Photographs and Commentary by Debra Jan Bibel

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Our third day is Istanbul has as highlight a zikr [meaning "remembrance"] with dervishes of the Rifa'i Order. A zikr is when all in the assembly engage in movement (even as little as head turning or bowing), mantra-like repetition, and hard rhythmic breathing. Physiologically, these activities oxygenate and invigorate the system, enhance and entrain brain neuron activity, reduce pain, increase concentration, and lead to more intense levels of sensory perception. Spiritually, it leads to comfort, ecstasy, and bliss. While sema is the act of self-motivated religious listening, a zikr is self-motivated religious action, both designed to temporarily dissolve the "self", ego, and the socially-conditioned, biologically-pragmatic delusion of constancy and separateness and thereby experience the ineffable Beloved. Before then, not part of the tour program, I, accompanied by Lara, Mark, and Ilan, visited the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, where we were stunned with the quality of artifacts and textiles.  Moreover, while photography of items in the Treasury of the Topkapi Palace was not permitted, these museum treasures were open to flash-less photography, of which I took advantage. Enjoy!


The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts


 Music: Kanun improvisation in Makam Ussak / Sufi Music from Turkey / ARC]: 2 min excerpt]


Sign in front of a large building on the plaza across from the Blue Mosque. Immediate after we enter we encounter this striking plaque. It is a part of a headstone from the 11th to 12th century. The intricate design on this metallic door must have required great labors. An ancient figure that could be modern as well. Candle holders finely etched.

Simple rosettes on the frontpages of a qur'an, but of complex design.

Detail of the right side. Detail of the left side. A metallic pitcher.

Another interesting design at the back of a qur'an.

Rich calligraphy, both by pattern and by gold.

A ceramic vase. Reed pens. Scissors. What does your pair of scissors look like? Amazing inlay on this box; front side. A side of this unusual box. Dragon and Buddhist symbols (swastikas) indicate influence of China and the Silk Road.



We take a break for tea, and from the terrace we behold this powerful view. A worthy composition. Another angle. Istanbul is full of flowers. We continue inside the museum for an exhibit of Antatolian kilims from the 17th through 19th centuries. The colors and also the motifs suggest the American Southwest.
A covering reminiscent of Diné [Navajo]. A beautiful design that seems contemporary. This spread (perhaps for a camel) is attractive chiefly because of the  gravity of the central medallion. Detail of left side. Detail of center. Detail of right side.
A very long kilim, seen from afar.          
Dikr at the Rafa'i Sufi Center

  Music: Allah Hou [ Seeker of Truth / Yuval Ron Ensemble / YRM]: 3 min excerpt]  Live at Fes, Morocco


 Great passenger ships and tall ships at port along the Golden Horn inlet. A busy waterfront. The Galata Tower across the way. The 500-year-old center, Ayni Ali Baba Tekke, located in the Kasimpasha suburb. A horseshoe-shaped aisle surrounds the main area. The mihrab.
Chandelier. Cem, or Jem Aydogdu, our guide to the dikr, who speaks English well, appropriate to his business name, Dragoman. Sherif Baba and Aziz.[Marina's photo, edited]. Ismail Baba, a  blind musician, with Sherif Baba. He plays the ney. A large bendir frame drum.[Marina's photo, edited] The first Act of the dikr are instrumentals and a hymn. The second Act commences with Aziz turning. We form concentric circles around him.
Circles counter rotate with the music. Combined ensembles. Daf and bendir frame drums. A tambourine is also present. Note the ney player behind the pillar.


A second oud.  Sukhawat Ali behind the other pillar.
Aziz continues to turn. Sharif Baba presides in the middle. With a cue, Aziz stops and "huu" is voiced. Act 3: Sukhawat Ali moves into the circles and recites a Qawwali Sufi prayer (in Urdu).


Passion pervades his prayer. He moves to his dikr of Allah-hu, repeating the phrase and bowing in a strong rhythm. We are all exceedingly moved and also repeat Allah-hu, bowing. Suddenly, magic takes place. As an overlay, Maya begins singing in Hebrew,  Hine ma tov umah na'yim, a psalm praising unity among people (Psalm 133),  keeping the same rhythm.
Drums and dudek  play along. Bowing continues as a softer Allah-hu is repeated. Act 4 begins when Aziz returns to the circle.  Aziz turns and turns. ...and turns and turns. The music and singing intensify and accelerates. A dervish enters the circle and jumps up and down repeatedly with the rhythm, akin to the Maasai of Kenya. Baba's aide, Cem, encourages the fellow by jumping also.

Student and master embrace. Now, Aziz turns even more intensely and faster. He is all awhirl. He spins seemingly with utter abandon and then collapses into the arms of the aide. A great "huuu", the cosmic sound,  follows.   Sherif Baba acknowledges Aziz. Aziz acknowledges Sherif Baba. Aziz acknowledges one and . . .
. . . all. The zikr is over. We leave the center to return to our hotel. But first, we pass through the small garden.  A flash of rose red. Ah!       

© 2011 Debra Jan Bibel


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 On to Istanbul - 4


Appendix: Food