Jalaluddin Gerd Rebler, Chairman of the Royal Ottoman Society in Ludwigshafen, is dead at 74. Rebler’s ambition was to unite Sufi Islam with high German culture, working towards a sense of spiritual renewal, which he felt was much lacking in today’s Germany. He died on 27 December, leaving behind a wife and two stepchildren and having touched countless individuals with his intelligence and humanity.
“From 2012 – when I first got to know him – until the day he passed away I have never known other person who was so noble, charismatic and sensitive – a real gentleman,” says Ayberk Gökcimen, board member at the Royal Ottoman Society. “Jalalddin (his Islamic name) was a patient man with an open ear and an open heart for his fellowman. He never broke anyone’s heart, hurt anyone nor made them sad. And thus Jalaluddin was in the truest sense of the word, a treasure that was particularly rare in today’s world.”
Rebler, who made his money as a tax and business consultant, also did the accounts for the Royal Ottoman Society, which he co-founded in 2012 under the aegis of Sheikh Nazim Al-Haqqani, the charismatic Sufi sheikh, who spread Sufi Islam in Europe and who died in 2014.
Rebler, came to Islam around forty years ago, while living in London. Highly ambitious and devoted to furthering his career and making his way up the company ladder, he was nevertheless spiritually unsatisfied, suspecting that there was another dimension to this worldly existence.
He then met one of the pupils of Sheikh Nazim, who showed Rebler “the bridge between Eastern philosophy and Western life.” Rebler, who was well versed in classical literature and philosophy, was impressed, in the course of his discussions, by how much of western culture appeared to have its roots in the East.
“But you are not told that in school,” Rebler said in 2020 during one of his frequent trips to Berlin. “We are taught Westerners invented everything we have in the West. But it came very much from the East, whether it be Leonardo da Vinci, Tesla or Copernicus. All these people drew from Eastern knowledge.”
Sheikh Nazim was then spreading his vision in Europe, inspired in turn by his own sheikh – Sheikh Abduallah Daghestani – who had impressed upon Sheikh Nazim a sense of missionary zeal with regards to turning Westerners on to Islam. Helped along by his enthusiastic, committed and often well-heeled followers, Sheikh Nazim established a network of “dergahs” or Sufi lodges throughout Western Europe.
Sheikh Nazim is remarkable for the number of high profile individuals, in particular European and world royalty who fell under his sway. Among those who sat his feet were the Sultan of Brunei, the boxer Muhammad Ali and Prince Charles, the latter of whom in some Sufi circles, is believed to have secretly become Muslim. Rebler, himself, could not rule out the possibility of Prince Charles’s conversion.
“He knew royalty,” Rebler told me, about Sheikh Nazim. “He had connection to the Prince of Wales, who we even think may have converted to Islam, being close to Sheikh Nazim. Sheikh Nazim knew all the kings, the sultans in Malaysia, knew the heads of state. People knew about him, invited him.”
As part of his activities at the Royal Ottoman Society, Rebler himself attempted to forge links with European royalty, meeting with descendents of the French king and the house of Hohenzollern.
Rebler recalled being present at a meeting with Sheikh Nazim, when the sheikh reached into a drawer and pulled out a picture of Prince Friedrich Wilhelm, the heir to the Hohenzollern throne. Those gathered around the sheikh were urged to “Look at his face.” “He’s got a beautiful face,” said Sheikh Nazim. “And because he has a beautiful face, he’s got a beautiful heart. Try to establish contact with him.”
“That was his order to the German people,” said Rebler.
Prince Friedrich Wilhelm was out the day Rebler called on him at the Hohenzollern castle in Swabia, together with a group of fez bedecked Sufi musicians, but they did manage to have an interview with the princess.
“She was absolutely beautiful. Wonderful, with her children,” said Rebler. Nothing really concrete transpired from the meeting. It was however, illustrative of Rebler and Sheikh Nazim’s followers’ outlook, that they cherished – as unrealistic as it may seem – monarchist hopes for Germany, in keeping with their neo-Ottomanism beliefs.
It was with these ideas in mind that Rebler and the Royal Ottoman Society organized a spectacular neo-Ottoman/Prussian costume drama at schloss Charlottenburg in Berlin, in 2014, urging people to remember the “historical friendship” between Prussia and the Ottoman Empire.
Most spectators may have regarded this as a bit of harmless fancy dress, however it had a genuinely political dimension, which was picked up by Daniel Box of the TAZ, who wrote critically of the participants neo-Ottomanism and anti-democratic tendencies.
Bearing this in mind, I asked Rebler if the neo-Ottomans monarchist stance might be a little off-putting for some Europeans, Rebler countered, “What is the alternative? Is the alternative that we have Western so-called democracies, which are ruled by a financial clan? Is this the alternative? Or is it a, shall we say, world government where decisions are based on religious insight? And that was the Ottoman Empire.”
Ultimately Rebler was a man of high principles who managed to bridge Islamic belief with “deutsche Tugende” – German virtues.
“He was someone who represented real German virtues,” said Gökcimen. “He was punctual and reliable. And this is what one missed and what one rarely finds in today’s world. He was a personality who was always curious and had a genuine thirst for knowledge and who always furthered his knowledge. He spoke Spanish, Italian, English and German. And he lived out this intercultural empathy. And he was a respectable person and a man of dignity. And he is someone who will be sorely missed, and who one will never find again. His very presence inspired confidence in us. We could sleep easily knowing that he was there.”