Mosques in Turkey

Religious structures are a significant part of a specific culture. As you may already know, Turkey is a country where the majority of the population is Muslim. So, it is no surprise that there are lots of mosques in Turkey since the mosques are sacred praying buildings for Muslims.

There is little to no chance for you to not seeing a mosque while you are in Turkey. If you are from a place where the majority of the population are not Muslims, seeing a different religious place that has a completely different design and architectural properties can be quite interesting. This article is designed for you to understand mosques in Turkey comprehensively.

What is a mosque? 

A mosque is the name of a sacred place in Islam. To be more specific, a mosque refers to the structure built for Muslim individuals to perform their prayers, in addition to other religious rituals conducted here. 

Mosques are not just a place for participating in the religious duties, but it is also a place for socializing and a center for political issues sometimes. Besides, sometimes mosques are used as an education center for teaching the young people or to the people who want to learn about Islam, prayers, and understanding Qur’an. 

Importance of the mosques in Turkish culture

Mosques are a great part of Turkish culture. If religion is believed by the majority of the people in a country, it is inevitable for religion to influence the culture. Even the people that are not Muslims in Turkey are aware of the fact that mosques have a great part in the culture, and they should respect it. Of course, the significance of the mosques in the Turkish culture is greater among people who consider themselves Muslims.

In most of the religions of the world, unity and togetherness are encouraged. This is valid for Islam as well. Islam is a religion where helping others (regardless of the religion of the person) and togetherness takes a great place. Mosques are a significant part of unity and togetherness. 

There are wedding ceremonies and funerals held in the mosques. Those practices further support the idea that mosques are also a place for socialization and togetherness. Being together at bad times (like funerals) is a great way of showing social support. Mosques are great places for showing social support and togetherness. Likewise, people want to share their happiness as well as their sadness, and the wedding ceremonies in mosques are another way of social support, but in a happy way. 

The architecture of Mosques in Turkey

As you may already know, religious structures have an architectural style of their own, in a way that you can understand that it is the religious structure of a certain religion when you look from far away. The architecture of mosques in Turkey is also like that, once you see a mosque you will be able to point to another mosque knowing that it is a mosque as well. 

Today, most of the architectural properties of the mosques in Turkey are influenced by the work of Mimar Sinan’s works on the past (“Mimar” means architect in Turkish). Insomuch that, there are quite a few mosques that can be categorized differently from Mimar Sinan’s influence on the mosques in Turkey. 

Even though one can observe some variety in terms of the architectural properties of mosques around the world, there are some structures that must take place in every mosque. The following are some of the most common structures that take place in mosques, and the ones that you can observe in the mosques of Turkey.

Dome

Dome, or Qubba, is the name of the architectural structure that is designed for covering the top of a structure, serving as a rooftop. Architecturally, domes have a great history that goes back to many years ago. Besides, domes are an indispensable part of the mosques, and it is one of the parts that make a mosque unique.

Domes became very popular after the 14th century in the Ottoman Empire, as a form of panda dome, a blend of two architectural styles. Turkish architects preferred small domes at the beginning of the widening of domes, but especially after conquering Istanbul, mosques with bigger domes were started to be built. 

Today, the mosques in Turkey continue this big dome tradition that comes from the Ottoman Empire. The domes in the mosques are typically covered with geometric shapes. 

Prayer Hall

Prayer hall is a part of the mosque that takes place on the inside. It is the place of the mosques where people participate in prayers. Since this part is only for the prayers, there is nothing there. Prayer in Islam does not require any tools or furniture, and people pray by doing specific movements on the floor. So, people choose a place for themselves in the prayer hall and do their prayers here. As in every part of the mosques, the prayer hall part is also covered with carpets. 

Even though there is no furniture or other tools in prayer halls, there can be bookshelves on the walls of prayer halls. The bookshelves are used for storing Qur’an and other religious books related to Islam. 

Minaret

The minaret is an important component of a mosque that is typically has a thinly designed tower with balconies and a cone on top. It is the place in which the call for prayer (named ezan) is made. The call of prayer is made 5 times a day, and you can hear it frequently while you are in Turkey. There can be multiple minarets in a mosque. 

The minaret is an important component, and you can see it in almost all mosques of Turkey. Yet, it is not a compulsory part of a mosque. In other words, it is possible to see mosques without minarets.

Mihrab

Mihrab is another part of the mosque, where the imam (muslim religious leader or priest in a mosque) stands when he is leading a prayer for the people in the mosque. Mihrab has a structure that looks like it is a cavity in the wall, and has lots of recesses. It takes place in the qibla(towards Kaaba that is located in the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia) direction. 

Mihrab is built with cavities on the qibla wall of the mosque, and it is surrounded by inscriptions and/or other decorations. There are mihrabs made from tile, marble, or wood, which has a quite big architectural value. In addition to the decorations and inscriptions, some mihrabs include a verse from Qur’an. 

Minbar

Minbar is the name of the place where the imam reads a sermon to the people at the mosque. It has a structure consisting of stairs and typically takes place on the right-hand side of the mihrab. The reason for minbar has a structure with stairs is for the imam to be heard by everyone at the mosque. 

Ablution Area

Ablution is the name of the wash that people need to do before any form of religious duty in Islam, and as the mosques are a huge part of the religious duties, there must be a place for conducting ablution in mosques. It is built like a washroom with taps where people can do ablution easily. Besides, there can be another ablution area at the yard of the mosques, called “şadırvan”. Şadırvan has a dome just like the mosque, but as you can guess it is a lot smaller.

Rugs

Rugs are an indispensable part of the mosques, as according to Islam one should pray somewhere clean. For many years, Muslim people used rugs and special carpets to perform their prayers in a clean place. Even though there are lots of different prayer rugs now, the traditional ones include an arch pointing out the qibla. 

Shoe Shelf

Cleanness is an important part of Islam, and it goes without saying that cleanness in mosques is valued a lot. So, no one should enter the mosque with their shoes on. Everyone should take off their shoes, put them on the shoe shelf, and enter the mosque. Shoe shelf takes place in almost every mosque around the world, as it is a practical way for storing the shoes before entering the mosque. 

History of the architecture of mosques in Turkey

Every structure has a history in terms of the architectural value assigned to them, and a place where the majority of the population are Muslims, it is impossible to overlook the history of architectural values of mosques. After the sumptuous mosques built in the Ottoman Empire by famous architects, it can be observed that there was a decrease in the success of mosques in terms of architecture in Turkey. As I mentioned earlier, most of the mosques built after the establishment of the republic in Turkey, are sort of replicas of the legendary mosques built in the Ottoman Empire. 

First years of the republic and mosques in Turkey

The first years of the establishment of the Republic of Turkey were not a great period in terms of mosque architecture. The main reason for this is that, after the Turkish Independence War and the World War I. the number of mosques was enough for the population. Yet after the end of World War II. lead to lots of migrations from villages to big cities, and the economics started to became better. These events made it inevitable for the need for a larger number of mosques in Turkey. 

Mosques in the 1950s in Turkey

The 1950s was a decade where slums and unplanned urbanization was dominating the city planning, and one can observe the places of mosques in those terms very conveniently. Even though qualified architectural designers and designs were available in the 1950s, the mosques at that time, unfortunately, could not benefit from those. Instead, the mosques in the 1950s in Turkey were nothing more than a bad replica of the amazing mosques built in the past. 

Modern and Traditional conflict in the mosque architecture in Turkey

After the unsuccessful architectural designs of mosques in Turkey in the 1950s, mosques became an important part of the city planning and constructions. Yet, the situation had not changed so much until the 1990s, even though lots of mosques were built between those dates, no mosque that would take place on the important mosques of Turkey was built.

As an exception, two architecturally significant mosques were built in this period, named Kocatepe Mosque and The Mosque of the Turkish Grand National Assembly. These two mosques are accepted as the greatest examples of the modern and traditional conflict in the mosque architecture in Turkey, and they are accepted among the most significant mosques of Turkey. 

Kocatepe Mosque was first designed to be a modern mosque, but the situations of that time lead to it having a great influence from the Ottoman periods. The Mosque of the Turkish Grand National Assembly, on the other hand, is a great example of modern mosque architecture in Turkey. The Mosque of the Turkish Grand National Assembly exposed to much criticism, as it lacks one of the common structures that are present in always every mosque. 

After the 2000s

The biggest steps in the architecture of mosques in Turkey did not happen until the 2000s. Most of the qualified mosques in the history of the Turkey Republic are built after the 2000s. Today, one can observe thousands of mosques all around Turkey. 

What are mosques used for in Turkey?

As I mentioned earlier, mosques are not just a place for prayers, but it serves for many different things, all tied to religion, of course. The usage of mosques in different contexts are good illustrations of how mosques take place in the culture of Turkey. 

Prayers

The first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions the reasons for mosques to be used, is, of course, prayers. In Islam, a Muslim must pray 5 times a day, and some people prefer to pray in a mosque with other people whereas some prefer to do it alone. 

Yet, some specific prayers in Islam must be done with other people, and they typically take place in the mosques. Typically, men prefer mosques for the prayers. Women can also pray in the mosques, but they must do it in the special areas separated for women in the mosques. 

Marriage Ceremonies

The marriage ceremonies in Islam are referred to as “nikah”, and they are done in the mosques. An imam must be present when the nikah being conducted in the order for it to be valid in Islam. Different from the regular wedding ceremonies, there is no alcohol, no music, or no dresses that could be considered inappropriate in Islam. 

Funerals

Funerals are a significant part of any religion, and of course, mosques have great significance when it comes to funerals in Islam. To show unity and togetherness, everyone that can come to the funeral prayer in the mosque is coming to the funeral prayer. Only men could participate in the funeral prayer. Unless there is a weather condition that prevents funeral prayer from being done outside of the mosque. If the weather is so bad that the prayer cannot be done outside, then it can be done on the inside. 

Religious Courses in the Summertime

Another function of the mosques is serving as an education center, in terms of religion. Some people want their children to learn Islam and Qur’an in the best way possible, and they think that religious courses are a great opportunity for that.

Religious Islam courses in mosques take place typically in the summer months. Boys and girls are not educated in the same place, they actually register for the different courses. Religious duties and practices such as reading and understanding the Qur’an, how to practice a prayer, how to do ablution properly, etc. all taught in the religious courses. A girl who successfully finished the religious course is expected to wear the hijab if she is not already wearing it. 

Mevlüts

Mevlüts, or Mevlids, refers to the day of the Prophet Mohammed was born. However, mevlüts are known as a sort of religious celebration for the times when someone returns from the pilgrimage, military service, or a baby was born, in addition to the sacred nights. Besides the celebrations, mevlüts can be done for mourning periods such as the 40th day of death. 

Those celebrations or acts of service can be done by mevlüts in mosques. Or, people can invite the imam to their homes to conduct mevlüt at their homes.

Call for Prayers (Ezan)

Call for prayers, or ezan is the call made from minarets for Muslims in the Arabic language. Call for prayer takes 5 times a day, to remember the Muslims that it is the time to pray. Call of prayer, or ezan, had been mentioned in multiple verses of the Qur’an. While you are in Turkey, you will be able to hear a call for prayers a lot. The following is the translation of ezan, sentence by sentence if you ever wonder what are they saying.

“God is the greatest

I declare that there is no deity except God

I declare that Mohammad is the envoy of God

Let’s go for prayer

Let’s go to liberation

Prayer is more beneficial than sleep (only in the morning call)

God is the greatest

There is no deity except God”

Sela

Sela is the name of the special prayer call and means prayer in Arabic. It is known as a prayer type that Prophet Mohammed used to beg for mercy from God. It consists of prayers called in a specific rhythm or prayers called in a normal way. 

The “specialty” of Sela prayer is due to the fact that it is not called every day, instead, there must be a special occasion to call the Sela prayer. As I mentioned earlier, Friday prayer has a great significance in Islam, and instead of the regular prayer call, Sela takes place here. 

Another place where the Sela is necessary is when someone dies. You can hear the Sela coming from the minaret of a mosque, stating that a person died recently, and you are expected to their funeral prayer. Of course, funeral Sela is not just randomly assigned to the mosques. If a person died from a neighborhood, the mosque in the neighborhood is responsible for the Sela prayer dedicated to them. Other than that, Sela can be called in the bayrams (feasts of Islam).

How to visit mosques in Turkey

Different religions have different rules that are expected to be followed in their sacred places, and mosques are not an exception. Sacred places are places that you should be respectful of, even if you are not believing in the sacred place mentioned. There are some things that you should know before visiting a mosque in Turkey that would help you to have a better mosque visit experience.

Dress Code

Even though there is a strict dress code of Islam especially for women, as you are just going there for visiting purposes you do not need to follow that strict dress code. But still, you need to be covering your hair with a piece of cloth. It is highly recommended to wear something modest before visiting a mosque. So, keep in mind to try to wear something that covers your legs and shoulders, if you are able to, as a sign of respect.

Men do not need to be covering their hair while entering the mosque. The dress code for men is a lot more flexible when it comes to men, but still, keep in mind not to wear something too tight or show too much skin.

If you do not have something to cover your head to enter a mosque, then you can find one from the entrance of the mosque. Additionally, you need to take your shoes off before entering the mosque. Islam values cleanness a lot, and the place where the people performing prayers must be clean. Everyone takes off their shoes before entering the mosque, and you should too. You can put your shoes on the shoe shelves that take place at the entrance of the mosques. 

Prayer times and visiting hours

Prayer times in Islam changes daily (daily changes are not that big, only minute-wise), based on the movements of the sun. Not everyone chooses to pray on the mosque in every single 5 prayers of the day, so unless there is not a different situation, the mosque would be probably available for visiting every hour of the day. Different mosques have different visiting hours, so checking the visiting hours of the mosque that you will visit is highly recommended.

An exception about the prayers in the mosque is the Friday prayer. Friday prayer has a great significance in Islam, and it must be done in a mosque. So, mosques get filled with people who came for the Friday prayer on Fridays. If you have the chance, try to visit on a day different from Friday, or get to the mosque when the prayer is over or had not started yet. 

Other Rules and things to avoid

Even though you are not a Muslim and a mosque does not really mean anything to you except the architectural value and is an interesting structure, please keep in mind that it is a sacred place for many people. It is well-known and tolerated in Turkey that mosques are being visited by people that came not for praying but to see the surroundings. As they are respecting your reason for being there, you need to respect them as well.

Keep in mind to keep your volume at a minimum level. Even though you are visiting a mosque while it is not a prayer time, people can choose to pray another time than a prayer time as well. In other words, there can always be people who are praying at a mosque. Do not laugh out loud or talk too loudly while others are praying. Besides, try to keep your flash turned off while taking pictures.

If you are visiting a mosque with children, warn them before you enter to behave nicely. Children are valued in Islam and their acts will be tolerated more, but it still can be uncomfortable for people to see children running or screaming while they are praying.

If you are visiting a mosque with your significant other, then keep in mind that a mosque is not an appropriate place for showing your love with physical contact. What means here by the physical contact consists of every kind of act, including holding hands.

Alevism sect of Islam and Mosques in Turkey

Up to this point, I am assuming that you became very familiar with the idea that the mosques carry great significance for Islam and Muslim individuals. The situation is indeed like that, but with some exceptions. There are different sects of Islam where different viewpoints to the mosques have arisen at some point in history.

The most well-known viewpoint that can be considered as the “outlier” when it comes to a viewpoint of mosques in different sects of Islam belongs to Alevism. Different from other sects of Islam, Alevi people do not go to mosques, ever. The most common idea about why Alevis does not go to mosques is rooted in the event where the Prophet Ali, the leader of Alevism, was murdered in a mosque while doing his prayer. 

Even though there are lots of other theories about why Alevis are not going to mosques, this one is the most popular and known. So, to clear things a little bit, not every Muslim goes to the mosques!

Aid Campaigns in Mosques

If you ever visit a mosque in Turkey, there is a chance for you to see an aid campaign, or just a small box sitting there and people putting money into that box. As I mentioned earlier, togetherness and unity are valued a lot in Islam.

There are lots of different aid campaigns are running in different mosques of Turkey. The campaigns include things like helping the people around the neighborhood in terms of money and food, using the money for the repair of the mosque, or using the money for educational purposes. Additionally, there are aid campaigns in mosques where they are raising money to build other mosques to the places where there is a need.

If you want to donate to an aid campaign in a mosque, you can use the box that is placed in there. If you cannot see a box but you still want to donate, you can find websites where you can donate to the mosques. Keep in mind to investigate where are you donating and if they will use the money you are donating for that specific purpose.

Examples of some of the Significant Mosques in Turkey

There are thousands of mosques in Turkey, with different vibes, architectures, history, and designs. All of them have their own beauty, but some of them are so beautiful in a way that an exception must be made. The following are some of the best mosques in Turkey. 

Selimiye Mosque

View of Interior of the Selimiye Mosque, Edirne

Selimiye Mosque is one of the most dazzling mosques of Turkey, and you will not be able to forget about Selimiye Mosque for a long time. Selimiye Mosque takes place in Edirne, and the architect of the Selimiye Mosque is Mimar Sinan. 

Mimar Sinan was a worldwide known Ottoman architect, and he referred to the Selimiye Mosque as “my masterpiece”. So, if you are interested in the wonderful architectural designs of mosques in the Ottoman period, Selimiye Mosque must be on your to-do list.

Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque)

Another Ottoman period masterpiece is the Sultanahmet Mosque, which is also as known as Blue Mosque. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions of Istanbul and has a rich history in addition to a wonderful design. Even though today this mosque is still functioning as a worship center, you can visit it as well.

Süleymaniye Mosque

Another work of Mimar Sinan is the Süleymaniye Mosque that takes place in Istanbul. Mimar Sinan refers to this mosque as a work of his journeyman times. Süleymaniye Mosque is a part of a big complex named Süleymaniye Complex. Evliya Çelebi, the famous Ottoman traveler, mentioned Süleymaniye Mosque many times in his writings.

Şakirin Mosque 

If you were researching about the mosques of Turkey, there is a chance for you to not seeing this mosque anywhere. This is because the Şakirin Mosque is relatively new, and has no historical significance like the other mosques in Istanbul. Still, this mosque is unique as it is considered the most modern mosque in Turkey.

If you are sort of familiar with the architecture of the mosques in Turkey, then the Şakirin Mosque can seem a little bit strange to you. Still, if you want to see a mosque that is quite different from the other mosques, then visiting the Şakirin Mosque would be a good option.

Great Mosque Divriği 

Great Mosque of Divriği

Great Mosque Divriği takes place in Sivas, and it is one of the most mystical and wonderful mosques of Turkey. The design and the fine workmanship on the mosque are one hundred percent worth seeing. Besides, Great Mosque Divriği takes place on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Great Mosque Divriği is a part of a big complex, and this complex also has a hospital in it. The hospital and the mosque are typically mentioned together. Great Mosque Divriği has many things to tell and show to you. 

Hagia Sophia Mosque

Hagia Sophia Mosque has a quite interesting history, and one can observe it was first built as a church, then it was transformed into a mosque just to be transformed to a church once again. For many years, Hagia Sophia remained as a church and served as a museum in Istanbul. 

However, recently (in 2020) Hagia Sophia transformed into a mosque once again and today it is open for prayer practices and visitors. Regardless of its label as a mosque, church, or museum, Hagia Sophia is a structure that you must see once in your lifetime.

Frequently asked questions about mosques

Different structures of different religions can be quite interesting if you are not familiar with them. Even though you are familiar with mosques, visiting them can be interesting as well. The following are some of the most frequently asked questions about mosques that can help you before visiting mosques.

How many mosques are there in Turkey? 

There are 82.693 mosques in Turkey, according to the last data collected.

What is the name of the biggest mosque in Turkey?

The biggest mosque of Turkey is named “Grand Çamlıca Mosque”

Can women enter the mosques in Turkey?

Yes, they can. But you should follow the dress code.

How should I dress while visiting a mosque in Turkey?

You should dress modestly, and cover your hair with a piece of cloth if you are a woman. If you are a man, there is no need for you to cover your hair but you should wear something modest as well.

İsmail Çamönü

Hi! I am Ismail. I am a digital nomad from Turkey. I lived in many cities around Turkey during my life and I am passionate about traveling. At Nomad's Guide to Turkey, I share travel tips for nomads, expats, and tourists who would like to visit Turkey.

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