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:
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.
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.