Muhammad Fātiḥ: The Man that RasulAllāh (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wasallam) Prophesised
The month of February is one which stands out in history as one which witnessed Muḥammad al-Fātiḥ’s ascension to the throne in the house of Uthmān, ‘The Ottomans’, following the death of his father Sultan Murad II in Muharram 852 A.H., February 1451A.C. At the age of 19 he became the 7th Sultan of the Ottomans.
The Early Years
Sultan Muḥammad was born on 27th Rajab 835A.H, 30th March 1432. He was brought up under the close supervision of his father, Sultan Murad II who prepared and trained him to shoulder the responsibilities of the position of a Sultan. It is stated that Sultan Muḥammad memorised the entire Qur’ān, learnt the Prophetic narrations, Islamic jurisprudence, mathematics, astronomy and the skills required for war. He was multi-lingual being fluent in Arabic, Persian, Latin and Greek. He joined his father in his battles and conquests.
He was raised with an Islamic upbringing under the tutelage of a number of scholars of his age such as Shaykh Aḥmad b. Ismāʿīl al-Kourani and Shaykh Ak Shamsuddin, one of the scholars who played a role in developing the personality of Sultan Muḥammad and who is attributed as instilling in his heart the spirit of Jihād and the desire to be a person with high ambition.
At the age of 12, a young Muḥammad was driven by a particular ḥadīth of the Messenger of Allāh (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) that profoundly affected him and impacted his life, changing his destination and that of the course of history. The ḥadīth was as follows:
“Verily, Constantinople shall be opened. Its commander shall be the best commander ever, and his army shall be the best army ever.”
Much like Salāh ad-Dīn before him in his quest to liberate Jerusalem, his ambition overwhelmed him to the extent that he would not talk about any subject except for the conquest of Constantinople. Having now become the Sultan on the death of his father at the age of 22, Muḥammad set about fulfilling his ambition in liberating and conquering Constantinople and seeking to be the one whom the Messenger of Allāh (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) had prophesied about.
Constantinople is a very unique city in Europe as it is located in a very strategic geographic location, between two major continents, Asia and Europe. At the North, it is bordered with the Black Sea while Russia and Iran are at the South. From the East side, it is bordered with Syria and the Mediterranean Sea whereas at the West sit Bulgaria, Greece and Aegean Sea. Constantinople was of course the capital city for the Roman Empire (753-476) and the Byzantine Empire (610-1453). Napoleon was quoted as saying, “If the Earth were a single state, then Constantinople would be its capital”. It was at that time regarded as one of the most fortified cities in the world.
The Masterful Strategy
Sultan Muḥammad realised that the attempt to open Constantinople was not an easy task as Muslim armies from as early as the time of Muawiyyah (radiyAllāhu ‘anhu) had attempted to besiege this city but it consistently failed on each occasion – the closest to achieving the aim was Sultan Beyazid but, qadralllāh, his attention was forced elsewhere with the emergence of the Mongols. Hence, Sultan Muḥammad knew that his attempt needed to be well-planned and meticulously strategised.
One such strategy was to build the navy. He put together a formidable armada of more than 100 ships for the conquest of Constantinople. To ensure victory, he sought to equip his army with the latest artillery in warfare – a new technology which had not been owned by any other country was bought from a Hungarian engineer, Orban. The technology came in the form of giant cannons capable of tearing down the wall of fortresses surrounding Constantinople.
As a further preparation for war, Sultan Muḥammad ordered the building of fortresses close to the region about to be attacked. The function of this was clear: to station the army and, at the same time, provide logistical sites for uninterrupted war supplies. These fortresses were built in a few months. He knew that Emperor Constantine XI would have noted his movements and it was rumoured that the Hungarians and Venetians were on their way to support Byzantine, as such, Sultan Muḥammad was in a hurry.
Sultan Muḥammad personally supervised the training of the huge army for the conquest to ensure that they were of the highest standard physically and, more importantly, spiritually. He would often remind them of the ḥadīth about the liberating of Constantinople hoping that they might be the ones referred to. Also, it is reported that on one occasion Sultan Muḥammad entered the markets in disguise to purchase a number of items. He went to one of stalls whose owner, not knowing who the buyer was, informed him that, praise be to Allāh, he had made enough sales for the day and the remaining items should be purchased from another stall nearby. When Sultan Muḥammad went to the stall nearby, having purchased one of the items he needed, again the owner informed him that he too had made enough sales and therefore his remaining item should be purchased from the stall near to him. On seeing this, Sultan Muḥammad knew that he had amongst him a righteous group of believers with which to undertake the momentous task, much like Salāh ad-Dīn before him who once stated that he knew the time had arrived to liberate Al-Aqsa when he witnessed that the size of the congregation for the morning prayer was as large as the Friday prayer.
With his ships all prepared and fortresses built, Sultan Muḥammad set off with a force of 250,000 mujāhids to Constantinople on 6 April 1453 (875 AH). Sultan Muḥammad had terms of surrender sent to Emperor Constantine XI as per Islāmic custom before engaging in battle. He invited him to surrender peacefully and be spared everyone’s life and property, with the security that whoever wanted to remain would be safe. However, the Emperor refused and with this began the siege of Constantinople.
The Muslims became frustrated however with Byzantine’s famous barrier chain in the sea. Made of giant wooden links that were joined by immense nails and heavy iron shackles, the chain could be deployed in an emergency by means of a ship hauling it across the Golden Horn. Securely anchored on both ends, with its length guarded by Byzantine warships at anchor in the harbour, the great chain was a formidable obstacle and a vital element of the city’s defences. The Ottoman fleet tried many times to get into the city by sea, but they faced numerous failures. The soldiers even tried to secretly break the chain which was 4 to 5 feet below sea level, but they were killed in the process.
Nevertheless, Sultan Muḥammad was one of the great generals who used one of the most outstanding, daring military approaches and strategy in military history. He ordered his army to bring up the naval ships on land and pulled them over the hills at the eastern side of Constantinople. Over 70 ships were pulled on rails made by wood from the trees surrounding the hills and animal grease spread on the wood to facilitate the transport of the ships. This intelligent and seemingly impossible task was completed by his soldiers disguised by the cover of darkness over a lengthy distance in only one night.
The next morning, the people of Constantinople awoke to the sounds of the Takbīr, “Allāhuakbar”, and they were shocked to see the Ottoman ships lined in front of their fortified fortress causing a huge psychological blow. The Muslims now began bombarding the walls day and night with the cannons.
The Conquest and Liberation
On 27 May 1453 (857 AH), Sultan Muḥammad commanded his army to purify themselves and to intensify their worshipping and devotion to Allāh so that He may ease the siege. That night, scholars such as Shaykh Shamsuddin reminded the army of verses from the Qur’ān and reminded them of great men who died trying to liberate the city such as the great Sahābi (Companion), Abū Ayūb al-Ansari (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu), who was martyred just outside the city walls at the age of 90. The soldiers spent much of the night uttering the Tahlīl (“Alḥamdulillāh”) and Takbīr (“Allāhuakbar”) and making supplications. Again, there is much parallel with Salāh ad-Dīn who too was known to encourage his soldiers to engage in much worship and to supplicate to Allāh. It is said that on one occasion, Salāh ad-Dīn received news of Crusader ships sailing toward them with reinforcements, he retired to the masjid and spent the night in prayer, beseeching and begging Allāh’s assistance. In the Morning Prayer, he told a pious man to supplicate for them. The person replied, “Don’t fear, O Salāh ad-Dīn, verily the tears of the night have drowned the enemy ships.” A short while later news was received that the ships had indeed sunk.
In the morning (Day 54 of the siege), Sultan Muḥammad delivered his final battle speech in which he instructed the soldiers not to attack the Churches and places of worship, sparing the priests, the weak and those unable to fight in line with the Prophetic injunctions. It is said that the speech had a profound impact on the army as the speech indicated that victory was within their grasps. Later that day, one part of the wall became weak enough for the infantries to rush into the city. The people of Constantinople saw the flag of Islām flag being flown for the first time and the liberation was then completed with Sultan Muḥammad aged 22.
Sultan Muḥammad entered the city on his horse along with his army – his commanders congratulated him whilst he said to them: “You have become the liberators of Constantinople, about whom the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) informed us”. He then dismounted his horse and fell in prostration praising Allāh for this prestigious honour and supplicated for the brave Mujāhidīn who were martyred along the way.
He then headed towards the one of the greatest churches in all of Christendom, the Aya Sofia. Inside were many priests to whom Sultan Muḥammad showed kindness and mercy and gave reassurances for the lives and possessions of all in the city on account of which many were said to have become Muslim from witnessing the justice and tolerance of Islām. Sultan Muḥammad gave instructions for Aya Sofia to be transformed into a Mosque as soon as possible in preparation for the Jummuʿah (Friday prayer) that was approaching in the coming days. Accordingly, Aya Sofia was cleansed of any crucifixes and idols, all images were covered up and a mimbar (pulpit) was built. When the blessed day of Jummuʿah arrived, Shaykh Shamsuddin was honoured with delivering the first sermon in what was now and forever from that day forward, the Aya Sofia Mosque. Again, this is very similar to the liberation of Al-Aqsa by Salāh ad-Dīn who entered the city on a Friday and immediately began the cleaning of the Mosque in readiness for the prayer and he too showed justice to the Christians where no house was exposed to plunder and no individual was harmed. His soldiers, acting on instructions, patrolled the streets and gates, preventing any aggression to which the Christians might be exposed and the release of his captives, even at his own expense.
In the meantime, Sultan Muḥammad continued to meet the heads of the various religions and sects reassuring them all that they would each receive their religious rights with each having their appointed leader, own schools and places of worship – such was the tolerance of Islām in contrast to the barbaric Crusaders and their treatment of Jews and Muslims in Palestine and Al-Andalus, Spain. Sultan Muḥammad also sent letters and gifts to all the rulers of the Islamic World, in Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, Persia and India to inform them of the great victory which he claimed not just for himself and the Ottomans, but for all of Islām and Muslims.
Sultan Muḥammad Fātiḥ continued to spread Islām in the Conquest of Serbia (1454–1459); Conquest of Morea (1458–1460); Conquests on the Black Sea coast (1460–1461) Conquest of Wallachia (1459–1462) wherein he famously defeated the Dracula; Conquest of Bosnia (1463); Conquest of Karaman (1464–1473); Conquest of Albania (1466–1478); Conquest of Genoese Crimea and the alliance with Crimean Khanate (1475).
Not being content on fulfilling one of the sayings of the Prophet (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam), Sultan Muḥammad Fātiḥ sought to now conquer the heart of Christendom, Rome for indeed the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said that the Muslims would liberate Rome. However, whilst marching with the Ottoman army to the campaign, he became ill. After some days, he died on 3 May 1481, at the age of 49 – Allāh has destined this to be achieved at the hands of another great noble individual.
Points to Note
The liberation of Constantinople paved the way for Islām to enter Europe. The conquest remains one of the great events in not just Islamic history, but that of world history. The liberated city was from here on forever to be referred to as ‘Islāmbul’, meaning the “City of Islām”. It should be noted that it was only during the secularisation process of Ataturk where it took on the name of ‘Istanbul’ which has no relevant meaning. Incidentally, there are coins in the British Museum from 1730 where the name of the city, Islambul is clearly imprinted.
Many factors played into the hands of the Muslims which made the liberation of Constantinople ripe, for example, crusading nations such as France and England were exhausted from ‘The Hundred Year War’, Germany had internal affairs to deal with whilst Spain were busy waging war against the Muslims in Andalusia.
I have made many references to the similarities between Sultan Muḥammad al-Fātiḥ and Salāh ad-Dīn to highlight that what they achieved was not just by mere chance but that there is a similar thread with respect to their noble characteristics as a result of which Allāh enabled victory and honour to be achieved at their hands.
We also learn that neither god-conscious leader, nor brave liberator emerges, except that there is a group of pious scholars around him to teach and guide him and to also themselves participate in the battles leading by example. There are many such examples in history such as the role played by Shaykh Bahā’ ad-Dīn b. Shaddād with Salāh ad-Dīn, Shaykh Shamsuddin with Muḥammad al-Fātiḥ as seen here, as well as the ‘Shaykh of Scholars’, Al-`Izz b, Abdis-Salām alongside Saif-ad-Din Qutuz.
Today our youth are motivated to become footballers or celebrities which is in sharp contrast to the young Sultan Muḥammad who desired to be a blessed leader mentioned by the Prophet of Allāh.
Perhaps the greatest accolade with respect to this noble warrior is that for both Muslims and non-Muslims alike, he was forever to be known and remembered as Muḥammad al-Fātiḥ (Muḥammad the Conqueror) – establishing a direct link to the one prophesised by the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) – liberator of Constantinople and defeater of the Romans. Finally, his army should also not be forgotten as they too were prophesised about as the best army ever.
Sultan Muḥammad al-Fātiḥ, Dr ʿAli Muḥammad al-Salābi;
The Ottomans in History and Civilisation, Muhammad Harb