We pick the story back up a couple of years later. On this visit, it was as if the whole of the city was under construction. The mosque that had served as a home for night vigils and dawn prayers was closed for renovations. This was a bitter pill. How quickly we can forget the lessons upon which we reflect.
The mosque was where Shams of Tabriz is said to rest. Hazrati Shams was an itinerant mystic from an area of what is now Iran. His was the heart that would help Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī become the man many would call Rumi, many Mevlana. Given the significance of Hazrati Shams, the old mosque was much smaller and more modest than one would ever dream. The renovation was probably well overdue, but the thought of the eventual new face didn't make the lockout any easier.
Ironically, some of the frequents who cared for the mosque might not have thought all that well of Hazrati Shams while he was alive. These caretakers could sometimes be a bit more heavy handed than many of those who would come to pray. But the baraka (the blessing) shared and given among visitors was always palpable.
After reciting a Fatiha (the first chapter of the Qur'an), there seemed nothing else to do but to find another place to pray. There are numerous mosques in Konya. Thought was given to finding the one that had been written up in the in-flight magazine. But in the end, without any conviction one way or the other, the feet led in the opposite direction, back to the mosque that sits directly across from the Mevlana's resting place.
The doors of the mosque were locked. Temperatures were hovering around freezing. With no way into the warmth, it meant zipping the coat a little higher and praying the night vigil prayers outside. The prayer didn't make the cold go away. It was one verse of the song.
A man jogged up the steps, a bit out of breath. He tried the doors, then looked to me. After exchanging salaams, we both sat without saying anything. I began a silent remembrance a gentle sheikh had taught. It was the same recitation his sheikh had taught him and his sheikh had taught him and so on and so on, all the way back to when Mevlana taught it. When the prayer beads had made their full circle, the new friend started a conversation.
Muhammad was already a little late in leaving for the airport. He was supposed to be returning home to the United Kingdom within a couple of hours. But he had wanted to pray one more round at the mosque before heading out for good. It looked like he wouldn't get the chance he'd hoped.
He talked very fast. Then, as if almost embarrassed to broach something, he slowed, maybe even stammered. The reason for his shyness was that he wanted to ask for supplications on his behalf.
One does not say no to such requests. We prayed.
He wiped the tears from his face. His brother and sister arrived just after. They had come to find him--the borrowed time was being foreclosed. As he turned to go, he said he was grateful the imam was late that day. Otherwise we wouldn't have met. "Alhamdulillah, Allah sent you to me," he said. "Your face has a light. I see it." Even today, he writes occasionally to check in and ask for supplications. How quickly God can remind us of the reflections we have forgotten.
The next day, the idea came to pray the night vigil outside the construction wall surrounding the mosque of Hz. Shams. As Muhammad (ﷺ) taught: God has made the whole world a mosque. We can pray wherever we are.
When the sun eventually broke the horizon, it was brilliant. For those who pay attention to such things, it was almost as if one could imagine Hz. Shams sending his salaams to everyone in Konya. Shams, after all, does mean sun.
The Mevlana Museum would get crowded early and often that day. I nestled into a niche upon arriving, just across from where Mevlana rests. Soon, so many people were huddling around that it was hard to see. Many were disappointed when they realized the area was fully blockaded, a new construction wall surrounding the resting place. The closest they would get to Mevlana was looking at the photo printed onto the wall. But for those who understood the baraka of this place, the construction wall made no difference.
About a dozen Sufis came in following a sheikh. They all sat with their noses a few inches from the wall, right where the silver gate lay hidden behind. The sheikh initiated a litany. The others joined. Within a few minutes, it seemed like everyone in the compound had crowded into that one space; so much so, that they were standing shoulder to shoulder, back to chest. The only view from the niche was coats and legs.
The sound of the Sufis reverberated throughout the hall. I closed my eyes and retreated again into a silent, lonely remembrance on my own. It's not clear how much time went by, but however long it was, it came to an abrupt end. Someone was pushing something into the crook of my elbow. It was forceful and repetitive, in no way an accident. The one who had been nudging turned out to be an elderly woman offering 5 Turkish Lira. It wasn't clear what to do in a situation like that. There was an initial attempt to turn it down, but she insisted. Being in a half-daze, I accepted and said, "Shukran. Teşekkür." Thank you in Arabic and Turkish. Her eyes smiled. Her body smiled. She walked away.
A sheikh would later say he had known a friend who had experienced something similar in Egypt. The encounter had changed his life. Apparently, when certain lovers of God see a traveler who seems to have the light of Muhammad (ﷺ) about them, they give sadaqah, a gift to help the traveler along their way.
This is not a concept that's hard to understand, unless the recipient knows how far he is from measuring up to the way he is being perceived. There is no claim here of being illuminated.
But what makes it a bit easier to accept is that this perception has little to do with the recipient's worthiness. No, it's really about the one who is perceiving, the one who is giving the sadaqah. It is that person's purity. In the end, the one who can see such a light in another is one who is gifted with the sight of Love. And it is this Love that lights the light of Muhammad (ﷺ), which allows its reflection to be seen in and shared with others...if only one has the right eyes.