Given the current political climate, I thought I would depart from my normal writing about Christian places of worship and instead write about one of the most beautiful houses of worship used by our Abrahamic brothers and sisters who practice Islam. The Blue Mosque in Istanbul is (aside from the Hagia Sophia, which I feel doesn’t “count” as a Mosque or a Church, really…more as a museum now) the only mosque that I’ve ever entered.
One of the cool things about the Blue Mosque is that it gets so many visitors of all faiths. So many that you’ve got to stand in line to get in, and the line basically moves through the cloisters around the worship space. Seeing the inside and outside of such a beautiful building close-up is always a treat.
The mosque appears to be a series of perfect domes and half domes, and frankly, it’s an architectural style for which I have no frame of reference. I grew up with steeples and stuff, so this building style along with the calls to prayer made me feel very far from home. Interestingly, though, I think just about anyone would feel welcome in the space.
Inside the mosque I was somewhat surprised by how not blue it was. Of course there is plenty of blue, the place is literally covered with blue tiles. It’s just not overwhelmingly blue. I was not prepared for the detail of all of the Arabic script and the detail on every little tile. In an art history class, I learned that Islamic art centered largely around repetitive patterns perfectly executed. Walking into this space I thought “oh, yeah, I get it now.”
The stained glass in the mosque was surprisingly similar to stained glass you would find in a church, except without the figures of the humans in the stories of course (my understanding is that Islam does not like graven images of holy figures, but my understanding of Islam is even lesser than my understanding of Christianity).
Mostly, I found the differences between Mosque and Church to be relatively minor. One stark difference was the lack of pews. While liturgical churches tend to follow the format of “stand, kneel, sit, stand, kneel, sit, stand, kneel sit – great workout everyone, let’s have a snack” Islamic worship seems to involve quite a bit more time on the knees. I found it interesting that you could see the very neat rows where people have been lining up for hundreds of years and kneeling worn into the rug. Also, the carpets in the Blue Mosque are the ORIGINAL carpets from when it was completed in 1616. I’ve certainly never walked across a carpet that old. They’re still beautiful, by the way.
So I don’t know, I really think that we’re all more similar than we would like to recognize, sometimes.
I find it interesting that so many elements between the houses of worship are similar between these two religions. Maybe inspiration just all comes from the same place.