Hajar al Aswad
an adventure through Istanbul
by ted Brattstrom
The Kaaba in Mecca - from an image in Hacibektas
Miniature of Mohammed (pbuh) re-dedicating the
Black Stone at the Kaaba.
From Jami Al-Tawarikh ("The Universal History" written by Rashid Al-Din),
a manuscript in the Library of the University of Edinburgh; illustrated in Tabriz, Persia, c. 1315.
Saudi Arabia postage stamp with Hajar al Aswad
In search of the Black Stone of the Kaaba in Istanbul
Having been made aware of the supposed presence of a piece of the Black Stone - Hajar al Aswad in Istanbul by a member of the Meteorite List, I decided that one of my goals would be to find it! A quick web search led to the implication that there were 3 sites where pieces of the suspected meteorite might be seen.1 - the tomb of Suleyman at the Sulemaniye mosque
2 - the Mihrab of the Blue Mosque (Sultanhamet Camii)
3 - in a small mosque called Sokollu Mehmet Pasa Mosque
I carefully printed the information out, and promptly left it in the hotel room on my first trip to Suleyman's tomb. Thus I went inside and looked around - didn't see anything suspicious - asked the guard / ticket taker - he didn't know what I was talking about, and so I left
Several days later, having retrieved the important piece of paper - I went at it more determinedly
Back to the Sulemaniye mosque and tomb - I asked the guard / Ticket-taker. He knew what I was talking about and came outside with me to show me the black stone piece.
There it was, high up above the door - a piece of dark stone about 5 cm tall and 4 cm wide - Cool!!! But far away. Digital camera out - take pictures, zoom, picture lower the resolution so I can get more digital zoom Great! Unfortunately, the resolution is not really great enough to tell if this rock, exposed to the elements for about 500 years is a meteorite or not.! What would a slice of Allende or Zag look like after that long?It was suggested by a Met List member that there should be rust stains running down from the rock if it was a reasonable chondrite... alas, it looks like the tomb was freshly scrubbed - as was happening elsewhere on the mosque.
The tomb of Suleyman the Magnificent
Entrance to the tomb of Suleyman the
The Black Stone is visible above the window inset in the keystone.
Diversion 1 - does it make sense there would be a piece of the Black Stone / Hajar al Aswad in Istanbul? Yes! The Ottoman Empire was quite large, and at one time, included what is now Saudi Arabia (And Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, the North African Coast, Greece, the former Yugoslavia, Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, bits of Ukraine and Georgia, and almost to Vienna!). In Topkapi, they have a number of items from Mecca. Three of the coverings of the Black Stone from the Kaaba, Rain Gutters from the Kabba, the sword and bow of the Prophet, as well as hairs of the beard of the Prophet! When the Ottomans left Mecca, they brought things with them. My questions is, how large a piece of Hajar al Aswad would they have taken?
Later that day, I went over to the Blue Mosque - Sultanhamet Camii to see if I could find the piece of Hajar al Aswad that was in the Mihrab. The Mihrab is the part of a Mosque which shows the direction to Mecca - and in the case of the Blue Mosque - it is in the area of the mosque that non-Muslims are not allowed to enter. Those of us who are there to look, and enjoy the architecture, are kept on one side of the mosque. Those going to pray - have the bulk of the mosque to themselves. During the official prayer times, visitors are not let in.
After looking here and there, I finally find a viewing angle that lets me see the piece of black stone placed in the mihrab, and I make an attempt or two to take a picture. As tripods aren't allowed, the quality of the image is poor. The piece is about 20 cm wide 12 cm tall and surrounded by a gold trim. Interesting.
I saw a gentleman on the "otherside" of the dividing line who looked as if he was patrolling for people acting incorrectly and eventually beckoned him over to ask him. He understood what I was asking him, but as he didn't speak English (and I don't speak Turkish), he went to get someone who could help me out. He brought back one of the guards who was quite fluent and we had a great conversation.
His take on things was that there was some doubt as to the authenticity of the "black stone" in the Blue Mosque, but that there was a mosque not so far away that had 4 genuine pieces of the Black Stone of the Kaaba. He gave me directions, and I discovered that it was the third of the locations on my list. I hadn't found it before, because the transliteration of the name I found on the web was different from the transliteration on my maps!!
Blue Mosque .... Sultanahmet Camii
Black Stone in the Mihrab of Sultanahmet Camii
Sokullu Sehit Mehmet Pasa Camii
(sorry for the lack of correct letters - the second and third "s" are really the "sh" and the "i"s are all the dotted "i" = ih sound - the plain "c" sounds like a "j" - thus, it is pronounced: Sokullu Shehiht Mehmet Pasha Jamihih)
About a 10 minute walk away from the Blue Mosque - past the Hippodrome, and down some smaller side streets, this small yet beautiful mosque was built in 1571 CE. Since it isn't on the tourist route, there was essentially no one there. When we arrived, there was one person sitting outside, who invited us in and showed us around. A student was reading and praying inside.
There are 4 small pieces of Hajar al Aswad embedded in the walls. Each one is about 3 centimeters by 2 centimeters. One is over the mihrab, one is below the lower "pulpit", another is above the upper pulpit and the last is over the entrance door. The lowest one, below the lower pulpit can just be touched by standing on a red-carpeted step. Of course I did - after finding out it was OK. So, at least I've touched it!!!
Photography in the Mosque is allowed, but use of tripods and flash is not. As it isn't very bright by the stone pieces, and I was trying for maximum zoom - all of the "close ups" are blurry - leading to an inability to do any analysis.
Sokullu Sehit Mehmet Pasa Camii
Inside the Mosque - Amazing tilework
Three of the 4 pieces of Hajar al Aswad
The piece on the right is "touchable" by standing on the carpet and reaching high (see below)
One piece of
Aswad - about 2 cm wide, 1.5 cm
touched by many people - "polished"
Diversion 2 - Of the 6 pieces of rock in Istanbul, which are most likely to be pieces of Hajar al Aswad? I am currently in favor of the 4 pieces in the Sokullu Mehmet Pasa Camii. The reason being, they are small, placed with devotion, and bordered in gold. I have a hard time imagining that it would be possible to take large pieces of the Black stone from the Kaaba without a lot of controversy.
That being said, I can just imagine that the piece of black stone on Suleyman's tomb might be authentic. He was a powerful ruler and expanded the Ottoman Empire significantly.
Suggestions for the next person going to Istanbul:
A short note on Spelling - it seems that transliterating Arabic gets to be interesting... I've seen a number of ways of referring to the blackstone of the Kaaba - Likewise with Turkish, the lack of the correct symbols is one problem, and there are alternate spellings of Suleyman... Sorry if I didn't use your favorite. No insult is intended. If there is a better way, please let me know - and why... thanks.