The Grandfather of modern Muslim Europe
Just north-west of the capital city of Kosovo, Prishtina, where the land is of little value, and the only sound you can hear is the constant rush of passing traffic from two of the city’s main arteries as they criss-cross nearby, there is a small walled complex in a field strewn with litter. As you approach it from the little dirt track that leads off Route 31, you’ll probably pass local children playing in the dirt. One or two might even come up and cheekily demand ‘one pound’. The recently refurbished outer walls offer a little clue as to the significance of this long forgotten monument on the edge of newly formed Kosovo’s most important city.
The large black iron gates paid for with Turkish money are another clue. Inside, the manicured lawn and well-tended gardens are the third clue, as are the Turkish flags hanging from the building that resembles a little embassy. But this is no diplomatic zone. It is where lies the tomb of the ‘grandfather’ of almost every indigenous European Muslim. This is the tomb of Sultan Murad I, the third Ottoman Sultan, and the man responsible for bringing the Turkish Muslim Empire from the steppes of Anatolia into the Balkans for what would become a five-century stay.
The tomb, allegedly the first Ottoman construction in Kosovo, has undergone several rebuilds and refurbishments. The current building, with its quintessentially Ottoman dome and architectural style, dates from 1261AH/1845CE. As you enter the tomb’s courtyard, be sure to acknowledge the caretakers who live in a small house to the right. They are the reason the lawn is so manicured and the complex so clean – including the most immaculate public toilets probably in Kosovo. That alone deserves the customary small tip. This is the norm even though theirs is a salaried role courtesy of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA). The Turks know the part Murad played in shaping Europe.
To enter the tomb, you have to pass a large ancient tree bent over with age. Locals believe it has magical healing powers. Some say that about the water that pours from the ornate brass tap beside it too. The light-coloured wooden doors of the main building give way to a small porch where female visitors can borrow a scarf. Several of them hang beside the large Swiss plant. All visitors have to remove their footwear if they want to go any further. This is an active space of worship for many people, so visitors must respect it by speaking in hushed tones and behaving tactfully.
On my last visit, two women came in and circumambulated the huge wooden tomb in the centre of the room, a decorative purple cloth of Arabic calligraphy draped over it. I then watched as one of them sat in front of the large white cloth turban at the tomb’s head – all imperial Ottoman tombs have one – and began to quietly read from a prayer book. Up above, the beautifully decorated ceiling had shades of yellow and red, also with neat Arabic calligraphy. Light streams in from windows on all four sides. The tomb is an ideal place to sit and contemplate the impact of a man whose expeditions meant Islamic culture continued to shape Europe at a time when attempts were being made to rid the continent of it in the south. Murad’s achievements are the reason the Balkans has such a large concentration of indigenous European Muslims.
The tomb is said to mark the exact spot Murad fell in 800AH/1389CE during the Battle of Kosovo. It is one of two tombs dedicated to him. The other is in his former capital, Bursa in Anatolia, Turkey. The Kosovo tomb is first mentioned in the writings of medieval Ottoman traveller Evliya Celebi, who visited the site in 1070AH/1660CE to pay his respects. It was built by Murad’s son Bayezid I to contain the Sultan’s internal organs, which were removed from his body when it was prepared for transportation back to Turkey.
Sultan Murad I’s expansions helped the Ottomans to become a regional power. After his death, his eldest son Bayezid I took the reins in a typically ruthless imperial Ottoman fashion. Upon hearing of his father’s passing, Bayezid summoned his younger brother Yakub Bey to the Sultan’s Command Centre tent. As the young Sultan entered the tent, Bayezid had him strangled to death right there, ensuring there was no other claimant to the imperial throne and the transition from one Sultan to another was a stable one. Cruel, ruthless and effective.
Where in the world: The tomb is located north-west of Kosovo’s capital city, Prishtina, on a spot between Lazareva and Mazgit. It is found off Route 31 close to where Autostrade Dr Ibrahim Rugova cuts across it.
In and out: Only Germania airline flies direct to Prishtine from London Gatwick, all other carriers go via their domestic capitals. The only way to get to the tomb is by private taxi or vehicle hire.
Top tips: If you are going to drive in from another country, bear in mind the need to buy separate car insurance for Kosovo at the border, and remember you cannot enter Serbia from Kosovo unless you came in from Serbia (don’t ask !). Also, note; the word for tomb locally is the Turkish ‘turbe’, so you would be asking for ‘The Sultan Murad Turbe’.
Tharik Hussain has spent much of his adult life travelling across Europe exploring its fourteen centuries of neglected Muslim heritage. His writings about his discoveries have appeared in publications across the globe.
To follow his work visit:
www.tharikhussain.co.uk or his blogs www.europeanmuslimheritage.com