Today I went on my first trip to a mosque (in Turkish, camii), which was pretty interesting. I had to walk up Istiklal Caddesi, to Taksim Square, on my way. There was some kind of protest again, as I could see tons of riot police around. I saw lots of people involved in the march or protest or whatever it was, but I have no idea what it was all about. All I could see was that a very few of them were wearing braided red, yellow and green headbands. This gathering seemed peaceful, and I think the riot police are sent out for just about everything, but it still feels a bit odd being in a place where riots and crazy stuff happen from time to time. No teargas today though, I'm happy to report.
Anyway, I walked to this mosque right on the Bosphorus. I had sat outside it before, during my first week in Istanbul, but I didn't go inside that time. Richie was at a job interview, so I was on my own. I wasn't exactly sure what the protocol for mosque visiting was, but I brought a scarf because I know women have to wear one in the building. When I arrived, I had to leave my shoes at the door. Inside, an old man gave me a long skirt to pull on over mine, which was just below knee length, but obviously not modest enough. Then I wrapped my headscarf around me, and walkd in
It was quite beautiful, but very different from my experience of churches. There was just one man praying in the corner, and the other four or five people inside were all tourists. There was a huge, and very low hanging chandelier, a sort of pulpit and a really high domed ceiling. One noticeable feature of a mosque is a sort of niche in one wall, which shows the direction of Mecca, since Muslims always pray facing their holiest city. The floor was carpeted and there were some beautiful and very large calligraphy plaques (I'm not sure what you should call them. They aren't really pictures.) It seemed odd to me, first that there are no seats of any kind, so when the place is empty, its looks sort of like a house that no one lives in. Secondly, I'm so used to churches being full of statues, little altars, candles, pictures of Jesus, Mary and saints, stained glass windows, etc. In a Mosque, there are no such things. Muslims don't have images of God or holy people because they believe that it is idolatrous.
It was strange to me, but I suppose that other Christians might have a similar feel in their churches. I wonder how Muslims think of their holy spaces, and how the mosque is tied in with worship exactly. Because Catholics believe that there is a physical presence of Jesus in a Catholic church, the actual building and space has its own importance. However, I suppose it must be different for Christians of other creeds who don't have this consecrated presence in the church, and perhaps it is similar for Muslims. And from my understanding, Muslim prayer can take place anywhere, so maybe a mosque isn't an integral part of Muslim worship, but is just a community gathering space. I hope I eventually make some Muslim friends who can teach me more about their religion and answer my questions.
So, after a bit of peaceful contemplation in the mosque, I headed over to a nearby cafe, directly on the water's edge and had a cup of Turkish coffee and read a bit of my book. I can't believe how warm it is still! It is still summer in Istanbul! I enjoyed sitting in the shade of an umbrella, sipping my coffee and enjoyed watching some ferries and other boats float up and down the Bosphorus.