A Slice of Istanbul in Midrand

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 info@nizamiye.co.za. You can also follow @NizamiyeJoburg on Twitter.

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32 Comments

  • Reply UnderAnAfricanSun April 17, 2014 at 10:09 am

    How beautiful and fascinating, Joburg is so diverse and my to-do list just keeps getting longer and longer… I visited Turkey several years ago and it was an amazing trip, I look forward to get a “slice” closer to home.

    • Reply 2summers April 17, 2014 at 12:42 pm

      Yep, I’m sure it’s next-best to the real thing. And next to the highway in Midrand, no less.

    • Reply arbinaya April 18, 2014 at 6:07 am

      how about Hagia Sophia??

  • Reply catherine April 17, 2014 at 10:33 am

    Beautiful! I can’t wait to see your photos of Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque in Istanbul!

    • Reply 2summers April 17, 2014 at 12:41 pm

      Haha. Me either.

      • Reply catherine April 17, 2014 at 2:30 pm

        by the way, just thought I’d let you know that I used to post under Caviar before…just in case you think you have a new fan!

        • Reply 2summers April 17, 2014 at 8:57 pm

          Haha, thanks for letting me know.

  • Reply Timmee April 17, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    Amazing photos Heather!

  • Reply Gail April 17, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    Wonderful photo’s. Love this place and visit often.

  • Reply Sine April 17, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    Thank you SO much for this post. I’ve often driven by and wondered, just like you said. Your pictures are stunning!

    • Reply 2summers April 17, 2014 at 8:57 pm

      Thanks Sine, I’m pleased to have enlightened you. PS: I’m still reading and enjoying your book. I’m just slow 🙂

  • Reply Sunshinebright April 17, 2014 at 6:03 pm

    Loved reading about your sojourn to this mosque. Fascinating! Can’t wait for your next blog. Will you be visiting Istanbul?

    • Reply 2summers April 17, 2014 at 8:56 pm

      Haha. Well, someday I hope.

  • Reply Justcallmegertie April 17, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    Oh wow! I drive past the mosque every day to drop my daughter at the Gautrain station and the mosque fascinates me. But was unsure how to go about visiting. The other morning I drove past as the sun was rising behind it. Wish I had time to stop in middle of road and snap a pic! Breathtaking!

    • Reply 2summers April 17, 2014 at 8:56 pm

      You have to go now. It’s so easy!

  • Reply arbinaya April 18, 2014 at 6:09 am

    charming…

    maybe, you can post a picture of hagia Sophia

    • Reply 2summers April 18, 2014 at 6:47 am

      As soon as I find a way to visit Istanbul I’ll post a pic of the Hagia Sophia. I’m a few thousand miles away at the moment though 🙂

  • Reply Firefly - Jonker April 22, 2014 at 10:51 am

    Such an amazing place. I got a couple of pictures from the outside but didn’t get to go in as it was late and I had to be somewhere else. Got to make a plan at some stage when I’m in Jozi again.

    • Reply 2summers April 22, 2014 at 12:09 pm

      Definitely, Jonker. It’s worth a two-hour visit, for sure.

  • Reply amelie88 April 26, 2014 at 6:13 pm

    You mentioned the business man who dreamed up this complex tried to do this in the US… I wonder if it’s the same guy who wanted to build a huge Muslim cultural center right near Ground Zero in NYC? (Now a memorial and home to the shiny One World Trade Center building) Because that caused a HUGE controversy and for very obvious reasons, New Yorkers were having none of it. It was sad to see so much resistance but unfortunately 9/11 will forever be tied to the fact that all the hijackers were Muslim. That shouldn’t matter in the grand scheme of things but it does. And since it happened only a few years after 9/11 the wounds were still very raw.

    However, that being said, this place is gorgeous! I’ve never been inside a mosque and I’ve always wanted to go in one. Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply amelie88 April 26, 2014 at 6:17 pm

      Hmm never mind, the place did get built in NYC! I’m glad it did, it seems like a really cool space. So I’m glad I was wrong and clearly it was not the same guy!

      • Reply 2summers April 28, 2014 at 8:04 am

        I remember that story too. Yeah, don’t think it was the same guy but the controversy is definitely similar.

  • Reply Misha Low April 26, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    A terrific article and a beautiful building. So pleased with the positive responses everywhere. My grandfather is buried there and it is really comforting to know that he is in such a beautiful surrounding.

    http://www.ebrunews.com/en/trend/turkish-martyrs-corpse-is-moved-in-south-africa

    • Reply 2summers April 28, 2014 at 8:02 am

      This is fascinating, Misha, thanks so much for posting this link! I’m going to share it.

  • Reply Brando April 27, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    Any money spent on religion is money wasted.

    • Reply 2summers April 28, 2014 at 7:57 am

      What a closed-minded thing to say.

      • Reply brando April 28, 2014 at 1:05 pm

        My statement is close minded? That mosque and the filthy religion it represents expects you, a free thinking human being, to cover up your hair with a hijab ‘out of respect’. Respect for who? A clearly chauvinist group of men with a deity who is, evidently, hell bent on keeping women covered up and oppressed as though they are second class citizens. That mosque is an eyesore to me.

        • Reply 2summers April 28, 2014 at 1:17 pm

          Okay, you’re entitled to your opinion. I personally like to be respectful and open-minded about all religions even though I myself am not religious. I think all of the world’s faiths and points of view have something positive to offer to humanity. But if you don’t feel that way, fine. Nothing I can do to change it.

  • Reply THE LIST – A visit to the Midrand Turkish Mosque | owningthejourney July 30, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    […] in 2012 (what?? Shows how I often I land up in Midrand). A discovery of a blogpost on the mosque (http://2summers.net/2014/04/17/a-slice-of-istanbul-in-midrand/) said that the mosque allows visitors of the non-Muslim kind to come and have a tour through the […]

  • Reply Shakiri October 29, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    I would like to study in Istanbul if possible…

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