When you walk the path of the many Turks who laid down their lives for their faith, and stood up in istiqamah unbowing to the invaders and colonist who had forced their laws on the Muslims of Turkey at a time when they were broken by war and on their knees…… It humbles you immensely.
One is humbled by the strength of those who stood for their faith of the One, in villages and cities across Turkey knowing that the punishment for breaking the rules and by not modulating Islam as required by the victorious colonists and invaders was sure death. Yet they went on to be hanged unapologetic for their faith, its garb and practice. What gave them this strength?
Here is a glimpse of something unique that lives in the hearts of Muslims in Turkey and I am sure in the world over……
This post is dedicated to all those who opened this path for me (You know who you are without naming you here) ……. And allowed me a glimpse into the spiritual realms of Turkey and those that welcomed me “A misafer” in their country and opened the doors of how to love and revere “The Loved One” and “the Beloved” by showing me in real-time. Tessekularederim! Cök Tessukalrederim!
It is Thursday night, after Maghrib but before Isha, The sun has dipped and the lights of the first bridge appear to be twinkling. The boats from the Beylerbeyi iskele are gliding away and the Bosphorus seems to be waiting with baited breath at what is going to happen at Dhikr all across Istanbul. It is the spiritual hours of the beginning of Friday or as we called it in Urdu “Jummay raat”
I walked up the polished hardwood stairs, the light was dim, I could hear the cadence of Turkish feminine speech. There was a hush and reverence in the tone of the voices.
As I reached the top of the stairs the scene stopped me in my tracks. I felt I had stepped into the chamber of the sultanas and yet as I looked around, with the exception of the ornately engraved wooden walls, everything was simple, even the chairs they sat on were inexpensive plastic chairs. However the reverence of the women around them, their own humility in receiving the dates or tea was that of what you would think of a mix of a regal Queen Sultana and a Saintly woman dervish.
I felt I had stepped into Osmanli times. Treading softy I made my way along the long narrow balcony that was enclosed with long latticed windows made of glowing amber wood. The windows were closed at this time and were designed to protect the women in the mezzanine from the possibility of curious stares from the men below.
At the middle window was a curved extension and there sat three simply dressed women with Turkish scarves. Women were coming and kissing their hand and touching them to their eyes, a sign of respect for the elder or a scholar. They were not really old so the possibility of commanding this respect as an elder was not an option.
I sat down on the carpet behind them. A regal woman in a long flowing garb, sort of an abaya but not really a western dress either came into the room and an excited ripple went through the women seated in the mezzanine. It was the sort of hushed excitement when you unexpectedly see a celebrity.
she was wearing a green scarf, tied in a unique manner, hard to describe, but something you would see in an old osmanli photo of a queen on Pinterest.
I looked questioningly at the woman next to me who got up in one graceful movement, she looked at me and said one word: “Hodja…….” I felt compelled to follow suit, but my inhibitions from all the right wing mosques that I had attended kept me glued to the floor. My Nafs was resisting in full gear. The woman who had sat next to me reached the Hodja and kissed her hand and touched it to her eyes respectfully.
A memory shot through me: I am being introduced to the students and the parents of my islamic studies class that I am going to teach at our local mosque sunday school. A young Afghani boy who has been registered in my Islamic studies class is being encouraged by his mother, to do something as they approach me, he capitulates, smiles at me as he reaches me, and kisses my hand and touches it to his eyes. I am deeply touched by his gesture and think: What a lovely Afghan tradition I had thought at that time without having knowledge of the root of its tradition of reverence for teachers and scholars in the Muslim world.
The Hodja smiled and said some thing that made the woman smile and kiss her hand again. The hodja touched the bowed head almost like a blessing and the woman came back and sat next to me her face glowing with happiness.
I searched my memory banks for the meaning of Hodja, I knew it had to do something with being revered in the realm of scholarly faith. I also knew that secular Turkish literature made fun of Hodjas like Nasredin Hoja who was a comical figure in recent Turkish lore. I remember buying some joke books about him for my daughter at my last visit to Istanbul many years ago.
Somewhere in the recesses of my mind I knew that it was more than that. It was much later that I found the definition of “Hoca” pronounced Hodja, which is a Turkish word meaning: master, professor, teacher………according to the British dictionary.
I felt someone’s eyes on me, it was the Hodja, She looked at me commandingly, the deep forest green headdress gleamed in the dim light. There was a question in her eyes, it was obvious that I was totally and obviously an outsider. I got up squelching my wriggling ego and kissed her hand and said my salaam. She was silent but the question was in her commanding eyes. “Misafer” I said ( a guest) as if answering her unspoken question. She smiled and said “Hoshgeldiniz” “welcome”. I felt the warmth and power of her approval sink into me, soaking me with her light and positive energy. I nodded, salaamed and returned to my seat, forgetting to speak the Turkish response to that welcome.
The flurry of women speaking softly passed me by each in flowing dresses, abayas in soft pastel and grey and few black. Their hems swished gracefully by me as they moved to meet “the royalty” and kiss the hand of the hodja.
A lady dressed in a black Abaya, sweating with the effort carried a tray of Turkish tea, cubes of sugar, small saucers and tiny spoons. She served the Hodja and I noticed the Hodja glance at me and then at her. Next she was by my side “Cay?” she asked lowering the tray to me. The golden liquid of the Turkish cay was shot with the filtered light from below, the crystal sugar cubes sat in a clear container, there was no plastic waste here I registered in the back of my mind.
I took two cubes of sugar and lifted the tea glass in its small saucer and spoon and murmured “Tessekerulederim” trying my tongue at the Turkish “thank you”, she smiled and said “rija ederim” you are welcome which meant my Turkish had passed the first test of being understood.
Just as I was wondering what was going to happen next…… the lights dimmed further and the soft beginnings of the salawaat ……….Allah humma salay Alla……. began and soon the lights went to candlelight where all you saw and felt was the salaawaat rising to the ceiling with the baritone sounds of the men below in unison as if this was in their genes and they had been doing this for centuries. The soft voices of the women in the mezzanine, mingled with the baritone of the men and rose to the ceiling sweetening the message.
I could definitely feel and believe that above us were angels, hands folded waiting to take up the salawaat……….a tribute to the Loved one to be delivered to the Beloved by its sincere servants and abds of Turkey.
I a misafer in attendance, felt blessed to be part of these moments, my eyes blurred and all I could feel or hear was the resounding of the Allahumma……….which seemed to be coming from my heart and the hearts around me…………..