All photos were taken by my dear friend, Jumilia Mohamed.
At Lefke, Cyprus, we stayed at a ladies dergah — a free setup guest house established specifically for women followers of Naqshbandi to spend nights during their visitation to Mawlana Shaykh Nazim, the spiritual master of the sufi path. Ismail, of course, went straight to the men’s. (When I say ‘free setup’ means no special room for one, two, or three persons; there are halls that can accommodate mattresses and luggage of up to 11 to 12 people).
For seekers and lovers of the path of love, like us, such visit is like a mini pilgrimage, a spiritual retreat that allows us to return to our spiritual root, away from materialism. Not only did we share common interest and love on the shaykh and on sufi in general, we also shared resources — meals, toilets, bathroom, kitchen, and clotheslines — with ladies from Germany, Austria, UK, US, Srilanka, South Africa, etc. who also happened to be around at the same time as we did.
Bathroom queue was certainly unforgettable as there were only one or two bathrooms (I can’t remember) for about 20 ladies or even more. The first lady in queue had to first turn on the burner, on which water drum was situated on, and waited for a good 10 to 15 minutes before she could bathe. The cold of late autumn didn’t give allowance to reckless, unprepared bathing, though we did have to make do otherwise in the toilets. Imagine cleansing your … with almost-freezing H2O! And how many round trips we had to do so? *grins*
Nevertheless all these were small matters, relatively disregarded, when compared to the heavenly love we felt when we were there. Not to mention meeting beautiful-spirited friends from all over the world.
In the morning, some of us helped the cook preparing breakfast-cum-brunch while others queued for bathroom turn. It wasn’t compulsory to help her, but most of us just loved to hang out with the practically talented-in-everything-household-related German lady. Salmiah. That’s her name. I remember her telling me once that I had soft hands; so she taught me gardening, planting mints on the patch she had prepared beside the dergah. I was happy to do it, planting and watering the mints. I didn’t even use mints in my country. A few weeks after that trip, I heard that the mints had grown beautifully.
Anyway, we usually had rather luxurious breakfast — bread, citrusy green salad with cottage cheese, baked egg plants, minced-mint yogurt, and a different soup each day. (I wish we had taken some pictures on the large breakfast). All the ladies gathered around the circular table where the breakfast was served, passed around plates and silverware, and began to help each other with a serving. Sometimes, we’d also have baked bread crumps to dip in the soup. Usually, these were from leftover of last night’s dinner at Mawlana’s house. Mawlana doesn’t allow any wastage of food. So the cooks usually recycle any leftover — which can be reprocessed of course — into other edible format, like the crispy crumps of bread. The unrecyclable ones would be used to feed the goats or buried in the soil for composts.
It was said that Mawlana had each day purchased ingredients — for both breakfast and dinner at the dergahs — from the market by clearing the vendors unsold goods to also help them with business.
Before twelve, we’d be at Mawlana’s house, for zuhr prayer. After which, some who preferred to stay would help out preparing dinner. Dinner preparation was usually a lot different from the morning one because Mawlana has his own cook and occasionally, guests would want to cook for him as well. So we, the helpers, would take instructions from different people each day — peeling potatoes, washing and cutting vegetables, separating pomegranate seeds, and so on. The cook would do its part of processing all ingredients had been prepared. Though this routine may sound rather labourious, we enjoyed a lot because it was very relaxing indeed, taking us away from worldly thoughts and problems. While doing this, we were entertained by pure and clear sound of children reading the Qur’an. Everything was so soothing, so heavenly!
Each pomegranate contains one seed derived from heavens.
At these hours when the ladies prepared dinner, the men had been spending time at Mawlana’s farms — feeding cattle, making cheese, etc. I wouldn’t know what exactly the men went through, but I know that they’d return slightly after asr to clean up and prepare for maghrib.
On maghrib time, the women were fortunate because Mawlana would personally lead us to pray in congregation. Then, we’d have communal dinner, where everybody would pass cutleries around and help serve each other foods. It was beautiful! I remember once we had a Pakistani lady cooked for all, and we had sumptuous, most delicious kebuli rice, with mixtures of meat and herbs, as an additional menu. Hot soup and bread were definitely compulsory, and we’d have sweet desserts or fruit plates too sometimes.
After dinner, we’d help cleaning up — some cleared the table, sweeping and mopping; others washed dishes. A few others would return to their dergah to rest, hang out at a nearby Internet café, or just walk around under the clear sky, bright stars, and beautiful moon.
Every Thursday eve, we congregated at the nextdoor dergah-cum-mosque to perform zikr — mystical chanting in remembrance of God and the Prophet. Women on the second level; men on the first level. (I love zikr circle. Personally, I feel like it is Paradise on Earth). After zikr we had hadra, which also includes zikr but performed with rhythmical movements like a dance, followed by harmonised beats of percussions. This was the climax of the evening, when we all felt upmost joy and happiness expressing out loud — singing, clapping, and doing tradition zaghareet, which is an ululation in honour or excitement of the occasion.
We had ladies zikr at our dergah every Friday afternoon. Mawlana’s daughter Hajjah Ruqayya led. It was fun to see all ladies, from different countries, gathering in one room to share a common soul-uplifting activity.
The rest of the time we got to hang out with new friends, travel to other suburbs to visit tombs of saints, or simply walk around the village to get some fresh air and enjoy the beautiful scenery of mountains, orchards, and enchanting view of the Mediterranean sea.
My favourite walk-about destination is the tomb (maqam) of Mawlana’s late wife, Hajjah Anna. I went there a few times in group and once on my own. I remember one day when Jumilia and I skipped breakfast prep for a morning walk, we passed by Mawlana’s orchard only to receive and pick up two handfuls of olives to take back to dergah. It was fun! We did miss out the longer walk to the beach though. Other ladies did tell us that they got to swim on the Mediterranean. What an experience!
I’d love to visit Mawlana again sometime. This time around, my husband and son would be my travel companions. Insya Allah…