The Mosque July 21, 2014 Fabiano Maciel Business Travel, Experiences, Leisure Travel The Mosque What is a mosque? I believe I have asked myself this question more than once. I have always heard about mosques but until a few years ago, have never been to one. It was like a mystery for me. But I am not the one to blame. In the country where I grew up, a non-Islamic country, a Catholic church is what I have been introduced to. In fact, there were not many mosques in the area. I maybe saw one or two, and wondered why they looked different. But do they look the same in a muslin country? Images of Mosques in Turkey and Libya. In April 2011 I had the opportunity to travel to Saudi Arabia for business. It was my first trip to a Muslim country. I did not know what to expect. And to be honest I was a little bit afraid. Not afraid of the place or the people. The “Saudis” are very nice people. Besides, I love to travel to new places. But it is such a different place, with so many rules that we are not used to. What if I do something wrong? What if I break any rules without even knowing? That was my fear. All I could do was research, learn as much as I could about the Do’s and Don’ts and be careful, thoughtful, mindful, polite. It was a long trip, over 20 hours. I was not able to see much from the skies, when the plane was preparing to land. Aisle seat. On the way to the hotel, from the back seat of a taxi I started the discovery. But it was late, dark, and I was really tired. And the traffic was crazy, they drive in a very …… erratic way. The work started the following morning. I was there on business and had to attend an exhibition for 4 days. I did not have time to see much. First trip to a destination is always a bit overwhelming. You have to learn about the place, the people and adjust to the new reality in a short period of time. After a tiring and long day, it was time to go back to the hotel and get ready for the next day. On the way to the hotel, I was allowed a quick stop and there it was: a gigantic, shiny, and incredible mosque. Although I was not able to get inside, I was satisfied with the view. I don’t have a good picture of it, though, because of the sand storm that happened earlier that day. During the following days I was able to pass by other mosques, but still, not able to get inside. At that point, I did not even know if a non-Muslim person would be allowed in a mosque. Should I ask that? One year later and there I was travelling to the Middle East again. This time I was flying Turkish Airlines and I had a layover in Istanbul (8 hour). Did you know that Turkish Airline offers a free city tour with breakfast and lunch included for passenger of flights with a layover of 6 hours or more in Istanbul? You can find out more here. Anyway, I arrived there around 7am. Internet was not free at the airport, so better take advantage of the tour. At 9:00 the van left with 8 people (including myself). After breakfast, and a short stop at the Hippodrome Square, we headed to the famous Sultan Ahmed Mosque – known as the Blue Mosque. It is hard to describe the experience. As you go through the main gate, you reach an ample open courtyard area with a small hexagonal fountain in the centre – the ablution fountain, where Muslims perform the washing ritual before praying. Right across is the entrance to the mosque. As a sign of respect, you have to take off your shoes. They give a little plastic bag at the entrance, so you can put your shoes and carry it with you. It is recommended that women cover their heads (hair) with a scarf (apparently, they do provide some at the entrance). It is an incredible place. Simple and impressive. The floor is all carpeted. Little stained glass windows allow some day light to get inside. A big portion of the walls is covered with handmade ceramic tiles. The predominant color is blue. There are many lamps hanging from the top in circular frames. Verses from the Qur’an in beautiful calligraphy decorate the walls. You will also be able to see the “mihrab”, the most important element of the mosque. It is made of finely carved and sculptured marble, and indicates the direction that Muslims should face during their prayers. Although this mosque is a famous tourist attraction in the city, the locals utilize it for their prayers. At certain times of the day tourists are not allowed inside for that reason. I can only imagine how it might be during the time of the prayers, with hundreds of people. The call for prayer can be heard across the old part of Istanbul, echoed by other mosques in the area, six times a day. Visiting a mosque for the first time was an amazing experience. Fortunately, that was not my last opportunity. The impression I have is that each mosque is unique in its own way and there is always something new to discover. Have you visited a mosque before? How was your experience? * This post has been inspired by a writing exercise proposed in a writing workshop I have recently participated.