Source: Abu Eesa's blog
I received this article/translation of one of Mufti Taqi’s diary-recordings of a trip to Istanbul. Enjoy!
The Conquest of Istanbul: From the Travel Diary of Mufti Taqi ‘Uthmani
Last week, on my way back from the UK I had the opportunity to spend three days in the historical city of Istanbul. I had been there before, and the detailed memoirs have already been recorded in my book - “Jahaane Deedah”.
The memoirs of last year’s stay there was also published briefly in the “Jang.” This time however, I received some novel and exhilarating information which I should like to part before my readers. The foreknowledge of the history of Istanbul is necessary in order to understand the events (which I am going to describe) in a proper perspective.
Istanbul is one of the oldest cities in the world, and her name has been changed several times during different regimes. Under the Islaamic era it was widely known as Qustuntunia (Constantinople in Roman) and this name had been prevalent since the third century. It was only when Khilaafat-e- Uthmaaniyyah came to an end in 1930 that it was formerly named as Istanbul, and it has been known by that name ever since.
Qustuntunia, or Istanbul in the present day, is a unique city in the world as far as her location and history is concerned. It is the only city in the world which is half in Europe and half in Asia. The straits of Bosporus divide the two halves, with one end merging into the Black Sea, and the other half merging into the Ocean of Marmara. It has been the capital of the Roman Empire for eleven centuries, and its culture was dominating the entire world, as it was regarded to be the ‘Superpower’ of the world. The principle church of Eastern Christianity was also situated here, whose head was known as the Patriarch. Thus, this city had, simultaneously, become the centre of both Christianity and the Byzantine Empire.
The Byzantine Emperor was known as Kaiser (Ceaser) and the Byzantines were ruling with great pomp and show. The rise of Islaam in Arabia and it’s subsequent influence on the world was regarded by the Byzantine Empire as a great impending danger, and hence it revealed itself as an adversary against it. In the earlier centuries of Islaamic history, great wars took place between the two (Islaam and the Roman Empire) and the fundamental and operational planning was carried out from this city alone.
It was this tremendous importance of this city that prompted Rasoolullah sallallahu alayhi wasallam to make the prophecy of “salvation in the Hereafter for the first participants of Jihaad on this city, and their commander as a better commander and their army as a better army”.
In order to be eligible to these glad tidings, every Khalifah tried his best to conquer Qustuntunia, (or Istanbul) but the greatest and foremost difficulty was the oceanic circle around this city. The second hurdle was that Istanbul had been built on mountainous terrain, and it’s severe winters used to become unbearable for the Arabs. Thirdly, there were three successive ramparts that were built around this city. In the distance between each of the three ramparts was a trench which was 100 ft. deep, and 60 ft. broad. Thus, it’s fortress had become impregnable. Fourthly, as this city had acquired a pivotal position politically and religiously, the smallest danger to her would rally the whole Christian World to defend her. These were the fundamental reasons that several attempts to conquer her resulted in failure by the Muslims.
Eventually, the Almighty Allah had destined the assignment to the fortunate Sultan Muhammad Faatih (conqueror) who was the seventh ruler in the Ottoman Empire. This twenty-two year old youth, after enthroning the Ottoman Empire, scrutinised the reasons that thwarted the Muslims’ efforts to conquer Qustuntunia. Using his great skill, determination, bravery and daring, he planned the war which resulted in triumph.
The external reinforcements and aid were supplied to this city through the straits of Bosporus from the Black Sea quarter. It was therefore vital to have absolute control over the straits of Bosporus to cut this city from her allies. In order to execute this plan, Baa Yazeed built a castle on the Asian side of the Bosporus, which is known as Anaadool fortifications, even today. The Sultan, however, considered it inadequate to achieve his goal, and so he built an enormous fort on the European side of Bosporus which is known as Romili fortifications. This fort has been spread over 3000 sq. meters and it has seventeen domes or towers and the highest among them is 90 ft. high. The walls of this fort were nine meters wide. What is astonishing is that he built such a great fort in a short span of four months! The construction commenced on 24th April 1452, and was completed on 18th August 1452. Today the compilation of its maps may take the same amount of time!
Thus, every ship passing through the Bosporus came within knocking range of two pronged Uthmaani tanks. Sultan Muhammad also developed and enhanced the industry of tank manufacture. He prepared the largest tank of his time from brass. It could knock its target at a distance of 1 mile with 320 pounds of ammunition. As Qustuntunua is surrounded by oceans, he also prepared a powerful navy which comprised of 140 ships. After making these preparations he besieged the city in such a way that his infantry reached the western rampart of the city, and his navy took control of the entire straits of Bosporus. The location of Qustuntunia is such that a tiny branch of Bosporus goes to its western side in the form of a horn which is known as the ‘golden horn’. To pass through this golden horn in order to reach the part of the city or its northern rampart, the Byzantine army had blocked the entry of golden horn through a massive chain. The Sultan’s navy had therefore been confined to Bosporus only and it could not enforce the blockade to the city port. The only way it could be captured was invading through the land. The defenders of Istanbul, considering the sea side quite safe, put it’s entire strength on it’s western side.
It was Sultan Muhammad’s earnest wish that somehow a part of his navy could be entered into the golden horn, then the attack on the city from the port side could become a possibility. This was a herculean task as the mouth of the golden horn was blocked by an enormous chain and there were also tanks ready to fire upon the entering enemy, and Byzantine ships were kept alert to defend the chain and attack the invader. To invade through this route was therefore too risky, and out of the question. For a considerable length he could not find a way out of this irksome situation, and no amount of deliberation seemed successful.
Eventually Sultan Muhammad took such an astonishing decision which became momentous and spectacular in world history. He decided that some of his ships would be made to enter the golden horn by pushing them over the land. In order to put this decision into action he chose a curved route (which was 10 miles in length) from the western side of Bosporus to the upper southern part of golden horn, (which is called Qasim today).
This route was extremely difficult and incongruous as it was running through mountainous terrain, but Sultan Muhammad was determined to forge ahead. The entire route was carpeted with plain wooden planks and in order to make their surface slippery, enormous amounts of fat were applied over them. He then transferred seventy ships from Bosporus on these slippery planks. Every ship had two navigators and the sails of these ships were also opened to get the assistance of the breeze. Men as well as bullocks were employed to pull them (and push them) and such an enormous task, in great haste was carried out in just one night! Throughout the night this procession of seventy ships was busy marching towards the golden horn under the light of wooden torches. The Byzantine army was watching this bustle from the ramparts but the darkness of the night prevented them from comprehending the Sultan’s game. When the mornings light raised this mystery, the Sultan’s ships had already entered the golden horn. The Byzantine were wonder-struck! This astounding act of the Sultan has forced even the most biased historians to acknowledge his extraordinary courage and determination and express their amazement over it.
The famous historian Edward Gibbon described it as a ‘miracle’. The entrance of the Uthmaani navy in the golden horn completed the siege of Istanbul from all sides. At the same time Sultan Muhammad built a bridge and planted his heavy artillery on it. After consolidating the siege from both west and south sides, the Uthmaani artillery started pounding from both sides of the ramparts of the city. After seven weeks of non-stop pounding, three massive rifts appeared on the walls of the ramparts.
The entire nights of Jamadiul Awwal 857 A.H. or 29th May 1453, was spent by the Uthmaani army in zikrullah and du’aa and after Salaatul Fajr the Sultan ordered the general attack. In order to bridge over the trenches the scaling ladders of rope had already been installed. Fierce battle took place until the afternoon and both sides displayed astonishing bravery and none of the Uthmaani soldiers could enter the city. Eventually Sultan Muhammad himself marched toward the St. Roman’s door with his specially trained men called ‘Yeni Chari’. Their leader, Agha Hasan succeeded in ascending over the top of the ramparts with thirty of his men. Eighteen soldiers including Agha Hasan were thrown down by the defending Byzantine, but the remaining twelve managed to remain there. The other Uthmaani soldiers followed suit and eventually the red hilali (crescent) Uthmaani flag was unfurled and waved on the rampart.
The Byzantine Emperor, who was fighting fearlessly until now and putting up fierce resistance became nervous with the loss of his extremely brave confederates, and he screamed in agony, “Is there any Christian who can finish me off?” After getting no reply he threw off his special attire (the Kaisers were dressed in special attires indicating their exalted position) and fought bravely with the Uthmaani army as an ordinary soldier and was killed. With his death, the Byzantine Empire came to an end, which began and ended in Qustuntunia.
The title of Kaiser after the downfall of the Roman Empire became a legend. Thus, the prophecy of the holy Prophet sallallahu alayhi wasallam came true:
“There will be no other Kaiser (Ceaser) after the Kaiser has been eliminated.”
This was the beginning of the Uthmaani or Muslim reign over Istanbul and Turkey which lasted for five centuries. The Uthmaani Sultans reigned over it with great splendour and it ended in the beginning of the twentieth century through the treachery of Kamal Ata Turk, and the secular state which came into being.
(translated by Haafiz Ghulam Muhammad Bora)