Istanbul’s Blue Mosque draws Argentine academic to Islam
or some, it is a verse from the Quran or sometimes a quote by a Sufi mystic. The things that drive people to Islam are diverse and for Abel Buzarquis, it was a visit to an Ottoman-era landmark: the Blue Mosque, or Sultanahmet Mosque, in Istanbul. The Argentine academic who teaches psychology in Buenos Aires found himself drawn to the religion when he visited Istanbul five years ago upon the recommendation of a friend.
The 50-year-old man, who hails from a devout Catholic family with Lebanese origins, said he always had doubts about the faith of those around him since his childhood. “I was banned from Communion because I asked questions. I asked questions about celibacy, about why they did not help the poor though the church had gold but still asked the faithful to donate, while I was 9 years old,” he told Anadolu Agency (AA) in an interview in his office at Buenos Aires University earlier this week.
His search for faith changed in 2017 when he decided to take a long flight to Spain to attend a training program, with a stopover in Istanbul on his friend’s recommendation. “It seems now it was a one-way ticket. I left my heart there. I didn’t speak Turkish and my English was rusty but I never felt like a stranger while I was in Istanbul,” he said.
The Islamic call to prayer, known as the adhan, was the first that really attracted Buzarquis to Islam. “When I first heard it, I was having lunch. People had told me that Turkey was a ‘difficult country’ before my visit and when I heard the adhan from the loudspeakers, I thought it was something like an air raid siren. I looked around and saw no one moving at all. People were going about their lives,” he recounted. After hearing it for the first time, he decided to pay a visit to the nearby Blue Mosque. “I stood there in the middle of people and I felt something strange. I thought I found something I’ve lost a long time ago and started crying,” he recalled. Then, he heard the adhan again. “A man tapped on my shoulder and nodded me to go behind a wooden fence (before a gathering of the congregation for Muslim prayers). I went there with other tourists and started watching them. It was only a small fence that I could easily jump over but I felt like there was a huge gap separating me from those people praying,” he explained. His Istanbul visit lasted for four days but he felt the urge to return, which he did 10 days later where he met more people.
After his return home, Buzarquis devoted his time to learning more about Islam. “I felt restless and the music was the only thing that soothed me. I searched online for some music that might be related to Islam but instead, I came upon different versions of adhan and recitations of the Quran. I started listening to them while commuting to work and started feeling soothed,” he said. Later, he began visiting mosques in Buenos Aires, learning Arabic and asking imams questions about Islam. Soon, he was a mosque regular three days a week, where the faithful taught him about prayers and zakat, a form of almsgiving and a pillar of Islam. “Zakat was the answer to my questions about the faith. I saw a perfect way to help others in zakat,” he said. Buzarquis then started performing prayers with others but without the shahada, an oath that every Muslim should take as one of the five pillars of Islam. “People were asking me why I wasn’t taking the oath but I told them that my heart was still not ready. After I felt ready, I took the oath in January 2018 and continued attending mass prayers,” he said.
The ensuing trips to Turkey further cemented his faith. Buzurquis said he was not “worried” about missing prayers because there were “enough mosques in Turkey.” “Turkey is where I started seriously considering conversion to Islam. This is a place where Islam is in the air. It is a strong feeling. When I returned to Turkey, I visited the Blue Mosque again and cried. I felt like I was returning home.”
After his conversion, he chose a new name for himself: Abduljalel, or Servant of the Exalted, an adjective attributed to Allah. In 2019, he had the opportunity to attend the hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage which is another pillar of Islam. These days Buzurquis never removes his taqiyah, a skullcap Muslim men wear while performing prayers. “I am happy to be a Muslim and want other people to know that too. So, I wear the taqiyah all the time,” he said.