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Catholic Priest Converts to Islam at the Şeb-i Arus Ceremony

In a world where some are born in a Muslim country, raised in a Muslim family, others experience the opposite. However, regardless of circumstances, it does not hinder the spirit of inquiry, questioning, and the pursuit of the right path. In this story, we share the beautiful example of Ismail Fenter, formerly known as Craig Victor Fenter, an American who was raised as a Christian, even becoming a priest before embracing Islam.

Born in 1955 in the state of North Carolina, USA, and raised in Los Angeles, Craig Victor Fenter attended a Catholic school at his family’s request and eventually became a priest.

Before converting to Islam, Fenter taught religion at American universities for ten years. However, over time, he began to feel a spiritual emptiness. In 2004, during a program in the USA, his path crossed with Esin Çelebi Bayru, the 22nd-generation descendant of Mevlana. After learning about Mevlana and Islam, he visited Konya in 2005 upon Bayru’s invitation to witness the Şeb-i Arus ceremonies, the “wedding night” when Mevlana united with Allah.

Moved by the stories, the Sufi dance known as the Sema ceremony, and the spiritual atmosphere during the ceremonies, Fenter converted to Islam in 2006 and changed his name to Ismail.

Fenter stated, “Religion was very important for my family. My grandmother wanted me to be a priest, so I went to priest school to learn priesthood,” adding that he used to attend church every Sunday. However, at that time, he admitted that many things did not make sense to him.

“I believed in God, but something was not right. The knowledge I tried to teach my students later made no sense to me. So I spent much of my life researching. I was teaching at the priest school, but I did not believe in what I was teaching. I quit being a priest and left the church. I returned to California with my family, started getting into music. There was a lot in music, but my heart was empty. People’s applause and likes were wonderful, but something was missing.”

Upon a teacher’s recommendation, he met Bayru during a program in San Francisco.

“I told Bayru: I feel like I’m at the bottom of the ocean. I don’t know where the treasure is.”

He told me: “You already found the treasure because you tried to reach it.

This sentence deeply affected me. Later, in December 2005, I came to Konya and witnessed the Şeb-i Arus ceremonies,” Fenter added. He felt something “special” while watching the semazen dancers and mentioned that they also visited the Mevlana Museum in Konya.

şebi arus

Having a great interest in Islam, Fenter received lessons on Islam and Sufism from the Sufi instructor Nadir Karnıbüyük, whom he met during the ceremonies in Konya.

Fenter said, “While Nadir Karnıbüyük was praying, I looked around and watched him pray. Then he called me to pray. Without knowing what to do, I walked towards the Niyaz window and started praying.” (Niyaz Window: A window in the vicinity of tombs, facing the foot or sides of tombs, is called the Niyaz window. It provides a view of the sarcophagi of the tombs.)

The priest who converted to Islam said, “Then something happened. I don’t know what, but I was amazed. I felt my heart was shattered, and I cried. I felt Mevlana calling me. I cried for hours.

At that moment, he felt that it was the place he needed to be. Ismail Fenter said, “Mevlana’s path is the path of Prophet Muhammad, I knew it was true. I converted to Islam a year later,” adding that he visited Konya every year because he believed it was the right place to learn more about Mevlana.

Expressing great love for Islam, Fenter emphasized that following Mevlana’s path is different from living in the USA and mentioned that he decided to move to Konya after a conversation with a young man.

Ismail Fenter recalls his conversation with the young man as follows:

One night, a young dervish (Rumi disciple) asked about my family, and I said, ‘My mom and dad are dead.’ He looked at me and said, ‘We are your family.‘”

Ismail Fenter said, “This was one of the most important things someone told me, so I came to Konya and settled here.

Ismail Fenter’s inspiring journey reminded me of Zarifoğlu’s words: “I wish you could meet the newly converted Muslims. Pray with them, sit down and talk. You will see they smell like companions.”

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