The shadows of night are dueling with the day, which is reluctant to leave the Ulu Camii. The night angels wait patiently in the wings to get their report from the day angels. It has been a long and full day and I am ready to seek rest in Salah.
In another realm the Pandora’s box is being unlocked to release the evil shaitaans to fill the air with tension and conflict. However in the precincts of the Ulu Cammi there seems to be a safety net. I feel it as soon as I cross the street from the Hotel and go down the steps into the compound of the Ulu Camii, The engravings on the minaret cast a symmetric geometric pattern soothing the mind and body with the yin and yang of the dark and the light.
As soon as I enter I see the first sign of order: the shoe boxes are numbered so those like me and others who can forget where we left our shoes amongst a thousand shoe boxes we can write down the number of the box for our shoes, pretty much like a parking spot at a large airport.
The evening fills with the sound of the Khatirah in Turkish which has a very polite intonation in which the advice is more like a lilt of question with a sweetness of the answer connected with a “ya’ani” and a pause which makes the answer humble rather than a self proclaimed mandate.
The mosque is large sprawling and its wide carpeted expanse is a child magnet. A five-year-old brother and a three-year-old sister play. The little sister giggling repeatedly tags her brother encouraging him to run after her, I am reminded of the playful relationship of my grandchildren………..
The sister’s area is generous and we are early enough to find a spot on the one step raised platform that directly faces the minbar. I look around at the faces and they look back at me as if I am a part of this picture not a stranger from a far away land. The faces are as varied as can be. The faces of Turkey are intermingled with ones from Indonesia and Malaysia.
I feel special anywhere I go in Turkey thanks to my ancestors in Pakistan. We from Pakistan are “Kardes” i.e. brothers and sisters to the Turks. We are loved genuinely by the Turks honoring the tradition of “a friend in need is a friend indeed”. They have long memories of being helped by Pakistan when enemies surrounded Turkey.
The salaawaat begins punctuated by advice in Turkish and the children continue to play.
Then like a well-practiced age-old habit, at the sound of the adhaan the men and women fall into rows, talking ceases and the children are called to halt their playing by their mothers.
The rhythm of the mosque in Turkey takes a few times of exposure to learn but it is like clock work: The adhaan followed by the dua of adhaan, followed by the salawaat, the standing up for sunnah, the call to iqamah, the standing up for iqamah at a predetermined point which is the same for every iqamah all over Turkey. Finally opening the Salah and closing the dunya with Allah O Akbar.
Ulu Cammi falls silent; the calligraphic scriptures on the wall come alive and echo the recitation of the Quran. As I stand after ruku, I suddenly realize with a start that half the Cammii is filled with women and it warms my heart like nothing else.
There are two kinds of Turkish women you will meet in a mosque of significance like the Ulu Cammi where most of the people have traveled from far and wide to witness this one of kind mosque in the world: There are the large women from the villages of Turkey who have spent all their youth and middle age serving others. Their hands are reddened with the millions of washings they have done of clothes and dishes for their extended families and members of their village and their feet are swollen from other unclear reasons, they are unable to bend their knees easily and yet they do not take the easy way out of sitting on a stool to pray. They go down and up with or without aided by a stick. I am in awe of their desire to lay their forehead down in sajdah and no swollen ankle or aching knees will prevent them from doing so.
The prayers ends and the salawaat begin, the tasbeeh Fatima, the calling on “The Constant Giver and Bestower who makes the gifting irrespective of our efforts” There are moments of silence for private prayer before the Names of Allah begin one by one recited and sprinkled like fairy dust on the men and women seeking love, peace, purity and guidance.
I am rooted to the spot, the arches rise above and around me, and twelve domes of the Ulu Cammi resound with the words of Allah, the salawaat and supplication and it seems those very words have emerged from the walls artistically inscribed as a visual remembrance.
In Ulu Cammii the mind and body never strays from the love and presence of the Almighty, for no matter where you look one is brought back to the originator of life “Al Haye”.
If one worries about something Surah Falaq is offered in a flower, if one is in Anguish the giant name of Allah looks at you to give you strength, and if your Nafs is rearing its ugly head, Surah Shams is offered as a reassurance in the middle of a Sun circle.
The mosque has almost emptied and reluctantly I get up to leave, but I want to come back for fajr, I walk the entire mosque but the timings are no longer visible. I ask a young woman and she belongs to the second type of Turkish women, strong and lithe in body, slim hipped, sweet and innocent in face, wearing a long skirt with a long coat and the classic square hijab. She smiles, walks me to the uniformed caretakers of the mosque who very respectfully and diligently using the Google translator inform me that fajr iqamah will be at 5.25 am,
She smiles and hugs me and shares that she also lives in Uskudar and is even more delighted and gives me an extra hug when she learns that I am from Pakistan. As she leaves with her husband, I realize she is slightly younger than my daughter and yet she knows enough about the Pakistan Turkey love tie to make me someone special in her book.
I step out into the crisp night air; people are wrapping up business, closing shop and carrying in their wares before locking up.
Allah has two gifts waiting for me, in the compound of the mosque, the first actually I wanted and the second to which I was calledJ
A man is selling chocolate covered chestnuts, which are a specialty of Turkey. I hasten to buy some and when I turn around there is another man dressed in traditional Turkish garb making a complicated candy lollipop which he swirls with a fresh orange at the end and hands it to the Dad of three who is also from some other part of Turkey. He explains to me with a smile that this is a “traditional Osmanli candy”
I go ahead and ask the candy man to make one for me. He has a five compartment steel pan, each compartment is filled with a sticky gooey liquid candy, the first is mint, the second, some form of cinnamon/honey the third is strawberry, the fourth is vanilla and the fifth is lemon. He scrapes each flavor with a knife swirling it on the stick and in the end puts it inside the half of an orange and swirls it spreading the fresh citrusy flavor in the night air.
He hands this piece of art to me and I taste it gingerly……….. Immediately I am transported to the Ottoman times with the multitude of flavors, each blending with the other and yet remaining distinct, very much like the Ummah of our beloved Prophet Muhammad peace and blessings are upon him.
I look back at the minaret, it smiles down at me benevolently and I cross the compound with a light heart. The night air of Bursa kisses both my cheeks like a host bidding farewell to a guest.
Thank you Allah, Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for bringing me here… I repeat the litany of gratitude as I bound up the stairs to the street heading back to the hotel.
Ayahs about purifying yourself in Surah Shams: