بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْم
Our bus was walking down Istanbul. Still two hours until dawn (time for performing subuh prayer) while stay at Ataturk International Airport did not produced anything except freeze. That’s why our guide decided to go to the hotel sooner. “Dear ladies and gentlemens, welcome to Istanbul. My name is Zeki, I will guide you, ah … ” Zeki paused to find the right sentence,” For two nights and three days here.”
All of us listening seriously listen to Zeki. Partly because it requires in-depth information about Istanbul and partly because we were amazed by the way Zeki speaks Bahasa Indonesia.
“We’re here,” Zeki pointing to a spot on the map of Istanbul hanging on the front of the bus. “Later we will, ah … take a walk in Istanbul. Visiting historical places, ah … like … ” he glanced at the run down show in his left hand, while his right hand grasped the microphone tightly,” Hagia Sofia, Sultan Ahmet Mosque, also, ah … Grand Bazaar and Bosporus Cruise.”
Zeki continue telling stories as pilgrims start taking the view of Istanbul that is still dominated by modern buildings. We havent find any historic buildings such as the former city walls and Hagia Sofia Museum.
While Zeki tell us about the history of Istanbul, my fantasy flew into the long-overdone centuries. Like the Asassin Creed game characters who could return to the previous century through a machine, as if I were in a completely different world.
Standing in front of a restored giant wall, I saw the figure of a white man with round-eyes. Her face was so calm the eyes radiated hope. I walked to his side and immediately recognized who the figure is. He is Constantine I, the Roman Emperor who restored the small Byzantine city to a metropolitan named Nova Roma. “Hmm, so I was at a time in 324 AD.”
In addition to accompanying Constantine oversee the construction, my eyes turned to the masons who busy restoring the city wall while carts pulled by oxs down and forth transporting materials such as sand and bricks. On the other side of the city were merchant ships with a single screen or two sailing slowly toward the city. It may be that there are many commodities such as silk, spices, corn, or weaponry.
It is not surprising that Constantine was considered an extraordinary emperor. His vision of this small town was an unbelievably brilliant. Conjuring this city into the center of government of the Roman Empire is a very precise considering the location that lies between Asia and Europe. From here the troops and diplomats are easy to send to various Roman provinces such as Syria, Egypt, the Balkans, or the German border. Such a thing is not owned by the city of Rome. In this new capital also the emperor can rule without worrying about the political intrigue that colored the life of Rome. Constantine was also hailed to be remembered. When he died, Nova Rome was given another name that is Constantinople or the city Constantine.
Suddenly the figure of Constantine turned into a grain of sand blown by the wind. Similarly with the artisans who restoring the city wall. Dark for a moment, screams of women and children appeared. The fierce shouts of the men and the sounds of people moaning in pain followed. A beam of light emerged from behind the darkness until the eyes could see what was going on.
Around me was a massive murder committed by soldiers wearing a cross on their chests. Houses were burned or looted while some women thrashed over the shoulders of soldiers in shorts who were laughing. I went up to the city wall to see the sea view which was filled with winged flagged sailing ships. “Venezia.” I muttered as I realized that the event that appeared is the sack of Constantinople by the coalition army of crusaders and Venezia in April 1204 AD.
A maroon flag bearing a two-headed eagle fell from the tower of the castle while the Venetian lion and various crucifixes fluttered. The city had fallen into the hands of the Christians from the west and a new era known as the Latin Empire began. This plunder and destruction by fellow Christians left a mark for centuries in the souls of Orthodox Christians until some of them later preferred Constantinople to be controlled by Turkish Muslims rather than Western European Christians. Even Luke Notaras, the city’s last governor blatantly vomited his hatred in the presence of Giovanni Giustianiani, the leader of the Catholic army who came to help defend the city, “It is better to see Turkish turban in Constantinople than the Latin cap.”
Once again the scenery changed. This time there was a loud bang as a great lightning was snatching a house to pieces. Apparently an iron ball the size of an adult man darts from the muzzle of a cannon toward the whitish wall of Constantinople. Once the collision occurred the wall fell out while the people who are above it scattered in the air before landing on the ground with the sound “crack” which indicates the existence of broken bones.
“Allah Eckbar (Allah the Greatest).” I heard the takbir coming from the direction of the cannon followed by hundreds, oh no, thousands of armed men who ran to the broken wall. They kept panting the takbir as twirled their swords in the air. First wave of them that approached the wall throwing the javelin at the Roman soldiers who defend it.
I was carried away by euphoria, taking a sword from one of the soldiers who were killed by an arrow, then poured with the infantry into the city wall. As we approached the Roman troops who tried to confront us, we immediately engaged in a one-on-one that was incredibly thrilling. The clashing of swords, the sound of a dying man, the cue of an unheard commander, all colored that morning.
In the midst of the battle I can still hear the music coming from flutes, drums, and cymbals. I suspect that the mehters are playing a battle-spirited song. Yes, the mehter is a musical corps of Ottoman troops considered the world’s first military music corps. None other than I was on Tuesday 29 May 1453 AD The day that Constantinople changed hands from the Eastern Roman Empire to the Ottoman Empire. It was during this period that Constantinople’s name would later be transformed into Istanbul.
The soldiers shrieked with joy while the others shouting takbir, “Allah Eckbar.” I turned towards the coming shouting. Apparently the soldiers were watching Hasan Ulubati, one of the Yeni Ceri or imperial guard of Ottoman Empire; who were dropping a two-headed eagle flag from the top of a guard tower. He then docked the Ottoman red flag to indicate that the wall and the tower had been occupied by the Ottoman forces. We are all motivated and again invaded the enemy with greater power.
After bothering through the pile of corpses I arrived at the tower where Hasan was. He looked so tired as his hands were still holding the flag. Some Yeni Ceri in white caps and red uniforms appeared around Hasan whose eyes seemed to lose light. From a distance, a man on a white horse was staring at where we are. He was Muhammad bin Murad, a twenty-one-year-old sultan who had conquered Constantinople. The success of conquering the last capital of the Roman Empire earned him the title of Fetih or Opener. Now he is known as Sultan Muhammad Al-Fatih or Fetih Mehmet.
Takbir shouts disappeared alongside the walls of Constantinople. Mehmet’s pointed face also turned into Zeki’s wistful face. “Dear ladies and gentlements, we have arrived at the hotel. We eat first, ah … after that pray.”
Alhamdulillah the rebellion within my belly end. Similarly, the stiffness and drowsiness that had been undermining. Both were willing to let me off after being introduced to a cushioned bench, a warm and orderly dining room, and the chill of Istanbul’s water. I got up from the table to go to the prayer room that Zeki had promised but my step was blocked by a smiling little granny.
She speaks words that I do not understand. Body language and hand gestures even made me more amazed. I called a young waiter who was not far away. The blond man asked the granny in English but the results were even worse. He even seemed more confused than me and decided to leave immediately.
Now I stay alone with the granny who is clearly a Chinese. My eyes also lead to the whole room where tourists with the same physical characteristics sitting everywhere. Surprisingly no one is paying attention to her. The funny thing was this grandma really insisted on asking me? Or does she recognize me as a Chinese as well? Rarely a Chinese recognizes me as a Chinese.
Despair seemed on the granny wizened face, but a moment later a smile reappeared and this time she spoke to me fluently. Certainly with Chinese I do not understand. I just smiled listening until came a young Chinese man who uttered a few words to him. The granny went farewell and headed for where the mineral water is located.
Now there is no more granny who separate me with the elevator. Zeki seemed to be leading a group of worshipers into the elevator. He will take them to a room on the 13th floor where we performed the dawn prayer. The elevator door were closed and yellow lights flashed marking the floors that the elevator was passing.
I waited there until another group came. “Have you eaten sir?” They asked.
“Alhamdulillah. Have you eaten yet?”
They nodded. Soon there was the sound of “Ting” and the elevator door opened. Like a bus conductor in Jakarta, Zeki rushed out to call the ‘passenger candidate’. “Come on, come here. We’l pray on the thirteenth floor.”
Our prayer room was a suite room divided into two. Among them is a bathroom. Women occupied a rather deep room while me and the men in the front room. Our total group is 8 men and 12 women.
In this small room the five families who had been shy were merged into one. Faced with the same problem, ie not knowing the direction of Qiblah (direction of Masjid al-Haram, Mecca.), we were busy opening the phone and activate the compass. “Where is Kaaba (within Masjid al-Haram) direction?” Asked the burly man in a black hat named Nugie.
“Mecca is southeast of Istanbul.”
Apparently the needle on each compass shows the same direction. The southeastern direction is in the large window that presents the Istanbul Christmas scene. There is no joy or people going to church. Christmas in Istanbul is no different from other days.
A teenager named Farel echoes the adhan (call to prayer). Beefy and thick haired, Mr. Nugie’s nephew will later become a kind of my assistant during the umrah. “Allah Akbar … Allah Akbar.”
As soon as the adhan over we pray and then Mr. Nugie echoed iqamah (second adhan perform when the imam/sholat leader ready to begin the sholat) while tidying the position of prayer rugs. The clever Farel thus criticized the action, “How could you perform iqamah while tidying these? Not lawful. Repeat the iqamah!”
Mr. Nugie remains unmoved and completes the iqamah. But the embarrassment seemed right on his face, which was adorned with a shaved beard.
After praying, there was a different within our group. Now each member of a different family is helping each other folded the prayer rugs and shifted the couch to the original place. Inter-family chat was intensified even the ladies have started waiting for their counterparts from other families.
“Alhamdulillah.” I said to myself. One thing that highly awaited by a tour leader is the melting of pilgrims into a unified whole. And I now find what I expect.