When our group returned Tuesday night from our wonderful excursion in western Turkey, we stayed in the old quarters of Istanbul. On Wednesday night, Meredith and I headed over to the Blue Mosque (the Sultanahmet Camii) to hear the last call to prayer. We wanted to enter, but were turned away by a guard. After sitting on the steps for a few minutes, we tried again, explaining that we were part of a college group here to study Turkey and Islam, and that we would be quiet and respectful. The guard relented, and we slipped off our shoes, put them in a bag, and entered, staying behind the line that visitors are not to cross.
This mosque, like all the mosques, looks neo-classical in the ways that the architecture and colors are balanced – if there’s an arch on one side or a seal with a verse from the Koran on a wall there, there will be a corresponding arch or seal on the other. But unlike some neo-classical architecture or gardens, the mosque never appears formal or cold, largely because the archways and domes flow into one another so beautifully. Sitting inside a mosque, looking out or up, I feel a strong sense of beauty and peace.
Meredith and I sat in silence, watching Muslims enter, watching them begin prayers, hearing the imam pray/sing/chant. The prayers stood up, kneeled down, bent over, again and again.
When the service was over, an Iranian Muslim sat down beside me and told me that the Turks “are a little bit strange” in what they do. He then invited me to his city in Iran and to his mosque to witness Iranians praying there, and then we talked briefly about politics.
After a few minutes of that, Meredith and I exited into the night, moved by what we had witnessed and felt. The next night, we were in the same area for dinner, and we heard calls to prayer from various mosques, including the Blue Mosque. Friday and Saturday found us also heading that way for the last call to prayer, and we realized that we had begun a meaningful ritual.