A Brief Look at Mevlana’s Views on Women
According to early beliefs, the sky was called male and the earth female. As rain from the sky watered the land, the seeds of the fertile earth sprouted and bore fruit. With its generous gifts, the earth earned the name of mother. It thus became Mother Earth. According to the beliefs of the People of the Book, those are Jews, Christians and Muslims, Adam was created from clay and Eve from his rib. These were the only people who ever came into being without a mother or father, responding to God’s command: Be! Since the beginning of creation, woman has been the first to entice men to sin, thus causing their expulsion from Heaven. In some versions of the story, (1) woman is the creature who caused the sacrificial fight between Cain and Abel, thus also becoming the cause of the world’s first murder.From the beginning of time woman has been considered the instrument of the Devil to trick people into sin.
As it says in the Mesnevi of Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi (2):
We thus see Satan dance with joy because he possesses the most effective weapon and trap in creation. Yet we also observe numerous occasions in which women, through their sensitivity and intelligence, can render these weapons ineffective and disappoint the devil when it cannot entrap people it wants to put to the test. For instance, it was women who saved Moses from the evil intentions of the Pharaoh, and it was women (Mary and Hatice) who before all others believed and had faith in the prophecies of Jesus and Mohammed. In spite of all the skill and efforts of Satan, then (with the exception of Adam) women have borne and raised all the Prophets and believed in them. They upset Satan’s plans, and refused to become his instrument. According to the traditions of the Prophet Mohammed:
- "Heaven is under the feet of mothers" (3).
- "The good among you are those that are most useful to their families, and amongst you I am the most useful to my family. Those who are magnanimous hold women high, treat them with respect. Only those who are lowly treat them harshly and belittle them" (4).
- "The world is material, but the most useful of worldly material is a pure and good woman" (5).
- "It is just that, women are half of men." (6)
Dear listeners, according to this last hadith, if a woman is considered half of man, the man is also half of the woman. It follows that man and women are equal. But they are equal in a spiritual way. They are equal as people. On the other hand, women need to be protected because they ensure the perpetuation of the human race and their creative superiority it makes them physically and psychologically vulnerable. If this distinction is a weakness, what a magnificent, what a beautiful weakness. Probably to explain the vulnerability arising from this creative superiority, the Koran states that men are superior to women in many ways. Through their property they provide for women (7). In this passage, the word "men" is used to refer to people who have achieved maturity and reached the stage of trustworthiness, even if they were actually women. We generally find women depicted as the symbol of emotion and feeling, and men as representing the mind. One cannot deny that the special nature attributed to woman also makes her more attractive.
Recent technological researches have established that in many sports, women are weaker than men as a result of women’s special physical structure. Yet since the beginning of creation can one think of any event which has taken place independent of the actual role of woman? Among many examples we might cite, even in the animal kingdom, the baby running to its mother in the herd, the male fighting to the death for its mate.As for us, the first woman we think about is our mother, the devoted, self-denying being that held and protected us in her body and in her bosom for months, fed and took care of us for years the one in whom we sought protection, the one who would defend and protect us from birth to death, even at the risk of her own life.
Our mother! Our first love on earth. The one who loves us, who toils for us without expecting any recompense, but at times the love to whom we cause pain and heartache.
Our woman! The mother of our children! Like our mother, destined to live her life in devotion, the life partner of happy or troubled days. The beloved who generously endows all she has, her being and her possessions, to home and family, our mates, our life partners!My dear friends, Turkish custom and tradition have from immortal time recognized woman with special respect and special position. It is my view that it was the influence of this tradition that caused the savior of our country, the immortal Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his colleagues to establish women’s rights in the early years of the Turkish Republic, long before many other countries that claim to be civilized. We can trace this tradition from the Turks of Central Asia to the present among Turkoman tribes.
In harmony with this tradition, which has been since adopted by many other countries in our day, the woman who has the same rights as men, while in competition with him in all areas, still takes her place as the lady of her house next to her man on good and bad days, for better, for worse, sharing his joys and sorrows providing him support and manifesting the affection special to her nature.
My dear listeners, when we turn more specifically to our topic Mevlana Celaleddin, we find that his father, Bahaeddin Veled, owed his being the greatest scholar of his time to his mother. At the age of two, when his father died, his mother, daughter of Alaeddin Muhammad Harzemshah, ruler of Horasan, took him by the hand to the library of his father, Huseyin el Hatibi. "It is for these works that I was given in marriage to your father," she said. "By reading these works he gained worldly and spiritual knowledge, and gained his exceptional place in the Islamic world." By these words, she lit the first spark that led her son Bahaeddin Veled, to later gain the title as the "Sultan of the learned men." (Ulema)
This event has been accepted as a tradition in the family of Hazreti Mevlana Celaleddin Rum" and has resulted for centuries in the recognition of the special worth in women. Undoubtedly in the upbringing of Hazreti Mevlana, aside from the influence of his father and his environment, Mu’mine Hatun, the "Mother of Mevlana," played a very influential role. Hz. Mevlana was not married to two women at the same time. He married Kerra Hatun after the death of his first wife Gevher Hatun.
Throughout his life, he gave lessons to women, conversed with them, attended gatherings organized by them and permitted them, as a part of Turkish tradition, to hold their own SEMA celebrations and ceremonies among themselves. After him, this practice, which had became customary, was carried on for a long time. It spread even into villages, where women participated in SEMA ceremonies along with men.
Historically, in various places in Turkey, such as in Konya, Kutahya, Tokat we encounter many ladies who have held the position of Mevlevi Caliph or Sheik (8). In more recent times, however, due to changing conditions, in the Semazens of Mevlevi tekke’s, when the SEMA ceremony was observed, women have usually performed the SEMA in a special section behind a lattice.
Over the centuries, in the school of Mevlana, great thinkers, musicians, poets and matchless artists have been trained. Along with the men who developed the benefit of Mevlana’s knowledge and guidance, we observe the presence of many women who were similarly influenced. According to him "male-female" differences exist only in this world. Since there is no form in the spiritual world, there is no distinction (9).
In his works, Hz. Mevlana considered woman primarily as a person. In his works he discussed male- female relationships, enlightening the public. He addressed himself to women regardless of the good or bad reputation they had in society. In Eflaki Dede’s "Menakib-il Arifin," we observe this admonish and educative view very clearly:
In the Kerevansarai of Sahip Ishvehan there admonition was living a very beautiful prostitute having as capital many slaves at her disposal. One day as the Master was passing by; this woman threw her self with humility to the very feet of the Master. She cried and asked to be pardoned. Then the Master shouted three times "Rabia! Rabia! Rabia!" In the meantime, the other prostitutes having been informed, came over and threw themselves to the feet of the Master who said: "What great wrestlers! What great wrestlers, they are! How can you understand the uprightness of women who are chaste and regarded as honest in society? If you don’t show tolerance to this women, who struggle against the lust and concuspicenes of men?" One of the important person of that time heard this and protested against, by saying that it is not suitable to a great man like Mevlana to be interested in and compliment prostitutes in brothels, like this. When the Master was acknowledged about this, his reply was: "These women act exactly like they are and show their colours clearly. If you are man be like they are and show your real interior colour without duality and hypocrisy. If not your works will be absurd and nonsensical" For the sake of being a chosen member for Paradise, these beautiful women together with Rabia, were penitent, they released their slave girls, donated their belongings to poor people. Rabia herself lived her life as a respectable disciple of Mevlana (10).
Again in the "Fihi ma fih," (11) Hz. Mevlana points out that if a woman has an element of corruption in her nature, she will certainly find a way of bringing this out in her actions. To illustrate that secrecy arouses curiosity, Hz. Mevlana uses the example of a city where the streets are full of loaves of bread, and even the dogs refrain from eating them. But if there were a loaf that is wrapped and hidden, it would attract everyone’s attention.
Thus, Hz. Mevlana says,
Dear listeners, Mevlana valued freedom very highly. Thus he said:
On this topic as well, Mevlana makes no distinction between man and woman, he informs us that 12) This means that compulsion is against human nature. A woman who has strong instincts knows how to behave according to the person. She can be open with some, while covering with those who have bad intentions. Mevlana says the mind has to provide guidance, the soul follows. Virtue cannot be protected by covering under pressure, or just by covering. In the Mesnevi, Mevlana says, (13). (14). Yet, again in the Mesnevi, he indicates that men seem superior to women, but shows with concrete examples, occasions when women are victorious over men.(
Our Mevlana defines woman as one of the great manifestations of the Highest Creator, the most perfect example of God’s creative power on earth. His aphorism,reflects the value he attaches to woman.
Dear listeners, what we share with all humanity is that we are each born of mothers, Our nation, the Turkish people, in appreciation of this eternal law, have named our beautiful land ‘Ana-dolu’ (full of mother). We are the only nation that names its land mother and proclaims that it is loved like a mother. The name Anadolu reflects and symbolizes the sublime, indivisible and integral view of the land and the unswerving devotion it commands of us.
The Prophet says, "Heaven is under the feet of mothers." By loving this land as a mother, as a beloved, by protecting it, our nation not only possesses a heaven but will inherit heaven in the spiritual world. In all Holy Books it is said, that at the beginning of the creation Eve was created from a part of Adam’s body. But woman continues her being, without separation from man, as a mother of all humanity. So as a result of this Divine equilibrium (balance), man and woman complete each other and form an undivided and unified whole. According to us, woman who is the course of our existence is a monument to generosity, affection and love.
- Ibni Kesir: Vol. 2, P: 41-43 (Kurtubi: Fethul Kadir, Cain and Abel, Nesefi: Medarik, Cain and Abel
- Mesnevi: Vol.5, Vers. 942-956
- Cami' S: Vol.1, P: 122
- Cami' S: Vol.2, P: 9
- Cami' S: Vol.2, P: 14
- Cami' S: Vol.1, P: 85
- Kur. Ker.: Nisa Sura 4, A. 34
- Eflaki: Tome 1 and 2 + Golpinarli many...
- Divan K: Fir.V.4, Gazel 1943. Gšlp.V.4, G. CXLII
- Eflaki: Tome 1, part 536
- Fihi ma fih: Part 20
- Fihi ma fih: Part 23
- Mesnevi: Vol.1, Vers. 2433
- Fihi ma fih: Part 37
- Mesnevi: Vol.1, Vers. 2437
Dr. Çelebi's Legacy
Upon Dr. Çelebi's demise in 1996, his family established the International Mevlana Foundation to continue the his work and to conduct research on Mevlana's works and thoughts, and carry them over to next generations, not only in Turkey, but all over the world.
A list of current activities arranged by the Foundation can be found here.