There are some memories that are imprinted on your heart, mind and soul in 3D and full color. I am sharing some but not all with you from my incredibly beautiful and memorable Ramadan in Istanbul, Turkey.
I am standing in Salah for Tarawih in the Aziz Mahmut Huday mosque and the Imam is reciting the ayahs of nature as proof of the Divine. The windows are open and not far from the mosque, the Bosphorus flows black with the memories of the past, in the dark of the night.
Suddenly piercing the pin drop silence embroidered with the musical cadence of the Quran being recited comes the calling of the sea gulls. Round and round they go in circles, calling into the windows of the mosque , a sing song cadence, sounds like a baby calling its mother, a cat meowing, and a repetitious call almost like a litany of remembrance, all mixed into the notes of a well coordinated symphony, loud but not loud enough to subdue the Quran recitation.
As soon as the tarawih is over the gulls disappear and I hear the sounds of excitement coming from the courtyard. Kids coming out of tarawih are collecting where free ice cream is being distributed.
It is Tarawih night at Buyuk Selimiye mosque which reminds me of a large magnificient Southern Antebellum mansion. It has a garden with trees that are centuries old. Peace exudes from every stone of the mosque which have absorbed centuries of Dhikr purifying each fragment of its brick and mortar.
I am in the front row of the Mezzanine, the air rings with the sweet tones of the young Imam reciting the Quran. As soon as the Tarawih ends he makes an announcement and there is a ripple of excitement in the men downstairs and the women upstairs.
Dr. Z turns to me and says…………”.there is a surprise, they are showing the noble Tabarruk from Prophet Muhammad pbuh”. Immediately my first reaction is to want to rush down, but as I look down I note that the men have organized into a line and are moving towards the minbar methodically and sedately. The noble hair is being displayed at the minbar, and the salawaat fills the room………….. I am overcome with joy. I am truly blessed to be present at this event!
It has been a busy day, Quran recitation and tafseer at the Capital Mosque………..
On the way back, Dr Zs mom wants to stop and get a fruit tree to plant for the elderly neighbor. We stop at the plant nursery located under the Sakirin Mosque.
A funeral is being prepared, the tent is up and people are waiting in grief and shock that never fails to occur with a loss of a loved one.
As I alight from the car the fragrance of roses assails me. I look to my right there is a cemetery, peaceful, beautiful and blooming with flowers.
The breeze laden with fragrance touches my cheeks and I think of another cemetery far away where my mother and my son lie in the red clay of Georgia. The sun dappled path in the cemetery beckons with promise of eternal peace and I think of how perfectly tranquil it would be to be buried here.
The tarawih begins and it is as if the Imam has read my heart. In every rakah he recites the ayahs of Sabr (patience) and its rewards from Allah, he closes with the last three surahs of protection in the Quran and peace settles into my heart. I walk out into the cool night and watch the boats on the Bosphorus travelling to their final destination for the night.
We are in Eyup, it is the beginning of the Last Jumma of Ramadan, in the blessed last ten nights. A cloak of blessings has settled on me. Every woman and man in the musallah inside and outside has only one focus and that is on the Divine.
After the night of ebadah ends I go to the Maqam of Ayub Ansari RA and standing in front of it I am filled with wonder and humility……….
He hosted our dearly Beloved Prophet Muhammad pbuh in his house and today he hosted me in Eyup all night long as the peace and blessings descended on me with the angels of the night……
I am filled with wonder, humility and gratitude….
I am in the courtyard of Sultanahmet , all around me are people spreading blankets to set up their iftaar, we do it too. I have never had an iftaar picnic in a courtyard of a mosque anywhere. In Pakistan when I was growing up mosques and women did not mix in the same sentence or place.
My companion from Eygpt wishes for tea.
I had noticed a tea stand in the courtyard of the Mosque when we had entered it. I walk up to it and there is a short line.
The woman waiting in front of me, asks me “where are you from?”
“Pakistan” I reply, she beams at me, “Pakistan, turkiya kardes” she says happily, “Pakistan and Turkey are brothers/sisters” I smile and thank her and agree with her.
“How much is the tea” I ask her to get my money ready as I am next to be served. “One lira per cup” she replies.
I ask the server for two cups and put down two liras. The server hands me two cups of tea and hands me back the two liras and says “ Pakistan turkiya kardes…..ikraam”
I am deeply touched by the Turks who never forget a good turn done to them even years and years later……..
I am in a cocoon………while the cars honk, the boat sirens go off, the sellers yell their goods ,yet inside the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque there is sanctuary from the crazy outside world, The fourth rakat of Tarawih hits and the salawaat drown the outside world with the sweetness of remembrance and the women next to me moves to squeeze me into the front row………..
Walking back from the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque after tarawih, A and I stop to have coffee by the Bosphorus, we try on the flower crowns, and watch people send off mini hot air balloons. Legend says that if they sink the guy does not love you enough to last in this relationship……. A young couple sends off the balloon very ceremonially together and it doesn’t make it very far, the girl turns to the guy and he looks disappointed and chagrined.
An election booth blasting music hands us a pen, some advertisements and a balloon and we carry on towards home. Uskudar is alive and booming, it is a regular night in Ramadan and cafes are open all night.
After Tarawih I return home to sit on the balcony… the mosques of Sultanahmet, Yeni and Fatih across the water twinkle with lights on their minarets, each has a sign which says “ Avoid Israaf or waste”, The gulls cackle and call intermittently, a silent dark, long ship glides across along the water with no lights on, the passenger ferries have already gone to bed. I am wide awake………. And am keenly aware that I need to start my night ebadah and yet the scene is mesmerizing: It fills me with peace, energy and a sense of timelessness…………….. Unforgettable! underlining an Unforgettable Ramadan in istanbul.