Prophet's sacred mantles go on display in Istanbul
ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 8/21/2010 12:00:00 AM | GÜL DEMİR - NIKI GAMM
The hırka, a short mantle or coat, is a simple garment with a long history. There are two hırkas in Istanbul of great significance for Muslims and their ancestry can be traced back to the Prophet Mohammed – hırka-i saadet and hırka-i şerife. The latter for instance can only be viewed by the public during Ramadan in the mosque of the same name and it opened for 10 days of viewing this past Friday. The former, the Mantle of Happiness, is among the sacred relics at Topkapı Palace
The hırka, a short mantle or coat, is a simple garment with a long history. It comes in one basic form but some minor differences in its length, front opening, sleeve length and how the opening for the head is cut. It could be of cotton or linen but in colder climates it can be made of a warmer material such as wool or even padded and covered with fur and it hasn’t necessarily been of one color.
There are two hırkas in Istanbul of great significance for Muslims and their ancestry can be traced back to the Prophet Mohammed – the hırka-i saadet and hırka-i şerife. The latter for instance, can only be viewed by the public during Ramadan in the mosque of the same name and it opened for 10 days of viewing this past Friday. The former, the Mantle of Happiness, is among the sacred relics at Topkapı Palace.
[HH] Collecting relics
Mankind tends to be acquisitive and collects keepsakes. This is nothing new. One has only to look at the scattered relics that are purported to remain from this or that saint in early Christianity to understand that anything that has had contact with sanctity takes on some of the sanctity of that person or place. There is even a tendency to worship the object, if not the person and place.
During the Prophet Mohammed’s lifetime, people brought away mementos from Mecca and Medina and such a practice grew following his death. This is how today two mantles of the Prophet reached Istanbul. The hırka-i saadet was originally purchased by the Umayyad rulers and was worn on festival occasions. Following the accession of the Abbasids, the mantle again changed hands for a price and so on down through the centuries until 1517 when the Ottomans conquered Egypt and took over the title of caliph as leader of the Muslim world. The Hırka-i Saadet is a black woollen jacket, measuring 124 cm with wide sleeves and a cream-colored wool lining.
According to scholar Hilmi Aydın, who was at one time director of Topkapi Palace Museum, “The holy relics which are today kept at Topkapı Palace have been reverently preserved over the centuries. As well as those belonging to Mohammed himself, there are some which belong to other prophets or to companions of Mohammed, another group associated with the Kaaba, and finally containers and wrappers in which the relics were transported.”
Aydin who has written on the subject says that “the relics at Topkapı Palace for the most part were brought here between the 16th and early 20th centuries, with a notable spate during the 19th century due largely to the spread in Arabia of the Wahhabi sect, which denounced the idea of material objects being endowed with sanctity. The relics were therefore taken to Istanbul to protect them from destruction at the hands of the Wahhabis, who demolished the tomb of Hussein and in 1803 occupied and razed the city of Mecca.”
Prior to the evacuation of Medina during the First World War, it was decided to send the holy relics of the city and the precious gifts sent during the Ottoman period to Topkapı Palace for safe keeping. Every year an imperial caravan had started from Istanbul carrying gifts to the person in charge of maintaining Mecca and Medina and to important people along the route. Included was a new covering for the Kaaba that had been stitched and embroidered by the women of the sultan’s harem. In 1917 Ziver Bey, governor of Medina was consulted as to whether there was any religious objection to removing the relics, and on learning that there was not, they were sent off to Istanbul. “The subject of the holy relics and gifts was discussed at Lausanne, and the Turkish delegation rejected a demand that these objects be returned. Consisting of eighty-one pieces altogether, they include large diamonds, candelabra, chandeliers, lamps, hanging ornaments, fans, rare manuscripts, Quran cases, caskets for the Holy Mantle, and other objects of priceless spiritual and material value.”
The room containing the sacred relics was opened to the public in 1962 and has from time to time been closed. Today it is now open.
[HH] Hırka-i Şerife
The Mantle of Honor arrived in Istanbul by a much more circuitous route. According to tradition, before the Prophet died, he told his followers that a dervish would come whom he didn’t know but whose name was Veysel Karani and his mantle was to be given to him. It seems that this man had come from Yemen in order to talk with the Prophet but not finding him and because he came from a young family and his mother was ill, he had had to return to Yemen. The Prophet Mohammed had been strongly affected by this story. So when the Yemeni man came back after the Prophet’s death, he was given the mantle and it stayed in his family. When he died without issue, his brother took up the duty of protecting the mantle and his descendants continued it.
At the beginning of the 16th century, the family migrated to Anatolia and settled in Kuşadası. In 1611, they moved to the Fatih district of Istanbul as the result of an order by Sultan Ahmet I. Everyone used to call the descendants of this family Sheikh Üveysi. Many of them became medrese teachers, mathematicians and preachers. They set aside a protected room in their principal home which they would open to those who wanted to see the mantle on Islam’s holy nights (kandil) and during Ramadan.
In the 17th century, this family became connected with the prominent Köprülü family and its members were even circumcised at ceremonies during which the young Ottoman princes were too. When people had to adopt family names during the first years of the Republic, they decided to use Köprülü as their name.
The mantle later was kept in a variety of places that Sultan Abdülhamid I had built especially for it. Then Sultan Abdülmecid cleared about 700 homes to build the mosque that is still to be found on this site (constructed 1847-51). In addition to the mosque, there was a place set aside where the eldest member of the family were allowed to live, an office for the deputy, barracks for the soldiers (the building which is presently used as the Hırka-i Şerif Primary School) and rooms for the persons on duty.
One enters the courtyard through three gates looking like monuments. They are made of hewn travertine stone. The octogonal mosque has eight windows covered with a dome and two minarets each with a single balcony. Above the gate in the right hand side of the yard there is an epitaph by the calligraphic art of Kazasker Mustafa İzzeddin under Sultan Abdülmecid’s monogram. Below the dome, can also be seen eight framed verse inscriptions made by the very same calligrapher. Eight framed inscriptions which are Abdülmecid’s own work and bearing his signature are displayed above the mimbar. The preacher desk, mihrab and mimbar are made of red porphyry.
The mantle is only open to the public for limited amounts of time – one year recently the public wasn’t allowed in to see it at all, giving rise to rumors that someone had tried to iron it and it had been burned. But actually it was due to the creation of a team of experts who included two Italian and one British professor to prepared a report on its condition. It was determined that it was wearing away and was in need of repair and being protected against humidity. As well the room in which it was being kept had to be equipped with modern museological techniques.
This year there are only 10 days available. The popularity of the mantle is such that the Istanbul mufti who heads the Religious Affairs Directorate in Istanbul, Professor Mustafa Çağrıcı, was moved to warn people not to go through with the idea of actually praying to the mantle. It is only there as a reminder of the Prophet. And especially he felt he had to warn women against getting carried away. Moreover he cautioned against praying to the dead in the mausoleums, leaving their house keys and tying pieces of cloth on the graves because it had no relationship to Islam.
Hırka- The pattern for a hırka that is supposed to have belonged to Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi. From “Derviş Ceyizi” by Nurhan Atasoy.
360 Hırka-i serif Camii