It is late afternoon when I make a quick trip to the store in the next block to buy essentials including chocolate to survive me through the fast tomorrow.
The heat has stepped up. A woman with almost white blonde hair, in black leather pants and a tank top, with tattoos on her upper arms sits at the corner café smoking and sipping coffee talking to a young man with an earring. There is suppressed excitement in the air, and yet a stillness of expectation.
The super markets are stocked with specialties for Ramadan, the bakery is making big business. I pause at something that looks like “Pheni “ a Pakistani dessert soaked in hot milk and sugar which is a treat and an instant lift to the fasting body. I am for a moment dipped in nostalgia.
The air has warmed significantly, and my clothes stick to me with perspiration. This is my first Ramadan away from home and in a Muslim country after a very long time.
As the sun begins to lower itself to welcome the incoming evening of the first of Ramadan, my rooms is filled with the haunting sounds of Surah al Baqarah with the ayahs of Ramadan floating out of my phone like a balm to the soul, and I am filled with gratitude. It is a gift from a friend. Omar Hisham al Arabi is pouring his heart out as he recites the Ayahs from the Quran.
I watch the sunset and then like a musical orchestra, each different in tone, with the same words and complementing each other, the adhaans float across the Bosphorus from the Blue mosque, and two others …….
It is a peaceful moment.
yet in my mind I feel shivers as I think of the rugged cave where a humble servant of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) was in meditation and saw a magnificent angel whose wings spread across the horizon. It held him in a tight embrace and said……..”Recite! in the name of the thy Lord……” Gabriel (AS) had come to bring the revelation with the roadmap to the eternal house of Peace (Dar as Salaam).
The boats carrying their cargo of people, cars and goods hurry across the Bosphorus and just as the sounds of the adhaan become muted, the clear call for Prayer enters my apartment; it is the little mosque next door calling the faithful, promising peace in prayer.
I start walking to the mosque and as if on cue each minaret across the Bosphorus lights up with its new jewelry. Each adorned with a necklace of yellow diamonds, which scintillate in the fading sunset and the incoming night. A huge banner lighted with the words “welcome Ramadan” dips between the two minarets of the Blue mosque “Hosgeldiniz from Sultan Ahmet” is what it says I think.
I walk down headed to the mosque next door. As I approach the stairs going down to the Marine walk along the Bosphorus, a young man sits on the low brick wall talking to someone on his phone, while the Bosphorus reflecting the scintillating lights of the mosques offers up a superb view, welcoming all to the hospitality of Turkey. A taxi driver is waiting for someone and walks to the edge and there is wonder in his voice as he looks at the scintillating lights reflected in the Bosphorus and pointing to the scene says” “Cök Guzel” to his companion.
As I start uphill I notice women in flowing garbs in soft pastels and the pretty scarves of Istanbul heading the same way.
It is Maghreb in Istanbul and it is glittering like a new bride, the cafes I am told will be open all night and for Suhoor. The hard rock played at the café below has muted their sounds in respect. Even they in their secular desire for Metallica honor the entrance of Ramadan.
It is amazing how time fast forwards between Maghreb and Isha, and I find myself again heading to the little mosque next door for Tarawih and hopefully meeting a Turkish friend as promised.
I see the flowing coats and abayas disappear into the mosque but when I
reach the downstairs small prayer room for women there is only one elderly lady.
Where are the women I wonder? Almost immediately I see a slim Turkish girl in a fawn colored flowing coat and hijab, taking two steps at a time and disappearing up the stairs that lead to the Mezzanine. I follow quickly up the stairs as the iqamah for Isha is called, and when I reach the last stair I pause in wonder at the sight: the Mezzanine is almost full of women of all ages, mostly young in their twenties or thirties.
After the Isha Salah the tarawih for the first of Ramadan begins……. It is in multiple of two rakats and after each four the beautiful sound of the salawaat resounds within the tile covered walls.
Twenty rakat are over before I realize it and the closure begins with Witr.
How unique is this experience? Everyone has the same etiquette of the Sunnah, where did they learn it in secular Turkey? There is a remarkable absence of diversity of etiquette noted in other mosques in the US.
Here no women saunter in late to start the Salah, there is no food in the musallah, and the absence of crying babies who yearn for their mamas and bed is missing too.
My first tarawih in Istanbul is over. I walk out into the clear cool night.
Separating the two continents of Asia and Europe is the Sea of Bosphorus. The boats have docked and the water is still, reflecting the lighted minarets of the Blue mosque with the welcome sign like a necklace of yellow diamonds connecting the two. It is almost midnight in Uskudar.
My friends walk me home. The birds have gone to sleep as have the cats, but Istanbul is wide-awake. I hear the muted rhythmic sound of the Quran being recited somewhere carried on the wings of the night………….
Thus ends the beginning of the first evening of Ramadan and the anticipation of the fast tomorrow. I think about it with some level of trepidation, as I am still weak from the prolonged bronchitis and incessant coughing.
What an honor to be in Turkey for Ramadan, other than Mecca and Medinah it is second to none…….