Turkish Diary

Day 5

Many shades of religion in Istanbul


By Samra Muslim

“Samra Muslim has over 10 years of experience in public relations, marketing and communications, social media, event management and brand activation in a diverse range of industries. She is currently a student of social media in addition to her day time job as a marketer. She has been associated with Etihad Airways,  and has worked for Starwood Hotels & Resort and Zindagi Trust in the past.  She rants on her personal blog at www.samramuslim.com

It is pretty odd that on the same day as the Pope was getting elected in the Vatican; we in Istanbul were dealing with a case of unexpected encounters with God …

Inside Saint Anthony’s ChurchInside Saint Anthony’s Church

While on our ritual morning walk on Istaklal Street, we came across this building that many people were entering, and we chose to follow, without realizing we actually landed inside Saint Anthony’s Church – which is actually the biggest Roman Catholic Church in Istanbul. This was my first visit inside a Church (that was not a ruin and looked like the ones I had seen in movies before) and frankly I just loved it – even lit a candle for the dead in Lahore and said a prayer for every.

As the day progressed, we went off to see the famous Grand Bazaar (for the sake of attendance!!) and honestly I find the place to be too big, too crowded and also too expensive. The shopkeepers over price everything and no matter how much you bargain the feeling of being ripped off doesn’t leave you. Not recommended for shopping …

Inside New Mosque Inside New Mosque

We then took the tram over to Spice (or Egyptian) Bazaar to pick up some sweets, flavored tea, olives, etc. to bring back home … and en route decided to take a pit stop and go see the New Mosque or Mosque of the Valide Sultan located right outside the Bazaar. The courtyard area of the Mosque is currently being renovated, but inside the Mosque was busy with Muslims prayer and many non-Muslim tourists just coming in to admire the beautiful workmanship and pay respect. Religious tolerance, respect and peace were in the air … and I wanted to bring some back to Pakistan!

Last item on the agenda for the day was watching the mystical Whirling Dervishes (at the Hodjapasha) spiritually connecting with God in ultimate love for Him, at least that’s what Rumi said and what a lot of Turkish custom, history, culture and beliefs were built on.

Whirling Dervishes in action ... completely mesmerising!Whirling Dervishes in action … completely mesmerizing!

What was very interesting to watch was how various elements of Islam were subtly built into the 1-hour long performance – like the show beginning with a Na’at, the sajdas during the performances by the Dervishes and finally the ending was a recitation from the Quran and fateha.

Not one to dwell on the Islamic correctness of the show – I found the acoustics were wonderful and watching the Whirling Dervishes was a magical, serene experience. In a lot of ways, Whirling Dervishes is to Turkish culture, what Qawali is to Sub-Continent – a spiritual way to connect with God!

Another shot of the Whirling Dervishes in action ... ! Another shot of the Whirling Dervishes in action … !

Verdict: Whirling Dervish performance is something to be seen if you have that acquired taste – because it is not for everyone!!

Now the day is over … and so is our vacation to Turkey! Already packed up and completely broke … ready to take our flight back to Karachi tomorrow.

Here is hoping that through my many encounters with God today … I reach home with his blessings and that the next trip to a new and exciting destination is right around the corner.