Testimonials from previous participants
(years 2002 to 2018)
Reflecting on my experience on the inaugural journey to Morocco brings me deep joy. It was exquisitely choreographed; Omid and Courtney created a sacred space for deep exploration of the historical, cultural and religious elements with such thoughtfullness that I felt lovingly held, intellectually stimulated, and spiritually nourished.
-Rose Sackey-Milligan (2018, Morocco)
I had been on a short trip to Morocco earlier but the trip with Illuminated Tours was truly an in-depth experience that I shall remember for a long time to come. So many positives - firstly you will get to experience the cities of Marrakech and Fez in a much deeper way in terms of its history, culture and spiritual practices. Secondly our group leaders Omid and Courtney had prepared such an engaging itinerary - each day would be a feast for the senses and filled with insights along the way, concluding with an eloquent talk leading into time for reflection and contemplation. The group itself was so diverse it was wonderful to connect with each other. The overarching themes of the trip were the uplifting thoughts of great Sufi masters on love, tenderness and kindness and the commonality of these virtues across the main religions of the world. In the end the group had developed such a great feeling of friendship and community with members inspiring each other to activism and to becoming bridge builders when they return back home.
-Azhar Abedi (2018, Morocco)
I attended the premiere Illuminated Tour to Morocco in April of 2017.
The tour was fabulous on so many levels— The participants with whom I lived intimately for two weeks were extremely diverse and delightful. The living conditions and food in the Riads were fabulous. The program of events was beautifully choreographed and organized such that after a bustling day of winding one’s way through the densely populated, cobbled streets of Fes or Marrakesh, one might find oneself, the following day, relaxing in the vast, rolling sea of dunes in the desert of La Paz.
None of this could happen without Omid and Courtney. They worked beautifully together as a team. I watched Courtney ‘mothering’ each of us. She was totally passionate and knowledgeable about Morocco and Sufism and wanted nothing more than to open and share its hidden gems with us. More importantly, she taught the bold and brave how to safely explore the maze of Fes on their own and find their way back to home base. I watched as she moved through the group, attentive to each one’s needs or wants.
Omid was like the conductor, who harmonized the entire group. Through our nightly talks and readings and informal talks throughout the day, he wove the theme of Radical Love throughout the group, which was extremely diverse age-wise, ethnically, culturally, religiously, financially, such that by the end of the trip I had more than befriended each of the participants.
I am extremely grateful for this trip that nourished me on so many levels and say to all my friends, “Go. Find the time and go.”
Thank you Omid and Courtney.
Dana Hayne (2018, Morocco)
Illuminated Tours took me on the trip of lifetime to Morocco in April 2018. It was the perfect introduction to organized group travel, because the group consisted of thoughtful, curious, intelligent and caring individuals. It was spiritually fulfilling, culturally enlightening, and thoughtfully led by expert leaders and guides. I felt nourished and cared for 100% of the way. From lively conversations over breakfast to emotional discussions of poetry and theology each evening, this was not only a journey to the beautiful country of Morocco but a journey to the center of my own heart. If you are searching for a meaningful travel experience, look no further than Illuminated Tours.
Katie Crawford (2018, Morocco)
They say travelling to a new country will not only teach you about others but about yourself. Illuminated tours took me on a journey of Turkey through the eyes of Mevlana Jalaluldin Rumi and placed me into a spiritual space that I have never experienced before. It taught me the mysteries and wonder of such a soulful country as Turkey. It left me opening a gate into understanding the enigmas of my own self. It gave me a taste of how to go through experiences holistically, that irreversibly changed my perspective on the world.
Turkey is a fascinating country and Professor Omid will feed your curiosity of a country that is full of historical and religious beauty intertwined with paradoxes through its marrying of eastern and western culture. He explains how Turkey was, how it came to be today and possibilities for its future but also connecting this to a religious and spiritual context in a way that transcends time and place.
If you are looking to travel to learn about the multi-dimensions of Turkey, illuminated tours will show you so many wonders of this beautiful country that it will leave you unprepared to part with.
-Nisreen Fansa (2014)
I began this trip knowing it was going to change my life and thanks to Omid’s immense human compassion and loving ways to express God’s magnificence towards humanity, I have changed for the better! I was able to enhance my empathy for my fellow brothers and sisters and to respect them more genuinely. My travel to Turkey taught me about the most pure and selfless love, mysticism, and beauty residing within us. It also provided me with the opportunity to explore what many of us do not dare to do very often: self-introspection. And because of that, I learned to love and take care of myself at a more deeper level in order to love and care for those around me more meaningfully. Through exploring the past, I explore my own personal story, and through viewing the sacred places and meditating in the most stunning gifts to God, I was able to discover a renewed me. I am glad to have rediscovered how interconnected we are by invisible and visible ties of human history, exquisite cuisine, and multicultural and religious pluralism. Therefore, I encourage you to move towards an enlighten life experience! Turkey will welcome you and lead you to unforgettable inner and outer places with the help of Omid jan. You will be in a constant stage of bliss and self-discovery while educating yourself about our dearest Mawlana!
Jossy Schwartz (2014)
I visited Mevlana Jelaluldin Rumi’s shrine for the first time in 2011 while traveling Turkey with my sister. When I returned to the site with the respected and beloved Prof. Omid Safi after having engaged with Mevlana’s poetry in a wonderful community of companions, I felt an incredible expansion. Visiting Turkey with such a knowledgeable guide and a thoughtful group was a learning and growing experience that continues to enrich my life through memories, friendships, and transformative words. Turkey’s history and culture is fascinating and I believe that everyone ought to make the journey there at least once in their life- most likely your heart will keep bringing you back.
-Sara Elbohy (2013)
Turkey is a land of wonders, as any traveler can plainly see, but Omid and the diverse perspectives of my companions on the tour revealed deeper layers of history, culture, and spirituality than I think anyone could discover on their own. I had an overwhelming, soul-stirring experience that made me think, “This is the most beautiful day of my life,” not once, but everyday. This journey changed the way I see the world: because of the way I learned to see and listen in Turkey, beauty and meaning is now so much more apparent in all around me. I still dream that I am back roaming the beautiful streets of Istanbul, with Omid explaining how the structure of the Haghia Sophia is meant to inspire us to empty our hearts of all else other than God, and my friends from the tour telling me about something similar they’ve learned in their own walks of life. A typical day of this trip included these moments along with one-on-one discussions with Turkey’s greatest leaders, and Turkish tea in the evening with the country’s friendliest and most knowledgeable tradesmen and craftsmen. The relationships Omid has built over the years with people of all backgrounds across the country, coupled with his rich knowledge and insight about the history and culture of Turkey, make this trip incomparable and irreplaceable.
-Catherine Swift (2013)
"I recommend Dr. Omid Safi's Illuminated Tours to anyone seeking spiritual enlightenment, historical and religious knowledge through immersion, or just a pleasant vacation. Regardless of your personal background, throughout this trip you will feel compelled to challenge what you know in search of "Truth." The beauty of Turkey's landscape, the complexity of Istanbul's history, and the joyous company of diverse and passionate friends will fill you with memories that you'll never be able to forget. When my friends ask me why I didn't just go explore Turkey on my own, I explain to them how different of an experience I would have had without Omid as a dear friend and trip leader—his passion is so abundant that it spill over onto the rest of the group. Seeing the Hagia Sofia for the first time, taking in the sunset over Cappadocia, enjoying a meal with newly-made friends, and feeling the presence of God in Turkey's hidden gem-like mosques...it is these memories that make me most nostalgic. Thank you, Omid, for such a life-changing experience."
Joel Hage (2013)
"I so enjoyed my trip in Turkey with Omid Safi. As a religious scholar myself, I am, I suppose, the most critical type of traveler, but I was simply astounded by the wonderful time I had. One of the highlights was the town of Hacibektas in Cappadocia. What a treat!"
Sophia Shafi (2012)
"Dr. Omid Safi's Educational Program and Tour of Turkey was immensely rewarding for me. I had the opportunity to see and do things which would not have been possible otherwise: visits with Sufi scholars, trips to little known mosques and shrines; and learned things I would not have found in a guidebook: insights into historical sites and monuments. Dr. Safi's poetic and mystical commentary brought a whole new meaning to seemingly lifeless objects in museums. In addition to all this, I met a wonderful group of people of all ages, from whom I learned, but also had a really fun trip."
Gol Joy Jafri (2012)
Its rare to have an opportunity to visit such a beautiful and historically rich country like Turkey with such amazing teachers like Prof Omid Safi. Because of him, we got to sit in the presence of esteemed religious leaders and mystical personalities. I will never forget sitting with Khawaja Cemal Nur, an esteemed female Sufi teacher. Long after I left, I could still feel the presence of her words and her smile in my heart.Mohsin Ali (2012)
The whole trip really comes down to one moment, for me. It is rare that one is filled with such lightness that actual words are unattainable. As I sat meditating during evening prayer at Ulu Camii in Bursa, joy resonated in my bones, and my prayer was my laughter.
Traveling through Turkey and meeting with spiritual leaders and friends was really an experience of letting go of myself and finding a connection to that higher energy in which we all share. That was such a beautiful evening, as was the whole of those two weeks. Thank you again for leading such an incredible journey through an unbelievable place. I cherish the experience!
Madison Scott (2012)
Turkey is a beautiful place with even more beautiful people. Omid and the people I met changed my life, and I cannot recommend this trip enough.
I also just want to say thank you again for this amazing experience. I am just now getting to a point where I can begin to understand my time in Turkey. It was life changing to say the least. You have created a beautiful program that deeply affects everyone involved. I cannot put into words how appreciative I am for the opportunity to travel with you and the group.
David Bowen (2012)
My most vivid memory of the trip took place about halfway through, during our first few moments in Cappadocia. Upon arrival at our hotel, a feeling of comfort, excitement, community, and spiritual enlightenment swept over the entire group. Although most of us did not know each other before departing to Turkey at the beginning of the summer, we were able to share a moment of almost cosmic connectedness and mutual understanding without the need for words. The experience of visiting Turkey with Omid is one after which anyone participating will inevitably grow immensely.
Lily Emamian (2012)
Traveling to Turkey with Dr. Omid Safi is like doing a graduate program in Ottoman-era art and history -- while indulging in all the cultural and culinary delights Turkey has to offer! Istanbul is now one of my favorite cities in the world, rich in both Eastern and Western treasures. And sitting during the evening prayer at the Sultan Ahmet mosque is uplifting no matter what one's spiritual practice or predilection. Cappadocia is a natural fairy land, and the Haji Bektash shrine an oasis of peace. But the crowning moment of our trip had to be standing beneath the blue minaret of Jalal-al-Din Rumi's resting place in Konya and connecting with the living lineage of Mevlana. All this, and so much more, was made real and meaningful by Omid's scholarship and loving presence. There is no better way to see Turkey.
Tom Joyce (2011)
Travelling with Omid was informative and inspirational. Being with the students was a joy. Learning more about Islam and the depth of Omid’s faith helped us reach deeper into our own faith commitments as Christians.
Doug and Barbara Kindschi (2011)
I had been to Istanbul before, so my favorite part of the trip was towards the heartland of Anatolia – Iznik (Nicea), Cappadocia and Konya. It was exciting to see where they make the beautiful Iznik tiles. Cappadocia is a delightful surprise with its Roman history, Christian iconoclast past and natural beauty. The hotel we stayed at was beyond compare. The seat of Maulana lived up to expectations and more.
The trip was a rare glimpse at historical wonders and a traditional society. It made one aware of a rich shared multifaith past and the magnificence of thought (Rumi) and action (Sinan) that human beings can achieve. All in all, it was both uplifting and a soul satisfying trip.
Fatima Khan (2011)
I find it very difficult to adequately describe how wonderful our trip to Turkey was, but I can very vividly remember my favorite evening—sitting peacefully on the carpet against a corner inside of Shams’ shrine in Konya, engaging in the most enlightening conversation with Dr. Safi and one of the most wonderfully diverse and yet cohesive groups of people I’ve yet to meet, discussing Mawlana, the Masnavi, life, the heart and soul. I can’t remember the specifics of the conversation, but I remember feeling in that hour that this trip had surely changed my life for the better, that I had explored beautiful Turkey and observed ornate mosques and read Sufi poetry, but I never could have had such a lovely experience had it not been for the people with whom I shared those memories.
Sonya Khattak (2011)
How can I put into words the privilege it was to join the Turkey Tour in 2011?
I had to opportunity to see this rich nation from the perspective of someone with a profound love and respect for its people, culture and history, perhaps more so than some Turks themselves, as Omid is certainly more knowledgeable than any tour guide in the country. The media's often inaccurate portrayal of countries in the Middle East had undoubtedly cast a veil on my mind, separating me from the truth of what is to be found in the region. This trip corrected my vision, allowing me to see clearly the incomparable beauty that has been on display there for centuries.
Though I was not aware of it at the time, in a more practical sense, this trip prepared me for future personal and academic endeavors. Upon my return, I completed a senior honors thesis whose topic was inspired by a lecture given in the Suleymaniye. I also won a year-long scholarship to study language and conduct research in the region, following graduation. My friends from the trip are now my colleagues. I can pinpoint the turkey tour as the moment when awe and inspiration kicked my academic motivation into high gear. It was a once in a life time opportunity that I will be forever grateful for. I feel a deep regret for all those who may be compelled to forgo it.
--Caroline Kirby (2011)
One of the reasons I was drawn to Turkey was Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Having read about this amazing place in many books and seen many pictures, it was one of the places I was most excited about seeing. But nothing could compare to seeing this massive beautiful structure in person and hearing about the history and meaning from Omid Safi. Visible in the architecture is the long history of the different faiths that this structure has served. Perhaps what is more beautiful then the structure itself is the knowledge that its value is shared by so many people of different backgrounds.
Sara Aghajanian (2011)
My favorite part of the trip was my wonderful guide, Omid. I feel like he really brought history alive in the places we visited with his stories, little history lessons, and jokes. Lonely Planet guides are no comparison to the wonderful insight and knowledge that Omid shares with the group!
Andrea Valdon (2011)
Before I traveled to Turkey to take part in Professor Safi’s program, I was repeatedly told how amazing the architecture, culture, and cuisine of Istanbul were, and when I arrived in Turkey, I found this to be undeniably true. Ultimately, however, the most memorable moments of the trip for me were not chiefly borne of my awe at the monumental surroundings of Istanbul, but rather of the nightly gatherings and discussions Professor Safi would hold after daytime excursions through Istanbul as well as the unique Turkish cities of Bursa and Konya, and the ruggedly beautiful region of Cappadocia. These discussions, night after night, in which we broke beneath the surface of Rumi’s poetry or explored different aspects of Islam and Sufism and Turkish heritage were contextualized and enhanced by visiting the historical places where these have been cherished for centuries. That this trip was so multi-dimensional led to a deep and intimate learning of Turkish culture that has left an indelible mark on my perspective of that great part of the world.
Tom Wolf (2011)
One of my favorite memories was our sporadic night trip to the mosque in Istanbul. Although we had already visited this mosque during the day, I loved this trip the most because every single person there volunteered to go. It was not a required trip of the day and you could tell by the look on everyone's faces as they looked up at the lit minarets that it was exactly where they wanted to be. It meant a lot to me that we had all connected on the trip and found a common interest that we were all so invested in.
Ingrid Eicher (2011)
I planned to join the Turkey trip because I thought it would be a fun way to travel, discover and learn. I hadn't anticipated the special connections within our group that helped me reach at the ideas of self and friendship that animated the texts we shared and the sites we visited. While I am comfortable traveling to far off places alone, experiencing Turkey among interested and interesting people made the trek intimate in surprising ways. It was more than reading books by influential teachers in the Islamic tradition, while visiting places of worship that seek to live those words: it was the genuine discussions about how we encountered the experience—in such a variety of ways—that made the trip so special.
Nermeen Mouftah (2010)
Prof. Safi considers it a privilege to share his immense knowledge of the aesthetic and historic aspects of the many, many places you experience and people you get to know in these weeks. He has a gift for teaching through stories full of rich anecdotes and much humor. Along with this careful guidance he makes sure that everyone has the space to be their own guide. I learnt so much, from everyone. The entire trip is impeccably organized with the utmost care given to detail.
Tehseen Thaver (2009)
"My experience studying abroad in Turkey shaped who I am today. From my major, to my first job, the knowledge I gained about the world, the friendships I forged, and the memories I created continue to resonate with me years afterword. I encourage anyone who is in the least bit curious about anything to take part in this adventure."
Lauren McCay (2009)
Having never been west of the Mississippi River or east of the Florida shores, I decided to make my very first trip out of the country with Omid to Turkey. While the sites of Turkey are alone worth the trek, it is Professor Safi's narrative that weaves together the history and spirit of each monument and truly brings it to life. Years later, I have never been, nor will i ever be to a place as beautiful or with a company as rich and lovely as my trip to Turkey.
Kelsey Miller (2009)
"My six week trip to Turkey was life-changing, eye opening, and something I will never forget. I would not trade the experience for anything. The beautiful architecture of Turkey, the wonderful food, a spice bazaar unlike any other, the hospitality of the people, and Professor Safi's wealth of knowledge made this trip the highlight of my college experience. What better way to learn about Turkish culture and religious traditions than to experience it first hand; not just in Istanbul, but in Konya, Bursa, Ephesus, Cappadocia, and the beautiful Mediterranean coast. "
Alex Craig (2009)
"Omid's study abroad in Turkey changed my life. I developed a deep love of Turkey and find myself coming back whenever I can. The history, stories, and sights you will taken are unparalleled."
Maryam al-Zoubi (2009)
Standing beneath the magnificent central dome of the Aya Sofya and discovering the immense beauty of Rumi’s Masnavi are just two of the powerful experiences that I had while on Omid’s tour of Turkey. His immense knowledge of Turkey, Sufism, architecture, and Ottoman and Turkish history enriched my understanding of the sites and buildings we visited, making me appreciate them even more. Omid is one of the most wonderful people I have ever met and one can’t help but love Turkey as much as he does after this trip.
Kate Locke (2009)
I am fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to participate in a remarkable trip to Turkey with Omid Safi. During this trip, I had the rare chance to visit and genuinely engage in the underbelly of Turkish culture and history through the eyes of one of the most thoughtful and intelligent people I'm privileged to know.
Omid’s approach to introducing Turkish history and culture is dynamic and intriguing. We are actively engaged, constantly learning and absorbing new information on multiple levels. We learned about the past while exploring the present.
My favorite parts of this trip were visiting and learning about the different political and religious communities of people living in the past and present of Istanbul.
I remember reading through verses of Mevlana/Rumi on the bus ride to visit Konya, the beautiful roses that grew like weeds in old Ottoman cemeteries, learning about Ottoman history and about contemporary Turkish politics, visiting the Haghia Sofia and the Qalandarhane mosque in Istanbul, learning about Mevlevi Sufism and then meeting and interacting with a wonderful, unique and interesting Mevlevi, Turkish community.
This trip had an enormously positive impact on my life trajectory, has motivated me to continue studying and exploring the Turkish culture, history and language, and has more generally encouraged me to continue to satiate my intellectual curiosity through study, interaction and exploration.
Micah Piven (2009)
The opportunity to travel to Turkey, and especially Istanbul, with Omid was better than I could have imagined. Though I would have learned a great deal on my own, Omid's personal connections to cultural and religious communities gave me a perspective on the country that I could not have gotten any other way. Instead of being simply a tourist looking at historic buildings, I became a student of and a participant in the culture, history, and religion of this beautiful country.
Our interactions with Cemalnur Sargut and other cultural figures added a personal dimension to the experience that would not have been possible if I traveled on my own. Traveling with Omid turned me into a student of Turkey's history, religion, and politics instead of simply being a tourist attempting to navigate the overwhelming richness of the country's culture. The information I learned and its impact have stuck with me because I felt so much more immersed in the experience.
I don't think any other trip gives participants the same level of engagement with a culture that traveling with Omid does. Not only does his love for Turkey bring the historic buildings and sites life, but he also offers access to religious and cultural figures. These individuals help trip participants become students of Turkish culture and history instead of merely tourists.
I will never forget sitting in mosques such as the Sultan Ahmet or the Aya Sophia while Omid shared stories about the history, religion, and culture of Turkey. His love for the country and its people brought the sites to life in a way that would never have been possible if I traveled on my own. The overwhelming physical and cultural beauty of Turkey would have been difficult to absorb without Omid's guidance and personal perspective. In addition, our interactions with cultural and religious communities, such as Cemalnur Sargut's, allowed me to be a participant in Turkey's culture instead of merely an observer and a tourist.
David Bevevino (2009)
A visit to Topkapi Palace, a tour of the Aya Sofya, a boat trip across the Bosphorous--all beautiful educational experiences. But where this program stands out is in the access it provides to private devotional sessions, quiet conversations with calligraphers in out-of-the-way mosques, discussions with dervishes over Medinese dates in the shadow of Rumi's shrine. Dr. Safi provides rare access not just to the sights of Turkey, but its spirit. This trip changed my educational trajectory in ways that have shaped my career and life ever since.
Matt Hotham (2002)
It's impossible to pick my favorite part of the trip to Turkey I went on with Omid because it was a wonderful experience. One highlight would be visiting with one of the many people who helped to guide us along our way and talking for a few hours about life in Turkey and life in general. The planned tours and visits to sites around Istanbul and Konya were tremendous, but getting to know some of the people we met along the way was a special and unique treat.
Todd Butterworth (2002)