One of my main intentions, actually probably my only intention, when visiting the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, was to make my way to the Pavilion of the holy Mantle. For those who do not know, this pavilion houses some of the most precious and blessed belongings of the Prophet Muhammad ﷻ, most notably the Mantle itself. These relics arrived in Istanbul more than 500 years ago under the patronage of sultan Selim I, the father of sultan Suleyman the Magnificent, after his conquest of Egypt in in 1517 . He then had them placed in Topkapi Palace and assigned forty memorisers of the Quran to read over them 24 hours a day, a tradition which has continued for centuries and still remains.
This chamber was guarded as adamantly as the sultan himself. The key to the chest, which housed the Mantle, was kept by the sultan and was only opened on the 15th of Ramadan each year. There are historical accounts, that show just how auspicious an occasion this was. On this day, members of the family and entourage of the sultan, wore their finest garbs and musk, and made their way to the pavilion to simply kiss the Mantle through a piece of thin fabric that was placed on top of it. Their reverence for all things connected to the Prophet Muhammad ﷻ, really lifts the spirits! Even the dust that would gather on the relics was collected and stored, mixed with incense, and placed where the bodies of deceased sultans would be washed.
The last time I went to visit the chamber, roughly three years ago, I found myself caught up among the crowd of tourists and it was quite difficult for me to show the respect and admiration that these relics deserve. To avoid this happening again, I devised a plan, one which would hopefully allow my wife and I some well needed alone time with the relics, which are after all, the closest we can get to doing ziyara (visitation) of our beloved Prophet ﷻ in Turkey.
We woke up early and went to purchase our passes for the palace. Instead of using them, we tucked them into our pockets to use the following morning. This would ensure that when the doors opened at 9.30am the next day, we wouldn’t be queuing up with the crowds for tickets, and could walk straight in.
Our plan worked perfectly! The doors opened and we whisked passed security to the westside of the palace where the pavilion stood. It was quite a walk and there was no one around bar a few guards. As I approached the grand doors of the Holy Pavilion, I lowered my gaze and stepped inside. The experience was like no other. We passed each relic, one by one, in all their beauty: the hair, the bowl, the bow and the footprint. An absolute undeserving honour.
As those who have visited would know, all the relics on display can be observed closely, bar two- the flag standard and the holy Mantle- the standard being the banner of the Prophet Muhammad ﷻ and the Mantle being his cloak. These two relics have their own cordoned off room to the left of the pavilion, which cannot be accessed. Visitors can gaze through a window, but that is all. It’s a forbidden room. How I wished there was an entrance allowing us to be in their presence!
Having gazed at all the relics in absolute peace, I walked around, observing the blue Iznik tiled walls, beautified with Arabic and Osmanli calligraphy, that surrounded the pavilion. I unashamedly peered through each of the golden barred windows to see if there was any more to this old chamber that I had not yet beheld, and to my surprise, I came across a bold green door with golden borders and a rusty old iron lock that I had not seen before. This, I thought, had to be some sort of old Ottoman passage that led to something significant. Above the door, in Arabic script, it reminds those who enter to repeat the words- BiHaqq Ashhadu an la ilaha illa Allah –By the Abidingly Real, I testify that there is no God but Allah.
As I pressed my cheek against the adjoining window and glanced inside to see what lay ahead, there before my very eyes, in all its glory, stood the golden chests containing the blessed Holy Mantle and flag standard of the Prophet Muhammad ﷻ. This door led straight to the most sacred of relics and I was speechless!
It was a simple domed room with Ottoman lanterns and the names of the Companions and family of Prophet ﷻ at the base of the dome. The chests were surrounded by a golden enclosure, ornamented with passages from Dala’il al-Khayrat, and on the walls that surrounded this enclosure, were blue panels with inscription from Qasida al-Burdah. How befitting it is that the Ottoman’s used centuries old poems in praise of the Prophet Muhammad ﷻ to surround their most sacred of rooms.
This room will forever remain my most treasured memory of Turkey.
Check out Mohsen Saleh’s blog here.