Scholar shares Sufi history

Latif Bolat, a native of Turkey, gave a presentation about the history and development of Sufi philosophy, poetry and music, followed by a concert in which he played some of the music mentioned in his lecture Nov. 10 in Ice Auditorium.

In the pre-concert lecture, Bolat explained the origins of Sufi mysticism and its parallel but separate existence to orthodox Islam.

He told stories about Sufi’s first poets, its first martyr and the people who helped to develop its philosophy.

He also illustrated the differences between Sufi mysticism and mainstream Islam by comparing the buildings, lifestyles, methods of worship and views on music of the two denominations throughout history.

Bolat began the concert by giving an in-depth description of the development of Sufi music, which he called “troubadour music” and compared to the troubadours of Europe.

He said the Sufi word for troubadour translates literally as “the one who is in love,” a reference both to the musicians’ love for their god and to their tendency to start off as shepherds who have their hearts broken by young women.

“This is why there are 40,000 brokenhearted love songs,” Bolat said. “So many young men would begin making music for this girl, and then realize their true beloved was up there, not this woman who married someone else and had eight babies. There’s a Sufi saying that goes, ‘If you lift a stone, there’s a mystic poet under there.’”

Bolat read Sufi poetry in Turkish so that the audience could hear the sound of the language before rereading the poems in English.

He performed several Sufi songs and encouraged the audience to sing along with the refrain of one of them.

Two of the songs were 800 years old, while two others were about the bombing of Hiroshima and Robin Hood figures in Turkish history.

For the last part of the concert, Bolat put on a slideshow of Turkish landscapes. He accompanied the slideshow with more Sufi music.

Bolat has performed in concert halls, community centers and universities around the world and has led cultural tours to Turkey for the past 10 years.

“I like traveling,” Bolat said. “In order to host cultural tours, people get to learn every single stone of the places they visit. I enjoy getting to know places so well.”

Sharon Gollery/
Culture editor
Sharon Gollery can be reached at

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