Sunday, January 4, 2015
Blue Mosque - Istanbul, Turkey
The Blue Mosque was completed in 1616. It is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque but known as the Blue Mosque because of the blue tiles that adorn the interior. The Mosque has 6 minarets. Not wanting to offend Mecca who at the time had only as many minarets, Sultan Ahmed donated a minaret to Mecca. Sudefkar Mehmed Aga, the architect was the student of the great architect Sinan.
My guide Mehmet Tetik showed me the model of Mecca in the Blue Mosque which shows the green tomb of Mohammed. Mehmet explained that after his death in 632 was succeeded by four Caliphs. The names of the four Caliphs are often seen in the mosques along with the names of Mohammed and of Allah. These Caliphs were ‘elected’ . The first was Abu Bakr. Division in the Muslim community occurred with the successions. Umar and Uthman and Ali followed were accepted by the dominant Sunni but the real controversy that lead to the division of Shia and Sunni occurred with the 5th Caliph. Caliph is short for Khalifah meaning “messenger of God’. Mehmet explained that at any one time there was only one Caliph. (There were occasionally two caliphs one in Egypt and one in Bhagdad).
Mehmet explained that the Caliph was like the Pope is in the west, predominantly the religious leader however the most politically powerful empire such as the Ottoman Empire claimed the Ottoman Caliphate. They claimed the caliphate after Mehmed II’s conquest of Constantinople in 1453. With Mustafa Kemil (Ataturk) reforms, the caliph position was abolished.
The Four Rashidum (rightfully guided) caliphs expanded Islam beyond Arabia conquering Persia, Syria, Armenia, Egypt, much of North Africa, Spain and Portugal
The fifth Caliph Muawiya appointed his son Caliph and changed the election process to dynastic. This has been the beginning of the dispute between the Sunni and Shiites. Turkey is mostly Sunni as Iran is mostly Shiite.
The Ottoman Empire, ruled from Constantinople, at it’s peak covered Anatolia, most of the middle east, North Africa, the Caucasus, and extended deep into Eastern Europe. The Ottoman Empire lasted over 600 years. In contrast the British Empire last only a few hundred years though with it’s navy base was far more global.
ISIS or Islamic State (acronym - Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) has claimed the Caliph self appointing themselves and claiming to represent the Mahdi. The Mahdi meaning ‘guidedone’ was a prophecy that a descendent of Mohammed would work in concert with Jesus Christ to convert the entire world to Islam. There have been hundreds of splinter groups and Jihadi groups which are naturally as much of a concern to the existing Muslim states as they are to the west since they kill anyone who they believe is not a true moslem by there peculiar fundamentalist and idiosyncratic emotional standards. They’re principally Sunni and kill Shiites as easily as Christians and Jews.
Mehmet explained that Turkey which was secularized by Ataturk and while the present leadership is more conservative religiously the country of Turkey is very broad based religiously from those who believers but only participate in part of the religious process to those who are adamant and fundamentalist.
“We have C&E Christians in the West and it sounds like you have the same in Turkey”.
What is a C&E Christian? “ Mehmet asked.
“Christmas and Easter, that’s the only time you see them in church.”
Mehmet laughed , "yes, that is true.”
He said that mostly Muslims were concerned about ISIS and didn’t accept their violence. From the sounds of ISIS they’re as likely to kill their neighbours as their enemies and it’s no surprise that the Muslim nations themselves are leading the recent attacks against them.
When a pope came to the Blue Mosque with the leader of the Turkish Muslims he prayed for the ‘brotherhood of man’. Peace seems more at the deepest nature of God. Being in the Blue Mosque I enjoyed the peacefulness of the place, the sense of serenity and imagined that together all praying the love of God for all could radiate in such a place of beauty. The Blue Mosque is truly beautiful, an extraordinary work of architecture. I think Mehmet told me there were more than a million Iztek tiles used to make the mosque.
I believe that God is love and that love joins whereas fear resides within man and fear separates. That said I tell Mehmet that if I was threatened or my family and friends I would quickly revert to the animal within and defend myself. Mehmet says, “that’s man’s nature”. We laugh at this. It is good to enjoy conversation in good company at peace and yet how difficult it must be for the leaders of the world to find ways to get along with so many competing aims and fractions.
No likeness could appear in a mosque but a scroll in the mosque with fine calligraphy describes the personal likeness of Mohammed. There was also a picture of Mecca and a model of the tomb of Mohammed.