Rumi's Circle

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A Quaker Connection

We are pleased to share an article by Shaikha Camille Helminski about her exploration into her heritage and the beautiful connections she discovered with the Quakers, the Native Americans, Mevlana and the Ottoman Court!

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A MYSTERIOUS JOURNEY

Since moving to Louisville (“Loveville” as we know it to be now), history has captivated my attention in this gracious place that hovers between east and west and north and south, with a river of deep spirit running through. Here, the history of our family began awakening. A locket long held, but unknown, called to me and I began the inquiry to discover who and what it represented. A golden circle inscribed in beautiful script:

Sarah Dyer
April 29, 1778  obt. Aug. 7th, 1831

and on the other side, under glass, strands of plaited hair. As it had come to me through my father’s blessing, I knew it must be from his ancestry, but knew nothing more except that there was a companion—another larger oval pendant. This heart-held piece portrayed a gentleman with blue eyes gazing intently, wavy brown hair, wearing a jacket and cravat tied at the neck, with a slight smile glimmering, the miniature encased in gold.[1] Calling, calling me, their being seemed to ache to be known, and the search began.

It wasn’t long before I found Sarah and knew her husband to be Anthony Dyer. She had been born just after the Revolutionary War, he just before, in Providence, Rhode Island. So I began searching there for further clues to the depths of their being.

His ancestry led back directly, I discovered, through Deacon John Dyer and his wife, Freelove Williams, and further back to such a strong woman of Spirit whose story I had never known—Mary Dyer, the only woman in the history of the United States of America to be martyred for religious freedom. It was 1660 when she was hung on Boston Common by the Puritans, for promoting freedom of religious conscience. She went to her death with joy, witnessing to Truth, determined to honor the freedom of each soul to discover and relate to the Truth as he or she felt moved by the “Inner Light.” She was a Quaker.

The “Inner Light,” that Nur within the heart, of which she spoke is so familiar to those of us of the Sufi Way.

This Inward Light may be briefly explained as follows: God is an indwelling Spirit, and humanity is his holy temple. His law is written upon the hearts of all men; and obedience to it will lead them into all truth, so far as religious truths are revealed to men. Through the operation of this law the soul of man is accessible to his Creator. It is the rule of life to which every one must subject himself (or herself), and out of which duty is evolved.[2]

The words she spoke as they were about to execute her are so reminiscent of the language of the ahadith, the Quran, and Islamic mystics: “This is to me the hour of greatest joy I ever had in this world. No ear can hear, no tongue can utter, and no heart can understand the sweet incomes and the refreshings of the spirit of the Lord, which I now feel.”

When I shared the news of this discovery with my dear elder sister, who has been a part of the Quaker community for many years, it was a miraculous revelation as she had long been aware of Mary Dyer as one of the brightest Lights of the early Quaker community. Mary Dyer was among those who stood most strongly for freedom of conscience amidst the terrible persecution of the Quakers in the 1600’s—

the stocks and the pillory, stripes at the whipping post or at the tail of an oxcart, fines and imprisonment, branding and mutilation, banishment and death upon the gallows, were meted out with shocking barbarity to unresisting victims, who exhibited a constancy and a heroism in suffering never surpassed in the history of the world.[3]

Such an amazing miracle it was to suddenly somehow discover this grandmother of ours 12 generations back in time, but present now, and needed as much as ever it seems, as a voice for Truth. Welcome, dear Mary!

Her husband, our grandfather, William, though not as religious as she, loved her deeply and succeeded in saving her from the gallows once before through his passionate plea and that of her son.[4] Yet she could not be dissuaded from returning to Massachusetts Bay to minister to fellow Quakers who had been tortured and imprisoned. Her death sent such ripples back to England that the King forbade further executions on religious grounds, and the community of colonies, so rocked by these occurrences, began to be moved towards the stance of freedom for all religious inclinations. As she is quoted on the plaque below her commemorative statue near the Massachusetts State House in Boston, “My life not availeth me in comparison to the liberty of the truth.”

Mary Dyer

Already, Mary and William had journeyed with Roger Williams and his wife, Mary, and a handful of others to found the Colony of Rhode Island where anyone was free to worship as he or she might choose. Roger Williams, aided by the Native Americans, had escaped persecution in the Massachusetts Bay Colony for speaking out for freedom of conscience. He became a Baptist, but soon left the church for a freer form of practice as he sought to be true to the Truth in his heart and deepest knowing. Through the deep snows of a bitterly cold winter, with the trusted friendship of the Native Americans, he had been able to purchase from them land beyond the borders of the Bay colony where there was a clear spring. Here he settled and called it, “Providence,” with deep gratitude. From there Rhode Island grew. Roger Williams had founded the first place in modern history where citizenship and religion were separated, a place where there was religious liberty and separation of church and state.[5] As he later said, “Rhode Island could not have been founded by money or power, it was founded only by Love.”

Still entranced, I kept hearing the name “Freelove Williams” singing to me. It wasn’t the 1960’s when she was named “Freelove,” but 1719! Surely, God’s love is free! How was it that she was given that name? Who was she?

It wasn’t long before the discovery opened that she was the great-grand-daughter of Roger Williams, whom I now recognized as my grandfather 13 generations back in time and yet also present and calling to us here, reminding us strongly of the need for advocacy of “Soul Liberty.” The charter for Rhode Island Roger Williams and William Dyer presented to the King was a precursor to the Declaration of Independence and the deep recognition in this country of the imperative need for religious freedom for all.[6]

Also a strong advocate of fair dealings with the Native Americans, Roger Williams wrote A Key Into the Language of America (1643), the first lexicon of Native American languages. It became the most relied upon reference for several hundred years. He honored the native American way of life and said of them, “Nature knows no difference between Europe and Americans in blood, birth, bodies etc. God having of one blood made all mankind…” 

Boast not, proud English, of thy birth and blood,
Thy brother Indian is by birth as good.
Of one blood God made him, and thee and all.
As wise, as fair, as strong, as personal.
By nature wrath’s his portion, thine no more
Till Grace his soul and thine in Christ restore.
Make sure thy second birth, else shalt thou see
Heaven open to Indians wild, but shut to thee.[7]

As I shared these reflections with our children, our daughter Cara has been especially intrigued. When she “googled” further, she came upon a link she shared with me: “Mary Fisher and the Sultan.”

Also a devoted Quaker, who would have been a friend of our great-grandmother Mary Dyer, Mary Fisher, too, had been persecuted and imprisoned by the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay. Subsequently sent to Barbados, she made her way back to England, and there inspired to speak to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire was moved to make the long journey to Adrianople (Edirne) to see him. There she was received, welcomed even, as an ambassador—a woman with a mission to convey to the Sultan a message from God! What a difference in the reception from the Massachusetts colony that was founded by people who had fled England for being persecuted for their religious beliefs.

I discovered a fuller account of her visit and the Sultan’s hospitality. When she remained silent awaiting the inspiration of the Inner Light, he even asked her if she wanted him to have others withdraw to give her space to speak without fear, however she said there was no need. When she finished speaking and asked him if he had understood, he said, “Yes, and it is Truth.”

Of her reception, she recounted later:

They are more near Truth than many nations; there is a love begot in me towards them which is endless, but this is my hope concerning them, that he who hath raised me to love them more than many others will also raise his seed in them unto which my love is. Nevertheless, though they be called Turks, the seed of them is near unto God, and their kindness hath in some measure been shown towards his servants.[8]

Mary&Sultan

Guided by love through all these journeys, each soul was kindled towards greater Truth.

Sharing these stories with friends who were visiting recently, some wondered, “Was the Sultan who received her a Sufi?” Knowing that a number of the Sultans through the centuries had Sufi connections, I googled “Mehmed IV Sufi.”  I arrived at a page describing Mehmed IV’s early religious instruction:

Mehmed IV received religious instruction from some of the leading Sufi dervishes of the day. Mevlevi dervishes in particular played an important role early in his reign. Not only did the Mevlevi Mehmed Pasha participate in the girding of Mehmed IV at Eyup in 1648, but the following year, Sari Abdullah Efendi (d. 1661) presented to the young sultan Advice to Kings Encouraging a Good Career in an effort to teach him to keep on the straight path and avoid errors made by men of state. Sari Abdullah Efendi was also the author of a commentary on the first volume of the Mesnevi, the thirteenth-century mystic Jalaluddin Rumi’s six-volume work of rhymed couplets explaining the Sufi path of love. The Sufi Minkari Ali Halife Efendi presented the Sultan with The Spiritual Healing of the Believer in 1653. The second chapter in the second book includes sections entitled “The Virtues of Dhikr,” repeatedly invoking God’s ninety-nine names as a form of prayer, and “The Etiquette of Dhikr.” All of these works were presented to the young sultan and deposited in the royal treasury.[9]

The journey comes full circle back to our home in the teachings of Mevlana and the welcoming of Love! We wish you all a very blessed Urs (the “Wedding Night” of Mevlana’s union with the Beloved, December 17th), in recognition of the interweaving of all hearts, like DNA strands through the centuries and expanses of this globe, empowered by Truth, Ya Haqq, The Inner Light, Ya Nur, and the awakenings of Love, Ya Wadud.

Ya Hazrati Mevlana
Ya Hazrati Shams
Ya Allah Hu
Ya Haqq, Ya Nur, Ya Wadud
Camille

 

Originally posted on The Threshold Society.

 

[1] Under a small glass window in the center of the golden back abides a piece of beige brocade cloth with tiny red rosebuds, as though from a waistcoat. The carved edging is quite similar to the other locket, with oak leaves entwined, pointing towards a relation between them, and a palpable loving remembrance of both held by the one who had worn them close to heart long ago.

[2] http://kobek.com/marydyer.pdf,  Mary Dyer of Rhode Island The Quaker Martyr That Was Hanged On Boston Common, June 1, 1660, by Horatio Rogers. See also National Women’s History Museum: http://www.nwhm.org/education-resources/biography/biographies/mary-dyer/

[3] Ibid.

[4] Excerpt from the plea of William Dyer:

What shall I say more. I know you are all sensible of my condition, and left the reflect be, and you will see what my petition is and what will give me & mine peace, oh Let mercie’s wings once more soar above justice balance, & then whilst I live shall I exalt your goodness but other wise twill be a languishing sorrow, yea so great that I should gladly suffer the blow at once much rather: I shall forbear to trouble your Honor with words neither am I in a capacity to expatiate myself at present: I only say that yourselves have been & are or may be husbands to wife or wives, so am I, yea to one most dearly beloved: oh do not deprive me of her, but I pray give her me once again & I shall be so much obliged for ever, that I shall endeavor continually to utter my thanks & render you Love & Honor most renowned: pity me, I beg it with tears, and rest your most humbly suppliant, W DYRE [Ibid]

[5] http://hylbom.com/family/paternal-lines/paternal-wi-to-z/williams-10958/

[6] The Royal Charter from King Charles II was granted on 8 July 1663. The Charter guaranteed that this small colony would:

hold forth a lively experiment, that a most flourishing civil state may stand and best be maintained, and that among our English subjects, with a full liberty in religious concernments; …That our royal will and pleasure is, that no person within the said colony, at any time hereafter, shall be anyway molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinion in matters of religion, and does not actually disturb the civil peace of our said colony; but that all and every person and persons may, from time to time, and at all times hereafter, freely and fully have and enjoy his and their own judgments and consciences, in matters of religious concernments.

It guaranteed an unprecedented level of religious liberty making Rhode Island a refuge for all persecuted for their conscious’s sake.

[7] http://sos.ri.gov/library/history/famous/rogerwilliams/ Excerpts from Key Into the Language of America by Roger Williams; the full text is also available in facsimile edition on Amazon.com.

[8] Mary Fisher c. 1623 – 1698: http://www.quakersintheworld.org/quakers-in-action/187

[9] Honored by the Glory of Islam: Conversion and Conquest in Ottoman Europe by Marc David Baerhttp://books.google.com/ [move the cursor above the yellow band to move the page to page 69.]

One comment on “A Quaker Connection

  1. Syeda Samina Kausar
    May 13, 2015

    JazakAllah, thoroughly enjoyed that.

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