Jalal Al-Din Al-Rumi: Can the 40 Rules of Love be found in Cairo?

Amira Noshokaty , Wednesday 27 Sep 2017

A new city walk through Cairo's Gamaliya district takes culture enthusiasts to the Samaakhana, where followers of Rumi's Sufi sect once performed their hypnotic dances

Photo by Amira El-Noshokaty

We are standing in a circular, two-storied hall, built of timber and decorated with fine paintings. The central area is designed for dancing, the first-floor balcony ideal for viewing the Sufi dancing spectacle for which the structure was created.

A large sign reads "In the Presence of Mawlana" -- a reference to Persian poet Jalal Al-Din Al-Rumi (1207-1273 AD) who founded the Mawlawi Sufi sect.

However, we are not in Persia, but in Cairo, taking part in a historic city walk through several cultural gems that continue to inspire.

The tour of the historical Gamaliya area was designed and led by Mohamed Khalil, head of the Administration of Antiquity Awareness, part of the Ministry of Antiquities.

The first stop brings us to this fine wooden hall, know as the Samaakhana (listening hall), in which members of the Mawlawi sect would perform their traditional whirling dance, the aim of which was to bring them closer to the Divine.

Salah El-Basha, director of Mawlawi Complex that contains the Samaakhana, explained the significance of the structure.

"This is the most important of all the Mawlawia theatres and was built during the Mamluk era. It falls within the premises of El-Helmeiya district and was used for the key ritual in the 'Dervish/Helmia Nights', during which the regular audience would enjoy the spiritual performance," he said.

This theatre is now the only authentic structure still intact that represents Rumi's Sufi sect. The performances stopped in the 1950s, but the place has kept much of its spiritual energy. In addition to the sign asserting the presence of Rumi, there are images of a nai (a type of origental flute) and the tall hat associated with the Sufi order.

The Mawlawi sect was founded in the 13th century in Konya, Turkey, based on the philosophy and teachings of Rumi, and it has remained popular in the Arab world up to the present day. In 1925, the sect moved to Aleppo in Syria, then to Damascus, and in 1929 it came to Cairo and settled in the area at the foot of the Citadel.

The Samaakhana has been restored and opened to the public through the efforts of the Italian-Egyptian Centre for Professional Training in the Field of Restoration and Archaeology, particularly its director and architecture professor Giuseppe Fanfoni. The Italian has said that the restoration of this structure, which lies just outside Cairo's old city walls, is the most important architectural work of his life.

El-Basha explained the significance of the whirling dance within Rumi's Sufi tradition.

"When Rumi met with Shams El-Tabrizi, another Sufi guru, they delved deep into the realm of Sufism, meditating on the universe as a means to be closer to God," he said.

"Rumi noted that everything in the universe revolves, that there is a divine secret in revolving. So he created his revolving Sufi dance, which involves revolving anti-clockwise while raising your right hand to the sky, seeking goodness and pressing the left hand to the earth, so that goodness is passed down to the earth."

The theatre's circular dance floor is fringed by a wooden ballustrade, behind which the audience would sit and watch, with the upper floor reserved for women and the musical troupe.

The lead sheikh would enter wearing a black cloak covering his baggy white outfit, symbolizing the burden of earthly concerns. As he revolved, the cloak fell to the ground and he became lighter.

Agains the background of Sufi chants, the sheikh and his followers would whirl, their movements escalating until the Dervishes reached their state of sublime union.

El-Basha explained the spiritual significance of the dance: "By whirling, the Dervishes believed they could transcended into a higher state. Like the birds depicted on the dome above them, they would fly upwards, bringing good from the Divine down to earth."

According to the Rumi philosophy, the painted dome above symbolizes the divine generosity of God in the sky, which only needs pure spirits to transmit it to earth.

At the crown of each of the 12 pillars is the name of a Shia saint, and scattered around the dome itself are little birds that symbolize the messengers of good, the Dervish.

And the spiritual revelation begins:

rumi 1
Photo by Amira El-Noshokaty

Whispers of Love

"Lover whispers to my ear,
Better to be a prey than a hunter.
Make yourself My fool.
Stop trying to be the sun and become a speck!
Dwell at My door and be homeless.
Don't pretend to be a candle, be a moth,
so you may taste the savor of Life
and know the power hidden in serving."

Mathnawi V. 411-414 (translated by Kabir Helminski)
The Rumi Collection, Edited by Kabir Helmins

Photo by Amira El-Noshokaty

"The wound is the place where the Light enters you."

– 40 Rules of Love, Jalaluddin Rumi

Photo by Amira El-Noshokaty

"Silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation."

– 40 Rules of Love

Photo by Amira El-Noshokaty

“Whatever happens in your life, no matter how troubling things might seem,
do not enter the neighborhood of despair. Even when all doors remain closed,
God will open up a new path only for you. Be thankful.

– 40 Rules of Love

Photo by Amira El-Noshokaty

“Do not go with the flow. Be the flow.”

– 40 Rules of Love

Photo by Amira El-Noshokaty

“You can study God through everything and everyone in the universe, because God is not confined in a mosque, synagogue or church. But if you are still in need of knowing where exactly His abode is, there is only one place to look for Him: in the heart of a true lover.”

– 40 Rules of Love

Photo by Amira El-Noshokaty

Try not to resist the changes that come your way. Instead let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?

– 40 Rules of Love

Photo by Amira El-Noshokaty

A life without love is of no account ... Love has no labels, no definitions. It is what it is, pure and simple. Love is the water of life. And a lover is a soul of fire. The universe turns differently when fire loves water.”

– 40 Rules of Love

Photo by Amira El-Noshokaty

"Quit worrying about hell or dreaming about heaven, as they are both present inside this very moment. Every time we fall in love, we ascend to heaven. Every time we hate, envy, or fight someone, we tumble straight into the fires of hell."

– 40 Rules of Love

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