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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.

New Minaret

New Corner Stones and a New Minaret

If you stand at the entrance to the prayer hall, you will see a pathway before you made of pebbles. The darker pebbles are kept from the old path, the lighter ones are the new ones that have been added.

Old and New Pathways for Dalyan

Traditionally, men and women have prayed separately at mosque. This is because prayer should be performed in complete concentration with no distractions. In some cases the women were placed behind the men so that they would not feel self conscious and so that the men would not be distracted by the behinds of the women, but more traditionally and certainly in the case of the Central Mosque in Dalyan, the women pray from the balcony above the prayer hall. In the case of Friday prayers, which is mandatory for men but not for women, you will be unlikely to see a woman present as the men fill all available space. When I attended Friday prayers, I was placed in a corner on the balcony but segregated and hidden by a divider. I was the only woman in the building at that time.

Legend has it that when the mosque was built, the locals buried their gold and jewels underneath the main building. Nobody knows if the treasures are still there or not, but if the legend is true, it is strongly suspected that the fortunes would have been luted centuries ago! Certainly nobody found any during the reconstruction, but if you’re interested to find out, perhaps you should visit the mosque and do a little digging!

Looking Out From Dalyan's Central Mosque

Visiting Dalyan’s Central Mosque

There is much confusion over whether non-Muslims are permitted to enter mosques all over the world, not just in Dalyan. Of course, in many big cities, the most prominent mosques have organised tours, such as the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, where it is obviously permitted, but it is far less obvious with the smaller mosques that can be found around every corner in Muslim countries.

Well, the prophet Muhammad once allowed a group of Christians to pray for their Sunday worship inside the Al-Masjid al-Nabawi, the mosque that he built in Medina. However the Quran doesn’t really make it clear; those who worship another God “in fire shall they dwell” and “truly the Pagans are unclean, so let them not, after this year of theirs, approach the Sacred Mosque”. The Umayyad caliph Umar II also forbade non-Muslims from entering mosques and his ruling remains in practice in present day Saudi Arabia. Today in fact, with just a few exceptions, mosques in the Arabian Peninsula as well as Morocco do not allow entry to non-Muslims.

Mosque Shoes

Visitors to the Mosque Remove their Shoes

In some areas, it has most commonly been taken that non-Muslims may only enter mosques if granted permission to do so by Muslims. In modern Turkey, non-Muslim tourists are allowed to enter any mosque so long as they follow some strict rules. In the case of the Central Mosque in Dalyan, you are absolutely invited to visit the mosque if you wish to and you will be welcomed with open arms, but do follow these important rules.

Visiting a mosque is allowed only between prayers. If you wish to attend a prayer time, speak to Imam Mehmet, I am sure that he would be happy to arrange it for you, however it would be disrespectful to turn up unannounced if you don’t understand the procedures of prayer and certainly you shouldn’t walk into the mosque as prayers are taking place unless you intend to take part.

Be respectful with your choice of clothes. So often you see holiday makers taking to the streets of Dalyan in little more than a bikini or a lonesome pair of shorts. This is barely respectable for a Muslim town (though it is tolerated in Dalyan), it is not respectable for mosque. Cover your knees, cover your shoulders and ladies, cover your hair. To the right of the main entrance to the mosque is a wooden box with a door on the front, inside you will find scarves which you can use to cover yourself. Take off your shoes and leave them on one of the shelves at the door before you enter.

Once inside, be respectful to your surroundings. Don’t speak too loud if there are people praying or studying and don’t take photographs of people praying unless you are given permission. Remember that anyone taking to prayer requires peace and concentration and no interruption. Dalyan’s Central Mosque is a peaceful place. I felt very comfortable just sitting in the courtyard waiting for prayer to end, I felt absolutely welcomed when I visited the mosque and Imam Mehmet and his müezzin were delighted to share the mosque with me, my choice of faith aside. I have no doubt that you as an interested visitor, will be extended the same welcome.

Mosque Children

Everyone is welcome at Dalyan's Central Mosque

Finally, I would like to share with you my findings and feelings since my experiences with the mosque. At no point did I ever feel uncomfortable or unwelcome, in fact quite the opposite. At no point did anybody try to convert me and I never felt that this was even an agenda. Imam Mehmet came across as a kind and gentle man who was obviously very proud of Islam and of his mosque, as did his helpers. Muslims generally want the world to be a happy place, they are kind and generous people and it is felt that the world needs more knowledge about Islam to understand it. They are as against the problems in Syria and extremists as we are and do not consider terrorists to be Muslims. This really does come across in the Imam’s interview posted above.

I also find the practices of Muslims, abdest aside perhaps, incredibly familiar. I don’t consider myself to be religious, though in my childhood I grew up with Catholicism so I know about Christianity and what happens inside a church and what I experienced with the Imam and mosque was very much of the same ilk. You will see from the film of Friday Prayers that what happens during a mosque service, is basically the same as what happens in a church service, the Imam performs the same duties as a priest, even his training bears a resemblance to that of a Christian leader. Essentially a mosque is the centre of a community just as a church is.

If you decide to visit the mosque in Dalyan, be open minded and research about Islam a little before you go, they will appreciate it, you will find the experience so much more fulfilling and you will become a part of Dalyan’s wonderful community.


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