Monday, 17 May 2010

More from Eyup Sultan

An Ottoman-style military band plays in front of Eyup Sultan Masjid on Friday mornings before prayers.

Waiting in line to see what is supposed to be a footprint of the Prophet Mohammed (salallahu alayhe wa sallam) pressed into a polished stone, and the supposed tomb of the companion of the Prophet, Khalid ibn Zayd (radiallahu anhu). He died so long ago, it’s hard to say exactly where his grave actually lies. We saw another reputed footprint of the Prophet at Topkepi Palace, also in Istanbul.

You can see some of the famous Ottoman ceramic tiles on the walls, and Rukiye telling me to hurry up and quit taking pictures of everything. The Thuhr athan had been called, and we thought we were going to pray in the masjid, but we had to wait for the men to finish.

We wandered around looking at tombs for quite a while, and then wandered around the markets near the masjid, and had a look at the beautifully restored old row houses nearby. Some of the women were standing in a circle praying around a deep spring or well of some sort, flush with the paving stones outside a tomb.

By this point we had been waiting for several hours, and Thuhr prayer was almost over. The masjid and the courtyards around it were still packed with men praying on straw mats.

Here we are waiting outside a tomb, just down the path from the men praying. I admit I look a little freaky in that outfit, and my niqab was misbehaving, but that lady on the left blatantly stared at me all afternoon. You would think the novelty would wear off after a few hours.

I voted to find a private spot and pray by ourselves, rather than miss the prayer entirely, but I was overruled. It's not appropriate for ladies to pray outside.

Thuhr wasn’t quite over, so I waited, and we eventually made our way into the masjid and up the tiniest spiral staircase I have ever seen (I wish I had a picture of that), to the women’s balcony – except that there were still men sitting around up there, damnit. There was plenty of room downstairs by that point, I really think the men should have moved down so the women could pray in privacy, while there was still time. I have to take my niqab off to pray, and I didn’t want the men sitting around staring at me, so I stood behind a group of women.

The men file back out of the masjid after prayers. That gold and white bay window on the right is the tomb of Khalid ibn Zayd (radiallahu anhu), and just to the left of it, under the red Turkish flag, is the footprint of the Prophet (salallahu alaye wa sallam).

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Cities of the Dead

At Eyup Sultan Masjid in Istanbul (built by the Ottomans in 1458 AD), the tomb of Sokullu Mehmet Pasa, a sixteenth century AD Ottoman vizier, whose last known descendant passed away a few months ago. The masjid is located near the supposed grave of Khalid ibn Zaid ibn Kulayb, a companion of the Prophet (sallalahu alayhe wa sallam) who participated in the seventh century AD Muslim conquest of Istanbul. Many Ottoman officials are buried near the masjid.

An iris flowering on another grave in downtown Istanbul.

One of the things that struck me about Istanbul was the sheer number of people who have died in the city. Many of the graves I saw dated from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but even still everywhere I went there were vast graveyards, or old graves squeezed in next to the street.
I was on a bus to Eyup, and I saw a small mountain on the Golden Horn, overlooking the sea. It appeared to be covered with square white limestone rock formations, interspersed with trees, but when I got closer I realized that the whole mountain was covered in white stone tombs about the size of coffins, all jumbled together. Families bearing flowers picked paths among the tombs, winding their way up the mountain to tend the graves of their loved ones.
Most of the monuments at Eyup Sultan dated from the twelfth to fourteenth centuries, which puzzled me for a while, because they were in the Ottoman style of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the carvings were mostly perfectly legible. Had the Ottomans built new monuments for ancient graves? If so, why were they all so close in age? It took me far longer than it should have to realize that they were using the hijri calendar. The current hijri year is 1431.
Just the number of people who died and merited monuments in this one city in the past two centuries is hard to grasp; I can’t imagine how many people will rise up on Judgement Day.