The Acts of the Apostles says Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time in Iconium, a city where God allowed them to perform signs and wonders. What was called Iconium in the ancient world is the city called Konya today. It's located in Turkey, about 450 miles southeast of Istanbul.
There is a street where the locals say the wind carries the saints' spirits from one side of town to another. The street is easy to miss. More an alleyway than anything else, it's mostly limited to pedestrian traffic...and that of saints. A hotel on the far end is a special gem, one where even the most favorable of reviews can't quite get at what makes it what it is. You see, while it's definitely a nice place for a cup of coffee and conversation, it is also a locus of friendly miracles and mystical interludes. (Of these, it would be poor manners to be too specific at this point.)
I took Shahada in a building on the other side of town. Shahada is when someone makes the statement of faith, in front of witnesses, that opens the door to Islam. It was September 2016. The five daily prayers had been a part of the daily routine for around 18 months by then, but one can recite such prayers without saying yes wholeheartedly. The story leading up to all that may be better left for another writing. The abridged point here is that this was the day of yes.
There have been a few more visits to Konya since then, with the next having come just a few months after the first. It was the day before my 47th birthday. A carpet-seller bumped into me on the street and struck up a conversation.
Having "Rube" written across the forehead makes one easy to spot.
We had dinner later, well after the purchases were final. The carpets had even been shipped. So there was no need for flattery. He explained while we ate that he had begun the day not knowing whether he and his family would make it. A couple of payments had come due, and they didn't have the money to pay. Allah must have sent me to him, he said, because the amount of the sale was just enough. In Turkey, there is a saying, "You eat, I eat. We are both happy."
The next day, the Mevlana Museum opened its doors to a visitor of one...for a while at least. Most tourists and even most pilgrims tend to show up a little later in the morning.
About the Mevlana Museum: Sometime around 1200 years after Paul and Barnabus were preaching in the streets of Iconium, the Muslim theologian, scholar, and mystic Bahaʾ-al-Dīn Muhammad Walad dreamed that Gengkhis Khan's raiders would soon be taking his city of Balkh (Persia). By taking, it meant that almost all would be slaughtered. Hz. Baha'-al-Dīn collected his family, including the young Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad, and fled west to settle in an area occupied by the Roman empire (Rūm). Jalāl ad-Dīn would become a renowned theologian and scholar in his own right. There was little he didn't know about God and Muhammad (ﷺ), everyone agreed on that. But when Jalāl ad-Dīn met the mysterious Shams of Tabriz (more on Hazrati Shams in a moment), he came to experience God and Muhammad (ﷺ). He transformed his school into one that would set an example for poetry, music, compassionate courtesy, and faith. The Qur'an has been recited there for generations. The purpose remains etched into the walls: those who arrive incomplete, leave whole.
Near the end of his life, he wrote what many have called the Qur'an in Persian couplets. The book has been transforming generations ever since. Today, his school is a museum. And because it is also Mevlana's resting place, it is much more than just a museum. It remains a gathering place for lovers of God.
On that particular morning, another lover showed up early, probably thinking she would be able to have the place much to herself. She must have been a regular. She waved at the docent, and he waved both a greeting and permission. She stooped under the barrier and, with great care, kissed the tarnished silver gate that sits in front of Mevlana's resting place. After saying a short prayer, she returned to behind the stanchions.
Her head was veiled. Our eyes locked for a moment. Hers were a bit older and were the most beautiful, penetrating blue imaginable. They seemed to whisper of stories to be told and heard. Maybe it was her tears that made them more so. Maybe it was the setting. Either way, those eyes reached something deep inside of me. We did not speak. She left about a half hour later as people started to file in for the day.
We would bump into one another on the street after mid-day prayer, but at least one of us wasn't supposed to have been there. Earlier that morning, a different friend had scheduled a trip for us to have visited a special site just outside of town. He had had to cancel. The cancelation had, in full confession, been pretty disappointing. An aimless walk took its place. It felt surprisingly good.
When the friend of Mevlana said her salaams, she seemed a stranger. She wasn't veiled any longer, and this time she was with a friend of her own. The three of us sat for tea in a tea house. It was too cold to sit outside. When the two women learned it was my birthday, they invited me to join them and their family for a lunch celebration. This was something upon which to reflect.
[TO BE CONTINUED, insha'Allah...]