Ramadan: The month of Charity

Ramadan is the month of charity. Although it is not obligatory to pay Zakat in the month of Ramadan, most Muslims pay their Zakat in Ramadan. Besides Zakat, there is obligatory Fitra to be paid to the poor before the Eid Prayer. Besides these two obligatory charities, lot of Sadaqa (Voluntary Charity) is paid during Ramadan. It is not that one is not encouraged to do charity throughout the year and do it only in the month of Ramadan. However, it was the Sunnah of the Prophet to do more charity in the month of Ramadan. It is reported that during the month of Ramadan the prophet used to do so much charity that he was likened to fast blowing wind.

It is narrated by Ibn ‘Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) “The Prophet (peace be upon him) was the most generous amongst the people, and he used to be more so in the month of Ramadan when Gabriel visited him, and Gabriel used to meet him on every night of Ramadan till the end of the month. The Prophet used to recite the Holy Qur’an to Gabriel, and when Gabriel met him, he used to be more generous than a fast wind” (Sahih Al Bukhari: Book No. 31: Hadith No. 126).

Qur’an exhorts the believers to do charity and equals it to load given to Allah which will be returned in multiples on the day of Judgement.

“Who is it that would loan Allah a goodly loan so He may multiply it for him many times over? And it is Allah who withholds and grants abundance, and to Him you will be returned” (Surah Al Baqarah 2:245).

At another place Qur’an explains the benefit of charity by giving the example of grain of corn. According to Quran:

The likeness of those who spend their money for Allah’s sake, is as the likeness of a grain (of corn), it grows seven ears, every single ear has a hundred grains, and Allah multiplies (increases the reward) for whom He wills, and Allah is All-Sufficient for His creatures needs, All Knower(Surah Al Baqarah 2: 261)

Those who spend of their goods (in charity) by night and by day in secret and in public shall have their reward with their Lord: on them shall be no fear nor shall they grieve” (Surah Al Baqarah 2:274)

The literal meaning of Zakat is purification and growth. It is a specific amount of money due to be spent on specific accounts after the passage of specific time. There are numerous spiritual, psychological as well as economic benefits of charity, especially zakat.

Spiritually it brings the giver closer to the Creator. There is no denying the fact that physical ibadah (worship) does not affect a person as deeply and does not put as much burden on him or his resources as parting with hard earned money. It is also a form of informal social insurance system which takes care of the basic needs of the poorer sections of the society by the wealthier section. In this way it bridges the gap between the rich and the poor which may lead to many unwanted situations. It creates a feeling of love and brotherhood between the rich and the poor and thus reduces social tensions also.

It has a psychological dimension as well. It has a positive affect of the giver, the receiver, and the society at large. It purifies the property and assets of the giver, restraints his lust for wealth and material goods and creates in him the virtue and urge to share with less fortunate ones. It uplifts the giver from a life of materialism and self-gratification to a life endowed with a higher moral purpose.

Sadaqa and Zakat prepares one to spend in the way of Allah willingly and largeheartedly. It drives away greed and pride from the wealthy and does away with glaring income inequality and at the same time imperceptibly effects a gradual redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor.

Economically it prevents concentration of wealth by circulating it in the society by transferring wealth from the rich to the poor. It redistributes real income among the members of the society by redistributing a part of purchasing power from the rich to the poor. It is well known economic fact that poor tend to spend most of their income on basic necessities of life as compared to the rich who spend less proportion of their wealth on basic necessities. A major part of the wealth of the rich is spent on luxuries of life. When charity is paid by the rich to the poor it helps in the circulation of money in the economy by creating demand for basic necessities of life.

It also discourages hoarding and accumulation of idle wealth. It ensures to put the waiting resources back into economic activity by pushing every bit of idle wealth into production activity by increasing the cost of waiting.

Let us pay our Zakat and give Sadaqa to reap the spiritual rewards in the holy month of Ramadan. Let us reach out to the less fortunate and make a difference in somebodies’ life. Let us make this Ramadan more fulfilling and satisfying.

Take Me Home, Country Road

Country Roads, take me home

To the place I belong

Dark and dusty, painted on the sky

Misty taste of moonshine

Teardrop in my eye

Country roads, take me home

To the place I belong ………

I get a feelin’

That I should have been home

Yesterday, yesterday

Country roads, take me home

To the place I belong

(Take Me Home, Country Road. Bill Danoff, Taffy Nivert and John Denver, 1971)

We are witnessing a huge migration of labourers from Indian metropolitan cities to their native villages. It is estimated that almost 40 to 50% of the workers in cities like Delhi and Mumbai are migrant labourers come from outside, mostly from from other states. Television channels are beaming images of workers trying to move out of the cities back to their villages. Majority of these workers are in petty jobs and have a hand to mouth survival. The lock down, thought essential for containing the pandemic, has rendered them vulnerable. Whatever meager savings these workers had have been finished by now, thus, the desperation to go back home.

The big cities provide jobs to the millions of job seekers from the hinterlands but do not provide any social security to the workers to fall back in times of needs. Most of those who work in cities maintain their ties back home. In the villages back home, they know that they can rely on social network and can fall back on extended family and friend network to survive these tough times. That is the reason, they are moving in thousands using every possible means. They are going on trucks, auto-rickshaw, bullock carts, handmade carts with wheels etc. Besides there is a huge majority which is sampling walking back home. Some of them are willing to walk even up to 1400 kilometres. They are ready to undertake this journey because they know that once home, at least they will have two meals a day. Lets hope that these poor and vulnerable find solace once they reach home.

Hey its good to be back home again

Sometimes this old farm feels like a long lost friend

Yes, ‘n, hey its good to be back home again

(Back Home Again, John Denver, 1974)

 

Using interest money to help the poor and the needy

Darul Ifta at Darul Uloom Deoband (Islamic Seminary, India) has issued a Fatwa (religious opinion) that it is permissible for Muslims to use interest accrued on bank savings to help the poor. The fatwa was issued in response to a query from Karnataka which stated that “there is enough money from the interest in the bank account of our area’s mosque. And at present, many poor are suffering because of lockdown and they have no ration in their homes. In such a situation, can the needy persons be helped with this money?”. The reply of Darul Uloom Deoband was that:

According to Islamic laws, the interest given by banks is haram (prohibited), it can not be used. But the interest money can be given to the poor and disabled without any intention of sawab (reward).  So if bank account of the mosque has such interest money and its management wants to give to poor and needy people or wants to buy ration for them during the lockdown, there is nothing wrong in it”.

This is a welcome decision and clarification coming from Darul Uloom. These are difficult times and people are going through hardship. Muslims should use this opportunity to help the poor and the needy. This help must be given without any discrimination or prejudice. It should be given to people of every faith and colour and gender, Poor is a poor and needs to be supported.

Personally, I have being doing this for almost two decades now. I always use the interest money to help the poor. However, I believe that this should not be confined to only during lockdown period. Personally I have given interest money mostly to schools. That there is very high level of illiteracy among Indian Muslims is well documented. What better way of  using this money lying in banks than helping somebody get educated. As they say instead of giving somebody fish, teach the person how to fish. When a person gets educated instead on depending on charity for life that person will become charity giver in future. If all the interest money lying in banks is used it can help educate a lot of children who cannot get decent education because their parents are too poor to afford school fees. This will not only strengthen the community but also the Nation.

There was always a large percentage of Muslims who were apprehensive of using interest money and used to leave it lying in banks. The concerns and apprehensions of such people have been addressed in this fatwa. Let us all use this opportunity to help our fellow citizens to get better education and have a decent shot at life. Let us help the poor to get educated, Let us build the Nation.

Kyon Zyankar Banoon, Sood Faramosh Rahoom

Fikr e Farda na Karoon, Mehve Gham e Dosh Rahoon

Reference:

Mohd Dilshad (6 May 2020) Can use bank interest to help the needy, says Darul Uloom. Available at: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/75562934.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst.  Accessed on 8 May 2020.

Lets celebrate Eid 2020 with true spirit

Somebody forwarded me the news from Hyderabad and Lucknow that Muslims are planning to scale down on Eid festivities and related buying this year and rather spend the money on helping the poor and the needy. It is reported in newspapers that the Muslims in Hyderabad are preparing to celebrate this year’s Eid without new clothes. This is to show solidarity with the poor affected by the Corona Virus. The money thus saved will be used to help the poor and the needy and to save for future. There is a WhatsApp message circulating in Hyderabad “I am not buying clothes this Eid. Will you?”. In an open appeal to the Muslims of Hyderabad, Nawab Najaf Ali Khan (descendant of Last Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan) has requested them not to buy new clothes even if lock down in lifted and shops are open. His appeal says “Let us pledge to exclude our materialism and gloating and be mindful of the underprivileged around us. Let’s say no to excessive and unnecessary shopping for Eid. Keeping in mind the current situation due to the ongoing lock down for Covid-19, most of us are at home, but the poor and needy are left to fend for themselves without a job as everything is shut down”. This is indeed sane advice.

Similarly, there is a call given in Lucknow to use best clothes instead of new clothes. The appeal from Lucknow is as follows:

“Let’s wear the best clothes not new clothes this Eid

Say No to Eid Shopping this year. Instead

Feed a Family

Pay someone’s school fees

Help someone restart business

Pay someone’s rent

Let’s celebrate the true spirit of Ramzan”

Maulana Khalid Rasheed Firangi Mahal has appealed to the people of Lucknow to spend half of saved amount on the poor and the needy. This is a good advice as it creates a balance between the personal needs and the needs of the society. One can spend half the amount saved on helping others while can save the other half for future.

These are good initiatives. They need to be followed everywhere. Let us celebrate Eid without new clothes and shoes. And why only clothes and shoes, let us celebrate this year’s Eid with less food also. Usually a minimum of four to five dishes are prepared on the occasion of Eid. Let us do with two dishes and instead help others. Let us celebrate Eid this year in the true spirit by sharing with others. Let us go back to the Sunnah. Eid Mubarak in advance.

References:

 

 

 

Ramadan: The month of the Qur’an

Finally Ramadan 2020 is here. Ramadan is the holiest month among the 12 months of the Islamic Calendar. Muslims all over the world eagerly wait for this month. The month is characterized by Fasting from dawn to dusk, charity, humility, caring for the poor, contemplation on one’s life, reading of the Qur’an and special night prayers popularly called Taraweeh.

Qur'an photo

Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

 

Qur'an

Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

 

The month of Ramadan is characterized by reading of the Qur’an. Even those who don’t usually read Qur’an try to read some portion every day. And why not? Ramadan has special connect with Qur’an. It was during this month that Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him). As the Qur’an itself declares:

‘Verily! We have sent it (this Qur’an) down in the night of the Decree. And what will make you know what the night of the Decree is? The night of Decree is better than a thousand months” (Al Qur’an, 97:1-3)

Night of Decree is one of the blessed night in the last ten days of the Ramadan. Today Qur’an is the most sold book in the world. It is also the most read book in the world. There are innumerable benefits of reading the Qur’an. However, it was not revealed to be just read, decorated in fancy clothes and kept on the shelf to be taken out every Ramadan, read and kept back for next one year. Rather it was revealed to be understood and followed. Qur’an itself challenges and motivates humanity to understand it by contemplating (tadabbur) on its verses and to find guidance for this world and for hereafter. As Allah says in the Qur’an:

“Will they not then ponder the Qur’an or are there locks upon their hearts?” (Al Qur’an,, 47:24)

“This is a blessed book which We have revealed to you, (O Muhammad), that they might reflect upon its verses and those of understanding would be reminded” (Al Qur’an, 38:29)

“Indeed in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding. Who remember Allah while standing or sitting or (lying) on their sides and give thought to the creation of the heavens and the earth, (saying), “Our Lord you did not create this aimlessly; Exalted are You (above such a thing); then protect us from the punishment of the fire” (Al Qur’an, 3:190-191)

In fact, the Qur’an condemns those who do not ponder over it. It declares:

“Do they not look into the dominion of the heavens and the earth and all things that Allah has created, and that it may be that the end of their lives is near. In what message after this will they then believe” (Al Qur’an, 7:185)

Yes, everybody does not know Arabic, the language of the Qur’an. All of us should make an effort to at least know the basic terms used in the Qur’an. But not knowing Arabic can not be an excuse. There are lots of translations of the meaning of the Qur’an available in every major language of the world. One can start reading the translation of the meaning from them. It is true that Qur’an has deep and multiple meaning for every word in it. It requires to have a thorough knowledge of not only Classical Arabic language but history, classical Arabic poetry, sociology etc. to understand the meaning of each verse. Humankind will keep contemplating till the day of Judgement and will still be surprised to find something new at every turn. However, basic message of the Qur’an can be understood by any body and everybody. The basic concepts which are dealt with in the Qur’an are Universal and can be understood, appreciated and applied by anybody regardless of the time and the place. Concepts such as justice, equality of human beings regardless of colour of the skin or gender, taking care of the parents, helping the poor and the needy, humility, truthfulness, forbearance etc. are all universal themes which appeal to everybody.

Let us resolve that this Ramadan, we will not only recite Qur’an but will try to read it with understanding. Let us contemplate and ponder on Qur’an and get benefit as the Qur’an declares:

So when the Qur’an is recited, then listen to it and pay attention that you may receive Mercy” (Al Qur’an, 7:204)

Let us recite and read it with understanding so as to benefit from it in this world and let Qur’an be our proof and intercession on the Day of Judgement. Happy Reading, Happy Pondering.

Wo zamaney main muazzez thay musalman hokar

Aur tum khwaar hua tarik e Qur’an hokar

 

 

Ramazan, Corona Virus and the Indian Muslim Leadership

Ramazan is round the corner. It is a special month for Muslims all over the world. The moment one Ramazan finishes, they start waiting for the next one. Even kids eagerly wait for Ramzan. There is something special which one can feel immediately upon confirming the news that Ramazan is starting tomorrow. From maghrib itself, the environment changes. Suddenly, the whole environment becomes spiritual. Everybody start preparing for Isha prayer and males especially look forward to praying special congregational prayers what are commonly called as Taraweeh (The real name by the way is Qayamul Lail) and prayed in the Mosque after Isha.

When the corona virus was in early stages the countries of Middle East decided to close Mosques. Even the Haram Makki as well as Haram Madni were closed. Regarding these decisions there has been lot self-congratulatory talk at the popular level in India . When Saudi Arabia decided to close the Harmain Sharifain and other mosques it was received with not only disbelief but also disdain in the Indian Subcontinent. Not only Saudi Arabia, all the GCC countries i.e. United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Sultanate of Oman, Qatar, and Bahrain also closed all the Mosques not only for daily five obligatory prayers but also for Friday prayers. The general response in the Indian Subcontinent was that it is a sign of weakness of Iman. This was basically indirectly saying that Muslims in India have more Iman than Middle Eastern Muslims. However, time has proved that it was absolutely correct decision and there are historical precedents available in early Islamic history that this has been done before. Even for Ramzan, all the GCC countries have decided to continue with the earlier decision of keeping the Mosques closed throughout the month.

In this regard I am looking at two different advices which have come for Indian Muslims as guidelines to be followed during coming Ramazan. One is a copy of a Fatwa from Darul Ifta of Darul Ulum Deoband and other from a group of prominent Indian Muslims. Both of them have advised Indian Muslims to follow the law of the land and not to do anything which may spread the Virus. Both the advisories contain some great advice which are quite practical. It is a welcome sign. However, in both of them there are points which at least to me don’t make any sense at all.

The advisory from Darul Ifta of Darul Ulum suggests that not more than 4 or 5 people should pray in the Mosque, either the five obligatory prayers Friday prayers (point three) or Taraweeh (point four). The same point is contained in the advisory given by the group of prominent citizens (point one). I fail to understand as to how this will help in containment of the virus. If only those who live in the Mosque pray, it does make some sense but to suggest that some from the neighborhood should join them to make it 4 or 5 does defeat the very purpose of social distancing. It even goes on to suggest that in case of non-agreement as to who will join from the neighborhood, there should be a chit based random selection to avoid controversy. However, it is another point in the advisory of Darul Ulum Deoband really baffles me. It asks people to make announcement from the Mosque for the time of Suhoor (early morning meal before sunrise to start the fast) as well as Iftar (meal taken to break the fast at sunset. Point fourteen). What is the point of creating a situation which can lead to unnecessary controversy? Those who fast can find out the time anyway. Everybody has got either a watch or a mobile. One can easily see time and break the fast. Where in the world was the need for this advisory? For me it certainly defies logic. Coming to the first point, is it so important to open Mosques as to put people in danger.

There can be only two plausible explanations for this. Either those giving these advices are not competent to really comprehend what is staring at them. They are unable to really put things in historical perspective and come up with a suitable response. This is quite possible as this is what religious leadership in India has done quite a few times in the past with disastrous results. It does not mean that they have never taken correct decisions and positions. Mostly that is the case. But it must be remembered in today’s world of prevalence of social media and instant decision making, there is hardly any margin of error. We have just witnessed the drama that was played on television channels with regards to Tablighi Jamaat. The time at which the congregation took place at Markaz, there was no government advisory against any such gathering. Still, those responsible at the Markaz are now being blamed left right and center.

The other explanation is that they understand the reality and know very well as to what needs to be done but are afraid to speak so. They are afraid that if they speak the truth and advice people correctly, they may loose their followership and popularity. Both the scenarios are quite scary. If this is the quality of leadership than only Allah can save us. In such a situation it is better to err on the side of caution rather then regret later.

With due respect to  Sir Allama Mohammad Iqbal, I would like to rephrase a couplet from Shikwa and say that:

Jurrat Amoz Meri Taabe Sukhan hai mujhko

Shikwa Ulema Se khakam badahan hai mujhko

The strength of my talk (poetry) is encouraging me

May dust be in my mouth, I have complaint against Ulema

Magical Cappadocia: Two Amazing Days in Central Anatolia

After spending two hectic days in Istanbul it was time to move to Cappadocia. It was a comfortable 1 hour 35 minutes flight from Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen International Airport to Keyseri Airport by Turkish Airlines. Our stay in Cappadocia was in a small city called Urgup. It is capital of Cappadocia province. Urgup is about 50 kilometers from Keyseri Airport. The drive was about 1 hour 15 minutes from Keyseri Airport to our hotel in Urgup. The landscape on the way dry and mountainous somewhat like outskirts of Muscat. There is nothing of importance between the two cities.
Urgup is town in the historical region of Cappadocia. In Turkey it is also known as the town of the Librarian with Donkey. Mustafa Guzelgoz was a librarian in Urgup. He used to travel to nearby villages with books on donkeys to lend books so as to inculcate the habit of reading in the people. Hence the name “Librarian with Donkey”. Today Urgup is a major tourist town in Cappadocia and is known for its trademark cave hotels. There are cave hotels everywhere. It’s all related to geology. Millions of years ago there were active volcanoes in this region. The lava flow of the erupting volcanoes left porous stones called Tuff everywhere. Because these stones were not very hard, people started carving homes in them. Later on when people shifted to concrete houses some of these dwellings were converted into what are today called as cave hotels. Today Cappadocia is full of cave hotels. These are fitted with every possible luxury and very comfortable as well as naturally very cool. Today Cappadocia region is known for its cave hotels, fairy chimneys, hot air ballooning, pigeon holes and ancient underground cities. Some of early Christianity’s most important landmarks are in the region thus bringing in a lot of tourists.

Urgup City Square at Night. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

 

Hundred Year Old Turkish Hamam at Urgup

Urgup City Bath is an Urgup Institution and Landmark. It is more than 100 years old family run Turkish Hamam near city center. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

 

We spent two days in Cappadocia. Our hotel in Cappadocia was Roca Cappadocia. It was a cave hotel. There was every modern facility inside the cave. The rooms were naturally cool and there was not need for Air Conditioning. The staff of the hotel was very polite. Most of the staff were female and used to call my wife as hurram (the word hurram is often prefixed with female names in Turkey as a sign of respect. It actually means ‘the cheerful one‘). Special thanks to Canan and Yasemin for taking good care of us.

Roca Cappdocia Cave Hotel, Urgup

The Courtyard of Roca Cappadocia boutique Cave Hotel. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

 

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Exterior of our room at Roca Cappdocia. Photo Credit & ©Mohsin Aziz

 

Our tour operators in Cappadocia were HtR- Hit the Road. They were arranged by our main tour operator in Istanbul (True Blue Tour). I found them to be extremely professional with vehicles in top condition and excellent multilingual tour guides. First day our tour guide was Kezban. She was fluent in Spanish and English. Our group besides my family included two Spanish couples and one Singapore couple. As our guide explained every detail in both Spanish and English it gave us plenty of time to appreciate the finer points and take photographs. It was very relaxed tour and not rushed at all. Our first stop for the day was Rose Valley. Rose Valley is an isolated valley near Urgup. It is known for its rock formations with different colours. I was expecting to see lots of rose thinking that the valley must have got its name from presence of rose flowers. It is not so. The name is given because of presence pink and red colour rocks in the valley. We trekked the whole valley which must be anywhere between 3 to 4 kilometers. At many places we saw farms of grapes, apple and apricot. I also saw many almond trees but our guide told us that they were wild almonds and were poisonous.

Sweet Melon along the walking track at Rose Valley

Sweet Melons along the track in Rose Valley. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

 

Road to nowhere at Rose Valley

The road to nowhere. Our track in Rose Valley. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

 

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A general view of Rose Valley. Hues of pink colour can be seen, hence the name. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

 

From Rose Valley the next stop was Devrent Valley near Cavusin Village (Pronounced as Kavushin). Unlike other valleys in this region, Devrent valley was never inhabited by humans. It is basically a group of rocks which have naturally got different animal looking shapes due to years of rain and wind. Just like shapes of clouds no two people agree what animal or shape a particular rock looks like. One can see rocks looking like double humped camel, dolphin or even a group of rocks looks like dancing dervishes. It is also called imagination valley. It’s fun for kids and even adults were acting like kids trying to identify and arguing among themselves whether a particular rock is shaped like a dolphin or something else?

Cavusin Village

A view of Cavusin village in Cappadocia. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

 

Is that a Camel or Llama. Keep Imagining @ Imagination Valley

Is it a double humped Camel or a Llama. Keep Imagining @ Devrent Valley a.k.a. Imagination Valley. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

 

By the time we finished from imagination valley it was time for lunch. I was a bit apprehensive as to what type of lunch are we going to get in a small village restaurant. But to my surprise the restaurant was really huge. There must have been at least 200 people already dining and still our seats were reserved. The variety of food was amazing. Of all the places I never expected to see Shahi Tukda as one of the sweet dishes. I must have eaten at least four or five pieces of Shahi Tukda. I think after 4 kilometers of walk I deserved this.

Our next stop for the day was historical underground city of Kaymakli. Kaymakli is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are many underground cities in this region. Some have better defense system, some have more floors but Kaymakli is the largest one. Cappadocia lies on the silk route and other historically important trade routes hence various kings have tried to capture it. The present day Cappadocia has been at the center of some of the greatest civilizations and military power and their jostling for power. These cities are supposed to be built around 3000 B.C. during Hittites and Phrygians.  The inhabitants of this place built whole cities under their houses and would go underground to escape the marauding armies whenever their was attack.  Later on Assyrians, Akkadians, Romans, Seljuk’s,  Iranians and Byzantines vied for power in the region until the Ottomans established their rule in the region. Early Christians during the 4th century used these cities to escape religious torture. It is estimated that around 3500 people once lived in Kaymakli. There is a maze nearly one hundred tunnels in the Kaymakli underground city. It has eight floors of which four are open to the tourists.  The underground spaces are arranged around ventilation shafts so as to supply fresh air. Each floor used to serve a particular purpose. The first level was used as stable for animals. Another level was used as grain storage, winery and oil presser. One floor was used as living place. Another one has churches, chappels, graves, communal kitchen etc. We went up to four floors which are allowed for tourists. The path downwards is very steep. Although some people in our group came out from the first floor itself feeling claustrophobic. I went to the fourth floor underground and found it surprisingly well ventilated. Today these underground cities of Cappadocia are a must do for tourists to this region. 

Inside Kaymaki underground city

One of the underground tunnel at Kaymakli Underground City, Cappadocia. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

 

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Big Round Stone carved in Second Floor Underground. It was used as defense mechanism to close the tunnel in case of attack from outside. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz


Second day in Cappadocia was Eid Al Adha. I had already found a mosque named Merkez Mustafa Aga Camii near to hotel and prayed Isha (last of the obligatory five prayers. Prayed around 1 and a half hours after sunset) so as to get an idea of the place. The Eid prayer was at 6.15 a.m. I reached the Mosque at 6.10 with a prayer mat which i had brought from Muscat anticipating huge rush at the Mosque. However i was surprised to find attendance at the Mosque to be thin and i found myself in the fourth row. I counted 68 people including myself and the Imam. There were very few youngster. Most of the people who gathered for Eid Prayer were elderly. The imam was dressed in trouser and shirt with tie thrown in for good measure. The first Khutba (Sermon) was in Turkish while the second was in Arabic. The prayer was short. It was a unique experience for me. Just opposite the Mosque is a Urgup Landmark. Its Urgup Baths which is a traditional family run Turkish Hamam. 

Merkez Mustafa Aga Camii Mosque, Urgup

Merkez Mustafa Aga Camii Mosque where I prayed Eid Al Adha on 11 August, 2019. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

 

In fact second was supposed to begin very early as we booked hot air balloon ride for that day expecting the Eid to one the previous day. However, when the Eid was not on first day, i got my ride cancelled as hot air balloons fly only early morning. Next day we found out that anyway all the balloon rides that day were cancelled due to unfavorable wind conditions. 

Our guide for second day in Cappadocia was Mr. Murat. He was also multilingual and besides Turkish was fluent in English and Spanish. Group members were same as previous day.  

Our first stop on second day was Goreme Open Air Museum (pronounced as Goreymey). It is outside Goreme city. The region is known for fairy chimneys. Fairy chimneys are naturally carved out rock formations. They change colour at the sunset. As I have mentioned somewhere, this was active volcanic region. The lava and ash which erupted millions of years ago blanketed the whole region in thick ash. With passage of time this ash solidified as soft rock and is called Tuff. With the natural elements like rain and wind striking them for millions of years, the softer parts were eroded away and only the harder parts remained. This process resulted in extraordinary rock shapes which go up to more than 130 feet high and are called fairy chimneys. When early Christians were persecuted by Romans, they fled to this region and realised that living quarters can be carved out of the soft rocks. They assembled in Goreme and carved not only living quarters high up in the rocks for themselves but also carved out innumerable churches. Goreme is perhaps the biggest collection of such churches at one place in Cappadocia. Christian monks built a maze of interconnected living quarters, stables, grain storage facilities besides churches. They also built individual prayer chambers high up in the rocks with steps carved out of the rock itself. Today Goreme Open Air Museum is a huge open air enclosure which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is visited by tourists from all over the world. It is particular high up in the order of Turkey’s religious tourism ladder and is almost a must see attraction for tourists on Christianity trial in Turkey. 

The churches in the Goreme Open Air Museum are also known for well preserved Fresco Art which has survived the test of time. One of the most important churches with Red couloured Fresco paintings is the Dark Church. 

Some of the older cave dwellings have also been converted into luxury boutique hotels thus providing opportunity to tourists to partly experience the life inside rocks. 

The Road Inside Goreme Open Air Museum. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

 

Dark Church cut inside the mountain at Goreme Open Air Museum. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

 

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Fresco Paintings can be seen in this close up picture of the outside part of the Dark Church at Goreme Open Air Museum. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

 

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Residences of Monks at Goreme Open Air Museum. Photo Credit& ©  Mohsin Aziz.

 

We spent around two and half an hours at Goreme Open Air Museum. It was time to move to our next destination. Before leaving the complex we went to Museum Shop at the exit and had some snacks and tea at the Museum Shop Restaurant. Our next destination was a Small Village called Avanos in Cappadocia. Its an old village which was called Venessa in old times. It is along river Kizilirmak which is also called Red River. Red River is the longest river of Turkey. It is popularly called Red River because it carries red silt with it and deposits on its banks. Avanos is also known as pottery town of Turkey. The red silt deposited by Kizilirmak river has been used since the times of Hittites to make pottery by the people of the town. The red silt in river side mud gives a unique texture to the ceramics produced here. Today the village is dominated by numerous pottery making factories. Pottery is made using traditional method. Ceramics produced here are not only sold all over Turkey but are exported all over the world. To make the visit more interesting we were given a live demonstration of pottery making at a local factory. We were shown the different stages of pottery making up to the last step of hand painting of ceramics. We saw workers hand painting various designs on ceramics before they were put on display or were packed to be transported all over Turkey. For bigger pottery and ceramic items, most of the workshops have courier facility to all over the world.  

Kizilirmak (Red River) passing through Avanos Village

River Kizilirmak (Red River) flowing through the village of Avanos. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

 

Entrance of Sultan Ceramic at Pottey Village of Avanos

Sultans Ceramic where we saw a pottery making session and bought some ceramics as souvenir’s. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz

 

Ceramics inside Sultan Ceramics

Ceramics on display at Sultans Ceramics, Avanos. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

 

After enjoying our visit to the ceramic workshop it was time for lunch. We were taken to a restaurant next to river river. I don’t remember the name of the restaurant but it was food at the restaurant was the best Turkish food that we had in our entire stay in Turkey. It was a small but very modern restaurant. After lunch was our drive back to our hotel in Urgup. Tonight was our flight back to Istanbul. On the way back to hotel we passed through Pasabag monks valley and also saw the pigeon valley. Pasabag valley contains some of the most striking examples of fairly chimneys some of them having two or some cases even three caps. Since they look like mushrooms they are also called mushroom chimneys.

 

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An Aerial view of the Pasabag Valley. Photo Credit & ©  Mohsin Aziz.

 

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Monks chamber up in the rock can be seen in Pasabag Monks Valley. Steps cut in rock can be seen leading up to the chamber. Photo Credit & ©  Mohsin Aziz.

 

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Moonscape can be seen on the way back to hotel in Urgup from Avanos Village. Photo Credit & ©  Mohsin Aziz.

 

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Fairy Chimney with chamber for Monks Meditation in Pasabag Monks Valley.  This  Fairy Chimney has three caps at the top. Photo Credit & © Mohsin Aziz.

 

The hermits of Cappadocia in ancient times used to lead reclusive life. In order to be away from the masses so that they can meditate and contemplate they used to live in these chambers which they carved 10 to 15 meters up in the Tuffs. They used to get down for food and would go back in their chambers. On the way we also passed through what is called as Guvercinlik Vadisipigeon valley (pigeon valley). It has got its name from the innumerable dovecotes that have been carved at height in the fairy chimneys. Although such dovecotes are found in the whole of Cappadocia, they are nowhere as numerous as pigeon valley, hence the name.  In old times, these dovecots were carved to attract pigeons to sit in them. Over period of time their droppings got collected and were taken down by the farmers to fertilize their barren lands. Though pigeons don’t play important role in modern agriculture now, still many dovecotes have been maintained by the people in the Cappadocia region.

On the way back we also passed by Uchisar Castle and saw it only from outside. Uchisar Castle was used as a defense mechanism in the past against invasion. As it is the highest point in Cappadocia, the Castle provided vantage point to keep an eye on the whole region. In the past it was on the busy and vital silk route. At present Uchisar Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, nobody in our group had energy to climb up to see the place. Everybody just took pictures from below and we moved on to a small bazaar (market) with some restaurants and lots of souvenir shops. Most of the shops were selling either different varieties of scarf or Nazar (evil eye) amulets. Evil eye beads or Nazar Boncuk is a glass bead usually of blue colour and filled with a blue or black dot superimposed on a white center in the form of a tear drop. Nazar Boncuk are quite popular in Turkey. When I inquired about them from Murat he categorically stated that it has nothing to do with Islam and is only a cultural thing. Still i was surprised to see so many Evil Eye Beads being sold everywhere in Turkey.  

 

Dove Cots at Pigeon Valley

Dove Cots can be seen in this Fairy Chimney at the Pigeon Valley. Photo Credit & ©  Mohsin Aziz

 

Uchisar Castle atop a rock on the way to Hotel. Photo Credit & ©  Mohsin Aziz.

Sovenier shop selling evil eye

Souvenir Shop selling Nazar Boncuk (Evil Eye Bead) near Uchisar. Photo Credit &  & © Mohsin Aziz

By the time we reached hotel it was time for dinner. We decided to take dinner at Urgup market. We found a nice hotel named Urgup Restaurant near city square. It was usual Turkish fare and i ordered a few items. However, the old owner of the restaurant came to us and insisted that we try Adana Kebapi. Also called Kiyma Kebabi, it is made from hand minced meat of only male lamb. Mincemeat is hand mixed with lamb tail fat and charcoal grilled on iron skewers. It is served with coal charred peppers and tomato. It’s named after fifth biggest Turkish city of Adana. On his insistence, Adana Kebapi was ordered and boy did i regret ordering it? Not at all. it was worth every lira spent on it. It was the best Kebap in my entire Turkey Tour. What a nice way to end our day and tour of Cappadocia. We returned to hotel as tonight we had to fly to the coastal city of Kusadasi in Izmir province. Thus ended our two absolutely wonderful days in Magical Cappadocia.