The Pilgrimage to Eyup

Breaking with the custom that begins the round of the mosques in the Eminonu district, go first of all to Eyup, because it gives the foreigner a deeper understanding of what the faith means to a Moslem. A roundabout drive as well as a steep path through a forsaken cemetery climb to the cafe where Pierre Lotiwho captured the unique atmosphere of the declining imperial city in his novelsused to sit and gaze upon the wondrous city.

The distant view is still wonderful, though the upper reaches of the Golden Horn are disgraced by coal dumps. The tangle of streets, houses, and hills is pierced by the sharp spires of countless minarets. Istanbul has from five to six hundred mosques, of which every one has from one to four minarets, sometimes six: at least a thousand needles pricking the unruffled blue sky.

The Arab Moslems, newly converted by Mohammed, had laid siege to Byzantium, and the standard-bearer and friend of the Prophet had fallen in battle, in 669. His name was Eyup-ul-Ensari Halit bin Zeyd, and he was buried on the battlefield. Much later, during the siege of the city by Mehmet the Conqueror, the sultan had a dream. He told it to the scholar Ak-Semseddin, who said that it revealed the site of the holy grave. Mehmet at once gave orders to unearth it, and the dream was found true. The Conqueror then ordered a tomb and a mosque to be built over the burial-ground. It soon became, for all Islam, a place of worship and a pilgrimage on the way to Mecca.

Built in 1458, enlarged by Murat III towards the end of the 15th century, the mosque, shaken loose and cracked open by earthquakes, was I torn down and rebuilt in 1800. Up to the present day, it is still a focus of Moslem piety. Here, the caliph came in great pomp to gird the sword of Osman, founder of the Osmanli or Ottoman dynasty, a sword that was the symbol of the caliphate.

The village of Eyup has many old wooden houses, some with a pretty fretwork trim. At the door of the all-white mosque, you are offered water, held to be good for the health of body and soul. Inside is a vast paved courtyard, teeming with devout humanity. Unlike Christianity, the faith of Islam has not split apart and foundered under the weight of afterthoughts. It has remained whole, unquestionable and unquestioned, and in Eyup this strikes the outsider as both natural and goodhe may sense a spirituality rare in today's world. The Moslem, on going into this courtyard, washes himself altogether clean of the man he seems to be in the outside world. It is his bare soul and heart that he shows to his God.

Inside the second courtyard there is a huge tree, surrounded by an enormous railing. The inner walls are covered all around with magnificent glazed tiles, with red and sometimes yellowish designs on a blue ground. There are storks and pigeons. But what most catches the visitor's eye is the long row of faithful come to beg a favor at the tomb of Eyup. One by one, they stop in front of the Window of Help where, strangely enough, the star of David stands out on the highly-worked brass lattice.

Under the archways, merchants sell their wares, and crowds of people come and go. But at the door, where visitors take off their shoes, all is quiet. A heavy curtain falls between the mosque and the outside world.
Inside, it is all white, with the usual writings of Koranic prayer. The prayer-rug is blue, worked in blue. Along the walls runs a design, also in mingled blues. Everywhere, withdrawn and open to God alone, men pray. There are many women, too, but they are together, in a corner. Once again, the rapt inwardness of the faithful strikes the outsider, who turns away, feeling awkward and an intruder.

The mosque is surrounded by small graveyards and lonely turbes or tombs, marking an underground maze of the dead. In front of the Window of Help, the crowd is as big as ever.

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