Posts Tagged ‘Ottomans’

The Ottoman Parthenon Masjid in Athens

March 16, 2010  |  Thoughts  |  1 Comment

Masjid Parthenon

The bungled Fourth Crusade of 1201-04 was intended as an assault on Islam to capture the holy city of Jerusalem, but it soon turned into an attack by western Christianity upon the capital city and dominions of Byzantanium. The shameful sack of Constantinople by the Venetians threatened Athens with the same fate when crusaders arrived at its gates. Rather than see their city destroyed, the Athenians surrendered and, for the next 250 years, they found themselves governed by a succession of Frankish and other western European authorities, while the Parthenon, now a cathedral, was presided over by a Catholic archbishop.

In 1454 the Ottoman ruler Mehmet II, the Conqueror, took Constantinople and finally brought to an end the reign of the formerly powerful Byzantine emperors. In the subsequent expansion of the Ottoman empire westwards, Athens was taken in 1456. A last resistance held out on the Acropolis for two more years, before it fell in 1458. Having been previous a pagan temple and a Christian church, the Parthenon now became a mosque. Where once, from the tower i nthe south-west corner, a bell had rung the faithful to worship, there now rose a minaret. The high alter at the end of the building was displaced by the sacred furniture of the Islamic faith, while the Christian paintings on the interior walls were whitewashed. By and large, however, there were no drastic changes to the fabric of the building, such as those occasioned by its conversion into a church. Nor did the Muslim faithful engage in the fanatical defacement of infidel images that had previous destroyed so many of the Parthenon’s sculptures.

Ottoman Athens Acropolis1676

Around 8pm on the 26th September 1687, a shot was fired from a cannon belonging to a force besieging the Ottoman garrison of the Acropolis. It entered the Pathenon through the roof and fell among a store of gunpowder, put there for safekeeping in what had seemed to the Turks the strongest part of the castle that the Acropolis had become. Such was their trust in the stout walls of the ancient temple, three hundred Turks had also taken sheltered there. They were all killed when the bomb ignited the gunpowder causing an explosion, which blew off the roof and brought down the central part of the flank walls and their external colonnades. The captain of the attacking force was a Swede, Count Koenigsmark, but the overall commander of the crusade-like alliance that had invaded mainland Greece and mounted a major assault against the Ottomans was the Venetian general and nobleman Francesco Morosini. Destruction of the Parthenon, by now the famous among European travelers, was a shocking event. Insult, moreover, was added to injury with a failed attempt by the perpetrators to lower to the ground the as yet unscathed central figures of the west pediment. The lifting tackle broke and the sculptures were smashed to pieces in their fall.

Ottoman Athens

Pagan temple, then church, then mosque, the Parthenon now entered a new phase as romantic ruin. Morosini’s occupation of Athens was short-lived and the Turks returned within months to an increasingly fortified Acropolis. Within the ruin of the great temple, now open to the sky, they built a small mosque standing directly on the ancient stone-paved floor.

(ref: The Parthenon Sculptures – Jenkins, 2007)

Ottoman Athens

When independent Greece gained control of Athens in 1832, the visible section of the minaret was demolished from the Parthenon, and soon all the medieval and Ottoman buildings on the Acropolis were destroyed. However the image of the small mosque within the Parthenon’s cella has been preserved in Joly de Lotbinière’s photograph, published in Lerebours’s Excursions Daguerriennes in 1842: the first photograph of the Acropolis.

“The battery was commanded by Antonio Muitoni, Conte di San Felice, and the artificer’s name was Sergeant di Vanny.” (The Carrey Drawings of the Parthenon Sculptures, 30).


The force of the explosion led the Turks to surrender, and the Venetian general Morosini further damaged the building in his unsuccessful attempt to remove the sculptures of the west pediment. “Heard some curious extracts from the life of Morosini, the blundering Venetian, who blew up the Acropolis of Athens with a bomb, and be damned to him!” (Byron, A Self Portrait, in his Own Words, Peter Quennell, editor, Oxford Press, 1990, pg. 249).

Once the Turks were able to expel the Venetians a year later, the Acropolis was transformed into part of the city with many small homes scattered around its ground and a small mosque inside the ruined Parthenon.

Evliya Celebi had seen the great mosques of Damascus and Edirne and Cairo and Jerusalem and Constantinople, but he said:
Ottoman Athens

Presently there are well-constructed locations which have been disfigured by the wounds from the fire, but still, in the sphere of this ancient world, there is no such sparkling and luminous mosque since, no matter how often you enter it, on each subsequent entrance so many kinds of artful, individual and exemplary illustrations are evident and manifest. **

Islamic History is Ottoman History

January 24, 2010  |  Thoughts  |  No Comments

To put it bluntly, Ottoman history is the history of the Turks, the history of the Turkish state. At the same time, though, it is the shared history of the more than ten nations that live in the twenty or so states in this part of the world, each of which has been home to tribes speaking different languages and following different religions. We have to accept these facts. Once we do, we will appreciate that without a knowledge of Ottoman history and of Turkish, it is impossible for people in the Balkans, the Middle East, the Caucasus or Southern Russia to study history and to gain awareness of history. That is to say, unless they know Turkish and go into Turkish sources, there is no way that they can write the history of their own nations. Somehow the Hungarians and the Israelis (the latter being the latest newcomers to this region) have understood this. Unfortunately, the other former people of the Ottoman Empire cannot be said to have displayed the same insight.
- “Discovering the Ottomans” – Ilber Ortayli

MPL TV Interviews Sheykh Abdul Kerim about Islam, Ottomans, Life Story (Parts 4-5)

January 8, 2010  |  Thoughts  |  No Comments

Originally aired on Bab-i-Alem Program on MPL-TV in Turkey 09/14/2009. Full version (Turkish only) may be found at episode 132 here:

Translations of Parts 1-3 have been previously posted here.

Translations of Parts 4-5 can be viewed below:

MPL TV Interviews Sheykh Abdul Kerim about Islam, Ottomans, Life Story

December 6, 2009  |  Thoughts  |  3 Comments

Circles of Dignity

October 26, 2009  |  Thoughts  |  13 Comments

“O people, by Allâh I have visited kings. I went to Caesar, Chosroes and the Negus, but by Allâh I never saw a king whose companions venerated him as much as the companions of Muhammad venerated Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allâh be upon him). By Allâh, whenever he spat it never fell on the ground, it fell into into the hand of one his companions, then they wiped their faces and skins with it. If he instructed them to do something, they would hasten to do as he commanded. When he did wudû’, they would almost fight over his water. When he spoke they would lower their voices in his presence; and they did not stare at him out of respect for him.” ( al-Bukhârî, 3/178, no. 2731, 2732; al-Fath, 5/388).

Muhammad ibn `Umar said: “(Imam) Malik’s circle was a circle of dignity and courtesy. He was a man of majestic countenance and nobility. There was no part for self-display, vain talk, or loud speech in his circle. His reader would read for all, and no-one looked into his own book, nor asked questions, out of awe before Malik and out of respect for him.”

Is it possible to take the typical second, third, fourth generation Muslim and shoehorn them into the circles described above? What would be their experience?

More than likely it would be filled with boredom, confusion, and criticism all stemming from how very different this circle is than any other gathering they have participated in earlier in the day.

Sitting cross legged is already difficult enough for us, much less being surrounded by air which is infused with odd things such as ‘awe’, ‘nobility’, ‘dignity’, ‘respect’. We don’t know how to handle or envision such words in literature, and we certainly are unprepared to be faced with the practical reality of them.

Which movie prepares us for this environment? Which show? Which video game?


In this void, awkwardness fills us and most peoples chests are pressed with an instinctive reaction to remove ourselves from the heat of uncomfortably.

Surrounded by people that are genuinely devoted to another individual on the basis of their superior knowledge and religious practice is disturbing in a culture which raises us towards complete self-reliance and the total equality of all men in all aspects.

Add a dash of some form of group expression of faith that we are unfamiliar with, and the field is ripe for the ego to rebel.

There are just so many ‘outs’.

The convenient (yet arbitrary) distinction between religious life and the life dedicated to this world, especially when it is intertwined with the buzzword of ‘innovation’ gives us the most convenient of explanations to categorize our reaction.

*I don’t like it, because it feels weird.*

Self knowledge tempers this.

When one realizes the weakness of ones own faith, prayer, worship, it makes it more difficult to come to grandiose conclusions condemning people who dedicate themselves to the same. Humility dictates to us that we aren’t good judges, much less good prosecutors of others.

It is only when one confronts their own bias, in which one finds the reflection of sworn self-esteem and pavlovian pride, that one get past this haze which limits spiritual awakening.

The arbitrary categorization of ‘innovation’ when applied to worldly life vs religion, contains within it the supposition that life is separate from religion. A conclusion which has far hitting impacts.

In this model, watching TV feels quite alright, at least if you try to avoid some ‘bad scenes’. And watching 25 pictures per second on a wall mounted LCD screen is for some reason, so much harder to complain about than having a picture of a holy man who reminds us of prophecy, faith, improvement.

Under this mentality we think: Rock groups haraam? Let us have Islamic pop stars. Let’s have Muslim comedians. Muslim fiction writers. Muslim movie studios. Muslim news channels. All the while, we don’t exclude ourselves to the ‘Muslim’ version of these institutions of mimicry. So they do not help in creating a Islamic culture in the West, what they do is create a bridge of acceptance.

To watch a ‘Muslim pop star’, you still have to enter a concert hall. And to see a ‘Muslim film’ you still have to sit on a couch. There is still a stage for the ‘Muslim comedian’.

These issues reflect the implicit approval by the Muslim community of dramatic shifts away from the cultures which underwent a millenia of Islamization. Instead, we’ve accepted the inclination towards that which has challenged those cultures at every turn.

Islam was so much more than a filter of existing cultures, it brought something new. And these accomplishments are written in sand swept stone of Mughal architecture to the grand prayer halls of the Ottomans, to the poetry of Mevlana Rumi (ks) and the ironic statements on humanity from Nasruddin Hoja (ks).

This system has put the final wall up between knowledge and practice. It’s done this by actually turning Islam away from traditional values and a culture in which people of dramatic faith and unique characteristics were raised and nurtured.

Modern institutions catering to Muslims have been continuing the century old transition from Muslim culture and values to Western ones, all under the name of preaching Islam. And its not always so obtuse and obvious as the recent Azhari ban on niqaab. Pay-as-you-go ‘Islamic classes’ have cloaked an entirely foreign idea of Western style instruction in the mantle of religiosity.

And when examining this issue of cultural adoption, what we have chosen is not hamburgers over curry. We have settled for abandoning circles of dignity.