It is Thursday night in Uskudar………. I have rushed through the darkened uneven streets up the hill leading to the mosque. Coming down the steps, into the courtyard I am held back by an invisible hand…the fragrance a version of Turkish frangipani calls me from the bush on the left. I shake off the temptation to pause and seek out the source of the fragrance as the time for isha is near.
I swiftly take off my shoes, run up the steps to the women’s musallah, place them in the shoe box on the landing and walk on to the next flight of steps into a small ante room. This room is a small prayer room, which opens into a larger prayer room. It is in this room where I had met the Quran recitation teacher whose house had burned down. My turkish friend had told me that she had no relatives and thus no one in the world to turn to. Yet when I had asked her through my friend if she would accept help from me, she had smiled and said pointing to the ceiling “ Allah is helping me “ and then placing her right hand on her heart she turned to me and said “tessekular… “ Her eyes shaded with embarrassment. I could clearly see that she was not used to accepting charity.
A cat came up and rubbed against her to give her the much needed affection. I move on to the larger L shaped women’s musallah looking for my newfound friend, whom I had met at Dhuhr in the mosque next door to where I live.
As I enter the main musallah a young women offers me a drop from her little bottle of perfume. I rub it on my hands and feel transported to a rose garden.
I pause at the entrance to the front of the musallah. I feel I have entered another dimension of sensibility. The dim light in the musallah, the rising swirls of smoke from the incense, resemble the slowly whirling dervishes in my minds eye. The incense wraps me in an envelope of spirituality that I had not felt before here.
I look for an empty spot and as I get ready to sit down I see her in the second row from the front. She is standing and half turned to me she beckons me with her hand like an old friend, not someone I had met this afternoon. She points to the empty space beside her, which is currently occupied by her coat. I am deeply touched by her act of caring and am filled with the warmth of friendship in this land away from home.
She, who did not know me from Adam, this morning had not only waited for me to pray her Sunnah but had saved a space for me in the prime spot to listen to the Dhikr. I look at her and her pale face has a glow in the darkness, her eyes fill with gentle kindness of someone who has met you lost in the dark and completely understands your need to be guided out of the darkness.
I peel off my long black coat revealing my carmine red shirt, long in the back and relatively short in the front over gray pants. Suddenly the shirt that had looked so elegant when I had bought it feels like a neon sign in this sea of gray and pastels. No one says a word, nor makes a comment nor indicates that they had even noticed after the first indrawn breath.
She gently pats my arm drawing me out of my embarrassment and starts her Sunnah and I follow suit. At the completion of Sunnah the Isha Salah begins led by the Imam. His melodious voice pours the last two ayahs of surah baqarah directly into my heart, I feel the people recede in the room and all that is left is his voice reciting the Quran pouring it onto my heart, the twirls of incense smoke rising to the ceiling, mixing with the rose water on my skin transporting me to another realm. I have entered a dimension of understanding and softness of the heart that I had not visited before.
Previous to coming here I had no idea what to expect in a Dhikr night………. The extreme right mentation of the mosques at home had made me wary of anything called Dhikr as it may border on innovation or bidah. These thoughts had fleetingly passed through my head when I had accepted her invitation to attend Dhikr at the Abdullah Aziz Huday mosque.
The Dhikr starts with the Quran, the praise of Allah, His names, and follows with the salawaat for RasoolAllah. The Imams melodious voice rises with the salawaat……..Allah humma salay…….. and is joined in a chorus by the deep baritone of male voices. I feel my heart shimmying and reverberating to the sound.
I sit transfixed listening, feeling, and receiving. I feel my lips moving without my volition repeating the affirmation of Tawheed, repeating the salaawaat, my voice melting into the resounding Allah humma…….. around me.
The woman next to me places her hand on her heart and closes her eyes.
My eyes are also closed……….. It is Thursday night and in my heart I am in Uskudar even though my body is across the ocean.
The Aziz Mahmut Hudayi Mosque was built in 1594 by Ayse Hanim Sultan, the daughter of Mihrimah Sultan and the Grand Vizier Rustem Pasa, for Aziz Mahmud Hudayi who served as Qadi in Edirne, Egypt, Sham(Syria) and Bursa. He was a murid and khalifah and wrote about thirty works, seven of which are in Turkish. The mosque is part of a complex (Turkish: kulliye) that consists of a soup kitchen, a tomb, a library, a chamber for Sultans, a fountain, dervish rooms, a house for the sheikh and a bakery spread out over a total area of 10,000 square meters.