Ederne, the Selimiya camii (*jamii*) and the great Mimar Sinan

Assalamu alaikum, peace be upon you all,

After another hectic, but Alhamdulillah blessed period of travel, I have found some time to continue posts on our rihla to Turkey. We made a day trip out to Ederne, a city almost at the border between Turkey, Bulgaria and Greece. It used to be the capital of the Ottoman empire before the ‘fatah’ (=opening) of Constantinopole or Istanbul. After Constantinopole became a part of the Ottoman empire, Ederne functioned as a sort of co-capital. The fact that Ederne is located to the north of Constantinopole is indicative of the political, strategic and military reasons the Ottomans felt they needed to take that city, as it would literally have been surrounded by Ottaman territory by that time. But the military-political reasons for empire building are beyond the scope of this blog and I can’t say more so let me continue to tell you about the main reason we went to Ederne.

We went there to visit a masjid (=mosque) called the Selimiya camii. Camii is pronounced ‘jamii’ and is the Turkish word for mosque. It is obviously linguistically linked to the word ‘jama’ah’ which in Arabic means ‘gathering/group/congregation’. Jama’ah is the word that ‘masjid’ (Arabic for mosque) is derived from, meaning it is the place of gathering. And jama’ah is also the word that the word for the Friday salah, which is ‘jumu’ah’ comes from and also the word in Arabic for Friday which is ‘yaum al-jumuah’ (the day of the gathering) or simply ‘jumuah’ for short. Enough of my fascination with Arabic linguistics! But it is such a profoundly beautiful and meaningful language and understanding it opens up layer upon layer of meaning, that one cannot but write of it. Subhahanallaah (=glory be to God)! for the creation of language, the vehicle of communication that exalted the human over all other animals capable of making sound.

Fitting to the above, we wanted to attend the Friday prayer at the Selimiya camii, and mashaAllah (=by the grace of God) got there in time to do so. The Selimiya (derived from the Arabic root word ‘salam’ which means peace) camii is the work that Mimar Sinan, the great Ottoman architect, called his masterpiece, though his more famous work is the Sulaimaniya camii in Istanbul. Mimar Sinan is considered to be in the league of Leonardo Da Vinci and Michaelangelo for greatness, yet it is sad that until I went on this tour I had never heard his name. Yet another casualty of my colonial education and the poorer I have been for not knowing! I wonder at the so many millions of us who have only been taught a single-minded version of world history, how much we have to learn. But I digress. Indeed when we drove up to the camii and then walked in…Subhahanallah! words fail me. So pictures below. I will include captions with the pictures, please do read them. One of the reasons this work is to be considered a masterpiece is that Mimar Sinan achieved the effect of a ‘floating dome’, by moving the supporting columns of the dome to the walls and adding four more columns. You really feel as you walk into the mosque that you are walking under this magnificent dome that though you know it is a huge structure, it feels as if it is as light as a feather and is only floating above you…reminding you of the heavens above. So much more to say, so I will try to do so below. But to end this the feeling of reverence in the whole structure is indescribable. How I miss being there.

Looking at the masjid as we drove up to it. Something very ‘ascending’ about the proportions of the domes to each other and to the minarets. Also most of the camii in Turkey had the cematery located in front, visible through the windows, a reminder of the eternal life to come even when one is worshiping inside an opulent and seemingly unperishable structure.
Here is a side gate we entered by. All the gates have on them these chains, that force the entree to bend his head when walking in. It also forces the mounted one to dismount. This way it is ensured all who enter, enter humbly and not with their head held high. Also all Sultans and the like could only walk, not ride, in.
The portico surrounding the courtyard
The courtyard was special, I think it was the mathematical ratios of the whole place…it was huge, yet it felt cozy and ‘attainable’ for lack of a better word
Inside 1
From the women’s section upstairs facing the qibla (direction of prayer, toward Mecca, all mosques are built to face toward Mecca). Note the bulbs, they have been cunningly hung on different lengths so that from a distance one row of bulbs appears as three parallel lines
close up
A close up view of the center. Note the raised platform for anyone who would like to perform salah from there. The little fountain below it and the columns that some as can be seen, use to lean on
inside 2
Lady reading Quran before the prayer starts
The Imam sitting on the mimbar (the staircase used to deliver the Friday sermon, note the Imam does not go all the way to the top) just before we began. The mimbar is always located to the right of the ‘mihrab (=prayer niche) that points the direction of mecca. I
detail 1
Effect of the arches inside
Calligraphy of Quranic ayaath (=versers but literally meaning ‘signs’) over a side or back wall. The window ledge (I forget the proper term) is deep enough for people to offer the ‘salah’ inside it, if they like
Looking up from just where the mihrab (prayer niche) is. So much light…Subhahanallah!
The great floating dome…how poorly this images can capture the feel of it. I wish you will be able to witness in person inshallah (God willing)

To end, adjoining the camii is a small museum dedicated to this great man. I wanted to share two quotes from him (below). During his lifetime of close to a 100 years, he constructed over 400 buildings, 300 or more considered to be of great dimension. Among his many students is the architect who designed the famous Blue mosque and his teaching influenced the design of the Taj Mahal as well. Yet he was very humble, and the Turks lovingly tell stories of his humility this post will become too long were I to recount. But I can relate that I learned he made a prayer that God forgive him if the opulence of the structures he had built detract worshipers from the greatness of God. He chose to be buried among the common people outside the Sulaimaniya camii whereas many of his stature were buried with the Sultans. From Mimar Sinan –

“As long as the world remains, wise people who see my work and my efforts will look at me with mercy considering the seriousness of my effort and remember me with prayers of goodness I hope”

– O Allah grant him the highest of heaven and ease in the grave!

“I praise God that built Prophet Adam’s body without measurement which is a secluded palace of the soul and heart”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA– May Allah eternally bless his soul! I am truly humbled to witness the efforts of such a true and pure human being, elevated by God for his truthfulness to himself, and the fruit of that for generations to enjoy.

Peace be with you all.

Hundred-word Eulogy

Assalamu alaikum ( peace be with you) dear readers, inshaAllah (God willing) I will follow with a post from another segment from my recent ‘rihla’ journey to Turkey. For now, this blog post I wanted to share. I didn’t know of the ‘hundred word eulogy’ and learning of it was expansive, for it highlights the depth of tolerance, respect, and appreciation present in the old world between traditions.

Towards Enlightment


In the 1300s, the Chinese Hongwu Emperor wrote the “Hundred-word Eulogy“, which praised the characteristics of the Prophet Muhammad (salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). Copies of it (like this one) were distributed to mosques throughout China.

Since the creation of the universe
God had already appointed his great faith-preaching man,
From the West he was born,
And received the holy scripture
And book made of 30 parts (Juz)
To guide all creations,
Master of all rulers,
Leader of the holy ones,
With support from the Heavens,
To protect his nation,
With five daily prayers,
Silently hoping for peace,
His heart directed towards Allah,
Giving power to the poor,
Saving them from calamity,
Seeing through the Unseen,
Pulling the souls and the spirits away from all wrongdoings,
Mercy to the world,
Transversing to the ancient,
Majestic path vanquished away all evil,
His religion Pure and True,

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Konya – and Jalal ad-din Rumi

Assalamu alaikum (peace be with you)

Here is the first of a series of posts about the recently concluded ‘rihla’ I was blessed to be on (rihla=journey, it is a tradition in the Islamic scholarly way that students go on journeys with their teachers. There is a great deal of wisdom to be had from travel. When one travels with a teacher one has the opportunity to not only benefit from specific lessons imparted but  also from observing the teachers’ manners and comportment and therefore to benefit from that good company. This is actually expected from Muslim scholars, that students are allowed to travel and live with them, and thereby learn from their way of behaving. Interesting to me, there is a Quranic account of this type of travel – in the 18th Sura, which our prophet (peace be upon him) recommended we read every Friday, where a story is told of the prophet Musa (Moses, peace be upon him), who went on such a journey with ‘Khidr’ (there is a difference as opinion as to who he was) who was his teacher. I cannot recount it here, but the journey is full of metaphorical teaching via a number of incidents...I hope you can look it up, here is a link from a site I don’t know a lot about, but on going over it quickly it seems accurate)

We started our rihla in Konya, the resting place of Rumi (raheemahullah alai = upon whom be Allah’s grace). Though he is popularly known as Rumi in the west, his real name is Muhammed, the son of Muhammed, the son of Ahmed = Muhammed bin Muhammed bin Ahmed. He was a recognized scholar in the classical Islamic tradition, I believe in the hanafi school. And though he is best known, especially in the western world, for the whirling dervishes and ecstatic forms of worshiping God, many of these traditions are quite possibly erroneously attributed to him. He did however write widely about cultivating love for the divine and being on a path of eradicating one’s ego, which is done by filling the heart and mind with God-consciousness.  This view makes more sense to me as my understanding of Islam is that while it allows for all forms of devotion to God, it prefers that the devotee is firmly ‘grounded’ in the practical world while at the same time being always in-tune with the divine. This is why all Muslims love Muhammed (peace and blessing of God be upon him) so much, for he taught how to *live* the quran; being the best father, the best husband, the best tradesman, the best general, the best leader etc., i.e. showing how to best conduct ones worldly affairs while being the foremost in worship to God. He is exalted in our tradition as the best ‘slave’ of Allah. i.e., the one most devoted to serving God.

The resting place of Rumi (raheemahullah alai) had a certain peace and feeling in the air hard to describe. In this regard I can so relate to this post by my sister. It was filled with visitors of all sorts, many who stayed to pray by his grave. This is also highly recommended to do in our tradition, to visit the graves and to pray for those who have left this world. We left this place just as the adhan (call to prayer) sounded for dhuhr and made it to the mosque next door. It was a large mosque (masjid) built many centuries ago. Apparently very beautiful inside mashaAllah. I did not get to go inside as it was full, we so rushed to join the jama’ah (congregation) outside all around the masjid. It was my first experience of a jama’ah during this rihla, the first of many beautiful jama’ath (plural of jama’ah) to come. Alhamdulillah!

We saw much more during that one day we spent in Konya. I will mention one more place. We visited an ancient ‘madrasa’ (=school). The famous Karatay madrasa, built in 1252 CE (follow the link for more information on this architectural gem).  Unfortunately the word ‘madrasa’ is also now sullied with sad images of poorly run and decrepit institutions where little kids mindlessly memorize the Quran in places like Pakistan…you may know what I mean… images of boys rocking to and fro as they memorize come to mind. But I digress. The madrasa as it was in the old Muslim world was more akin to a university combined with a boarding school. Students stayed as long as required to master certain texts, and usually an endowment (=waqf, BTW one of the longest running soup kitchens is fed by a +450 year old waqf in old Jerusalem, established by the Haseki Harrem Sultan, the wife of Sultan Sulaiman the magnificent) would fund their food and board. Much like students travel vast distances today to gain knowledge, students did the same then and many such madrassas attracted bright students from all across the world. Interestingly two of the oldest still-working universities in the world are both in the old Islamic world, both linked to strong women figures, the one established by a woman – Al-Karaouine in Morocco and the other named after one- Al-Azhar in Egypt.

There is so much to be said about this madrasa. Every corner, every square foot was carefully designed with esoteric meaning and exoteric practicality. I can unfortunately only try to cover one very interesting aspect – the hole in the center  of the roof in the main hall. Directly under the hole is a depression in the floor like a small pool. Apparently during the winter this pool was filled with wood and acted as a fireplace sufficient to heat the whole building – the hole then becoming a chimney. And in the summer the pool was filled with water and students would sit around it at night to observe the reflection of the stars from the hole in the roof, and this way study astronomy! This little snippet touched my heart and brought the whole room to life.

This has been a lot of text, pictures below :). May this find you in a high state of good health and happiness. Peace be with you all.

The resting place of Rumi (Muhammed bin Muhammed) raheemahullah alai
The view of Rumi’s (raheemahulllah alai) resting place from the front of the masjid (mosque)
The 450 year old Selimiya mosque just outside where we prayed, we managed to find a place in the portico…
The Karatay Madrasa – The wood panel that currently covers what is the hole in the ceiling of the madrasa. Directly below is the pool. The walls of the whole room were covered bottom to top in these gorgeous blue tiles
Tiles that are left on the walls and wall-corner, leading to the domed ceiling opening out to the hole that looks at the stars

To end, one more picture, of a beautifully decorated entrance with ayah (= sign, each verse in the Quran is called an ayah, literally Muslims consider it to be a sign) of the Quran. Peace be with you all.