Afternoon prayers conclude at the Abdulhamid Han Mosque in Istanbul’s working-class neighborhood, and attention shifts from the imam to a sport instructor clad in a white polo shirt.
A group of worshippers, mostly silver-haired men, rise from the thick turquoise carpet and follow the instructor’s lead, engaging in exercises aimed at improving their physical well-being.
For 15 minutes, they stretch, rotate their shoulders, and hop in place, sharing muted laughs and shy glances as they rediscover the joy of movement.
“This fitness program is like vehicle maintenance for our bodies. It helps improve our organs,” explains Servet Arici, a 66-year-old mosque attendee.
Huseyin Kaya, 75, expresses his delight in feeling every part of his body in motion. “It makes a difference,” he says, his years as a taxi driver evident in the creases on his forehead.
Instructor Fatih Yamanoglu emphasizes the importance of these daily exercises in preventing injuries and enhancing the quality of life for the elderly participants.
Between 25 and 35 worshippers participate in these sessions daily after noon and late afternoon prayers, focusing on improving flexibility and mobility.
While women are currently excluded from the project, the Bagcilar council, under the leadership of President Erdogan’s AKP party, expresses openness to their inclusion, acknowledging the need to address the low levels of physical activity among Turkish women.
Dr. Serap Inal from Istanbul Galata University highlights the importance of physical activity, especially among residents of disadvantaged neighborhoods and the elderly population.
Imam Bulent Cinar sees the mosque evolving into a holistic center for worship and well-being, advocating for the expansion of the initiative to mosques nationwide. He notes the positive impact of exercise on the worshippers’ prayers, enhancing their mobility and vitality.
“As we prioritize physical fitness, we also enrich our spiritual practice,” Imam Cinar concludes, emphasizing the rejuvenating effects of these exercises on the worshippers.
(With inputs from AFP)