My visit to Turkey was my first experience with a Muslim mosque. It was also one of the things I was most excited about. Before we left for the trip, we each bought a big scarf that we could wear over our hair. Women are encouraged not to show their hair or shoulders, and we wanted to be as respectful as possible.
We approached our first mosque, the Blue Mosque, and become quiet as a line formed outside the entrance. Quietly, a young man pulled my brother, Matt, and me to the side. He requested we take our shoes off and leave them lie outside the door. Up a slightly inclined but short ramp was a very bulky wheelchair, sitting on a piece of beautifully knitted carpet. He pointed to the chair and it was obvious that I would not be allowed to take my own wheelchair into the mosque.
I transferred gracefully as he quietly held the blue hospital-looking wheelchair that was four sizes too big for me. He pointed to my hair and I pulled my scarf up tightly around my face. Moments later, he gestured for us to enter inside where we met up with my mom and sisters. All of this without saying a word to us. And he was extremely respectful to me, not questioning my abilities or overstepping his boundaries. I only hope I was as respectful to him.
Once inside, the ceilings seemed to go on forever. Covered in marble and carvings and lighting that hung down on circular rods, appearing to be candles, but too high for me to tell.
The floor was covered in carpet, barely worn, likely because there was no “outside” dirt, not even from a wheelchair. It had an intricate design on it and I wondered how long it must take to make a carpet the size of a basketball court. I’m sure it was hand sewn. It was too detailed to not be.
As we wandered around, I became curious what a service must be like. Was it joyous? Solemn? Social? But I had read that non-Muslims are not to attend services and that the mosques are closed to the public during those hours. I would respect this and put my curiosity aside.
After we finished our visits at the mosques, we proceed to another well-known Turkish attraction – The Grand Bazaar – an area of Istanbul that filled blocks and blocks of shopping. Purses, jeans, sunglasses, watches, necklaces, spices, soaps…everything! And it was packed! We split off into two groups to better fight the crowds, and enjoyed meeting up to compare of “finds.”
As we were walking back to the hotel late that afternoon, the call to prayer overtook the streets and swarms of men and women began their journeys to their local mosques. Of course, we happened to be going against the crowd, but it wasn’t a problem at all. The locals in Istanbul were beyond considerate and kind, letting us pass by them patiently.
And as we became a minority in a crowd of dark haired Eastern Europeans, I found myself loving every minute. I couldn’t absorb the culture around me fast enough.