All the past years I had visited Molana Rumi in Konya, I had never heard of that house. I knocked and a young woman with long, black hair opened the door for me. Not surprised by strangers, she welcomed me inside without asking who I was. Everyone was welcomed in house number five. “The ceremony,” she said, “will start in a few hours.” To pass through the door, I had to bend my head. The door gave the first lesson to me: In this house, the self ought to be left outside. I followed her inside into a foyer that held two tall mirrors facing each other. She took me straight to the kitchen, the heart of every home in Molana Rumi’s tradition. An old lady with a knitted hat was cooking lentil soup for the dancing dervishes. The white cabinet creaked as she opened its door to get some salt. I came into her view when she turned back to spice up the soup. She smiled and invited me to the table without asking where I had come from. She placed the salt, the bread, and a strange yellow halva I had never had before on the table. As she ladled the soup into the glass bowl, she said to the lady who opened the door, “Nasl Gul, why don’t you get the coffee ready for our guest?” Nasl Gul, I thought, the Rose Generation! What a strange name for a girl in Farsi. Before I knew it, I was dining at their table, enjoying the delicious lentil soup on December 17th, the Wedding Night—the night of Rumi’s death 749 years ago.
After the death of Mahsa Jina Amini in September 2022, the Kurdish girl who died in Iran’s police custody, the life of Iranians changed around the world. The days were not the same for me, even though I lived thousands of miles away in America. I mused about going back to Iran, like all Iranians who dream of returning to their homeland once the Islamic Republic is gone. But my demanding job as a doctor in the neonatal intensive care unit left me with little time to embark on a long journey to Tehran, especially when we were just recovering from the pandemic. A short trip to Turkey was the closest I could get to my homeland after the uprising of the people in the past few months. I hoped my fellow countrymen would still come for the Wedding Night ceremony to Konya, and there was a trickle of hope that if I attended the ceremony, I could catch a glimpse of the movement in the wayfarers who came from Iran. Every December 17, the death of Molana Jalal-ud-din Rumi—the 13th century Persian poet—is remembered in Konya by the Sufis who whirl in the Sema dance—a tradition that was initiated by Molana himself. Hundreds of years after his death, the whirling dervishes still find the ecstasy of the dance in the houses around Molana’s tomb and tune to the music of ney, daf, and tanbur that is played in the houses around the city. House number five is one of the places that keeps the tradition, especially during the week preceding the Wedding Night.
The owners of the house were preparing themselves for the Sema ceremony at seven p.m. Everyone who came to the kitchen kissed the head of the cook and took a load off the housework. If they were hungry, they would take a ladle of soup, touch their forehead with the hand as a blessing, pinch some salt from the saucer into the soup, and dip their bread into the mix—thus reminding themselves of the barakat they received from working in that house.
I took a tour of the Sema hall after I finished my soup. Pictures of men and women who had danced in that house decorated the walls. They told the story of dervishes who had whirled in ecstasy, nameless and without sign, chanting the name of God. Calligraphic writings and poems of Rumi showed the words of love to the ones who could read Farsi, and a giant gilded Vav—the letter symbolizing reunion with God—bore the central weight among the ornaments on the walls.
By seven p.m., guests entered one by one, and the silent hall came to life with the music of ney that was played by an old, blind musician. Dervishes came in groups from different countries. A few spoke Arabic, a couple came from Bosnia, but the majority were from different cities of Turkey. Turk dervishes sang parts of Masnavi of Rumi as they whirled, and I could say this from the few words of Turkish I understood here and there. The Arab Sufis read a few surahs of Quran, namely Al-Kothar and Al-Hamd, as they played their dafs. They energized the Sema hall by calling Allah’s names many times and rotating their heads at a speed that seemed impossible to me. The Sufis from Iran came later that night with their master, who was wearing a red shawl around his neck and a red matching hat. They captured my attention as soon as they walked in, bringing hope I would sense the air they had brought with them from Iran. But as they started their performance, I noticed a disquietude I didn’t see in the faces of the other Sufis. Perhaps the tragic events of the past two months had affected them and brought the sorrowful gapes on their face. I wondered if any of them had joined the protests on the streets or if their close family members had been arrested. More than twenty thousand people had been arrested, and that could mean any of those Sufis could have had a dear one interrogated or arrested by the Islamic Regime. I wondered if those eyes conveyed the weight of agony the whole nation was bearing those days.
A couple Sufis played setar—the traditional Iranian string instrument—and they read a few poems from Rumi’s Divan-Shams. They didn’t have the joyfulness of the Arab singers, but that didn’t surprise me as the setar is the instrument of lamentation lovers play when they are parted from their beloved. At the end of their performance, their Sufi master rose from his seat, repositioned the hat on his head, and untied his neck shawl for the speech. He opened his words by calling the God of Rainbow, and for a few moments afterwards, he peered at the audience. Deep silence ensued in the noisy hall of dervishes. Words bear special meanings in every culture and the meaning they convey tells the story behind the word. The meaning of “rainbow” was forever changed for Iranians when Kian Mirfalak, a ten-year-old boy in the city of Izeh, was shot dead by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards during the recent protests. The Sufi master talked about the equality of men and women in the tradition of Molana and the respect Rumi had for women as wayfarers on the path to God. At the end of his short talk, he prayed for the Woman-Life-Freedom movement and relief and success for the people’s protest in Iran. The audience murmured an Ameen after him and high hopes elevated the spirit of the dancers in the hall. His short talk was at odds with the music of ney and the songs of ecstasy of other Sufis before him.
After the ceremony, Nasl Gul stood at the door to say farewell to the guests. Earlier that night, she told me she had come from Kurdistan to dedicate her life to the way of Molana Rumi. To be able to read Masnavi, she had forced herself to learn Farsi and she had served in Sufi houses before she reached house number five. Nasl Gul was an odd name for a girl in Farsi, not a name an Iranian family would pick for their girl. The Rose Generation. But while I kept her hands in my hands before I left the house, the name made sense for a girl from my homeland. She was the living proof of Molana’s teaching, of the sameness of men and women in the path. She possessed a passion for love and beauty that a wayfarer should have to enter the Sufi way of life, like the sap that runs in the vessels of a rose—the elixir that beautifies the flower and spreads love in the world. She was from a generation that offered love and kindness to the world. She was a free woman who had come from the mountains of Persia to seek the way of Molana in the plains of Anatolia, a rose generation that offered nothing but love and kindness to the world.
When I left house number five, I felt the same sorrow and pain people had experienced during the recent uprising in Iran. The Sufis conveyed their emotions with their songs and dance. But I also felt the fresh fragrance of the movement that had started in the name of women and was growing strong with their bravery, their dedication, and their commitment to life and freedom. The same joy, the same ecstasy ran in my veins as I walked back to my hotel that Wedding Night. Even though I haven’t had the chance to return to Iran, the scent of the Rose Generation remained in my hands.
A native of Iran, Mojgan Ghazirad graduated from Tehran University of Medical Sciences with a medical degree. She studied pediatrics at Inova Children’s Hospital and received her neonatal medicine specialty from George Washington University. She currently works as an assistant professor of pediatrics at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, DC.
Ghazirad has published three collections of short stories in Farsi in Iran and Europe. Her English essays have appeared in The Best American Travel Writing 2020, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Idaho Review, Longreads, The Common, and others. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Southern New Hampshire University. Her debut novel, The House on Sun Street that depicts her memories of growing up in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and eight years of war between Iran and Iraq, will be published in Fall 2023.