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Constructing a masterpiece

The Nizamiye Masjid that marks the Midrand skyline, will be having Taraweeh prayers during Ramadaan.

17 July 2012 | Natashia Bearam

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THE Nizamiye Masjid (mosque) opened in February following more than two years of construction. Inspired by Ottoman culture, the mosque has brought a little piece of Turkey to Midrand.

How it all started

Turkish property developer Ali Katircioglu, affectionately known as Uncle Ali, fulfilled his dream "to replicate Ottoman architectural style in a place where it did not exist" on South African soil in October 2009 when work on the Nizamiye Masjid began. Katircioglu initially planned to build the mosque in the United States, however, when a suitable location could not be found and at the suggestion of his friend Fethullah Gulen, he brought the ground-breaking project to SA changing the Midrand skyline forever. Katircioglu has overseen the entire project and will remain in the country until its completion.

Design and architecture

Occupying 10 hectares of land, the mosque is a focal point between Johannesburg and Pretoria. According to project manager Orhan Celik, the masjid is a scaled down (20 percent smaller) replica of the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne, Turkey. The Selimiye was built in the 16th century by architect Mimar Sinan and is considered to be his greatest design and the apogee of Islamic architecture. "For Ottomans, among other art forms, architecture was one of the main ways to explore and express the beauty and spirituality of Islam," said Celik.

The plans for the Midrand mosque were drawn up in Turkey and a local architect was tasked with adapting the drawings to local standards and regulations. It took thousands of man-hours to meticulously piece together the mosque and a team of Turkish builders was brought in to ensure its success. While it has been widely touted as the biggest mosque in the southern hemisphere Celik said he could not confirm that.

No costs were spared on its construction but according to Celik, media reports claiming the mosque cost upward of R1 billion were exaggerated. "All the amounts published so far have been estimates of other people," said Celik. "Uncle Ali does not want an amount attached to the project but we can say that it is much less than the amounts published."

The Nizamiye Mosque seen above is a scaled down replica of the Selimye Mosque in Turkey. Picture source: Looklocal Midrand 

Exploring the Nizamiye Masjid

The three-tiered grand mosque makes for a striking silhouette with its massive hand-painted dome bordered by four identical 55m high minarets. Stepping inside the masjid one is immediately awestruck by its seamless symmetry and beauty. The harmonious architectural design transports you to a time when sultans ruled and empires dominated. Turkish Iznik tiles, which were handcrafted and imported from Turkey, adorn the walls and ceilings of the masjid. Several ornate stained-glass windows create an extraordinary illuminated interior, drawing the eye upward toward the spectacular dome and highlighting the marbled pillars decorated with hand-painted golden leaves.

The central men’s prayer area and the upstairs women’s gallery, accommodate up to 3 000 people per service. But for Katircioglu the mosque is much more than a place of worship. Celik said, "Uncle Ali feels that a building is just metal and concrete and only becomes meaningful when it serves people. Hence he added other features to it like a clinic, school, cemetery, conference hall and shops, so it will serve as a community centre not just a place of worship."

While the mosque and school have been completed and are already in use, the clinic, market and school grounds are still under construction. Celik said the entire complex would officially open in September. The mosque is open for worship at specific times between 6am and 7pm daily.

Ramadaan at Nizamiye Masjid

In addition to the five daily prayers at the Nizamiye Masjid in Midrand, the last evening prayer will be longer every day. The mosque’s Imam Ibrahim Atasoy said, "During Ramadan there are special evening prayers called Taraweeh which are performed at all mosques and will also be done here."

Muslim men may arrange with the imam to stay on the premises during the last 10 days of Ramadaan.

Quick facts

- 200 workers were used in the Nizamiye’s construction

- The dome is 31m high and 24m wide.

- It has four half domes and 21 smaller domes.

- There are 232 stained-glass windows.

- There are seven entrances.

- The dome was covered with 48 tons of lead.

- The minarets are 55m high with stairs going up three platforms. One minaret has two staircases.

- The name Nizamiye was inspired by the 11th century AD Nizamiye Madrasah (educational facility) in Baghdad.

- All of the Islamic artworks were hand-painted by calligraphers.

- The prayer hall has a mehrab (a niche in the wall indicating the direction of prayer toward Makkah), mimbar (pulpit atop a flight of stairs) and kursu (podium).

- Including one in the courtyard, there are five wudhu facilities (Muslims use this to wash before prayers).

- On special occasions the mosque is lit up in luminescent green and purple at night.

- The carpet in the main prayer area was specifically designed for the mosque and the hand- painted dome above it is a mirror image of its design.

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