Sufism, a mystical tradition within Islam, is known for its whirling dances and musical prayer practice. In Turkey, this offers a striking contrast to the strict separation of the sexes and the ban on music in the mosque. Many adherents are reluctant to announce their affiliation, but Rachael Kohnmet two outspoken Turkish Sufis in Istanbul.
Eylem Kaftan stood out from the crowd of Turkish Muslim women who attended the G20 Interfaith Summit in Istanbul. While they wore hijabsand long skirts, Kaftan's long flowing hair was uncovered, and her tall, willowy figure was fashionably clad. The women, mostly students or lecturers at private universities, huddled together while Kaftan spoke with many of the male presenters.
I'm a Sufi. By saying that, I believe in all religions that promote love. I believe that human beings should believe in any religion they want to practice, respecting each other.TOLGA CELIKKANAT, DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER
An accomplished Turkish Canadian filmmaker, Kaftan was there to make a documentary about the summit, since interfaith harmony is an interest of hers. She is a Sufi, an adherent of the mystical tradition within Islam. Sufism promotes the idea that whatever religion you follow, all humanity is beloved in the eyes of God, and love of each other is the ultimate expression of faith.
Her most recent film and her first on Sufism, The Emptiness Within, had just premiered on the Turkish government television station, but it took some convincing.
It is not as if Sufism is unknown or unheralded in Turkey, where the famous 13th century philosopher poet, Mevlana Jalaladin Rumi, established his order of Sufis in the country's southern town of Konya. In fact, Turkey claims Rumi as its own, despite his origins in Afghanistan and sojourn in Persia.
However, the prayer practice of Sufis offers a striking contrast to the strict separation of the sexes and the ban on music in the mosque. In a Sufi sema, men and women come together in meditation and dance to the accompaniment of musical instruments, such as the tambourine, the bells and the flute. Known for the whirling dance, they aim to reach a state of ecstasy and love, in which the self melts into the beloved, God himself—in Arabic, Allah. Echoing the title of Kaftan's film, God fills up 'the emptiness within'.