It wasn’t just a regular flight departing from Australia. It was my first flight in almost 3 years for vacations. And I promised to myself that I will get the most out of it.
My re-union with the family for Eid-ul-Adha, the excitement of Eid-ul-Adha related activities – the animal slaughter, preparing meat for mouth-watering dishes, various BBQ gatherings, this was all on the agenda. But the major excitement of my vacations were the trip to Istanbul and Jerusalem.
I spent a little over 2 weeks in Karachi, Pakistan and by every passing day the excitement level was getting up. The Turkish Airline flight gave me the first taste of what I was about to experience in Istanbul – great food and a warm welcome. By the time I reached my hotel in Sultan-Ahmet (old city Istanbul) I was hearing the Adhan for Jumma prayer coming out from the huge speakers of the Blue Mosque. I rushed through the check-in process and ran towards the Blue Mosque which was almost 2-3 minutes’ walk away from my hotel but I only recall covering the distance in 2-3 seconds and the mesmerising Blue Mosque was standing tall in front of me.
During the prayer timings only Muslims are allowed to enter inside the Mosque, once I stepped inside the Mosque railing of the Mosque, I found myself standing in the middle of hundreds of year’s old garden and tall trees. There are 2 directions from which you can enter the Mosque railing, side facing Hagia Sophia and the one facing Hippodrome (few fragments of the original structure still survives to the day). To enter inside the Mosque I had to walk through a small path way through the garden that lead to the stairs of the Mosque. I chose to enter from the Hippodrome direction and first I entered into a courtyard with a beautiful fountain right in the centre of it. My eyes captured the panorama of the multi storey Mosque and the courtyard and took me back in time in a split of a second and I could imagine walking through the scholars and students chatting while I went to enter the Mosque.
At the entrance of the building I had to pull out a plastic bag available at the entrance to put my shoes in and then go inside. Ground level is majorly for men only while a small section is reserved for females. Level 1 is a female only section of the Mosque. In Turkish culture, the Moazzin’s place for calling for prayers is on the right hand side of the Mimbar and the Wa’az is given from the left hand side of the Mimbar. On a bright sunny Friday, the filtered sunlight was entering in the Mosque via colourful window glass and making the great Islamic architecture clearly visible for the soothing of my eyes. As much as I wanted to capture that beauty in the camera I decided to concentrate over the Wa’az, Jumma khutba and my prayer and left it for some other time during tourist visiting hours. I guess I made the right choice, the pictures I took later on didn’t do 1% justice to what I could see from my bare eyes.
It was a proud feeling to pray Jumma in the Blue Mosque, once the power centre of the last Caliphate system. At the end of the prayers, I could only raise hands with the Imam and hundreds praying and cried for the Muslim Ummah.
The next stop was a 2 hours Bosphorous cruise. I boarded the cruise from a jetty about 1Km away from the old city centre. You are introduced to the ride with the information that this jetty is at the fort wall which was built to protect the city. The ride starts from the Marmara Sea and takes you towards the Black sea. You can see the Asian and European sides of the city, and the legendary Bosphorus Bridge, once the 4th longest suspension bridge in the world. The timings of the cruise ride is very carefully set by the operators, they plan the trip in a way that you can see the sun set on your way back to the Old City. You see the shades of blue, orange, yellow mixing together and the reflecting light from standing tall Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace; a scene which can only be seen and experienced in the cool breeze of free Marmara Sea.
Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. I was one of amongst 300,000 – 400,000 daily visitors on one warm day. This market is consisted of about 61 streets, shops all around in the narrow streets selling local goods to all branded stuff.
Spice Bazaar is another kind of its own market, not far away from Grand Bazaar. You think of a spice in the world and you will find it there. A very good place to buy cheap authentic Turkish sweets.
One section to visit in the old city of Sultan-Ahmet is the section that has Hagia Sophia and Topkapi stand shoulder to shoulder next to the Shore of Marmara Sea. Hagia Sophia, once a church more than 1500 years ago, turned into a mosque 500 years ago and finally turned into a museum about 70 years now. Another example of great Islamic architecture. You can visit the section that contains the ruins of the original building and you promptly think about the greatness of ALLAH, that every rise has to fall except ALLAH and I could see the proof lying in my feet in the form of the ruins. The Hadith slated on one of the entrances of Hagia Sophia; predicting the conquering of Constantinople Empire makes you to again exalt the great Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).
The next stop of great Topkapi museum.
The Museum is a nice place to see but the section I loved and want to mention is the Islamic section. You have to line up to enter the Islamic section because MASHA ALLAH so many Muslims are visiting the place and its always full, and need people to come out before more people can get it. The beautiful recitation of Quran and the way the layout is designed. First you see the old Kaaba door, lock and key of the Kaaba door, piece of Qiswa (Kaaba cover) and then you enter into a room and you have goose bumps all over your body, you heart is filled with emotion and you are trying to keep your eyes clean of the salty water so you can see all the collectibles. You see:
- Hazrat Moosa’s stick (Subhan Allah), the stick that became a Python, the stick that cut river into halves.
- Hazrat Yousha’s Amama and bowl
- Hazrat Omer and Hazrat Abu Bakar’s swords
- Hazrat Ali’s sword, the sword that won many battler of Islam, the sword that won Khyber Fort
The sword of Hazrat Khalid Bin Waleed, aaah!! This is the point where you finally cry. The sword of the great man who was The Sword of ALLAH Rabbul Izzat. The Sword that won each and every battle for Islam, the sword that tasted so much blood in search of Shahadat. But ALLAH’s sword could go into sheath but could not be broken.
Then you enter another section that has items and belongings of the greatest man this universe have ever seen or will ever see, Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). Few of the items you can see are:
- His clothes
- His teeth which were broken in the war of Auhad
- Piece of his hairs from beard and head
- His stamp
- Hazrat Aisha’s (Razi Allah Taala Anhum) shirt
Other noticeable sections on the palace are kitchen, Harem, Office, etc.
Next, Part 2 Jerusalem in AMUST issue # 111, February 2014.