Photos and Reflections from the 2012 Istanbul Spiritual Tour on

Saleem Safdar

Note: In early September Al-Madina Institute held a spiritual tour of Istanbul accompanied by Shaykh Mokhtar Maghraoui and Ustadh Moutasem Atiya.  Fifty participants partook in event (Al-Madina Institute never exceeds one bus to further enrich the experience).  Below are reflections from Saleem Safdar, photos can be seen by clicking here.

Gazing upon the ornate and awe-inspiring calligraphy that adorned the Sultan Ahmed Jami one can almost hear the famous lover and poet Majnun speak of his love:

I pass by these walls, the walls of Layla
And I kiss this wall and that wall
It’s not Love of the houses that has taken my heart
But of the One who dwells in those houses

Some bowed their heads first – touching their foreheads to the ground, others raised their eyes to the heavens, imbued by the transcendent artistry above them – but all were witnessing the majesty and royal magnificence of Allah, The Most High.  The artistry of the intricate calligraphy instantly compelled the viewer to testify to the greatness of Allah, The Lord of the Worlds.  Tourists exclaimed “amazing” while pilgrims uttered “subhanallah” and lovers stared in silent bewilderment – awe struck by the inspiration, love and faith that inspired Sinan, the grand architect of the Ottoman’s, to build such houses of worship that penetrate into one’s heart and cause it to testify to the greatness of The Most High. 

Entering the mosque one first had to bow their head in order to pass under the leather covering halfway down, forcing one to enter the Masjid in a humbled state.  This humility towards Allah was a common theme amongst the early Ottomans, who, as Shaykh Mokhtar Maghraoui told us, added an extra minaret to the Haram Sharif in Makkah so that it might not be said that the Sultan Ahmed Mosque had more minarets with its six.  We soaked up knowledge from Shaykh Mokhtar like children drinking from the nurturing hands of its guardian. 

One could not help but to wonder at the love for the Prophet Muhammad (May Allah’s blessings and peace be upon him) that the Ottomans possessed, especially after witnessing the love with which they preserved so many early relics of the Prophet and his companions at the Topkapi Palace.  To this day one witnesses the living tradition of the Quran being recited live at the palace as one partakes in the visual and spiritual splendor of the most sacred treasures of Muslim history that give a rare glimpse into the reality of the earliest Muslims – from the sword of the Prophet (May Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) to the original stamp of the Prophet Muhammad (May Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him).  Seeing so many precious relics, offering prayers at some of the greatest Masajid in the world, shedding tears at the graves of our pious predecessors and sharing laughter all the while – we were able to see why Istanbul is so special.  

Our journey took us from the Hagia Sophia to the Sokollu Mehmet Pasha Mosque where we were blessed to kiss the black stone and see the blessed hair of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).  The blessings in the relics of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) are well established in hadith literature.  The tears that flowed upon seeing the sandal of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) or the white undershirt brought the reality of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) home as that of a man, the unpatched holes of his shirt bringing tears to the eyes of those who realized the utterly amazing humility of a man who had the distinction of being lauded as being of “a tremendous nature” (Al-Quran, 68:4) and a “mercy to mankind” (Al-Quran, 21:17) by none other than Allah, glorified be He, Himself!

We were also blessed to see the master calligrapher Turan and illuminator, Eda,  of the Hilye, the famous hadith of Hadhrat Ali (May Allah ennoble his face) that describes the Prophet Muhammad (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.  We watched in amazement as these masters of their craft demonstrated how they make these treasures.

We came from many different backgrounds but under the leadership of Sidi Moutasem Atiya, and accompanied by our Turkish host and guide Goktan, our group developed unity of purpose.  No longer was this merely a vacation, but it had transformed into a spiritual journey for most.  Appreciating the sacrifice of the early Muslims took on fresh meaning as we visited the resting places of Sufyan Ibn Ubeyne, Wahab, Amir ibn Al-Aas, and Sultan Ayub Ansari (May Allah be pleased with him), who despite old age and sickness did not retreat from the opportunity to go out in the way of Allah, requesting the Muslim army to bury him under the walls of Constantinople.

 Allah states in The Noble Quran in Surah Baqarah, verse 115:

And to Allah belongs the east and the west. So wherever you [might] turn, there is the Face of Allah . Indeed, Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing.

When the Beloved is in one’s heart, they shall find their Beloved wherever they turn.  Istanbul’s people, history, and rich Islamic culture provide substance to the meaning of the above verse for this writer.  Straddling the line between Europe and Asia – Istanbul retains its Islamic flavor whilst combining east and west.  Istanbul is defiant in its uniqueness – and taking a peek under its secular surface we were able to see its true love for Allah.  Everywhere one turned people were turning to Allah in their actions and expressing gratitude towards Allah.  Like the whirling dervishes who spin in all directions yet stay centered by the gravity of their belief in Allah – the people of Turkey continue to evolve with time yet have retained their love and respect for The Most High in a manner that gives hope to Muslims living as minorities in the West.  Istanbul is a city where Christians, Muslims, and Jews coexist in peace and harmony, and that is a tradition of Islam that should be cherished.

Of the many gemlike utterances of Shaykh Mokhtar Maghraoui one that was particularly memorable was at the farewell dinner by the Eyüp Sultan Mosque, when he reminded us of the hadith recorded in Abu Dawud in which the Holy Prophet Muhammad (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) stated: “He who does not thank Allah does not thank people.”  Our deepest gratitude and prayers go out to Sidi Moutasem Atiya and his family, whose inspiration and commitment to bringing Muslims in the West a vision of Islamic greatness came together perfectly on this trip.  Shaykh Mokhtar Maghraoui blessed our group with pearls of wisdom the entire journey, uplifting our spirits above the fray to where we could see with our visions clearly.  To him we offer an abundance of gratitude as we keep him in our prayers, inshallah.  Goktan was our captain, opening doors to sites that otherwise had their doors locked to us while in the process opening the doors to our hearts.

The people of Turkey and Muslims around the world deserve our prayers.  Istanbul has its share of poverty, and more than a few refugees from Syria, full of dignity, can be seen on its streets.  As one walked down the street it was not uncommon to hear someone call out “Hajji” or “Abdullah” for help.  In one instance, a young girl - not more than 5 years of age, who was sitting in the middle of a sidewalk at midnight, received a small trifle from a passerby.  The passerby had expected her to say “thank you” as that was the customary response, or perhaps it was his nafs (ego) that had become hardened and accustomed to giving itself more importance than it deserved.  Instead, the young girl said “thank God” in the most clear English.  As the passerby walked he realized she had reinforced a valuable lesson.  He was not to be thanked, for anything the little girl received was truly from God.  Man is merely the excuse by which God gives His creation.  Secondly, she was teaching him to thank God.  This young girl probably stayed on the sidewalk for countless hours a day when she should be taken care of and nurtured with love and affection.  So many people are blessed but don’t realize it and in turn never live up to their potential because they are too focused on what they don’t have.  As Allah says in Surah Al-Rahman, “Which of the favors of your Lord will you deny?”  This innocent child, who to the Western eye would seem to have not much to thank God for, still thanked Allah, The Most Merciful, for what she had despite her hardened circumstances.  She didn’t complain or cry or pity herself for her condition – instead she accepted what Allah provided her and humbly thanked him.  She embodied gratefulness to Allah, the spirit of true Islam.  May Allah grant her a life of plenty and make this ummah victorious once again under the banner of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).


Saleem Safdar

By Saleem Safdar , 19 Sep 2012

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