By Metin Demirsar
Istanbul (Dunya) – The grand new Mimar Sinan Mosque, which opened in July 2012, has become the biggest Islamic shrine on the Asian side of Istanbul, with room for 10,000 Muslim followers during prayers.
The magnificent mosque is named after the great Ottoman architect Sinan (1489-1588).
"No major Friday mosque existed on the Asian side of the city. We decided that a great Friday prayer mosque should be built here. It was our duty, as descendants of the architect Sinan, to present this shrine as a gift to the people of Turkey. It is our belief that we must love all and be in cooperation with all, and not to segregate people," a senior government official said.
The mosque and the surrounding skyscrapers and business and residential blocks symbolize the rising power of Prime Minister Edogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party).
"The mosque and the nearby buildings that have been bunched together represent the power base of the government – the Islamic faith and the wealth generated by the country's contractors," a public relations executive said.
Since the moderately Islamist AK Party came to power in November 2002, the government has restored, constructed and opened nearly 4,000 mosques, mosque complexes, imarets or medieval food houses for the poor, caravanserais or ancient hotels, throughout the country.
Built on the side of a hill next to the Uphill Court Towers in Istanbul's newly developing international financial center of Atasehir, overlooking the Trans European Motorway (TEM), the magnificent Mimar Sinan Mosque is a near replica of the 16th century Selimiye Camii (Selimiye Mosque), built by Sinan, in Edirne, 250 km (150 miles) northwest of Istanbul.
It took the architect Sinan (1489-1588) nearly 15 years to complete the Selimiye Camii. He was 85 years old when he finished it as his masterpiece. Architect Hilmi Senalp, 55, completed the Mimar Sinan Mosque in only 30 months, using engineering and reinforced concrete technologies that didn't exist in Sinan's time.
As the chief architect of the Ottoman Empire during the reign of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent and his successors, Sinan was credited with constructing 375 structures in the vast Ottoman Empire. These included 92 mosques, 52 mescits (or small prayer mosques), 22 monumental tombs, 57 medresses or religious schools, 36 palaces, 20 caravanserais, five darrusifas or hospitals, 48 hamams or Turkish baths, eight bridges, 17 imarets, eight cellars.
Among his outstanding works in Istanbul are the Suleymaniye, the Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent; the Sehzade Mosque and the Rustempasa Camii. Each of Sinan's mosques had support buildings, including medresses, monumental tombs of the Sultans, their wives and children, food houses for the poor, stores and shops for the various guilds and craftsmen.
Built in the classical Ottoman and Turkish architectural style, the Mimar Sinan Camii is smaller than the Selimiye Mosque. The main building has a dome that is 27 meters wide and 42 meters high and six half domes. The interior, with its white walls and its wall-to-wall green carpets, is subdued and quiet, great for praying and contemplation.
Similar to the Selimiye Camii, the Mimar Sinan Mosque has a large courtyard and four 72 meter high minarets with three prayer balconies each.
The Mimar Sinan Mosque has 35 domes, 184 support vaults or arcades, 293 stained windows, 12 doors, and a 104-berth abdesthane, where Muslim followers can wash their hands, feet and faces before prayers.
Unlike the Selimiye Camii, the Mimar Sinan Mosque has an underground car park with space for 270 vehicles. Scores of shops will be located on the lower levels of the mosque complex.
Located next to the mosque is the Mimar Sinan public park, where the works of the great Sinan are inscribed. From the benches in the park, one can view the busy highways connecting modern Atasehir with rest of the city.
But critics of the government say the Mimar Sinan Mosque is wrongly placed. It should have been constructed elsewhere in Atasehir, separate from Uphill Court and the residential complexes and buildings, where homeowners have paid as much as $1.5 million for flats that have had their views of city now blocked by the enormous mosque.
The value of the mosque, an architectural masterpiece, is also likely to fall because of the gaudy buildings in the vicinity.
Some critics have suggested that nothing should have been constructed at the site, leaving it open as a wide expanse.