Tag Archives: mosques

Video tour of recently restored Rüstem Paşa mosque, Istanbul

1 Dec


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“Churches and mosques in early mediaeval Syria” — Mattia Guidetti

29 Nov

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Before we get excited… Were Christians and Muslims both allowed to pray in a single building? That’s no great news. Still occurs. The Muslim world is full of churches and tombs of saints and “prophets” and Christian sacred springs, especially, where Muslims pray and come to ask for favors and blessings, though I’m sure the High Ulemate considers that stuff shirk or haram.  The mobs that descend on Prinkipo (Büyük Ada), one of Istanbul’s Princes’ Islands on St. George’s Day are huge and mostly Muslim…of course…in a city of 15 million where there are fewer than 1,000 Greeks left…  And a few years ago the Times ran an article — which I, of course, can’t find now — about how women from the posh C-Town suburb of Kuruçeşme take their children to be blessed by the priest at the local church of St. Demetrius because deep in a cavern under its foundations there’s a spring whose water is considered to have blessing and healing properties.

Anybody can just drop into a church or mosque, grab a corner and pray.  At least no one in any mosque I’ve ever been in has ever said anything to me.  I even cross myself upon entering a mosque or museum that was once a church and never had a problem.  Fact, I find the empty space and tatami-level perspective and silence of a mosque to be extremely comforting and nerve-soothing.

But were Christian liturgies and offices — meaning the theater and rituals and images and music of Christianity, which is what WORSHIP means to me — ever conducted in a building that also served as a mosque?  And “side by side”, meaning the same time.  Now THAT would be cool.  I just doubt it.

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The Great Mosque of Damascus

5 Jun

On top of being a mosque “that was built on the site of a basilica dedicated to St. John, which was built on the site of a Roman temple to Jupiter, which was built on the site of an Aramean temple of Hadad-Ramman, god of thunder and lightning,” the Great Mosque is also an important Shi’ia shrine because several events from Shi’ism’s core Karbala drama are said to have taken place here.  This building must have the most exhalted religious pedigree of any house of worship in the world.

External view of the gate that the prisoners of Karbalā were made to stand at for 72 hours – “Bāb as-Sā‘at” [The “gate of the hours”?]

The place where all the other heads of those who fell in Karbalā were kept within the Mosque.

The white pulpit marks the place where ‘Alī ibn Husayn addressed the court of Yazīd and the raised floor in front of it marks where the prisoners of Karbalā stood during that time.

The place where ‘Alī ibn Husayn used to pray while imprisoned.


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10 May

I love the remnant decoration against the bare brick of certain churches/mosques in Istanbul.

Ho Akataleptos or He Theotokos Kyriotissa/Kalenderhane Camii

He Pammakaristos/Fethiye Camii

Ho Hagios Swstes tes Choras/Kariye Camii

or just bare entirely, He Mone tou Libos or He Mone tou Prodromou/Fenari Isa Camii (top and bottom)


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Favorite Blogs: The Delhi Wallah

10 May

The Delhi Wallah: Your gateway to alternate Delhi, the city of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and Arundhati Roy is one of my favorite sub-continental blogs and even has the endorsement of the great historian and travel writer Walter Dalrymple: “The Delhi Walla is Delhi’s most idiosyncratic and eccentric website, and reflects a real love of this great but under-loved and underrated city.”  The work of the assumedly pseudonymed Mayank Austen Soofi, the blog really is written with the true tenderness that only a great city fallen on slightly hard times can inspire.  One thinks of Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul, written about his youth in that city before it became the ISTANBUL! it’s become since the 1990’s.

Delhi’s Jama Masjid in the 1890’s

Anyone who knows me, and some who don’t but might have already picked it out from this blog, know that I’m interested in all of India and even engage in certain Hindu practices and rites but that my true fascination is the Mughal culture of the northern Doab heartland.  This comes from — just among myriad things — the composite, deeply syncretic and super-elegant aesthetic of that culture and, more personally, from a deep affinity for lost worlds and for the dignity maintained in the face of the most tragic circumstances under which Indian Islam, much like the Byzantines, not only laboured but continued to flourish for so long.

Bahadur Shah, the last reigning member of the Mughal dynasty

When I read Dalrymple’s masterpiece, The Last Mughal, The Fall of A Dynasty 1857 I was left shell-shocked, not just by the sheer scale of the Indian Rebellion’s violence, but by the mindless, post-conflict destruction of the vindictive and obviously terrified Brits, determined to teach Indian Muslims a lesson for their “mutiny.”  Even the outer walls of the Red Fort and the Jama Masjid itself were saved at the eleventh hour by the orders of more intelligent superiors.  It makes my head spin to think that had the cooler heads that the British so pride themselves on prevailed, Delhi today would still be a showcase of Muslim art and architecture on a par with Isfahan and Cairo or even Istanbul.

The Red Fort in Delhi, once the largest palace complex in the world, eighty per cent of which was dynamited by the British after the Indian rebellion was crushed. (click)

One can read about how upper-class Muslim life in north India proudly soldiered on into the twentieth century in books like Ahmed Ali’s beautiful Twilight in Delhi or made it through the trauma of Partition and modernity in films like Garm Hawa and Sardari Begum.  (For a fairly insightful look — but one that doesn’t really tackle the most radical questions — at Indian Muslim life in the cinema seeIslamicate Cultures of Bombay Cinema by Ira Bhaskar and Richard Allen but all these can’t help but strike a certain elegiac tone.

But…what I love about the Delhi Wallah is what detailled coverage he brings you of how alive and well Muslim life and culture in Delhi still are: mushairas, qawwali gatherings, celebrations at sufi tombs — and not just Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya’s — old ruins and mausoleums he’s constantly digging up among the chaos of the modern city — and the glorious food.  He has a four-volume guidebook to the city and he’s recently done a beautiful four-part photo op and piece of his trip to Kashmir.  Don’t miss this blog!


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Turkey in Europe

22 Apr

According to Stephen Kinzer, New York Times correspondent and the paper’s bureau chief in Istanbul for a good part of the nineties, the appeal of EU membership to those countries waiting for it is (or was) political, social, and economic.  “For Turkey it is also psychological,” he writes in his 2001 Crescent and Star:

“The central question facing Turks today is whether their country is ready for full democracy, but behind that question lies a more diffuse and puzzling one: who are we?  The Ottomans knew they were the servants of God and lords of a vast and uniquely diverse empire.  The true heart of their empire, however, was not Anatolia but the Balkans…  But by caprice of history the founders of the Turkish republic found themselves bereft of the Balkans and masters instead of Anatolia.  To make matters worse, through a series of twentieth-century tragedies Anatolia lost most of the Armenians, Greeks and Jews who had given it some of the same richness that made the Balkans so uniquely appealing.”

There’s a lot there I’m not sure of, like the Ottomans’ heart having been in the Balkans and their backs turned on Anatolia.  I also don’t know if “who are we?” isn’t too categorical a way to phrase the dilemma Kinzer is talking about.  Unlike Greeks, Turks know who they are; their growing willingness to accept, not only the former existence of their neighbors among them, but the plurality of their own ethnic make-up would indicate that: Albanian fraternal associations, Tatar and Circassian language classes, seem to be coming out of the woodwork of the Republic’s forced homogenization, and even the lay-low-and-keep-your-head-down Alevis have found a new courage in asserting themselves.  (Poor Republic: no sooner does it harass one minority out of its existence, another one pops up to take its place.)  That’s a process that requires confidence, whereas we remain isolated in our ignorant dream of purity — and banging our feet to prove it to the rest of the world on top of it — a ringing sign of insecurity.  As mangled as Turks’ knowledge of themselves may have become by their own nationalism, I think phenomena like nostalgia for the multiethnic or the Neo-Ottomanism that has pervaded cultural life and even motivated political life and foreign policy in Turkey recently (and I don’t think that’s a bad thing or necessarily a “threat” to anyone; we, Greeks, might want to take advantage of it actually) is an attempt to right that disfigurement, not a deep existential reorientation.  Proof might be that since Kinzer wrote his book in 2001, Turkish membership in the European Union has pretty much become a dead-in-the-water issue.  And that may be partly because, in almost head-on contrast to Kinzer’s interpretation, Turkey was looking for political and economic benefits and not for Europe to validate its psychological needs, as the Neo-Greek statelet always has since its beginnings, a craven and cringingly embarrassing pandering to the West’s classical image of what Greeks are supposed to be being the foundation of Neo-Greek identity.  However the Ottomans may have felt about the Balkans or wherever modern Turks end up with their renewed embracing of the Ottoman past, they seem to be increasingly feeling — even the old, staunchly Kemalist bourgeoisie, or at least their children — that they don’t need European validation to prove they’re part of a civilization that they’re not.  And good for them.  I wonder when we’ll get the message.

On a lighter note, it’s not often one hears the Balkans described as “so uniquely appealing.”  It’s a line I’ll have to remember.  Often when people find out I’m Greek, they launch into delirious and happy memories of the Aegean and little white houses and sparkling blue waters and then I have to watch their faces drop as I tell them: “Well, the part of Greece my family is from is really more the Balkans than the Mediterranean…  And it rains all the time.”

Landscape approaching my mother’s village, in its usual mood. (click)

But then it is often “so uniquely appealling,” to get back to the Turks and the Balkans.  The main city of the region (Epiros) is Jiannena/Yanya, a beautiful little city by a lake that always had an air of luxuriant civility about it, proof of which may be that the Greek population didn’t rush to pull down the minarets or demolish all the mosques of the city as soon as the last Turks left in the twenties.*  It’s one of those Balkan cities the Turks loved.  Here’s a winter photo of Yanya’s main cami, the Aslan Pasha Mosque, overlooking the icy lake, below. (click)

Jiannena deserves a post of its own.  I gotta dig up some 2010 notes I have.

* On the other hand, the city government and developers have done all they can since WWII, including harassment and straight-out vandalism, to expropriate the city’s large and very romantic Jewish cemetery, which unfortunately for the city’s 40 surviving Jews, sits on some prime real estate.  Last I heard they had taken the issue to the EU, which makes me very happy.  Maybe the economic slump will give them a reprieve.  More on Jiannena’s Jews in the future.


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