Constantinople, wonderful man, wonderful army

Constantinople, wonderful man & wonderful army

“Convey my salaams and ask the Muslim armies to penetrate deep, so that they can bury me at the walls of Constantinople” so did say Abu Ayyub Ansari to Yazid, when the commander visited him on his death bed. This event took place circa 675 AD and was the first of many expeditions of the Muslims to conquer Constantinople.

The Muslim armies took to heart Abu Ayyubs request and fought their way to the Wall of Constantinople and that is where Abu Ayyub was laid in his final resting place. That was as far as the Muslims got in the four year campaign and they finally retreated after heavy losses. It was also the furthest they got in the next 700 years. Abu Ayyub, was approximately mid 90s and should not have been with the army at all, regardless of the huge reputation of being a ghazi who fought in all the Islamic wars. Today the locality of Eyup (Turkish derivation) carries huge religious significance and many Turks ask to be buried in the same area as this ghazi.

This is same Abu Ayyub who in 622 played host to the Prophet (saw) at his house in Medina for seven months. You would have heard the story of Qaswa the camel and how she stopped near Abu Ayyub’s house and that same spot became Masjid Quba, the first mosque in Islam. So why was Abu Ayyub in his old age, at the shores of Constantinople?

It is said that the Prophet Muhammad (saw) in his discussions on the way forward, had alluded to the importance of the city which will have water in its midst. The logic was obvious, that the city would be a pivotal point in the battle to spread the faith into lands afar. It was also central to the strategy of control of larger areas in two continents and a route into the Black Sea. Such was the importance of the city, which was the seat of Byzantine, that the Prophet (saw) said ‘what a wonderful leader will he be and what a wonderful army’ for the one conquering Constantinople.

So then, through the centuries, Muslim ambitions turned towards this city in Asia Minor. Many expeditions were planned and failed, beginning with the one led by Yazid, in the time of Muawiyyah, in which Abu Ayyub decided to participate – and yes in case you are wondering, this was the same Yazid, who was to cause the happenings of Karbala years later.

Some seven hundred years later another tragic attempt is worth noting. The aspirant was one named Bayazid Yildirim (thunderbolt). He was the Ottoman ruler in late 14th century. Bayazid planned his conquest with great detail and having disposed of a crusade in Bulgaria had established a stranglehold over Hungry and Bulgaria. He then turned his attention to Constantinople and somewhere in late 1390s laid siege to it. Lacking a strong navy and heavy guns, Bayazid hoped to break resistance via a long siege.

He came close. But at a crucial period, when the fall looked imminent, news came that Tamerlane (Timur-al-lung), the King of Samarqand (Mongols and Tartars) was invading his eastern lands. Bayazid signed a deal with Constantinople and turned eastwards. He was never to return. The battle of Ankara in 1402 was a defeat and Tamarlane captured Bayazid, who then after seven months captivity died a broken man. This event has been dramatised in Marlowes play and Bayazid is a tragic character who dies of shame imprisoned in a gilded cage.

This signal event delayed the Ottomans for a half century. The lands broke up for a time and the hegemony of the Sultans was finally established by Sultan Muhammad Fateh.  As soon as Muhammad Fateh felt secure, his thoughts turned to the words of the Prophet (saw) and his desire to conquer Constantinople surfaced. Who would not?  As he besieged Constantinople, he found yet that the fortifications withstood. So in a maneuver which has been spoken about for these 560 years, he dragged 80 ships across land on greased boards overnight. Next day his navy emerged on the Black Sea towards the unfortified side of Constantinople. The writing was on the wall and on 29/5/1453 Constantinople surrendered after 800 years of desire and effort. Where the Prophets (saw) words, spoken some 830 years before, fulfilled then?

Mythology and research have a different spin to it. Is the wonderful man and army this event at all? Some scholars who have knowledge about the coming events of Armageddon, attribute this to a future event when the Muslims will retake Constantinople in the time of the Mahdi. So this may well be one of the signal events, which shall shape the last war of all wars to occur, between the Mahdi and Dajjal. Only Allah knows and time will tell.

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Hanumant Singh, I will always remember you

I speak from faded memory, because to go into historical statistics is to lose the charm and mystery of what is just so natural

I remember Hanumant Singh.

Now, how many in Pakistan would say that? For that matter, how many in India can say that today? But it is true! I remember him well and owe him a debt which can never be repaid.

One hears you asking, why would an individual living in Karachi, have anything to do with an Indian prince?

I speak from faded memory, because to go into historical statistics is to lose the charm and mystery of what is just so natural.

Sometime in February 1964, aged five, I saw two of my uncles huddled together listening to a Grundig radio. Coming out of that radio was a harsh voice; I now know this voice to be of Maharaj Kumar of Vizianagram, cricket commentator and former captain of India. As if attracted by a magnet, I sat down to listen.

It seemed like an event of earth-shaking proportion was on the cards. India versus England at Firoz Shah Kotla Ground, Delhi. One Hanumant Singh was approaching his century and that, too, on his Test debut. I listened, absolutely and totally absorbed, as Hanumant eventually did reach his century. Subsequent events are a bit vague. All five Test matches were drawn during that tour of 1964. In this particular one, I think England, despite Singh’s efforts, managed a big lead. Then the late Nawab of Pataudi, making a big double century in the second innings, batted India to safety.

Of Hanumant Singh, history can tell you that he fell into the curse of all Indian century makers on Test debut, pre-Gundappa Vishwanath─I think there were seven in a 37-year period, 1932 to 1969. No one ever made a Test century again and all were condemned to mediocrity; Abbas Ali Baig being the most famous of those.

Hanumant had a great pedigree; the English greats Ranjitsinhji and Duleepsinhji were his uncles, Indrajitsinhji his cousin, and if you look at some old photographs, he will be seen using the same trademark leg-glide which made Ranji great and famous.

Unfortunately, Singh’s career was short; 14 tests and 600+ runs. In the late 60s he was finally discarded and departed this world in 2006, leaving a very small cricketing legacy.

It is this legacy which concerns me personally. Little did I know what it meant to me that afternoon’s events, some 48 summers ago! The fascination I felt while sitting there, waiting for events to unfold (and in the subsequent days, as I heard the desperate struggle at the Kotla) became part of my life ever after, to this day. There was born an innate love for something I shall carry to my grave. Cricket became a part of my life and I lived and breathed cricket. So much so, that as I look back and do a time sheet of my activities, it comes out as work, sleep, giving time to loved ones, and then evidently cricket. Now the first three are essentials of life, but cricket is the first love and continues to be an entwined part of my existence.

Out of that fascination and love came an understanding for the game. Hours were spent stuck to a radio listening to Test matches all over the world, and then the hero worship which I developed for some great sportsmen, specifically Pakistanis. It is a montage of memories; Zaheer, as he flicked the ball past mid-wicket dozens of times on the way to his 274 in 1971; Hanif waving his bat a last time in Karachi in 1969; Raja striding out at Lords to battle the rainy conditions in 1974.

Images were engraved in my mind; Mohsin, sleeve buttoned down, waiting for rain to stop, stuck at 199 at Lords in 1982; Asif Iqbal doing his valley of death routine in 1976 versus Lillee, on pitches that were so green that you could not tell them apart from the square. And naturally, of course, I remember that last ball heave for victory by Miandad at Sharjah in 1986, which brought Pakistan domination for a decade. Above all, one man raising a Waterford Crystal trophy aloft and claiming the world for us, if only for just one moment, on that fateful day in March 1992, when Pakistan won the World Cup.

Yes, I owe Hanumant Singh a legacy and one day I would hope to tell the world about the trip which I have been on, during these 48 years, through Lords, Oval, National Stadium, Sharjah and many more, and those eons spent in front of the television or stuck to the radio, for the growing and intense love for one sport; cricket.

Read more by Sarfaraz here or follow him on Twitter @sarehman

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

Restless Ambition?

Restless Ambition?

Roll the clock back to the years before partition of the Indian subcontinent. Think of a common man in his seventies and the life he lived. Born in a reasonably well-off family, he went to school in the local community. His family lived together, not too far from the extended family. As a child, he played with his cousins and friends out in the grounds; other recreational activities being evenings in the marketplace. Eventually, he joined his father at the shop and settled into an existence of earning his daily bread. Marriage and a few decades later, his children took over the same shop. Decades of daily grind, lived in peace without any desire to expand, change or move.

Seventy, and just as content, he now sits with lifelong friends, out in the veranda, enjoying a cup of tea as his grandchildren play around him. Fascinating! What a life! What roots and what stability. You could have replicated this story in most communities of the world, till the 1950’s and 60’s.

But things have changed since then. There is a mood of restlessness today. In the past people took jobs, progressed up the ladder and somewhere in late career hoped to reach the top, if good enough. Otherwise middle level would suffice. People lived the daily routine, worked, socialized, went home, interacted with the family and stayed content.

Fast forward five decades and you have the likes of myself! I represent the majority. We are the lot who, despite a long career of substantial jobs and success, have still not quite hit the satisfaction button. We have better cars, bigger houses, more means, travel more, eat better and entertain richer than people fifty years ago. Yet, there is that ‘restless ambition’, (for lack of a better phrase). We are in the hunt for more. Always and constantly.

What that ‘more’ is may be different from person to person, but it is always there. ‘More!’. I still have friends from my school days, but most of them are abroad. We do not interact, except on facebook or through email. I don’t even know how many children they have or what their names are. Some friendship! Think of the old gentleman sitting having tea with his friends in the old days.

So what has changed? What has caused this shift in the thinking of societies? Is it the apparent lack of religion and spirituality in our daily space? Is it the hard commercialism of modern day living, which has taken the soul out of our existence? Or is it the brash ‘in the face’ awareness (partially through advertising) which makes us desire for ‘more’. Could it be, that with so many ideologies vying with each other, we are simply muddled. When muddled, does a human simply grab whatever comes his way? And hence the case of men and women running around wanting more? This reminds me of Pepsi’s slogan “Dil Mange More”!

I am not a social scientist and therefore am unable to quite see why this so called entropy exists. I believe studies done in US universities have shown that when you compare years 1900 to 2000, entropy is hundreds of multiples higher – but this is a challenged theory.

Are we now in a field of unintended consequences? When it first started, it was good that our children went for higher studies and then of course, we expected a return on the investment. They had to earn to justify this expenditure. So, knowledge which for centuries was an end and a means to acquire wisdom, was no more so. Now, you look at it and say “must have payback”. And so, our children drive themselves ever harder, breaking and bending the rules in the process.

But along the way, something else happened in stealth. We forgot about what living should taste like, as we went further down this hole. We forgot family and children; family systems became redundant and relationships unimportant in the process. We went on a spiral of unintended consequences. And when we hit the bottom, we were all alone; without any real belonging, roots, cause or larger purpose.

So we concentrate on the one thing we have left. Ourselves. And we occupy ourselves in our minds twenty-four-seven without even realizing it. Our perpetual question:  what is next for me? In reality, all there is now, next and later, is restless ambition.

Back in the eighties, if a young man said he wanted to be CEO, he would be considered brash. Today, if he does not say it, he is considered unambitious. These are hard facts. This is how we have come to be.

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