We were about to set off by car from Berlin across Germany with Isa Martin, a German convert and whirling dervish at the wheel and Hamza Altinok, a Sufi teacher and mystic, whose father had founded the first mosque in Berlin in the fifties, riding shot-gun.
Both Hamza and Isa were frequent guests at the Ottoman Sufi Center, a Sufi dergah, or lodge, in Berlin, where Isa every Saturday evening practiced the sema, Sufi whirling, and Hamza would sometimes lead prayers and give sohbets – spiritual talks – which often centered around the coming Armageddon.
The three of us were headed for the Sufi Soul Festival, at the Osmanische Herberge, a Sufi retreat tucked away in a rural corner of Germany’s Eifel region, seventy kilometers from Cologne.
The inn was run by run by Sheikh Hassan Peter Dyck, a seventy year old Sufi guru, who founded the Osmanische Herberge in 1996 on the orders of the late Sheikh Nazim al-Haqqani, the fortieth link in the Naqshbandi golden chain going back to the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.
Every first Saturday of the month people came to Sheikh Hassan’s hostel from across Europe to participate in the zikhr, ritual chanting, and once a year in the summer Dyck hosted a music festival with acts and artists from across the world loosely related to Sufism.
The locale was famous as a site of Sufi prayer and hospitality and I for my part was looking forward to savoring the incongruity of this Muslim domicile in the middle of the German countryside; I wanted to know what the locals made of Dyck and his crew of outlandish Sufi dervishes.
And so we set off one fine Friday morning in August for the Eifel with Isa at the wheel and Hamza asking for God’s protection on the road.
I guess I had known Hamza since 2014. He was a long-standing Sufi figure in Berlin. His Turkish father had founded the first mosque in Berlin in the fifties, on the campus of the Technical University, where he was a student. His mother was a German from East Berlin, who became drawn to Islam during Communism, at a time when Islam drew a blank for most East Germans. One day she went to the public library in search of information on Islam. “Iceland?” the librarian said. “What do you want to know about Iceland?” Fleeing West she looked up the only mosque in Berlin, and met Hamza’s father.
Hamza was a real character, looked like a Sufi murid from Ottoman times, wore a turban, beige long flowing linen clothing and clunky silver rings inset with gem stones on all of his fingers. Lately he had taken to wearing a big chunk of turquoise — the Prophet’s stone — around his neck.
Hamza would host Sufi workshops in his Kreuzberg flat chock full of devotional images, amulets and spiritual knick-knacks, every square inch of his apartment covered with gilt sura, Sufi art, illuminated pictures, calligraphy — even Egyptian gods.
“Each piece has barakat”, explained Hamza — a Sufi word meaning “blessing”.
His latest acquisition was a large Japanese gong, which he rang upon embarking on his Sufi evenings, to which came a handful of people, mostly Germans with an esoteric bent.
Hamza was a bit of an eccentric, but he was well-versed sincere in his spirituality and mysticism, his favorite theme was Armageddon, which he was convinced, wouldn’t be long in coming. It was just around the corner, he believed, and to be on the safe side, he kept a stock of victuals that would last him forty days.
They would make fun of Hamza at the dergah in a good-hearted, joshing manner. “Hamza, when’s the apocalypse?” someone would ask. Or his mobile would ring and someone would say, “It’s for Hamza. News about Armageddon. It’s been postponed”.
As for Isa, his Christian name was Martin, and he came from a small village in Brandenburg, an hour outside of Berlin. He had become disillusioned with this “dunya” world of material values, and had embarked on a long spiritual quest that took him through yoga, Hinduism and the cabbala to Sufi Islam. A lot of people in Germany feel that Islam somehow doesn’t jibe with the idea of Germanness. Isa belied this narrow point of view. He had all the Prussian virtues of diligence and punctuality, but combined with a dose of Sufi mysticism and a love of the exotic. Every Saturday he would don the brown felt sikke hat and hirka and entari garments of the dervish, and perform the sema of the whirling dervishes at the Ottoman Sufi Center, where Hamza, Isa and myself were habitués. Isa was tall and lithe, and he cut a striking figure in his whirling dervish devotions. He was crashing at Hamza’s cold water pad until he found digs of his own. He was looking for a good Muslim girl to marry.
“Let us have a good departure and arrival, as Noah said when he embarked on his journey,” said Hamza. “21 August begins the end of the world. I can imagine things are going to start picking up from now on. I can’t imagine things lasting longer than 2023.”
Hamza led us in el-Fatiya and we set off, smelling of jasmine scented oils and listening to Sufi music on the car stereo.
“You have to make sure you don’t fall into a trance,” said Hamza. “Sufi music while driving is dangerous that way.”
Well, on we drove, clean across Germany to get to the Osmanische Herberge, listening to Sufi trance music while Isa’s St George pendant jogged from the rear view mirror and Hamza reiterating what he had read about the signs of the End of Times coming to pass.
“When a clock tower casts its shadow on the Kaaba, when the houses of Mecca rise higher than the surrounding hills, and when holes are drilled in the hills, then Armageddon is nigh,” said Hamza. “All of this has come to pass, my friends. I tell you, it won’t be long now.”
By and by we came upon Kall in the Eifel, a green and hilly region of farms and some light industry. We deposited our belongings at a baroque monastery turned pension, still with a spartan Catholic air to it and a crucifix in each room. An off-duty priest walked across the quad with his clerical collar undone and hanging loose. We unloaded our bags and hastened to the Osmanische Herberge, where the Sufi Soul Festival was in full swing.
It was as though we had stumbled on a rainbow festival for the pious, with murids from across Germany, France, Holland and Belgium, running around with baggy, low-slung şalvar trousers and turbans, loose shirts without collars and vests, and abundant beards.
The German citizenry passing through didn’t know quite what to make all these far-out Sufis. For all they knew here was a convention of suspicious, battle-ready Islamists plotting jihad. Indeed, tempers were high and nerves on edge outside the Herberge with German drivers honking impatiently and aggressively at Sufi traffic.
“That’s how it is here,” said the murid in a yellow vest, directing cars. “Some of these people are totally intolerant. We get a lot of grief here.”
Isa let Hamza and me out of the car, and while Isa went off in search of parking, Hamza put on his turban and Sufi duds and we made it to the entrance, people selaming Hamza and me, mostly Hamza, because he looked every bit the Sufi master in his extravagant threads which bespoke Sufi luxury and Sufi poverty at the same time.
We entered an old wooden building that had been painted an Islamic green and bore the wording: “Osmamische Herberge” and paid our twenty euro for two days of music and festivity.
The place was expansive. It had been a country inn before becoming a Sufi tekke. Amidst wood paneling and Oriental carpets, people bustled in festive gear. I accompanied Hamza in his search for a free bed, and then we went out into the yard, which was full of men in green and white turbans and women in colorful garb and headscarves milling about and flogging all manner of gewgaws to the delight of Hamza, who observed everything with interest, inspecting the rings and amulets and wondering if there was anything he could add to his already profuse collection and get-up.
Shaking hands with a couple brothers afterwards, I got in a conversation with an Indonesian chap from Holland with a plaster on his forehead, covering his zabiba induced by years of performing his prostrations on the floor. Periodically he made it down here to the Osmanische Herberge to chill with the cemat. The key to living a fulfilling life, he said, was to know your weaknesses; only then could you strive to be a better person.
Upstairs, musicians performed on the stage, while some of the Sufis danced wild, wiggy, improvised dances, just grooving, like hippy freaks at a rainbow gathering. I took in the crowd of people in turbans, with beards, Muslim colarless shirts and baggy şalvartrousers. And everyone just enjoying the scene without alcohol or drugs, just completely natural and joyful, while sitting on a chair in the corner,
in the quibla – or prayer niche – observing everything in a grandfatherly manner, was “Sheikh” Peter Hassan Dyck.
His story was this: A Berliner by birth, he had studied classical music in Berlin in the seventies. Around this time he found religion, became drawn to Sufism and converted to Islam back when there were a lot of people in the West interested in eastern religions and philosophies.
Sufism was big back then, in the seventies, when there were all sorts of freaks and heads following the hippie trail through Istanbul to Afghanistan, Nepal and India. People delved into the poetry of Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, Sufi music and the whirling dervishes. And a lot of these western converts were inspired by a certain Cypriot Turkish Sufi grandmaster by the name of Sheikh Nazim Haqqani, who was a member — the last in a chain of forty masters — of the Naqshbendi tariqat, or Sufi path, an order that was founded in the fourteenth century in Central Asia.
Sheikh Nazim presented himself — and was presented by his followers — as the last in a “golden chain” of masters, the “Silsila”, that went back to the Prophet Muhammad, the idea being that in order to reach enlightenment in Islam, or good “adap”— correct composure — one needed to follow a teacher. This is one of the principles of Sufism. And Sheikh Nazim’s teacher, Sheikh Abdullah Fa’izi al-Daghestani, gave Sheikh Nazim the task of reaching out to the West, for it was in the West, it was felt, that Islam would receive rejuvenation.
And so Sheikh Nazim set up dergahs, tekkes, or lodges, in England and elsewhere in the West, made frequent trips to England and Germany, among other place, where his charismatic personality won over the hearts of those he encountered, and made apostles, or murids, of many. It was even said that Prince Charles was a follower and a secret Muslim.
In 1975 Dyck performed the shahada, the Muslim confession of faith, and became a Muslim. Three years later he emigrated to Mecca with a few friends. They had received a grant back then in order to study Arabic in Mecca. But in the end they only spent one year there. He had heard about a great master, Sheikh Muhammad Nazim Haqqani. He was living in Damascus back then. And so Hassan Dyck moved with his friends from Mecca to Damascus, spending five years there.
Back in Germany, Dyck got a job as a shoe salesman in Düsseldorf and the Eifel. He went with beard and black prayer cap to the shoe stores to ply his trade.
“In ’80 it started,” says Hassan Dyck. “We traveled with Sheikh Nazim through Germany. He was in England always for Ramadan. And then we were always looking for somewhere to open something up. And then in ’95 we found something. It took a long time until we found it.”
Not only did the Eifel have a rural charm, but its location on the border to France, Belgium and Holland made it easily accessible to people of different nationalities.
“We were looking for a house for the community, for the brothers and sisters,” says Dyck. “And then we found this old inn in the Eifel because I also was living in the area. 27 years. And then in 1995 we took it over, changed it around a little bit and then built two mosques and a restaurant and a hotel, that is a couple rooms.”
There is a hadith from the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, that states that at the End of Days the sun will rise in the West. There are those that take this literally. They speak for instance, of a meteorite that will strike the earth with such force that the earth will reverse its course. However, there are people like Dyck who take the hadith metaphorically to mean that ultimately spiritual rejuvenation will come from the West rather than the accustomed East, where people are forsaking the spiritual path of their forefathers and are embracing Western-style materialism.
“There are a lot of enlightened people here in the West,” Dyck told me. “The materialism of the West, is what the unconscious Muslims in the East are striving after, they are searching for Western models. They want Western luxury, Western technology, Western clothing – that’s how they gage material success. But now in the West there are people who have had enough of worldly success, and they are on a spiritual quest.”
And while the East was heading West, the West was heading East – like two ships passing in the night. It made me think of Flaubert’s unwritten Orientalist novel, Hassan Bey about the interweaving of two disparate lives – a man from the West embracing the Orient, and a man from the Orient enthralled by the West.
There was some controversy surrounding Dyck among Sufi murids(students or followers). Some said Dyck had no right calling himself “sheikh”. There was only one sheikh in the tariqat — or order — , they said, and that was Sheikh Mehmet, son of the recently deceased Sufi grandmaster Sheikh Nazim al-Haqqani.
Also Dyck appeared to be bucking against Sheikh Mehmet’s edict about how dressing according to the sunnah code, with turban and long flowing garb, should be reserved for the dergah in these days of growing islamophobic sentiment. Hassan Dyck, however, maintained he and his followers had the right to dress in sunnah 24-7, regardless of what outsiders thought.
The other thing was, there was talk about about Dyck’s ambivalent stance towards Sheikh Nazim’s appointed successor, Sheikh Mehmet, how he didn’t pledge allegiance to him from the outset, when Mehmet Efendi took over the trust as the 41st Sheikh of the Golden Chain of the Naqshibandi Tariqa with the passing of Sheikh Muhammad Nazim Adil al-Haqqani ar-Rabbani on 7 May 2014. Rather Dyck had entertained hopes that Lebanese-American Muhammad Hirsham Kabbani would take the helm, feeling that Sheikh Nazim’s son Mehmet lacked the necessary charisma to carry on in his father’s footsteps.
Meanwhile Dyck sat back and sipped his tea, while on stage a British Muslim with wild hair played the guitar and sang reggae redemption songs, to the accompaniment of another young Brit on cahon. People were dancing with abandon.
“If only Germans could see this,” I said to Isa. “That this is also the face of Islam. No one would believe it.”
“There are Muslims who wouldn’t believe it either,“ said Isa.
After the last musical act had left the stage and after the evening prayers were done, began the zikhr, the ritual reciting of the names and properties of God while rocking back and forth rhythmically chanting mantras in a light ecstatic mood. And then began the “hadra” when we stood up, linked hands, bowed down and made to and fro movements, circling round the room like a bobbing centipede.
The zikhr and hadra was emotive and cathartic and now and then someone cried out in ecstasy or broke out in tears. The hadra here at the Osmanische Herberge was of an intensity I have rarely witnessed elsewhere. We chanted the names of Allah and felt transported to another realm.
The next morning we were back at the Herberge. Upon arrival we hung out in the garden. The stalls were gradually getting set up, and I bought myself a colorful prayer cap from Uzbekistan from an American, who had a Borat routine he’d put across to his potential customers. He lived in the area and told me to come down more often from Berlin. It was just a hop, skip and a jump away.
A couple hours later Hamza, Isa and I piled in the car and drove back to Berlin, feeling thoroughly recharged. We had only been at the Osmanische Herberge for one day but somehow it was enough — the “barakat” was good.