Napoleon Bonaparte once exclaimed, “If the world were a single state, then surely Istanbul would be its capital.” Today’s modern city of Istanbul weaves its contrasting religious and secular elements – ancient architecture and modern infrastructure – into a vibrant and exquisite tapestry that holds its viewer breathless. As a first time visitor, this bustling metropolis welcomed and captivated me with its rich and storied history.
A Muslim’s heritage
Nabi (SAW) once gave glad tidings to his companions by saying: “You will conquer Constantinople. Its commander will be the best, and its army will be the best.” (Ahmad)
At that time, the victory of the small Muslim nation over the superpower of that time was quite an inconceivable notion, and the Sahabah could not understand how a victory of that magnitude could be achieved. After the demise of Nabi (SAW) and with the expansion of the Islamic state, many Muslim commanders tried to conquer this empire aspiring to become the one about whom their Prophet (SAW) had made mention. But alas, Constantinople remained invincible.
On 27 Rajab 835 CE, Muhammad Al-Fatih, the son of the seventh Ottoman Sultan, Murad the second, was born. He was raised and educated in a manner that would prepare him for the all the duties and responsibilities that accompanied a sultan. He too was taught about the hadith of Nabi (SAW) predicting the fall of Constantinople, and this ignited a fire in his heart. As a boy, he yearned to be that man spoken of; it is recorded that he would often say, “Either I will conquer Constantinople or Constantinople will conquer me.” At the age of twenty, Muhammad succeeded his dead father as Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and began to devise strategies to overcome Constantinople. Once ready, he marched with an army of 265,000 Muslim soldiers towards the impenetrable city.
From amongst these soldiers was an old Sahabi, Abu Ayub Ansaari (RA), the companion and host of Nabi (SAW). He remembered the hadith of Nabi (SAW) and so joined the advancing army at the ripened age of eighty-three years saying: “Allah instructs us to fight in jihad when it is convenient for us and when it is inconvenient for us. My whole life, I have been able and so jihad was convenient. Now is the time when it becomes inconvenient.“ He marched with the army but, during the early stages of the battle, fell gravely ill. Before he passed away, he conveyed a message to the Sultan’s army : “Penetrate deeply into the territory of the enemy, as far as you can go. Carry me with you and bury me under your feet at the walls of Constantinople.”
Sultan Muhammad al Fatih was the one prophesised about. He was the best of leaders and so his army was the best of armies. Constantinople fell, and the Muslims were awarded victory. The army honoured the request of Abu Ayyub Ansaari (RA) and so it is that Istanbul, Turkey became the final resting place for the host of Nabi (SAW).
Amidst its crumbling walls, high ceilings, ancient fixtures and constant stream of tourists, the sacred monument, Hagia Sophia, resonates with a deeply embedded sense of serenity that is hard to ignore. Perhaps this tranquillity is a direct result of the many, many years of worship and solitude it has provided to both Muslims and Christians alike. From church to mosque to museum, the Hagia Sophia stands testament that true splendour can weather and survive through the harshest of natural elements, different political and religious regimes and even contrasting world views.
Upon entering this museum, one is awed at the signs that speak of Muslim worship as well as Christian worship. As you wander through this architectural beauty and stop to appreciate stained glass mosaics depicting the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus, you notice intricate Arabic scrollwork on huge plates painted in green and gold hung on the walls. On each plate or disc, a name of a Khalifa is inscribed in Arabic as well as the name of Nabi r and the names of Allah (SWT).
And it is at this moment, when you’re awed by the beauty of the Hagia Sophia, you realise the lessons it has to teach you: that in order for one religion to exist, another does not have to be destroyed. That being a Muslim means having tolerance and acceptance for those who do not believe as you do. That praying to Allah I in what was once a church is not the sacrilegious blasphemy many would make it out to be. Because you see, whilst we may have forgotten the personality of true deen (faith), Muhammad Al Fatih did not. And that is why he was praised by the Nabi r himself as being the best of leaders with the best of armies – for when he conquered, he did not destroy hearts. Instead, he won them.
Sulayman the Magnificent
Another great ruler from the Ottoman Empire was Sulayman the Magnificent, as he was known in the West, or Al- ‘Qanuni (the lawgiver) in the East. It is said that the Muslim empire entered its Golden Age under his rule. A poet, linguist and goldsmith himself, Sulayman succeeded in turning Constantinople into the epicentre of Muslim civilisation by promoting the creation of architectural and artistic masterpieces.
Their gift to the world
Alphonse de Lamartine once said that “If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul.” If you do, you will see Istanbul’s skyline – set against the blue waters of the Bosphoros Strait – enhanced by the age old beauty of iconic minarets and domes rising high above the crumbling city walls, reminiscent of a time when the Islamic world was at its zenith. And you will feel the pinch in your heart, a fall of a teardrop or a sigh escape unheeded because such beauty deserves just that.
• Istanbul is the third largest city in the world, with a population of 17-18 million inhabitants.
• In days of old, it was known as Byzantium and then later as Constantinople
• Istanbul has been the capital to the Byzantine Empire, the Roman Empire, the Latin Empire and the Ottoman Empire.
• The Islamic reign of the Ottoman Empire lasted for 623 years (1299-1922). It was considered to be one of the most powerful states in the world.
A MUST VISIT!
• Topkapi Palace
• Panorama Museum
• Taksim Square
• Go on a cruise down the Bosphoros
• Sulaymaniye Mosque
• Basilica Cistern
• Istanbul Archaeology Museum
• Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue mosque)
• Grand Bazaar
• Spice Bazaar
Raeesa Patel is a mommy, teacher and writer/editor whose life is filled with sunshine and rainbows because of the first, hope and exhilarating challenges because of the second and a dream come true because of the third.