So often in life we wish things were over, that time passes quickly so we can move on to the next hour or the next day. We spend our days counting down the clock or completely mindless in heaps of work that we don’t stop until it’s too late. I find the hardest part of my days is to remain present. We get easily caught up in the swing of things and it’s become our norm to rush about. But how much of our days do we spend in stillness, how much of our life do we just spend being? Wishing time was over is like wishing your life away. Making a conscious effort to be present in the moments of my life which flash by me did not come easily at first. And it seems harder in my daily routine. But it was my main focus whilst travelling through Turkey, and thankfully I’ve had a much richer and more rewarding experience.
On my arrival in Istanbul, the first stop on my list was the world renowned Blue Mosque or Sultanahmet Camii. I think I visited the New Mosque and Blue Mosque in close proximity because it seemed quite similar to me…shock horror! I didn’t actually say that! But both experiences were not what I was expecting. Much to my dismay, I wasn’t immediately in awe of them. For someone who had taken a keen interest in visiting mosques around the world, this was a let-down. Not because I didn’t find these structures aesthetically pleasing; they are incredible to marvel at. But I didn’t feel the way I thought I would. I didn’t feel taken by the moments of being there. Once I travelled to Busan in South Korea and truly missioned to find the mosque there. When I finally found it, all I thought was…oh this is a nice, clean mosque, I like it. But that was about it. I didn’t pray there. I just took some pictures and left. But going to these mosques just to see them and take some photos had no effect on me. But there’s always more to everything that is. And it takes a while to understand that it’s not about going there, it’s about being there.
There’s a great difference between being physically present in a place and being spiritually present within that space. And this was my intention on my journey through Turkey, to be present, to be constantly aware of my presence and my surroundings, and to appreciate every moment as it happens. My most rewarding experiences when visiting all these mosques were when I actually prayed in them or made some form of dhikr* in them. I went back to the Blue Mosque on a holy night for a gathering and it was an awakening experience. There existed for me a quintessential sense of uniformity between Turkish Muslims and South African Muslims, in the way we conduct gatherings and even in the way we hum the same tune. It’s the realisation that Islam bridges these gaps and that you can go anywhere in the world and find people who hold the same values and beliefs that you do, the people who understand you and how this welcomes you. I remember visiting the mosque in Seoul for the first time. A kind woman took me by the hand and walked with me around the mosque when I had asked her for directions to the wudu khana*. For a lot of people this might have been really weird, but for someone who just moved half way across the world, entering a mosque and having someone welcome you felt really special. It felt like home. These are the moments we remember and these are the people who teach us about ourselves. It’s been a privilege to walk into these places and to go further than just viewing a mosque, but to be in the presence when inside them. If you are too going mosque hopping and can’t pray for one reason or another then at least take the time to reflect there. It is after all, the house of God.
This photo journal holds a few of my favourite memories going mosque hopping in Istanbul. The subject in these photos is a special young lady I had met shortly after my arrival who through her kindness and humble nature, took the time to accompany me on my adventures. My journey would be nothing without her.
The New Mosque
Dhikr – An act of remembering God
Wudu Khana – A place/bathroom where Muslims take ablution before prayer
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