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Reflections from Turkey


Praying at Sultanahmet – Masum Wiese

By Mohammad Wiese '14 on March 11, 2013


5:20 AM and the adhan (call to prayer) for Fajr prayer can be heard from Sultanahmet Mosque (the Blue Mosque) as I lay sleeping in my hotel room. As it begins to waken me, I, almost instinctively (as if this is something I am used to) am suddenly energized by the realization that I must get up and head to prayer. The jet lag and fatigue of a long first day were all forgotten, and I was just excited to have been awoken by an actual adhan for the first time in my life! Little did I know however, that I was going to embark on my first authentic Turkish experience!

While learning and going sight seeing in a very tourist-like way is enlightening and educational in it’s own way (and a special thanks to our tour guide Volkan for this awesome experience), an important part of traveling is being able to get to know how it is to be a local, how to make yourself feel as if a foreign land and its customs and traditions are your own. Unfortunately, as a foreigner in a tourist dominated part of Istanbul it can be hard to have an authentic Turkish experience. Today however, I was fortunate enough to have had this experience.

British explorer Freya Stark once said that “to awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world,” and if this is true or not will have to wait, because today, today I did not wake up alone, and yet today I experienced perhaps “the pleasantest sensation” of my life. After preparing myself for prayer I headed to the Blue Mosque, not expecting to see over 200 people there to pray. At first, I did not know how to get there, but I saw others walking somewhere and so I followed, pretending I knew where I was going. Finally I had reached the Blue Mosque, an extravagant mosque unlike any one I had ever seen. While I think every mosque, no matter how small, contains it’s own beauty, the beauty of this particular mosque left me at a loss of words. Pictures may not even be able to capture it’s magnificence, but just in case I included a picture. Also, it’s size was just breathtaking. Surrounded by beautiful Arabic calligraphy, I headed towards the front and saw my fellow Muslim brothers beginning to pray, and suddenly this feeling, this sensation, of finding myself at home came upon me. It no longer felt like a new experience, instead I felt as if I had been there before, and in many ways I have. The essence of prayer is almost always the same- you face towards Mecca and pray, and I was doing exactly this again, just in a new place.

As prayer started, I headed more towards the front and stood shoulder to shoulder with the others, just as I do back home whenever I am able to visit a mosque. There was a gap right in front of me, which I did not realize at first and so an older Turkish gentleman gave me a look and almost in a scolding way said to me something in Turkish. While I do not speak Turkish, I could tell from his hand movements and gestures that he was telling me to move up. This was the same way that my father would react had I not filled in a gap in our local mosque, and so I understood this man and did not need to tell him I did not speak Turkish, and also I thought it was pretty cool he thought I was a local and spoke the language! Mission accomplished! But anyways, this small act of being almost scolded by this Turkish gentleman, made me feel like I belonged, and it put me right at home in a way. At that moment, it felt that the customs and the traditions were indeed my own, it was just on the opposite side of the world.

So I guess it can be said that the fact that I was able to pray at the Sultanahmet Mosque and the familiarity of prayer, once I got passed the extravagance of the mosque of course, was my authentic Muslim experience in Turkey, but it was my interaction with this gentleman in addition to being able to pray in the Mosque along side probably over 200 Muslims at 5 o’clock in the morning (which to me is a huge number, I can just imagine the amount of people for Jummah prayers on Friday) that was my authentic Turkish experience.

Perhaps this sounds like a weird story to tell, but it’s a very special one to me and I guess the best way to understand it is to go and find your own authentic Turkish experience. I certainly hope everyone on this trip gets to have at least one and I am sure they will. I look forward to hearing about it, if not experiencing it with them.

From Turkey with Love,



  • Dan Matz said:

    Masum, what a wonderful commentary on our time here in Turkey. It was a pleasure to slim quickly through your exhaustive survey of our time in Istanbul. Have a great rest of your trip!

  • mhames said:

    Masum, great post. I remember standing on the outside of the blue mosque as people of all ages rushed in there for an afternoon call to prayer. I feel like I saw hundreds, perhaps approaching thousands of people. Your post has me believing the numbers in my memory.

  • Marcy Mouzaffar said:

    Masum, thank you for your blog it brought tears to my eyes upon reading it. When we visit Syria (my husbands country) my favorite part is hearing the adhan in the we hours of the morning. Being a Christian raised in the US this was so different for me. I have come to appreciate the beautiful sounds. I was so choked up upon reading about you experiencing it for the first time. I could not wait to show my husband your blog. I pray that God speaks to you all on this wonderful journey that you are experiencing.

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