I am back on my balcony and looking out at the Bosporus, where the minarets of the Blue mosque are decorated with lights. The air is crisp, clean and laden with promise, as the night is still young. What has happened in the last few hours is surreal and already seems like a dream.
When one prays, and fasts and remembers the Divine, the expectation of a gift is never immediate, but tonight all records were broken.
It is still the night of the 15 of Shabaan, the night of Berat , Shab e Baraat or a Kandeel night as the Turks call it. It is a night on which ones past actions are accounted for and ones fate is written for the recent future. It was on such a night fourteen years ago when the fate of the three boys was written as three leaves that would fall off the tree of life……..and they did. One of those boys was my son.
Tonight has come with a lot of good wishes, duas, messages and resources from friends and well wishers all over the globe.
Looking out into the street it feels that all of Istanbul takes this night in stride like something that is in their DNA and they have revered and remembered for centuries. The extra ruku and sujood of the Qiyam al Layl are programmed into the knees of the musallis. I am a“ misafer”, (a guest) in Istanbul and am in awe at the grace with which this Kandeel night is celebrated.
We are going to the mosque in Beylerbei for tonight’s ebadah (worship) and Dhikr (remembrance) of the Divine. We get into the cab and show the driver the address of the mosque; he glances once at the address on the phone and then drives without a word, weaving through the busy dolmus stand in Uskudar, negotiating the crowd from the incoming ferryboat from Eminonu and heads towards Beylerbei.
He never once looks again at the Google map or the address unlike other drivers. Perhaps years of driving people to the mosque for tonight is programmed into the cab drivers too, They probably have driven hundreds of people heading towards a mosque to find strength with their fellow musallis and comfort in the combined Dhikr and fellowship.
The first bridge appears, it is not lit yet as there is still daylight and the sunset has not yet sent its shafts of pink messengers into the sky. It is a Monday half hour before sunset, and the streets are bustling. The cab dips into a tunnel and comes out the other end of a road that hugs the Bosphorus for a short while and then weaves into small lanes leading to an old Ottoman mosque, which was restored recently to its former glory.
I climb the concrete steps to the women entrance, take off my shoes and carefully place them in the shoe racks where other shoes are arranged in order. I walk up the polished hard wood stairs to the Mezzanine. The floor is covered with a green musallah carpet and women who have preceded me have taken almost all the prime spots in front of the balcony facing the minbar.
The solid polished wood carved lattice windows of the mezzanine allow a clear vision of what is going on downstairs in the men section where preparations are in progress.
The Imam recites Surah Yaseen and people sit in lines to listen. A group of young students arrive wearing green turbans; their eyes round with awe and expectation. Tonight is their night to shine as they are being admitted into an adult Dhikr on this Holy night.
A group of women approach the left side of the mezzanine where I have found a spot that overlooks the minbar and most of the musallah. I find myself mentally flitting between someone who is here to pray and make duas with someone who is intrigued with the concept of Dhikr, Quran and salawaat with fellow women and men in a gorgeous unique and historic place of worship and Remembrance in an exotic foreign land. Focus, focus, focus I tell myself which is easy because the salawaat bring you to attention with their sweetness.
The women next to me bring out a huge engraved platter, and arranges tea glasses, food and water on it. It is Monday and the night of Barat and everyone is fasting. For a fleeting second I feel sorry for my being alone and then I have a flashback of our mosque in the US where people sit with their friends at iftar and ignore the new comers.
Today I am the newcomer in this land away from home where no one knows my name. Two Spanish women come and sit down beside me and the younger one smiles at me…and all thoughts of being alone and a newcomer flee my head. A Turkish woman comes and sits next to them and nods her head acknowledging me. From her expression I can see that she is already in tasbeeh.
The adhan is called and I see the tray of dates going around downstairs for the people to open their fast.
I pull out my single date to open my fast and get up to go to the kitchen to get water and lo and behold a long table is set with classic simple food of rice pilaf, daal soup with bread, The woman besides me insists on giving me her plate and I accept gracefully. I sit down in the long kitchen and eat slowly savoring every morsel of this food and thank the hands that prepared it.
Like clockwork, and without prompting everyone returns to the musallah before it is time for iqamah for the Maghreb prayer. The iqamah is called and the men line up below and the women in the mezzanine. Prayer begins and I am enveloped in the the warmth of Muslim women beside me and Muslim men below me filling me with a sense of security, and gratitude for being a part of the Muslim Ummah.
After the fard prayer begins the marathon of the Sunnah, the nawafil, the salaat e awaabeen and more. There is a pause and the sweet young voice of a male student fills the air with the recitation of Surah Yaseen, after which the Sheikh makes a dua. The second and third recitation of the Yaseen is marked by two things the absolute silence in the audience and the power of it filling the space. Technology has invaded this traditional Ottoman mosque as I see some men following the Surah Yaseen on their phones.
Suddenly the voice of woman is heard who is screaming at someone in a high pitched voice and doesn’t stop. The level of tolerance by others to her screaming is amazing to me. I see her later, she has a tremor of her hands as she eats her food and her high-pitched voice and flat facies tells me she has a neurologic problem, perhaps advanced Parkinson’s disease and all that goes with it.
After each recitation of the Surah Yaseen, the soft voice of the Sheikh floats with duas for everyone and everything all over the world.
After the final dua there is a breather and trays with Osmanli tatli (Traditional Turkish sweets) appear amongst the men and the women, gracefully served and gracefully accepted.
The salawaat begin and the baritone of the men drowns the soft tones of the women as the room resounds with Allah humma salley ala……..
Soon it is time for the Qiyam al Layl, the Sheikh begins and I feel I am in the Haram in Ramadan Itikaaf. My body is tired from the fasting, and walking, my heart and brain is full of the power of the Surah Yaseen and the old injury in my knee is beginning to ache.
The Qiyam ends and the melodious Salawaat begin and people meld into one family. I can feel the suppressed excitement in the air but am not sure of the reason.
I see two men carrying a long table covered with a beige cloth into the musallah and then a large ornate glass box, which they place on the table. The Sheikh approaches the box and lifts out a green globe with some thing from the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him and then…… the men surround it and I lose my view………….
I feel envious of the men who have lined up to see it up close, and we women here in the mezzanine can only watch and feel what it could be like to be closest to the Prophet pbuh tabarakaat.
I want a closer look and a touch. I think to myself I will never have the opportunity to be this close to the DNA of our beloved Prophet Muhammad pbuh, I am here and yet I am not close enough to touch. The feeling of deprivation overwhelms me. I have to accept that it is not to be my lot to be granted this honor and sabr is the only alternative.
The salawaat continue, the fast, and the heat of the room is making me dizzy, I get up to leave and walk down the hardwood stairs. I notice two women waiting behind the curtain that separates the men’s section from the women’s entrance. They are holding a smaller rectangular box on their head ready to hand it over to the men’s side.
Little do I know that in there is an answer to my entreaty upstairs for the opportunity to be in the proximity to the Prophet pbuh. It is the answer to my intense desire that Allah gifts me in this unsual manner.
In the box, is a Tabbaruk from the Prophet pbuh, As the box is passed to two of the men who have come to receive it, the man who is holding the box reverently opens it slightly and offers it carefully to the two older ladies and me to be able to touch and feel the contents. I touch the box and then gingerly touch the inside………..
I feel I am in a surreal dream and completely undeserving of this honor which I am being offered. For a fleeting moment I feel the proximity of Prophet Muhammad pbuh presence as much as can be possible at this day and age.
Suddenly the heat of the room, the hustle and bustle of the people, the screaming woman with Parkinson’s disease, the fleeting feeling of being alone in a foreign land, the feeling of envy at watching the men having access to the Prophets tabarruk, and the aching knees all recede with the wonder of the gift that I have just been given. I will never be closer to the Prophet pbuh than what I am now via his DNA and his clothing……… the tabarrakaat that people talk about that reside in the Topkapi palace under lock and key, I see in front of me being carried by two women with great reverence and I am being allowed to touch, and feel it…….
The whole experience is surreal and I feel I am in a time warp. The immensity of what I have been granted begins to sink in as I step out into the clean crisp night air of Istanbul. The lighted bridge smiles knowingly at me………. “Sabr” its seems to say “always works doesn’t it?
I realize with a shock that I have just been given a gift that has no comparison……………..
Thank you Allah! Thank you my friends who sent me here and those who accompanied me! Thank you Turkey for reverently honoring and preserving the tabaraakat of our beloved Prophet Muhammad peace and blessings be on him!
Surah Yaseen with english translation: