BISMILLAH HIR RAHMAN IR RAHIM
Mosques are an integral part of Islamic society. It is the center of spiritual cleansing and for praying in peace and harmony with your fellow worshippers to one and only one God, Allah. Along with being a center of worship, they also provide other services like madrassas for teaching Quran and for Hifz (memorising of Quran). They are also places where one can seek shelter.
It is wonderful when they are so many mosques in one city or town & when adhan (call to prayer) is proclaimed, verses of Arabic resonate from many epicentres, spreading in all directions, expressing the praise and glory of Allah. It’s like a 5 times a day orchestra (with no music) which is amazing to listen to.
Unfortunately, mosques nowadays, or atleast in my country, are not what they used to be many years ago. They are no longer the centre of the city. In the past, all major decisions related to a country’s or empire’s governance, meeting with foreign delegates, etc. took place here. Non-Muslims were welcome and allowed ro pray there. Now they are taking place in highly decorated buildings and prestigious palaces. Well, yes, there’s nothing wrong in conducting business elsewhere but it has diminished the importance of the mosque. Now, people go there, pray & come back without looking left or right to others. It’s only become a place of worship, but it was much more than that.
I recently went to Turkey. In Istanbul, there are buildings, monuments and grand mosques dating from the Ottoman period, and the history stored within the stones and marbles of these sites is rich and awe-inspiring. But what I want to talk about is the mosques.
The mosques were created by skilled artists, such as the Chief Architect Sinan and every detail of them is absolutely perfect. Each mosque has a distinct but beautiful features. Here are the mosques I went to:
- Sultanahmet Mosque
- Aya Sofya
- Mehrimah Sultan
- Sultan Selim
- Eyub Sultan
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque (called the Blue Mosque by tourists) was built between 1609-1617 by Sedefka Mehmet Aga upon the order of Sultan Ahmed I, who ascended the throne at the age of 14 as the 14th Sultan of Ottomans.
This was the first mosque my family and I visited upon our arrival to Istanbul, right after visiting Topkapi Palace. This was the first mosque that embraced me with its full glory and style. After Badshahi Masjid in my country in the city of Lahore, I had never seen a mosque so grand and brilliant in its architecture and art. Every arch, every pillar, every design was made to absolute perfection. Even the ablution fountain at the center of the courtyard was so welcoming. We prayed Asr prayer here before departing.
Sadly, the ceiling of the mosque was under construction so I was unable to see the beautiful domes that symbolically represent the sky or the ‘heavens’. So i managed to take a picture of only the quadrants. But the design and art on the walls were so mesmerising.
After praying Asr, we sat on a raised platform surrounding the courtyard for a while. Along the walls at the edges of the courtyard, information about the mosque was posted in banners such as shown below. I wish the share pictures of the banners there showing how Muslim contributions changed the world as neither are Muslims staunt traditionalists and non-believers of science, implementing old ways that are not beneficial, and nor are they terrorists:
Also, one interesting fact about mosques is that this mosque has six pillars surrounding it; the most among any mosque in Istanbul as far as I know. The rest of the mosques have only 2-4 pillars. This is because these mosques, and all mosques around the world have and must have less than 7 pillars, in respect of the Khana Ka’abah, the Holy Masjid-e-Haram in Makkah which has 7 pillars.
After playing Assassin’s Creed II – Revelations and watching Inferno, I was very excited to see Aya Sofya (I thought it was pronounced as Hagia Sofya)
It has alot of rich history. It was created by Emperor Justinian as a church in 537AD. We had a guide tell us about it and he told us how Justinian was responsible for altering the texts of the Bible and relevant scriptures, distorting their true message from Allah (I won’t go into a debate about this as I am not stating it)
Then some crusades took place. Afterwards it fell into Ottoman hands where Sultan Mehmet converted it into a mosque in 1453.
Aya Sofya means “Church of Holy Wisdom”. It makes sense as even in the mosque, alot of literature is present, possessing uncountable wisdom.
There are remains of Christian influence from Byzantine times that were restored, otherwise the setting is more of a mosque. Apparently, one part of it was under renovation as well so we couldn’t see the left side of it.
I loved the different variations of green, some involvement of purple, yellow and pink due to a variey of marbles used in it making which were taken from different parts of the empire. But the green colour of the marble was absolutely beautiful. You know there are those colours that just sing on their own, they are neither lighter nor darker? That’s what it is in Aya Sofya.
The front small podium in front of the mihrab is especially made for handicapped worshipers. The mihrab is a place along the wall of the mosque about as high has a tall man that is shaped as a corner to reflect the sound of the imama so that it sort of echoes and spreads across the mosque. Before speakers were made, other imams present at different places across thehe mosque repeated after the main imam so that his words could be heard by everyone all over the mosque.
The dome broke twice due to earthquakes, each time on a different part of the hemisphere, but then different architecture was used that pushed the tiles against the sides, keeping them intact, and two metal archs placed perpendicular to each other helped keep the dome in place for a long time.
The Arabic text on the dome is an ayat from the Holy Quran. Once you read the translation, you’ll know its irony as domes represent the skies and the heavens: (Nur means Light)
“Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth; a likeness of His light is as a niche in which is a lamp, the lamp is in a glass, (and) the glass is as it were a brightly shining star, lit from a blessed olive-tree, neither eastern nor western, the oil whereof almost gives light though fire touch it not – light upon light – Allah guides to His light whom He pleases, and Allah sets forth parables for men, and Allah is Cognizant of all things.” (al-Nur, 24/35)
The guide told us a funny story which may or may not be true. Christians had resentment against Sultan Mehmet because before Aya Sofya became a mosque, the Sultan entered the church in horseback, which was disgraceful. The guide told us that actually the Sultan entered Aya Sofya but his horse became out of control all of a sudden perhaps due to something spiritual in the church. It almost pushed him off the horse and the Sultan made a mark on one pillar near the mihrab with his sword, which is very high. There is also his hand print nearby. We saw rhe marks and we laughed because we were not sure if it was true.
The Suleymaniye Mosque was constructed between 1550-1557, ordered by Sultan Suleyman. The surrounding neighborhood is named after this complex. Upon completiton, the Sultan honoured the architect, Mimar Sinan immensely at the opening ceremony by asking him to unlock the door of his artwork himself. He unlocked the door, following tradition by calling the name of Allah (Ya Fettah- The Opener)
After visiting Aya Sofya, Basillica Cistern and the Grand Bazaar, we decided to see as many mosques in Istanbul as possible. The most prominent one that was nearest to the Bazaar was Suleymaniye. The above picture was taken the exact moment I entered the outer courtyard because it was just……..wow. We stayed there for quite a while, praying Asr and Maghrib with the congregation there. The interior was even more mesmerising than the exterior. The design, architecture and symmetry was unbelievable. Sinan was a genius in making this mosque. However, it wasn’t write to give 1 Lira just to use the bathroom.
The main prayer area, mostly for men, and a passing by area was separated by a wooden fence. In the main area, some male volunteers were telling people about the history of the mosque, and they were not even locals. One of them was Nigerian. There was also a shelf nearby with pamphlets in different languages and books related to Islam. If requested, you could even get the Holy Quran from them.
One question I asked was related to the chandelier (and the balance involved with the chandeliers is amazing as they hang from the center of the some yet the dome is strong eenough to hold it. On the chandelier along with the hanging lamps, I saw eggs were hanging on them as well. I asked him what those were for. He said it was in order to keep the spiders away. I was like “Sorry, say that again?” Yep. The odor emanating from the ostrich eggs helps keep the spiders away.
Another interesting fact I heard from another volunteer, the Nigerian one, was that in the past, candles were used to light up the mosque. But smoke would’ve accumulated inside, making it difficult to breathe. In order to prevent this, tiny holes were made at different sides of the mosque through which smoke could not only escape, but be collected and used to make ink for writing. Talk about Islamic environmentalism.
Another interesting fact; in the outer courtyard, some pavement are dug out so they can act as cups, collecting rainwater for animals such as birds and cats to drink from.
On one side of the mosque outside, the Sultan Suleiman I and his wife, Hurrem Sultan’s (Roxelana),tombs were present alongside other graves and the most beautiful flowers I could ever see. Mimar Sinan’s tomb is located outside the mosque’s walls.
And finally, this mosque represented the true purpose of the mosque, which was not only a prayer place but had a catacomb underneath and house-like building surrounding it which were resthouses, madrassas (school for young Muslims) and an eatery. So the mosque benefitted the whole community, not just Muslims.
P.S you could see the Bosphorus from there.
Sehzade means ‘prince’. It was built in 16th century on the third hill of Istanbul, Turkey. It was commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent as a memorial to his son Şehzade Mehmed who died in 1543.
After Maghrib, we set off to Sehzade mosque. It also was a spectacular spectacle. Unlike, the other mosques we had seen then, this was the first mosque whose designs were painted or atleast looked like it. I guess it was easier to maintain than using stone. We prayed Isha prayer here before departing.
The Mihrimah Sultan Mosque was designed by Mimar Sinan for the favorite daughter of Suleiman the Magnificent, Princess Mihrimah. Its building took place from 1562 to 1565.
On the next day, we planned to walk almost the whole day just to visit the remaining mosques in the schedule. It was very long and agonizing but worth it. After getting off the subway (Bless you, MetroCard) by the great wall in Western side of Istanbul, we set off.
First stop, Mehrimah. It was a more simpler mosque than the rest, in my opinion, with a smaller inner and outer courtyard. But that didn’t make it any less exceptional. Like other mosques in Istanbul, it felt like the home I never wanted to leave. We prayed Jumma prayer with the congregation before departing for Chora Church then Sultan Selim mosque.
Yavuz Sultan Selim
This mosque is a 16th-century Ottoman imperial mosque located at the top of the 5th Hill of Istanbul. The Yavuz Selim Mosque is the second oldest extant imperial mosque in Istanbul. It was commissioned by the Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in memory of his father Selim I who died in 1520. The architect was Alaüddin (Acem Alisi).
After climbing up and down hills, our muscles growing tenser each moment and our knees crying for help, along with my family arguing whether to risk going to this masjid or not, we managed to reach here. Although the walk was agonising, it felt nice to see true Istanbul, passing small streets, watching people living in this neighborhood start up their day, meet their neighbors joyfully while their children played all across the streets.
This mosque was even more simpler. It had a smaller courtyard and it consisted of only a single dome. But nevertheless, the design and architecture was exquisite. But then again, not enough to beat Sinan the great.
It is required of Muslims to pray 2 rakaat nafl whenever they enter a mosque as a gesture of respect to Allah Almighty. So we did that at every mosque (Alhamdulillah I wasn’t on my period 😛 ) In addition, when a Muslim is travelling, he or she can decrease the rakaat of prayer of five daily prayers, such as 4 rakaat farz(obligatory) prayers of zuhr, asr and isha is reduced to 2, and sunnah prayers are exempted except for that of fajr prayer. However, since we were visiting mosques almost the whole day, we prayed most of the prayers with the congregation so our prayers weren’t shortened 😛
Fatih mosque was created in the Fatih district of Istanbul, built between 1463 and 1470 by architects Atik Sinan and Mimar Mehmet Tahir, by the order of Fatih Sultan Mehmed. The mosque was built on the site of the former Byzantine Church of the Holy Apostles, which had been in poor condition since the Fourth Crusade, and was demolished in order for the Fatih mosque to be constructed.
The moment I entered, once again the “WOOAAAHHHH” moment came up because this mosque in my opinion has no words to describe it except WOOAAAHHHH. It was so grand and huge and absolutely perfect, from the stone and marble on the floor to the captivating and colourful domes. On the left side of the mosque is a beautiful, large, green park and right in front of the mosque is a large fountain with streams of water shooting out in a beautiful periodic manner.
(This picture was taken a few moments before Mama began chasing birds that collected on the ground in front of us)
The inner courtyard was simpler as compared to the others but it was quite large. But inside the mosque…..see the pictures and videos and find out why this mosque is my absolute favorite.
Alot of the design involved is painted and I could never have imagined how good paint would look. Phenomenal eork, unbelievably exquisite.
There is also an upper podium where women pray whereas men pray on the ground floor. We stayed there for a while, in which i just kept staring at the ceiling and the walla of Fatih. Then we prayed Asr prayer there.
Then we learned that mosques doesn’t just consist of the praying area and courtyards. We went around and found the tomb of Sultan Mehmed. It was made so beautifully and when i saw the dome, there was another WOOOAHH moment. Many people came here to pray, many of them crying. I pay my respect to the Sultan.
Eyub Sultan’s buidling dates from beginning of 19th century. The mosque complex includes a mausoleum marking the spot where Eyub (Job) al-Ansari, the stand-bearer and friend of Prophet Muhammad SAW, was buried.
This mosque we came across by accident because it was close to the chairlift area opposite to Miniaturk across the Golden Horn. But we found out it was the most important mosque ever as it was made for the Holy Prophet Muhammad SAW’s compainion, Ayub (RA).
Even this mosque was quite grand and exquisite inside. There was no proper outer courtyard but in the center of the inner courtyard, there was a large and highly bramched tree, which I think has been there since the mosque was build in 19th Century, making it and the mosque amongst the oldest in the world. And we came acros it by accident. Coincidence, huh?
In front of the inner courtyard, there was a small building which had some remains of Prophet Muhammad SAW’s such as his footprint before he went on Miraj or so it is claimed to be. It is amazing how much respect these remains are given without people going insane and praying as id these remains are gods that will answer their prayers for them so I was really impressed.
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It was amazing goes to these grand mosques, even if it requires long walks in between hills and stopping to pray nafl prayers everytime I entered the mosques (which you are required to do before you sit in the mosque. Women undergoing menstruation do not required to pray) along with other compulsory prayers in congregation. Watching all these mosques gave me hope that the actual purpose of mosques is still safeguarded and practiced. Every mosque felt like home which I didn’t want to leave. Istanbul as a whole felt that way too, for alot of reasons. The feeling of home & not wanting to leave it was strongest in Fatih Mosque while sitting in the balcony along the inner wall, placing my scarf-covered head on the wall and just staring at the ceiling, the strong pillars, eye-catching marble and stone, painted surfaces and the greatest of all, the dome. All of it engulfed me in a warm cocoon. For anyone, whether Muslim or not, they will surely welcome you in their warmth, knowledge and comfort, as everyone is equal under the eyes of Allah the Beneficient.
These are the places I want to go & pray every prayer in, stand in Taraweeh prayers for. Pakistan also has alot of grand mosques, pike Badshahi Masjid, from the time of Mughals, and Wazir Khan Masjid which is also comforting to pray in, but we have had difficulty preserving monuments of that time. We’re had elections soon on the 25th July and I hope the new government comes down to our level and protects our people and preserves what we hold dear, because this is not the time for us to be held by the leash at the hands of criminals. Inshallah I hope for the best, and I’m not sure how I will do so, but I’ll contribute in preserving my country’s history.
Let us all protect our history. There is much to learn from it.
Any thoughts? Write it in the comments 😊
P.S the highlighted portions were taken from the internet, mostly Wikipedia.