. On the left side stand six coffins in rows of three of the dervishes (Horasan erler) who accompanied Maulana and his family from Balkh. Opposite to them on a raised platform, covered by two domes, stand the cenotaphs belonging to the Maulana’s descendants and some high-ranking members of the Mevlevi order.

The sarcophagus of Maulana is located under the green dome. It is covered with brocade, embroidered in gold with verses from the Quran. The actual burial chamber is located below it. Next to Maulana’s sarcophagus are several others, including the sarcophagi of his father Bahaeddin Veled and his son Sultan Veled. The wooden sarcophagus of Mevlana dates from the 12th century now stands over the grave of his father. It is a masterpiece of Seljuk woodcarving.

The Ritual Hall (Semahane) was built under the reign of Sulaiman the Magnificent at the same time as the adjoining small mosque. In this hall the dervishes used to perform the Sema, the ritual dance, on the rhythm of musical instruments such as, the kemence (a small violin with three strings), the keman (a larger violin), the halile (a small cymbal), the daire (a kind of tambourine), the kudüm (a drum), the rebab (a guitar) and the flute, played once by Mevlâna himself. All these instruments are on display in this room, together with an ancient Kirşehir praying rug (18th century), dervish clothes (Maulana’s included) and four crystal mosque lamps (16th century, Egyptian Mameluk period). In this room one can also see a rare Divan-i-Kebir (a collection of lyric poetry) from 1366 and two fine specimens of Masnavis (books of poems written by the Maulana) from 1278 and 1371.

The adjoining small mosque (Masjid) is now used for the exhibition of a collection of old, illustrated Korans and extremely valuable prayer rugs. There is also a box (Sakal-i Ṣerif), decorated with nacre, containing the Holy Beard of Muhammad.

One and a half hour was enough to visit the mausoleum and pray inside the mosque located inside. Incidentally there was no Imam inside to lead congregational prayers. After the visit and having waited for the mysterious lady to send the gifts to the Pir of Golra, I walked outside in the cobbled stoned streets taking in the sounds and sights of this quaint city. Sampling the city, praying in the small mosques located outside. Having eaten a traditional Turkish dinner in a café located outside the mausoleum, I took a leisurely walk back to the railway station and boarded the 9’ o clock train back to Ankara. It was a most satisfying visit.

Taliban in Kunduz

kunduzThe Taliban captured the northern Afghan city of Kunduz on Monday the 28th of September. They had been besieging Kunduz for months. When the push came to shove, it only took them a few hours to advance and take the city as the security forces retreated to the city’s outlying airport. Three days later the Taliban are hardening their grip over the city, as the security forces await reinforcements and the US conduct air strikes.

After a summer of stalemate, the Taliban victory is a major achievement. It fully exposes the weaknesses of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and underlines the capacity of the Taliban to operate far from their support areas in the south and the east of the country and in a region that is essentially non-Pashtun. This is to say the least highly demoralizing for the security forces and highlights the weaknesses of the unity government in Kabul to deter the enemies of the state from launching bold attacks.

Pakistan has been quick to condemn the attack and issue a statement of in favor of what the Foreign Secretary called the legal government in Kabul. This statement was meant to pre-empt that the usual litany of complaints that the Afghan government launches in the face of each debacle that they face.

The Taliban’s largest victory in years has came just over a week before the American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John F. Campbell, is expected to return to Washington to testify before Congress about the course of the war and what America’s continued involvement should be. Some 10,000 American troops are in the country, many of them focused on training or advising the Afghan forces, and the White House has not yet decided whether to keep a force of that number here for another year or begin pulling them from the country in the coming months.

The Taliban may eventually relinquish the city once the Afghan forces launch a determined attach with the support of the US forces still in Afghanistan but they have made their point. They are alive and kicking and can strike at will inside Afghanistan, areas that are not their primary turf. In doing so they may also have indicated to their emerging rivals the Islamic State (IS) that they are masters of the area. The IS describes the area of Afghanistan and Pakistan as the Wilayat Khurasan. Whether they join forces eventually can be anybody’s guess. The arriving winter usually signals a break in fighting. The fighting season resumes in spring. This, however, does not mean that the Taliban will be bivouacking anytime soon. They may launch a few more attacks to further scatter and harass the local forces.

Pakistan does not have many options. It wants to play the role of a facilitator in bringing the Taliban and the Afghan government to the negotiating table. They were able to bring the Taliban delegation to a 2+1+2 round of talks in the hill resort of Murree in July this year. Their efforts were rudely torpedoed by the Afghan intelligence agency – the NDS (National Department of Security) by the news leak that Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban, had been dead for the past two years. The timing of the newsbreak was meant to stop further talks. The aim was achieved as the Taliban started an acrimonious power struggle within their ranks with Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, the new leader trying to exert his writ and control in face of opposition from the dead leader’s relatives (his son and brother). The infighting is since over and Mansoor is firmly in saddle. Whether, he is agreeable for any more talks is questionable. His recent victory has exposed the weaknesses of the Afghan government and their security apparatus and given him the excuse of not talking to a losing enemy. The possibility of the Americans decide to stay back longer than their planned exit in 2017 appears unlikely. The deposition of John Campbell before the US Congress would give an inkling of the mood at the Capitol Hill.