With nearly 3,000 mosques, Istanbul has more mosques than any other city in the world. And no matter where you go in the city, from the historical quarters to the posh downtown shopping and business districts or the extravagant and wealthy suburbs, you will hear the call to prayer cutting through the daily traffic noise and punctuating the pace of life. Although the most famous mosques are concentrated in the historic areas of the city and are pieces of history themselves (600 of the city’s mosques date back to the Ottoman period), the erection of beautiful and divine new mosques in Istanbul continues to make history.
On the other side of Istanbul, located between a busy street and the city’s largest cemetery, is one of the city’s newest and most talked about mosques. Completed in 2009, the Şakirin Mosque was built in memory of Ibrahim and Semiha Şakir by their children. The mosque’s name is obviously a reflection of the family name but it also has the literal meaning in Arabic of “those who are thankful (to God).” What makes this mosque unlike any other in the country is that the interior design team was led by a woman – Zeynep Fadıllıoğlu – who also happens to be the Şakirs’ grand-niece.
Fadıllıoğlu was already internationally renowned before this project for her interior design work in homes, hotels, shops, nightclubs, and restaurants, but this was her first time working on a religious structure. She consulted art historians and theologians throughout the project, and the result is a blend of influences from past and present, East and West. With the help of her team of designers and artists, she has created a truly remarkable contemporary space for worship.
The first impression you have upon entering the mosque is one of light and open space and elegance. Even the women’s area, which is usually a small closed-off area in traditional mosques, is a spacious balcony separated from the rest of the space only by criss-crossing rails to allow the women at prayer a view of the stunning chandelier. This was an important feature for Fadıllıoğlu, who said she had women in mind when designing the mosque. The large asymmetrical chandelier is covered in small suspended glass globes shaped like drops of water. The design references a prayer that Allah’s light should fall on worshippers like rain. The rings of the chandelier also have the 99 names of God written on them. The large windows on three sides of the prayer hall allow sunlight to filter in and are inscribed with gold designs that make them look like pages from the Qur’an. The gracefully curving minbar is made of cream-colored acrylic and is covered with an elegant design of leaves and carnations that represents the universe and looks like calligraphy from a distance. The prominent mihrab is a vibrant turquoise and gold, and was inspired, like the wrought iron grills on the windows, by historical Selçuk patterns. Even the pale, hand-knotted camel-hair carpet is alluring in its simplicity.
The outside of the mosque is no less innovative. Its sleek, metallic form and dark grey stones complement and contrast with the light and space inside. Architect Hüsrev Tayla, who worked on the massive Kocatepe Mosque in Ankara, designed a single dome of aluminum composite flanked by two narrow minarets. In the courtyard is a stylish fountain by British designer William Pye, which consists of a metal sphere that reflects the mosque from every angle and is said to represent the universe.
The neighborhood of Zeynep Kamil in Üsküdar, where this mosque is located, is outside of the usual tourist areas, but it is not difficult to find and is worth the effort. This mosque is unique and beautiful, and in a part of the city that many people don’t see. Istanbul has a glorious past, but it is not just a piece of history. It is a modern, dynamic, changing city and this mosque is evidence of the wonders that are still to come here. It is only appropriate, then, that the plaque at the entrance to the mosque notes that it is dedicated to Ibrahim and Semiha Şakir and to “their beloved Istanbul.” Şakirin Mosque; Nuhkuyusu Caddesi No.2 Karacaahmet Mezarlık Girişi, Üsküdar