If you close your eyes you could easily be in the Haram………..
Yet when I open my eyes I am in Yeni Valide: the Queen mothers mosque built on the island of the Sultanas (Uskudar) by her obedient son, the Sultan of the Ottomans.
As you get off the ferry from Aminonu you see two mosques across from each other. The more delicately feminine one that sits gracefully among the noise of the ferryboat terminal is the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque built by a loving husband: the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Directly across sits the grand dowagers mosque of the mother of the Sultan and it exudes power from every pore of its walls.
I don’t know much about the Queens: the Mother and the daughter in law (Mihrimah sultan) but I have been recommended a historic Turkish series Ertugul that begins with the father of the first Ottoman Sultan. To check section one you can click here ***for it. (hopefully after reading the article otherwise you will be distracted)
Dr. Z has very kindly picked me up in her car and is driving me to Yeni Valide mosque. As we approach it. the large lighted sign connecting the two minarets is lit up welcoming Ramadan. The minarets are adorned with garlands of lights encircling them.
Strings of buntings decorate the streets, It is ten O clock at night and Uskudar is alert and active. I look across at the ferry terminal and the Marmaray entrance, where people are pouring in and out going somewhere…….. Perhaps they like me are off to taste tarawih in a new mosque.
Dr. Z drops me off and goes to park the car, I am grateful that Allah has placed me in her path. I climb the first set of steps to the entrance and the seagulls arrive, I look up they are circling the minaret with their strange catcalls, baby calls which sound like a baby calling its mother and cackling which sounds like Hey hey…
I have never heard such sounds from the seagulls, not in Inverness Scotland, not in Kiawah Island in South Carolina (USA) these are unique calls, mysterious and almost like a repetitive Dhikr. These are the voices of the seagulls of Uskudar heard at every mosque on the Asian Istanbul shore.
I hurry into the courtyard, and pause for a moment, the night dignifies the same mundane courtyard with a unique dignified beauty. The arches are lit softly and discreetly. The shoeboxes call to me and I head towards them. I have four choices for women’s sections to pray. I can stay in the outside enclosure under the roof but then I will be only partially protected from the advancing chill of the night by a temporary partition.
I bypass that option and walk into the mosque through the main door, and stop in my tracks as a halaqa is in full session. Men in rapt attention surround the Imam who is sitting on a raised minbar and talking to them in Turkish, interspersed with ayahs of the Quran and hadith. It has only been an hour since we opened the fast and the mosque is already filling with people. What impresses me is the rapt attention of the men listening carefully to the Imam an hour after opening their fast…..It is a working day in Ramadan!
There is something very polite and kind in the intonation of the Turkish language. Even when they demand something it is with a (Please) lutfen) and Abey (brother) or Abla (sister) in a polite tone.
I proceed to my second choice, which is a screened in area on the ground floor, and find it full of older women with bad knees. I am tempted for a moment to stay there but decide to brave the cylindrical staircase. I begin my climb up the circular stairway lined with a red carpet on stone, a deadly combination but so far no one has fallen or lost footing. The narrowness of the cylindrical stairs reminds me of Rapunzel’s tower, there is only one way up.
I feel the Ottoman men wanted their women to be strong including the Queens and to be surefooted, for surely you had to be that to get up these stairs. I see some young stockinged feet run up and disappear at the end.
The last step opens into a beautiful mezzanine dedicated for women………… sealed water cups sit beside the door for those who might want to hydrate themselves after the long fast, before isha begins.
There are enough women and girls but it is not over packed. It is Monday night and we are going into the last part of the first week of Ramadan. The first third is called the time to ask for Mercy***
I find a spot to pray tahiyaat e masjed and the adhan is called…….. Some one had mentioned that even in the adhaans there is a demonstration of the adab (etiquette) for the parent, thus the adhaan begins from the Yeni Valide * the Queen mothers mosque) and with the pause of the first sentence like an echo from across the street comes the adhaan of the Mihrimah Sultan mosque (the Sultana wife)…and so it goes.
The tandem call for prayer led by Yeni Valide followed by Mihrimah Sultan….etiquette:
I note that there are some important Imams in the first line of the men’s congregation. Usually you can recognize the seniority of the Imam by his headgear. I silently make note that tonight there are three heavy hitters. I can tell that tonight’s tarawih is going to be a treat!
Isha begins and the charisma of the reciter, the cadence of the ayahs spilling the meanings with reminders of gratitude, spirituality and purity of heart envelop me in the first layer of wonder.
Isha Salah ends and the marathon of 20 rakah begins and I have been told that a full juz will be completed so I anticipate it to be longer into the night.
The three senior Imams one by one recite the Quran each distinct in style, tajweed and the beauty of their voices which transports me to the spiritual realms of the Divine. It is like being on a flying carpet……..the breeze of peace and solace caressing my face to the cadence of the Divine word.
Surprisingly my feet do not ache, my thirst, which was compelling when I was doing my nawafil, seemed to have faded. In between every four rakah the salawaat are recited and the mosque is filled with the male baritone voices.
The congregation of men is diverse. I see young men with Kufis, with big curly hair sticking out, others with hair slicked back, and some with white turbans, which tells me they are students of Hifz. Some are without headgear especially the middle aged ones, perhaps a throwback from the Ataturk generation when any form of headgear other than the British hat was banned as part of the Lausanne treaty.
I glance at the ladies line and most of the women are young in their twenties and thirties, one older lady who looks 80 but has the flexibility in Salah of a twenty year old stands next to me in full attentiveness.
The Imam begins his recitation… I close my eyes and I could easily be in the Haram in Mecca, the rendition is so perfect and the cadence melodious. As each Imam steps forth to recite, each has a unique style and I marvel at the perfection of their tajweed and the ease of recitation as they float the words of the surah with sweetness filled with humble adab (etiquette) and envelop us in the spirituality of the night prayer.
I sense their acknowledgement of the honor for being chosen to lead tarawih…….. You can feel it in their voices; it is truly a privilege to be leading the congregation at the Yeni Valide the Queen mothers mosque on the island of the Sultanas. You cant be an ordinary Imam to win this honor. Soon the twenty rakah are over and we are wrapping up the night with witr.
Going down the cylindrical steps is even more precarious than coming up.
As I am hastily putting on my shoes I see the pale face of a Syrian woman clad in a black abaya with a child, her hand held out and her voice plaintive as she mumbles something incoherent in a tone of humility. Her fair skin once beautiful now parched by long unprotected exposure to the sun is etched with the lines of chronic pain. Her eyes filled with untold stories of the trek across the two countries along bombed homes and roads to a vast insecurity. I put some money in her palm and she and her child melts into the night.
We walk home all of us girls from the Suhbha. It is a beautiful night, clear, cool, crisp and you can feel the peace in the brick paved lane leading out of the mosque.
S reminds me to look behind me. I turn back to look at the Queen mothers mosque and notice for the first time…the lights of the first bridge over the Bosphorus winking at me…………. ” did you like your tarawih adventure? “they ask.
Yes it has been a beautiful experience: Tarawih at the Yeni Valide mosque, who knows which mosque, will call us tomorrow for tarawih…………
Ahhh the luxury of having so many mosques to choose from for tarawih, and those so far each have had tarawihs to die for, unique in their particular perspective, the recitation of the Quran impeccable and from the heart……. and yet I have only been able to share one with you……..
I have always wondered why do I feel energized after Tarawih? It’s past midnight I have been fasting all day with very little sleep and yet I can feel the energy exuding from me.
The Sheikh answered that question in class today: It is a special gift from Allah Subhanawataala just in Ramadan:
As says one of the sages: “In Ramadan every day there is a caller in the spiritual realm and we can hear it with our spiritual reality…………Ya Baaghi khairi abshir or akbi, ” (come on its your opportunity to do good, it is easy) ya baghi sharri aksar (O seeker of, doer of evil, hold back). Encouraging us to do good, preventing us from doing evil”.
My Dua for each of you: May all your tarawihs be sweet. May you have many mosques to choose from each day and may your path be filled with Saleh friends who accompany you to and from tarawih… May the memories that you make this Ramadan be sweet and warm your heart as long as you breathe……