Seventh in my series of Sandton Snapshot posts, leading up to the publication of SandtonPlaces. Browse all of the Sandton Snapshot posts.

Just off the M1 highway in Midrand, four minarets stretch into the sky behind the Dis-Chem warehouse. If you’ve traveled that stretch of road you have undoubtedly seen these minarets and wondered what the deal is. Perhaps you did some research and discovered that the minarets belong to a huge Turkish mosque, called the Nizamiye Mosque, and made a mental note to check it out.

You probably haven’t gone yet. Unless you live in Midrand the mosque is a bit of a drive, and the idea of visiting a mosque might seem daunting if you don’t know much about Islam. Am I right?

I was much the same, until a few weeks ago when I finally went to the mosque to write about it for the SandtonPlaces book. I enjoyed it so much that I went back for a second visit. And I still haven’t had enough.

Mosque wide shot

The Nizamiye Mosque.

I knew about the mosque before it was even completed in early 2012, mainly because I have lots of photographer friends and this is one of the most photogenic buildings around. I’d seen photos of the mosque on Facebook and various blogs. So when I finally got there I could barely contain my enthusiasm — I stormed in and started clicking.

Mosque courtyard2

A photographer’s dream.

Mosque ceiling

Ceiling of the mosque dome itself. I later learned that this ceiling, and all of the ceilings in the complex, are hand-painted.

For the record, I did remove my shoes and cover my head before going into the mosque, and I didn’t take any photos inside until I saw some other guys in there taking pics with their phones. But I traipsed right past the sign at the entrance to the complex that politely instructs visitors to check in at reception before taking photos. Oops.

Heather in mosqueI couldn’t resist taking a selfie in the mosque. I hope this isn’t disrespectful — I’m assuming someone will tell me if it is.

Eventually I did happen past the reception office and go in to introduce myself. I met Ahmet Coban, the PR guide for the mosque complex, and Ibrahim Atasoy, the mosque’s imam. Ahmet and Ibrahim welcomed me warmly, gave me tea, and told me many fascinating stories. They also forgave me my impertinence for barging in and taking photos without asking first.

Ahmet then proceeded to give me a tour of the mosque, introduce me to his wife and two adorable children, and host me for lunch.

Mosque courtyardThe mosque courtyard.

Inside Mosque

Instagram from inside the mosque. The carpets are incredible. Like all the other materials that were used to build and decorate the mosque complex, the carpets are imported from Turkey.

Mosque food

Lunch at the restaurant. I actually can’t remember exactly what this is. I let Ahmet order first and then I asked for the same thing. It was delicious.

Turkish coffee

Turkish coffee.

As you’ve already figured out, there is a restaurant at the Nizamiye mosque. That’s the thing about Nizamiye — it’s actually a lot more than a mosque. It’s an entire complex including a couple of schools, a health clinic, a restaurant, a bakery (serving amazing baklava), and several shops. One of the main purposes of the complex is to educate South Africans and other visitors about Turkish culture, and about Islam more generally. In addition to being a place of worship, the Nizamiye complex is a little piece of Turkey in South Africa.

The Nizamiye complex has a fascinating story behind it, too long and interesting for me to fully recount. But just briefly: The mosque was dreamt up and built by Ali Katırcıoğlu, a very wealthy Turkish businessman known as Uncle Ali. Uncle Ali originally planned to build the mosque in America but he struggled for years fighting U.S. government red tape. He eventually abandoned America and came to South Africa, where he was able to buy land and start building immediately. Uncle Ali designed the mosque as a smaller replica if the Selimiye mosque in Edirne, Turkey. All the building materials were imported from Turkey and mosque was completed in slightly more than two years. The mosque has space for thousands of worshippers and may or may not be the largest mosque in the Southern Hemisphere. (Many sources report this but it hasn’t been proven for certain.)

If you want to learn more about the mosque, I highly recommend taking the tour with Ahmet. Tours are free for everyone. Be sure to check out the art gallery.

I ran out of time on my first visit and didn’t complete the tour. I also didn’t have time to stay until sunset. On my second visit, I made sure to come late in the afternoon and stayed after the tour to take photos as the sun went down.

Mosque early sunsetView of the mosque from the east, just before sunset.

Mosque sunset1

Sunset reflecting off the west side of the mosque.

Mosque and moon

Moonrise over the mosque.

I went to the Nizamiye mosque expecting to get some pretty pictures and a strong cup of Turkish coffee. I wound up getting much more than that. This was truly a delightful experience.

Thanks to Ahmet, Ibrahim and the rest of the staff at the mosque, Turkey has now moved to the top of my must-visit list. And I guess that’s the point.

Mosque sunsetMosque silhouette.

The Nizamiye complex is at the corner of Old Pretoria Road and Le Roux Avenue in Midrand. For more information or to schedule a tour, contact Ahmet Coban at 079-029-0488 or You can also follow @NizamiyeJoburg on Twitter.

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