Kahramanmaraş Afşin Seven Sleepers Mosque Complex

Article: Prof. Dr. Mehmet Özkarcı Date: July 2014

FLEEING PERSECUTION BY THE PAGAN EMPEROR DECIUS FOR HAVING CONVERTED TO CHRISTIANITY DURING THE ROMAN PERIOD, SEVEN YOUNG MEN - YEMLIHA, MISLINA, MEKSELINA, MERNÛŞ, TEBERNÛŞ, ŞAZENÛŞ AND KAFESTATYÛŞ - TAKE REFUGE IN A CAFE WITH THEIR DOG, KITMIR.

Kahramanmaraş Afşin Seven Sleepers Mosque Complex
Kahramanmaraş Afşin Seven Sleepers Mosque Complex

But soldiers erect a wall at the mouth of the cave to trap them inside, and the seven youths end up sleeping here for centuries. Thinking they have slept just one night, they are unaware when they wake up that a very long time has passed. Only when one of the youths leaves the cave to go in search of food, does he realize that everything has changed.
Legends are rife regarding the location of the cave of the seven sleepers, a story common to both Christian and Islamic belief. Scores of caves in Europe, Asia and Africa are known as Ashab al-Kahf (Companions of the Cave), four of them in Turkey in the towns of Selçuk, Tarsus and Afşin. Although each one of these towns claims the cave, the actual finds point to Afşin, aka Efsus.

THE SEVEN SLEEPERS COMPLEX
The Afşin Seven Sleepers Complex is located in the town of the same name in Kahramanmaraş province. This complex, dedicated to the seven friends, was built near a cave on a rocky outcrop known as Ashab al-Kahf, which has been regarded as sacred since antiquity. As the Quran tells us, not long after their reawakening the friends who had slept for years in the cave died and a mosque (church) was built next to the cave mouth by those who had witnessed the incident.

According to the sources, the building of the church was commissioned by the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II (408-450). Also known as the “Mosque of Jesus”, in time it fell into ruin. Eventually, the Anatolian Seljuk Emir of Maraş, Nusretüddin Hasan Bey, undertook construction over its ruins of a series of buildings, including today’s mosque, between 1215 and 1234. This mosque, in whose construction materials from the church were also used, appears harmoniously integrated with the cave. The other buildings in the complex commissioned by Nusretüddin Hasan Bey include a hospice (1215), and an inn (1233). The complex was subsequently expanded by a madrasa built in the period of the Dulkadir Principality (1480-92), a women’s mosque (1500) and a mausoleum. An imperial pavilion was also added in the Ottoman period. 
The existence of the Afşin Seven Sleepers Complex is evidence that the Anatolian Seljuks, the Dulkadir Principality and the Ottoman Empire all took responsibility for the site, which is sacred to both Christians and Muslims and had been a place of pilgrimage since Byzantine times. At the same time, it constitutes tacit acknowledgement that they believed the site to be that of the cave associated with the story of Seven Sleepers.
In the light of the extant documents, we, too, believe the story of the Seven Sleepers took place in the cave at Afşin. Many Muslim scholars share this view, and scientists who have conducted investigations at the complex today say they are of the same opinion.

As far as we have been able to determine, no such magnificent complex like the one at Afşin is to be found at any of the other proposed locations. Just as Afşin remains as the sole candidate for the location of the cave, so do the people of Kahramanmaraş give their children names like those of the Seven Sleepers, a further indication of how the locals have made the story their own and kept it alive down the centuries.
The story of the seven sleepers has preserved its vibrancy in Christianity and Islam throughout history. Because of its importance, Sura 18 of the Holy Quran, which tells the story of what happened there, is called Al-Kahf (The Cave). Christians for their part consider the Seven Sleepers saints. We also encounter the story of the seven sleepers in the Jewish and Hindu holy books. The story and its shrines are important cultural legacies symbolizing social tranquility and tolerance among different communities and faiths as well as being a nexus of communications between religions.

A unique complex without a counterpart in the world, the Afşin Seven Sleepers Complex is important for “Faith Tourism”. We invite all people to come and visit it.