Saturday, February 7, 2009

Some dhikr scenes... and Sherif Baba is in them!

Hu! As-salaamu aleykum...

Selma and I have recently become quite intrigued with someone we know very little about. So much so that, Selma is hoping to go to Istanbul to visit her (and also meet Sherif Baba face-to-face for the first time). Inshallah.

The woman's name is Sirin Ana, though more can be found about her in English on the Web by looking up a nickname-- the Red Sheika. Apparently for the reason that she always wears red. There is something about her that Selma and I both found immediately intense and compelling. And I love that she throws chocolates into the crowd during her dhikr.

I have some wonderful pictures of her and Baba leading dhikr together in Konya that a friend sent me recently. I'll ask him if I might post them, so you can see them too, inshallah. But for now, I'll just show you some things I found on the web about her.

You will note Sherif Baba is on the left in the crowd, and Cem is playing tef in several of these pictures.

The the following story comes from

Last night we were supposed to go to a zikr at a hotel hosted by the Red Sheikha. Ibrahim has been talking about her throughout this trip and she has sounded one-of-a-kind. Yet I had no idea what to expect. Our whole group began to walk over and were about halfway there when suddenly, in the middle of the street, we were met with another tremendous group of women (at least 20), with the Red Sheikha, dressed all in red, being transported in her wheelchair to come meet us at the guest house. This wasn't just any group of women; these were an energetic, celebratory group who were absolutely ready to party in the name of Allah. Kisses and hugs were exchanged right there in the middle of the street until we finally decided to turn and go back to her hotel.

It was there that we had the zikr....right in the hotel lobby, with the Red Sheikha smoking cigarettes directly in front of the "No Smoking" sign. The room was filled with women zikring to their hearts' content. And of course we were all there as well. The energy of having so many women in the center was incredible since so far, most zikrs that I have been to have been very male-dominated. For me, it was empowering to watch and be a part of.

The sad part was when the women were eventually moved out of the center and shifted aside as more men arrived. The energy changed then and I felt less involved.

Another unrelated thought went through my mind as I was watching everything. I realized that a zikr is a lot like other spiritual practices that I have been to, like drum circles, shamanic rituals, or even buddhist gatherings, that can often (certainly not always) be products of communities of people who are new to spirituality or seeking something after having been hurt by their previous tradition. Yet having been part of those circles on more than one occasion, I have felt there to be something disingenuous about them. Somehow the practice seemed disconnected from anything real and often it even felt like there was nothing actually spiritual or grounded underlying anything that was being done.

I feared that's what the zikrs might be like, but while sitting there with the Red Sheikha, especially when it was just the women, I realized that what I was experiencing was absolutely real. Finally I was in a practice that was energetic and exciting but also totally genuine.

The Red Sheikha needed to go to bed due to her health, so we headed home and a few of us gathered with Ismael Baba. He spoke to us about how there are certain kinds of practices that suit each person differently. He was likening this to eating yogurt. He said that some people like their yogurt with honey but others like it with vinegar. So he says you should eat it however you like it because either way you're eating your yogurt. Basically, don't do a spiritual practice that goes against your constitution. Maybe quiet prayer is better for some people while zikrs are better for others. This was a highly empowering conversation since growing up, I became used to just "dealing with" the fact that certain types of Catholic prayer felt totally wrong to me, but I did it anyway. Ismael Baba gave me inspiration that I will be able to find a practice that feels right.

We're just so used to struggling that when something comes easy, we don't believe it can be real. When something feels good, we think it must be wrong. I'm learning the opposite right now. Feeling good is actually right and does come easily, we just need to pay attention and let it happen. For instance, I feel really good when I sing. In fact I feel so happy when I sing, but only recently was I able to identify this as spiritual. It felt too good for me to think of it as a spiritual practice. There was no sacrifice involved, no pain, no suffering, just pure joy. But I've changed my thoughts on this now, and it's joy that I am after; it's joy that we all deserve.

And from another blog,

"This chain-smoking spiritual leader and her bevy of middle-aged women followers with bangles on their scarves rocked the Konya Hotel last night and we joined in the action. This is how to alter the mind and spirit without alcohol or other substances except the ever-present tea and cigarettes. These people know how to laugh and cry and pray and celebrate in worship. And they know how to greet each other and how to welcome strangers.

I'm realizing I will miss the call to prayer, especially in the morning. I wonder if I can find an alarm clock that plays a recording. There are other sounds as well I am becoming familiar with, including the musical instruments and the voices. There is a group of music therapy practitioners in and out of the guest house providing another dimension. And the Turkish language itself sounds like music to me."


There are a number of blog entries about her on the web. These seem to be largely from a group that went together on an interfaith Mevlana tour (or something like that... several of the writers seem to be Christian seminarians and at least one is Jewish). Evidently, they went to Istanbul and Konya, not only visiting Mevlana and Shams but also making contact with a scene I was unaware of until recently.

The Dervish Brothers Center in Konya has a name that makes it sound like a museum of Mevlevi culture. Then you click on the page, and it looks like the website for a rug shop. And, to a certain degree it is indeed a website for a rug shop. It's also becoming quite clear that it is no ordinary rug shop. It's a rug shop in the way that the Silk Road Tea House was a restaurant and cafe. Or Muzaffer Ozak ran a bookstore. ;)

From all I can tell, these are the people who know where the real stuff is happening.

The contact information on their website:

tel (332) 351 54 67, (332) 350 81 88
fax (332) 351 54 67
mobile (0.532) 266 02 70

I lastly, to my delight, there is video of Sirin Ana (with Serif Baba there on the left also) on Youtube.

Mashallah... I love all of this. You can immediately see why she and Baba are friends. Both of them see to carry with them this combination of openness and a love for tradition, an fire that burns so intensely because of the huzur (tranquility) that grounds it, a humor and lightness and sweetness that has been developed by years of difficult challenges. Eyvallah. May Allah preserve them and the work they are doing.

All of this makes me very happy-- elhamdullillah. I'm delighted to have a little window into what Sherif Baba is up to these days and also equally delighted to see others who clearly seem to be on the same page.



  1. Selam!!!!

    Brilliant blog, thank you so much for all your videos! Please look at my blog

  2. 786
    selamun aleykum, nedim!
    i live in istanbul and was just surfing around when i found your beautiful blog, masallah. the citations that you posted on sirin anne came from my students from the starr king school for the ministry @ the graduate theological union (; participated in the SKSM Rumi Immersion 2008. the group was made up of muslims, jews, unitarian universalists and christians (on Facebook this year as a fan page: Rumi Immersion SKSM). we love sirin anne and serif baba very, very much and were with them this year as well. please make du'a for sirin anne: her health condition is rather challenging right now. it was so amazing to find my students' writings and pictures on here: zuhurat! may you have a blessed month of muharrem, insallah.

  3. Mashalah This is very nice. But we dont know whos your Shayhk?

  4. Sorry it's taken a while to respond on here--- I literally just figured out the way to comment on a comment here ;)

    Thank you all very much for your very kind words. Elhamdullillah. I'm very glad that you are enjoying the blog. I've found out a little bit about the Rumi Immersion-- wow! That seems like an amazing program, mash'Allah. May it continue, insh'Allah. I think you definitely found the right people to be involved in that. I wish I had known about Azim and the whole scene at Dervish Brothers when I was in Turkey-- that place seems to be the epicenter of the real thing! Oh, I'm dying to get back there one day, insh'Allah.

    And thanks for the link to your blog, Martin. Very nice, mash'Allah.