Once again I find myself deeply thankful to Dr. Muqtedar Khan. I was his guest at the Jerrahi tekke, or Sufi Lodge, in Istanbul.
The spaces are small but rich in history. The complex has about six rooms that I saw, with the main room having some attributes of a mosque. The focus is a beautifully tiled mihrab pointing the direction of Mecca. A balcony for women surrounds several sides, and the walls are completely covered in framed calligraphy – names of Allah, the Prophet, the Companions, and the founder and leading Shaykhs of the tekke. They did not allow photography, but after some searching I found this photo on a website featuring a list of tekkes in Istanbul.
We entered at about 7pm to find men sitting around in small groups, most wearing white caps. Women and kids were passing back and forth through to the balcony. There was quiet talking, and as Dr. Khan described it, fellowship. Some of the men are just members of the lodge, and some are darwishes – those who seek to follow this particular shaykh’s path to awareness of God. Over the next hour the rooms filled, and at about 8:30pm all aligned to say the Isha, or night prayer. After the prayer, people shifted a bit and the prayer leaders started to sing and chant. Occasionally there were full responses from all – mostly Amen, sometimes praises to God. Slowly the congregation took over from the prayer leaders with repetitive chanting. They began to bow slightly to one side and another. The chant was very simple – often just “Allah”.
Sometimes what is being chanted changed, and the volumes and speed rose or fell. Occasionally the prayer leaders sang a melody over the chant.
As the chants and swaying continued, I ceased registering time. At some point those less experienced shifted into the outer rooms, which had archway views into the main room. The men into main room circled and started a different chant, this with a strong breath component. The sound was “Hu” meaning, I believe, “Him” – God. The whole room breathed as one.
The circle started to rotate, with several men in the center moving counter to the main rotation. One wearing a tall light brown cap began to spin slowly, one hand up and one down. Again time was not registering. At some point the circle and the spinner slowed and stopped. The chant continued for some time, and it too came to an end. The sheik proceeded to a seat where he would deliver a sermon. We slipped out – 11:30pm.
The title of this entry, “so much for modernity”, is something Dr. Khan said to me. Consider so many people, spending a whole evening together, voluntarily, “unproductively” and with no technology. I am, generally, a big fan of modernity – especially the expanding circle of empathy, the chance for improved health, and the dissemination of knowledge. It is true, however, that we must continue to strive for genuine contact with one another and with enduring truths.