One of the highlights of my trip to Istanbul is visiting the many mosques that dot the city and dominate the skyline. The imperial mosques were built during the illustrious period of the Ottoman Empire, when the Sultan and members of his family – in particular the wives and daughters – would build mosques as a service to God and to ensure safe passage to Heaven.
Stretching my neck gazing towards the dome that aspires for the heavens, I found myself stirred with awe at the possibilities of human ingenuity. Yet for all of man’s artistic imaginations inscribed and imprinted on those domes, they pale in comparison to the infinite marvel of the night sky, dotted by a thousand twinkling stars. For the complexities of God’s creations are matched only by their sheer simplicity and neat ordering.
The intricate calligraphy, the blue tint of Iznik tiles, the stained glass with myriad colours – their beauty inspire servitude to the cause of God and serve as a reminder that we are inheritors of a legacy proud in its accomplishments and timeless in its appeal. Yet it is vital to understand that this heritage is not static; that Muslim glory does not end with the Umayyads, the Ottomans or the Malaccan Sultanate. It is, or rather, it can be dynamic and current. More importantly, what sustains this glory is not only in the treatment of fellow Muslims but rather the inclusion of non-Muslims into this domain.
The rise of humanity’s hubris parading as ‘rational thought’, and the issues of terrorism and collective Muslim poverty have led some to associate Islam as a menace, a scourge of civilization and a philosophy for the unthinking. Yet it is heartening to see that for all the denigrations and distortions, people still congregate to mosques to pray – the most public display of religious servitude. The Islamic prayer itself is remarkably simple yet powerful in its symbolism; for whether you’re a Sultan or the poorest beggar in the empire, all prostrate before God.
Blessed is He Who made constellations in the skies, and placed therein a Lamp and a Moon giving light;
And it is He Who made the Night and the Day to follow each other, for him who desires to be mindful or desires to be thankful.
And the servants of (Allah) Most Gracious are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say “Peace!”
Surah Al-Furqan (The Criterion), verses 61-63 (25: 61-63)
Translations of the Quran obtained from Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement, University of Southern California