Sitting with Sultans Day 4 and 5
Today we walked past the Aya Sofia and the Topkapi palace to make a stop at the shop of Haci Bekr (Haji Bakr). I made a special case to visit this shop as it’s the place where Turkish Delight (or lokum in the local tongue) was first invented. The building itself looks much like how it must have been when Haci Bekir was himself working out of it, and is still run by his descendants today. They have a wide selection of different tastes and varieties, and is quite a popular shop with the locals, though when we were there it wasn’t very busy, a Turkish woman before us made quite a big purchase and even asked for a number of their shopping bags, most probably to give the sweets as presents in. It seems this is the place to buy lokum for that special occasion.
Not too far from the shop is the popular Yeni Cami (New Mosque), situated close to the Bosporus. Although there is nothing inherently special about this Mosque, is it like all other grand Ottoman Mosques a great piece of architecture. Next to the Mosque is the Egyptian Spice Bazaar, where it got it’s name from I don’t really know, but in and around it is a great plethora of smells, colours and sights. If you don’t live in a South Asian ghetto and don’t have access to good spices and flavours you wouldn’t go wrong by making a few purchases here.
From the Spice Bazaar we took a taxi to the district of Fatih. Istanbul taxi drivers have quite a reputation, we managed to only have to take one before today, and he was quite tame. But today’s decided to start our journey by reversing backwards down a exit junction through one way traffic. If you go the Middle East often, you like me, won’t think too much of a it, but for sensitive Europeans it might be a bit of a white knuckle experience. If you do take a taxi, as per most places in the world, insist the driver uses the meter. When I initially asked to go to Fatih he quoted 30 Liras, after I told him I’d only go on the meter, he said 30 would be how much it would cost using the meter, turned out to be half that price…
The reason for our journey to the district of Fatih was to visit the grave and pay respects to the great commander and Sultan of Muslims, Mehmet Fatih (Muhammad al-Fatih). Sultan Mehmet Fatih stands alongside people such Salahuddin al-Ayyubi, Emir Abdal Qadir and Tariq bin Ziyad as being one of the greatest military commanders of Muslim history. Arguably he could be considered of our higher rank of these people as the Prophet (SAWS) himself gave glad tidings of the arrival of him and his army:
“Constantinople will be conquered—what an excellent army is that conquering army! And what an excellent commander is its commander!” Related by Imam Hakim in al-Mustadrak and affirmed by Imam adh-Dhahabi.
As a result of his high status and rank, Turks from all over the country come to pay respects to the Sultan. Though apparently his body is buried under the minbar of Fatih Cami, to protect his body from marauders. But the tomb-apparent itself is where people come to visit. There are copies of the Qur’an and Surah Ya-Seen placed around for visitors to recite for the Sultan’s benefit.
Due to the special nature of Fatih Cami, it is used by Istabulians as the main place to go to to have funeral prayers performed. When I was there there were two on that day itself performed after Zuhr, and recently after the Israeli attack on the Turkish flotilla, the activists who were martyred had their janaza take place in the same place. The whole area of Fatih is considered the religious centre of Istanbul, as you walk through its streets you will see very few women without hijab, this is where the main religious seminaries of the city are located, and is ironically the go to place for tourists, who don’t like tourists, so they can get to see a ‘real’ part of Istanbul.
We decided as we had some time to spare and had now seen pretty much everything we wanted to see, that we would walk back to Sultanahmet from Fatih rather than taking a taxi. It takes around 40 minutes to an hour, and is a good way to just to see how the people of the city get on with their daily lives.
The next day was our flight back to London, as we had to check out early and had a little bit of time to spare we went to see the Museum of Islamic Art. It’s unfortunately not a great collection, especially if you’ve seen the Jameel Gallery at the V&A as many times as I have. But then I suppose it shows the art of Turkey is alive everyday amongst the people, rather than being stuck behind a glass case or being vandalised.
For one last time I prayed Zuhr at the Blue Mosque and we made our way to the airport and flew home. Myself and my mother had a great time in the city, albeit that our time was quite short and we only saw what was in the old parts of Istanbul. Nearly everyone who visits Turkey falls in love it, and it’s easy to see why, there are things for all types of tourists here. For the Muslim traveler, it’s a chance to see the epitome of Islamic civilization, both ancient and modern. The Ottomans were the last Caliphs of Islam, who were granted power, authority and riches that rivaled, and in many cases, surpassed the monarchs of Western Europe. Everywhere you look there is a grand imperial Mosque dominating the view, reminding the people of the power Allah (SWT) had granted them. In its modern context, Turkey is at the forefront of Muslim nations in modernity and progression. Yes it has its issues, but they are insignificant when analysed relatively to the problems of other Muslim countries. For many traditionalists such as myself Ataturk is figure who is more vindicated than praised, but the people of Turkey are selective in which teachings of Ataturk they choose to follow. In the subsequent years of his death the people of Turkey have continually voted for the “Islamists”, as a recognition of their faith within their lives, and an expression of their desire to retain their Islamic identity.
Of course not all Turkish people are so sure of their identity. Much like the Muslims of Britain, some struggle to balance ideas of traditionalism with modernity, and Turkey is a nation full of oxymorons. It strides both Europe and Asia, it is both Muslim and secular, it is traditional and modern, its proud of both its history and its present. When you visit the country you will see opposites side by side everywhere. Sitting in a restaurant next to a bar, one of the waiters asked where we were from and if we were Muslim, giving him the standard answer of ‘alhumdulilah’, he echoed the response as he wiped away the beer from his hand from the bottle he was opening. Just a small example of what I mean.
But like most Muslim nations, Turkey is looking to the past for where to go in the future. Growing numbers of people all over the Muslim world are finding the beauty of Islam. Islamic dress and customs are growing in all manner of places, much to the irk of secularists who very commonly these days are complaining that during their youth, Islamic dress was something very uncommon, and that people are turning more towards to fundamentalism and close-mindedness. Overlooking the blatantly obvious truth that before the effects of post-colonialism and the forcing of western ideas on people, Islam was alive and well, and this phenomenon we are seeing is a renaissance and revival of our own cultures and customs as we cast away the remaining shackles of imperial domination.
All in all, Turkey, much like Andalucian Spain, is a recommended visit for European Muslims. Much like the former, it reminds us of the impact we have had as a global nation to the shaping of the modern world, and a reminder that it does not, and should not, stop in the past. We must continue to develop and strengthen our contributions to world civilization. The history of the Ottomans reminds us of the true nature of Islam and the impact it can have on the world. Orthodox Islam, as largely practiced by the Ottomans, was open, tolerant, and encouraged the flowing of ideas. It is a stark contrast to the backwardness and imbecility of the people in the west today who are calling for the reestablishment of the Caliphate, when they have no real idea on how to do it or what the first steps should be. It was only after the Ottomans moved away from orthodoxy, that they began to fail. But yet their glorious history and legacy lives on as a reminder to Turk and non-Turk alike. It is as I mentioned in my last series on travelling, a chance to fulfill the Words of Allah:
“Have they not traveled in the Earth and seen the final fate of those before them?” (30:9)