Standing on the shores of Sea of Marmara, is a young Venetian girl, abducted by her fellow countrymen and sold as a slave.
From this scared, angry, petite ball of fire came a Queen, a Sultana whose husband Selim II fell and remained deeply in love with her, completely captured by the dynamic combination of virtuosity, intellect and beauty.
Legend says she was vivacious and her persona was filled with Nur (Light), A combination of piety and passion.
She rapidly went from Slave to Sultana and from Sultana to be known as one of most pious, philanthropic and intelligent women of the Ottoman Royalty. She was named “Afife Nurbano” by Hurrem Sultan, the wife of Suleyman the Magnificent.
“Afife” means virtuous and Nurbano means “the Queen who scatters the light of God”. She was married to Sultan Selim II who fell and remained deeply in love with her.
An angry, fearful but brave child of 13 snatched by hostile elements in her hometown and sold as a slave to the Ottoman King who rose in the ranks of slave girls to serve his wife Hurrem Sultan in her Harem.
Nurbano from her own private purse commissioned one of the most famed architect Mimar Sinan (of Topkapi palace fame) to build for her a philanthropic epic: a sacred complex on the Island of the Sultanas that came to be known as Valide Atik. It was written up in travelogues by visitors and its beauty and gracious hospitality described by diplomats in their reports to their home countries.
The Valide Atik complex which comprised of ( in the process of rejuvenation) : the Mosque, Hifz School for children, an orphanage, a free food kitchen, a seminary Madrassah, a Tekke for the dervishes and a full scale hospital in a large complex set in the dense greenery of the trees. Gradually as the town grew it embraced the large mosque complex and integrated it into the city. As one architect put it “it was a case of the mosque waiting to be embraced by the town rather than dictating to the town how to grow”
Today I look up at the spiral steps that go up to the Queens balcony the arches and the pillars are still pristine white despite the passage of several centuries, It is said that Mimar Sinan of great repute picked the purest of the white marble to reflect the light or Nur of Nurbano for her balcony in the Mosque.
Valide Atik can be entered via the madrassah classrooms which circle an interior fountain and garden, the steps lead up to the mosque which is very symbolic that you first learn the nuts and bolts and then go up or are promoted up to feel the sacred spirituality in the mosque of what you learned down there in the Madrassah.
In the outside courtyard of the mosque which is unique in its placement grows a tree which is also several centuries old, behind it a rose garden flourishes and the pink roses call to the white ones reminding them that it was just a mention of a word of love that was said in their presence that made them blush and turned them pink.
The red petals in the iznik tiles decorate the walls around the minbar reminding the entire final abode of The gardens of Jannah. Above the minbar is inscribed the name of Allah and laterally the names of the sons of Prophet Muhammad bringing the family together in this alcove reminding us of the significance of family always and everywhere in the world.
If you are facing the minbar on the right is another balcony with a golden grille, behind which is a private prayer musallah created for the privacy of more recent royal families when safety became an issue. One enters the musallah by going through an area of ablution, climbing the stairs to a medium size receiving room with couches and beautiful drapes though nothing compared to what adorned those windows filled with light in the days of the Sultana Nur Bano.
Did Sultana Nurbano ever in her wildest imagination foresee that millions of men women and children would step into her academic/spiritual and sacred complex and leave as accomplished students of Deen. People coming in hungry and leave satiated, children who became Hufaz of Quran in her school spreading out into the Ottoman world and beyond would bring the word of the Quran far and wide. Pure hearts would come to retreat in the Tekke and learn to rein in the Nafs with Tassawuf.
An episode related by Professor Uzyar ( Architecture)
“Mother what do you hold in your fist,” asks Sultan Murad the son of Nurbano at the urging of his wife who had complained to him: “She has this habit of picking up all the crumbs from her plate and then holds them in her fist………..and perhaps eats them later” was the report to Sultan Murad by his wife and Nur Banos daughter in law.
At the questioning of her son, NurBano remained silent, her fist closed, she alone was following the sunnah to the letter without insisting that others do so also, not pressuring her daughter in law or son to obey the sunnah as one would expect from modern mother in laws.
“Mother!” said Prince Murad impatiently and at his insistence she slowly opened her fist and instead of crumbs, her hand was filled with pearls leaving everyone at the table speechless.
I look around at the Valide Atik with new eyes, where I have been attending the Suhbha program and I ask myself: do I want to be a Sultana to build such a complex, which is a sadaqa e jariya forever,………and the answer is Yes! Yes! Yes!!!!