Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Eyüp Sultan a second time

On the last night of Ramadan, we went to Eyup Sultan masjid (this is the second time I’ve been there). It reputedly holds the tomb of one of the Sahabah, and a footprint of the Prophet (salallahu alayhe wa sallam). It certainly contains the tombs and graves of many Ottoman emperors and officials.

Eyup Sultan is always busy, but on that night the courtyard, the paved square outside the gates, and the nearby streets were thronged with people, milling about and jockeying for spots big enough to lay down mats.

My host’s large family somehow scored a spot inside the courtyard near the relics, and we ate pizza and orange drink after the Maghrib athan and then prayed inside.

It is not unusual to see trees like these in masjids and historic sites in Istanbul, often over 500 years old.

People line up to see the tomb of the Sahabi (radiallahu anhu) and the footprint of the Prophet Muhammad (salallahu alayhe wa sallam).

After praying Maghrib, the whole family hiked up a cobblestoned path up the side of a very large hill next to the masjid, overlooking the Golden Horn. From a distance, this hill looks like a huge jumble of white blocks and trees – it is covered with tightly packed marble tombs dating from Ottoman times to the present, with trees planted among them here and there, and threaded with tiny footpaths trodden by all the people who visit the tombs. It was very dark, and all the surfaces were covered with worm-like centipedes as big as my fingers. It was a little creepy.

Up near the top of the hill was a brightly lit cafe, where people sat at little tables next to the tombs, smoking and drinking sweet tea. Cable cars ran up the side of the hill, and the passengers took an elevator up to a cobbled viewpoint overlooking the cemetery, the Bosphorus, and the Asian side of Istanbul across the water. The city and the two bridges between the continents were brightly lit and very beautiful. People took turns standing on a stool to look through a telescope at the city, and had a good laugh when my turn came and I just stood on the ground below the stool – at 5’5 I'm taller than a lot of people here.

Up at the top of the hill was a small masjid, a tea shop, and an ancient hand-pumped well purported to be ‘like Zamzam,’ having healing powers. People were lining up to pump water and drink it out of a tin cup on a chain, but I didn't drink because I didn't want to risk getting sick.

My we sat around outside the masjid drinking tea and well-water, and then all walked back down through the cemetery.

There are some gorgeous photos of people in the masjıd courtyard here, and some interesting epitaphs from tombstones here (I don't understand Turkish well enough to translate them).

The World's Most Northern Masjid

This is completely unrelated to Turkey or Jordan but it's just so darn exciting I had to post it: Inuvik has a new masjid, shipped all the way from Winnipeg. Here's a map, for all you non-Canadians and geographically challenged Canucks:

The new masjid:

(Photo credit to the CBC)
The old masjid, which was extremely small.

(Photo credit also to the CBC)

I was surprised to learn that there are nearly a hundred Muslims in Inuvik, a town of only 3,200. From the CBC News website:

"It's a beautiful building. Everyone's happy to have this small little home for meeting and for prayer, and for the children to be playing in," resident Amir Suliman told CBC News when the mosque arrived.

The arrival caps an incredible 4,000-kilometre road and river journey from Manitoba, where the mosque was built, through two provinces and the Northwest Territories, down the Mackenzie River to the community just north of the Arctic Circle.

The Zubaidah Tallab Foundation, a Manitoba-based Islamic charity, raised the money to build and ship the structure to Inuvik to help the Islamic community there.

Suliman, who organized a recent multicultural fair in Inuvik, said it was a proud day, recalling two years of fundraising and the stress in recent weeks over whether the mosque would make it north in one piece.

The mosque's journey, which began by semi-trailer at the end of August, faced delays due to heavy traffic, highway regulations, narrow bridges and high winds.

Just as the mosque had crossed the Alberta-Northwest Territories border, it came close to tipping into Reindeer Creek as the semi-trailer tried to cross a narrow bridge.

The semi-trailer made it on Sept. 10 to Hay River, N.W.T., where it was put on the barge — the last one of the season — and floated 1,800 kilometres down the Mackenzie River to its final destination.

The mosque's journey, which began by semi-trailer at the end of August, faced delays due to heavy traffic, highway regulations, narrow bridges and high winds.

Just as the mosque had crossed the Alberta-Northwest Territories border, it came close to tipping into Reindeer Creek as the semi-trailer tried to cross a narrow bridge.

The semi-trailer made it on Sept. 10 to Hay River, N.W.T., where it was put on the barge — the last one of the season — and floated 1,800 kilometres down the Mackenzie River to its final destination.
"You want to break down crying, really. It's joyous, it's a sense of achievement," said Hussain Guisti, who heads up the foundation.

"We were told, 'You know, this can't be done. It's impossible. There's no way you're going to get [it] there in one piece.' To know that I did it — it's a feeling of joy."

Guisti said the generosity of everyone who helped make the northern mosque a reality is incredible.

"This is what Canada is all about," he said. "It shows the welcomeness of Canada, it shows the tolerance of Canada, it shows we're multicultural, we're diverse."

Read more:

My sister's fiance works in Inuvik; here are some pictures shamelessly stolen from his Facebook profile without permission (I don't think he will mind). These are from late September, brrrr! Better him than me.

I have been wondering, how do they decide on prayer times in the far north, since the sun never rises in part of the winter, and never sets in part of the summer? According to this Canadian Geographic article from 2001, they use Edmonton time. I do not know what they based that decision on, but that's one way of solving the problem.

Sunday, 5 September 2010


Ankara was very different from Istanbul. It looked new and sterile, rows on rows of similar office towers and apartment buildings stretching as far as I could see. Many of the tall buildings were draped with banners of Ataturk and Turkish flags that were easily five stories high, if not more. Smaller flags were everywhere, hanging off balconies and waving from some of the biggest flag poles I have ever seen. I wondered if all these flags and banners were normal, at least for Ankara, but someone eventually told me that August 30 was something like Independence Day in Turkey (Victory Day actually, commemorating the end of the Greco-Turkish war in 1922).
We took one of the smaller buses that look like oversized milk trucks downtown to do some shopping during Ramadan. A couple of cranky-looking, skimpily dressed old ladies got on at the stop after us, and sat down right behind us. As they got on, I was thinking they looked like the sort of people who used to scream at me in the street in Canada to go back to my country.
My friend Kubra leaned over and told me in Arabic, "These two might cause a problem. They remind me of people who used to stop me in the street when I was younger and yell at me for wearing hijab, accusing my family of forcing me to wear it. I was only eight or nine, and I wanted to wear it, but I wasn't old enough to argue about it very well."
A hand clamped on to my arm from behind - I looked, and it was one of the old ladies. She shoved a five-lira bill at me, and I asked her in Arabic what she wanted. Whoops, wrong language. She started jabbing my niqab with the bill and berating me in Turkish. Was she trying to give me money, I wondered? I looked at her blankly as she raised her volume and began shouting at me, unable to recall any applicable Turkish words whatsoever.
Kubra spoke to the lady in Turkish, and the lady yelled at her for a while. Kubra's little brother took the lady's money forward to the driver and brought her change back. I realized what she had wanted.
Kubra eventually translated for me. The lady had assumed I was Turkish and was sassing her, despite the fact that I was wearing Arab clothes and speaking Arabic. She wasn't hard of hearing, and said she heard us speaking Arabic, so I couldn't give her that excuse.
On the smaller Ankara buses, people take a seat, find their money, and pass it to the person in front of them, telling them how many people they want to pay for. The money and the instructions are passed along the bus by the passengers to the driver, and then the change is passed back. I had only ever taken the big Istanbul buses, where you pay when you get on, and Kubra's brother had paid for us when we got on this bus because it was nearly empty, so I didn't know how it worked. It was probably a good thing I understood very little Turkish, because the lady behind me complained very loudly to her friend the whole trip.

There are areas in Ankara where almost everyone wears hijab, but it's rare to see hijabis downtown. Most people I saw there were wearing revealing Western fashions. It was interesting to watch people walk by in outfits that seemed more suited for an Italian catwalk than a Turkish street. People stare at me, and they were watching me far more closely than I was looking at them. Several people turned their heads all the way around as they passed me, and collided with others. One man walked into a lamppost. That must have hurt, I felt a bit bad for him.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Turkey Again

Wow, it's been a long time since I posted here. My college and its dormitory are closed for two months, so I came to Turkey with the Turkish students. The trip was definitely not boring, but bus trips through Syria never are; we took about five different buses, the first of which was at least eight hours late, most of them were far too small, and one of them wouldn't start and had to be pushed. The Syrian police love hassling people, but we eventually managed to get through the borders. It has gotten harder since the niqab was banned in Syrian schools. The police are always extremely suspicious of me, wearing Arab clothes and carrying a Canadian passport; they think my passport is fake and tell me I'll have to spend days in the police station waiting for permission to travel through Syria.  But they let us all in eventually. As usual, none of us used a bathroom the whole trip, bus station bathrooms are that bad.

We saw two of the Syrian border officers get into a fistfight in the border station as we were crossing into Syria from Jordan in the wee hours of the morning. They had to be separated several times by another border officer; every time he moved away from them they would start punching each other again.  There were many bus loads of travellers lined up in the border station waiting, and they had been waiting for a long time, but the police mostly stood around smoking and ignoring them.  And then the fight happened.  I don't know what was going on.

I spent a week and a half in Ankara, and have been in Istanbul for about a week. I love Istanbul and wish I could spend more time here.