Sufism traces its roots back to the origins of Islam and focuses on the inner, mystical dimension of the faith and a personal relationship with God, especially through meditation.
It is made up of many orders. Among the most prominent are the Naqshbandi, renowned for their austerity and scrupulous observance of sharia, or Islamic law. Sheikh Nazim, now very frail at the age of 91, leads a group known as the Naqshbandi-Haqqani, which is more flexible in its teachings, and “is one of the best known Sufi masters in the West,” says Thierry Zarcone, a French historian and specialist in Sufism.
“It’s an Islam that is more flexible, with an acceptable vision.
At the same time, (Sheikh Nazim) is playing on the danger of radicalism in the US and Europe… by showing that Sufism is a kind of instrument against radicalism.”
The door is open to all, with a cheerful greeting of “welcome to the house of love,” and visitors are invited in to share one of the day’s two meals.
Inside, the shady arched veranda looks out on a courtyard brimming with flowers and fruit trees. There’s a steady flow of people into the house in the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, from residents to visiting pilgrims and locals who have come to ask for prayers or to seek a favour. Among them are Germans, Italians, Swiss, Americans, Russians, and of course Turks and Turkish Cypriots, who converge on the tiny mosque to attend prayers followed by a sermon on “true love,” the love of God.
At the centre of it all is Sheikh Nazim, whose blue eyes, though dimmed by age, still radiate gentleness and affection.
Nazim, who is now mostly confined to a wheelchair and has difficulty talking, was not up to an interview, but he still preaches sermons that are later uploaded to the web by the Internet savvy community.
Three years ago, already bent with age and walking with difficulty, he came to the attention of the wider world when the former pope, Benedict XVI, visited Cyprus. He travelled from Lefke to the Roman Catholic church in the UN-patrolled buffer zone that divides Nicosia.
Benedict was heading into church, but stopped when Sheikh Nazim approached him, and the two shared a few poignant moments in quiet conversation.
“God bless you,” Sheikh Nazim said, before adding: “Pray for me. I am so old,” to which the pope replied with a twinkle in his eye: “I am also old.” Nazim then embraced the pope and patted him on the back before pronouncing: “Good one. Good one.”