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The Mosque

 

Mosque

The imposing mosque (cami in Turkish) sits at the heart of Turunç village - a reference point for residents and visitors alike.

Five times every day, the call to prayer (ezan) summons Muslims for mandatory worship.   The exact times are based on a complex calculation involving the position of the sun and are published many years ahead.

The prayer times are:

  • Early Morning
  • Noon
  • Mid-Afternoon
  • Sunset
  • Evening

The Imam summons worshipers with the following words:

Allaahu Akbar (four times - "Allah is Most Great").
Ash'hadu an laa ilaaha illallaah (twice - "I bear witness that there is no god but Allah").
Ash'hadu anna Muhammadan-rasulullaah (twice - "I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah").
Haya 'alas-salaah (twice - "Come to prayer").
Haya 'alal falaah (twice - "Come to the good;').
Allaahu Akbar (twice - "Allah is Most Great").
Laa ilaaha illallaah (once - "There is no god but Allah")

 

On a recent visit to Turunç, I had the privilege of meeting the current Imam - or Hoca as he is more familiarly called.  With Mehmet Gökmen translating, we chatted over a çay in the Tea Garden just before the mid-afternoon prayer.

My first impression is that he looks - well, just like a normal guy.  He's informally dressed ... maybe a little studious-looking.  If I'd met him on the dolmuş I would have guessed he was a teacher - which of course he is: that's the literal translation of "Hoca"!  He has a great smile and is very patient with my list of questions - and my inadequate command of Turkish.

Hoca tells me he's been an Imam for 29 years - the last nine of which have been here in Turunç.  I find out later that he's married with two children - which answers one question I never got around to asking.  His decision to become an Imam was made very early on - at the end of his primary school years which I guess means at the age of about 12.  He went on to a special religious college (Imam Hatip) for four years followed by another four years at university.

As well as his role in leading the call to prayer - five times every day - he also officiates at funerals and religious weddings.  In addition he has what we might call a 'pastoral' role in the community - visiting the sick and those in trouble and leading religious studies at the local school.  This is one of a number of similarities that come up as we talk.

With the festival of Kurban Bayram (the Feast of Sacrifice) approaching, I ask him about its significance to Muslims.  He recounts the story of Abraham and Ishmael and the ram that was slaughtered.  Dredging into my long-lost Sunday School lessons, I tell him that I too know that story.  He nods: apparently he often gets that reaction from school children he teaches who have mixed Turkish-English parents!  In Turkey, there are strict rules for the disposition of the meat from the slaughter - the family is only allowed to keep 30% and must give the rest away to poorer people: including, he adds with a smile, non-Muslims if they choose to.

Our time is drawing to a close but I can't resist one final question - "How do you think that the influx of foreign tourists and residents has affected the religious life of the village?" I ask.  He reflects on this, and his answer when it comes is surprising.  "When I meet foreigners, especially those who have taken the trouble to understand something of Islam, I am often shown more respect and courtesy than I get from some Turkish villagers" he says.  He makes sure that Mehmet gets the translation of this spot on.  He reminds me of the cross-faith "Friendship Dinner" that he helped organise at the end of Ramazzan earlier in the year.  He describes this as bridge-building towards mutual respect and peace.

On that uplifting note he invites me to visit the mosque, observe the call to prayer that is imminent, and take any pictures I choose.  We walk along the main street and enter the outside courtyard of the mosque along with a few other worshippers.  While we are waiting for the appropriate time, I see him consulting his smart-phone and, somewhat irreverently, wonder if there might be a Call-to-Prayer app he's using: wouldn't surprise me!

Appropriately dressed and removing my shoes I enter the mosque.  By now Hoca has donned a long white robe and headgear and invites me into the main, male-only, room to take some pictures.  I am understandably tentative but I see my neighbour Osman among the congregation and he gives me an approving smile and beckons me forward.  Although there are no images of any sort (that's prohibited by Islam) the tiled walls and carpets are quite beautiful in their simplicity.  It's a cool and very calming environment.  Hoca directs me to the upstairs - ladies-only - gallery (there are none present today) where I can listen to the call to prayer and get some more pictures.  The call itself is quite muted within the mosque and that's followed by an instruction that summons worshippers to line up for the beginning of the prayers.  Even though Hoca had told me it would be fine to take pictures of the prayers themselves, I feel that would be too intrusive.  I observe for a few minutes before quietly slipping out to reflect on a really interesting and quite moving hour.

 

Turunç mosque - simple but beautiful interior

 

Turunç mosque - simple but beautiful interior

 

Turunç mosque - simple but beautiful interior

 

Hoca - just before the call to prayer

 

Turunç mosque at dawn on Kurban Bayram

Photograph kindly provided by Helen Halstead

Worshippers lining up on Kurban Bayram

Photograph kindly provided by Helen Halstead

Kurban Bayram - the mosque was so full that some had to pray outside

Photograph kindly provided by Helen Halstead

 

Top Tip Non-Muslim visitors are welcome at Turunç mosque. If you want to visit at prayer time, as I did, that is possible but you will need to make prior arrangements.  Obviously remove shoes and dress appropriately.  That means long trousers and sleeved shirts for men; women should wear slacks or a dress or blouse and skirt (at least below the knees), preferably with elbow-length or longer sleeves (no bare shoulders or upper arms), and a headscarf.  There's a great piece on Mosque Etiquette on Tom Brosnahan's excellent Turkey Travel Planner website.