The doors of the Oulu Mosque in the Utrecht Mosque are always open – this is how it should be, according to Jocel Aydemir, the head of the largest mosque in the Netherlands. However, it is not clear that everyone enters. What do you actually find behind the front door of the mosque? Aydemir explains this to DUIC readers.
During Ramadan, Muslims around the world celebrate the blessed month on the Islamic calendar. The month is a month of abstinence and contemplation, but for many it is also dominated by meeting. In the past two years, it has been made more difficult by the well-known problem, the Corona virus. But since this spring, measures against the spread of the virus have been lifted and celebrations can continue in full swing.
Yusel Aydemir only has time between prayers to tour the mosque. The path leads to the building’s large prayer room. Before you enter the prayer room, you will enter the bathroom. Here, visitors to the mosque take off their shoes and wash their feet before prayer. “Cleanliness is very important in a mosque. You are not allowed to enter the prayer room with wet shoes or feet,” explains Aydemir. There are notes in the bathroom reminding visitors of this. You leave your shoes in one of the large closet compartments, they do not go inside.
In the prayer room there is a heavenly blue rug that grows under your feet. People here and there pray, in this room only men. They could not attend the congregational prayer and now they realize what they missed. They read verses with the Qur’an on their arms. Most of them do it in silence, but one of the visitors mumbles loudly. Idemir explains that men and women are not allowed to pray together. So the women follow the prayer from a different floor, but in the same large prayer room. How does this work? There are large balconies around the prayer room. On another floor, visitors to the mosque continue to pray. The third floor in the prayer room provides additional space for men or women.
Daylight floods the prayer room, which is bathed in high windows. Gold details sparkle in the sun on all sides. Yusel Aydemir: “The interior of the mosque was designed by a Turkish architect. In its design, it reflects the relationship between Holland and Turkey: tulips. You see them everywhere.” And indeed, from the patterns on the ceiling vault, to the motifs on the chandelier and the graphics on the carpet. Everywhere you see tulips in decorations. The mihrab is located in the middle of the prayer room. It is a place of prayer indicating the direction of Mecca. This is the place of the imam during prayer. The niche ensures that his voice is amplified, facilitating simultaneous prayer.
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However, the sound you hear at the mosque’s azan is not the imam’s voice. In the back of the room there is a special place for the muezzin, that is, the person making the call. A public discourse system, the minaret, operates the call outside. This has happened twice a day since 1983. “Nobody can do it this way, nor should they,” says Yusel Aydemir. “You must have a good voice to make the call to prayer. This is not for everyone.”
Residents of Utrecht don’t just come to the Oulu Mosque to pray. Aydemir stresses that the mosque is a place where the doors are always open. People also come to the mosque for homework lessons, weddings, meetings, and for fun. For example, on the first floor there is a canteen where visitors to the mosque can drink a cup of coffee or tea together.
For female visitors there is Máximazaal. In this hall, named after our queen, they can gather. Aydemir takes us to the basement of the building. Here he presents an elegantly arranged classroom. The tables are arranged in three rows by two rows. Quran lessons are also offered here for children up to the age of 13. Next to it there is an independent youth center. He is in the mosque, but he has his own council. Younger men can gather here. He is especially busy when football is being played. Ajax, Fenerbahce and Galatasaray are popular clubs.
The space that Aydemir especially wants to show is the space of silence for other religions. “This is a place we are very proud of.” Why is there also a place for other faiths in the mosque? “The idea should have taken some time with both Orthodox Muslims and, for example, Orthodox Christians.” According to Aydemir, some Muslims did not agree that the mosque also provides a prayer space for followers of other religions. Orthodox believers will be convinced that the mosque wants to win lives with this. The head of the mosque rejects the idea. “The Messenger gave space to other religions, so there should also be a place in the mosque.” And although it took some getting used to, understanding has now emerged from various sides.
The time for the next prayer is near. In the mosque’s sunny courtyard, groups of people begin to gather before entering the building. It takes some time, after a long time full of procedures and restrictions, but according to Aydemir, the prayer room is slowly filling up again. Muslims often gather at the mosque especially during Ramadan, and fortunately this is again allowed. The doors of the mosque should always be open.
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