In this chapter of our ‘Cities of Islam’ series, we journey to Balkh, the hometown of the renowned poet Mevlana Celâlettin Rûmî. Situated in the northern region of Afghanistan, Balkh province boasts a rich history as one of the oldest cities in the area. Once a prominent global hub, it sadly faced destruction by the Mongols. Revered by Arabs as ‘ummu’l-bilad’, the mother of cities, Balkh’s population is predominantly composed of Uzbeks, Turkmen, and Tajiks. This region serves as a cultural testament to Turkic communities and their heritage.
Islamic Heritage in Balkh
Balkh holds a distinctive place in Islamic culture and civilization. Some believe that paper was first manufactured here. The city nurtured scholars in diverse fields, including hadith, tafsir, fiqh, philosophy, medicine, and geography. These scholars, later dispersing to cities like Baghdad and Damascus, played a pivotal role in shaping Islamic culture and civilization. Consequently, Balkh earned epithets such as ‘Kubbetü’l-Islam’ and ‘Dârü’l-fıkh’. Throughout Islamic history, Balkh has produced numerous influential scholars.
Mevlana and Balkh
While Mevlana is often associated with Konya in Turkey, mentioning Mevlana in Afghanistan invokes thoughts of Balkh. Mevlana was born in Balkh in the year 1207. Due to his migration to Konya in 1218 and the historical reference to Anatolia as the land of the Rûms (Romans), he is known as Mevlânâ Celâleddîn-i Rûmî.
Nonetheless, in Afghanistan, he is remembered as Mevlânâ Celâleddîn-i Belhi. While it might be more logical to refer to him as Belhi due to his birthplace, there’s a saying: ‘You belong where you’ve been nourished.’ Assuming that Konya was his nourishing place, Rûmî is accurate. Furthermore, in 2006, the Municipality of Konya declared Balkh and Konya as sister cities.
The Birthplace of Mevlana
While Mevlana was born in Balkh in 1207, his birthplace currently lies in ruins. However, the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA) initiated the restoration of the surrounding area and Sultan-ül Ulema Hoca Bahauddin Veled Madrasa in 2015. Additionally, the main road leading to Balkh was named the ‘Konya Road’ in honor of Mevlana.
Explore Balkh’s Treasures
Being an ancient city, Balkh boasts numerous historical and cultural structures. Although the city was entirely destroyed by the Mongols in the early 13th century, significant remnants have endured through the ages. One prime example is Hacı Pirada Mosque or the Nine-Domed Mosque. The name’s origins are intricate, but the mosque is also referred to as Masjid-i Noh Gumbad, pronounced Noh, Nuh, or Nu. It’s also known as Mescid-i Tarik, Masjid-i Ka’b al-Akhbar, and Tarikh Khaneh.
Carbon dating indicates that this ancient structure in Balkh was built shortly after the introduction of Islam to Central Asia in the 8th century, yet its exact purpose and timing remain a mystery. Although the mosque is now in ruins, it remains a captivating place to visit in Balkh. Notably, remnants of the medrese, led by Mevlana’s father, can also be found in this city. It was here that Mevlana received his initial education.”