The Sultan Ahmet region is named for Sultan Ahmet I who ruled from 1603 to 1617 AD. The Sultan Ahmet Mosque, known as the Blue Mosque was built near the Aya Sophia to provide a greater wonder than that of the Hagia Sophia. It was commissioned by the Sultan and designed by Mehmet Aga and what the Aya Sophia offers in terms of interior is surpassed by the exterior of the Blue Mosque.
Just a short walk from the Aya Sophia, the Blue Mosque was also crowded with tourists. Hanane was undergoing a kind of culture shock in Turkey that involved Islam and Muslims being different than those in Morocco. In Morocco, women don’t smoke cigarettes. Those that do are considered to be worse than whores. In particular, those who wear hijabs don’t smoke. In Turkey, we saw many women in veils smoking and her reaction was always the same “They’re all going to go to hell, I can’t believe what I am seeing.”
In addition, in all of Morocco, the only Mosque that non-Muslims can enter is the Hassan II mosque in Casablanca. In Turkey, anyone can go in. We entered the Blue Mosque with reverance and Hanane was slightly outraged to see Buddhists, Christians, women in shorts, and other non Muslims inside one of the world’s great mosques. As we entered it was nearly the time for prayer and the guards were getting the non-Muslims to leave. Hanane explained that we were Muslim and we went outside and performed ablution, and then came in the mosque where I joined the men in the front and she joined the women in the back. Prayer was different from prayer in both Morocco and Hawaii where I have gone to Mosques. Hanane noted some differences as well. While I was looked at curiously as a white guy among brown Muslims, she made friends with a number of girls in the back and exchanged coins, emails, and cultural ideas.
I noted the the Ayden (call to prayer) in Istanbul is coordinated between the many mosques so that you don’t get the same warbling effect you get between mosques in Morocco all sounding the call to prayer at slightly different moments. Instead, it is more like a symphony with the various mosques singing point and counterpoint. The call to prayer itself is different than that in Morocco and Hanane was shocked to find that Turkey’s Muslims rarely know how to read Arabic script, the language of the Koran. They often know the words, but not the meanings and the prayers are less detailed than those of Moroccans.
When the mosque was built, it rivaled the Kabaa mosque in Mecca and the six minarets were equal in number to those of the Kabaa. In order to keep the peace, Sultan Ahmet built a seventh minaret in Mecca in order to show that he wasn’t moving the center of Islam to a new capital, though in effect, that is what he did, at least for a time.
The Blue Mosque is a geometric wonder in that the outer courtyard is exactly the same size as the interior and it’s proportions and measurements all align with the concepts of sacred geometry. It was built in the ten years between 1606 and 1616. Sultan Ahmet I died just a year after the Mosque was completed. His tomb is located in a separate building nearby.
Entry is free but restricted to Muslims during the time of prayers. If you are interested in making an Istanbul Sultanahmet mosque visit, be sure that you show respect and kindly wash your feet before you head inside.
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