As I wandered through the Mevlana mosque complex, caught up in my own thoughts and the beauty of the area, I didn’t notice the two covered young teenage girls shyly making their way towards me. Actually, that’s a bit of an understatement. I almost certainly bumped into one of them when taking a step back to frame a picture properly.
“Excuse me,” the more forward of the two girls ask. “Could we take photo?” No sooner had I smiled and agreed than the silent girl jumped up next to me and struck a pose. “1… 2… 3… I’m taking photo!” I’m pretty sure I did my silly default pose of huge smile and thumbs up.
“Thank you,” the silent girl beamed at me.
“Yes, thank you” the other girl continued. “Where are you from?”
“I’m from America.”
“I’m from New York… Well, close to New York.”
“New York? Oh my god!” The two girls exclaimed exchanging glances of unparalleled excitement. “Are you Christian?” the more talkative girl asked, huge smile spread across her face.
“No, I’m not, sorry.”
“Oh… Thank you for the photograph. Goodbye,” the girl continued, looking a little downcast. With that, they turned away. I suppose they thought I was Muslim, if I wasn’t Christian. Their excitement to meet with a person of another faith though speaks volumes about the pull of Mevlana – the sway he holds over Islamic thought in Turkey.
Islam in Turkey has, for almost its entire history, been routed deeply in Islamic mysticism and the Mevlevi order, created to follow Melvana’s teachings after his death. It is generally extremely tolerant in its practice, preaching a unity between all believers through the love of God. Encapsulating this is one of Mevlana’s most quoted verses in Turkey:
[quote style=”1″]”Come, come again, whoever you are, come! Heathen, fire worshipper or idolatrous, come! Come even if you broke your penitence a hundred times, Ours is the portal of hope, come as you are.”[/quote]
It was for this reason that as soon as I set foot inside of Mevlana’s mausoleum I started to tear up. Aside from the absolute beauty of the architecture was the much stronger – and more unforgettable – beauty of the human emotion on display. Crowded into that not-so-large tomb were people from all over the world, in every shape and form. Covered Turkish teyzes were weeping openly next to a solemn tank-top wearing Asian-American girl and her white boyfriend as a tour group from Africa worked its way through the throng of people.
In there, during those few minutes I was inside, I felt perfectly at peace. Even as people jostled for better views of the caskets of Mevlana and his sons, an unspeakable spiritually emotional calm fell upon me. I’d like to think Mevlana would be happy, as his teachings have seemingly traversed the length and breadth of the world.
As I was leaving the complex, a group of Turkish men came up to me and started asking for photographs. Not soon after, they asked me where I was from.
“America?” they shouted, “They are also American!” One of the boys started pointing at two black men almost immediately next to me.
“So you’re American too, huh?” One of the guys asked me. “Do Turkish people love taking pictures of everyone then? I thought they were taking pictures of me before just because I was black,” he chuckled.
“No, they just love foreigners in general… Especially if you’re black and American. So, what’re you doing in Konya?”
“We’re here as part of an inter-faith mission,” the man responded. ” We belong to a church in Queens, and we partnered up with an Islamic organization here for bridge-building between the two faiths. Rumi was a natural place for us to start.”