Thursday, November 30, 2017

Bibi-Heybat Mosque - Baku, Azerbaijan

96.9% of the population of Azerbaijan is Muslim and 85% of the Muslims are Shia. The other 15% are Sunni. Azerbaijan has the second highest Shia population in the world, after its neighbor, Iran. However, given those numbers, 49% of the population said religion was not an important part of their daily life (2010 Gallup Poll) and only 7% are ardent believers (1998 poll). 
Bibi-Heybat Mosque
Islam came to the Caucasus with the Ummayads in the 8th century and Shia Islam was established in the 16th century by the Safavids, the same time it was established in Iran. Before the Soviets gained control in Azerbaijan, there were 2,000 active mosques. After the Soviets took control, most of the mosques closed in the 1930s. In the 1980s there were only two large and five smaller mosques holding services in Baku and only 11 operating in the rest of the country. 
Bibi-Heybat from the front, across the busy main highway.
From the back.
From the side. 
In the 7th century a dispute in Baghdad between the 7th and 8th Shiite Imams resulted in the 7th Imam and his family moving to Khorasan, Iran. After the 7th Imam died his tomb became a pilgrimage site for Shiite Muslims and it is now one of the major religious centers for Shiites, after Mecca and Karbala. The 7th Imam's daughter, Okuma Khanim, or Ukeyma Khanum, moved to Baku and settled near the Caspian Sea and led the life of a holy woman. 
This photo, from the rear of the mosque, shows dockyards on the Caspian Sea and downtown Baku in the background. 
After she died a small crypt was erected over her grave. Over time the site was declared a holy place and many religious people, including sheiks, began to settle nearby. The name of the area was thus called Sheikhovo, then later Shikhovo. Eventually, between 1264 and 1266, the small Bibi Heybat Mosque was built over the tomb. It was not proper to call it the Ukeyma Khanum Mosque, after the name of a woman, but Ukeyma Khanum had a devoted servant named Heybat. In Azeri, "bibi" means aunt. So the name of the mosque is the mosque of Heybat's aunt. The inscription over her tomb says, "Here was buried Ukeyma Khanum, a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, the granddaughter of the sixth [Shiite] Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq, the daughter of the Seventh Imam Musei Kazym, sister of the eighth Imam Riza." The two minarets were built from 1305 to 1313. In 1911 the mosque and tomb were reconstructed. The Soviets took control of Azerbaijan in the 1920s and the Bolsheviks blew up the mosque in 1934 as part of an anti-religion campaign instituted by Stalin. 

In 1994, three years after Azerbaijan gained independence, president Heydar Aliyev ordered construction of the mosque at the same place where it was destroyed. The layout and size were based on photographs taken shortly before the explosion and on records of travelers who had visited. The new Bibi-Heybat Mosque was dedicated on July 11, 1997 in a ceremony attended by President Heydar Aliyev. The mosque is built of local limestone and has three domes, the insides of which are decorated with green and turquoise mirrors, bordered with gilded inscriptions from the Quran.
The men's prayer room. The mirhab is at the back.
The mihrab.
A rug hanging in the prayer room with a Quran open on a stand and a saber underneath. 
The startling and striking green and turquoise mirrored dome. 
A closer view - very beautiful.
The floor rug partitioned into individual praying spots. 
Turbah, small clay disks used by Shiites during prayer. 
The mausoleum is in the center of the mosque and the men's prayer room is on the south side and the women's prayer room is on the north side. 
Entrance to the mausoleum. The heavy, dark green was kind of shocking to the senses. I wasn't prepared for that as we walked in. 
The tomb, surrounded by a grating. It was very crowded while we were there and not picture friendly. 
The dome above the tomb. The green domes of this mosque are what really stood out to me. 
The top center of the dome. 
The very top of the tomb is at the bottom and the dome above it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Juma Mosque - Shamakhi, Azerbaijan

Shamakhi, Azerbaijan is 66 miles from the capitol city of Baku. We stopped at the Juma Mosque, also known as the Friday Mosque, there on our way to the Caucasus Mountains. I am assuming the terms Juma and Friday both relate to the concept of Jama Masjid, which refers to the main mosque of a town, the place where Friday prayers, the primary day of worship in Islam, take place. 
Located along the main road in Shamakhi.
A head on view.
A closer side view. Note the white "headstone" to the left. 
Inscriptions on the "headstone" were in several languages. The English inscription gives a brief history. 
Juma Mosque was the second mosque in the Caucasus (the region, including the mountain range, stretching southeast from Sochi, Russia to Baku). It has had a tortured history. It was originally built in 743 to 744 (really early considering Mohammed died in 632) after the Ummayads conquered the area. The mosque was destroyed by Georgians in the first half of the 12th century and was rebuilt near the end of the 12th century. At that time the glory of Shamakhi was said to overshadow the glory of Bukhara (in Uzbekistan). Remodeling of the mosque was noted in the mid-17th century. In 1859 an earthquake caused great damage and reconstruction was begun in 1860. An even stronger earthquake in 1902 destroyed the mosque. In 1918, while still under reconstruction, it was destroyed and then burned by Armenians.  I don't find any history of the mosque until 2009 when restoration of the mosque was initiated by President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan. It appears that while Shamakhi was part of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, from 1920 to 1991, religion was suppressed and the mosque lay in ruins. 
This area in front, a mixture of ruins and landscape, was between the road and the mosque. Although I find nothing on it, I assume this is a nod to the period when the mosque was in ruins, a little preservation of the past. 
The restoration was completed in 2013 and the inside is simple and gorgeous. The mosque has a three-hall structure, each a quadratic section connected by open and large apertures. Each is said to have a separate mihrab, although I only noticed a mihrab in the center hall. 
The main, central hall, is in the foreground with the highly decorated mihrab to the left. People are praying right in front and the minbar is to its right. Another hall is visible through the arches in the background. 
One of the side halls. A little more simple. Beautiful earth colored stone. 
The mihrab is huge, one of the largest I can recall.
A closer view of the beautiful color and decoration on the mihrab.
The mosque is particularly distinctive for its lighting and ceiling decorations. 
I love everything about this light fixture and dome. 
Beautiful calligraphy on a border around the upper wall. 
Muqarna are geometric subdivisions of squinches or cupolas, into a sort of cellular structure. Here they decorate the top of a wall.  
A beautiful carpet segmented into individual prayer spaces. 
A hallway ceiling and light fixture.
A new aspect of Islam we learned in Azerbaijan was that of the turbah. A turbah is a small clay disk used during daily prayers to symbolize earth. Its use is compulsory in most Shia schools of Islam and Azerbaijan has quite a few Shia adherents. While prostrating during prayer, the forehead is placed on the turbah, which is placed on the carpet. Many turbah are made from clay from Karbala, particularly important to the Shia, where Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of Muhammad, was martyred.  Sunni Muslims reject use of the turbah, claiming they are an innovation, something not used by Muhammad or his companions. 
A stand holding turbah
Individual turbah. Note, many are cracked, chipped and broken. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Emin Minaret - Turpan, China

There are 39,000 mosques in China and 25,000 of them are located in the northwestern Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Of those mosques, Emin Minaret, just outside of Turpan, Xinjiang A.R. is the tallest. 
The minaret, in height and heft, dwarfs the mosque next to it. I assume the stone figure to the left is Emin Khoja.
The minaret is made of sun-dried yellow bricks. It is 144 feet tall, 46 feet in diameter at its base, and then tapers to 9 feet at the top. The bricks are placed in 15 different geometric and floral mosaic patterns and are a mixture of Chinese and Islamic patterns only found in minarets in China. The patterns include waves, flowers and rhombuses (equilateral quadrilaterals).  There are long narrow windows placed at different heights and facing different directions to provide ventilation and light. Inside is a 72 step spiral staircase to the top. 
Amazingly intricate brickwork in the minaret.
The minaret with tombs in the foreground. 
The minaret was built from 1777 to 1778 to honor the Turpan general, and later Turpan governor, Emin Khoja. Emin was a Uyghur. Uyghurs are of Turkic origin and one of 55 recognized ethnic minorities in China. The Uyghurs primarily practice Islam. The Uyghurs, under Emin Khoja, joined with the Qing Empire to defeat the Dzungar Mongols in the Turpan area in the 1750s.  

The Emin Minaret is also referred to as Emin Ta, Suliman's Minaret and Su Gong Ta. "Su" is an abbreviation of Suliman, "Gong" means Duke and "Ta" means tower in Chinese. Emin had eight children and one of his children, Suliman, or Suleman, inherited his father's rank after his father's death, and became the second Turpan ruler. Suliman financed the minaret to honor his father. 

The famous minaret stands next to a virtually nameless mosque. I've seen the mosque referred to as the mosque, Uyghur (or Uighur) Mosque and Su Gong Ta Mosque. 
We were blocked from going up this stairway and getting a different vantage point of the minaret.
These distinctive pointed arch doorways mirror the mihrab and I believe the mihrab may be directly in line of sight. 
Inside the domed entryway.
It has a feature I've not seen in a mosque before, that is a mihrab (the part of the mosque that faces Mecca) that is a pointed-arch niche, enclosed on three sides, but open to a large covered courtyard on the fourth side (we were not able to get close enough to go get a good look inside). The outer prayer hall, where the mihrab is located, is full of wood timber pillars that support wooden beams and a wood ceiling and the floor is covered in carpets. A barrier prevented us from entering into the prayer hall. 
The pointed arch niche is straight back on the far-end wall. 
Wooden pillars and the customary prayer-friendly carpets. 
I believe the picture above features a stele that has both Uyghur and Chinese writing. The Uyghur provides verses from the Quran and the Chinese writing praises the Qing government and tells about construction of the minaret. To the back and one side of the mosque were tombs. My pictures of the mosque from the front show dull gray brick and from the back and sides show a prettier brown. I believe the brick is more gray and the more beautiful brown may have been enhanced color from the more magical evening sunlight. 
These two prominent mausoleums may perhaps house the remains of Emin Khoja and his son, Suliman. However, this is just conjecture on my part. I find nothing that references the mausoleums. 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Turkmenbashi Ruhy Mosque - Ashgabat

Before I get to the mosque, which was named after Saparmurat Niyazov, the president of Turkmenistan, I'm going to give a little history of Niyazov which puts the mosque in a different light. 

Saparmurat Niyazov was born February 19, 1940 in Gypjak, seven kilometers west of Ashgabat, in the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic.  His father died (a) either fighting Nazi Germany in WWII or (b) sentenced to death by a military court for dodging fighting (I have my suspicions that the less glorious end was his fate). His mother and siblings were killed in the October 6, 1948 7.3 or 10.0 magnitude earthquake (I've seen references to both - but the higher figure appears to be Turkmeni propaganda) that hit Ashgabat and killed about 110,000 (some articles say 176,000 - again the higher figure appears to be propaganda) people. Orphaned, he grew up in a Soviet orphanage. The Halk Hakydasy Memorial Complex  includes the Ruhy Tagzym Monument which is dedicated ostensibly to the survivors of the 1948 earthquake, but really appears to be a tribute to Niyazov. It is a bull holding the earth on its horns, giving it a good shake. The earth is full of dead people, and a woman is holding a baby up to save it. The baby stands out as it is all in gold leaf and is Niyazov being held up by his mother who died in the earthquake. 
The golden Niyazov in the hands of his mother. 
A side view of the same monument. 
Jumping forward, Niyazov became Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Turkmen SSR in 1990, the equivalent of president. On October 27, 1991, Turkmenistan declared independence from the failing Soviet Union and Niyazov was appointed as the first president. In June 1992 he was the sole candidate for president and become the first elected president of Turkmenistan. In 1999 Niyazov was declared President for Life by the Turkmeni Parliament. He was considered one of the world's most totalitarian and repressive dictators. 
There are lots of monuments to Niyazov. Here is a large gold one of his image. 
Niyazov wrote a book called the Ruhnama, which means the Book of the Soul, a first volume in 2001 and a second volume in 2004. It was about morals, philosophy and how to conduct one's life. In March 2006 Niyazov said that he had interceded with God to ensure that any student who read the Ruhnama three times would automatically get into heaven. The government required that it be prominently displayed in bookstores and government offices and even to be displayed as prominently in mosques as the Quran. Apparently some imams refused to comply, indicating the request was blasphemous, and a number of mosques were destroyed by the government as a result. In 2004 the teaching of physics, algebra and physical education stopped in Turkmenistan and students were encouraged to memorize the Ruhnama instead and chant slogans praising Niyazov. It was required reading in schools, universities and government organizations and questions about it were on the driving test and in government job interviews. There is a large statue of the Ruhnama in Ashgabat and each evening at 8:00 p.m. the cover opens and a recorded passage is read from the Ruhnama along with an accompanying video. 
The bizarre Rhunama monument with gold leaf images arrayed around the edges. 
We were not there for the 8:00 p.m. opening of the book. That would have been fun. 
Niyazov died on December 21, 2006 in his home village of Gypjak. He was buried in the pre-prepared mausoleum near the Turkmenbashi Ruhy Mosque, also known as the Gypjak Mosque, he built in his hometown, which opened in October 2004. Turkmenbashi was Niyazov's self proclaimed title. It means "Leader of all Turkmen." The name of the mosque means the mosque of the spirit of Turkmenbashi. It is touted as the largest mosque in Central Asia and the main mosque of Turkmenistan. It was built at a cost of $100 million and is built of white marble. It is a dome surrounded by four minarets. 
It looks like it stands alone. Photo taken from our bus. 
From the front. 
The name of the mosque over an entrance pillar. 
A view through the entrance pillar to the front entrance. 
The beautiful entrance door. 

An outer portal window. 
The prayer hall has a huge, handmade Turkmen carpet, large white pillars, and can hold 10,000 people. 
The huge prayer hall, looking toward the entrance.
Our group walking in gives some indication of the size.
The mihrab to the left, in the direction of Mecca, and a minbar to the right. 
Looking toward the mihrab with a glimpse of the ceiling.
A portion of the very large dome above. 
Portions of the rug are covered with another rug with individual prayer spaces marked out. 
Examples of some of the beautiful Turkmen carpet.

The inside of the front door. 
Underneath is an area where ablutions are performed. 
The Turkkmenbashi Mausoleum has Niyazov's body in the center and his mother and two brothers to his sides. Another has the name of his father, but it is empty as he is buried elsewhere. 
The Turkmenbashi Mausoleum. Photos were not allowed inside. There were armed guards at the entrance. 
The Mausoleum to the right and the mosque to the left. 
The mosque has been controversial because quotations from both the Quran and the Ruhnama are built into the walls. As a result, it is not recognized by many Muslims. At one of the entrance arches to the mosque, "The Ruhnama is a holy book" is carved in one side. The other side has carved, "The Quran is Allah's book". When we visited it was virtually empty.