[ Vol. III, Feb. 1986]
A culture, its arts and artists cannot be studied in isolation
from its belief systems and value structures. Through the life of
Sinan, Gulzar Haider suggests a way of looking at Muslim history
and its personalities.
1489 - 1588
Existence is perpetual movement; and God, the only constant. History
is the flow of men and ideas in a God-directed continuum of time.
Mankind is forever clarifying and realising its station vis-a-viz
its Creator. In the chronology of events we cannot deny the seeming
cycles of faith and doubts, knowledge and ignorance, brilliance
and darkness but history is not locked in a helpless repetitive
pattern. The `local' variations when put together in a sequence
and seen in a self-referential manner, do create an impression of
a cyclical pattern and an innate periodicity in history. Examined
in the light of the Qur'an, however, it appears that man's destiny
is characterized by freedoms and free will within a smaller matrix
of time but governed by strict laws of moral causality and social
justice in the matrix of historical scale. It is superficial and
even unfair to treat the fall of Rome, Baghdad and Istanbul as inevitable
repetitions of history. The axioms and premises of any Islamic view
of history have to emerge from its ethical and spiritual constancy
and not the territorial imperatives of man against nature or the
politico- economic belligerence among classes and nations. Beyond
the non- relativistic meta-values of Islam that establish the matrices
of God-man, man-nature and man-man (Inquiry, August'85), all is
change and dynamism. Ibn Maskawaih, Al-Bairuni, Ibn Khaldun and
Mohammed Iqbal have all, in their characteristic manners, seen the
eternity and permanence of the Divine, and movement and evolution
of nature and society.
Qur'an puts forth Islam as eternal movement and suggests the creative
evolution in collective human consciousness by rejecting the eternal
condemnation of "original sin" and blessing man with successively
more comprehensive Revelation and Guidance through time. Man, as
a historic phenomenon, through belief, Shariah, knowledge, justice
and perseverant struggle in His Way, has the potentiality to rise
to his station of Ashraf-al-Makhlooqat (the most honoured of the
creations) and be worthy of the covenant of God's vicegerency on
earth. The same man is also under the con tinuous threat of the
deviationary temptations of the God-defying Iblis. One such visage
of Iblis is the subtle re-occupation of the monotheistic Kaaba of
Islamic thought with the unseen but powerful idols of ancestry,
nationalism, race, language and sectarianism. The chronicles have
been disfigured by the glitter of the court, thunder of the guns
and sophistry of the crowned scholars. The history of Muslims has
suffered from the curses of incomplete truths, prejudicial characterisations
and in some cases outright mythography. And what price have we paid
for it? We are ignorant, grievously misinformed and victims of prejudices
that have become essential to maintain our little mental empires.
To the nationalist Arab, the Ottoman Turk is a despicable imperial
tyrant. To the nationalist Persian, the Arab is a marauder of his
fine Khosroic Civilization. To the Sunnis, both Arabs and Turks,
the Persians have been the incorrigible heretics of history. To
the Shia, the Ummayads, one and all were usurpers. Muslim `greats',
philosophers as well as fighters, are territorialized as racial
heroes, as histories are published under official patronage. Victimized
by such synthetic history the Muslim mind is confused if not outright
schizophrenic. Erratically it salutes the ruthlessness of a Hajjaj
ibn Yousef and reveres the piety of an Umar ibn Abdul Aziz. The
criteria for assessment of the past are blurred and history cannot
play the creative role in helping the present to direct is future.
The Qur'anic framework and its concordant methodology to assess
society and individuals are our only hope.
We turn to Sinan, a humble man who earned a place of special significance
in the history of Islam, in the hope that we can learn something
from him for the benefit of future time. He was a centre-stage figure
in the Ottoman play on the stage of time. A brilliant chapter in
the annals of world architecture, he remains a legend in engineering
heroics and technical virtuosity. We cannot do justice to him without
outlining the concept of creative personality in Islam, without
identifying the relationship between architecture, society and civilization
and, finally, without a careful look at some of his work. Our interest
is beyond biography and enumeration of his architectural achieve
ments. From Sinan we aim to extract timeless values of architecture
and practical lessons for the role of the architect in contemporary
Muslim society. And this, perhaps, may eventually help us to develop
a purposeful approach to the study of `historic' personality, free
of blind hero worship.
About the year 1489 A.D., in a village named Aghirnas in central
Anatolia, Yousef was born into a Christian family. Like every new-born,
as Prophet Muhammed said, he had the innate potentiality of Islam.
His grandfather, Dogan Yousef Aga was a respected builder and his
father a carpenter and stone mason. He studied through his eyes,
learned through his hands and grew up to be intelligent , skilful,
strong and sober in character. At the age of 23 he was inducted
into the Janissary cadet system and taken to Istanbul. He became
a Muslim and was named Sinan Abdul-Mennan (Spearhead, Slave of God
the All-Giving). It will be inaccurate to assert that he changed
his faith after a free-thinking com parison between Greek Orthodox
Christianity and Islam. What can be said with confidence is that,
once a Muslim, he never exhibited any doubt or ambivalence. His
personal life, his two pious foundation charters, his `peak performance'
as he came to mosque designs, his deep desire to surpass the dome
of Haigia Sophia in the name of his faith, and his vigorous participation
in the Muslim thrust into Europe, especially the campaigns of 1522,
1526 and 1529, are all a testimony to Sinan's vitalistic belief
in Islam. He worked within the imperial system and its hierarchies,
he addressed the sultans and viziers as the conventions of the court
demanded, but there is no evidence that he ever sold his soul or
tried to purchase someone else's. He did not plot or participate
in the assassination of rivals. On the contrary, as his genius emerged
and expressed itself in full bloom through his work, he was sought
after by the notables of the vast empire to build them mosques,
tombs and pious foundations in addition to his duties as the Royal
Chief Architect. Well into his years (1567), he built Buvukrhakme
bridge, one of his engineering masterpieces, and on one pier he
carved his name as Yousef Abdul lah. He must have recognized the
honoured station of Prophet Yousef in the Qur'an and chosen this
opportunity to remember the name his parents gave him or perhaps
he had this urge to recall his builder grandfather's name. It could
be that he had risen to the level of recognizing the spirit of Abrahamic
monotheism and felt that it was most appropriate to reassert his
Yousef as long as he was Abdullah, the Slave of God, the Protector
of both the Prophets Yousef and Muhammed. At the age of 94, he performed
Hajj in all the hardships of his time.
Sinan was disciplined, unafraid and perseverant in the pursuit
of his goals. Though an indulgent family man, he carried on his
shoulders simultaneous responsibilities or numerous projects. He
managed almost an army of assistants and apprentices. When the Kulliya
of Suleymanieh was under construction (1550-1557) the entire area
between the site, the third hill of Istanbul and the Shehzadeh mosque
was a beehive of craftsmen and Sinan participat ed in even the minutest
details of the project. He carved the mihrab marble panel with the
skills of a patriarchal master. Unlike the remote, dilettante, penthouse
architectural `greats' of our time, he never instructed what he
could not demonstrate with his own hands.
Sinan thrived on challenges and characteristically experimented
all through his life. From mobile wooden bridges, hoisting rigs,
catapults, amphibious structures, flood control projects and civil
works including the great aqueducts that brought fresh water to
Istanbul, his genius drove him incessantly. Self-reliant and creative,
Sinan was a problem-solver par excellence. His arena of action was
clear to him. His life and work are enough to convince us that he
did not aspire to anything other than to carry his `stone-cutting'
skills to the sublime. To architecture he always returned with the
passion of a lover for his beloved. Whether it was the memorial
mosque of Shehzadeh Mehmet (1448), public bath houses for Quewen
Haseki Hurrem (1556), Kulliye of Suleymanieh (1557), the mosque
for Princess Mihremah Sultan (1565) on the highest hill of Istanbul,
or one for grand vizier Sokullu Mehmet Pasha (1571) or Rustum Pasha
(1561) on tight difficult sites, he was disciplined but innovative
at conceptual, formal and technical levels. Every one of these architectural
benchmarks is a signature of Sinan in that they solve difficult
problems ingeniously. To improve upon his previous work and maintain
a continuous pursuit of an `ideal' were the significant constants
in his long career. It is a small wonder that this phenomenon climaxed
in the awe-inspiring Selimiyeh (Edirne, 1574) when he was eighty-six.
His apprentices like Davut Aga, Dalgic Ahmet and Mehmet Aga later
produced masterpieces like Yeni Jami, mausoleum of Murad II and
Sultan Ahmet (Blue) mosque. Jafer Efendi, on the instructions of
Mehmet Aga, produced Risalei- Mimariye, a compendium of methods
and techniques refined through Sinan's "studios and workshops".
His architectural legacy lasted well into the 17th century and he
became a legend as the time passed. In war and in peace, Sinan was
a mujahid and his weapons were his knowledge, skills and wisdom
that he considered God's gifts. Just through his mosques, which
are `alive' centuries after him, his Sadiqa-i-Jariah (act of perpetual
altruism) con tinues.
He signed himself as "El-Faqir Sinan, Ser-i-Mimaran-i-Hassa" which
has been literally translated as "Sinan, the poor, chief of architects,
the special" or "... chief of special architects". On his signet
he carved in the middle "El-Faqir El-Haqir Sinan" which leterally
translated means: "Sinan, the poor and the de spised". The border
of the signet carried a verse couplet:
Mihr-i-mimaran hemise mustmend
Bende-i-miskin kemine derdmend
which can be paraphrased as:
"Sun among the architects but always in need Destitute slave,
the lowly, the anguished"
Sinan was not unsure of his station as an architect but he was
the modest genius who would describe Shehzadeh as the work of an
apprentice and Suleymanieh as that of a journeyman. His humility
must not be mistaken as neurotic self-dislike. Neither are these
the poetic lamentations of a mystic, nor the empty mannerisms of
a seasoned servant of the imperial court.
From diverse accounts of Sinan's life one can construct his temperament
as loyal and courtly to his patrons, exemplary and exacting towards
his staff, indulgent towards his family and humble before his God.
From his royal patrons, his noblemen friends and his students, he
earned titles like "the Eyes of the Engineers; the Capital on the
Column of Builders; the Master of the Masters of his Epoch; the
Foremost of the most dexterous Artisans of his Era; the Euclid of
Time and the Ages; the Royal Chief Architect, the Royal Teacher,
Sinan was not hesitant to borrow from those who had passed before
him. Nor was he afraid of losing his secrets. He carried the memories
of Hellinistic, Roman, Seljuk and early Ottoman architecture of
Bursa. He studied the Byzantine remains of his time and unhesitatingly
sought his inspirations as he repaired Haghia Sophia. He worked
closely with craftsmen from various parts of the empire, especially
the tile makers of Iznik, whose roots were in Persia. His observation
of others only helped to crystalize his own creativity. All the
grand viziers he served were them selves converts to Islam. In his
vast army of `builders' and apprentices there must have been many
from other faiths. To this Yousef who became Abdul-Mennan, this
Anatolian carpenter, stone- cutter who rose to be the Mimarbashi
of Suleyman, the source and destination of all knowledge was God.
He sought without prejudice and gave without malice.
A firm believer, Law-abider, honest in his contracts, honourable
in his conduct, struggler in the rightful causes, humble before
his God, tireless learner, open hearted, pursuer of beauty, perfection
and higher meaning in his architecture, Sinan will remain a model
Muslim artist of history. His strokes are purpose ful and life-enhancing.
He serves the spirit of his art but is not shackled by it. Through
his work he does not merely express his times but shapes the civilization.
And there is a higher purpose to it all, that is, to lend energy
to the creative move ment of man towards the cognizance of God.
In order to understand Sinan beyond his personality and as a phenomenon
or architectural history, we have to pause and look at the dynamics
of architecture, history and civilization. Architec ture and civilization
are ultimately inseparable. Civilization has an innate motivation
to express itself. Through its literature and poetry, its music
and ceremony, its clothing and craft and its art and architecture
come across its most cherished values and its ultimate aspirations.
Through its relationships between the ruler and the ruled, the law
and the citizen, through its systems of social justice, its conventions
of trade and commerce and its codes of conduct we understand its
view of existence and the concept of man. Architecture does not
tell us lies though its manners may be subtle, indirect and implicit.
We consider that the formative forces of architecture in any culture
can be identified as desire to dwell, pursuit of paradise, urge
to transcend time, thirst for knowing and telling and finally to
uphold and creatively interpret the patterns of socio-economic transactions.
Ottomans sculpted, out of the raw materials of history, a culture
and civilization that had all the formative forces for creating
great architecture. From the modest beginnings of Osman Bey in the
Sacaria region in the late 13th century, his fiercely dedicated
sons had built a great empire by the early 16th century. The seventh
generation son of Osman, Mehmet II succeeded in his campagin against
Constantinople in 1453 and was later known as Fatih (the Conquerer).
His son Bayazid II, known as the Pious was deposed by his son Selim
I Yavuz who is remembered as a tireless and severe fighter. He was
the father of the famous Suleyman I Kanuni (the Law-maker) who had
a long and illustrious region from 1520-1566. Selim II and his son
Murad III ruled until 1595. The Ottoman phenomenon had peaked with
Suleyman I and after him a slow decline had begun.
The House of Osman was driven by a monolothic global vision of
Islam. They saw themselves as inheritors of the tradition of the
Prophet and mantle of the Khulafa-i-Rashidin (the Rightly Guided
Caliphs). Their campaigns were against Christian Europe, Memluk
Egypt and what they termed as the heretical, deviated Islam of the
Safavids in Persia. At the risk of being simplistic, one could propose
that the secrets of Ottoman success and unprecedented longevity
in Muslim history, were their systems and institutions. There was
a balance between the sovereign family of Osman, institution of
the Janissary army, sharing of wealth through commerce, military
campaigns and royal gifts, a socially - and environmentally - enlightened
law that extended the intentions of Shariah, visible public endowments
that kept the population well-served and perhaps the complexity
of intrigue and swift retribution, to the extent of death, when
it came to the question of accession. The affairs of the State were
in the hands of a council of ministers, headed by the `Grand Vizier'
who was directly accountable to the Sultan. Many viziers had married
into the family of Osman. Though appointed by the Sultan, the `Grand
Mufti' and his council of ulema, with representatives from diverse
parts of the empire, wielded a braking power on the court. It was
the supremacy of the system and institutions based on a vitalistic
and progressive view of Islam that carried the achievements of Selim
II and Suleyman II well into the late 18th century.
When the flow of history reaches its peaks of energy it starts
taking the attributes of a civilization. Almost miraculously, men
and ideas that are mutually supportive, even synergetic, appear
on the stage of time. Sinan's career as a blossoming janissary engineer
coincided with the most important military campaigns of Persia,
Egypt, Rhodes, Hungary, Vienna, Tabriz and Baghdad. Ibrahim Pasha,
Rustum Pasha and Sokullu Mehmet Pasha, men of incredible capability,
foresight and ambition, rose to the rank of grand viziers during
the same period as Sinan, who outlived all of them. A lady of `Russian
origin' became one of the most powerful and influential, though
invisible, personalities of that period as Queen Haseki Hurrem,
wife and confidante of Sultan Suleyman. She liked Sinan and so did
her daughter Princess Mihr mah Sultan, the wife of Rustum Pasha.
All these patrons and benefactors were deeply committed to arts.
Suleyman himself was head of the goldsmiths' guild and Rustum a
prolific collector of manuscripts, carpets and even tiles. But perhaps
the alchemy of that period is best represented by the coming to
age of the tradition of Waqf and Kulliye.
Waqf in its original Arabic meaning is to pause, to arrest, to
render something inalienably attached. In this sense a waqf is a
duly-chartered endowment towards the building of a pious foundation.
Commercial facilities provide earnings for the maintenance of the
religious, educational and various social programmes. Kulliye, the
complex of public service buildings, has the same etymology as the
Arabic word Kull (the whole) as opposed to the word Juz (the part).
In Arabic Kulliah is also used for a university faculty composed
of colleges and departments. In this sense the Turkish Kulliye represents
an architectural whole composed of harmonious and essential parts.
For Sultan Suleyman I and Selim II, for grand viziers Ibrahim, Rustum,
Kara Ahmet and Sokullu Mehmet Pasha, for Queen Haseki Hurrem, for
Princess Mihrmah Sultan, and for himself, Sinan built pious foundations
and Kulliyes. The resolve to endow them with the intention of the
good of the people in this life, the continuity, almost perpetuity,
of these ethico-social organizations, the physically and phenomenogically
focal place of these `micro- cities' within the larger city, the
sympathetic and engaging relationship of these complexes to the
surrounding environment, all combined to express the culture. A
modest waqf with a small mosque and a courtyard medressah or a grand
kulliye with soaring minarets, a symphony of perfectly balanced
domes, turbehs, gar dens, schools for muezzins, colleges for scholars,
teaching hospitals, asylums, public kitchens, baths and even wrestling
grounds, all of which spoke equally eloquently of the unity- directed
spirit of Islamic environment. Kulliye expressed the microcosm of
social dwelling and carried the `genetic code' for the "City of
Islam". The university city of Suleymanieh, the most magnificent
Kulliye of Ottoman times, crowns and cascades beside the third hill
of Istanbul. It remains the embodiment of an architectural ethic,
that of, `Environmental Sensibility' in the way it responds to the
site and context, `Morphological Integrity', in the way its form
and space, its structure and envelope, and its profile and plan
are all unified, to enhance its purpose, and finally the `Symbolic
Clarity', in the way every element ties, not literally but metaphorically
and ever so quietly, into a rich narrative of the Islamic view of
social existence. The directed march of history provides the energy,
an inspired leader declares his vision, society lends the collective
will and confidence, and time identifies a creative genius to give
shape to it all. To Sinan belongs that honoured station for his
It is not easy to fathom Sinan's technical capability and architectural
virtuosity. No one quite knows the precise numerical and geographic
extent of his work. He has been credited with seventy- five large
and forty-nine small mosques, forty-nine medressahs and seven institutes
for the study of Qur'an, seventeen public kitchens, three hospitals,
seven viaducts, seven bridges, twenty- seven palaces, eighteen caravanserais,
five treasure houses, thirty-one baths and eighteen tombs. To get
a minimal grasp of his approaches to architecture we present our
observations on one of his earliest major works: Shehzadeh Mehmet
Mosque in Istanbul. A detailed study has been done by the author
and his student- college Hatice Yazar on this building in Istanbul.
The method used has three aspects to it: firstly the building was
`experienced' and the perceptual, technical and emotional observations
were discussed at great length. Secondly, a wire model, picking
up the principal points and lines, was built at Carleton University.
This model attempted at superimposition of the spatial and formal
characteristics of Shehzadeh in a `simultaneous' visual experience.
Of course the very process of making this model, revealed relationships
between the expressed form and the en closed space, as well as many
subtleties in the ordering of walls that were not otherwise apparent.
Thirdly, during subsequent visits to the site, extensive photography
of the calligraphic inscriptions was done which brought forth the
hitherto unobserved value of both the content and location of the
`word' in Sinan's buildings. We may summarize our findings as follows:
1. There is a formal purity of shape that is pervasive in Sinan's
work. In Shehzadeh the simultaneity of a cubesphere unit is central
and unmistakable. The building footprints come from the square,
its symmetries and subdivisions. The third dimension is the realm
of the sphere, its subdivisions and the traces of its circular intersections
with imaginary perceptual vertical planes created by the corresponding
aspects of the four columns. Thus come into existence the arched
cuts in planes, both vertical and horizontal. The edges of the arches
in turn, become a strong definer of perceptual, vertical and horizontal
planes. The sensation of a system of central cubic space, surrounded
by prismatic spaces rising into the interpenetrating order of spheres,
is completely unavoidable. There is stillness and unity in space
which suggests that it is the process of subdivision of primal forms
rather than mere addition of spaces and elements. The wire model
shows the distinct perception of edges against a backdrop of forms
that could be either the externally visible building envelope or
the internally `solidified' space. 2. Shehzadeh is one of those
buildings of Sinan where the load transfer and constructional order
is succinct to the point of perhaps being overly obvious. The cruciform
plan here carries the genetic imprint of the structural strategy.
From the crown dome downwards there are three load transferring
systems that operate simultaneously, each interlocking and supportive
of the other. The constructional and load transferring strategy
of the Shehza deh is as clear from the outside as it is from the
inside. It is this particular order that convinces the searching
eye that Sinan, here, was acutely concerned with the techniques
of creating a well-composed, balanced and unified space-enclosure
over a magnificent sacred place.
3. From the building footprints, be they mosques, tombs or baths,
one cannot help noticing that there must be a belief in the significance
of pure shapes, value of the geometric order and the promise of
harmony and beauty through proportion. There is ample historical
evidence for the prevalence of such attitude in Islam ic thought.
From the classical philosopher Al-Kindi to Ibn Khal dun, from Ikhwan-us-Safa
to contemporary writers like Burkhardt, Nasr, Ardalan and Bakhtiar,
El-Said and Parman, one can find reiteration of the belief that
order is a simultaneous attribute of divinity and beauty. Notable
Turkish researchers like Kuran, Arpat, Erden and Tukel-Yavuz have
documented the legacy of romance between geometry and Turko-Islamic
It is important to note that Ibn Khaldun has said: "It requires
either a general or specialized knowledge of proportion and measurement
in order to bring forms (of things) from potentiality into actuality
in the proper manner, and for the knowledge of proportions one must
have recourse to the geometrician". In approaching Shehzadeh in
this attitudinal framework we have discovered four patterns: (a)
A regular grid division, (b) A 1:root 2 proportion of diminishing
squares, (c) A three-dimensional division extending the 1:root 2
proportion, and (d) A 2/3, 3/5, 5/8 proportion that is generated,
based on a 24.5m block within the overall figure.
The different geometric systems that juxtapose, while none com
pletely describing the entire building, show that Sinan, while unmistakably
basing his work on purity and consistency of mathematical relationships,
was not helplessly chained by his own rules.
4. What is unique about the organization of the parts of the Kuliyye
of Shehzadeh Mehmet, and the same is true for Sulemaniyeh and Selimiye,
is the sequential placement of the courtyard, the domed mosque and
the tomb on the axis to Makkah. The courtyard is the place of transition
and purification from the life governed by the rights of society
towards a state of prayer and supplication represented by the mosque.
As the man reaffirms his faith, seeks forgiveness and begs for knowledge
and guidance in every prayer, beyond him is the Turbeh (the earthly
remains) of a sultan, a prince or a queen in the garden of graves
- a reminder of the hereafter, the judgement and the eternity beyond.
The spine of the Kulliye is the architectural allegory of the journey
from the life-giving and purifying fountain in the courtyard to
the still city of the dead with the mosque in between. And this
mosque throbs with the five times daily rhythm of forgetful humanity
reminding itself of its station before God.
It is significant that unlike some other Muslim cultures, the
Ottoman tomb is deliberately humbled in the presence of the mosque.
The memory of the patron lives in the foreverness of the services
that the Kulliye offers and not in the grandness of the tombs. The
powerful magnificence is reserved for the mosque that knows no death.
5. The relationship between the courtyard and the mosque is that
of the earthly garden and the primordial heavenly Musalla (Prayer
Mat). The limitless space of the heavens converges inward from the
top down to the 5x5 square ring of domes, down to the 3x3 open courtyard
and then to the centre ablution kiosk. Stillness and balance is
retained by the location of central entrances on the Makkah axis.
A certain dynamism and movement and Qibla bias is achieved by moving
the lateral entrances by one module towards the mosque.
The mosque is the ultimate Islamic `place'. The floor, the ritually
clean horizontal plane defines the earth, spread out, bounded and
sanctified as the place of gathering and prayer of man before his
God. The floor rises into an earthly cube that culminates into the
`canopy of eternity'. The axis mundi is defined by the centre of
the floor and the apex of the dome. The Qibla axis is defined by
the centre of the courtyard and the mihrab and is accentuated by
the axial entrances. The transverse axis is defined by the bodies,
minds and hearts that line up, shoulder to shoulder, for prayer
with their faces towards the Qibla. The three axes intersect at
the centre that encapsulates the spirit of the `prayer mat' sanctified
by the symmetrically placed four columns and ascending canopy of
domes. The mihrab, the mimbar, the ephemeral planeness and the pattern
of light of the Qibla wall, as opposed to the comparative opaqueness
and solidity of the nartex wall, all combine to confirm the significant
direction. This orientation towards the House of God and the Sacred
Mosque (Bayt-Allah and Masjid Alharam) is a spiritual and emotional
connectedness that globally binds all the believers on earth as
they offer their prayers.
The ultimate symbolic gesture of the courtyard is that the water
that has restored the purity of man aims towards the centre of the
earth. And in the mosque, at the centre of the primordial prayer
mat, as man's body reaches the ultimate state of prostration and
his forehead becomes one with the earth (Sajud), and he exclaims
the highest praises for his Creator, and "his Lord is pleased with
him", his spirit then has established a connection with the Throne
of the Divine in the Heavens.
6. The Qur'an is Gudance from God to man. Being the pure word
of the Creator it is the ultimate focus of sacredness. It is simultaneously
the message with a content as well as the word with a form. The
meaning unfolds at ascending levels of enlightenment on the Way
of Piety. Qur'an is the law, the guidane, the light, the wisdom
and ultimately the logos in the sense that it permeates through
and engulfs the entire Islamic consciousness.
Islamic architecture has approached the Qur'an with four simultaneous
objectives: firstly, the verses are used to express the intentions
and purpose of the building; secondly, to impart sacredness by the
very placement of the word; thirdly, as a medium to achieve and
express beauty and finally, as the magnet and anchor of contemplative
reflection that leads man to the cognizance of deeper Truth and
the higher Meaning of existence.
The interior of Shehzadeh and the other great mosques of Sinan
are like a spiritual journey through an ecstatic world of Qur'anic
beauty. The eye, as it looks around and above in the abject emotion
of supplication, is locked into a constellation of cal ligraphy.
These are neither epic records nor commemorative in scriptions.
Instead they are stations for pious thought that knows no bounds
in the search of its Beloved.
Shehzadeh has five distinct systems of calligraphic inscriptions.
At the apex of the central dome is the most unusual composition
of two concentric circular bands of calligraphy that unmistakably
suggest the prayer to be the believers' ascension (Isra or Mi'rai).
The outer and thus the lower band reads:
Glory to (God) who did take his servant for a journey by night
from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque, whose precincts We
did bless, - in order that We might show him some of Our signs:
for he is the one who Heareth and Seeth (all things). He gave Moses
the book, and made it a guide to the Children of Israel, - (Commanding):
"Take not other than He as disposer of (your) affairs". (Sura 17,
The inner and upper band that sets the final convergence to the
Heavenly Axis contains Al-Fatiha, the seven verse Sura which is
accepted as the Kernel of the Qur'an.
The second system is at crowns of the four half domes where we
find the verses that once again are surprinsingly succinct in relating
the architecture of the mosque to the act of prayer. Starting with
the crown of the Qibla directed half dome, the inscriptions continue
to the other three:
"We see the turning of your face (for guidance) to the heavens:
now shall We turn you to a Qibla that shall please you. Turn your
face in the direction of the Sacred Mosque: wherever you are, turn
your faces in that direction. The people of the Book know well that
that is the truth from their Lord. Nor is God unmindful of what
they do. Even if you were to bring to the People of the Book all
signs (together), they would not follow your Qibla; nor are you
going to follow their Qibla; nor indeed will they follow each other's
Qibla. If you after the knowledge has reached you were to follow
their (vain) desires, then you would indeed (clearly) be in the
wrong". (Sura 2 Verse 144-145).
The third system of inscriptions is at the level of the eight
exedral domes. The four on the Qibla side of the trasverse mid-
plane carry a verse testifying the belief of the Holy Prophet Muhammad
(mpbuh) and the affirmation of the faith of the believers:
"The Apostle believes in what hath been revealed to him from his
Lord, as do the men of faith. Each one (of them) believes in God,
His angels, His books and His apostles. "We make no distinction
(they say) between one and another of His apolstles". And they say:
"We hear and we obey: (we seek) forgivness, our Lord, and to You
is the end of all journeys". (Sura 2, Verse 285).
The four exedral domes on the backside, that is the ones on the
path of exit after the prayer, contain the reassurance of God's
kindness in not burdening a soul beyond its capacities and the prescription
of a most beautiful prayer:
On no soul does God place a burden greater than it can bear. It
gets every good that it earns, and it suffers every ill that it
earns. (Pray:) "Our Lord! Condemn us not if we forget or fall into
error. Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden like that which you did
lay on those before us. Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden greater
than we have strength to bear. Blot out our sins, and grant us forgiveness.
Have mercy on us. You are our Protector; help us against those who
stand against faith". (Sura 2, Verse 286)
The fourth system of inscription is made up of the sacred adjectival
names of God and appear in eight directional callipgraphic medallions
on the four major pendentives. And finally the system of inscriptions
on the top of the entrances to the mosque contain the verses extolling
the obligatory nature of prayer.
There is little doubt that in the mosques of Sinan, as exemplified
by Shehzadeh, the `Word of God' is used, as perhaps the most powerful
yet non-obvious instrument, to reinforce the architectural intentions.
Shehzadeh outlines the essential principles of Sinan's architecture:
simultaneity of opposites without contradictions; explicit order
without rigidity; implicit meaning without mythological mystique;
preciousness without indulgent opulence; hierarchy without stratification;
illusion without trickery; respect and not subservience to materials;
and craft in the service of archi tecture and not as an end in itself.
Turkey adores Sinan, romanticizes his life and names their sons
after him. He is among the few architects of the world to appear
on the currency notes and have a university bear his name. But neither
contemporary Turkish architecture, nor the architecture of Muslims
in general, show any sign of his inspirational presence. It would
be blindness to treat him as a mere function ary of the Ottoman
empire and thus irrelevant to the present times. Like Salman, the
One from Faris, Sinan deserves to be called the "Son of Islam".
His legacy is not the exclusive owner ship of a city, a dynasty
or a republic. He belongs to the civilization of Islam and will
dwell in the vision of all who aim for it.
About the Author, Gulzar Haidar
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