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'Enterprises’ on Sufism in Turkey


By Can Ceylan

May 08, 2014

Sufism which is known as Tasavvuf in Turkey is an old yet a quite new subject for the people in Turkey. There are many books written related to Sufism even on topics from personal development to health care. These books rank at the top in the best-seller lists. Some of these books even have more than twenty editions. The readers are buying and reading those books as if they are “hungry” for what these books contain on their pages and have in between their lines.

Taking the historical background of Sufism being rooted from Turkey for granted, people are easily getting familiar with the title of Sufism itself. Maulana Jalaluddin al-Rumi and Ibn Arabi are the first well-known figures in people’s mind related to Sufism. “Whirling dervishes”, “Sema” are also only two of the well-known related words. The activities carrying similar figures and words on their titles are what people are expecting for impatiently. People make enterprise on Sufism with their times, with their minds, with their social lives, with their wealth and with their hearts. These people come from each and every level of society.

Before learning how the fans of best-seller lists do this business, let’s try to look through another aspect of the issue as Sufism is not interesting only for common readers but also for those in academic world. Especially in the last decade, many non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) on Sufism have been established. There have been also some previously founded NGOs which focus their studies on Sufism and Islam in social life. These NGOs are opening departments and/or institutes on Sufism in cooperation with universities within Turkey and abroad.

TÜRKKAD (Turkish Women’s Cultural Association) is one of these NGOs. TÜRKKAD which is founded by a famous female author Samiha Ayverdi (1905-1993) has many branches around Turkey. The head of TÜRKKAD’s İstanbul branch, Cemalnur Sargut has a mission for herself to make sure the organizations explain the real Islamic belief and Sufism in Turkey and all over the world.

In April, she has opened an institute on Sufism studies and behavioural sciences in Üsküdar University located in Istanbul. Üsküdar University is a university which mainly focuses on psychology and humanities.

This institute is not the first and the only one. About five years ago, a distinguished professorship has been established in University of North Carolina in the United States under the name of “Kenan Rifai Distinguished Professorship”. This professorship was followed by the next one in Peking University in China in 2012. The founder head of this professorship was William Chittick.

Both of these distinguished professorships are in service for two years in undergraduate and graduate levels.

The latest organization by this NGO, the institute on Sufism in Üsküdar University has been approved by the Higher education Council and it will open its doors to students in graduate level in the Fall semester of 2014.

As Sargut explained to press, the aim of this institute is to focus on Sufism with original and modern approaches in order to explain how Islam is practically possible in every aspect of social life while providing solutions for the problems of Modern Era.

Although I have exemplified taking a single NGO, these are the most evident enterprises. However “enterprise” (with its quoted form) does not only consist what is mentioned above. When it comes to the fans of best-seller lists, it is apparent that individuals are literally running after Sufism. They watch films on Sufism in cinemas; they watch programs on Sufism on television; despite the books they also read interviews on Sufism published on journals and magazines. Quoted words or couplets from the poems of famous Sufis are shared and liked on social media. In bookstores, special shelves have been set up for the publications on Sufism.

Although the most of the reference books are not in Turkish as the source text, the translated and commentated versions of the source texts in mostly Arabic, Persian and partly English do occupy space on these shelves. Some of these books serve as personal development resources for those who prefer to combine historical and classical Sufism with some new applications for the need of modern way of life. These books are not only bought for the purpose of reading but also to be given as gift on special days and occasions.

In Turkey, NGOs make “enterprise” on Sufism in academic way. Publishers make “enterprise” on Sufism reprinting classical works and/or printing source or target texts. People make “enterprise” on Sufism buying these books and spending their time to read them. Although it is clear that Sufism makes different sense for all of these kinds of “enterprise”, what is also clear that the people in Turkey make “enterprise” on how they like to seem in the future. They are taking out what their grandparents left for them. What they only need to do is to blow the dust on this legacy.