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University of Roehampton


Performing Sufi Living in Contemporary Turkey

Çizmeci, Hasret Esra

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Download date: 29. Mar. 2019

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Performing Sufi Living in Contemporary Turkey


Hasret Esra Çizmeci, BA, MFA, MA

A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of


Department of Drama, Theatre and Performance

University of Roehampton


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egalitarian aspects of Sufi cultural beliefs and values such as the ideas of love, unity,

peace, freedom, and rapture.

Comparing my ongoing conversations with dedes, şeyhs, and Sufi artists I met

along the way (who practice sema as tourist attraction), I understand that some devotees

make space for their Sufi living through the practice of Sufi arts and rituals in public

and that Narin dede is one of them. As a Sufi scholar, artist, and semazen, Narin dede

stated that he chose to live his religious role as a teacher and artist devoted to sharing

Sufi cultural beliefs and values. Training with his grandfather and his devotee friends

who were Sufi religious musicians and artists, Narin dede studied to be a devotee and a

religious artist who trains secular devotees in religious music, poetry, and arts in his

private home, while organizing religious/community gatherings, classes, and

performances in public spaces. Narin dede embodied mystical, artistic, and scholarly

roles to create community spaces for his and other followers’ devotional activities.


The case studies discussed in this chapter showed how devotees create spaces

for Sufi living, despite the legal act prohibiting Sufi space production. While the

devotees at the Nurettin Cerrahi tekke legalize their activities as a foundation and

secularize Sema ceremony as tourist attraction to use the historical tekke as a space for

worship, the devotees in the Yenikapı Mevlevi Lodge participate in and organize

temporary events that introduce the Mevlevi culture to individuals interested in cultural

events about Sufism. Narin dede, on the other hand, commodifies Sufi practices as

classes, tourist attraction, and workshops to make space for his devotional living and to

share Sufi beliefs and values with devotees and non-devotees. For these individuals,

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performing sema ceremony has become a social act as well as a devotional act in the

public urban life of Turkey because by performing sema in public, they generate and

transmit their religious beliefs and values.

These gatherings and events also play a significant role in communicating an

alternative, perhaps more positive, aspect of Islam to secular Turks like the semazen

Yi#it. As Nicholas Birch states, “Many secular Turks used to respond to the word

tarikat with a grimace of distaste… however, since the 1990s, secular fears have

increasingly centered on political Islam.”274 With the increase of the popular enactments

of Mevlevi rituals, devotees seek to show Sufism as a moderate alternative for secular-

minded Turks. These spaces and events make Sufi teaching and way of living accessible

to secular individuals who might not get the chance to meet a Mevlevi mentor (şeyh).

From my experience, it is not easy to search for and find a Mevlevi mentor due to legal

restrictions in Turkey. However, the gatherings and events discussed in this chapter

open up a space for individuals to learn about Sufi beliefs and values and meet devotees

affiliated with Sufi spiritual teachers.

Embodying secular and religious values, devotees in the Nurettin Cerrahi tekke

secure a legal site for themselves to practice Sufi living. Devotees use the tekke as a

worship space by allowing tourists to witness their devotional acts. However, when

compared to Saygın dede’s and Narin dede’s gatherings, the devotees in the Nurettin

Cerrahi tekke are more formal and less about sharing Sufi beliefs and values with non-

devotees. While the organization of the Nurettin Cerrahi tekke distances tourists from

the ritual acts, the semahane at the Yenikapı Mevlevi lodge and the actions and

274 Nicholas Birch, “Sufism in Turkey: The Next Big Thing.”

June 22, 2010. Accessed on January 3, 2014.

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