Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Tarawih at the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet)

I was blessed to pray the tarawih prayers at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul last night alhamdullilah. Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad describes how they do it here, which was new to me, especially the maqamat:
The Blue Mosque, despite its immensity, is full for Tarawih prayers; and this is not terribly surprising, given the beauty of the ceremony here. In some mosques, the full khatm is observed; but here the Tarawih lasts for less than an hour, after which the crowds rejoin the fun of the fair. After each four rak’as a brief interval of collective dhikr supervenes, in the form of the salat-i ummiyye; and at the end there comes a prayer which, booming around the vastnesses of the mosque, recalls the superb rolling dignity of the Ottoman language. As Urdu-speakers well know, prayers in a language where everything happens before the verb have tremendous dramatic impact: ‘And our sins, in this and earlier months, against You and other members of our nation, Our Lord, forgive! And the affairs of the Muslims here and in the world, Our Lord, set right! And to the soul of Sultan Ahmet, Our Lord, grant rest!’
In the Ottoman period, the great singers faced their greatest audiences during Ramadan worship; and in recent years attempts have been made to revive the symphonic quality of the Tarawih of days gone by. Knowledge of the maqam system is axiomatic here. Some younger, less qualified men with soaring voices are allowed to recite in the mosques during Ramadan, even when the ritual is televised live; but in theory only those with an ijaza in maqams can be heard. Hence the ilahi singer in the Fatih mosque, who sings a special Ramadan qasida or a ghazal after each four rak’as, may set the artistic pace for the entire ceremony. The Istanbul adhan and iqama are often in maqam Hijaz or Saba, but the yatsi prayer itself is typically in Rast, the critical musical moment being the connection between the final words of the iqama and the imam’s takbir. This produces a contrast, which is then articulated by the muezzin in the ceremonial words which gather the congregation for the Tarawih, with its twenty formal rak’as. These often begin, as tajwid conventionally does, in maqam saba, but after four rak’as the singer will modulate into one of the modes which may permissibly follow from Saba: Kurd, Nahawand, or Ushshak. The imam of the mosque will then begin the fifth rak’a in the same maqam, beginning an exquisite modal dialogue which congnoscenti hope, usually with good reason, will descend at the right pace back to saba during the Witr. Six maqams may thus be heard during the single Tarawih. Kani Karaca, the blind, aged chief muezzin of the Süleymaniye mosque, who died only recently, was certainly capable of many more, firing his voice high into the sublime, shadowy spaces of Sinan’s greatest masterpiece.
-Abdal Hakim Murad, "Ramadan in Istanbul."