Issue 101 / September - October 2014
Meyerovitch: A Lover of God
The author of Towards the Heart of Islam: A Woman's Approach and Prayer in Islam, Prof. Eva de Vitray Meyerovitch is a fortunate person who fell in love with God through Rumi. Ms. Eva was the daughter of an aristocratic and pious Christian family, born on the 5th of November, 1909, in Boulogne-Billancourt, France. Initially, she attended a religious grade school that enrolled students from elite families. She had a law degree, PhD on Islamic philosophy, and went on her academic career as an expert and administrator at the National Center for Scientific Research, France (CNRS).
She began to question religious thought under the influence of philosophy she studied when she was eighteen. She searched for answers but failed to convince herself. Since her grandmother taught her to be "honest" all the time, she decided to end her connection with the church, stating, "I do not have the faith and I still continue to go to church; this is not right."
One day, in the library of the Sorbonne University, she encountered a half page text describing the views of Rumi written by Dr. Muhammad Iqbal. She grew confused after reading the article. Either Rumi or the Greek philosophy which she had been reading up until that time was correct. She looked for publications regarding Rumi to investigate the matter comprehensively. But she failed to find any record related to the topic in the entire library. She read Muhammad Iqbal's book called The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam in English, expecting she could reach the opinions of Rumi through him. She found many answers to her questions in this book. She became a Muslim in 1954, as a result of this enlightenment, and changed her name to Hawwa.
Hawwa was very impressed with the collections of Rumi, accepting him as a guide. She translated almost all of his and Iqbal's works into French. She worked ten years to translate Rumi's magnum opus the Mathnawi. She became the reason for many French intellectuals to discover and grow closer to Islam by her translations, radio speeches, and lectures. She made many visits to Turkey and attended Rumi programs.
In a live broadcast, Ms Hawwa gave the following long answer to questions such as, "Why did you choose Islam? What have you found in Rumi? Why Turkey and not another Islamic country?"
The Western media happens to have launched an attack against the religion of Islam. When you listen to French or German televisions and radios, you would hear awful statements regarding the Islamic religion. You would hear that Islam is about violence, jihad, fanaticism, etc. Despite these continuous attacks, there are scores of people in Western countries adopting Islam. I know many people who have accepted Islam in France, England, Germany, and Spain.
According to the data I have obtained from French authorities, many of the converts are intellectual people. They were seeking something and they found what they were searching and longing for in Islam. It is because their interpretations on creation and existence were not addressing these feelings anymore and also materialism disappointed them completely.
I have discovered a very different Islam than the one taught at the school or university, or depicted on newspapers and televisions. I am proud to say that the work of Rumi I last translated took ten years. This is an extraordinary book. In my opinion, the West was thirsty for spirituality. I also think this is very significant for our era. I go to Konya every year and love it there since it is the town of Rumi. I feel as if I am from Konya when I am there. I also love Turkey very much; since it represents my acquaintance with Islam, I am very happy there and I feel like a Turk. I found a religion in the Mathnawi that rejects radical religious ways, strict rulings, fanaticism, and conservative approaches; a religion which is entirely sincere, tolerant, and suitable to my beliefs.
The need for spirituality in our time is not satisfied. But I also do not think that humans can quench this by withdrawing from social life. In addition, scientific developments have demonstrated such an amazing universe. What is extraordinary of Rumi (which is not my reason for adopting Islam) is his projection and this impresses people, especially a young generation who has a passion for science. Consider that Rumi tells, 'If you split an atom, you will find a solar system.' He speaks of planets orbiting inside and outside of us, but also warns us to be careful. Since when these atoms open their mouths, they can eject a fire that can destroy the whole world. As seen, he talks about the dangers of the atomic bomb in the thirteenth century. It mentions the presence of nine planets, whereas modern science only proved this in the 1930s. Previously, seven planets were believed to exist. Number eight was found by a French researcher in the 1840s, and the ninth was discovered by an American scientist in 1930. However, Rumi already knew that there were nine planets back in his era. While the sun was believed to orbit earth in the West, Rumi tells that earth, like other planets, is a small planet that revolves around the sun. He also mentions other extraordinary things.
I often receive frequent phone calls, usually from intellectuals, even professors, authors, and journalists, and they tell me that, 'Do you know Madam, I have accepted Islam and this was possible via Rumi.'
I now have translated all of his books including, 'Majales-e Sab'a (Seven Sessions), Fihi Ma Fihi (In It What's in It).' The most important one is the Mathnawi. I am truly happy. Furthermore, I think that the time is very suitable for the publication of such works. This is because our world is being devastated by wars, conflicts, hatred, and aggression. However, Rumi's works are full of love, peace, and tolerance, which are essential messages for today. True Islam is a universal religion with a perfect message of tolerance. The teachings of the prophets before Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, are accepted as valid. Therefore, Islam provides satisfying answers to people seeking clearer, universal and general answers compared to their own religions. Yet I am repeating once more that conversions are totally different from each other. For instance, I know people who adopted Islam suddenly. These people experienced something, saw something, and joined Islam. Some people like me, however, adopted Islam after doing many investigations, passing through many stages, completing PhD work on Islamic philosophy, but the goal as a result is the same. Spain was Muslim for 800 years; right next to it was France, and Spain was decidedly more advanced, intellectual, and civilized than France and the rest of Northern Europe.
I only assess the situation with a Western point of view and I do not mention either Turkey or Arabia. I am talking about the West. I am talking about such a tolerance in Spain, where ministers were Jewish, doctors were Christian, and Caliphs were Muslim. In this country governed by Muslims, business was advancing much faster than other countries. This was a great threat to Christian countries, kingdoms, and the Papacy. As you know, in order to get rid of something disturbing, it must be put down. The West did that. It started imperialism wars by putting down Islam. They expanded their propaganda and misinformation campaigns against Islam. For example if you ask someone in the street, 'What do you think of Buddhism?' They would answer, 'I do not know,' but when it is about, 'the religion of Islam,' they would reply with phrases such as, 'Ah, yes, marrying four women, keeping them at home, having a tent.' As you see, there is a type of partial lack of information present, there are clich├ęs found on televisions and in newspapers; concrete symbols exist and all of these distort Islam entirely.
Today Islam is not known very well and people have gotten completely inaccurate ideas. Unfortunately, I think that these arise from failing to generate the necessary image about Islam by Muslim countries. In addition, the misinformation planted as the result of the wars of imperialism contributed to this. Unfortunately there are fractions observed among Muslim countries and this hinders the solutions needed for this and many other issues. Muslims have the same Book, the Prophet and his tradition, culture, and the Qur'anic language, which is Arabic. Yet these countries fight frequently and do not pay attention to this common heritage. In my opinion, the main reason for Westerners not to accept Islam is the lack of unity among Muslims. In fact, this is a separate issue. Islam as a religion should not be adopted through political and social reasons, but through the point of views and paradigms that it brings to the Creator, life, humans, and the universe.
In order to describe Islam as is, it is essential to read Rumi, Ibn Arabi, and briefly, the works of all the great Islamic thinkers. People get very surprised. The other day, I went to the doctor; they are very educated people. His wife, who called me in the evening, asked me 'what are you doing now?' I told her that I had just completed the translation of the Mathnawi. She asked what that was. I then told her that the Mathnawi mentions nuclear break down, the atomic bomb. They did not believe. As you see, people do not know the main reason of scientific developments in the middle ages.
The first medical school was established by Arabs in France. The greatest doctor of the era was in Spain. There were many successful scientists who were very ahead of their times, but nobody is aware of this. While I was doing my doctorate on Islamic philosophy at the Sorbonne University, I discovered Islam, but while studying at the university before starting my doctorate on Rumi, nobody taught us about Muslim thinkers. They were teaching German, English, Latin, and Greek philosophers.
There is a long way to go, so much to do. Now there are intellectuals who love and embrace Islam. These people should announce what lies at the essence of Islam to the world.
In her will, written to her spiritual stepson, Prof. Dr. Abdullah Ozturk, Ms Hawwa asked to be buried near the tomb of Rumi, in Konya. After she walked to the horizon of her soul on July 24, 1999, Dr. Ozturk went to great efforts to fulfill this will and she was buried at the Ucler Graveyard, near the tomb of Rumi, on December 17, 2008, exactly the time of "Seb-i Arus" the wedding day, as Rumi described death.