While the Roman Empire imposed its Pax Romana, the Ottoman Empire brought the peace of Islam to a vast swathe of southeast Europe, Western Asia and North Africa for nearly six centuries. That is always something I am reminded of when I visit any of Istanbul’s great mosques.
My favorite sight in Istanbul has long been the New Mosque or Yeni Cami, which dominates the Istanbul waterfront at the southern end of the Galata Bridge. Inside, men come and go to kneel toward the mihrab, while tourists wander around at the back. Sock-clad feet pad gently on the carpeted floor, the silence adding to the air of worship, both religious and secular.
One morning I take a ferry back across the Bosphorus to visit the exquisite Şakirin Mosque, which might well be my new favorite. Opened in 2009, it is the first Muslim house of worship in the world to have its interior designed by a woman, Zeynep Fadıllıoğlu. The result is a breathtaking modern take on the form, with a dramatic glass chandelier and a mihrab in the shape of a golden eye with a turquoise lid.
It is playful, yet filled with a real sense of worship. The chandelier is a series of water drop shapes that recall a prayer saying “Allah’s light should fall on worshipers like rain” and the whole space is indeed full of light. Here, east and west meet in celebration of the strengths of both.
After the undoubted wonder of Istanbul’s more familiar mosques, this Turkish delight is a reminder that the city’s present and future is every bit as exciting as its past.
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