The Mevlevi Order is a traditional Islamic sufi Way (Tarîqat) that has preserved the spiritual teachings of Mawlânâ Jalâluddîn Rûmî, his descendants, successors, and followers for over 700 years.
Because sufi organizations are still illegal in Turkey, it is not called the "Mevlevi Order" or "Mevlevi Tarikat" there, and other sufi terms related to organized sufi activity (such as "shaykh") tend to be avoided as well. At present, the hereditary leader (Makam-i Chelebi) of the Mevlevis and direct descendent of Hazrat-e Mawlânâ, Faruk Hemdem Chelebi, is President of an organization in Istanbul and Konya called the International Mevlana Foundation (UluslararasI Mevlânâ Vakfi), a cultural and educational foundation.
The Mevlevi order was first organized by Mawlânâ's son, Sultân Walad, in Konya. It began to expand with leaders appointed to other towns and regions under the leadership of Mawlânâ's grandson, Ulu `ârif Chelebi. Eventually, there were 114 tekke [takyâ] (monastery-like) buildings or building complexes established throughout the Ottoman Empire--including ones in Belgrade, Athens, Cairo, Mecca, Baghdad, Damascus, and Tabriz. After the collapse of the empire, following defeat in World War I, the new Turkish government of Ataturk declared all sufi organizations in Turkey illegal in 1925. All surviving Mevlevi tekkes were closed down. Some were made into mosques and a few into museums, such as the main tekke (or Mevlevihane) in Konya (where Mawlânâ Rûmî is buried) and the Galata tekke in Istanbul. Another Mevlevihane in Istanbul, called the YenikapI tekke, that burned down in 1961, has been completely rebuilt. Although the Turkish government decided to use the main building for use by a university, the rebuilt Sema hall [semahane], which is a separate building, now has regular Sema performances.
Since 1925, Mevlevi activity has been very restricted and private in Turkey. There have been many obstacles, so that the provision of Mevlevi dervish training to each generation has been limited.
Starting in 1953, public performances of the Mevlevi Samâ` (Sema, in Turkish, the famous Whirling Prayer Ceremony) have permitted by the Turkish government in Konya, first in the public library, then in gymnasiums, then in a sports stadium, and presently in a large building built for Sema performances. Thousands of people come from all over the world in mid- December each year to buy tickets and see the performances that are organized by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Public performances of Sema have also occurred for many years at the Galata Mevlevihane in Istanbul, as well as at the rebuilt YenikapI Mevlevihane.
In sum, the sacred whirling prayer ritual of the Mevlevis has been largely taken over by the Turkish Government for the purpose of promoting tourism. The Government has little interest in lifting restrictions on the Mevlevi tradition: all it has wanted from the Mevlevis during past decades is to provide good whirlers [semazens] and musicians for Sema performances. At the present time, excellent musicians have been trained at schools and universities in Konya to play classical Mevlevi music, and there have been new generations of trained whirlers as well. As a result, there is a smaller percentage of musicians and whirlers who view themselves as Mevlevi (or who have had any additional Mevlevi training) than in the past. This matters little to the Turkish Government, which regards Sema as a form of "traditional Turkish folk dancing."
The Mevlevi Sema is more accurately called the "Semahane Ceremony" because it is most authentic when done in the Sema hall [semahane, samâ`-khâna] of a Mevlevi tekke, is led by a shaykh or Sema leader [pôstneshîn] appointed by the current Maqâm-i Chelebi, and is done by musicians and whirlers [semazens] who have genuine Mevlevi initiation, training, and education. The whirlers should be praying silently ("Allâh") in each rotation.
An essential, but seldom mentioned feature of the Semahane Ceremony prior to 1926 is that it was the weekly "remembrance of God" [zikr] ritual for each Mevlevi tekke community, during which all Mevlevis present (not only whirlers but musicians, women in the gallery, and others such as resident and non-resident dervishes) chanted the Mevlevi zikr prayer ("Allâh, Allâh!") silently in their hearts (especially, one can assume, in unison with the drum beat). In this respect, the Semahane Ceremony resembles the weekly zikr rituals of other Turkish sufi orders of the "circular" [devri, dawrî] kind: in the beginning, the shaykh and dervishes sit in a circle or semi-circle; later, they stand in place or move in a circle.
It should be emphasized that the Sema is only one part of the spiritual treasury of the Mevlevi tradition.
For more than 700 years the highest authority for all Mevlevi centers has been a direct descendent of Mawlânâ Jalâluddîn Rûmî, called "Hazrat-i Chelebi" ("His Holiness the Chelebi") or "Maqâm- i Chelebi" ("the Exalted Rank of the Chelebi") or "Chelebi Efendi." These are also descendents of Mawlânâ's grandson, Ulu `ârif Chelebi. This centralized authority remained intact over the centuries and over distance--whether a Mevlevi center was in Turkey, Egypt, Bosnia, Greece, or Arabia. The word "chelebi" is a Turkish word that has been long used to mean a well-bred, educated, and refined gentleman. Because it also refers to the Chelebi family (spelled in Turkish as "Çelebi") who are the direct descendents of Mawlânâ; it also means "the leader of the Mevlevis."
Traditionally, the Maqâm-i Chelebi inherited the right to be the chief shaykh of the main Mevlevi center, or Mevlevihane, in Konya (where Mawlânâ Rûmî is buried). Each Maqâm-i Chelebi successor was given Mevlevi dervish training prior assuming this rank. Succession is patrilinear: priority is given to the oldest son of the prior Maqâm-i Chelebi, another son (if the eldest is unwilling or unable to fulfill the responsibilities, or lacks support for being chosen), a son of the Chelebi who preceded the prior Maqâm-i Chelebi, a brother of the prior Maqâm-i Chelebi, another grandson of the Chelebi who preceded the prior Maqâm-i Chelebi, and so on. During the late Ottoman Empire, the Mevlevi Order was so enmeshed with the government that the Sultan of the Empire was involved in the approval for succession. During the modern era, the next Maqâm-i Chelebi is chosen by the members of the Chelebi family. Since the 1925 law and the changing of the Mevlevihane in Konya into a museum, the hereditary leaders of the Mevlevi tradition at first lived in Aleppo, Syria and then in Istanbul.
It is not necessary that the Maqâm-i Chelebi be gifted with spiritual advancement and exceptional spiritual wisdom. That is needed for the number two leader of the Mevlevis: the Spiritual Director of the Mevlevi Tariqat, the chief spiritual guide [murshid] of all Mevlevi shaykhs and followers who is called the Sar-i Tarîq ["Sertarik," in modern Turkish], who is appointed by the Maqâm-i Chelebi. Instead, the Maqâm-i Chelebi has primarily an administrative authority to make important decisions to protect the welfare of the Mevlevi organization and the Mevlevi tradition and to further its growth--decisions that also involve Divine guidance.
The present hereditary leader of all Mevlevis, the Maqâm-i Chelebi is Faruk Hemdem Çelebi [Arabo-Persian spelling: Fârûq Hamdam Chalabî], the son and successor of his father (Jelaluddin M. Bâqir Chelebi, who died in 1996--see the "Chelebi Family Website" at www.mevlana.net); he is the current Hazrat-i Chelebi, the 22nd generation great-grandson of Mawlânâ Jalâluddîn Rûmî, and the 33rd Maqâm-i Chelebi (with Mawlânâ Rûmî counted as the first).
Chelebi Efendi's great-grandfather, Abdul Halim Chelebi, was the last Grand Chelebi of the Mevlevi Order during the Ottoman Empire until the dissolution of the empire after World War I and the law of 1925 that made all sufi organizations illegal (a law that continues to the present day). His grandfather, the 31st Maqâm-i Chelebi was Mehmet Bâqir Chelebi (died, 1944); he lived in Aleppo, Syria for many years, where he was the international leader of all Mevlevi tekkes outside of Turkey. Chelebi Efendi's great-grandfather and grandfather were both buried at YenikapI Mevlevihane in Istanbul. His father, the 32nd Maqâm-i Chelebi, was Jelaluddin M. Bâqir Chelebi who was born in Aleppo, Syria, died in Istanbul in 1996, and was buried in Konya. Faruk Hemdem Çelebi Efendi was also born in Aleppo, Syria in 1950. He is a practicing Muslim.
Only the current Maqâm-i Chelebi has the authority to authorize and appoint new Mevlevi shaykhs (please see the article, "The Leader of All Mevlevis"for further information).