Upon arriving into Istanbul, we immediately headed over to the famous Sultan Ahmet Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque because of the blue tiled interior. Sultan Ahmet was the name given to the mosque due to it being built during 1609 – 1616 in the reign of Sultan Ahmet.
Although this was my second visit to Istanbul and third trip to Turkey overall, being here was definitely refreshing. Istanbul has a great thriving atmosphere with over 3000 mosques which brings life to the city five times a day. It is by far one of the best places to experience Byzantine and Ottoman history whilst witnessing progressive contemporary lifestyles.
We arrived on a Thursday night after having spent a couple of relaxing days in Fethiye, a beautiful laid back city on the south coast of Turkey. As soon as we arrived we noticed the difference in Istanbul. Being a cosmopolitan and metropolitan city, this place was really busy to say the least.
Thursday night is a sacred night to Muslims as it precedes the day of Jumuah; one of the most holiest days in Islam and the holiest in the week. It is on this night that Muslims exert more effort in praying, reciting the Quran and sending blessings and salutations upon the Prophet Muhammad PBUH. This is because according to Islamic tradition, the Prophet PBUH himself commended Muslims to send more salutations upon him.
We had finally made it to the Masjid and immediately noticed how busy it was. With multiple entrances and gates to the Masjid, we could see Muslims and non-Muslims in great numbers entering the courtyard of the Mosque to be able to enter the Masjid itself. Visitors come from far and wide to see this great piece of work that the Ottomans left behind for us, not only because of the architecture, artwork and interior design, but also because the sound of Qur’an recitation and the call to prayers which originate from here, still echo around the city till today.
Upon entering the Masjid and putting away my shoes, I depart from my wife and make my way to the main prayer hall as she makes her way to the ladies prayer area. I make my way to the beautifully lit prayer hall and immediately notice the softness of the carpet under my feet which was red and beautifully embroidered. Even though this was my second time visiting the Masjid, I was completely startled by it’s magnificent walls and decorated windows.
As I had just missed the sunset prayer (Maghrib) in congregation, I still needed to find a quite spot and perform my prayers. In Islam, praying in congregation holds more reward and benefit and is more conducive to society and unity than praying alone, hence there is strong emphasis in doing so in Islamic tradition. It is therefore the practise of Muslims arriving to the Mosque – who have just missed the prayer in congregation – to ask others if they are in a similar situation, in order to pray together. This happened to me. Except instead of me asking, I was asked my someone else. I was fortunate enough to have had led the Maghrib prayer in congregation in this historical Masjid. Upon completing my prayers, I went and sat near the Mihrab; this is where the Imam stands when leading the prayers. I did this as I realised that there were many people sat around listening to one person reciting the Qur’an.
Usually in Turkey, after the completion of the main congregational prayers, the Imam tends to recite verses of the Qur’an for a short period of time. However, on this occasion, I noticed that the recitation was being prolonged. There were many people huddled up near the Mihrab whilst the Imam recited verses from the Qur’an.
Soon after, I realised that this was a special night and a special gathering. This was a Thursday night gathering dedicated to reciting verses of the Qur’an, Islamic poetry in Turkish and sending blessing and salutations upon the Prophet Muhammad PBUH. The atmosphere was serene, tranquil and ever so peaceful. What made this evening more spiritual and fascinating was the coming together of Imams, religious ministers and other well-known Qur’an reciters from around the Mosques of Istanbul. All of them had gathered to use their talents to remember Allah and send salutations upon the Prophet PBUH whilst also affecting the hearts of those attending.
Young and old men with pale skin, rosy cheeks and beautiful melodious voices would take turns to recite parts of the Surah Yaseen, also known as the ‘Heart of The Qur’an’. Others would use their talent to chant poetry in praise of the Prophet PBUH whilst some would recite invocations that are specifically dedicated to bless and send peace upon the Prophet PBUH.
Witnessing all this – which took place in a matter of an hour – was truly a remarkable experience. It was spiritually refreshing and uplifting as the recitation of the Quranic verses holds the power to penetrate the spirit of even the most diseased of hearts.
What I really admired was the coming together of different talented individuals. By coming together for this night, they portrayed a sense of unity amongst Imams and also benefitted those attending in many ways.
I highly recommend that visitors to this magnificent Masjid hang back for a while on Thursday night, after the Maghrib prayer, to experience this for themselves.