The last call to prayers in summer comes late, around 22.15, owing to the late sunset and the hour of daylight saving time. I take a dip in İznik Göl, or Lake. İznik was Nicaea, an important Roman then Byzantine town, one of the outposts of the Byzantine Empire, until it was taken by the Ottomans in 1331. Though sacked by Tamerlane (Tamberlaine) and the Mongols in 1402, it became the centre of tile and porcelain production for the Ottoman Empire.
But in the 18th century the tile making and porcelain industry went to Kutahya, some 200 km away, where the porcelain industry dominates the town, and where, on a warm evening, a local potter shows off his skills to the sound of rock music in the main square and beginners try their luck with the wet and sloppy clay.
Now İznik depends on olives. Tractors slow down the traffic coming into town. Shops sell agricultural implements. Farmers are busy tending the trees, but still have time to sit in the teashops, for the olive harvest is still a long way off. Further south things are much busier as I pass through the cherry harvests of the town of Çay, Tea. Families are gathering yellow cherries, sour cherries and red cherries from the heavy trees. They sell at the roadside, at the coach stop, and take it to the cooperative to get weighed. And as I get near Konya orchards change to wheat fields, already being harvested in mid-July.
Konya is supposedly the most religious city in Turkey and is the home of the Mevlana Sufi tradition. My Rough Guide tells me of a local youth severely beaten up in the 1980s for smoking on the street during Ramadan. But at first sight this conservatism doesn’t seem so obvious as on Aladdin Street (not the genie but the Selçuk leader, Aladdin Keykubad, the enlıghtened Selçuk sultan of the early 13th century, when the arts flourished in the Konya area) there are plenty of uncovered women. But I do feel a bit conspicuous as the only man in Konya wearing shorts despite the 30C+ heat.
Outside Konya I get a better idea of this conservatism. In the shallow waters of Lake Beyşehir just men bathe. A religious group of men pray before eating. Long trousers and sleeves. No swimming. Their womenfolk stay at home. Other family groups are preparing lunch. A group of men wrestle on the beach. A gırl strolls past in her tracksuit. Another sits on the beach in her jeans. Of course there are no restrictions to female bathing, but girls just don’t feel comfortable…
Tourists throng to the Mevlana Museum, where Mevlana Mohammed Jelaled-din Rumi (1207-1273), the founder of the Mevlana sect, is buried. It is very much a pilgrimage for many, who pray at his tomb and those of his followers and take pictures of the flutes and the illuminated Korans. Rumi wrote poetry and instructed his followers to pursue all manifestations of truth and beauty, and to practice infinite love and tolerance and avoid ostentation. He also condemned slavery, recommended monogamy and believed women should play a public role in public life. The Mevlanas are best known today for the ceremony of the Whirling Dervishes, who, through their gyrating dance, often for longer than fifteen minutes at a time, reach a trancelike state in which they leave behind earthly bondage and find a union with God. The right arm is held up to receive grace from Heaven, and the other down to the ground, so all that comes from upon high will be distributed to humanity, and the dervishes will keep nothing. During the ceremony the black cloak, representing the funerary shroud, is cast aside, denoting that the dervishes have escaped from their tombs and all other earthly ties. The music reproduces that of the spheres, and the whirling dervishes represent the heavenly bodies.
Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu, Buddhist,
sufi, or zen. Not any religion
or cultural system. I am not from the East
or the West, not out of the ocean or up
from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not
composed of elements at all. I do not exist,
am not an entity in this world or the next,
did not descend from Adam and Eve or any origin story. My place is placeless, a trace
of the traceless. Neither body or soul.I belong to the beloved, have seen the two
worlds as one and that one call to and know,
first, last, outer, inner, only that
breath breathing human being.
Mevlana Jelaud-din Rumi