April 13, 2011

Eyüp, Istanbul. June, 2007

One sunny Sunday morning, I took the bus to Eyüp, an Istanbul neighborhood held sacred by Muslims because Abu Ayyub al-Ansar, the Prophet Muhammad’s companion and standard bearer, is buried there. Filled with relics and other holy objects, his turbe (tomb) is a traditional place of pilgrimage for devout Muslims, especially on Fridays for noontime prayer and before weddings and circumcisions...which is what these young boys are ceremonially dressed for. In the past, the sons of Sultans were treated to circumcision festivities that would last for weeks or even months. Special dishes were prepared, prayers recited, music and dancing devoted especially to this time, which marks a young man’s formal entry into the religious community of Islam. Nowadays it’s all done on a more modest scale. Still, the boy (generally between 2-14) will dress like an Ottoman prince with cape, scepter and crown. Somewhere on his outfit is the word Masallah (“Allah preserve him.”) In advance of the surgical procedure, the children are paraded around on horseback, in carts or cars followed by drummers and clarinet players. After the operation, while the guests feast on lavish fare, the boy is helped to relieve his pain in a special room by means of jokes, music and much gift-giving, including the traditional pinning of gold coins to his clothing. And after a few days when he has recovered, the festivities end. Masallah, indeed.

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