The Gate of Salutation (Bâb-üs Selâm), entrance to the Second courtyard of Topkapı Palace
A friend is visiting her son who is spending a college semester in Istanbul so it’s got me trying to remember my adventures there some 30 years ago. I traveled differently (don’t think she wants to stay at the youth hotel I stayed at) and it was a different time but many highlights remain the same, I’d guess:
The souk and shopping for Turkish carpets and spices while tea served in little cups dangling from a silver tray; Topkapi palace; The mosques; the antique book shops – and meeting a famous dervish who ran one and gave me as a gift page of the Koran which I promised I’d honor (and I have – it hangs framed high on the wall in my house in Des Moines); the boat ride up the Bosphorus to the Black Sea. Here are a few more cutting edge places from a recent NYT story:
Munferit – Turkish restaurant; Mangerie for breakfast; Anjelique (a nightclub); boutiques around Galata including Nicol and the Grand Bazaar.
Interior view of the Hagia Sophia, showing Islamic elements on the top of the main dome.
About that sheikh I met in Istanbul – he was a Sufi Dervish (not exactly a whirling dervish but related, I think). Here’s some info I found when I googled him, including a 1982 NYTimes story (It also refers to his followers’ mosque in Soho, which I visited. Wonder if it’s still there…).
The wikipedia entry even mentions his book store in Istanbul! And I found several photos and an interview with him on youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hAyD9awfQjY. (The internet is an amazing thing…)
Muzaffer Ozak (1916 – February 12, 1985) was one of the head sheikhs of the Halveti–Jerrahi order of Dervishes, a traditional muslim Sufi order (tarika) from Istanbul (Turkey). In western countries he is well known because of his visits to Europe and the United States of America where he celebrated public dhikrs (Remembrance of God; in Turkish “zikrullah”) with his dervishes. He is also well known in Turkey for his “ilahis,” religious Sufi hymns. The Halveti-Jerrahi Sufi Order is named for him. Ozak also ran a bookstore in the Sahaflar Çarşısı in Istanbul.
MUSIC: THE SUFI DERVISHES
By JOHN ROCKWELL
Published: April 28, 1982
ANNUALLY since 1978 the priests, chanters, musicians and dancers of the Sufi dervishes of the Halveti-Jerrahi order from Istanbul have presented their communal ceremony of the ”dhikr” at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. So popular have these admission-free mystical Islamic cermonies become, and so magnetic seems the order’s leader, al-Hajj Sheikh Muzaffereddin Halveti al-Jerrahi, that a mosque for the order has been established in SoHo, reflecting the strong appeal that this particular sect has for the city’s artists.
This spring’s visit – another tour is planned for October – was confined to one local performance. Despite a rainy night, several hundred people turned up Monday at the cathedral, and their participation was so eager that one wondered if the spacious floor of the cathedral could have comfortably accommodated many more.
The dhikr lasted two hours. There was some 45 minutes of music – a chanted prelude, the formal entrance of the main body of the dervishes, then chanting by the sheikh and solo cantors with communal responses from the 40 male dervishes (24 women huddled subserviently at the side). Gradually the music built in intensity and evolved into dance, with instrumental and chanted accompaniment, and finally members of the audience were invited to join, too, forming concentric circles around the sheikh and the dervishes, everyone spinning and swaying and chanting.
For veterans of participatory art events of the 1960’s, all of this seemed familiar. But it must be remembered that the 60’s communalists were inspired by ceremonies of this sort, rather than the other way around. On a purely esthetic level, the echoic vastness of the cathedral made an impressive setting for the ceremony. But this was a ritual that transcended pure art, or more properly restored to art its functional links to the spiritual life of the ”artists” involved, which in turn may explain this order’s appeal to artists, shaken in their faith in their own usefulness.
Perhaps that restoration is more imagined than real: the dhikr is a ”ritual of remembrance,” ostensibly of God but maybe also of the lost power of art literally to transform souls. Looked at this way, through secularized Western eyes, it takes on an unintended poignance. But poignance, too, can be the stuff of meaningful art.
No big surprise that the NYTimes reports that its readers most want to visit: Istanbul. It’s one of the cities I’d most like to re-visit, having enjoyed my first and only trip there in 1982. Someday.
I didn’t plan to go to Istanbul when I was wandering around Europe but my plans changed when I arrived in Athens to visit an American friend living there. Looking through her photos to decide where to visit in Greece, I kept picking out photos that were in Turkey instead. So I took the Magic Bus from Athens to Greece with a newly acquired Australian friend named Lyndal and we not only went to Istanbul but roamed around the country for several weeks, exploring to the north with a ride along the Bosporus to the Black Sea; the other-worldly central Turkey area of Cappadocia, the “Turkish Riveria” to the south and the remarkable ruins at Ephesus on the western coast. Lots of adventures.