It is seldom that I have been called with the intensity that I was called to Eyup Ansari RA s mosque.
It started as a subliminal call where I found myself making arrangements to go to Eyup even before I had planned a date and time to go there.
It emerged out of the blue that it was going to be this Thursday night which was the beginning of the last Jumma of Ramadan as the day begins with sunset in the lunar calendar.
I packed a simple iftaar/suhoor and set out on foot with Dr. Z heading for the ferry boat terminal.
We stopped at BIMS which is one of the grocery stores that does not sell alcohol or cigarettes, and bought something resembling sutlec, which is a cross between an American pudding and Pakistani firni. The choice of course was made in the last hours of fasting.
When we reached the ferryboat terminal I realized that it was going to be packed with people going to Eyup their plastic bags carrying their suhoor, Qurans and small blankets. They obviously knew something which I had not put together in my conscious mind when making this plan i.e. this was actually an odd night by moon sighting, the last jumma of Ramadan and most likely layla tul Qadr as this combination was predicted by Ibn Taimiyyah, sheikh ul Islam.
All of which was dropped into the spiritual genomes of these Turkish people while I was still a fledgling in the spiritual realms of Turkey.
It is said that if when you come to Istanbul and do not visit Eyup and pay respects at the Turbe of the Sahabi Ayub Ansari RA the Spiritual realms of Istanbul are veiled from you and you return without having tasted the sweetness of the spirituality of Istanbul. This was so true for my visit to Istanbul 20 years ago when I was unaware of the existence of Eyup and its significance.
Ayub Ansari (RA) the Sahabi is the blessed one whose home was graced with the presence of our dearly beloved Prophet Muhammad peace and blessings be upon him on his arrival at Medina. He (pbuh) stayed with the honorable Sahabi (RA) for full six months.
The ferry boat full of men, women and children bound for Eyup moves away and as the coastline of Uskudar recedes, so do I let go of all control and leave control and tune into all instructions to come from Allah Subhanawataala without directions of “I want….” from my Nafs.
The boat passes under the first bridge or the Martyrs bridge as it is called after the July 15 coup attempt and gracefully touches each stop briefly till its final one in Eyup.
People pour out, of the boat. Muslim women covered from head to toe, wearing bright floral Turkish scarves mingle with African women in skirts and colorful hijabs carrying straw bags of iftar all heading to the mosque.
Dr. Z and I join the stream of folks weaving our way through lanes lined with open kiosks enticing us with sparkling jewelry, colorful scarves, scented rose water and zam zam. We stop and buy some bottles of Zam Zam to share with the women at iftaar at the courtyard at the mosque.
We enter the courtyard and it is filled with women sitting in rows with food and water set up in front of them, some are sitting around a round table and have set out their fruits, Turkish olives and cheese.
The Iftar is hosted everyday by The members of the Nasqhbandi tariqa in Istanbul. may Allah reward them for their generosity and their cleanliness.
We head towards the only open spot which happens to be right near the serving station.
Giant urns filled with soup and huge pots filled with an aromatic lentil dish dotted with vegetables and shredded chicken are being brought in by male volunteers.
The serving begins and while I move away to find another spot to sit in order to avoid the serving station with the hot soup and all its possibilities of being spilt, Dr.Z begins to hand out the soup cups.
As I take out the zam zam to give to the nearest tables, the reverence in the eyes of the recipients and the gratitude is unlike anything I have ever seen before. Their eyes speak volumes of respect of the source of this blessed water.
We are given so much fruit, olives, cheese, lentils and soup that we don’t even touch what we brought and save it for suhoor.
For the number of women in the courtyard, there is no loud noise , though there is a hum, of the lilt of Turkish.
I look around at the sea of colorful scarves, and traditional Turkish women whose hearts are glued to Eyup for them Eyup is the closest they can get to Medina.
An older woman who was serving soup another day stands up and chastises the women who are talking and asks them” shouldn’t you be grateful?” It turns out her life is a train wreck with a daughter with cancer, a son in law in jail, a dead husband and no breadwinner in the family except her. “Arent you grateful” rings through my heart and soul.
The Maghrib adhaan is called and we efficiently rush through iftaar with the full knowledge that if we don’t we may only find a spot on the staircase of the entrance to the first floor of the mosque reserved for women.
The light is fading rapidly as we head into the mezzanine which is shaped like a large opera box facing the minbar.
The Imam is sitting on the side minbar and giving a khutbah on duas. He relates that all the Prophets made dua (supplication) to Allah, asking for the best for their children. Many went through severe tragedies with their children who either did not embrace the message of their fathers (Noah AS) or sons (Ibrahim AS) or the demise of their children (Prophet Muhammad pbuh) and yet they continued to supplicate for their children and for the Ummah.
As the Imam gave his informal pre isha Khutbah I noticed a tall man in a long white robe, and a headdress which seemed to come from the North African scholars traditional turban style stood up to pray. His devout attention to his prayer, his extreme humility of stance and posture built an invisible veil around him and seemed to connect him to the Divine personally despite being in the midst of a sea of people.
As the hours passed he prayed rakah after rakah and I watched mesmerized hoping to be like him in stamina, focus and istiqamah. I would not be surprised if he prayed over 40 rakah of focused ebadah, an example to die for.
Isha Adhaan was called and the men and women fell into straight lines. The recitation started. Isha was followed immediately with 20 rakah of tarawih prayers.
Tarawih in most mosques in Istanbul are unique in that the Imams recite ayahs based on a theme, rather than a juz each night as they do in the US and other Saudi led mosques.
As the tarawih begins I realize with a start that the theme of the ayahs as they resound in the mosque are an endorsement of the message from the minbar pre isha.
With each of the twenty rakah a supplication from the Quran made by one of the Prophets comes laden on the wings of entreaty, sweetness of tone, and the complete humility surely gives the confidence that these duas will spill and cover each of us and the Ummah and will surely be granted………..
Before I know it, the tarawih and witr is over and now the rest of the night which is incredibly short unfolds rapidly.
We rush out to renew wudu and get some snacks and water. On returning for Qiyam it seems that others have the same idea and the mosque is filled again.
Dr Z and I start our marathon of Salah, dhikr and Quran. There is a hush in the mosque, we are all here and yet we are all in personal communication with our maker side by side but yet individually.
The time between tarawih ending and Fajr beginning marches at the pace of a marathon runner and with a start I realize that we have just a few minutes left to go renew wudu and eat a quick light suhoor.
We sit on the bench outside the mosque like hundreds of other people and drink our bottles of water and eat dates and stuffed grape leaves from Dr Zs mom, and a hot grilled cheese sandwich courtesy of a local vendor.
The women’s wudu area reveals a freshly washed clean but wet restroom. After wudu I rush up the stairs to the women’s musallah and find them sitting in rows while the Imam is reciting the Quran pre Fajr.
The Adhaan is called and Fajr begins to a packed but silent mosque filled with the words of Allah, resounding off the walls and nothing else.
The centuries old walls witnessing and absorbing yet more supplications of the needy and echoing the answer in the cadence and meaning of the recitation of the Divine word.
After Fajr ends, most of the people leave the musallah. This becomes the most challenging time for me. I complete my adhkaar and then the weight of sleep pushed onto me tempting me to take a snooze and yet I know that in order to receive the sawaab of one Hajj and one Ummrah I must stay awake till ishraaq in supplication and ebadah.
I get up and walk through the several rooms of the women’s musallah reciting the words of Allah on my tasbeeh. Some of the women have succumbed to sleep and are scattered in the shadows of the receding night and incoming dawn.
Some diehard young ones are sitting upright and reciting the large Qurans with complete focus.
Ahhhh……..turkish women who neither talk, nor move, nor cross their legs, nor wiggle while reading or listening to the Quran for hours………….. how did they learn to still their bodies in obedience to either listen or recite the word of the Divine? It is a mystery that spans all women I have noticed in many different venues. Their bodies submit to the Quran.
I do my tasbeeh till sleep recedes and then I sit down and start the litany of duas till ishraaq comes in filling the windows with light. The chandeliers are turned off and it is not even noticed as the morning light fills the musallah cleansing the cobwebs of doubt, anguish and uncertainty.
I look down at the men’s musallah from my opera stand in the Mezannine and I see a young man who sits for almost from fajr till dawn never moving with his hands spread out in supplication. People around him get up and leave, some come back and yet he never moves till the fingers of dawn pierce the glass windows and fill the mosque with the morning light.
As I stand up for the Ishraaq prayer, I am at peace, clean and fresh like a new born babe, filled with light…………….
Thank you Ayub Ansari (RA) for calling me, thank you Dr. Z for accompanying me, thank you Eyup for receiving me, thank you my brothers and sisters from the Naqshbandi Tariqa for cooking and serving a graceful Iftaar, thank you Abe Sultan mosque for filling me with Light, and thank you to all my Turkish sisters who sat all night till morning and read the Quran and prayed alongside me.
Thank you Allah for allowing me this opportunity, Please accept the prayers of all at Eyup on this memorable night of Ramadan…..
Thank you! Thank you ! Thank you!
………..and so ends a beautiful night of entreating the Divine.