Islam in Istanbul: The Blue Mosque

Neither I or my sister had ever been to a Muslim country before. We had never seen a mosque, and didn’t really feel like we knew very much about Islam at all. Istanbul was our introduction to this world, and we were instantly hooked. The mosques we visited were insanely beautiful, the people were so friendly, and we loved diving into such a foreign culture (albeit in such a tourist-friendly place).

I’m not planning to share my opinions on the whole refugee issue and all the shit going on in the world right now because I really don’t feel like I know enough to have an informed opinion. Although I will share these:

10703864_10154609925315367_4370687824943614296_n 12274295_1098262080208492_4257883078781838597_nSuffice it to say that nothing improves your tolerance of other religions and cultures like travelling. I would learn so much more about Islam in Morocco, but even in Istanbul our eyes were opened. We watched a young Muslim couple wander around the Hippodrome, the woman in a full burqa and the couple so clearly in love. We wondered how she would drink her fresh squeezed orange juice and watched covertly as we discovered there was a flap that lifted up.

We sat people-watching and were approached by two different groups of students, doing video interviews with tourists to practice their English – the young boys giggled as they asked us the same questions, and the older girls seemed genuinely curious to hear about our lives.


We entered the Blue Mosque and I was almost brought to tears by just how beautiful it was. How could people say an entire religion was evil when it created unbelievably gorgeous buildings like this? We watched how worshipers went about their business and stared agog at the ceiling, wishing we could stay forever.


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When we walked out, one of the most special moments of my entire summer happened. I was struggling with my headscarf, which I had donned for the mosque, when a group of older Muslim women walked over, none of whom spoke English. One gestured for my permission, then removed my headscarf and showed me how to tie it, murmuring in Arabic all the while. Another woman came over as soon as she was done and showed me a different way, the two women lightly arguing about which way was better. We tried to convey our appreciation with the absolutely zero Arabic that we had learned, settling for big smiles and the small bow characteristic of the culture. Walking away, I felt like I had just had a spiritual experience despite being super Atheist. It was magical and they were just so kind and welcoming and warm – we had fallen in love with Istanbul.



  1. Elaine J. Masters says

    Lovely way to capture your point of view about the horrible violence and still convey the wisdom (I share) about not dumping all Muslims or Christians (or any other religious group) into the same pile. Thanks also for ending with a clearly rare and sweet encounter. Those women were kind and perhaps learned a bit about you at the same time.

  2. Laura says

    We were in Istanbul (also our first Muslim country) during a religious holiday and we were blown away by the devotion it would take to worship they way they do. The call to prayers on the day of the holiday lasted for hours in the dead of morning. It’s inspirational, and was certainly a “wake up call” for us!

  3. Lauren says

    I have to totally agree with you that travelling opens you up to other religions and cultures. One of my favourite places in the world is Lombok, Indonesia, which is a Muslin island. Experiencing the mosques and hearing their prayers throughout the day is a unique experience which I love. Istanbul is so high on my bucket list and I am so jealous you have experienced it and can’t wait to witness it for myself.

  4. Stefan says

    LOVE Istanbul and the Blue Mosque. As gays, we’re particularly prone to hating the Muslim religion, which outrightly condemns our existence. But travelling has opened our minds to it particularly when you meet gay Muslims (we were in Indonesia and Malaysia) and you see it from their point of view.

  5. Karilyn says

    Great post. We lived in India for almost a decade which has the worlds most Muslims. for us traveling through the Middle East was always such an experience. I really believe that travel helps people have a clearer view of the world. Many people in America know nothing of Muslims except what they see on TV which is a shame

  6. Brianna says

    “Travel is fatal to bigotry and prejudice” in learning from and interacting with different cultures you really find out we’re not all that much different.

  7. Vicky and Buddy says

    I would love to visit Istanbul and see the blue mosque. And I agree, I also think traveling always leads to enlightenment and tolerance. It shows us that there is more than one way to live.

  8. Mar says

    I also fell in love with the Blue Mosque and in 2005 Istanbul was my first interaction with Islam. I remember arriving at our hotel room at 5am after a few hours delay on our flight to get into bed, turn off the lights and hear the unison call for prayer of the dozens of mosques in the old town. It was scary 9as it was the first time and it was still dark) and magical at the same time

  9. Gemma says

    Isn’t this the beauty of travelling – answering all of those questions about the unknown. It’s so refreshing to read about your positive experience and to see that you are spreading the word, helping to break down stereotypes!

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