Name: Hanan Chiang
Class: 4A (34) J
We have only been in Turkey for 8 days, 6 if you don’t count the time we spent on the plane, and we’ve sprinted through 3 cities in a very short span of time, but there is so much – so much! – that I want to write about this magical land sandwiched somewhere between Europe and Asia; somewhere that quietly boasts the best of both worlds.
I was completely astounded by the cityscape of Istanbul. I have been to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Colombo, Shanghai and Colombo; all are big modern cities, some with a longer history than others. But Istanbul is really quite unlike anything else I have ever seen. On the surface it’s the glossy poster child of a modern European city, with an upscale downtown area with all its high-rise buildings and the latest fashions. There is also something Greek about those lovely little square houses coiling lazily around the contours of the hills that define the city, like pearls yawned up by the sea. But, lovely as it is, this alone does not constitute the unique charm of Istanbul. No, the finishing touch, at least for me, is the minarets that soar high into the sky, punctuating the monotonous line of buildings, as if declaring to the world “Allah is One” with their very existence, like the finger we raise in tahashhud. The Ottoman style domes, meanwhile, add a feminine touch, balancing the otherwise angular cityscape with their abundance of soft curves and arcs.
During our first two nights in Istanbul, we stayed at a university hostel about 30 minutes away from the airport. They gave us the entire top floor. After fajr, which means around 7am in Istanbul this time of the year, I opened the sliding doors to the balcony and surveyed the city in its early morning chill, and was rewarded with an ethereal, other-worldly view. The glorious morning sun swept over each rooftop, fluidly coating each with a soft golden light. The entire city seemed to be dripping with it.
Of course, no city is alive is without its people, and it is the vibrant warmth of the Turkish people who have breathed life into the lovely places we visited. In every university, college, hostel and dormitory we have visited, we were showered with unimaginable kindness and hospitality. Everywhere we went, people smiled at us and came to talk to us, despite not being conversant in English. Linguistic barriers never deterred them; and anyhow, the warmth they communicated through their smiles and actions was more than enough to make us feel at home.
At Bursa, we did our Dhuhr prayer at Ulu Cami, or in English, the Grand Mosque. After the prayer, the young girls and old ladies next to me gave their salaams and held my hand, telling me how much they loved and welcomed us. It was all in Turkish but I understood everything in their smiling eyes. We were complete strangers; we have never seen each other. We will probably never see each other again in this lifetime, after a salaam and a smile. But they treated me like family. I could not speak their language, nor did they understand mine; yet we shared the language of Islam. Our hearts were tuned into the same channel. Not a single movement of the lips was needed. A smile, a handshake – yes, we are family, and I love you. We stood shoulder to shoulder, we bowed, we prostrated, we recited the same verses. All national boundaries melted away, falling soundlessly onto the ground with each movement of the limbs, and with each articulation of the tongue. Islam – this is the language of the human core, the best of what it means to be human. SubhanAllah.
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you.” (Qu’ran 49:13)
Many have been to Turkey before me; many have written about her magnificent architecture, her mouthwatering food, her beautiful handicraft. I have experienced all that. But when I think of our time in Turkey, it is this feeling of awe that resonates with me the most, a quiet calm and peace that permeates the entire trip, despite our hectic schedule. May Allah bless us, and the wonderful people of Turkey, with it always. Ameen.
Special thanks to:
First and foremost, Allah, who has given us this once-in-a-life-time opportunity;
Abi and the other Turkish brothers, who have planned a perfectly-organized trip;
Ms Zareenah and Mr Nadeem, who have done a lot of preparation work to make this trip possible;
Our lovely students, who spiced up every car ride and journey with their jokes and laughter;