Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Istanbul's Blue Mosque, TR

Istanbul’s  Blue Mosque, TR

Bike covers and cats don’t go together. When we checked on our bikes in the morning we found that now Carol’s bike cover was ripped to shreds by a cat too. I guess some cats used her covered bike as a spot to be out of the weather but then, when the winds flop the fabric, their claws swat at the ‘moving’ fabric and the damage adds up to rips after rips. OK, it depends on the cat, but most stray cats are ‘mousers’ and they have done a job on both of our covers now. What is the best way to cover the bikes then? The nylon covers we have will not work, that is for sure! We found our bike covers damaged before we started the day. Not a good way to start the day.

Minaret - A Finger Pointing To Allah??

At Dusk All The Lights Go On 

The 'Blue' Tiles Inside The Mosque 
Our plan today is a visit to Istanbul’s famous Blue Mosque. Actually there is not much ‘blue’ to the Mosque and no Turk ever called it the Blue Mosque. It’s just a Western name given because there is a lot of ‘blue’ in the 21,000 tiles used throughout the buildings. As a Westerner the Islam religion is a mystery, not understood by me. Oh, I understand the concept of Allah, of the Prophet, praying 5 times a day, having a belief system that contains 5 major points like:  Allah is the only God; Muhammad is the Prophet, praying 5 times a day, giving alms to the poor and going once in your life to Mecca (haj). I am sure there are other things that define Islam. I am sure there are many subtleties, too. That is why there are Sunnis, Shia and other smaller, mythical groups of Islam, each having a different outlook. We hear about the extremism almost daily, is this extremism here in Turkey, too?  Can I see something in their house of prayer, their mosque that is an indicator?  I will go and take a look, see what there is to see without being judgmental, I hope. No, I have no interest in turning into a Muslim. I explain why at the end of this blog.

Everybody in Turkey knows it as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque because it was built in just 7 1/2 years (1609-1617) by Sultan Ahmed I. It is yet another amazing building, not far from the Hagia Sophia and not far from the Royal Topkapi PalaceThe young Sultan was just 19 years old when he gave the order to start building and he himself worked as a laborer for a while.

The main design follows the ideas of the Great Turkish Architect Sinan, but in charge and adding to the details was Sinan's  pupil, the Architect Mehmed AgaNot only is this building complex a mosque but in accordance with Turkish tradition, it is a ‘kulliye ’, an extended mosque that includes a hospital, a madrasah (school), a bazaar (market), an imaret (soup kitchen) and a tomb for the members of the royal family. Other buildings like the ‘time housewhere astronomers predicted and calculated the times for prayer and other Islamic events were added, too.

As always when one enters a mosque, shoes come off, feet, hands and face need to be clean and the body and hair (for women) should be covered to a strict ‘decency’ level. The attire requirements are different for males and females. Carol knew about this and brought her own scarf to cover her hair, and had dressed conservatively. Many people in the long line who wanted to get in to see the mosque, needed to ‘rent’ dresses or hair covering. I have no objections at all to doing as told. It is their house of prayer, it is their belief, and it is their way of doing things. I felt like a guest and behaved accordingly. The long line we stood in moved along slowly but when we entered the mosque proper there was a service going on and I felt like an intruder and did not participate in their service. I just watched discreetly (if that is possible) from afar. I do the same in a Christian church when services are in process. I do not participate, I just sit and try to blend in somewhat. Not knowing what to do at all in an Islamic mosque I did not enter the mosque proper at all, nor did Carol. There were sections that were open for the public but with so many people (tourists?) around it felt a bit awkward, I felt like I was a disturbance, rather than a visitor.
             Praying Is Segregated

Still, I must admit this (blue) Mosque is a rare example of the grandeur of the Islamic world. Nothing was spared to make this a one of a kind building in the honor of Allah. It is a true spiritual representation of Islam.
Quotations in Arabic, taken from the Qurandecorate the top of huge pillars. Arabic ribbon like calligraphy runs along the periphery of the walls.
The Mosque has certain sections and all make total sense. I will list some of the description of these areas. It’s a bit detailed but I found it interesting.

There is the Mihrab, a niche; it looks like a cavity in the wall of the structure. This is the direction towards Mecca, towards the Kabah. This is to be faced when bowing down to pray.

The Minber 
There is the Minbera pulpit, it looks like a staircase. On top of the staircase is a large platform from which the sermons are delivered every Friday at noon, at the feast of Ramadan and the feast of the Sacrifice. On these occasions every healthy Muslim is encouraged to attend. The Muslim belief actually tells them it is mandatory to attend, women as well as men, but women are given opportunities not to attend. On high holy days, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque holds about 12,000 people inside the main hall and main courtyard. It is a huge space.

Kursi Chair 
There is the Kursi (a chair) from which talks/lectures on religion are given by scholars. The chair at the Blue Mosque is covered in Mother of Pearl. This chair, I was told, is not always occupied, just on very busy days.

There is the Muezzin Mahfili (Muezzin’s Lodge). After the call to prayer from the minaret, the Muezzin comes down the stairs quickly and again, inside the mosque now repeats the call one more time, standing on this raised platform, this lodge. This elevated position within the mosque allows the muezzin to see the Imam and allows his voice to be heard well by all the assembled people. After the ritual prayers are finished the muezzin recites certain words 33 times. They are glorification and praise. To not lose count the Turkish culture uses prayer beads to help them count.  This process is called tasheeh
Muezzin Mahfili

There is the Hunkar Mahfili (Royal Lodge), a section within the Mosque that is walled off but one can see inside through ornate, carved screens, where the Royal House used to pray along with the most important ministers. In history Sultans were killed while praying and to make sure this would not happen again, a protected, screened room was installed to give the Sultan and his family some protection. It has its own entrance too.

The Imam I Spoke To 
The whole installation of the Blue Mosque is very active. In order to learn a bit more about the religion, I asked for an audience with an Imam and had a nice chat in English. I do not pretend to know much about Islam and was intrigued. One fine point I had was a question on this point:  when the prophet Muhammad was told to write down what he was told by Allah how could he write it? As a simple shepherd or merchant he was not literate. If someone else wrote for Muhammad, like a scribe, where are those written records today?  Ah, the stories about this are long and nobody really knows, but we had a nice discussion. I left the mosque with a smile on my face; it is a very holy, very nice place. The Imam was helpful and gentle.

I found a brochure that has the meaning of the call for prayer words (the translation in English) and I wanted to write it so I don’t forget: Again, I found it and I just had to remember this:
Here is what is being called out 5 times a day in all of Islam from the minarets:

Allah is greatest. (4x) - (called out 4 times in succession)
I bear witness that there is no god except Allah. (2x)
I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. (2x)
Come to prayer. (2x)
Come to success. (2x)
Allah is the greatest (2x)
There is no god except Allah
The first call in the morning has an additional line which translates:   Worship is better than sleep.

It was a very good walk through the complex. The Blue Mosque Complex is huge and again, one could spend days learning about all the details. It would help a lot if I knew more about Islam but I have a natural tendency to be against all religions. I do not believe an Imam, a Priest, Minister, Rabbi, Guru et al have any real idea what will happen to us in the afterlife. They just recite what they were told by their teachers and what they read by writers, and they use their own interpretations. Nobody knows! So organized religion is superfluous! Someone said it’s the opium for the masses. I believe in that saying!  I am not an Opium addict.

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