Praying in Istanbul


Last night I stopped to pray at a mosque right in the heart of the city, on what feels like the busiest street in the world. On this crazy street there is this mosque from 1597 and as I walk in, I feel like a chicken with its head cut off because there are men everywhere and I can’t find the women’s area but an old man comes and helps me by taking me to the stairs and pointing out that the women are upstairs. So I go upstairs and I can look down on this beautiful mosque with its ancient tiling and the whispers of hundreds of years of worship. Already I am touched. And as the prayer begins I am moved by these words that I can recognize in this strange country where I feel so foreign and where everyone speaks so fast in Turkish that I am scared I might wither away from loneliness. And soon I am very moved and very humbled by this place and by God and by my own imperfections and I can’t stop crying and there is an old Turkish woman next to me who is covered in her long black abaya and she takes my hand and then wraps me up into her and is saying comforting words in Turkish like I am a small child and she is telling me to sleep as she runs her hands over my eyes. And I want only to cry and to fall asleep right there but outside Feraz is waiting for me and I pull myself away when I am ready and I know that I am not able to thank her so I kiss her hand and say shukrun and try to find her eyes so that she may at least know how grateful I am. As I walk outside Depeche Mode blasts “It is written in the stars above, the gods decree, you’ll be right here by my side” and life moves on but I feel as if on this very busy street where the whole world seems to have come to meet, God has come to meet me.

In contrast today it is Friday prayer at the same mosque. As I walk into the musjid area there were so many men. Rows and rows as far as I can see and I am afraid of the men’s gaze for no good reason. One kind man points me towards the women’s area for jummah and I quickly scurry in. It is a small hut but the wind can come in and we can hear everything and it feels very safe. The sermon is said in Turkish so I am lost in my own thoughts and then there is the call to prayer and as I stand up to pray, I don’t realize that there is an opened window shutter above me and my back catches it with such violence that it actually breaks the window off its hinges! Then the whole window came toppling down on me. I block it from hitting my head with my arms but still it’s weight hurts me. There are only three other women in the area and two of them are praying. The other I would later find out is a beggar, but for the moment she just laughs. (I like to think it is a kind laughter and if that is the case, I am happy she got to see it because it probably did look comedic) But in the moment I feel awful and start crying. But then the imam starts the prayer and I feel my first moment of relief since stepping into the mosque. Suddenly things feel better and now I am the one who is rushing to meet God.