Even after being in Turkey for over 14 months, I’ve only stepped foot inside of two mosques, probably two of the five most famous mosques in Turkey. The first was the Blue Mosque or Sultan Ahmet Mosque in Istanbul. This extremely popular mosque has a separate entrance for tourists where we took off our shoes, the women covered their heads and we entered to observe and take pictures.
The second occurred just this past week at Kocatepe Mosque in Ankara, which is nowhere near as filled with tourists. Although of similar size as the Blue Mosque, there were only about 15 people on the main level when I went in, but the preparations for entering were rather different on this visit than the first.
I had walked by Kocatepe many times. It was on the way to a friend’s apartment and near some nice restaurants, but I hadn’t stepped foot inside until this past Sunday (a fitting date, I thought).
Two of my students took me on my lunch hour and while we didn’t have a lot of time, they still wanted to show me the ceremonial washing (abdest) that takes place before entering a mosque, otherwise known as ablution.
There are separate washrooms for men and women. Inside the men’s, there were
sinks lined up on the walls and short seats with no backs to sit on as one purifies oneself before entering the mosque. I sat between my two friends and they showed me the steps taken to perform the ablution.
I discovered that for the most part, things are done in threes. You wash your mouth three times, your nose three times, etc.
After we had finished washing our face, hands and feet, we set off for the entrance and I was stunned by the beauty. Theexpanse of this mosque is unreal. There is so much space.
I remember entering some of the larger cathedrals in the US, one in Washington DC and one in New York City and thinking “This is huge!” But even in those spaces, there are things to fill the space – pews, sculptures, etc. In Kocatepe, there is a place for the imam (think priest or pastor) to speak on Fridays at noon. There is a giant chandelier hanging from the ceiling. There is also a display case showing some interesting models
and museum-y type stuff, but otherwise, there are no chairs, just empty carpet, lined so that people know where to line up for prayer.
The decoration of the place is breathtaking and it’s such a hallow space, I just wanted to sing to see if the acoustics were asgood as I assumed they would be.
It was a very interesting and educational adventure and I would encourage you, no matter where you are in the world to find a friend who can take you to a mosque and show it to you. It is an experience well worth having.