Mezquita de Cordoba

Dear readers,

Assalamu alaikum, peace be with you,

I cannot move to sharing other snippets from our rihla, without posting on the Mezquita de Cordoba. I had read and heard a great deal about it, and for me, it was a dream come true to be able to stand inside and wander through that magnificent pattern of palm-tree columns.

La mezquita’ as the locals still chose to call it, is the Cathedral of Cordoba. Recently (since a few years ago), signage has begun to read ‘Mezquita-Cathedral’, though for centuries since it was turned into a cathedral, it was still simply called ‘la mezquita’. The locals would say “I’m going to the mezquita for mass”! It used to be the ‘jamia masjid of Cordoba’ (the grand mosque of Cordoba. The word ‘jamia’ comes from ‘jumu’ah’ or Friday..as related in previous posts..the word for Friday comes from the word for gathering as it is when Muslims gather for a communal prayer. Therefore the largest mosque in a city is usually called the ‘jamia’ mosque. It often tends also to be the grandest, and so in English a more appropriate translation has become ‘grand mosque’, though perhaps ‘main mosque’ is more apt). The mosque, in the style of the great Umayyad mosqe of Damascus (God grant it is safe, and this needy abd [=slave] the chance one day to visit!] was built on where there used to be a Visigothic Catholic Church (from ~600 CE to 800 CE) that used to be an ancient Roman temple. I am not sure if any part of the original Church remains, but you can see some of the foundation of the ancient Roman temple. Perhaps the temple was used as a Church ? I do not know. What I do know, and I did some research on this, is that AbdurRahman-I who was the first caliph of Al-Andalucia bought the property for a huge sum of money (~ 100,000 dirhams possibly) from the Catholic church and then built his mosque. He bought it after a few years of sharing the property (paying rent of course) and thereafter upon needing more space for the growing Muslim population.

The original was expanded by successive caliphs to become the huge complex of close to 1000 pilars. Mosques in the Muslim world have always been more than places of worship. It’s the ‘family hang-out’, the ‘classroom and university’. Actually in the Islamic Golden Age, great teachers were born out of the mosque-circles. Usually a speaker/teacher would lean on a pillar after the salah (=prescribed 5 times a day ritual worship, I’ve described the term elsewhere) and give a talk. People would sit to listen, if the talk is good, more people join…and so a teacher’s fame spreads. Even today the mosque in Al-Azhar in Cairo (the second oldest University in the world) serves the same purpose. If you go there, you will see these circles by a pillar. In those days anyone on the street could wander in and sit down to listen. Even today you can do this, very few Muslims do have the interest to however. In them days, people would come in droves and soon a speaker would be addressing hundreds.

The pillars in the Mezquita de Cordoba have this double arch structure – so evocative of the branches of a date-palm. Others have said more eloquent things about it, so I will limit myself here. Only to add, an engineered effect of all the pillars is the feeling one gets of eternity….of a seemingly never-ending path of tall trees. This is very typical of Islamic art – you will often find repeated patterns, some intricate and elaborate. Often on nature themes. A reminder of the eternal life to come, of paradise, which was our home, and of God the almighty, who is limitless and eternal. Eternal is a poor word according to Muslim theologians, as it still talks upon the frame-work of time. And we believe God, is beyond time, being The Creator, and the Creator is not like the creation. ” …laisaka mithlihi shai =There is nothing like unto Him” (Quran 42:11). So we say, to try to capture this idea better; God is beginninglessly eternal and will be forever, endlessly (the Arabic captures this better).

After the reconqista, the mosque was converted to a church. It would have been torn down (hence why none of the Jamia masajid of other Andalucian cities remain) except the local people were so fond of it, they protested. The Catholic authorities could not therefore, and instead built a cathedral in the middle of it. The cathedral itself is quite grand. But I must be honest – the two art-forms just do not go well together. The overall effect is rather strange and unnerving. I found it very jarring to my artistic sensibilities. I was not the only one, apparently the pope of the time, when he came to visit it having being invited to see the accomplishment by the local Catholics on completion, is reported to have said something along the same lines. However it is a good thing this was done, as it is probably what saved the structure from destruction, particularly during the Inquisition. Wa Allah a’lam (=and God knows best)!

Here are pictures. Please read the captions.

A model of the mosque before the Cathedral was built in it. In the Calahorra museum
A model of the mosque before the Cathedral was built in it. In the Calahorra museum
A picture of the inside of the model - what the old mosque would have been like
A picture of the inside of the model – what the old mosque would have been like

 

columns and columns
columns and columns

 

The effect is amazing...my camera could not do it justice. It's quite dark inside now, as there is only a small entrance and not the many archways that open to the courtyard in the original design
The effect is amazing…my camera could not do it justice. It’s quite dark inside now, as there is only a small entrance and not the many archways that open to the courtyard in the original design

 

The original mihrab (=prayer niche), a staple in any mosque design, it gives the direction to Mekkah and usually is designed with great acoustics, so that the Imam's recitation as he leads the prayer from inside, is heard by all the congregation.
The original mihrab (=prayer niche), a staple in any mosque design, it gives the direction to Mekkah and usually is designed with great acoustics, so that the Imam’s recitation as he leads the prayer from inside, is heard by all the congregation.

The ayaath above the mihrab are the last lines from Surah Hashr. They are often recited in prayer.

He is Allah, than Whom there is La ilaha illa Huwa (=none has the right to be worshipped but He) the All-Knower of the unseen and the seen (open). He is the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful. (59:22)

He is Allah than Whom there is La ilaha illa Huwa (=none has the right to be worshipped but He) the King, the Holy, the One Free from all defects, the Giver of security, the Watcher over His creatures, the All-Mighty, the Compeller, the Supreme. Glory be to Allah! (High is He) above all that they associate as partners with Him. (59:23)

He is Allah, the Creator, the Inventor of all things, the Bestower of forms. To Him belong the Best Names . All that is in the heavens and the earth glorify Him. And He is the All-Mighty, the All-Wise. (59:24)

 

The top of the mihrab
The top of the mihrab
The rather strange juxtaposition of two very different art-forms. This was one of the more graceful pictures I could take
The rather strange juxtaposition of two very different art-forms. This was one of the more graceful pictures I could take

 

One of the many gates from the outside. It's walled up though
One of the many gates from the outside. It’s walled up though

The above gives you a size of the structure. It was huge, at one time the second largest mosque in the Muslim world.

I will end by saying how many a great thinker and scholar must have sat and leaned on those pillars, how many rapt-eyed students at his or her feet. The space still seems to carry echoes of their lost voices.

Ending with a prayer for peace and understanding and truth told, no matter the cost

Peace be with you all.

Madina al-Zahra and Cordoba

Assalamu alaikum (peace be with you)

Alhamdulillah (=thanks and praise be to God) for the peace and security to continue these posts. We visited Cordoba, a city established by Abdul Rahman I -the Umayyad prince who was the first ruler of Al-Andalus. His story is the stuff of romance. His family, the Umayyad rulers in Damascus were killed by the Abbasids who then established their own dynasty. He escaped and made his way to Spain, where he established his own caliphate that began as an emirate of ruling Berber Muslims in Morocco but then became an independent state.

The Umayyads were the first in Islamic history to establish an aristocracy, the advent of which, saw an end to the time of the rule of the first ‘four rightly guided caliphs’. This was predicted to happen by our beloved prophet (peace and blessings of God be on him). Muslims consider the time of the first four caliphates the true caliphate whereas since then there have been bad and good leaders. On this note, it must be said, that the model of leadership brought by Islam is what Sheikh Quick aptly termed a ‘meritocrasy’ and though an aristocracy is not preferred, where there is absent of rule of law otherwise, it is allowed. Having said that, it was the young prince Abdul Rahman I who was destined to found the Muslim Andalucian kingdom and continue the Umayyad line.

We stayed in a neighborhood in the city called ‘Arrusafa’. It was where AR-I built his palace, though no trace of that structure remains. The name Arrusafa is the name of a part of Damascus, beloved to AR-I, so you can see how he named this location the same, out of home-sickness. Quite remarkable the name stays to this day! This was in the year 711 AD, about 80 years after the death of the prophet (peace be on him).

Many things are told about the caliph AR-I and his rule. He was known as a just and wise ruler. This post will be too long were I to speak in detail about him, but here is one note that I particularly liked. Every child in his realm, whether Christian, Jew or Muslim would get a free education in reading, writing and math (the proverbial three ‘R’s! -hmm, wonder where that came from eh?;) ) and if a child wanted to study more, the doors were open. This love of education is a hallmark of Muslim civilization. As we believe that to know God, you must learn about His creation. The Quran repeatedly enjoins us to learn, study, think! So it is nothing new but something I deeply love about this way of life. One other thing to mention, there was no forced conversion as that is forbidden in the religion (“There is no compulsion in faith” – Quran 2:256). A proof of this is the great Jewish scholars that were produced in the Andalucian kingdom. The historians will speak more accurately about this than I can.

Cordoba became a great jewel in the crown of human civilization. The achievements of its people and its rulers must be given their due recognition no matter what faith or creed one belongs to. History is a common human treasure and it must be given its right. Cordoba was written of by Christian visitors from the North as ‘the ornament of the world’! It had street lighting and running water, great libraries and hospitals, synagogues and churches and of course great mosques. All this a couple of centuries before the battle of Hastings mind you.

And then comes Madina al-Zahra! Madina al-Zahra means ‘The resplendent city’. It was built by Abdur Rahman III who ruled for about 50 years beginning in 912 CE. It took him 12,000 builders and 12 years to build it. It was a custom built city about 6 miles outside the city of Cordoba. It housed the royal family and the court and attendants etc. It was a statement of authority as our tour-guide pointed out – a message to all, that Andalucía had arrived. And indeed it did do that. At that time also the Muslim rule in Baghdad was declining and AR III did declare himself the ruler of the entire Muslim world, it is entirely possible he had the riches and the authority  to be this as well, no small statement indeed.

Ah, but we derive a lesson from this – the caliph was distancing himself from his people. Becoming more exclusive and preferring the pleasures of the world, over the dues owed to the people he ruled. It is the story of history and human folly. It was the beginning of the end. And it is the story playing out time and time again to Muslim rulers…and we see it in today’s news too! We Muslims believe that the mark of the approval of God on any human endeavor is its longevity and that if Allah is not pleased, His blessing removed, no thing will last. So it is with Madina al-Zahra. While Cordoba still stands and Arrusafa is a modern day neighborhood, Madina al-Zahra needed to be dug out by archeologists. Now about 10% of the site is excavated and there is a museum built close by showcasing what life in that city must have been like. Wandering through that 1/10th of the city one gets a feel to what its grandour. I wish I could share that experience with you all, but I cannot here, so please do go visit. Some photos are up on my public facebook page though https://www.facebook.com/joy.manifest

The museum built there is a very interesting structure. It is built entirely underground. The reason for this is to emphasize a subtle yet important message. That the population of Muslim Cordoba is indigenous  to the land. It is ‘part of the earth’. At that time about 80% of the population was Muslim (BTW this is also an index used to prove the lack of forced conversion as where there is forced conversion, 100% of the population will be the enforced religion usually within decades or much less of its enforcement. However here 300 years into the establishment of the kingdom not yet is everyone Muslim) and what is important to note is that these were for the majority, ethnic Spanish Muslims. They were not the dark-skinned black-haired depictions Orientalist painters for some reason seem to love to paint Muslims as, and as is shown in the majority of textbooks. These were very Spanish Muslims. What was nice during this tour was to meet some of those very ethnically Spanish Muslims, who are now reclaiming their history and heritage over 500 years after the Inquisition and the forced erasing of this period from history. But more about that later. For now, it was an important lesson to take home and kudos to the architects of the building for such a subtle yet beautiful message.

And kudos also to the beautiful Spanish people, who are restoring these old sites and reclaiming what is after all, their own heritage!

Please do check out the pictures of Madina al-Zahra on Facebook. And below are some more, from a Museum as we entered the old city of Cordoba. Captions below.

A model of the great masjid of Cordoba and the stages in a person's prayer. The masjid is now a Cathedral and still stands
A model of the great masjid of Cordoba and the stages in a person’s prayer. The masjid is now a Cathedral and still stands

 

A model of a Synagogue in Cordoba. I was struck by how similar to a masjid it is in that it is an empty space. The tile-work is obviously Moorish. The jewish quarter still exists in modern Cordoba
A model of a Synagogue in Cordoba. I was struck by how similar to a masjid it is in that it is an empty space. The tile-work is obviously Moorish. The jewish quarter still exists in modern Cordoba

 

A model of a library/school/university
A model of a library/school/university
The bridge over the river Guadalquivir. Originally built by the Romans, it was fortified by AR-I. Interestingly the names of most rivers in Spain begin with 'guada'. This word comes from the Arabic 'wadi' which means valley. Guadalquiver is from 'Wadi al Akber' = The great valley. The river systems were called by the valleys they carved.
The bridge over the river Guadalquivir. Originally built by the Romans, it was fortified by AR-I. Interestingly the names of most rivers in Spain begin with ‘guada’. This word comes from the Arabic ‘wadi’ which means valley. Guadalquiver is from ‘Wadi al Akber’ = The great valley. The river systems were called by the valleys they carved.
One of the old 'water-wheels' used to irrigate the city. I think the only one still standing. Rather remarkable given it is over a thousand years old
One of the old ‘water-wheels’ used to irrigate the city. I think the only one still standing. Rather remarkable given it is over a thousand years old
The site of the masjid of Madina az-Zahra. Unlike many Muslim cities, where the city is built around the masjid, here the masjid is in a corner of the city almost outside its main design.
The site of the masjid of Madina az-Zahra. Unlike many Muslim cities, where the city is built around the masjid, here the masjid is in a corner of the city almost outside its main design.

Finally, the trailer for a video we watched in the Museum, that recreates life in Madina az-Zahra. Ending with the visit of a delegation from a Christian kingdom in the North. Enjoy!

Mezquita de Grenada

Dear readers,

Alhamdulillah (=praise and thanks to God) I am returned after completing a very educational and blessed tour of Andalusia. The tour was run by Andalucian routes, a company that offers tours of the ‘western Muslim world’ (as Morocco/Algeria/Tunisia/Islamic Spain used to be known) not just for pleasure, but with a definite educational slant. They also work with empowering ‘ghetto-ized’ Muslim youth in the UK, via teaching them their history. And they work to bring back to modern-day Europe, the spirit of co-existence and mutual respect between different faith groups that the Andalusian kingdoms of old Europe were famous for. So famous that a term was coined to describe this – ‘convivencia’. Check out Project Convivencia for more information on the work Andalucian routes staff do on this front. The tour was organized by the Swiss Muslim Events group and included by invitation, Sheikh Abdullah Hakim Quick, who is well known in western Muslim circles. One of the earliest western Muslim scholars, he has in addition to his formal Islamic knowledge training, a Masters and PhD from McGill University and specializing in History. He has made some fascinating documentaries on the old very rich (in wealth and knowledge) African kingdoms of Mali and Timbuktu. Here is a link to a short video on this topic. Do check them out, you may be quite surprised at what you find.

There are many special places we visited, in addition to the better known Alhambra and the Mezquita of Cordoba. And there were special people we got to meet, skilled artists and pure souls. What a blessing it is to be able to travel in this way. I pray you all also have these opportunities! For this post, I will only talk about a rather new place in Granada – a mosque that was built a few years ago. It is the main mosque in Granada, and called the Mezquita de Granada in Spanish.

The Mezquita (easy to figure out that the Spanish word for Mosque comes from the Arabic ‘Masjid’) de Granada was built recently. It is on a hill that overlooks the Alhambra. It is built in the Moroccan style, which by no accident, is very much the Spanish style of building. In front of the masjid is a beautiful garden, with roses and jasmine and little fountains. Pictures below. The sound of the rippling water, the wind that blows the fragrance of the flowers as you sit in the welcome shade of the trees, and you feast your eyes on the flowers and yes, even the still resplendent walls of the Alhambra that evokes so much memory of history and of wise lessons of life.. and you wait for the Muazzin (=the person who makes the azan) to call the Azan (=call, the poem sung to inform the faithful it is time to pray) to prayer…what bliss! It was a piece of paradise. I made a video of the muazzin giving the call, I missed the first couple of lines. It is the first time I have heard the azan in this way, not through a loud-speaker. It must have always been like this in the past. It is very beautiful to hear the human voice wafting on the wind like this, sans technological input. No wonder the minarets (from where the muazzin makes the call) are high…the minaret on this mosque was not too high, yet I was surprised we could hear, though we were quite far away. Also I loved the style the azan was delivered in, distinctly European overtones I thought! I love this about the Azan, you will hear different styles (though the words and the language has never and will never change) depending on where in the world you are.

The garden is open to all, but the mosque is very small and can’t hold too many people, so it is not open to anyone except Muslims as yet. We were there on the Friday and got to participate in the Friday prayer. It was the first time I heard the khutbah in Spanish 🙂 (khutbah= literally meaning ‘speech’. the name of the two sermons given in place of two of the units of the noon prayer on Fridays. So we listen to the two sermons and then only offer 2 more units of prayer, thereby completing the prescribed 4 units of the noon prayer. There are guidelines of what a sermon should include and should not include in our tradition. Now that I am studying all of this, I sigh more thinking of how little the sermons I have sometimes heard in places like the subcontinent conform to this model. But I digress). It was a beautiful experience praying next to my Spanish brothers and sisters, many of whom can trace back their ancestors to Spanish Muslims who lived in Andalucía centuries ago.

Even more beautiful was to be able to attend the sunrise prayer there…walking up the hill in the night when it is darkest just before dawn, and then to sit in the quiet of the mosque. The Imam recited from Quran after finishing the offering of the prescribed short dawn prayer. He is a hafidh of Quran (one who has memorized the Quran. Hafidh is a beautiful word, it is translated as memorizer, but really it comes from the root word which means guardian or protector. And Al-Hafidh is one of the ‘names’ of God. It means then ‘The One of who protects’. And God is the ultimate and only real protector of all. But this is an example of the metaphysical meanings that Arabic is able to capture, as to memorize something denotes that one is then a protector and guardian of it). And he sat there and recited for a long time from memory. A young man, likely his student, was siting in front of him and reciting as well. I was following along with my mushaf (the actual written copy of the Quran) and not a single mistake could I detect in the recitation of the Imam, Al-hafidh al-Quran (=the hafidh of Quran. A title given to a memorizer of the Quran as Muslims greatly respect people who have done this). Allah ihfidhhu (= O Allah protect him!)

Here are some pictures of the ‘Mezquita’

The garden, facing the front of the masjid
The garden, facing the front of the masjid
A view of the Alhambra from the mosque garden
A view of the Alhambra from the mosque garden
cool fountains and the sound of flowing water
cool fountains and the sound of flowing water
The masjid, you can see the minaret where the muazzin gives the azan from in the distance
The masjid, you can see the minaret where the muazzin gives the azan from in the distance
Children love to play with water!
Children love to play with water!
The muazzin is ready to begin
The muazzin is ready to begin

When the Moors ruled in Europe

Dear readers, Assalamu alaikum (peace be with you)

Bi fadhlillah al-adheem (= by the immense bounty of God, the most High) I am currently in Spain, in the province of Andalusia which is the modern form of the Arabic name, Al-Andalusia. Al-Andalusia comes from how the Arabs called the ‘Vandals’, the old European tribes that lived in this area.

Now many of my readers, as indeed I was a few years ago when yet again, this period of lost history was revealed to me, would be surprised to know that there was a long period of Islamic rule in Spain. It began only 80 years after the death of the prophet (peace be upon him) and ended with what the Spanish call ‘The reconquest’ and Inquisition of the 15th century – a period of over 700 years. Yet, my history books certainly never breathed a word of it. It is a very interesting history and Muslims derive many teachings by it. It is also very interesting how many Islamic civilizational practices came into European culture by it, such as for example the ‘three course meal’ and apparently even the tradition of traveling musicians ‘troubradours’.

I am most interested also for a personal reason which I will share; Sri Lankan Muslims are commonly considered descendants of Arab traders who settled over the centuries (and integrated with the local communities, via marriage and adopting local languages while Arabic was preserved only in the written form and that too with interesting variations on the text itself…that are now being corrected with the Internet-age), however we are ethnically called ‘Ceylon Moors’. I always wondered where the term Moor came from. Some said it was because the British who coined it during their rule of what was at that time Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka) were only familiar with Muslims from Spain so they called any Muslim a Moor. That seems rather simplistic to me. An alternative I have heard is that we may indeed be descendant of those Spanish Muslims who fled Grenada when it fell to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella who then initiated a brutal and comprehensive inquisition which lasted many decades if not centuries. This happened in the year 1492 CE, the same year the same couple blessed the voyage of Chistopher Columbus! Its outcome is that the Muslim history in Europe was almost wiped out. But not quite, and this is good, for no matter what religion or group we belong to, history is a common human treasure and must be preserved.

Having said that, I will endeavor to share more of what I learn here, but for now a very well produced documentary from a great historian, Bettany Hughes, that will introduce the subject well I believe and that I feel you will enjoy. It is called ‘when the Moors ruled in Europe’

BTW I can’t help but say that I love the segment where Bettany speaks with a very honorable princess of the modern-day Royal family in Spain (if I recall correctly). I love the way she holds herself, her simplicity and her clear presentation of facts.

Enjoy, peace be with you all

 

 

Ulu camii

Assalamu alaikum dear readers,

I have been wanting to write for a while but many unexpected things got in the way. I have much more to share about my rihla to Turkey, but the days are flying and new experiences are threatening to dull precious memories, as well as competing for blogging time and space (and I have been sternly denying them that). So I think this maybe the last post on Turkey. I chose for it a post about a very special camii we were blessed to visit. It is called the Ulu camii, also known as the Bursa Grand Mosque. It is an example of early Seljuk architecture and was built before the time when Constantinopole became the capital of the Empire, around the late 14th century. So it is from before the time of the great Mimar Sinan or the more famous mosques in Istanbul.

Why is this masjid (=mosque) special? Well, when you see the pictures you will know. We took a day trip down just to see it and were blessed to join the congregation for the noon, afternoon and sunset salah (respectively called ‘dhuhar’, ‘asr’ and ‘maghreb’) there before heading back to Istanbul. It is located in Bursa, a ski-station actually, a beautiful old city located high up in the mountains, overlooked by the towering Ulu-daag (Ulu mountain). The mosque unlike the later masajid (plural of masjid) is decorated in only two colours; black and gold. There is minimal tile work and ornamentation. But what it does have is considered by some as one of the most magnificent displays of Islamic calligraphy in one place. It has over 190 calligraphic panels and works painted on the walls of the mosque. Different verses of the Quran, Islamic phrases, saying of the prophet (peace be upon him). All done in a variety of the established classical styles of calligraphy. For those of you who don’t know, Islamic calligraphy has some classical styles and training in them is also handed down from teacher to student and follows the same ‘ijaza’ (=license) system of transmission. We were blessed to watch a master calligrapher at work, who has ijazaath (plural of ijaza) in I think all the major forms, and some forms took up to 13 years to master. Islamic calligraphy is very mathematical as most Islamic art forms are …unsurprising as Muslim science always considered math to be a language of knowing the divine…there are secrets of the Universe mathematical principles can unlock that no other science can. And I guess in today’s language quantum physics and allied sciences are what I would also consider pure mathematics. But I am going off on another tangent, so I better stop. Look at this interesting paper for a computer application developed to do what the old masters did by hand, exploring symmetry and how it teaches us meanings about origin and end… Here is more detail on the theory.

I believe there is a panel where in the corner the master calligrapher offers a challenge to anyone to better his work, and indeed he does sign some of the panels. The feeling engendered by these panels in the mosque is amazing, everywhere you turn there is some choice phrase or metaphysical symbolic composition of letters, it takes the soul on a journey that I can swear no visit to any Art gallery has ever done to me, and I can use the Arabic ‘wallahi’ to swear this! (Wallahi meaning ‘by Allah’ and it is not used lightly to swear on something)

I will post pictures below. To leave you though, there is something very interesting in this masjid that I must share. Usually the place to take the compulsory washing one has to do before being able to enter the salah, called the ‘wudu’ in Arabic is outside. The wudu is often translated in English as ‘ablution’ and the idea is that one cleans ones external (the obligatory of this is to wash the hands and arms up to the elbows, the face, wipe over the hair and the feet. The prophet peace be upon him, would also wipe his ears and wash his mouth and nose so we often do that as additional and he would do this three times while reciting certain verses, so we follow his example, he also frequently brushed his teeth too) before one can enter the state of the ‘salah’ where Muslims believe we are standing directly in front of God which then is the time we go to clean our ‘internal’. Then before we go to the internal cleansing we undertake this external cleansing. So we can’t offer the salah unless we take our ‘wudu’ (certain acts nullify a wudu and then it has to be taken again, such as for example relieving oneself or falling asleep). However ‘ablution’ is a bad translation as it signifies the idea of prior sin, which is a concept foreign to the Muslim psyche. Rather the better translation I’ve heard recently is ‘lumination’ from an eminent English speaking Islamic scholar, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf Hanson, as the Arabic root word for ‘wudu’ comes from the same root as the latin ‘lumos’ (meaning gaining a state of light) comes from.

To continue the taps to take the wudu are usually located in the courtyard outside the masjid as we enter the masjid after having taken our wudu. But in the Ulu camii there is a beautiful fountain (complete with fresh clean towels!) located inside the mosque. This was an anomaly and we were curious why. The story goes, that when the Sultan wanted to build the masjid he began to acquire the land for it. All was okay except there was an old lady who lived in this small hut right in the middle of the proposed property who refused to sell to the Sultan. And it is a testament to his good rule that he could not compel her to sell her land. The story goes that eventually she died, and left no heirs. Now the Sultan went ahead and acquired the land and construction was to begin. However here is a dilemma, would the prayer of those worshipers who prayed on this land be valid, in that though acquired it was not done so with the permission of the owner. So according to Islamic law (and remember Islam as a religious tradition is most known in terms of its contributions in the field of law) the land may not be ‘halal’ (permissible) or valid, on which to build a mosque. The ‘ulema (=scholarly community) had a cunning compromise to this dilemma, they could not halt the Sultan from building the mosque but they could not rule that the prayer offered on this portion of the land would be valid according to Islamic law, so they couldn’t sanction it either. Therefore they proposed that a fountain be built on the section of land that used to belong to the old woman so that no worshiper’s head would touch the ground on what maybe a space where a prayer is unlawful. Instead people take their wudu there! I was humbled by this level of scrupulousness and earnestness in trying to find the best solution to a problem not to mention ensuring religious works are done according to the highest morality. And I could not but help think of the status of many Muslim governments of today who don’t care how they do what and would even murder their own citizens in the name of religion. May God help us all.

With that said, here are pictures. May peace be with you all and I will leave with this prayer that you too will get to visit places like this in the same way I have. And truly journey ‘through the earth to learn’

22:46
Sahih International Interpretation

So have they not traveled through the earth and have hearts by which to reason and ears by which to hear? For indeed, it is not eyes that are blinded, but blinded are the hearts which are within the breasts.

Quran 22:46
fountain
Ulu camiiOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Ulu camii alcove

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

Istanbul

Assalamu alaikum, peace be with you

 

Dear readers, it has been many days since I returned from my journey and many more since I left Turkey. I still miss it very much. I miss the pre-dawn walks we took to either the blue mosque, or the Beyazid mosque or the Sulaimaniya (which I missed unfortunately) to get there just as the sounds of the call to the dawn prayer began to float on the hushed stillness of the ending night. I miss entering those great spaces of peace and sitting in silence until the prayer is begun and then the magnificent recitation. I miss sitting there after, each of us lost in our own thoughts, contemplations, in our ‘dhikr’ (=remembrance, of God, of where we came from and where we are going, of our prophet) until the rays of the sun fell on the carpet through the stained glass windows brightly enough to signal the day has broken. And then we would stand to offer two more units of voluntary prayer before walking back to our hotel for breakfast. The city magically transformed in that short time so that quiet deserted streets were then full of vendors, the fragrances of tea and ‘simit’, busy students hustling to school and busier folks on their way to work, the trams going past ‘jam-packed’ and the shops open to new delights to tempt one as one passes by. I miss this also, this cacophony of life, good busy simple life. All things should have their place and their is a time for prayer and a time for the daily duties of life. I love that about Islam that these things are ordered, but never let one take too much of the mind-heart space to the detriment of the other. Ah, balance is a hard skill to achieve. But the middle way is the best way, and so taught our prophet, peace and blessing be upon him. And yet while we maintain that balance it is not to stay stagnant but gently rise each day and year of our lives through our perseverance and training of the soul, so that we wipe away the grime from our hearts and can feel again our true center…that is so far elevated from the mundane! Those who have experienced this will know what I mean. Subhahanallah (glory be to God)

I could go on and on about each of the masajid (plural of masjid=mosque) we visited, but no doubt you will find better and more ample descriptions of these online in other places. So I will post some pictures for you below. Please read the captions for more information.

May God’s peace and blessing be with you all

 

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The Sulaimaniya Camii – we arrived in time for one of the prayers, it was very quiet
Sulaimaniya camii - dome
Built for Sulaiman the Magnificent by the great Mimar Sinan (see my post on Ederne for his masterpiece). Every Ottoman Sultan was expected to have a trade, and Sulaiman was a gifted jeweller – hence the jewel-theme artwork. The walls also had many marble elements inspired by fine jewel settings.

 

I think this is the Yeni (=new, its 400+ yrs old!) camii. Built by one of the mother of one of the Sultans. Amazing iznik tile work.

 

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Listening to a reciter or ‘qaari’ after the end of the salah
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Detail. Subhanallah!
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The Rustom Pasha camii – a little know camii tucked away on the top story above the busy shops of the spice bazar. Absolutely stunning, I have many photographs of the tile designs unfortunately I can’t post here. Each tile hand painted and each will have a small defect that allows the artist to recognize it as their work. And also according to the Muslim ethos in art, that perfection belongs to God alone.
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the dome from the ‘kucik ayah sofia’ (little aya sofia)
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The Sultan Ahmet camii or Blue mosque. A poorly taken picture of the early dawn light coming in.

 

Recitation from the blue mosque and celebration of our beloved

Dear readers, peace be upon you all!

I have been wanting to continue with my posts on our rihla to Turkey, but several things do with returning and settling into the work routine have kept me busy. By Allah’s grace may I continue in the coming days. In the meantime I found this recording of the profound recitation following the salah (please see in my post on Ankara for an explanation of why I prefer using the term ‘salah’ rather than prayer for our obligatory daily ritual worship) in the Sultan Ahmed mosque (or Blue mosque as it is more commonly called) in Istanbul. How I miss sitting there listening to the recitation. These are the last two ayaat (=signs, or translated loosely as verses) of Surah Baqarah I believe, the second chapter in the Quran. The recitation following the salah is optional, so you will see some people walking about/leaving. Usually in the masajid (plural of masjid=mosque), the congregational prayer is followed by a du’a (supplication or prayer) or by recitation of verses from the Quran and by sending peace and blessings upon our beloved, Muhammed, the seal of the prophets (may Allah exalt him and grant him peace and all his family, may He elevate them).

On that note, today is a special day, the 12th of the ‘spring month’ of Rabbi ul-Awwal, the birthdate of our beloved messenger. Our prophet taught us that we have only two festivals as Muslims, the one following the end of the fasting month and the one concluding the Hajj pilgrimage. But many Muslims have special gatherings to sing praises of the prophet and send peace upon him, to honour him and remember him on this special day. Something that should not be confined to just one day, and then the best honour of him is to follow his example, may peace and blessings be upon the last messenger, a mercy to the worlds. So the second video is to a beautiful poem praising him, many exist in the Muslim world and some are long some are short. This one is not too long so you can listen to the whole inshaAllah.

May peace be with you all,

Recitation from blue mosque, the acoustics of the masjid are amazing! Subhahanallah (=glory be to God, most exalted)

Qasida Muhammadiya, (qasida is a style or type of poem, its a technical term) a very famous ancient poem in praise of the prophet (peace be upon him) written by a great scholar of our past, Imam Busari (raheemahullah alai, Allah shower mercy upon him). The translation in the youtube is not the most graceful, for a better one, please see here

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.

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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.
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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.
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The portico surrounding the courtyard
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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
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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
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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
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Lady reading Quran before the prayer starts
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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
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Effect of the arches inside
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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
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Looking up from just where the mihrab (prayer niche) is. So much light…Subhahanallah!
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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.

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.

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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.

SAMSUNG

Ankara

My dear readers, Assalamu alaikum (peace be with you)!

Alhamdulilillah (praise and thanks be to God) I am currently in Turkey. I came here very blessed as part of a spiritual tour with a great scholar of our times. Please follow the link to find out more. InshaAllah more about this tour soon, it has been so full and overflowing in blessings it is hard to condense into one post so I must think about how best to share the ‘barakah’ with you inshaAllah (barakah=blessing, inshaAllah= God willing).

For today here are some pictures from a day trip I took to Ankara yesterday. I had to go there for some official business and did not have much time to spend. But I discovered it is a university town and has bookshops everywhere. So I was happy! There were several incidents of which one I particularly wanted to share; on my way into the city, being on a small budget I took a local bus and only had the address of the place I needed to get to to guide my way. I had asked several people but English is not commonly spoken and so I had some trouble. Basically I was in this bus that would take me to the city and I was not sure what I’d do when I got there. But I moved around asking a few people on the bus with little success despite very helpful sympathetic faces/gestures/words in Turkish. I then made the du’a of the traveler, a very beautiful and deep prayer (du’a = prayer, as opposed to the wrongly translated Muslim ‘salah’, the 5 times a day ‘prayer’, which really is more a ritual form of worship rather than a prayer as is commonly understood in English. A better translation of  ‘salah’= ‘reorientation or ‘turning to good’ or ‘recalibration’. One can, and is encouraged to make ‘du’a’ during the ‘salah’ as well. Almost all people do, as when one is in the ‘salah’ one is closest to God so Muslims believe, specifically during the prostration position in the ‘salah’). The du’a  is that which our beloved, Muhammed (upon whom be peace) made and taught us, when he embarked on any journey. Here it is;

‘Allaah is the greatest, Allaah is the greatest, Allaah is the greatest, How perfect He is, The One Who has placed this (transport) at our service, and we ourselves would not have been capable of that, and to our Lord is our final destiny. O Allaah, we ask You for birr (= goodness, good deeds, good) and taqwaa (= God consciousness, being mindful of God)  in this journey of ours, and we ask You for deeds which please You. O Allaah, facilitate our journey and let us cover its distance quickly. O Allaah, You are The Companion on the journey and The Successor over the family, O Allaah, I take refuge with You from the difficulties of travel, from having a change of hearts and being in a bad predicament, and I take refuge in You from an ill fated outcome with wealth and family.’

I did not know it well, so recited of it what I could. And then sat and thought I’d enjoy the view. Mashaallah (by God’s grace) soon after, the gentleman seated in front of me turned around and spoke to me in understandable English. He inquired what my predicament was, took the written address from me, called a friend to find out about it and then said to wait till his contact got back with directions. Some minutes later his friend called back and he told me he would show me the way. The man had mashaallah a kind face filled with the light of the good-hearted (those of you who know this can recognize it I know) so I was very much at ease. We got off at the same stop, he escorted me to where I needed to board another bus, got me on that, told the driver where to drop me off and only departed after waving goodbye when my bus left. Allah bless this brother and give him all that is good in this world and the hereafter! On getting to know each other I found out that he works for the ministry of Education and is a poet…MashaAllah! So my brother, if you come across this post, please know that I am grateful for your help and pray for you and your family.

Alhamdulillah the rest of my journey was good. Except for the fact that I was nearly at one point tearing due to having to sit in a room filled with cigerrette smoke for a good amount of time, not to mention a constant itchy throat due to the smoking everywhere. And on this matter let me say I find it very sad how prevalent smoking is in the Muslim world. Some scholars consider smoking to be haram (= forbidden) while almost all scholars consider it at least makhruh (= discouraged, disliked) so I do not understand how it is so prevalent. For those who do not know, everything in a Muslim’s life falls under a categorization of permissibility, that goes from a spectrum of permissible = ‘halal’ to impermissible=’haram’. This is why often Islam is understood as a way of life rather than a religion. It is sad though, that not all Muslims seem to understand or practice it as such.

I heard the azan (= call the prayer) and so could locate a mosque within walking distance, it turned out to be the largest mosque in Ankara. So I could join the jama’ah (congregation) for the salah and also rest a while. There was a ‘janaza’ (=funeral) salah when I was there. The second I got to participate in during this journey. Muslims have certain obligations in their lives they must fulfill, some are considered personal (= fard ‘ain) such as the ‘salah’, where each person has to fulfill his/her own of it, and some are communal (=fard kifaya), i.e., where one person fulfilling it ensures the community has fulfilled its obligation. The janaza salah is a communal obligation upon a Muslim who had died. Needless to say, as many of us as can, join this ‘salah’, as it is a communal obligation, and so we may increase the prayers upon the departed soul. This is why the janaza salah is often held right after one of the 5 times a day salaath (plural of salah) in the mosque, so the whole congregation may join it.

The mosque itself was very beautiful and grand, all the mosques (in arabic, ‘masajid’) are amazing in this country. InshaAllah I wil follow with posts about the mosques later on. The caligraphy and feeling of space and reverence is very beautiful and restful. Some pictures are below.

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Kocatepe camii entrance
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The salah from upstairs in the women’s section
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The domes of Kocatepe camii
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archways…

To end, a sight that touched my heart and gave me a sense of strong hope. There are sadly many children who beg on the streets here. And there are children who work for a living on the streets. This is a topic that deserves a post on its own, so I won’t say more now. But the picture below is of a boy I saw, may Allah increase him, bless him, protect him and grant him a glorious future in this world and the hereafter, who was busy doing his homework while in front of him he was selling little packets of tissue. I did not specifically get permission to post the picture, but as it is blurry I do not think it it wrong of me to do so. He was very diligent, hardly looking up but all his customers were faithful to give him the right amount of money for his wares or so for as long as I witnessed this it was what I saw. I felt very proud, humbled and a great rush of love and delight looking upon this determined young man and so I ask you my dear readers to also send your prayers upon him. May Allah grant this country and its people a great and peaceful future.

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‘O Allah, increase my little brother!’

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Peace be with you all