ABOUT THE HISTORY OF MASNAVI STUDY CENTERS

Due to the great fame of Rumi's Masnavi in the late Ottoman Empire, the Masnavi was studied not just in Mevlevi centers [tekke] for Mevlevi students, but for the general public. There used to be Masnavi libraries with ongoing classes throughout the Ottoman Empire. However, this gradually declined and the tradition of maintaining such centers has died out. In a book by Professor Franklin Lewis ("Rumi, Past and Present, East and West: The Life, Teachings and Poetry of Jalâl al-Din Rûmi," 2001, 2003 revised edition), he mentions that a Turkish-language poet named Fejzulah Hadzibajric (died 1990), who lived in the former Yugoslavia, ". . . kept alive the tradition of the Dâr al-Masnavi, or Masnavi College, and composed the most recent Masnavi commentary in a western language" (p. 475).

The last Dâr al-Masnavî in the Ottoman Empire was built in 1844 (Golpinarli asserted an earlier date, 1778) by a non-Mevlevi, Shaykh Morâd Bokhârî (died 1848) of the Naqshbandi Order; it was built in the Çarshamba neighborhood in the Fatih district of Istanbul on what is presently named "Mesnevihane" Street. He "founded a Dâr al-Masnavi in Istanbul; he began a commentary on the work in September 1839 and by the evening of April 25, 1845 was at work on Book 6" (Lewis, p. 480). Shaykh Morâd Bokhârî was allowed to wear a Mevlevi turban when he taught Masnavi.

Some buildings still remain of the old "Mesnevihane" (as it was called in Turkish): the mosque, also used as a classroom, a minaret shaped like a tall Mevlevi hat, a mausoleum (that contains the tomb of the founder), and an ablutions fountain. In former times there was a library, a room for devotional prayer-chanting [tevhidhane], a kitchen, dervish cells, and a part of the building reserved for men [selamlIk].

Below are two photos (click once for enlargement): the Translator (Ibrahim Gamard, standing in front of this Dâr al-Masnavî site, 5/08) and the Arabic inscription: "This is the institute for teaching of the Masnavî of Mawlânâ Jalâluddîn Rûmî--may his exalted spirit be sanctified" [hadhâ dâru tadrîsu 'l-mathnawî ka-Hadhrat mawlânâ jalâlu 'd-dîn rûmî--qaddasa sirra-hu as-sâmî].

During the nineteenth century there was also another Dâr al-Masnavî in Istanbul, in Küçük Mustafapasha, where a well-known Masnavi teacher [Masnavî-khwân; Turkish, Mesnevihan], Hoça Husameddin Efendi, taught.

In addition, the Masnavi was also taught in the Sultan's palace and in mosques in which the Sultan regularly attended for prayers. After Dâmâd Ibrahîm Pâshâ (died 1730) decreed that the Masnavi was to be taught in the religious college [madrassa] which had been built in his name in Hamzawiyâ, Masnavi became part of the curriculum in other religious colleges as well. The first Masnavi teacher at Fatih mosque was the Mevlevi Masnavi teacher, Esad Dede; after him was Mevlevi Shaykh KarahIsarlI Ahmed Efendi.

After the Mevelevi Order, together with all other sufi orders, was made illegal by the modern Turkish Republic in 1925, the Masnavi was not taught in mosques or in public until 1948. At that time, Mevlevi Shaykh Tahiru 'l-Mevlevi Efendi (Tahir Olgun), began to teach Masnavi in Istanbul at the Suleymaniye and Laleli mosques until his death (1951). After that his successor, Mevlevi Shaykh Shefik Can Efendi [Shafîq Jân] taught Masnavi at several locations in Istanbul and Üsküdar from 1960 until his death (2005).

At the present time, a woman disciple of Shefik Can Efendi named Nur ArtIran (who used to assist him to teach public classes after his eyesight deteriorated in 1999) is teaching Mesnevi classes to the public in Istanbul and Üsküdar.

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The following is translated from a chapter in a book about the Mevlevi tradition by the great Turkish Mevlevi scholar, Golpinarli (died 1982). It is translated here into English from a Persian translation of Golpinarli's work.

MASNAVI READERS AND THE PRINCIPLES OF TEACHING THE MASNAVI

They (the Mevlevis) used to call the reading aloud of the Masnavi and the explaining of its meaning and interpretation (by the name) "Masnavî-khwânî" (and they called) the Masnavi reciter (by the name) Masnavî-khwân [spelled "Mesnevi han," in Turkish].

For the teaching of the Masnavi, the receipt of a written certificate [ijâzat-nâma] was required. But for this task there was no urgency, since the Masnavi reciter could read [from any of] the six books of the Masnavi. Anyone who was accepting of (learning) Persian, or knew it, or had the temperament for Persian books, (and) had participated in Masnavi lessons for a while-- even if he was not (an initiated member) of the Mevlevis-- a written certificate was given to him for the sake of (having) a Masnavi reciter. And the Chelebi* or any other Mevlevi leader [shaykh would recite the prayer called the "Takbeer"* over his hat [sikka],* and permission would be granted to him to wrap (it as) a turban.*

In the appropriate instances prior to this, we have written that from the time of Mevlana (Jalaluddin Rumi]), the Masnavi used to be recited. Masnavi recitation was also done in the time of (his successor) Husâmuddîn Chelebî* and (his son) Sultân Walad.* And in the resting place of Mevlana* or in other places, the Qur'an, the Masnavi, and the Odes [ghazaliyyât]* were recited. And the Whirling Prayer Ceremony [samâ`]* would (then) be started.

But in the Ottoman era, rigid fanaticism, a superficial mentality, and political rivalry existed between Iran and the Ottoman Empire. The seeking of advantage from the religious conflicts between the two countries, and the adding of fuel to the fire of these conflicts on the part of kings, caused the Persian language to become viewed as offensive. Certainly, the attentive view of someone who knew Persian, (who) was under the influence of the thoughtful and subtle Iranian poets, and (who was) possessed of a broad viewpoint -- especially if he was in the field of sufism [taSawwuf] -- (was that) fanaticism and hatred were set against the Persian language and knowers of Persian. An expression came into being: "Whoever speaks Persian gives away half his religion."

However, in this age, neither the Masnavi and Masnavi-reciters have not been kept in "four walls."* (But) perhaps with the determination [himmat] of the (Mevlevi) spiritual leaders [mashâyikh], a new expansion will be gained, so that libraries with the name of "House of the Masnavi" [Dâru 'l-Masnavî], which will be assigned for teaching the Masnavi only, will come into existence. The last "House of the Masnavi" opened in Istânbûl was the Dâru 'l-Masnavî and Library of Murâd Mullâ in 1778, in the Chahârshamba district in FâtiH, Istânbûl.

In the time of Sadr- A`zam Shahîd `Alî Pâshâ (died 1716), Dâmâd Ibrahîm Pâshâ (died 1730), who was known to be from the region of Hamzawiyân Qutb-- insofar as it may be deduced that the stones from his old grave have a relationship with [those of the region of] Hamzawiyâ-- in a religious college [madrassa] which had been built, Masnavi lessons were also part of the conditions of the endowment [waqf].* Under these circumstances, a way was found for (the study of) the Masnavi and the Persian language in the college. In later times, according to an individual whom I have met, they were engaged in (giving) lessons in the Masnavi in the mosques. Tâhir Olghûn also gave Masnavi lessons in the Sulaymâniyya Mosque.*

In the Mevlevi buildings [mawlâwî-khâna] during the days (scheduled) for the (Whirling Prayer) Ceremony [muqâbala], following the congregational prayer [namâz], the Masnavi was recited on behalf of the (spiritual) master [shaykh] and explained (by him) at the "Masnavi Chair" [kursî-y masnavî].* A dede* used to sit opposite the Chair (and) recite four or five verses of the Masnavi, which he had ready. The shaykh would (then) translate into Turkish the recited verses, (starting) from the first verse, and then would proceed to the explanation. He would recite (in Turkish) any verses which needed to be explained to a dede called a Masnavi reader [qâriy- masnavî]* who would sit near the Chair and, prior to the Masnavi reciter [masnavî-khwân].

In the old days, during the periods after the influence of one custom had appeared, it was the duty of the Masnavi reader [qâriy- masnavî] to recall from memory any verse which he had memorized by way of indication, for the sake of the shaykh, who did not have a paper or book in front of him. Since the practice (then) was that the Masnavi was recited from memory. (And) they considered it a fault if [for some reason] book [recitation] or memorized (recitation) was left out. Memorizers of the (entire) Masnavi [HâfiZ-ân- Masnavî] even existed, (and) one of them is buried in the graveyard of the Mevlevi building in ânkâra.

After the shaykh would come to the end of the explanation of the Masnavi, these verses were recited, after which the (prayer called the) FâtiHa* was offered:

Our Mevlana, the revealer of the secrets of (Divine) Grandeur, spoke in this manner:

"It is not (unreliable like) astrology, geomancy, or dreams; (it is) the inspiration of God* -- and God knows best what is right."

în-chon-în farmûd mawlânâ-y mâ kâshif- asrâr-hâ-y kibriyâ:

na najûm-ast-o na raml-ast-o na khwâb waHy- Haqq w-allâhu a`lam bi 'S-Sawâb [--Masnavi, Book IV: 1852]

Any individuals who gave Masnavi lessons in gatherings who had no (Turkish) reader would still recite the above two verses at the end of the lesson.

Regarding this subject, we would also add two (examples) of written certificates [ijâzat-nâma] for the teaching of the Masnavi [of which one follows, which was originally in Arabic]:

"In the name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate. (All) the praise is to God. And may His blessings be upon His prophet and upon all his family. Now to begin: I have given permission to Shaykh Sayyid `USmân SalâHuddîn al-Mawlawî to transmit the book of Al-Masnavî Al-Ma`navî to the extent that the [famous 17th century Turkish] commentator Anqaravî has investigated [of the Masnavi] -- as much as I myself acquired from my master Khwâja Amînuddîn Husaynî and from Master Khwâja Salîm al-Naqshbandî, may God sanctify their secrets and may we benefit by their knowledge. Amen. And I am Faqîr Hasan Husâmuddîn al-Masnavî-Khwân. I gave permission in the same manner that my shaykh gave permission to me, since I recite the noble litanies* and the noble Masnavi of Spiritual Meaning [masnawiyu 'l-sharîfu 'l-ma`navî]-- may it flow out at length forever! 'It is not (like) astrology, geomancy, or dreams; (it is) the inspiration of God -- and God knows best what is right.'" [The seal of the master was then placed on the certificate]

--from "The Mevlevis After Mevlana" [Mlaviyya ba`d az Mlânâ], pp. 486-488, a translation (from Turkish to Persian) of `Abdul-Bâqî Glpînârlî's "Mevlâna'dan sonra Mevlevilik (1953), made by Dr. Tawfîq Subhânî, 1988 --translated from Persian by Ibrahim Gamard

NOTES

*the Chelebi: the hereditary leader of the Mevlevi order, who is a descendent of Rumi.

*the "Takbeer" [takbîr, pronounced "tekbeer" in Turkish]: God is Most Great! God is Most Great! There is no divinity except (the One) God. And God is Most Great! God is Most Great! There is no divinity except (the One) God. And to God is (all) the praise! [allâhu akbar, allâhu akbar, lâ ilâha illâ 'llâh, w-allâh akbar, allâhu akbar wa li-llâhi 'l-Hamd]

*hat [sikka]: the tall honey-colored Mevlevi fez.

*turban [dastâr]: a fez which is wrapped (on the bottom, on the level of the wearer's forehead) with a length of turban cloth.

*Husâmuddîn Chelebî: Rumi's closest disciple, to whom he dictated the Masnavi, and his first successor after his death.

*Sultân Walad: Rumi's son, who became his second successor after the death of Husamuddin Chelebi.

*the resting place of Mevlana: means the building which houses his tomb in Konya, Turkey.

*the Odes [ghazaliyyât]: poems from Rumi's Dîvân (collected works of poetry, also known as the Dîvân- Shams- Tabrîzî). Such odes were organized by the Mevlevis into groups having the same meter, so that many odes could be recited together according to the same rhythm.

*the Whirling Prayer Ceremony [samâ`, spelled "sema" in Turkish]: the famous ceremony of the "whirling dervishes," who wear long white skirts which open up in circular shapes when the dervishes are spinning with their arms extended-- giving the appearance of floating serenely in the air.

*not been kept in "four walls: means that the tradition of having Masnavi study centers and libraries has not been kept up.

*the "Masnavi Chair" [kursî-y masnavî]: an elevated place from where the Mevlevi leader [shaykh] would explain the meaning of recited verses of the Masnavi. Or perhaps a special place where the Masnavi was kept, wrapped in a special cloth covering.

*a dede: a Turkish word which means grandfather, old man, shaykh. In the Mevlevi tradition, it means someone who has completed the 1001 day retreat, and then specialized in a fine art (such as music, calligraphy), or in the case here, in Masnavi recitation.

*a Masnavi reader [qâriy- masnavî]: evidently someone who recited the Masnavi in Turkish translation (since a masnavî-khwân was someone who recited it from the original Persian).

*the (prayer called the) FâtiHa: the opening famous chapter of the Qur'an. "In the Name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate. (All) praise is to God, the Sustaining Lord of (all) the worlds, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate, King of the Day of Judgment. (Only) You do we worship and You do we ask for help. Guide us on the path most straight, the path of those upon whom You have given blessings -- other than (the path of) those upon whom is (Your) condemnation, and not (the path of) those who go astray." (Qur'an 1:1-7)

*the noble litanies [al-awrâdu 'l-sharîf]: the daily recitations of Qur'anic and Hadith prayers, read from a book of Mevlevi litanies every morning by initiated Mevlevis.

*the endowment [waqf]: was a pious endowment of support for a religious establishment. It established continuing financial support of a mosque or religious college [madrassa], usually from the proceeds of farming and businesses owned by the patron, which were part of the endowment. Certain conditions were established for the financial support to be continued.

*the Sulaymâniyya Mosque: one of the most famous mosques in Istanbul-- and of the whole Ottoman Empire.

*(it is) the inspiration of God: refers to the Masnavi. Some comments on this section from Golpinarli's book are needed here, since the verse quoted from the Masnavi is clearly a very special one in the Mevlevi tradition. The preceding line in the Masnavi concerns a story about the famous sufi, Bâyazîd Bistâmî:

"His guide is the Guarded Tablet [lawH- MaHfûZ] From what is it guarded? (It is) guarded from error." (IV: 1851]

Then comes the special verse ("It is not astrology...") followed by the next three lines:

"As an explanation, the sufis call it the inspiration of the heart [waHy- del] -- as a way of concealing it from the common people. Take it to be the inspiration of the heart, for that is the place for seeing Him. How can there by any mistake when the heart is aware of Him? O (true) believer, you have been seeing by the light of God [mû'min-â yanZur be-nûri 'llâh]; you have become safe from mistakes and blunders." [IV: 1853-1855]

Nicholson (in 1934) translated this verse as: "The inspiration of God is not (like) astrology or geomancy or dreams -- and God best knoweth what is right." However, in his commentary (1940), he said that it may also be translated: "It (this knowledge) is not (like) astrology, geomancy, or dreams: (it is) God's revelation." And he explained: "We learn from Fa [= Ismâ`îl Anqaravî's Turkish commentary, 'Fâtihu 'l-Abyât,' published 1872 in 6 volumes] that when portions of the Masnavi were recited in public, the mathnaw-khwn would often conclude his performance and bring the meeting to an end by chanting the present verse in proof of the poem's Divine origin." Nicholson commented further that the passage means that mystic knowledge is protected from error, since it is the "inspiration of God." He explained that sufis generally observed the popular distinction between this term [waHy- Haqq] as meaning revelation given by God to a Prophet and the term used for inspiration given to a saint [ilhâm- rabbânî]. However, he said that the Qur'anic word "waHy" can also be used to mean a minor kind of inspiration (as Mevlana used it in the phrase, "the inspiration of the heart" [waHy- del]), because it is not always used in the Qur'an to mean the Divine inspiration given to Prophets, but is used in a few instances to mean Divine inspiration given to lesser figures (such as the mother of Moses in Qur'an 20:38; 28:7).

In the first line of the section (1851), the "Guarded Tablet" [lawH- MaHfûZ] is a reference to the Qur'anic verses (85:21-22) which state that the origin of the "Glorious Qur'an" [Qur'ân-un majîd] is in the "Guarded Tablet" [lawH-in maHfûZ]. And in the last line in the section, there is a reference to a saying of the Prophet Muhammad: "Beware of the discernment of the true believer, for truly he sees by the light of God [al-mû'min... yanZuru bi-nûri 'llâh]."

In summary, this verse (Book IV: 1852) of the Masnavi is of great significance because Mevlana is saying that the Masnavi is Divinely inspired. Then, to avoid being condemned by narrower minds, who might accuse him of claiming to have an inspiration similar to the Qur'an, he suggests that it is better to conceal this by using the sufi term, the "inspiration of the heart." However, comparison with the Qur'an is not a real issue here, because Mevlana has stated clearly in the first words of the first page of the Masnavi: "This is the book of the Masnavi, and it is the roots of the roots of the roots of the (Islamic) Religion [hadha kitâbu 'l-Mathnawîy wa huwa uSûlu usûli uSûli 'd-dîn] and soon after added, "... and it is the Explainer of the Qur'an" [wa kashshâfu 'l-Qur'ân]. This is why the famous (15th century) sufi poet Jâmî said of the Masnavi, "it is the Qur'an in Persian" [hast Qur'ân dar zabân- Pahlawî]. And one Iranian scholar has demonstrated that some 6,000 verses from Rumi's Masnavi and Dîvân are virtually direct translations of Qur'anic verses into Persian poetry. (Footnote 6, in "Rumi and the Sufi Traditon," by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, in "The Scholar and the Saint," edited by P.J. Chelkowski, 1975)

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-passages from the Masnavi translated from Persian by Ibrahim Gamard