KHALWA IN ISTANBUL: My Guardian Angels…..


From left: Suleimaniye mosque, Yavuz Selim mosque and the liners lights are from the Galata bridge, the crescent is top right, photo:@aqf

Night has fallen on the first of Ramadan, the Galata bridge wears a necklace of lights which twinkle in the distance. The banners across the minarets of the Blue Mosque and the Suleimaniye mosque proclaim something that I cannot read from afar. I am told it has something to do with “staying healthy”.

I am in Istanbul the city of 3113 mosques but I do not have access to a single one of them. None of the mosques have a congregation for tarawih salah which is the most adored devotional in Ramadan. It pushes the envelope, you hit the wall and if you can keep on it is exhilarating to reach the finish line with the Khatm of Ramadan and Quran. By the time Ramadan ends you have made Tarawih buddies  most of whom become friends for life looking for nothing except a friendship for the sake of Allah.

A minute virus, invisible to the naked eye has effectively sealed the doors of all the mosques, allowing only those privileged by Allah to perform Salah in the mosques.

In Madina Munawarah the Prophet PBUH’s mosque where it would be impossible to find a place to pray inside the mosque unless you went at least an hour before prayer time, where the cleaning crew would stand aside and many could not participate due to their duties, today they are in the front row honored by being led in prayer by the most respected Imam of Medinah. Allah has His ways of enabling those whom others had demeaned.

WhatsApp Image 2020-04-26 at 4.52.29 AM

Courtesy Arsalan

I am told that it is only the sweepers and janitors of the Grand Mosque of Mecca are allowed to stand in prayer in front of the Kaaba. Allah has taken them from their most menial tasks and adorned their heads with such privilege such as to be standing in the first line behind the Imam in front of the Kaaba in Mecca, that no amount of money or prestige can buy.

I am perturbed and unsure if I will be successful in performing tarawih by myself, no Masjed, no Imam and not enough hifdh seem to be huge personal hurdles.


I light the candles and arrange the matchsticks which I learned from one of my friend’s post. Every time you finish two rakah you remove one match out of the box, keep praying till the matchbox is empty. This is helpful for me in praying 20 rakah where I might lose count or have no idea which one I am at. This is a real hazard of praying tarawih alone……..

After I  perform wudu I pause in front of the large window overlooking the Bosphorus which seems silent and still. Suddenly a huge dark shape, almost three blocks long, lit with very few lights moves across the water stealthily: a ship in the night, sails across the Bosphorus bringing goods and relief to the Covid19 locked countries outside Turkey. The crescent moon has risen and shines in the cloudless sky, unperturbed by the agitated earth people.


The blue mosque across the still waters of the Bosphorus


I step on to the musallah, open my mushaf to surah Baqarah and begin my recitation loudly………with every word enunciated I feel the peace settle on either side of me shielding me. I feel my guardian angels palpably clearing the distractions and impediments around me. Even the matchsticks have faded into the back ground and seem to be of little import. The light from the dining room is enough to light up the page of the mushaf as I begin with the opening words of mystery: alif laam meem.


After that the words of Allah flow as if I had been doing this all my life.

Several times thoughts of incomplete logistical work occur and are immediately swept away by invisible wings as I continue to recite, concentrating on my tajweed.

The room recedes and all that I see and feel are the words that rise out of the page and seem suspended in the air in front of me.

My teacher had always said…………keep reading and at one point the sweetness will sink into you. As the box of matchsticks begins to empty, the room fills with a noiseless presence of peace and contentment…. Sleep weighs my eyelids, I wrap up the tarawih salah though there are still some matches left in the matchbox, which means I have not completed the 20 rakah. I look at the clock, in three hours a new fast will begin followed by the fard prayers of Fajr.


The Blue mosque left and the Aya sophia middle

I am reminded of my brothers’ words “ Don’t miss your fajr because you did tarawih and could not wake up.

Am I tired? I am surprised at the answer: not tired just pleasantly serene, and sleepy.  The restlessness of the earlier part of the evening has dissolved. The feeling of sweetness steals over me as I complete the first juz and lay down the mushaf………thankful and replete with contentment.


The midnight mark is past and the night is rushing towards dawn. I look out of the window as I pick up the matchbox, the minarets of the mosques are garlanded like brides, the banners like crowns inviting me to come and yet not allowing entrance into the hallowed precincts of the centuries old mosques……..The still surface of the Bosphorus is like a mirror reflecting the lights from the Mosques and the Topkapi palace,  the streets are silent and there is no Friday night traffic jam on the European side of Istanbul. The birds and the cats are all in bed………waiting for fajr and the next fast……



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