Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) promised his followers in the Arabian Desert that they would one day conquer the most powerful and legendary city of the day, Constantinople. For centuries, it seemed like an impossible task. The city is incredibly well-defended, being a peninsula with a giant wall on it’s land side that deterred most conquerors. The city was laid siege to by Muslim armies during the Umayyad Caliphate, but those sieges were unable to defeat her mammoth walls.
When the Ottoman Empire sprang up in the early 1300s as a small Turkish beylik in Western Anatolia, it threatened the security of the Byzantines and their capital, Constantinople. By the time Sultan Mehmed II takes the throne in 1451, the Ottomans have expanded to control land in both Europe and Asia, thus surrounding the city of Constantinople. Sultan Mehmed made it his goal from the moment he took the throne to finally capture the legendary city. He ordered the building of a fortress on the Bosporus Strait, north of Constantinople to control ship movement in and out of the city. To honor the Prophet who declared the Muslims would conquer Constantinople, Mehmed had the fortress built in a way that it’s shape spelled out “Muhammad” in Arabic when seen from above.
On April 1st, 1453, Mehmed and his Ottoman army of over 100,000 soldiers arrived at the walls of Constantinople. The sight that greeted them must have been terrifying. The inner walls of Constantinople were 5 meters thick at their base and 12 meters high. 20 meters away from the inner wall was the outer wall, which was 2 meters thick and 8.5 meters tall. These walls had never been conquered in history, and numerous previous sieges by the Ottomans as well as the Umayyads during the caliphate of Mu’awiya in the 600s attested to that.
In addition to the walls, the Byzantines had a giant iron chain installed in the Golden Horn, a small inlet to the north of the city. This would prevent a navy from sailing to the weaker northern coast of the city and attacking from there. The Byzantines had a clear defensive advantage before the battle began. Despite being outnumbered and outgunned, the Byzantines were confident of their impending victory. Especially once additional soldiers and commanders were sent from the Italian city-state of Genoa.
Mehmed offered the defenders the option to surrender and remain in possession of their property, lives, and families in peace, but this offer was refused by the Byzantine emperor, Constantine XI. Thus, Mehmed began the attack on the city on April 6th. Despite the best effort of the Ottoman soldiers, and the bombardment of the world’s biggest cannons, the city held out for weeks. On April 22nd, Mehmed ordered the Ottoman navy to be carried over land to bypass the chain in the Golden Horn. Over one night, 72 ships were carried over land and put into the Golden Horn, threatening the city from the north.
It seemed that the battle of the city would soon be over as the Ottomans clearly had the upper hand. On May 28th, Mehmed halted all attacks and allowed his army to spend the day praying to Allah for victory. The next day, on May 29th, the army began a final assault on the city walls and before the morning was over, the walls were conquered and the city was taken.
Perhaps the most important part of this historical event was Mehmed II’s treatment of the defeated Byzantines. He did not kill the residents of the city and in fact encouraged them to stay in Constantinople by absolving them of taxes. He insisted that the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate stay in the city and rule the Christians of the city on his behalf. While to the rest of Europe, the idea of religious tolerance was a foreign concept, Mehmed followed the Islamic principles on treatment of non-Muslims and gave religious freedom and rights to the Christians of Constantinople. His abilities in battle and his virtuous qualities earned him the nickname “al-Fatih” or “the Conqueror”.
Freely, J. (2009). The Grand Turk. New York: Overlook Press.
Ochsenwald, W., & Fisher, S. (2003). The Middle East: A History. (6th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Article originally found on: http://lostislamichistory.com/mehmed-ii-and-the-prophets-promise/
If Prophet Muhammad visited you
Just for a day or two,
If he came unexpectedly,
I wonder what you would do?
Oh I know you would give your nicest room,
To such an honored guest,
And you would serve him your very best.
You would be the very best,
Cause you're glad to have him there,
That serving him in your home
Would be a joy without compare.
But...when you see him coming,
Would you meet him at the door
With your arms outstretched in welcome,
To your visitor?
Or...would you have to change your clothes
before you let him in?
Or hide some magazines and put
The Quran where they had been?
Would you still watch those movies,
Or your T.V. set?
Or would you switch it off,
Before he gets upset.
Would you turn off the radio,
And hope he had not heard?
And wish that you did not utter
your last loud hasty word?
Would you hide your wordly music,
And instead take out Hadith books?
Could you let him walk right in,
Or would you rush about?
And I wonder...if the Prophet spent, a day or two with you,
Would you go on doing the things you always do?
Would you go right on and say the things You always say?
Would life for you continue
As it does from day to day?
Would your family conversations,
Keep up their ususal pace?
And would you find it hard each meal,
To say a table grace?
Would you keep up each and every prayer?
Without putting on a frown?
And would you always jump up early,
For Fajr at dawn?
Would you sing the songs you always sing?
And read the book you read?
And let him know the things on which,
Your mind and spirit feed?
Would you take the Prophet with you,
Everywhere you plan to go?
Or, would you maybe change your plans,
Just for a day or so?
Would you be glad to have him meet,
Your very closest friends?
Or, would you hope they stay away,
Until his visit ends?
Would you be glad to have him stay,
Forever on and on?
Or would you sigh with great relief,
When he at last was gone?
It might be intresting to know,
The things that you would do.
If Prophet Muhammad, came,
To spend some time with you.
- Author Unknown
Today, there are over 500 million Muslims throughout the Indian subcontinent (India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh), making it one of the largest population centers of Muslims in the world. Since Islam first entered India, it has contributed greatly to the area and its people. Today, numerous theories about how India came to be such a largely Muslim land exist. Politically, some (such as the Hindutva movement in India) try to make Islam seem foriegn to India, by insisting it only exists because of invasions by Arab and Persian Muslims. The truth, however, is far from that.
The Earliest Muslim Indians
Even before the life of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) in the 600s, Arab traders were in contact with India. Merchants would regularly sail to the west coast of India to trade goods such as spices, gold, and African goods. Naturally, when the Arabs began to convert to Islam, they carried their new religion to the shores of India. The first mosque of India, the Cheraman Juma Masjid, was built in 629 (during the life of Prophet Muhammad) in Kerala, by the first Muslim from India, Cheraman Perumal Bhaskara Ravi Varma. Through continued trade between Arab Muslims and Indians, Islam continued to spread in coastal Indian cities and towns, both through immigration and conversion.
Muhammad bin Qasim
The first great expansion of Islam into India came during the Umayyad Dynasty of caliphs, who were based in Damascus. In 711, the Umayyads appointed a young 17 year old man from Ta’if to extend Umayyad control into Sindh: Muhammad bin Qasim. Sindh is the land around the Indus River in the Northwestern part of the subcontinent, in present-day Pakistan. Muhammad bin Qasim led his army of 6,000 soldiers to the far eastern reaches of Persia, Makran.
He encountered little resistance as he made his way into India. When he reached the city of Nerun, on the banks of the Indus River, he was welcomed into the city by the Buddhist monks that controlled it. Most cities along the Indus thus voluntarily came under Muslim control, with no fighting. In some cases, oppressed Buddhist minorities reached out to the Muslim armies for protection against Hindu governors.
Despite the support and approval of much of the population, the Raja of Sindh, Dahir, opposed the Muslim expansion and mobilized his army against Muhammad bin Qasim. In 712, the two armies met, with a decisive victory for the Muslims. With the victory, all of Sindh came under Muslim control.
It is important to note, however, that the population of Sindh was not forced to convert to Islam at all. In fact, for almost everyone, there was no change in day-to-day life. Muhammad bin Qasim promised security and religious freedom to all Hindus and Buddhists under his control. For example, the Brahman caste continued their jobs as tax collectors and Buddhists monks continued to maintain their monastaries. Due to his religious tolerance and justice, many cities regularly greeted him and his armies with people dancing and music.
Patterns of Conversion
The successive waves of Muslim armies penetrating into India followed much the same pattern. Leaders such as Mahmud of Ghazni and Muhammad Tughluq expanded Muslim political domains without altering the religious or social fabric of Indian society.
Because pre-Islamic India was entirely based on a caste system in which society was broken into separate parts, conversion to Islam happened in a step-by-step process. Often, entire castes would convert to Islam at a time. This would happen for many different reasons. Often, however, the equality Islam provided was more attractive than the caste system’s organized racism. In the caste system, who you are born to determines your position in society. There was no opportunity for social mobility or to achieve greater than what your parents achieved. By converting to Islam, people had the opportunity to move up in society, and no longer were subservient to the Brahman caste.
Buddhism, which was once very popular in the subcontinent, slowly died out under Muslim rule. Traditionally, when people wanted to escape the caste system, they would move to the major population centers and convert to Buddhism. When Islam became an option, however, people began to convert to Islam instead of Buddhism, while still leaving the caste system. The myths of Islam violently destroying Buddhism in India are simply false. Buddhists were tolerated under Muslim rule and no evidence exists that shows forced conversions or violence against them.
Wandering teachers also had a major role in bringing Islam to the masses. Muslim scholars traveled throughout India, making it their goal to educate people about Islam. These teachers had a major role in bringing Islam to the masses in the countryside, not just the upper classes around the Muslim rulers.
Did Islam Spread by Force?
While some claim that Islam’s huge population in India is a result of violence and forced conversion, the evidence does not back up this idea at all. Although Muslim leaders replaced Hindu kings in most areas, society was left as is. Stories of forced conversion are very few and often not credible enough to warrant academic discussion.
If Islam spread through violence and warfare, the Muslim community today in India would exist only in the areas closest to the rest of the Muslim world. Thus only the western part of the subcontinent would have any Muslim population at all. What we see instead is pockets of Islam throughout the subcontinent. For example, Bangladesh and its 150 million Muslims are in the far east, separated from other Muslim-majority areas by Hindu lands in India. Isolated communities of Muslims exist also exist in western Myanmar, central India, and eastern Sri Lanka. These communities of Muslims are proof of Islam spreading peacefully throughout India, regardless of whether or not a Muslim government existed there. If Islam spread by force as some claim, these communities of Muslims would not exist.
Islam is an integral part of India and its history. As the Indian subcontinent remains today a multi-ethnic and multi-religious place, it is important to understand the position Islam has in the region. The political claims that some making regarding Islam as if it is an invading religion and foriegn to the people of India need to be defied with the truth of Islam’s peaceful spread throughout India.
Hodgson, M. The Venture of Islam . 2. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961. Print.
Kennedy, Hugh. The Great Arab Conquests: How the Spread of Islam Changed the World We Live In. Philadelphia: Da Capo Press, 2007. Print.
“World’s second oldest mosque is in India.” Bahrain Tribune 07 06 2006, n. pag. Web. 23 Nov. 2012..
Post originally found on: http://lostislamichistory.com/how-islam-spread-in-india/
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