Tuesday I tagged along with the grade 8 humanities class as they took a tour of the Bajrakli Mosque in downtown Belgrade. It was my first time to a mosque and I felt like the Ottomans were speaking to me. The name Bajrakli means banner or flagship. The name originates from when the Ottomans left Belgrade in the early 1800’s, this was their lasting monument of their presence.
The mosque was built in 1690 by Sultan Suleiman during the heydey of the Ottomans in Serbia. At the time, there were 22 mosques in the city, and this is the last one remaining today, although the iman told us several newer mosques are being built. The Austrians converted it to a Jesuit church for a short time, and then when they left, it was reopened as a mosque. The iman showed us the window that was walled up on one side of the mosque by the Austrians.
As you can see, the minaret is the classical Turkish style -thin, with a pointed cone peak. The mosque featured a huge dome, typical of the Ottomans and strongly influenced by the Byzantines. I also noted that St. Sava’s Cathedral has a large central dome.
The authorities of the mosque were very kind to allow us access to the mosque. I understand in countries with a more strict interpretation of Islam, non-muslims may not be allowed as much access as we did. The iman explained the prayer service, and answered all of our questions regarding the building and the faith of Islam. I guess the Balkan form of Islam is more like the Turkish form than in Saudi Arabia. From his talk I learned the following:
- Allah has 99 names which are related to His virtues. In a mosque, pictures of humans are not allowed and so the 99 names were written on plaques in Arabic script.
- Islam has prayer beads similar to a Catholic rosary. There are beads of 33 prayers or 99 prayers.
- The congregation worships in straight lines to emphasize their equality before god.
- They always face towards Mecca.
I would like to thank Mr. Vrbaski for allowing me to attend the trip with his class. I would also like to thank the mosque authorities for giving us the opportunity to experience a mosque. The students unit on Islam was really enhanced with this trip. It was also nice to see the students translating for us, the iman’s Serbian speech to English.
The mosque trip also continued to perk my interest in learning more about the Ottoman empire.