On a cold winter morning when it was drizzling outside, we decided to pay a visit to the tomb of Hazrat Abu Ayub Ansari. The tomb of this trusted and valued companion of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) is located somewhat in the north of Istanbul where the Bosporus strait starts to narrow down into a tighter channel. It is approximately an hour‘s drive from the Sultanahmet district where we happened to be staying at that time and where most of Istanbul’s famous attractions are located. Since most of Istanbul’s mass transit links cover only the Fateh district plus a few areas beyond that, getting to the tomb meant you had to arrange for your own mode of transportation whether it is a bus, ferry or a privately hired taxi or car. It had been pre decided by us that no trip to Istanbul would be complete without paying our respects to this esteemed "Sahabi e Rasool”. How we managed to get there is a long story, not to mention that by the time we did, the drizzle had changed to steady rain and we had lost two of our umbrellas on the way. We approached the burial place from the back side. Fortunately there was a huge sign indicating the entrance to Camii Eyup Sultan or the Ayub Sultan Mosque. We entered the alley under the sign and voila!!!!! For a moment everything came to a standstill…. including us. What we had entered was a beautiful cobble stone path sandwiched between walls on either side and beyond the walls the land rose and fell naturally giving us view of what lay on the other side. On either side beyond the walls was a cemetery all the way till the Mosque itself, which housed the grave of Hazrat Ayub Ansari.
It was a cemetery the likes of which I had never seen before. The graves and the tombstones were so unusual and majestic that we were all spell bound by the impact they created. It was a cemetery that commanded respect and we all walked in silence forgetting the cold biting wind and the lost umbrellas. Miraculously it even stopped raining or to be more accurate the rain changed back to a drizzle.
I had wondered how this revered companion of the Prophet (PBUH) had ended up being buried so far away from his native land and from what I learned about it from my father, left me even more amazed and impressed.
Istanbul in the old days was called Constantinople. It was not only the capital city of the Eastern Roman Empire but also the sparkling jewel in their crown. It was a city rich in heritage and culture and after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century it became the main city and the center of the Christian power.
The Prophet Hazrat Mohammad (PBUH) had declared that whichever Islamic army conquered Constantinople will carve its own sure path to heaven. So many years after the death of the Prophet (PBUH) when the attack on Constantinople was planned Hazrat Ayub Ansari, enlisted in that army, despite being extremely advanced in age. He wanted to be part of the great army that conquered the last Christian stronghold. Being an extremely old man Hazrat Ayub Anasari was not able to survive the expedition and expired before the army could take over Constantinople. But his final request was to be buried, if not inside Constantinople, then as close to Constantinople as possible. Urged by his last wish the Muslim soldiers pushed on till they reached the outskirts of the city where the finally laid the body of Hazrat Ayub to rest. They were unable to conquer Constantinople at that that time but they certainly put some serious fear of God into the hearts of those Byzantines. So much so that when they (the Muslim army) left, they did so with a warning that if the grave of the Prophet’s (PBUH) companion was desecrated in any way, they would come back and level the whole city (or something of the sort) .
It was not until 1453 that Constantinople was finally conquered by the Turks under the leader ship of the Ottoman Emperor Mehmet the conqueror (Sultan Mohammad Fateh) and remains under the control of the Muslim Turks to this very day. Over time Constantinople was renamed as Istanbul and it expanded as all thriving and prosperous cities expand. The grave of Hazrat Ayub Ansari which had initially been in the outskirts of Constantinople now lies in the midst of Istanbul. The Turks marked the grave by building a mosque over it and naming the area where it is located as EYUP which is basically Ayub in Turkish. The Turkish government and Ottoman Sultans before it did their best to protect and preserve this grave and over the centuries many members of the royal family chose to be buried as close the grave of the companion of the Prophet (PBUH) as possible hence giving rise to this magnificent and beautiful cemetery. Weather any other soldiers from the original campaign are also buried here alongside Hazrat Ayub or not and if they are, then whether their graves have survived over time or not is something I do not know. All I know is that if one gets the opportunity to pass through Istanbul even briefly, a visit to Camii Eyup Sultan and its neighboring graveyard to offer Fatiha is a must .