Mahyas start adorning Istanbul’s mosques ahead of Ramadan

The centuries-old tradition of “mahyas” has once again begun in Istanbul days before the start of the Islamic holy month on March 11.

Mahya is a traditional Turkish Islamic art form where illuminated messages are hung between the minarets of mosques during the holy month of Ramadan. These messages are usually made of lights arranged to form words or phrases from Islamic scripture, prayers, or messages of peace and solidarity.

The tradition began with the Blue Mosque in 1619 during the reign of Sultan Ahmet I in the Ottoman Empire and has adorned mosques every Ramadan until today.

A mahya team led by Kahraman Yıldız, the apprentice of the last mahya master of the Ottoman Empire, Hacı Ali Ceyhan, made their final preparations at the workshop of the General Directorate of Foundations in Istanbul to hang the lights.

With the countdown to the Ramadan month, Yıldız and his team have started to hang the mahyas, adorning the minarets of the Eyüpsultan Mosque in Istanbul.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA), Yıldız stated Monday that he has been practicing his profession for more than 50 years since he started at 18, and they plan to hang mahyas on the imperial-era mosques. Yıldız explained that his team will adorn a total of eight ancient mosques this year, including Selimiye Mosque in Edirne and Ulu Mosque in Bursa.

“This year, the theme of ‘Ramadan and the consciousness of the afterlife’ was determined by the Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet). The Istanbul mufti gives concise words and we will write about them. We will hang five writings each for four mosques in Istanbul throughout Ramadan,” said Yıldız.

“The mahyas we will hang on Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque and the Blue Mosque will remain fixed. Lights reading ‘La ilaha illallah’ (‘There is no God but Allah’) on Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque and ‘Muhammadün Rasulullah’ (‘Prophet Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah’) in the Blue Mosque,” he added.

Yıldız explained that mahyas have been commissioned by the General Directorate of Foundations for centuries. They prepare a separate set for each mosque in their workshop, then set up the apparatus between the minarets and hang the lights.

Reiterating that the second, third and fifth days of Ramadan are for hanging a second message, Yıldız said, “Then we display the third, fourth and fifth messages on the minaret. We remove the old messages and replace them with the new writing.”

Yıldız stated that he does not want to be the last master of his profession, saying: “I have been trying to carry on with this job for almost 50 years. I hope the new friends will take over from us.” He described his profession as beautiful, giving messages by writing on the sky.

“Mahya making is actually a beautiful feeling. It’s an old Ottoman art, and we’re still trying to carry it on with our friends. I have Aziz Tosyalı with me; he is an old friend. A friend of the painter also came to help us this year. We are trying to carry out this job with three people,” he said.

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