I am in Istanbul where every attempt is being made to stay the hand of the ferocious spread of this highly infectious virus( Covid19).
Part of that attempt is the weekend curfew. It is Ramadan with adhaans but without the permission to answer the call. It is time for tarawih every night but no trek to the masjed as they are closed to gatherings. There is no option to meet for a Khatm al Quran in the Masajids.
Thus, it is so for us this Ramadan. There is no greater forlornness for an Imam that prays from the Minbar with no one except the Masjed caretaker behind him.
It must be Monday after a curfew weekend if the doorbell rings and it is the young man from the local grocery stand with my groceries. Before the weekend curfew was instituted, I used to shop at this corner grocery store which just about had everything I needed on a daily basis. Many times, I was weighed down by grocery bags on my walk home four blocks away.
One day this smiling faced thin gaunt young man with a semblance of oriental features who worked in the store, offered to carry my groceries home. On the way we had a stilted conversation in my broken attempts at Turkish and his forays into monosyllabic English. As it turns out that he and his other friend who is also a helper in the store are both from Azerbaijan.
“Why did you move to Istanbul? “ I asked in my stilted Turkish. “ The pay is better here and I can send money back to my family” he replied.
Life is all about perspectives and context. Thus, working as a helper in a small grocery store in Istanbul, he was making more money and saving enough to send some to his family than living and working in Azerbaijan.
So many of our Muslim men forsake their homes and families to provide them with a better material condition not realizing the void they leave behind in their homes with children growing up without fathers. Many of these young men have been gone so long that the home country fades, and some get lost in the new country and never return home.
It must be Tuesday if the doorbell chimes in the evening. It is an hour before iftar I open the door and it is the maintenance guy of the apartment building standing at a respectful six ft distance from the door and asks if I have garbage to take out.
It must be a Monday after the weekend curfew or a Thursday before the weekend curfew if The doorbell rings close to Iftar time and I buzz in the daughter of my neighbor. She has brought me a hot Turkish meal cooked by her mother, for iftar
It must be Friday if the doorbell rings and my dear friend from the Fellowship has sent her husband with cilantro for me from the fresh produce market. She knows that no Pakistani food is complete without Cilantro.
The march of the days is no longer defined by the numbers on the calendar but by consistent recurring events.
Ramadan has come in while the virus has put people behind closed doors. My days and nights are defined by my fast and its requirement rather than the demands of reaching the venue of learning as a student. Learning has come to my Living Room on the wings of “Zoom “minus the charisma of the teacher and the warm presence of fellow students.
In Ramadan the day usually begins at 3 am with a simple breakfast for suhoor. I do not feel alone as I see the lights come on all over the Istanbul that I can see from my windows, which brings a feeling of warm comradeship and comfort in knowing that I am not struggling alone at this hour to teach my body the discipline of self-restraint.
It is still dark when the adhaan is called from the local mosque and is joined by an ensemble of echoes and tones of the call floating across the Bosphorus from the Blue Mosque and the Suleimaniye Cammi. It sounds like a symphony ushering in the beginning of the fast and exiting of the focus on food.
As I stand to pray fajr (the morning prayer) , sit to recite the adkaars,( supplications after Fajr), and begin my recitation of the Quran for this morning, The inky black of the Bosphorus turns into a deep sapphire blue and then to a crystal ice blue before the sun rises.
The seagulls that were flying around the Masjed minarets at Fajr have settled onto the water and I know it is time to rest like the birds, after offering two rakah of Ishraaq.
If the morning alarm comes on even though I feel I just lay down, It is 9 am and I have to make wudu and get dressed, pray the Doha salah as sadaqa for my joints and prepare for my Hadith online lesson which is live from Pakistan.
Life is surreal. I am living away from home, in the exotic city of Istanbul and I am taking an online class from Pakistan ( which I have not visited in a long time) at the recommendation of a fellow student and friend M.
I quickly look at the John Hopkins University site for reports on the virus and find that people are getting infected by the droves and many especially the elderly who have been warehoused in nursing homes and whom no one wants anymore are dying by the hundreds.
It reminds me of what the Tartars used to do with their newborns, they would take them out and leave them in the snow overnight, if they survived, they would grow up to be tough men and women who would conquer the world.
Similarly, the virus in one Nursing home inhabitant rampages into the Nursing home residents and the vulnerable, weak and unloved succumb to it.
The next passing hours till Dhuhr ( post noon) prayers fly by. I listen to my class in classic Urdu with its special brand of politeness which stems from being trained in the etiquette of the Prophet pbuh. I had forgotten how pleasant it is to hear the polite version of classic Urdu.
I make notes, as I am transported to and immersed in Mecca and Medina of 1400 years ago, and faced with the trials and tribulations of the companions of our beloved Prophet and his advice to them and thus to us.
The Hadith class transmitted into my living room taught by a highly educated Expert in Islam whose great grandmother was a British woman. She came to the subcontinent of Indo Pakistan in search of peace and the truth and ended up staying. She married here and raised some beautiful righteous children.
The teacher from Pakistan fills in the picture of life in Mecca and Medina as related by the Companions of the Prophet pbuh with the central figure of the Prophet pbuh himself rising as a guide of Life 101.
The teacher explores Hadith derived from authentic sources, well referenced and accurately placed in the historic and geographic background of events.
He relates verbatim the conversations of the Prophet PBUH with his Companions and I feel I am with him ( pbuh)
With the portrait of the people of a pre Islamic Arabia who came from disorder and brutality to peace and mercy coupled with bravery and ehsaan ……brings me hope for this brutal world that has driven over 78.8 million men women and children from their homes and are busy poisoning the atmosphere, the water and all of Allah’s defenseless creation.
Thus, after the Hadith class I am left with the optimism that in this disorderly oppressive world a pattern of life of peace and tranquility can arise starting from an individual and like the ripples in a lake spreads peace and harmony to all around him or her.
At the end of the lesson, I research and document the hadiths taughtand then start the three hours of writing an article for my blog based on the information of the class, the background research of references and events which must be meticulous because there is no leeway for error while writing about hadith. I add my personal photos to illustrate the article and as I am publishing it the Adhaan for Dhuhr floats in through my windows urging me to set aside everything and come to what is beneficial to me ( hayya alal Falah). I know it is time to wrap up the lesson from today and step on to the Musallah where words and movements transform it into the flying carpet to the echelons of limitless spirituality.
I have never been a siesta person, so if I do not get up from the Musallah( prayer rug) after the last rakah of Dhuhr and open the Quran to recite………….the next thing I know it is the call for Asr prayer nudging me to get up.
With the lengthening shadows of Asr I know that the day is being slowly ushered out and there are still a lot of logistics to take care of, which vary in urgency. Things like cleaning the apartment, sanitizing the bathroom, and entry foyer, laundry, cooking, making phone calls to friends and family, answering the messages of the day and feeding the street royalty of Istanbul i.e. the cats…….
I put on my mask and pick up the trash to take to the dumpster, and it feels weird as I step out into the street. If the street is empty, I know it must be the weekend curfew. If people are strolling, I know it is a weekday.
The roses are blooming all over, thus Spring has snuck in while I was cloistered in the apartment.
The car ferry gracefully makes its way from Harem to Sirkeci and meets it mate returning from Sirkeci and just like a working couple pass each other by in close proximity but without really being with each other.
If the doorbell rings and a friend has brought me a gift of fruit or food for Iftar or the phone rings and it is my elderly Aunt, or a friend calling to chat it must be getting late in the evening towards Iftar and my window of time left for this day is rapidly contracting.
If time fast forwards quickly it means that the life clock has put me back on the treadmill and it is time for classes on zoom.
Sitting in front of a screen is not my favorite way to learn but at this time Allah has veiled us from the barakah of direct learning from the Shaikh or attending salah and dhikr in the mosque.
The day gracefully exits while I am reciting Quran with my tajweed teacher via the phone, and or by myself.
As the sun sets behind the Galata Tower like a blazing ball of fire, it spreads it liquid lava like redness on the serene waters of the Bosphorus. I rush to prepare a salad to open my fast and the Adhaan from my neighborhood mosque calls my attention to make my dua before that first sip of water. Another beautiful day of fasting is over focused on cleansing the self with the brush of the broom of education and practice of Deen.
By this time, I realize I have not fed the cats after asr and there is iftar and maghrib salah to do before going out.
Thus, on the days when I do go out to feed the cats after maghrib, they are very polite but distant in their stance and attitude, politely staring me in the eye and questioning my tardiness in appearing with their food and fresh clean water. They sit back and watch me fill the plate and then approach gracefully one by one to sample a bit and let each of their companions sample the rest.
The street cats of Istanbul are really not street cats they are all princesses and Princes who prefer to be free of the four walls of the human dwellings. They are Cinderellas who prefer their freedom to remain on the streets in tatters fully confident that Allah will provide for them and He Subhanawataala does.
Thus, pass the days of grace………….. in Evde Kal* which is Turkish for “stay at home”. Allah has expanded the time of ebadah and constricted the time spent on outside activities. The body requires food in scarcity and the schedule of Salah and Quran are the mileposts in this marathon of Ramadan.
The darkness of the night comes in stealthily and the lights blaze from every Minaret of the mosques across the water of the Bosphorus and I slowly savor the meal of the evening.
I like and have adapted to the Turkish Iftaar tradition of soup & dinner i.e. eating one meal at Iftar and then praying Maghrib, after which the kitchen is closed except for tea and cookies.
This tradition makes the Maghrib salah much more graceful well paced and the post maghrib dhikr less hurried and filled with Divine energy and strength.
While making tea after maghrib salah I clean the kitchen and I am confronted with the presence of Angels. The Yaqeen series on “The Angels” is a beauty to listen to it is brief and reminds me that I am not alone. As the tea brews with elaichi a recipe from my dear friend H, I listen to another friend who mashallah is an Alima, talk about“Love” a series from Jannah institute and I feel her presence in my kitchen and it reminds me of the days when we shared tea and discussed and dreamed of everything possible under the sun.
Once the kitchen is cleaned and closed except for cookies and or if there is dessert courtesy of a neighbor, I return to either reading the Quran till the Isha Salah.
I know it is post Isha if the lights twinkle on all the minarets of the mosques including my neighborhood mosque, and all is silent when sometimes I walk out to throw the trash in the dumpster.
The night has truly cloaked the day fully when I see The empty streets of my neighborhood checkered with dark flitting shadows of cats prowling or silently loping off gracefully melting into the night . Like panthers in a jungle, these Istanbul cats rule the neighborhood at night with a purposeful swiftness filled with mystery.
Sometimes if there are fireworks across the water and the incessant sounds of the police siren behooving people to “devamet” i.e. to” keep moving” comes from the Bosphorus shore walk it tells me that the weekend is not here yet.
The seasons have changed, while we were waiting for the virus to abate. I know that Spring has turned to summer because the pink flowers of the erduvan tree have fallen and it has turned a young lush green. All the while I was inside my apartment life around me was growing and moving with grace like it always had, but I never had the time to see or experience it due to my 14-hour work days inside the concrete walls of a clinic or Hospital.
The wide expanse of the Bosphorus, the computerized voice of instructions from the car ferry, the arrow like straight shot across the water of the fast ferry to Kadikoy, the slow lumbering passage of large boats laden with goodies from China and a sundry, the red police boat searing the water and coming at me and turning around just when I think it will bump into the shore, all have a rhythm and tell me what time of the day or week it is.
Though I watch and hear most of this from my window and balcony, these are all indications that life still goes on elsewhere in Istanbul.
I have been given the grace of time and serenity to watch the unfolding of a day or a night in Istanbul from this beautiful over look over the Bosphorus. The captivating historic skyline across the water with The Blue Mosque, Aya Sophia, the Topkapi Palace and the Suleimaniye mosque standing across the water, stare at me with silent but stern approval of my restrained behavior.
This Ramadan the banner of “evde kal” is strung across the minarets, to encourage me to be more mindful of other people whom I may inconvenience and hurt by getting sick.
The incoming breeze from the Bosphorus, caresses the part of my face not covered with a mask. As I climb the stairs to my apartment, I make a resolution of making my bucket list of what I want to do before I leave Istanbul………
Thus, the grace of hours glide towards another morning……
If the sidewalk is empty, the boats are at rest, and there are no sounds of the police siren urging people to go home and stay home……….. I know it must be the curfew weekend in Istanbul.
Such is the Grace of Days at home in Istanbul or Evde Kal as they say in Turkish, they pass with gentility without deadlines, without anxiety and with a feeling of peace of being a leaf on the river with no volition of its own.
Thankful for the Grace of Allah for the gently passing days and hours that are not bound by numbers, deadlines or illnesses and where I am nobody except an ebaad (servant) of Allah in a land filled with blessings where He Subhanawataala has placed me by his Mercy.
**** All photos in this blog are copyrighted to AQF
NOTE: There are numerous links embedded in this post please click on them after you finish reading the post to get the details, inshallah you will benefit and enjoy the expansion of what I have written.