There is a chirping sound coming from my pocket book. It is my bird alarm telling me I have five minutes to get ready for prayer.
As if on cue the lecture ends and the Sheikh melts into a far corner of the masjid while we stack the small tables and the students remove the floor seatbacks from the Musallah. Class is over and Dhuhr is knocking on the door.
I walk towards the stairs leading to the women’s mezzanine, and look up at the marble pillars and the arches at the second level mezzanine reserved for the Sultana and her companions.
Straight above me and the entrance is the golden lattice veiling the room reserved for prayer for the royal Ottoman family of those times. I stop to wonder if their kids ran around in the space as our kids do in the main mosque?
Turkish men are entering through the door, they have their shoes in their hands with the sole facing up so as to prevent an accidental drop of dust or dirt from falling onto the immaculate prayer rug.
Their eyes are quizzical and somewhat amused as one taxi driver had expressed to me “……………So you have come all the way from America to learn Arabic and Islam in Turkey?”
The men enter in streams for Dhuhr Salah, mostly elderly as it is the middle of the day and local businesses have mosques adjacent to them. Their eyes filled with sage wisdom and what seems to me a little bit of ironic humor. They greet each other with concern laced with humor. Old friends of the heart to each other.
As I make my way towards the women’s musallah I feel my feet dragging as if they don’t want to leave the spot where I have been filled with spiritual nourishment but as the Sheikhs said now I have to go and activate it into live action. I have to leave the edge of the swimming pool and see if I can swim with all that I have learned.
Underneath the stairs is a small vestibule, I guess for those women who cannot climb the stairs. My knee is aching and I decide to pray in the vestibule instead of climbing up to the mezzanine to pray with my fellow students and other Turkish women.
I set down my laptop and pocket book and something magical happens. The entire musallah is filled with the melodious sound of the call of prayer. It casts a spell of beauty over all present, it is like the wand that changed ugliness to beauty and the kiss that changed the frog to a prince.
I stand on tip toes to watch through the lace curtain as the Imam who is going to lead the prayer passes by the vestibule his head adorned with a turban the color of the center piece declares his level of his scholarship.
Two women stand in the vestibule and talk, about logistics, where to get what?
In Turkey the muezzin or the one who calls for prayer goes to school to learn how to put meaning and passion into the call. He competes with others in his ability to convey the feeling of the message embedded in the call for prayer.
Valide Atik is considered a prestigious mosque and was specially commissioned by Sultana Nurbano to be designed by the renowned architect Sinan.
The adhaan is sinking into every crevice of the mosque and into the hearts of most men, but women are another species they continue to talk through the adhaan. Turkish women in the mosque have centuries of tradition to carry on and do so with ease and grace. They tolerate the foreigners without objection or critique. They do not chastise the foreign women for talking through the adhaan, nor at not following the Imam like they do.
The iqama is called and the men purposefully line up in straight lines, shoulder to shoulder. I pull back from the curtain and get ready for the opening of the Salah with “Allah O Akbar”
The Dhuhr Salah is a silent prayer and I always wish when I stand for it that I could listen to the beautiful recitation of the Imam during Salah but that wont happened till Maghrib.
The prayer ends quickly and efficiently, the sunnah are prayed and then the supplications begin, the tasbeeh Fatima prompts are graceful reminders. the Turkish women next to me take one of the many tasbeehs hanging and let the beads fall with Subhanallah, Allhamdollilah and Allah O Akbar, while the foreign women from America and the western world count on their fingers.
The foreigners also stand out by their reticence and delay in completing the Salah with salaam and do not follow the Imam immediately. This is noticed and tolerated without objection by the Turkish women praying alongside.
“In Rome do as Romans” thus my philosophy is that if I am praying behind a Hanafi Imam I have to respect what he does and follow him, but even after a year my fellow students have failed to adapt.
I watch as the Turkish women glance at us and especially at those who delay their salaam, and then glance at each other but never say a word.
The power of language comes through in the supplication. The Imam makes the duas in Arabic and the congregation is silent, but as he moves to Turkish after each supplication there is a resounding “Ameen” that fills the hall.
Listening to the adhaan………….I never want it to end, but it does. Reminding me that I have to practice what I have learned and I have to do it by myself: It is time to release the edge of the swimming pool and start swimming. Even though my limbs are knowledgeable of the strokes which keeps one afloat, they are unfamiliar with the actual movements to keep me light and above the water and in the strata of spiritual lightness so as to prevent me from hitting the rock bottom of the dredges of dunya.
Please keep me in your prayers as I translate my lessons into actuality.