Featured, History

The Conquest of Constantinople: Making the impossible possible

On the authority of Abdullah bin Bishr Al-Khathami from his father that he heard the Prophet ﷺ say:

لَتُفْتَحَنَّ الْقُسْطَنْطِينِيَّةُ فَلَنِعْمَ الْأَمِيرُ أَمِيرُهَا وَلَنِعْمَ الْجَيْشُ ذَلِكَ الْجَيْشُ

“You will open Constantinople, its Amir is a wonderful Amir, and its army is a wonderful army.” He said, Maslama ibn Abdul Malik called for me and asked me, so I mentioned the Hadith to him so he attempted to invade Constantinople. (Narrated by Ahmad. In Mujma’ Az-Zawaa’id, in its comment it states: “Narrated by Ahmad, Al-Bazzar, Al-Tabarani and its men are trustworthy…”)

Maslama ibn Abdul Malik is the brother of the Umayyad Caliph Sulaiyman ibn Abdul-Malik, and he was a Corp Commander who led the second Constantinople campaign. This is how Islam motivated the armies and commanders of the past, and continued to motivate the Muslims until the Ottoman Sultan Muhammad Al-Fatih fulfilled this prophecy on Tuesday 29 May 1453 or 20 Jumada al-Awwal 857 AH.

Unfortunately today the ummah has lost this vision and motivation, where Muslim armies fail to cross the artificial borders in to Idlib or across the line of control in to Kashmir. We need to remind our armies and ummah of these hadith so the spark of conquest is re-ignited once again.

History of Constantinople

The Islamic conquests are not the conquests of an empire which conquers and plunders lands, steals their resources and sends them back to the homeland like Britain and France did in the colonial era, and which the west in general continues to this day.

Constantinople in 1453 was a heavily declined city state. Many churches were left dilapidated and there was severe economic hardship with a small population. This was a far cry from previous centuries.

In 324 the ancient city of Byzantium became the new capital of the Roman Empire established by Emperor Constantine the Great, after whom it was renamed.

After the fall of the western roman empire in the 5th century it became the capital of the eastern roman empire (Byzantine Empire) which the Muslims call Ar-Rum and who were ruling at the time when Islam was revealed. The Hagia Sophia became like the St Peters Basilica as the central cathedral of the Orthodox Christians.

In 1202 Crusaders from the western church based in Rome launched the fourth crusade to recapture Al-Quds from the Muslims but events led them to Constantinople instead who they viewed as heretics.

They managed to capture Constantinople and establish a crusader state from 1204–1261 which is called the Latin Empire. They plundered the city and Sir Steven Runciman, historian of the Crusades, wrote that the sack of Constantinople is “unparalleled in history”. He wrote:

For nine centuries, […] the great city had been the capital of Christian civilisation. It was filled with works of art that had survived from ancient Greece and with the masterpieces of its own exquisite craftsmen. The Venetians […] seized treasures and carried them off to adorn […] their town.

But the Frenchmen and Flemings were filled with a lust for destruction. They rushed in a howling mob down the streets and through the houses, snatching up everything that glittered and destroying whatever they could not carry, pausing only to murder or to rape, or to break open the wine-cellars […]. Neither monasteries nor churches nor libraries were spared.

In Hagia Sophia itself, drunken soldiers could be seen tearing down the silken hangings and pulling the great silver iconostasis to pieces, while sacred books and icons were trampled under foot. While they drank merrily from the altar-vessels a prostitute set herself on the Patriarch’s throne and began to sing a ribald French song. Nuns were ravished in their convents. Palaces and hovels alike were entered and wrecked. Wounded women and children lay dying in the streets.

For three days the ghastly scenes […] continued, till the huge and beautiful city was a shambles. […] When […] order was restored, […] citizens were tortured to make them reveal the goods that they had contrived to hide. [Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades, Cambridge 1966 [1954], vol 3, p. 123]

PriseDeConstantinople1204PalmaLeJeune

The city’s population declined from 400,000 to 35,000 people with a third homeless. The Latins took over at least 20 churches and 13 monasteries, most prominently the Hagia Sophia, which became the cathedral of the Latin Patriarch of Constantinople.

After the Byzantines recaptured Constantinople in 1261 the city went in to severe decline due to the above. Reports mention that during the siege by the Muslims in 1453 they could only muster around 5,000 fighters inside the city.

After Muhammad al-Fatih conquered the city, apart from Hagia Sophia all churches were left for the Christians to return to and the city was rebuilt to its former glory, but this time as capital of the Ottoman Sultanate and later the Ottoman Caliphate after 1517.

Christians flourished there and it was a safe haven for Jews fleeing the inquisition in Spain. Sulayman the Magnificent, for example had a Jewish physician named Moses Hamon.

This is the Islamic Conquests.

War in Islam

The objective of jihad is not to kill people rather it’s to make Allah’s word the highest in the land, and to bring the world out of the darkness of kufr to the light of Islam. The Islamic State does not fight for money or material wealth like in an Empire. The Islamic State was in no way similar to the colonialism of Britain and France and which continues  in one form or the other to this day. It’s well known that America invades countries for oil, something to which Trump openly admitted recently when he said America was in Syria for the oil.

ـ قَالَ جَاءَ رَجُلٌ إِلَى النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم فَقَالَ الرَّجُلُ يُقَاتِلُ لِلْمَغْنَمِ، وَالرَّجُلُ يُقَاتِلُ لِلذِّكْرِ، وَالرَّجُلُ يُقَاتِلُ لِيُرَى مَكَانُهُ، فَمَنْ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ قَالَ ‏ “‏ مَنْ قَاتَلَ لِتَكُونَ كَلِمَةُ اللَّهِ هِيَ الْعُلْيَا فَهُوَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ ‏”‏‏

A man came to the Prophet and asked, “A man fights for war booty; another fights for fame and a third fights for showing off; which of them fights in Allah’s Cause?” The Prophet said, “He who fights that Allah’s Word (i.e. Islam) should be superior, fights in Allah’s Cause.” (Sahih al-Bukhari 2810)

Allah (Most High) says,

وَلَوْلَا دَفْعُ اللَّهِ النَّاسَ بَعْضَهُمْ بِبَعْضٍ لَهُدِّمَتْ صَوَامِعُ وَبِيَعٌ وَصَلَوَاتٌ وَمَسَاجِدُ يُذْكَرُ فِيهَا اسْمُ اللَّهِ كَثِيرًا وَلَيَنْصُرَنَّ اللَّهُ مَنْ يَنْصُرُهُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَقَوِيٌّ عَزِيزٌ

“If Allah had not driven some people back by means of others, monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques, where Allah’s name is mentioned much, would have been pulled down and destroyed. Allah will certainly help those who help Him – Allah is All-Strong, Almighty” (Al-Hajj, 22:40)

Even orientalists acknowledged this. Thomas Arnold, Orientalist and lecturer at Aligarh Muslim University in British India wrote a number of books on the history of Caliphate towards non-Muslims.

“But of any organised attempt to force the acceptance of Islam on the non-Muslim population, or of any systematic persecution intended to stamp out the Christian religion, we hear nothing. Had the Caliphs chosen to adopt either course of action, they might have swept away Christianity as easily as Ferdinand and Isabella drove Islam out of Spain, or Louis XIV (14th) made Protestant-ism penal in France, or the Jews were kept out of England for 350 years. The Eastern Churches in Asia were entirely cut off from communion with the rest of Christendom, throughout which no one would have been found to lift a finger on their behalf, as heretical communions. So that the very survival of these churches to the present day is a strong proof of the generally tolerant attitude of the Muhammadan governments towards them.” (Thomas W. Arnold, ‘The Preaching of Islam,’ Second Edition, Kitab Bhavan Publishers, New Delhi, p. 72)

It’s important nowadays that we reclaim honourable Islamic terms such as Caliphate, jihad and sharia from the misinformation and media propaganda.

Muslim Attempts to Conquer Constantinople

FIRST EXPEDITION.

The hadith mentioned at the beginning motivated the sahaba and it was the Umayyad Caliph Mu’awiya who ordered the first expedition to conquer Constantinople in 674.

The famous sahabi Abu Ayyub al-Ansari was 98 years old but he still accompanied the expedition and he died and was buried at the walls of Constantinople. Later Muhammad al-Fateh built a mosque near his grave to honour the great sahabi.

Yazid ibn Muawiya who was the Corp Commander asked, “Do you need anything, Abu Ayyub?” To which Abu Ayyub replied, “Convey my salaams to the Muslim armies and tell them, “Abu Ayyub urges you to penetrate deep into enemy territory, as far as you can go; and that you should carry him with you, and that you should bury me under your feet at the walls of Constantinople.” At this, he died. Yazid ordered the Muslim army to fulfil his request, and they pushed back the enemy’s forces until they reached the walls of Constantinople where Abu Ayyub was finally interred.

This expedition failed because Constantinople was too heavily fortified with walls and sea on three sides. The land walls had a moat, inner and outer walls. These walls reached 12m in height at places and 6m in depth. An iron boom chain was also in place across the golden horn which prevented ships from entering and attacking from the calm strait as opposed to the choppy sea of Marmara. Military technology at the time meant all an army could do was lay siege to the city and nothing else.

walls

SECOND EXPEDITION.

The second siege was as mentioned at the beginning in the time of Sulayman ibn Abdul-Malik whose brother Maslama made an attempt on the city in 717. Again all the army could do was lay siege and it was so intense that troops were forced to eat their own riding animals out of starvation. Umar bin Abdul-Aziz when he became Caliph ordered the army to abandon the attempt and return.

FINAL ATTEMPT.

Apart from a few minor attempts by previous Ottoman Sultans, the final attempt occurred with Muhammad al-Fateh.

The Ottomans

The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said:

مَثَلُ أُمَّتِي مَثَلُ الْمَطَرِ لاَ يُدْرَى أَوَّلُهُ خَيْرٌ أَمْ آخِرُهُ

“The example of my ummah is like the rain. It is not known whether the initial part or the latter part is good.” (Sunan Tirmidhi, Hadith: 2869)

The Ottomans who came in the later part of our history are an example of this hadith because they re-ignited the Islamic conquests which had become stagnant due to the Mongol onslaught, and decline in the Abbasid Caliphs who at that time were based in Cairo, but were ceremonial and not fulfilling their role as commanders in-chief of the ummah.

At the time of Muhammad al-Fateh the Caliph was Al-Qa’im based in Cairo who sent praise to him after his conquest.

The Ottomans were Turkish nomads from Central Asia whose forefathers became Muslim in the time of the Umayyads. During the Abbasid Caliphate many of these Turks were brought to the Caliphate as slaves and formed a slave army. Later they became freed and are known as Mamluks. They rose to become a dominant part of the Abbasid army and a power base in the Abbasid state. Later as the Abbasid Caliph’s central authority weakened, the provinces (wiliyaat) of the state turned in to semi-independent provinces called Sultanates and headed by a Sultan. These Sultans were mainly Turks (Mamluks) who couldn’t be the Caliph because they weren’t from Quraysh which was the predominant opinion at the time, so instead they stayed as Sultans.

Ordinarily the Caliph should appoint and dismiss the governor but the Caliph allowed the Sultans autonomy as long as they continued to give bay’ah albeit in name only. Famous Sultanates were the Seljuks, Ayyubids and later the Mamluks in Cairo where the Abbasid Caliphs took up residence after the Mongol invasion of Iraq in 1258.

During the Mongol invasion many of these Turkish tribes migrated to Ash-Sham and Anatolia and were part of the Seljuk Sultanate. The most dominant of these tribes managed to unite the Turks behind Osman Ghazi and as the Seljuks and other Sultanates went in to decline and disappeared the Ottoman Sultanate was established in 1299 in Anatolia.

The Ottoman Sultans were like the governor-generals of the sahaba who ruled their respective provinces and were also the Ameers of Jihad for their wiliyah. Although the Caliph was the overall Commander-in-Chief appointing the governors and commanders and directing state resources for the battle. As an example, Abu Bakr during the Ash-Sham campaign ordered Khalid bin Walid to help Abu Ubaydah in Syria so Khalid moved his army from Iraq to Syria. Abu Bakr also mobilised the Muslims of Yemen for the Ash-Sham campaign.

Ottoman interregnum (civil war)

There is no hereditary rule in Islam but unfortunately since the time of the Umayyads the bay’ah was misapplied and handed down to relatives creating dynasties. All followed the Umayyads in this. The Abbasids, Abbasids in Cairo and the Ottomans.

The Sultanates also followed hereditary rule and the Ottomans were no different. One major problem with hereditary rule is that its hit and miss who you get as leader. You may get a Muhammad al-Fateh or a Al-Waleed bin Yazeed bin Abdul Malik.

In 1402 the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid I was defeated by another Sultan from Central Asia called Timur who had his own Sultanate to the East. He wreaked havoc on the Middle East and India before finally being defeated.

The law of succession for the Ottomans at the time was not the eldest son but survival of the fittest. Whichever son managed to defeat his brothers by killing them or banishing them, would become Sultan. This led Bayezid’s four sons, Mehmet I, Musa, Isa, Sulayman, in to an 11-year civil war called the interregnum, where Mehmet I became victorious and managed to re-unify the Ottomans once again. Mehmet I is the grandfather of Muhammad Al-Fateh also known as Mehmet II.

This is common throughout Islamic history where civil wars and disunity stall the Islamic conquests. This is why before Salahuddin could liberate Al-Quds from the crusaders he had to defeat the Fatimids in Egypt and the various city states in Ash-Sham to re-unify the state.

Preparing Muhammad al-Fateh for rule

The tradition with all future Ottoman Sultans was that they were initially sent to a province as a governor to gain ruling experience. Muhammad Al-Fateh was no different and when he was 11 years old he was sent by his father Murad II to govern Amasya, in Northern Turkey near the Black Sea.

This was similar to the time of the sahaba where all the Rightly Guided Caliphs held the position of Wazir prior to gaining office. In the time of the Umayyads and Abbasids the Caliphs were nearly always governors prior to assuming office. Umar bin Abdul-Aziz as an example was the governor of Medina before becoming Caliph.

A number of teachers accompanied Muhammad Al-Fateh to tutor him in his religion. The most prominent was the Islamic scholar Muhammad Shamsuddin where he no doubt learnt the hadith of Constantinople. An important point is that behind every great ruler will be great advisers and companions. No one can rule without assistance.

Muhammad al-Fateh’s qualities were many but in addition to his Iman and practical Islamic culture he had a problem-solving mentality:

Sheikh Taqiuideen an-Nabhani states: Somebody may try to solve a problem, but he finds it difficult to solve it, so he deserts it, or declares he is incapable of solving it, whilst if the one who has the problem solving mentality tries to solve a problem, and it became difficult for him, he changes the style that he uses, or he tries many styles.

If, despite using many styles, it was still difficult to solve, he would not desert it; he does not declare his incapability of solving it nor despair about solving it. Rather, he is patient with it, and leaves it for a period of time, i.e. leave it for a time (to solve it) as they say; then repeats thinking about the solution, time and time again until he solves it.

Therefore, the one who has the problem-solving mentality has no problem that is without a solution. Rather, every problem has a solution. The reason behind this is that he depends on his ability to find styles that solve the difficult problem. Thus, thinking about the styles is from the characteristics of the creative or genius minds; for solving the problem depends on thinking about the styles. (At-Tafkeer)

As we will see this mentality made the seemingly impossible possible when conquering the until now impenetrable city of Constantinople.

Today we hear many Muslims simply give up on major Islamic duties and say let us wait for the Mahdi, whereas this was never the case with our pious predecessors who embodied the Qur’an and Sunnah practically in life and society.

Beginning of Muhammad al-Fateh’s rule

Due to Muhammad Al-Fateh’s exceptional abilities and magnificent character, and his learning at the hands of Muhammad Shamsuddin, he was capable of ruling at a very early age.

When he was 12 his father Murad II who had been fighting constant wars decided to retire for spiritual contemplation to southwestern Anatolia leaving his son as the Sultan.

Muhammad al-Fateh was the third eldest son but due to the deaths of his two elder brothers he was automatically in line to take over from his father Murad II. He therefore didn’t need to go through the fight to the death succession with his brothers, because he either had no brothers or they were young toddlers.

The young Sultan ruled from 1444 to 1446 and his army actually defeated the Hungarian crusader John Hunyadi who had broken the “Peace of Szeged” treaty, but due to his inexperience he asked his father to reclaim the office to help see off the numerous threats he was facing. He showed his sharp intellect when he said to his father Murad II:

“If you are the Sultan, come and lead your armies. If I am the Sultan I hereby order you to come and lead my armies.”

Murad II then remained in office from 1446 until 1451. When he died Muhammad al-Fateh became Sultan again at the age of 19.

During this period 1446 to 1451 Al-Fateh became the sanjakbey (governor) of Saruhan province (near Izmir).

As soon as Muhammad Al-Fateh became the Sultan again he embarked on his plan to conquer Constantinople.

Surmounting the Obstacles to Conquest

The path to Constantinople was beset with some major hurdles. The three main ones were:

  1. Byzantine allies in the Black Sea could send naval reinforcements and supplies via the Bosporus.
  2. The impenetrable walls surrounding the city. On three sides was water and on the land side there were double fortified walls (inner and outer) with a moat.
  3. An iron boom chain was placed across the golden horn preventing any ships from entering and attacking from that side.

Mapwalls

Muhammad Al-Fateh with a clear vision and problem-solving mentality devised some unique styles to resolve these. Since he had the full weight of the state and its resources behind him, along with unquestionable obedience from its army and citizens, he was able to achieve this. This shows the importance of the Islamic method (tareeqa) i.e. the Islamic State in solving problems.

Controlling the Bosporus: Building Roumeli Hissar Castle

To prevent ships passing through the Bosporus to Constantinople from the Black Sea, Muhammad al-Fateh had to build a fortress on the Bosporus.

In 1452 with help of thousands of masons and workers he completed what is known as Rumelihisarı or the Roumeli Hissar Castle in record time, 4 months and 16 days!

Roumeli Hissar Castle

This castle was built in the shape of the Arabic script for Muhammad (محمد) in honour or the Messenger ﷺ, with the meems representing the castle towers.

Breaching the walls: Building the super-cannon

A Hungarian Christian called Orban was an expert in manufacturing siege cannons and offered his services initially to the Byzantine emperor Constantine XI. However, the emperor couldn’t afford him or provide the necessary materials so Orban went to Muhammad Al-Fateh and offered to make a cannon which could breach the walls.

Al-Fateh provided Orban with abundant funds, materials and engineers to complete the cannon which he managed to do in three months at Adrianople (Edirne). From there it was dragged by sixty oxen to Constantinople.

Dardanelles_Gun

The cannon was 8m long, and could fire a 250Kg ball 1.5km, up to 7 shots a day. A later cannon was manufactured in ‎1464 based on this cannon and which is now housed in the Fort Nelson Museum in Portchester, Britain.

Bypassing the boom chain: Dragging ships over land

Three sides of Constantinople were surrounded by water. Two sides were in the Sea of Marmara, which with its choppy waters would make a sea assault with the naval technology of the time very difficult, and likely to smash the ships.

chain2

In contrast, the walls along the Golden Horn were weak and the calmness of the water compared to the Sea of Marmara meant an assault was possible.

The Byzantines knew this and protected the Golden Horn with an iron boom chain that prevented any ships from entering.

In order to bypass this chain Muhammad Al-Fateh devised an ingenious solution. He ordered the construction of a road of greased logs across Galata and dragged his ships (kadirgas) over the hill bypassing the chain.

ships

The Conquest

Muhammad Al-Fateh organised an army of around 100,000 to lay siege to the city outside its walls on the land side.

fall

Starting on Friday 6 April they deployed the super-cannon and other smaller siege cannons

On Sunday 22 April ships were deployed in the Golden Horn to attack from that side.

On Monday 21 May an ambassador was sent to Constantinople offering them the chance of surrender but they refused.

On Tuesday 29 May 1453 the walls were breached and the Muslim army entered the city.

For three days the fighting continued and then the city was declared opened.

The central Orthodox Cathedral known as Hagia Sophia was transformed in to a mosque.

Constantinople had the option of surrendering and making a dhimma with Muhammad Al-Fateh like the Christians in Bosnia had done but they refused. Therefore, the city never surrendered and was opened by force. The sharia rule on land opened by force is that it is kharaj land where ownership of all land goes to the state or can be divided among the fighters.

With regards to places of worship, it’s up to the ruler to decide how to deal with them. He has the option of leaving them or converting them to mosques or demolishing them completely (Kitab al-Amwal). Hagia Sophia was converted to a mosque because of its dominance in the city and based on the hadith:

الإسلام يعلو ولا يعلى عليه

“Islam is exalted and there is nothing exalted above it.” (Daraqutni, Al-Bayhaqi, At-Tabarani)

The other churches were left for the Christians and Muhammad Al-Fateh actively encouraged them to return to the city.

He brought in Muslims and Christians from Karaman in Central Anatolia and resettled the Armenian population under Ottoman authority to the city. After the Spanish Inquisition a large number of Jews also sought refuge with the Muslims and lived in the city with Moses Hamon becoming the physician for Sulaiyman al-Kanuni.

This is in complete contrast to the crusader conquest of Constantinople. Islamic conquests are to take people from the darkness of kufr in to the light of Islam, not to massacre them and steal their wealth.

Post-Constantinople

After Constantinople Muhammad Al-Fateh did not remain idle in the city satisfied with his victory. Rather he continued the Islamic conquests with campaigns in eastern Europe and the Balkans. One year later he was marching on Belgrade and swept through the Balkans opening Bosnia and Albania to Islam.

Another hadith was motivating him where the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said:

On the authority of Abdullah ibn Amr ibn Al-As, who said: “When we were around the Messenger of Allah writing, the Messenger of Allah was asked, which of the two cities will be opened first, Constantinople or Rome?”

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:

«مَدِينَةُ هِرَقْلَ تُفْتَحُ أَوَّلاً، يَعْنِي قُسْطَنْطِينِيَّةَ»

“The city of Heraclius will be opened first, meaning Constantinople.”

Narrated by Ahmad in his Musnad and Al-Hakim in Al-Mustadrak and he said: “This is a sahih Hadith on the condition of the two sheikhs, and they did not extract it. Az-Zahabi commented on it: “on the condition of Bukhari and Muslim”.

Muhammad al-Fateh clearly had his sights on Rome and in 1480 his army captured Otranto in Italy. Since the Christian clergy knew of the above hadith they feared Rome would be next which lead Pope Sixtus IV to call for a crusade.

In 1481 Otranto was recaptured and Muhammad al-Fateh passed away while marching with his army so was unable to fulfil the second prophecy.

This prophecy of conquering Rome is still open for the future rightly guided Caliphate to fulfil. Let this be a motivation for the Muslim armies to realise their responsibility and give the nusra for a new Caliph to be appointed who will fulfil his responsibility of office like Muhammad al-Fateh.

It was narrated from Thawban, the freed slave of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:

زُوِيَتْ لِيَ الأَرْضُ حَتَّى رَأَيْتُ مَشَارِقَهَا وَمَغَارِبَهَا وَأُعْطِيتُ الْكَنْزَيْنِ الأَصْفَرَ – أَوِ الأَحْمَرَ – وَالأَبْيَضَ – يَعْنِي الذَّهَبَ وَالْفِضَّةَ – وَقِيلَ لِي إِنَّ مُلْكَكَ إِلَى حَيْثُ زُوِيَ لَكَ

“The earth was brought together for me so that I could see the east and the west, and I was given two treasures, the yellow (or the red) and the white – meaning gold and silver. And it was said to me: ‘Your مُلْكَكَ (authority) will extend as far as has been shown to you.’ (Sunan Ibn Majah 3952)

 


Bibliography

Ilber Ortayli, ‘Discovering the Ottomans’

Firas Alkhateeb, ‘Lost Islamic History’

Jason Goodwin, ‘Lords of the Horizons’