Before we reached Ashgabat, and after visiting the quite attractive mosque of Saparmurat Hajj, built for the visit of the Great Leader to Mecca in 1992, we were adamant to see the Turkmenbashy Ruhy mosque, one of the last great projects of Niyazov. Opened in 2004, it is the largest mosque in Central Asia. And big it is - we could see it from a distance. First, we stopped briefly at the smaller building next door, the white-and-gold mausoleum in which we saw not only the tomb of Niyazov at the centre of the hall, but also his mother and brothers. His father only has a marker instead of a real tomb. Strictly forbidden to take pictures inside this very clean resting place, with soldiers guarding the entrance. Contrary to my expectations, we did not see any Turkmen worshippers of the former leader of the country. But the more interesting sight is the mosque right next to the mausoleum. And yes, both buildings, in all their totalitarian appearance, were built by a well-known European construction company.
The location of the mausoleum and the mosque are not chosen by coincidence, of course. Gypjak is the place where Niyazov and his family lived when the destructive earthquake of 1948 struck the area, killing his mother and brothers (his father had already died in the Second World War). As we approached the terrain on which the mosque is built, we were completely dwarfed by the size of the gigantic area with fountains and flags leading the visitor to the entrance of the Muslim monster building. The grey clouds above somehow made for a perfect view of the Turkmenbashy Ruhy mosque. The white minarets and building, the golden dome and toppings of the minarets stood out well against the threatening sky. Once in front of the main entrance, we noticed the words around the portal: "Ruhnama is a holy book, the Koran is the book of Allah", and wondered if all Muslims would agree with that. Ruhnama, the book written by Niyazov himself, an attempt to foster Turkmen sense of identity and to lead the country into a new Turkmen golden age, is compulsory reading for the Turkmen people. In this enormous religious building, he has sought to promote his ideas further. The minarets contain quotes from his book, and in the inside, there are more quotes. Even more: above the mihrab, there is a simple "Saparmurat Turkmenbashy the Great" - referring to the name the late leader extended upon himself.
After the overwhelming entrance, we stepped through the main gate, past a soldier who was apparently necessary to guard it, and entered the mosque proper. In the enormous hall we saw here, 8,000 men and 2,000 women are able to worship Allah. Thick carpets everywhere, but strangely enough, not a single worshipper. Just a group of German pensioners who felt lost like us in this vast space. But doubts crept up to our non-Turkmen minds. Was this mosque really supposed to be a mosque? Why did the late leader include quotes from his book, left his name, and the name of his own book, everywhere? Was this intended a place of worship for his book, his ideas about Turkmen unity? Was this, perhaps, a temple for his ideology, for the Altyn Asyr, or Golden Age, of Turkmenistan? Why would this mosque have to be built right next to the mausoleum of the late president? Why, then, did we not see any person praying - not even our own guide? The Turkmenbashy Ruhy mosque seemed clean, but also clinical. It lacked the solemn, sincere feeling of devotion that even I could feel in other places. This just felt like a curiosity, a monstrosity, another megalomaniac project.
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