Chapter Eight: The Secrets of the Grave Site

Chapter Eight

The Secrets of the Grave Site

One day I looked in the mirror without fear
All of a sudden I saw myself
How the Lover changes the reality of the world
Sezen Aksu
(Bir gün baktım hiç korkmadan aynaya orada birden gördüm kendimi
Işte sevgili nasıl değiştirir dünyanın gerçeğini)

listen to the song

I peruse my grandfather’s published articles one more time. This time I notice something I hadn’t before, something hidden between the lines. Dr. Kilisli Rifat claims that there are many questions in the spiritual realm that humans are unable to answer, and that biological manipulations (eugenics) will never lead us to the unveiling of the mysteries of the Cosmos. This is a very different approach than the dominant one in the 1920s and 30s, where trust in scientific advances and technology was paramount. In one of his articles, Rifat writes:

“If a conference was organized on how to create the best human being, we would surely witness many contradictory ideas and suggestions. If we assume that the best human evolution is to create human beings devoid of diseases and moral flaws, will that be sufficient? Are we then going to reach our aspirations? I doubt it. We will still want eminent people to show us the way, to help us understand and interpret this mystery called life and death. (Dr. Kilisli Rifat, February 1934, p. 25)

He points out that some people have extended the ideas of Darwin to claim that the human race evolved from monkeys. Rifat’s response is: Absolutely not. He believes in the unique spiritual capacity of human beings and considers spiritual development to be the highest level of human evolution:

Human beings are at a high level in terms of intelligence and spirituality. Due to their intelligence, humans have been able to fight against nature’s forces. In fact, spiritual development is considered to be the highest level of evolution for a human being. (Dr. Kilisli Rifat, February 1934, p. 26)

He adds that spiritual progress can only happen as a result of hard work and dedication. This is sounding more like a Sufi (Tasavvuf) path which he, no doubt, studied and practiced during his medrese education in Kilis.

In the 1930s, eugenics and the works of Nietzche had put human beings at the center of the universe, capable of controlling their own destiny and of creating the ‘best race’ (the Übermensch). However, according to Rifat, eugenics must be approached with caution:

Natural selection theories claim that a system will evolve, reforming itself and leading to its maturation. However, a human organ that is sick cannot evolve into something else. Eugenics is about the betterment of races. Its objectives are to focus on strong and well-formed individuals and to separate them from the sick and those with flaws. Natural selection is about educating and improving those people who are ‘normal’. It is important to also ferret out those people with the least flaws, to assist them, and therefore increase the number of strong and well-formed individuals.

Human evolution, however, doesn’t just comprise of handsome and healthy bodies. Humans should not receive the same kind of treatment as animals and plants. Humans require a high level of respect, and their ideal is to become mature and enlightened human beings. Human evolution is about the evolution of both the body and the spirit. But this evolution will only influence those people who are the leaders in a society, that is, an elite and small group. (Dr. Kilisli Rifat, 1934, No. 35 p. 30-31)

Rifat refutes a simplistic understanding of Darwinism, as well as the view that humans can control and shape evolution:

It is clear that there is constancy and permanence in creation. We know that chemical elements are grouped in rows even though there is no visible link between them. The hypothesis that these elements influence and change each other is an attractive one and there is, in fact, a relationship, and an exchange between them. But these elements themselves are unchangeable. There is no evidence of evolution from one species to the next.

In other words, there is evolution within a species but not from one species to another. Only certain creatures closer to each other in complexity, certain animals or plants, may be combined to produce hybrids, and not others. This law limits the relationship between more developed and less developed creatures. They don’t mutate, evolve or change each other. An apple tree doesn’t accept an injection from a plum tree but does so from a quince tree. This means that nature moves to ‘individuate’ creatures. In short, the hierarchy we see in this world is not the result of an interrupted succession. (Dr. Kilisli Rifat, 1934, No. 37, p. 28)

Rifat goes on to argue that crystals demonstrate particular geometric designs. If they take the shape of cubes, this is not because of natural forces, but the result of a geometric operation. He concludes, that even if some may not want to go as far as to confess the existence of a source of creation, it is also not certain that the world is the result of an accident. 

RETURN TO THE GRAVE SITE

my grandfather and I
My Grandfather and I conversing

It is time to go back to his grave site. What does Rifat mean by “geometric operation’? Is there a ‘geometric operation’ underlying what we perceive as natural forces? And is that why his grave site is designed with clear geometric shapes?  Why the pyramid and the cube?

Azim, a Sufi friend, comes to my help. He writes to Nico and Nalan, good friends of his, on my behalf:

If you look at the picture of Dr Kilisli Rifat’s grave site, you will see a quite extraordinary geometrical tomb. It looks to me as if he was a rather unusual lone wolf or a very interesting Freemason. Any ideas? The enquirer knows that some relatives were masons, but she can’t be sure in his case. (personal communication with Azim Looker)

Was my grandfather a Freemason? The public information about Freemasons is ambiguous and somewhat secretive. I do know that there is a progression from an apprentice to a master over a period of time, with appropriate effort, of course. I also know that there is a strong system of ethics and service within the brotherhood, as well as a belief in a supreme being, pervading our world and consciousness that transcends religion. Rifat’s professor and mentor, Besim Ömer Pasha, with whom he had a close relationship throughout his life, was publicly known to be a Freemason. So were the majority of the Young Turks, the members of the Committee on Union and Progress (CUP). Freemasonry had become influential in the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century. Three sons of Sultan Abdulmecit, the Princes Murat (later Sultan Murat V) and two of his brothers, Nurettin and Kemalettin had been initiated in the French Lodge Prodoos. Five Grand Viziers, many Turkish ambassadors to European countries and foreign ambassadors to Turkey, famous freedom writers and poets had been members of this lodge. It was five Freemasons, military students in the Military Medical Academy that Rifat graduated from, who started a revolutionary party which later took the name of Union and Progress. It is certainly probable that Rifat was also Freemason but I have not been able to uncover any evidence.

As Celil Layiktez points out, the Ottoman elite benefited from their Freemason connections:

“In the second half of the 19th century, the main European powers had obtained an immunity for their subjects living in the Ottoman Empire. This immunity system was called “Capitulations”. The Turkish police did not have the right to search a house belonging to a foreign subject. Thus, the members of Union and Progress in Thessalonica plotted their revolution in Italian, French and Spanish lodges gathering in houses belonging to foreigners. To get around the Capitulations, the police organized a robbery in the temple of the lodge Macedonia Risorta, where the archives were kept in order to obtain the members’ lists, but a Freemason in the police force tipped the master of the lodge beforehand. The frustrated policemen took revenge on the furniture of the temple. They also tried to harass the members, waiting in the street for them to leave the building.

Sultan Abdulhamid knew very well what Freemasonry was about. As stated above, three of his brothers were Freemasons.  Most of the European powers were governed by Freemason kings and ministers. For these reasons, Abdulhamid did not want to alienate the Freemasons. While he persecuted the revolutionary lodge members of the Italian, French and Spanish lodges in Thessalonica, he also gave large donations to the charity efforts of English Lodges in Istanbul. He even planned the creation of a Grand Lodge in Istanbul, of which he would be the Grand Master. This lodge would act as a senate, assembling the leaders of the different warring communities in Istanbul, (mainly Turkish intellectuals, the members of the Italian, Levantine, Greek, Armenian and Jewish communities). This project was never realized but shows the intricacies of the way Abdulhamid’s mind worked.

The Freemasons in the Thrace, mainly from Thessalonica, organised an army of reservists. Almost all officers were Freemasons. There were too many officers, some joined the expeditionary force as ordinary soldiers. The army took back Istanbul from the fundamentalists, there were bloody battles and hangings, and Abdulhamid was dethroned by a committee of five deputies, all of them Freemasons. As a result to all this, Freemasons became the hate center of fundamentalist Islam.

According to the French historian Thierry Zarcone, the period of the Ottoman Empire, from 1908 to 1918, could be called “The Masonic State”. The Union and Progress Party (CUP) in power used Freemasonry in its foreign relations. Deputations of mason parliamentarians went to Italy, France, Hungary and Germany. The Freemason deputies claimed that with their effort, democracy, that is the French slogan of liberty, equality and fraternity was prevailing now in Turkey and that the European powers should be of assistance. The History of Freemasonry in Turkey

In 1935, six ministers, the President of the Parliament, more than sixty deputies and many state governors were counted among the Freemasons. Ataturk’s private doctor, M. Kemal Öke, was a Past Grand Master. Not being able to ascertain one way or another whether Rifat was a freemason, I now await Nalan and Nico’s responses.

Their response to Azim is intriguing:

Thank you for sharing with us this very interesting story of your friend’s grandfather. The tomb has Hermetic features that go far beyond Masonry and are keys to an alchemical operativity, now mostly forgotten. (personal communication)

I meet with them and we visit the Edirnekapi Cemetery together. The caretakers of the cemetery greet us and accompany us to my grandfather’s site. One of them says: You know there are some people who visit your grandfather’s grave on a regular basis, a group of people who come every year.  I am very surprised and ask him: Do you know who they are? Do you know how I can reach them? I don’t know he says, but he adds that they look like they might be university students accompanied by an older person, perhaps their teacher. While I ponder what to make of this intriguing information, Nico and Nalan are walking around Rifat’s grave, inspecting it carefully. Nico almost whispers: I thought from the picture that the tomb was much larger, but in fact, this is quite small, very discreet and elegant. They are now adding their insights:

The pyramid here represents the spirit and the cube the earth. Your grandfather stayed in the middle of contradictions and completed the circle to become a completed human being. The grave symbolizes balancing spirit and matter. What seems like an ultimate contradiction, spirit and matter are, in fact, complementary. Spirit is infused in matter, matter becomes alive with spirit. Too much spirit, we become like ghosts, too little spirit, we turn to mud. Furthermore, there is the symbolism of rebirth here.

Later, we are sipping tea at a nearby cafe. Nico holds the warm tea glass with both hands, leans forward and looks at me closely: Your grandfather is the dervish who will lead you to your own garden. Nalan smiles and nods. I look into their eyes, feeling shivers down my spine.

More doors are opening. Füsun, a good friend, speaks of a retired chemistry professor in Istanbul: “Yüksel bey works with esoteric knowledge. I don’t exactly understand what he does, but I think he is a wonderful human being. He might be able to help you.” I contact him and send him a picture of the grave site. Yüksel Bey responds quickly, but his interpretation is nearly unintelligible to me. He sends back the picture of the grave site with some superimposed calculations and drawings (see below):

Screen Shot 2015-05-24 at 5.47.39 PM
Courtesy of Yüksel Inel

Yüksel Bey provides the following explanation:

The cube and the pyramid in its essence symbolize life and death. Tombstones have the same function – with the dates of birth and death on them, they show who is lying there. But this grave, going beyond this general information, indicates that Dr. Kilisli Rifat had access to archaic, universal and original knowledge; that he was a follower of the metaphysical and Hermetic Tradition (Hermeticism).

Without going into much detail, this grave site may signify that the soul, no longer imprisoned in the material world, has begun its return journey from the bodily realm to the spiritual realm, in other words to para-nirvana, or from the micro-cosmos to the macro-cosmos. The person lying in this grave may thus be aware that such a journey to a different dimension may succeed with the symbols, represented by irrational and transcendental numbers which belong to God. (√2, √3 and √5, π and ϕ)

In the occult sense, we are reminded of the principle of metempsychosis because of the existence of the symbolism of the numbers, as well as the Platonic solids. (Personal communication)

Further inquiry into the meaning of the grave site yields the following interpretation from a Freemason (personal communication):

“I studied the picture you sent. It is a little blurry and hard to make out details. But basically, it is patterned after an Egyptian mastaba or a ‘house of eternity”. The pyramid represents his spiritual direction or aspiration and the cube his mastery of the physical domain. With the belief in the afterlife and successive lives or reincarnation, the mastaba functioned as a form of protection and enabled the deceased to maintain the earthly connection and ‘remember themselves” in the afterlife. Egypt is the source of the ‘messianic initiative”. Egypt as a whole was a gigantic memory device built so that future generations would never forget their origins and where they’re going. Note all the Phi ratios built in to the tombstone. You can  see all the conscious intention that was ‘built into” this tomb. In a weird kind of way it is almost like a time machine. When you have time, check out this video if you haven’t seen before: Ancient Egypt Alchemy, Phi and the Human Body. 

I learn that Hermes’ teachings center on one simple idea: that God is a Big Mind and that everything which exists is a thought within the Mind of God. Thus, human beings both exist and don’t exist, simultaneously.

God is oneness. Everything is part of one Supreme Being. Like the number one, which is the source of all subsequent numbers, God is the source of all. Yet, just as when the number one is divided or multiplied by itself, it remains one, so God constantly remains the Oneness. Because he unites everything, his nature is paradoxical. He is the creator who creates himself. He is always hidden from us, yet he is also the world around us. He has no particular name, because all names refer to him. (Freke and Gandy, 1997: p.17)

Hermes Trismegistus was an ancient Egyptian sage, identified with the Ibis god Thoth, later with Greek God Hermes, Roman God Mercury, the Jewish Prophet Enoch, and the Muslim prophet Idris. It is widely believed that Hermeticism, Neopythogoreanism, and Neoplatonism have lived on, passed from Egyptians, to Greeks, to Muslims, and to Europeans. And they have strongly influenced the rise of Western humanism and civilization. The central principle of the Hermetic teachings is emanation, the emanation of the world as an overflow from God, and of man as a ray of sunlight. All is one, all is from the One. The heart of the Hermetic teaching is the realization that the individual is fundamentally no different than the Supreme, that God and people are not separate.  (see The Fundamental Teachings of Alchemy and Hermeticism)

I strive to make sense of all of this. I am beginning to understand that the same West which produced the industrial revolution, the beliefs in materialism, modernity and progress also gave birth to a mystical tradition, a mystical tradition which drew from Hermeticism, Pythagoras, and Neo-Platonism. This tradition encompasses Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, Theosophy, among others, and was no doubt eclipsed by modernity, but is nonetheless important. (See Faivre and Needleman, 1992)

Rifat must have delved into an esoteric spirituality that is pre-Islamic and yet one which has influenced both Islam and Western civilization. Esotericism claims that “one has access to the comprehension of symbol, of myth, of reality, only through a personal struggle for progressive elucidation on many successful levels, that is, through a form of hermeneutics”. (Faivre and Needleman, 1992: p. xii)  Western esotericism followed different streams. One was neo-Alexandrian Hermeticism and another was Theosophy and Rosicrucianism, as well as other initiatic societies like the Freemasons.

I know that these Western currents of esoteric spirituality were influential in the early 20th century among the Ottoman elites. Thus, it wouldn’t be surprising that Rifat was influenced by them. In fact, the core tenets of Theosophy as explained below seems to fit with what I have so far learned about the grave site quite well: (Faivre and Needleman, 1992: p. 322)

The fundamental unity and coherence of the universe are displayed most impressively in the order that pervades all of nature, not only in the uniformity of physical laws but also in the musical and mathematical proportions of all natural forms, from crystals and plants to spiral galaxies. This Pythagorean/Platonic conceptions of an underlying harmonic order is revealed in the persistent geometry of dynamic form, visual testimony to the passage of indivisible unity to unity-in-multiplicity.

While Rifat seems to have moved away from Islam at first glance, is this really the case? I had heard that the Sufi shaikhs of Kilis, majority of them Nakshibendis, drew their inspiration from Plato and Aristotle. As Toussulis points out, medieval Sufism was heavily dependent on Late Hellenistic thought, Neoplatonism and Neopythogoreanism:

Sufis shared a common cosmological language with others who lived alongside them, and these people included the pagan Sabeans who were later identified as Hermeticists. The latter, along with Syriac Christians, helped translate Greek texts into Arabic..These, in turn, formed the substructure of Arab philosophy, cosmology and theological argumentation, as well as providing the logic that still determines the fundamentals of Islamic law. (Toussulis, 2010: p. 29)

The twelfth century Iranian Sufi philosopher Yahya Suhrawardi made it his life’s work to link what he called the ‘original oriental religion’ with Islam. He claimed that the sages of the ancient world had preached a single doctrine. This had been originally revealed to Hermes, whom Suhrawardi identified with the prophet known as “Idris’ in the Qur’an, and the Jewish prophet ‘Enoch’. In the Greek world, he claimed, this philosophy had been transmitted through Pythagoras and Plato. (Waldbridge, 2000)

The shaikh of all shaikhs, Ibn al-Arabi, claims that there is only one Reality in existence. We know that Ibn al-Arabi incorporated Hermetic teachings. He is considered a second Plato, as well as a great exponent of Sufism. Ibn al-Arabi writes that this Reality (God) we view from two different angles, now calling it Haqq (the Real) when we regard it as the Essence of all phenomena and now Khalq (the Immanence, when we regard it as the manifested phenomena of that essence. Reality and Appearance, the One and the Many are only names for two subjective aspects of one Reality. If we return to Hermetic thought, God is both the Creator and the Created.  God is the Unity behind the multiplicity and the Reality behind the appearance.

FROM ‘WHO AM I?’ TO ‘WHAT AM I?’

The symbolism of Rifat’s grave site is revealing itself, and I sense that this is only the beginning.  As one circle is coming to an end, but like a spiral, another one is opening. It is time to take stock.

Dedecigim, Rifat, this has been a deeply personal journey, an intellectual journey and ultimately a spiritual one. I am fascinated by how you were able to walk a fine line in times of great crisis, to stay in the middle of contradictions and to navigate among the constantly changing identities of your time without being trapped. You attended a Westernized school, the military medical academy, but you did not forget the culture you were a part of. You worked hard to bring Evliya Chelebi’s work, the renowned Sufi traveler, to life while you were still a student at the military academy. You worked for the French who controlled the Quarantine Service, but you did not try to become French. You made your own contribution to the rise of a new nation state, Turkey. But ultimately you went beyond identities. You knew that identities were like a wardrobe of clothes, put on and taken off, sometimes hidden in the depths of a closet, sometimes not, depending on political exigencies. You knew that the joy of being human lay elsewhere, in uncovering the core we already are, that buried treasure.

Thank you for helping me see my own identity in an entirely new light. I thought I had to be either Turkish or American. I thought I had to choose. Am I Western or Eastern? Am I secular or Muslim? I wanted to escape from what I saw as an inferior, or imperfect identity. Being a woman was imperfect; I wanted to be more like a man, i.e. powerful. Being Turkish was imperfect. I wanted to become a Westerner. That wish made me stay away from Islam, from my own roots, since Islam and the West were, and still are, perceived as opposites. 

These dualities or oppositions, are they real? Let me begin with West and Islam. The West sees Islam as the enemy and vice versa, especially since 9/11. But in reality their fates have been intertwined throughout history. Islam, after its beginnings in the seventy century, has built a widespread civilization with achievements ranging from math, science, astronomy to philosophy, till probably the seventeenth century when the decline of the Ottoman Empire became apparent. Islam incorporated Hellenic philosophy which then became the basis of Western civilization. The esoteric spirituality of Sufi mystics share a great deal with the Christian ones; they go back to the same source. And in both cases, the religious establishments claimed authority, even pronounced some of the mystics heretics and created institutions for the maintenance of their power. According to the clerics and the ulema, the mystical experiences of an individual were unverifiable, and an individual could not find his/her way to the Divine without their intervention.

With the rise of European economic power and its spread around much of the world, the lands of Islam came to be politically, economically and culturally dominated by the West. The East became the West’s shadow, its ‘other’. The West maintained its own identity in this way, projecting its unwanted sides to its shadow. The Ottomans vacillated between admiring the West and copying it on the one hand, and hating it and wanting to return to an idealized past of grandeur on the other. This vacillation is still continuing in Turkey today. Beginning with the reform efforts of the declining Ottoman Empire, this process produced a dualism that pitted forces of Westernization and secularism (the separation of religion from politics) against the forces of tradition and Islamic values against each other and still do to this day.

Modernity was equated with Western mores, values, appearance and behavior, pitting everything that was local, Islamic, or traditional as “backward”, something that should be gotten rid of, disposed of, while everything from the West was presumed to be good, to symbolize modernity and progress. This went to the point of sublime and ridiculous when the elite had to learn how to eat in Western ways, at tables, dance the waltz, listen to Chopin and Bach, speak French or at least throw in a few French words in to their conversation, while the men were asked to don rimmed Western hats and get rid of the Fez. Thus, the experience of being on the receiving end of Western influence by various degrees of colonization meant that modernity, Western dominance, and/or colonization merged into one in the minds and psyches of the Islamic countries. This obviously created a great deal of resentment, a sense of inferiority and defensiveness, as well as a desperate search to assert some superiority.

Is there really an ‘East’ and a ‘West’? Navaro-Yashin notes:

“I argue that there is no inherent conflict or necessary difference between Turkey and Europe, Islam and the West. It is not possible, in the context at hand (Turkey) to distinguish native from Western points of view because there is no space where they have not been integrally and historically engaged with one another.”(2002: p. 9)

She further argues that ‘Westernization’ as a category of historical analysis is a positivist notion that assumes an original distinction and incommensurability between a constructed East and West.

What about the duality between Islam and secularism? When I moved to North America, I told everyone who asked if I was Muslim that I was only nominally so and that I was brought up in a secular household. Secularism and Islam were pitted against each other in Turkey for political reasons. The military and bureaucracy championed ‘secularism’ as an ideology to control religion and to impose Sunni Islam as the only accepted religion in Turkey. If you were a self identified secular, then you had to have nothing to do with Islam. If you proclaimed Islam as your highest priority, then you couldn’t be secular. I now know that I am secular and I am a Muslim. Because secular means that states must be equidistant from any religion and people should have the freedom to choose their religious practice.

Are women and men, or the feminine and the masculine opposites of each other? Why are men seen as more powerful in many cultures? I had a lot of challenges being a woman, as I saw myself inferior to men. I had internalized the patriarchal gender norms in Turkey, with the added trauma of a sexual assault. Esma Barlas argues that God cannot be interpreted as male, or father as in Christianity. God is One, hence indivisible, this principle of divine unity – tawhid. As Muslim mystics and scholars have said, God reveals himself in the universe through his names or Being manifests itself through its Qualities. These qualities manifest both masculine and feminine principles. Murata (1992) notes that in Islam women and men do not embody mutually exclusive or opposite attributes. Rather they incorporate both masculine and feminine attributes. Each manifests the whole. A Tibetan proverb echoes the same idea: “A hundred male and a hundred female qualities make a perfect human being”. (Schipper, 2004)

It is possible to see opposites from a perspective of polarity rather than duality. Polarity is very different from duality. The difference is that the separateness implicit in dualistic explanations yields a view of a world of things characterized by discreteness, finality, closedness, determinateness, a world in which one thing is related to the other extrinsically. In contrast, polar explanations give rise to a world characterized by interconnectedness, interdependence, openness, mutuality, complementarity.

I see now how identities are ideological positions. They are myths created for political purposes. But how are we so convinced that they are real? Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida have argued that we possess an ‘essence’ to what we are only by the exclusion of negatives, in this case the assumed characteristics of  ‘them’. (in Bauman and May, 2001: p. 30) Therefore, self-identification becomes possible by the resources we draw from our environment and there is no fixed ‘core’ to our identities. As such, oppositions become tools that we draw upon to chart our world.

I think there is a core to our identities. That core is the ‘divine’ in us. I find myself stepping into that deeper place, not the ‘who’ I am but ‘what’ I am. This deeper identity is created in divine likeness. This deeper identity in all spiritual traditions is the connection to the Source, whether we call it the One, God, Being, Universal Consciousness or Energy. Without the connection to this deeper identity, which resides in the heart, it is very hard not be attached to one or the other side of what we see as opposites.

I repeat Ibn al-Arabi’s prayer:

I ask of You, by the mystery with which You unite the complementary contraries that You bring together for me all that is disunited in my being, in such a union that I may contemplate and witness the Oneness of your Being. (Beneito and Hirtenstein, 2000)

Dear Rifat, dedecigim, you followed a path dedicated to truth regardless of the risks it entailed. Throughout your life you eschewed deception, lies, corruption. Wherever you saw them, you ran the other way until you couldn’t. When you were betrayed by your own townsfolk, you contemplated suicide. You hit the rock bottom and you must have faced your own version of hell. But something in you changed as time went on. Perhaps you witnessed the Oneness of Being and learned to practice Forgiveness, a quality of Being. 

The sadness and pain in your eyes shows the betrayal you experienced, betrayal from ‘Kilislis’ that you held dear.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Dr. Kilisli Rifat in the early 1930s (Source: Family archives)

This picture below, clearly a later picture, as your hair has grayed, is very different. You emanate peace and calmness. What happened? I imagine that it took a long time, but you finally saw that the only way out was to forgive. Forgiveness is a quality of the One that incorporates both truth and lies. In order to heal, you had to forgive yourself and forgive those who hurt you. 

Dr. Rifat 1930s Ankara
Dr. Kilisli Rifat in the mid 1930s (in the center) (Source: Family archives)

My friends Nico and Nalan are right. You are the dervish who is leading me to my own garden. The name I was given, Nükhet, the name that you wanted me to have, is now beginning to make sense. In Islam,  a person is meant to manifest the meaning of the name she or he is given. Names provide clues as to how one should live one’s life, what specific combination of traits might adorn a person’s character. For example, many people are given one of the ninety-nine names of Allah. It is hoped that the individual will manifest the qualities, the attributes associated with that name. A person might be named “Rifat”, the elevated one, like my grandfather, “Sabri”, the patient one, or “Rahmi”, the beneficient one or “Selim”, the calm, soft-spoken one.

Nükhet ın Arabic Script. Courtesy of Ali Bolgun

Nükhet means ‘scent, fragrance, aroma’ and the root ‘n k h’ in Arabic corresponds to breathe, to (wind) blow. Fragrance, aroma are important metaphors in Sufism. I am reminded of a Rumi poem:

Dala, yaprağa benzeyen şu ses, harf, şu söz, şu dedikodu perdesinden ötürü, elmanin kendisi görünmüyor ama, kokusu geliyor. Hiç olmazsa gelen kokuyu içine iyi çek, iyi kokla da seni alsin, aslina götürsün. Yani ey manayi, ruhani zevki arayan kisi, harfler, sözler, sesler arasinda gizlenmis mana elmalarini goremiyorsan, hic olmazsa o mana elmalarinin güzel kokusunu içine sindir de o koku seni alsin mana elmaliğına gotursun. (Sefik Can, Cevahir-I Mesneviye, Cilt II, 694-95, Interpretation of Rumi’s verses))

 

Translation: This word, this letter, this gossip is like the branch, the leaf; it blocks the apple on the tree, but its aroma is present. At least inhale the aroma, inhale deep so that it may lead you to your essence. You, who are in search of meaning, of spiritual taste: If you cannot see the apples of meaning that are hidden behind letters, words or sounds, at least inhale the beautiful fragrance of the apples deeply so that they carry you to the grove of apple trees. (Şefik Can, 1995, pp. 694-95 Cevahir-I Mesneviye, Cilt II, 694-95, Interpretation of Rumi’s verses))

Rifat, dedecigim,  I have been led to you by an invisible thread between us. It is no accident that I have been on a Sufi path tracing its lineage to Ibn al-Arabi. I pray that I inhale that aroma deeply that will lead me to the grove of apple trees. I lay down. Suddenly an image appears. I am standing by your grave site. The next thing I know, I find myself underneath your grave, in the ground. I am scared. Then I feel you hugging me. You say to me: wherever you are, that’s where I am. You and I merge into a white, luminous spirit and fly out of the grave together.

(c) Nükhet Kardam 2015

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References and Credits

Barlas, Asma, Believing Women in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur’an, University of Texas, Austin, 2002.

Bauman Zygmunt and Tim May, Thinking Sociologically, Blackwell, 2001.

Beneito, Pablo and Stephen Hirtenstein, Ibn ‘Arabi The Seven Days of the Heart, Oxford, Anqa Publishing, 2000.

Can, Şefik,  Cevahir-I Mesneviye, (The Jewels of the Mesnevi)  Volume II, 694-95, 1995.

Faivre, Antoine and Needleman, Jacob, eds. Modern Esoteric Sprituality, Crossroad Publishers, 1992.

Freke Timothy, and Peter Gandy, The Hermetica: The Lost Wisdom of the Pharaohs, Penguin Group, 1999.

The History of Freemasonry in Turkey 

Ancient Egypt Alchemy, Phi and the Human Body 

The Fundamental Teachings of Alchemy and Hermeticism)

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2 thoughts on “Chapter Eight: The Secrets of the Grave Site

  1. Dearest nuket ,
    Could not stop reading the book today … So moving , so real … And you have captured and portrayed a holy man ….. How beautiful ..
    I am honored to know you and witness this amazing journey of yours in the souls expression of love ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

  2. Thank you, Nukhet! You asked me to read the last chapter which I have done. Now I shall go back and read the rest.

    Following our discussions on Rim’s course it is clear to me from the last chapter that you have been called through the agency of your grandfather to discover who you are, why you are and that you are – no other than the reality that has called you. You di not resist the voice and that means you are agreeing to be led [islam] the fact that the voice points always further and further out or in if you prefer surely indicates that the reality calling is beyond anything we can imagine and therefore is the reality of that reality which has called you. This aligns you to the direction that the works of Ibn ‘Arabi point and which caused him – surely – to write, “I follow the religion of love”. And to continue as a natural consequence to write, “Whatever way its camels take, that is my religion and my faith”.

    I often find myself writing direction instead of religion and have to correct myself. In the Fusus al-Hikam Ibn ‘Arabi writes that religion means agreeing to be led [inqiyad] then goes on to elaborate on the Who that one is agreeing to be led by and to, so the day that you stood in front of the pyramid on the grave and allowed yourself to be led by the questions that came up, rather than simply walking away or even running away in fear of something out of the ordinary connected to you [ he was your grandfather!] was undoubtedly a great blessing, a great himmah operating and also your own connection to your own heart that was calling and guiding you at the same time. Mash’Allah.

    The wonderful thing is that it will never end because He is endless and so is beauty.

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