Our next destination from Nairobi, Kenya was to Johannesburg, South Africa on Thursday afternoon 19 April.
After checking in, we made contact with Br Davud from the local Dialogue Centre who promptly came to our hotel together with his wife Salma to meet us at the hotel.
The young couple proved to be very warm and hospitable and took us to a huge mall complex, that reminded us of our shopping malls in Sydney to buy local sims for our phones and then to a Turkish restaurant for dinner.
The weather in South Africa and Southern half of Australia is very similar and it was very was pleasant in April sitting outside having dinner.
The menu was very similar to Turkish restaurants in Australia, but I boasted to my hosts that the best doner kebabs in the world are made in Australia perfected by our Turkish community’s well-developed skills with the use of Australian beef.
We ordered a mixed plate and it was a huge plate with adana kebabs, chicken skewers, salads and rice. It was more than enough for the four of us. Turkish dinner cannot be completed without Ayan. Ayan is a Turkish yoghurt drink. The dinner was delicious and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Pleasant atmosphere, great company and delicious food were a great way to end the day.
Next day was good Friday and a public holiday and we were keen to offer our Juma prayers in the main mosque in the city.
Davud and Salma took us to Nizamiye Mosque which from far looked very much like our Sydney’s Gallipoli mosque in Auburn, a thought that I conveyed to my hosts.
However, as we drove closer, I had to apologise to Davud for my ignorant comparison, because Nizamiye proved to be a huge complex over a hill, a prime location overlooking the city and spread over 10 hectares of land.
The Nizamiye Mosque is often the biggest mosque in the Southern Hemisphere, occupying around two-thirds of a hectare and a masterpiece of rich contemporary Islamic Ottoman architecture accommodating up to 6,000 people in the main prayer hall.
At the complex, we were received Mr Huseyin Demirdelen, the office manager who gave us detail information and history of the mosque complex while we sipped Turkish tea.
We sat in the Oriental room that was basically used to greet foreign guests. It is a big room decorated in Ottoman time style . One side of the room is decorated with the huge paintings of Ottoman Sultans.
A huge golden ornament in the middle of the room is basically to burn incense. The 16 century Ottomans style furnitures have been included in this room that adds the richness to it.
The roof of this room was specially designed and painted by the artists who came all the way from Turkey. All materials in this complex such as marbles were imported from Turkey.
Mr Ali Katircioglu (popularly known as Uncle Ali), a Turkish businessman originally planned to build an Ottoman-style architecture in New York but moved the project to South Africa on advice by Mr Fethullah Gulen.
Work began on the project in October 2009, and it was officially inaugurated by the South African President Jacob Zuma on 4 October 2012.
The basic plan of the mosque was adopted from the 16th century Ottoman Selimiye Mosque in Edirne, Turkey, designed by Mimar Sinan. The name of the mosque was inspired by the 11th century Nizamiye Madrasahs, a higher education institution system used in Baghdad and other parts of the Muslim world.
The Nizamiye Complex has several institutions besides the mosque and serves as a community centre with its several halls and facilities including a full-time school with Ottoman-style buildings.
This complex has a huge mosque, a museum, medical centre, barber shop, restaurant and 11 shops. It is open to public and people from other faith are welcomed here.
Nelson Mandela when he was president, advised Uncle Ali to open a clinic that would provide free treatments to the local public. Doctors in this complex are employed by the government. The medical centre provides free treatment to the local public.
We had the opportunity to meet Uncle Ali, almost 80, a humble character with an iron resolve and offered Juma prayers with him.
Nizamiye School was opened in January 2012 and can accommodate up to 850 pupils open to the general public. The school has boarding facilities for around 300 boys.
After the Juma prayers, the School principal Mr Isakh Turan invited us for lunch and we had a long conversation with him for more than an hour.
Nizeme complex is a very busy place. Lots of activities are organised by the members of this complex. The ladies organises cooking classes where they teach local community to cook Turkish food. It is to teach cooking of Turkish food as well as to break the barrier and get connected with the ladies in the local community.
Adjacent to the complex is a cemetery. The plan was to build an university, but since the turmoil in Turkey that project was abandoned because Uncle Ali’s assets was seized.
The Nizamiye complex invites Imams from different sections of the Muslim community on a monthly basis to give khutba and lead the prayers, and the Nizamiye complex imams are also sent to different mosque in the city to lead the prayers on an exchange basis.
Huseyin told us the story of Samantha, who wrote to him that she wanted to become Muslims. After 3 to 4 months she visited him and introduced herself and said I came here to become a Muslim. I said let us understand your inner dynamics. Why you want to leave Christianity and come to Islam?
A man came while we were there. He is seeing Hussain every week as he wants to be Muslim. Huseyin is guiding him and discussing him about Islam.
At Juma The mosque was filled with the local community from diverse backgrounds. Huge number of ladies came to pray as well.
In the Nizaame complex good Friday was a family fun day with a great festive atmosphere After Jumma Families were there enjoying shopping as there were lots of stalls of food, toys and clothing.
We nearly spent the whole day there and thoroughly enjoyed it. We had to catch a train ride from Johannesburg to Durbin the same evening and therefore had to hurry to get to the station.
Next issue: Africa tour part 6 – Train journey from Johannesburg to Durban.