Turkey on our Doorstep: A look at Nizamiye Masjid, Midrand

By Fatima Haffejee

Turkey on  our doorstepThe most expensive of camera’s can never quite capture the beauty which can be seen by the naked eye. I stand in awe, facing the grandeur of the Turkish Mosque in Midrand, Old Pretoria Road. How will I ever be able to capture in photographs this amazing structure? I am a proud South African. I love everything about my country and I firmly believe that we need not venture far to discover the remarkable.

Now and then though, it is wonderful to experience a place that’s foreign. Fortunately for those living within close range of Midrand in Johannesburg, Turkish businessman Ali Katırcıoğlu was intent on constructing Ottoman-style architecture in places where they were non-existent. In
keeping with this goal, he first attempted to source adequate land within the US. However, this proved futile and on the advice of Fethullah Gulan “the project” was moved to SA. My visit was a first time experience.

Mukhtaar Sonvadi, one of Nizamiye’s tour guides provided me with insight regarding the background of the Masjid as well as its construction. Reportedly, the Masjid is the largest of its kind within the Southern Hemisphere. At least 4000 musallis can read Salaah within the Masjid
and another 1000 in the courtyard. The basic plan of the Masjid is based on the 16th century Ottoman Selimiye Mosque in Edirne, Turkey which was designed by Mimar Sinan.

The Ottoman Empire also referred to as Turkey, dates back to 1453. During the reign of Suleiman the magnificent (16 and 17thcenturies), it was one of the world’s most powerful
states. International recognition of the new Turkish parliament (“by means of the Treaty of Lausanne, signed 24 July 1923”) proclaimed establishment of the Republic of Turkey as the
new Turkish State, thus succeeding and formally ending the Ottoman Empire (Wikipedia; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ottoman_Empire, date accessed 19 December 2012).

On October 1st 2009, “the project” was set in motion. Barely 4 years and 3 days later, it was officially inaugurated by South African president, Jacob Zuma. Besides the bricks used, all other building material required for the Masjid’s construction was flown in directly from Turkey. The 24 carat gold paint used in the dome and other areas of the Masjid are directly from Germany.

The Masjid at a Glance: A Visitor’s Experience

I am mesmerized. No more than a street away from the Masjid I can see its 4 minarets prodding their heads into the sky. The entrance is protected by boom gates providing a safe environment for all within. To my right is the Nizamiya clinic which Mukhtaar points out, “is still under
construction”. Despite being nestled in a busy area, the ambience within the Masjid
is tranquil. Overhead is a magnificent chandelier larger than any I have ever seen and beneath my feet I feel the soft, lush, blue and red carpet which covers the Masjid floors. The dome above is resplendent with the 99 Names of Allah inscribed around it. Hand- painted in harmonious colours, it is a perfect backdrop for spirituality and prayer. The patterns on the pillars are all done by hand using stencils (Ali Katırcıoğlu was determined to maintain Ottoman design techniques in all aspects of the Masjid and this shows).

Floral patterned tiles ornament the walls around me and the marble lining the floors outside gleam in the early morning sunlight. Men and ladies wudhu (ablution) facilities are segregated, but similar in design. Low sinks make for easy usage whilst marble seats surround a circular
slab with gold taps for those who prefer to make wudhu seated. One can immediately find resemblance of Nizamiye Masjid to those in Turkey amongst the photographs that line the wall of the gallery, based near the entrance.

Typically, a non-Muslim within the boundaries of a holy place, is not commonplace. Nizamiye Masjid however, allows for non-Muslims to tour the grounds just as any other person would. Mukhtaar mentions that Ali Katırcıoğlu takes Nelson Mandela as a source of inspiration and therefore feels that none can be restricted from visiting the holy house of another. There
are a few protocols by which they have to follow though, namely, to be dressed appropriately.

A shopping centre, part of the development and conveniently situated outside the Masjid near the left of the entrance, stocks all Turkish-made products. A soon- to- be-opened restaurant is still in the process of being painted. The chef stationed there provides me with an overview of the ethnic menu and I wander to the upper level of the building where an outdoor seating arrangement provides a very scenic view.

My final highlight is meeting the well-known Ali Katırcıoğlu, despite being forewarned that he barely speaks English

‘Can I take your photograph?’, I ask the man standing in front of me.

‘Yes, Yes photo’ he agrees, nodding and fixing the collar of his shirt in a playful gesture.

Here is a man who has amassed a fortune and yet still takes a moment to share a candid smile with a stranger. Whilst Masjid’s around South Africa are incomparable in their architecture and designs, Nizamiye Masjid has most certainly made its mark. Not only does it incorporate spirituality alongside beauty, but it has also managed to add Turkish flavour to our African soil.If anything, this is a true representation of the diversity in the country we call home.

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