Discovering Dalyan - Inside the Mosque

Dalyan, Turkey, Travel, Photography

When I started planning the Dalyan Exposé, one of the questions I got asked the most was ‘are we allowed to visit the mosque?’. Dalyan’s Central Mosque sits ceremoniously at the centre of town and is certainly the focal point of the community. It is difficult to miss, easily visible from the main stretch of Dalyan and the glorious river, but it always appears to be a no-go zone, a place of mystery and one of the town’s secrets. It certainly isn’t advertised as a tourist attraction and very little is known about the mosque outside of the local community and with a seemingly increasing feel of segregation in the world between Muslims and Christians, it was certainly a place that I wanted to discover more about.

Dalyan's Central Mosque from the Dalyan River

It was an absolute pleasure to meet with Imam Mehmet of Dalyan’s Central Mosque and he was incredibly helpful and informative about the history of the mosque, how Islam is important to the community and the work that he has done for Dalyan. He gave me a tour of the mosque and his passion for the building was apparent. He even took me to the top of the minaret which was a huge honour and gives some spectacular views of the town. We spoke very frankly about Islam, the ongoing problems in Syria, the effects of ISIS on Islam and the future of Turkey.

Please take the time to watch his insightful interview below.

Filmed interview with Imam Mehmet

The Significance of the Mosque

Before I discuss Dalyan’s mosque in any detail, I think it is important for non-Muslims to understand the significance of a mosque in Islam. The first mosque is often considered to be the area around the Kaaba in Mecca, now known as the Masjid-al-Haram, to which Muslims make the annual pilgrimage known as ‘hajj’. Mecca is the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad and the site of his first revelation from the Quran. Others however, regard the first mosque in history to be the Quba Mosque in present-day Medina, since it was the first structure built by Muhammad upon his emigration from Mecca in 622AD. A mosque is a representation of the creation and realisation of their religion and their beliefs, therefore a mosque is considered sacred.

Masjid-Al-Garam During Hajj

Of course like a church in christianity, a mosque to Muslims is a place of worship, a meeting place where prayer occurs five times a day. But like a church, a mosque’s function is so much more than that. Historically, with water being essential at a mosque so that worshippers can purify themselves before prayer, the mosque was quite often the only source of water for a town. Local people would converge to the mosque with their earthenware to draw water from the mosque well. It was also a place of learning, in the early days it often took the form of the local school, where Muslim children were taught to read and write alongside the recitation of the Quran.

Education at the Mosque

The mosque was and still is a place of social gatherings, where weddings, funerals and other religious ceremonies take place. In some cases, the mosque can even become a court of law. Some use it as a place of rest from the intense heat of the day, a place open to strangers if they need a place to stay overnight. With hospitality considered so important in the Muslim culture, locals would often find strangers at mosque and take them home to feed them. A mosque is the centre of Islamic culture and of universal knowledge, it is where local life becomes a community.

Studying the Quran

Understanding the Structure

If you travel widely through Muslim countries, you will notice that mosques vary in size and grandeur and this is very much dependent on the size of the community using the mosque and the donations given at the time of construction. Masjid-al-Haram in Mecca has grown in size over the centuries to account for the growing number of constituents and the thousands of pilgrims that complete ‘hajj’ each year. Dalyan on the other hand, with a population of little over 5000 and a few scattered mosques, needs a much smaller complex. However, whether a mosque is plain and simple, or decorated with a million mosaic tiles, the structure is always the same.

Inside Dalyan's Central Mosque

From the outside you will notice an open courtyard containing a standard square building with a veranda or porch and domed roof, in most cases there will also be a tall and slender building next to it, the ‘minaret’. You will also find several out-buildings and a garden where Muslims of importance to the area would be buried or honoured. On the inside, things become a little more complicated. Here is a short guide detailing what to expect.

The Sahn - This is the name given to the courtyard of the mosque, where all of the necessary buildings and structures are found. Some mosques have private sahns and some public. In the case of Dalyan’s Central Mosque, there is a small sahn enclosed by walls, but Mosque Square is regarded as a public sahn, a place for civic uses, such as public gatherings, celebrations, protests, open air markets and festivals.

Mosque Square from the Minaret

The Minaret - The tall, slim, freestanding structure next to the mosque provides a visual cue to the Muslim community and its main function is to provide a vantage point from which the call to prayer, or ‘ezan’, is made. ‘Ezan’ is performed by the mosque’s müezzin or by the Imam himself five times a day, a ritual which is over 1400 years old. ‘Minaret’ comes from the Arabic word ‘manarah’, which means ‘lighthouse’ and have been described as the “gate from heaven and earth”.

Dalyan Central Mosque's New Minaret

Abdest Fountains - A structure with seats and taps for Muslims to perform abdest, the purification process before engaging in prayer or reading the Quran. You will find separate fountains for men and women. In some cases, the fountains will take the shape of a ‘howz’, a small pool in the middle of the ‘sahn’.

Dalyan Central Mosque's Abdest

Funeral Table - To the right of the entrance to Dalyan’s Central Mosque is a marble table. This is used to place coffins during a Muslim funeral.

Dalyan Central Mosque's Funeral Table

The Musallah - The prayer hall is the main section of the mosque which is very open and where Muslims congregate during prayer. Some are very simple, some are ornately decorated, but each will be fitted out with a plush and colourful carpet which is patterned with lines called ‘saf tutmak’ which indicates where worshippers should position themselves.

The Mosque Carpet's 'Saf Tutmak'

The Qubba - The dome or ‘qubba’ is placed directly above the prayer hall as a symbol of both the vaults of heaven and the sky.

The Dome of the Dalyan Central Mosque

The Vaaz - Essentially a platform from which the Imam delivers a sermon.

The Imam's Vaaz

The Mihrab - One one wall of the prayer hall you will see a semicircular niche (the ‘mihrab’) which indicates the direction of Mecca. Muslims should face the ‘mihrab’ when praying. The direction towards Mecca is known as the ‘qibla’.

The Mihrab of the Qibla Wall

The Minbar - This the platform at the top of the stairs from which the Imam will perform Friday prayers or ‘hutbe’.

The Minbar, set next to the Mihrab

Müezzin Mahfili - The platform from which the müezzin prays and calls prayer during the service. Usually this is positioned opposite the ‘minbar’.

Understanding Salah

Prayer is called ‘Salah’ and occurs at various times five times a day depending on the time of sunrise and sunset. Each prayer time has its own name; before sunrise - ‘fajr’, midday - ‘dhuhr’, afternoon - ‘asr’, sunset ‘maghrib’ and nighttime - ‘isha’a’. Before prayer, worshippers must engage in abdest, a purification ritual performed with water outside the mosque. Worshippers will wash their hands, their mouths, their nostrils, their face and arms each three times. The head is wiped, as are the ears and the nape of the neck. Lastly, the feet are washed, starting with the right one, including the ankles and between the toes.

Preparing for Prayer With Abdest

At every stage, short prayers known as ‘rak’ah’ are recited. The worshipper will then leave his shoes on the rack outside the main door and enter the mosque with the right foot first before taking his or her place on the ‘saf tutmak’. As others join the prayers, worshippers sit shoulder to shoulder. This represents the unity and equality of all, showing there is no difference between people.

The Movements of Prayer

Prayer comprises of both physical movement and mental concentration. It includes the posture of standing, deep bowing, kowtowing (touching the forehead on the ground) and sitting. The movements or postures have been compared to other exercise regimes and there is no doubt that five times a day, a Muslim is engaging in a moderate exercise regime that encourages good blood circulation, regular calm controlled breathing and general suppleness.

Friday prayer is called ‘hutbe’ and is compulsory for Muslim men. It occurs each week in place of the ‘dhuhr’ prayers at midday. ‘Hutbe’ serves as the primary formal occasion for public preaching in the Islamic tradition.

Watch the video below which gives an insight into what happens inside a mosque during Friday prayers.

What Happens Inside a Mosque

Dalyan’s Central Mosque

The structure of Central Mosque in Dalyan dates back to the 18th century, funded by local men whose graves can be found in the small garden at the back of the mosque.

Gravestones Mosque

Gravestones of the Mosque's Founders

It is believed that many of the stones used to build the original structure were hauled over the Dalyan river from Kaunos. In 1956, the town was hit by a strong earthquake which left the mosque in disrepair. The bare minimum was done to make the building structurally safe to use, but over the decades, the damage done began to take its toll and restoration became essential. The mosque was eventually repaired in 2015.

The Newly Restored Dalyan Central Mosque

It was reported by the müezzin and the Imam that the minaret in particular had become so structurally unsound, that it would sway in high winds and storms. As a result, many years ago the call to prayer was moved from the minaret to inside the mosque.

When the mosque was refurbished, steel blocks were added to the foundations and some of the corner stones of the main building were replaced. The minaret and men’s abdest are completely new, as is the facade and entrance to the prayer hall. What they have managed to do beautifully is to keep as much of the original building as possible while adding new features and repairs that fit seamlessly.