Konya: Turkey’s Bible Belt


We hopped on the morning bus from Cappadocia and arrived four-hours later in Konya, Rumi’s final resting place, to witness the whirling dervishes ceremony and to visit his tomb. It has been the most spiritual experience so far on our trip. Konya is a mix of historical significance by being the birthplace of the Mavlana Sufi order, Seljuk culture and a bustling economic city. The main draw of Konya is of course Rumi tombs, which has 1.5 million visitors annually.

Every Saturday evenings, Sufi dervishes of the Mevlevi order whirl as part of their worship during the during the religious ceremony, Sama, at the Mawlana Cultural Center of Konya. Most of us call it the Whirling Dervish performance and you can see this as a paid show in Cappadocia, Istanbul and other cities. These performances are for the benefit of tourists who want to see a unique “show”, however the real ritual, like the one in Konya, is free and should be fully respected as a religious ceremony.

The ceremony we saw started at 10 p.m., however the Sama can also be earlier in the evening. The time changes, but it’s always on Saturday evenings, and the schedule is posted on the wall outside the center. I highly recommend staying at the Hilton Garden Inn in Konya, which is walking distance to the cultural center, the museum and tomb.

Enchanting. That’s how I would describe the Sama in Konya. The dervishes solemnly floated into the dark stadium. I was surprised to see a child (must have been around 12 yrs old) in their midst. The Sufi master walked in last. The whole ceremony is about an hour long and divided into four parts:

Naat and Taksim – During the Naat phase, a solo singer gives praise for the Muslim prophet Muhammad (Arabic). This phase is followed by Taksim, or free rhythm, in which the reed flute is played to symbolize our separation from God.

Devr-i Veled – The dervishes first bow to each other to acknowledge the Divine breath we have in each of us and then they glide in single file around the room. They then remove their black cloaks (symbolic of being reborn to the truth) and reveal their white frocks (ego’s shroud). The long hat that they wear is made of Camel hair and represents the tombstone of the ego.

The Four Salams – The Four Salams are the central component of the Sema. The whirling dervishes represent the moon and they spin on the outside of the Sheikh (master of the Sufi order) who represents the sun. The left food is the axel and the right foot spins in a 360-degree rotation. The arms are first crossed over the chest to represent God’s unity; slowly the right hand is turned upwards to receive God’s message while the left hand is turned towards the ground or Earth. They turn from right to left, embracing all humanity with love, because the Sufis’ believe that humans were created with love in order to love. The first Salam recognizes God existence, the second Salam recognizes God’s unity, and the third Salam is the total surrender of one’s ego and fourth the dervish experiences ecstasy and goes into a deep trance. The final Salam is joined in by the Sheikh and symbolizes the peace of the heart. The ceremony is concluded with another reed flute performance.

What I found fascinating in the ceremony (I am not sure if they do this in all Sama ceremonies) was the changing of the colors during the Four Salams. They reminded me of the Chakra colors we use to meditate. The first Salam used red lights, the second Salam used yellow/orange light, the third Salam used green light and the forth Salam used a dark blue/violet color light. This religious ceremony beautifully combines elements of sound (prayer recitation and flute playing), sight (the colors), mind (letting go of ego), and physical form (whilring to enhance focus and trance) to reach enlightenment or “perfection”.


The red Sema.

The red Sema.

The orange/yellow Sema

The green Sema

The blue Sema

Ending Prayer – One of the orators recites a prayer from the Quran and the dervishes exit the stage in single file again.

Konya is supposed to be one the more conservative cities of Turkey, so I made sure to dress in long skirts and full-sleeve shirts. I was expecting restaurants to be closed during the day because of Ramadan (Muslims’ 30-day fasting time). Well the guidebooks are wrong or outdated. All the restaurants and stores were open, and I found some of the local women wearing skirts to their knees.

We visited the Mavlana Museum, which also had his tomb, the next day. I couldn’t help being emotional at Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi’s tomb. All I kept thinking was “I can’t believe he’s right here in front of me” and “my mind is drawing a blank. What do I want to say to him? What should I pray for?” To my dismay, tourists wearing revealing attire were allowed in to Rumi’s tomb, even though a sign posted outside the tomb said to wear appropriate clothing (I recognize that I am being judgmental–it’s one of my nafs or ego that I am working to break free of).

Rumi’s Tomb. I got yelled at for taking this picture. I was afraid the guard would make me delete this picture–thankfully he didn’t.

There were other amazing artifacts at the museum, such as the original copy of the Mathnawi, a 9th century gazelle-skin Christian manuscript, and a box containing Prophet Muhammad’s beard hair (At first I had no clue it belonged to the prophet. I just thought it was weird that people were sniffing a hole in the display case). It even has a copy of the Quran written in such fine tiny Arabic script, that the scribe went blind writing it!

This was the closest I was ever getting to Rumi, physically at least. I am so glad we made the effort to go. There was no way I could discuss Rumi’s history and teachings in the same blog post. I will be creating a new page for all the spiritual related posts and I think it’s fitting that the first post on that page will be all about Rumi. Stay tuned!


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