The Sahaba of Istanbul [5] The Ayvansaray Coast

South of Eyüp is the area of Ayvansaray. In this quiet residential neighborhood lie a number of tombs, but for this post we will focus on three noteworthy sites located by the Ayvansaray Coast along the waters of the Golden Horn. They are the tombs of Muḥammad al-Anṣārī (Muhammed el-Ensari), Abū Dharr al-Ghifārī (Ebuzer Gifari), and Jābir b. ‘Abd Allāh (Cabir bin Abdullah).

The Ayvansaray Coast before the Estuary Bridge over the Golden Horn

Yavedud Caddesi, a major thoroughfare, runs south out of Eyüp and passes beneath the towering Estuary (Haliç) Bridge. The road then becomes Ayvansaray Caddesi as it runs by the shrine complex in front of the old city walls, which we discussed in Part [4]. A block beyond the complex is a one-story building on the side of the street that houses the grave of Muhammad al-Anṣārī. The site can also be reached by ferry by disembarking from the Ayvansaray ferry station and cutting through the green space of Haliç Parkı.  The white stone building is just on the other side of Ayvansaray Caddesi. The grave can be seen through a large window and should be open to the public for visitations.

The stone building housing the grave of Muḥammad al-Anṣārī

The stone building housing the grave of Muḥammad al-Anṣārī

Like the previously discussed Abū Aḥmad al-Anṣārī and Ḥamīd Allāh al-Anṣārī, it is difficult to confirm the precise identity of Muḥammad al-Anṣārī given the fairly generic names provided. Nonetheless, one person of the many possible Companions of the Prophet presents himself as a strong candidate, Muḥammad b. Maslama al-Anṣārī (d. 43/663). He appears in numerous accounts as participating in many of the raids and campaigns of the early Muslim community and was personally sent by the Prophet on a number of occasions. Biographies consistently note his slaying of Ka’b b. al-Ashraf. After the Prophet’s death, Muḥammad b. Maslama appears to have served both the Caliphs ‘Umar and ‘Uthmān while avoiding the civil strife (fitna) that ensued afterwards.

The tomb of Muḥammad al-Anṣārī

The tomb of Muḥammad al-Anṣārī

There are conflicting reports, however, about the date of his death, although all the sources agree that he died in Medina rather than the Byzantine frontier. Al-Ṭabarī, under the year 43 AH, reports, “In Ṣafar of this year (May 15 – June 12, 663) Muḥammad b. Maslamah died in al-Madinah. Marwān b. al-Ḥakam led the prayers over him” (al-Ṭabarī, History, 18:32). Ibn Sa’d reports his death in Ṣafar of the year 46 AH and also states that Marwān b. al-Ḥakam led the funeral prayer (Ibn Saʿd, Kitāb al-Ṭabaqāt al-kabīr, 3:410). The sources agree that Muḥammad b. Maslama was 77 years old when he died. Finally, Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr reports both the preceding dates of death and then adds the year 47 AH as a third possibility (Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, al-Istīʿāb, 3:1377). Given his widely reported death in Medina, it is possible that another Muḥammad al-Anṣārī rests here.

Hazreti Ebuzer Gifari Camii

Hazreti Ebuzer Gifari Camii

Next, the mosque of Abū Dharr al-Ghifārī (d. 32/652-3), appropriately named Hazreti Ebuzer Gifari Camii, lies further inland. Several winding and uneven blocks away from Ayvansaray Caddesi where the tomb of Muḥammad al-Anṣārī lies sits this modest house of worship. Adorned with a single minaret, the mosque is enclosed by a low wall topped with an ironwork fence. The actual tomb rests outside of the mosque lying beneath the open sky and is easily visible from the sidewalk.

The tomb of Abū Dharr al-Ghiffārī visible from the street

The tomb of Abū Dharr al-Ghiffārī visible from the street

Concerning Abū Dharr’s life, J. Robson provides a summative overview in the second edition of Brill’s Encyclopaedia of Islam:

Abū Dharr al-Ghifārī, a Companion of Muḥammad. His name is commonly given as Djundub b. Djunāda, but other names are also mentioned. He is said to have worshipped one God before his conversion. When news of Muḥammad reached him he sent his brother to Mecca to make enquiries, and being dissatisfied with his report, he went himself. One story says he met Muḥammad with Abū Bakr at the Kaʿba, another that ʿAlī took him secretly to Muḥammad. He immediately believed, and is surprisingly claimed to have been the fifth (even the fourth) believer. He was sent home, where he stayed till he went to Medina after the battle of the Ditch (5/627). Later he lived in Syria till he was recalled by ʿUthmān because of a complaint against him by Muʿāwiya. He retired, or was sent, to al-Rabadha, where he died in 32/652-3, or 31. He was noted for humility and asceticism, in which respect he is said to have resembled Jesus. He was very religious and eager for knowledge, and is said to have matched Ibn Masʿūd in religious learning. He is credited with 281 traditions, of which al-Bukhārī and Muslim rendered 31 between them.

Abū Dharr al-Ghifārī was also given special recognition within the Sufi tradition, a point attested by his inclusion in John Renard’s Historical Dictionary of Sufism (2005), which has since been republished as The A to Z of Sufism (2009). Abū Dharr’s entry reads:

Abū Dharr al-Ghifārī (d. c. 32/653). Companion of the Prophet, ascetic, transmitter of Prophetic traditions, possibly one of the Helpers in Medina. His humility and simplicity were such that Sufis likened him to Jesus, who relied entirely on God. Tradition has it that a central theme in his public discourse was that those who have great wealth – indeed, any  wealth at all – and refuse to spend in the cause of God will be punished for their lack of generosity. His piety was such that he was said to have engaged in the ritual prayer several years before he even met the Prophet. Some sources emphasize his personal intimacy with the Prophet, and that relationship together with his renunciation of wealth commended him to Sufis as a model of piety. (Renard, The A to Z, 23)

Author AbdulWāhid Hāmid provides even greater detail in the first volume of Companions of the Prophet. For instance, he claims that, “Abū Dharr was the first person to greet the Prophet with the greeting of Islam. After that, the greeting spread and came into general use” (Hāmid, Companions, 1:128-9). A short, but illustrative series of tales also concludes his biographical entry in this work:

Once a man visited him [Abū Dharr] and began looking at the contents of his house but found it quite bare. He asked Abū Dharr:

“Where are your possessions?”

“We have a house yonder (meaning the Hereafter),” said Abū Dharr, “to which we send the best of our possessions.”

The man understood what he meant and said: “But you must have some possessions so long as you are in this abode.”

“The owner of this abode will not leave us in it,” replied Abū Dharr.

Abū Dharr persisted in his simple and frugal life to the end. Once the amīr of Syria sent three hundred dinars to Abū Dharr to meet his needs. He returned the money saying, “Does not the amīr of Syria find a servant more deserving of it than I?”

In the year 32 AH, the self-denying Abū Dharr passed away. The Prophet, peace be upon him, had said of him: “The earth does not carry nor the heavens cover a man more true and faithful than Abū Dharr.” (Hāmid, Companions, 1:131-2)

While it appears that Abū Dharr al-Ghifārī died in al-Rabādha, a Muslim settlement in Western Arabia that later went into decline, it is clear that his religious significance continued to have great weight amongst the Ottomans of Istanbul to warrant a tomb there.

The grave of Abū Dharr al-Ghifārī

The grave of Abū Dharr al-Ghifārī

Swinging back towards the shores of the Golden Horn just two blocks away from Ebuzafer Camii and a block from Haliç Parkı is another mosque, Hazreti Cabir Camii. This small structure is easily recognized with its simple, white minaret and wood-paneled front. Inside the mosque and located off to the side in the main prayer space is the tomb of Jābir b. ‘Abd Allāh (d. 78/697). The grave lies hidden behind a dark green velvet curtain that is further barred by a golden gate.

Hazreti Cabir Camii

Hazreti Cabir Camii

‘Abd al-Ḥayy al-Lakhnawī provides a succinct account of Jābir’s life that draws upon a number of sometimes differing reports:

He went on expeditions with the Prophet nineteen times but he was not present at Badr. He died in Madīnah, but some say Makkah, in 78 AH, and others say 79 AH and even 74 AH. That is how it is in Is’āf al-mubaṭṭa’ of as-Suyūṭī. Jābir is Abū ‘Abdullāh Jābir ibn ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr ibn Ḥarām ibn ‘Amr ibn Sawād ibn Salamah al-Anṣārī one of the most famous of the Companions. He was present at Badr – according to what is said – and what came after it. His father was one of the twelve leading men [to pledge allegiance at al-‘Aqabah]. Jābir became blind at the end of his life, and he died in Madīnah in 74 AH, but some say 77 or 78 AH, and he was the last of the Companions to die in Madīnah. Thus it is in Jāmi’ al-uṣūl. (al-Lakhnawi, Rijal, p. 82)

M.J. Kister’s entry in Brill’s Encyclopaedia of Islam provides more extensive information. Concerning Jābir’s death, Kister writes:

Djābir died at 78/697 at the age of 94 (other reports, however, give varying dates). He is said to have been the last survivor of the group of 70 Anṣār who attended the ʿAḳaba Meeting, thus fulfilling a prediction of the Prophet. The prayer over his grave was performed by the governor of Medina, Abān b. ʿUthmān, or according to another tradition, by al-Ḥadjdjādj b. Yūsuf when he came to Medina after his victory over ʿAbd Allāh b. al-Zubayr.

More intriguing is the rich Shī’ī remembrance of him:

In Shīʿī tradition, Djābir was granted an exceptionally high rank. The ḥadīths recorded in Shīʿī sources on his authority touch upon the fundamental tenets of Shīʿī belief: the mission of ʿAlī, his qualities, his authority over the believers, the graces granted him by God, the divine virtues of his descendants and the duties of allegiance and obedience incumbent upon the believers. It was the imām al-Bāḳir who asked Djābir about the Tablet which God sent down to Fāṭima and which Djābir got permission to copy. In this Tablet God named the imāms and established their order of succession. It is noteworthy that, according to some versions, the imām compared the copy of Djābir with the Tablet in his possession and stated that the copy is a reliable and accurate one. In another story, Djābir confirms the accuracy of the unusual report about the hidjra as told him by the imāmDjābir is credited with the ḥadīth about the appointment of ʿAlī as waṣī, which forms the base of the Shīʿī interpretation of Sūra LIII, 1-4. 

It appears that Jābir b. ‘Abd Allāh, like Muḥammad b. Maslama and Abū Dharr al-Ghifārī who preceded him, likely passed away far from the environs of Constantinople. Nevertheless, these modest grave sites scattered along the Ayvansaray Coast continue to attest to the sustained attention and devotion that the remembrance of these Companions command.

The secluded resting place of  Jābir b. 'Abd Allāh

The secluded resting place of Jābir b. ‘Abd Allāh

Hāmid, AbdulWāhid.1998. Companions of the Prophet, New Revised Edition. 2 vols. London: MELS.

Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr. 1992. al-Istīʿāb fī maʿrifat al-aṣḥāb, 1st edition, 4 vols. Beirut: Dār al-Jīl.

Kister, M. J.. “D̲j̲ābir b. ʿAbd Allāh.” Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill Online, 2013. Reference. Fairfield University. 24 June 2013 <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com.libdb.fairfield.edu/entries/encyclopaedia-of-islam-2/djabir-b-abd-allah-SIM_8480>

al-Laknawī, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Ḥayy. 2004. Rijal: Narrators of the Muwatta al-Imam Muhammad. London: Ta-Ha Publishers, Ltd.

Muḥammad b. Saʿd al-Zuhrī. 2001. Kitāb al-Ṭabaqāt al-kabīr. 1st edition, 11 vols. Cairo: Maktabat al-Khānjī.

Renard, John. 2009. The A to Z of Sufism. Lanham, UK: The Scarecrow Press, Inc.

Robson, J. “Abū Ḏh̲arr.” Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill Online, 2013. Reference. Fairfield University. 24 June 2013 <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com.libdb.fairfield.edu/entries/encyclopaedia-of-islam-2/abu-dharr-SIM_0173>

al-Ṭabarī, Muḥammad b. Jarīr. The History of al-Ṭabarī, Volume XVIII: Between Civil Wars: The Caliphate of Mu’āwiyah. Translated by Michael G. Morony. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987.

To access the other posts in the series:

The Sahaba of Istanbul [1] Abu Ayyub al-Ansari

The Sahaba of Istanbul [2] The Underground Mosque

The Sahaba of Istanbul [3] Eyup

The Sahaba of Istanbul [4] The City Walls of Leo and Heraclius

The Sahaba of Istanbul [6] Galata/Eminonu/Sultanahmet (forthcoming)

Advertisements

The Sahaba of Istanbul [4] The City Walls of Leo and Heraclius

The city walls of Istanbul stretch from the Marmara Sea in the south to the Haliç or Golden Horn in the north. It is at the foot of these walls that a large number of Companions are reportedly buried. In this fourth post we visit four graves collected together just outside of the section of the wall that is located by the waters of the Golden Horn in a shrine complex lying between the neighborhoods of Eyüp and Ayvansaray. The tombs therein are those of Abū Shayba al-Khudrī (Ebu Şeybet ül-Hudri), Abū Aḥmad al-Anṣārī (Ebu Ahmed el-Ensari), Ḥamīd Allāh al-Anṣārī (Hamidullah el-Ensari), and Ka’b (Kab). It is a brief 15-20 minute walk down from Eyüp or a single stop on the ferry, which runs up and down the Golden Horn.

Signposts to the companions buried in the shrine complex by the city walls

Signposts to the Companions buried in the shrine complex by the city walls of Leo and Heraclius

Two of these Companions and the previously discussed Abū Ayyub al-Anṣārī are mentioned by Roger Crowley in his account of the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople:

The [Ottoman] men were reminded that they were following in the footsteps of the companions of the Prophet killed at the first Arab siege of Constantinople. Their names were passed from mouth to mouth: Hazret Hafiz, Ebu Seybet ul-Ensari, Hamd ul-Ensari, and above all Ayyub, whom the Turks called Eyüp. The holy men reminded their listeners, in hushed tones, that to them fell the honor of fulfilling the words of the Prophet himself:

The Prophet said to his disciples: “Have you heard of a city with land on one side and sea on the other two sides?” They replied: “Yes, O Messenger of God.” He spoke: “The last hour [of Judgement] will not dawn before it is taken by 70,000 sons of Isaac. When they reach it, they will not do battle with arms and catapults but with the words ‘There is no God but Allah, and Allah is great.’ Then the first sea wall will collapse, and the second time the second sea wall, and the third time the wall on the land side will collapse, and, rejoicing, they will enter in.” (Crowley, 1453, 194)

The shrine complex that presently hosts our four graves is in fact situated between two sets of walls, each respectively named after the Byzantine potentate who oversaw their construction, Heraclius (d. 641 CE) and Leo V (d. 820 CE). John Freely describes the area as follows:

The citadel between the walls of Leo and Heraclius is in its own peculiar way quite fascinating. At one end of the citadel there is a small Muslim graveyard which contains the graves of Ebu Şeybet ül-Hudri and Hamd ül-Ensari, two martyred Companions of the Prophet. (Sumner-Boyd and Freely, Strolling through Istanbul, 358)

City Walls by the Golden Horn

The city walls by the Golden Horn between Eyüp and Ayvansaray

Upon entering the gardened complex there is a separate stone building off to the right that shelters the grave of Ka’b. One can enter to see the tomb housed between an edifice of wood and glass. The tomb of Ka’b appears to have once been located inside Yavedud Camii, a nearby mosque, but was moved at some point to its present location in the shrine complex. As for the Ka’b resting therein, it is entirely unclear which Ka’b is intended.

The tomb of K'ab

The tomb of K’ab

The earliest possibility is Ka’b b. ‘Umayr al-Ghifārī (d. 8/629) who died before the Prophet Muhammad. It is reported of him:

Muḥammad bin ‘Abdullāh al-Ẓuhrī narrated. “The Messenger of Allāh (Ṣallallāhu ‘alaihi wa Sallam) sent Ka’b ibn ‘Umair al-Ghifārī (Raḍiallāhu ‘Anhu) along with fifteen persons [on a mission]. When these people reached Dhāt-Aṭlāh, a place on the border of Syria, they found a great assemblage of the people. They exhorted them towards Islam. But they showered arrows in reply. When the Companions of the Messenger of Allāh (Ṣallallāhu ‘alaihi wa Sallam) saw that, they fought desperately but all of them were martyred except one injured Companion who somehow escaped in the darkness of the night and returned to the Messenger of Allāh (Ṣallallāhu ‘alaihi wa Sallam). (Kandhlawi, Hayatus Sahabah, 245)

Alternatively, Ka’b al-Aḥbār b. Māti’ (d. ca. 32/652-3) was a Jewish convert to Islam to whom a great deal of Isrā’īliyyāt is attributed. Little in his life indicates that he ventured into Byzantine territory and the debates over the date of his death and his burial site all indicate places other than Constantinople like Homs, Damascus, Giza, and Medina. (al-Ṭabarī, History, 39:206-7; Ibn Saʿd, Kitāb al-Ṭabaqāt al-kabīr, 9:449; Schmitz, EI2)

The grave of Ka'b

The grave of Ka’b

The last two significant Companions known by the name Ka’b were both poets. Ka’b b. Mālik (d. 50/670 or 53/673) was one of the members of the tribe of al-Khazraj present at the second meeting of ‘Aqaba and later became known as one of the poets of the Prophet. His place of death is unknown, though like the two preceding personalities he too died before the first Arab siege of Constantinople. Ka’b b. Zuhayr was a Meccan antagonist known for his disparaging poetry against the Prophet who eventually converted and continued to compose poems but now in support and praise of the Muslims. While his date of death is uncertain, Basset vaguely reports that “he appears to have lived to a ripe old age.” (Basset, EI2)

At the opposite end of the shrine complex is another building set in front of a small cemetery. The building itself houses two tombs, the first of which belongs to Abū Shayba al-Khudrī. Brief mention is made of him in Ibn Ṣalāḥ al-Shahrazūrī’s (d. 643/1245) treatise on hadith Kitāb Maʿrifat al-anwāʾ ʿilm al-ḥadīth in the chapter on paidonymics:

Those who are known by their paidonymic [kunyā] and their names are not known and it is not known whether this appellation is their paidonymic or something else… Other examples from the Companions are… Abū Shayba al-Khuḍrī, who died in the siege of Constantinople and was buried there. (Ibn Ṣalāḥ al-Shahrazūrī, An Introduction to the Science of Ḥadīth, 250)

It appears then that Abū Shayba al-Khudrī was indeed amongst the Companions that came to and died before the city walls of Constantinople.

The grave of Abu Shayba al-Khudri

The tomb of Abu Shayba al-Khudri

He is also mentioned in al-Istīʿāb by Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr (d. 463/1070) as follows:

Abū Shayba al-Khuḍrī heard the Prophet, may God’s prayers and peace be upon him, say, ‘Whoever says there is no god but God sincerely, he will enter Paradise.’ He died in the land of Rūm… Khalaf b. Qāsim transmitted to us that: al-Ḥasan b. Rashīq transmitted to us saying: Abū Bishr al-Dūlābī transmitted to us that: Yazīd b. ʿAbd al-Ṣamad transmitted to us saying: Ibn ʿĀʾidh transmitted to us saying: al-Walīd b. al-Ḥārith transmitted to us saying: Abū Dāwūd Sulaymān b. Mūsā al-Kūfī transmitted to us on the authority of Yūnus b. al-Ḥārith al-Thaqafī: I heard Mashras transmit on the authority of his father who said: Abū Shayba al-Khuḍrī the Companion of the Messenger of God, may God’s prayers and peace be upon him, passed away when we were at the siege of Constantinople. We buried him where he lay. (Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, al-Istīʿāb, 4:1690)

The tomb of Abu Ahmad al-Ansari

The grave of Abu Ahmad al-Ansari

Across from the tomb of Abu Shayba al-Khuḍrī and laying out in the open air is the grave of Abū Aḥmad al-Anṣārī. The grave is easily recognized given the great tree that grows forth from his resting place and the well marked sign hanging above. Unfortunately, I was unable to obtain any biographical information for Abū Aḥmad. Any assistance would be appreciated.

Just around the corner and in the same building containing the tomb of Abu Shayba al-Khuḍrī is another room with the tomb of Ḥamīd Allāh al-Anṣārī (the provided Turkish appellation of Hamidullah el-Ensari is somewhat ambiguous in terms of determining its Arabic equivalent). It is possible that the person meant is Ḥumayd b. Nāfiʿ. Ibn Saʿd (d. 230) mentions that he was a client (mawlā) of Abū Ayyūb al-Anṣārī adding, “He transmitted on the authority of Abū Ayyūb and went on Ḥajj with him” (Ibn Saʿd, Kitāb al-Ṭabaqāt al-kabīr, 7:300). Ḥumayd’s place of death, however, is not given.

The tomb of Hamid Allah al-Ansari

The tomb of Hamid Allah al-Ansari

Basset, R. ” Kaʿb b. Zuhayr.” Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill Online , 2013. Reference. Fairfield University. 20 January 2013 <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com.libdb.fairfield.edu/entries/encyclopaedia-of-islam-2/kab-b-zuhayr-SIM_3733>

Crowley, Roger. 2005. 1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West. New York: Hyperion.

Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr. 1992. al-Istīʿāb fī maʿrifat al-aṣḥāb, 1st edition, 4 vols. Beirut: Dār al-Jīl.

Ibn Ṣalāḥ al-Shahrazūrī. 2006. An Introduction to the Science of Ḥadīth: Kitāb Maʿrifat al-anwāʾ ʿilm al-ḥadīth. Translated by Eerik Dickinson. Reading: Garnet Publishing.

Kandhlawi, Muhammad Yusuf. 1989. Hayatus Sahabah: The Lives of the Sahabah, 2nd edition, 2 vols. New Dehli: Idara Isha’at-e-Diniyat, Ltd.

Muḥammad b. Saʿd al-Zuhrī. 2001. Kitāb al-Ṭabaqāt al-kabīr. 1st edition, 11 vols. Cairo: Maktabat al-Khānjī.

Schmitz, M. ” Kaʿb al-Aḥbār.” Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill Online , 2013. Reference. Fairfield University. 20 January 2013 <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com.libdb.fairfield.edu/entries/encyclopaedia-of-islam-2/kab-al-ahbar-SIM_3734>

Sumner-Boyd, Hilary and John Freely. Strolling Through Istanbul: The Classic Guide to the City. London: Tauris Parke Paperbacks, 2010.

Watt, W. Montgomery. ” Kaʿb b. Mālik.” Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill Online , 2013. Reference. Fairfield University. 20 January 2013 <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com.libdb.fairfield.edu/entries/encyclopaedia-of-islam-2/kab-b-malik-SIM_3732>

To access the other posts in the series:

The Sahaba of Istanbul [1] Abu Ayyub al-Ansari

The Sahaba of Istanbul [2] The Underground Mosque

The Sahaba of Istanbul [3] Eyup

The Sahaba of Istanbul [5] The Ayvansaray Coast

The Sahaba of Istanbul [6] Galata/Eminonu/Sultanahmet (forthcoming)

The Sahaba of Istanbul [1] Abu Ayyub al-Ansari

The city of Istanbul, once Constantinople, purportedly hosts the tombs of many Sahaba, the revered Companions of the Prophet Muhammad.

Though the city did not fall until 1453, when it was conquered by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II (d. 886/1481), Muslims forces campaigned against the city during the earliest decades of Islam’s irruption onto the world stage. The fifth Caliph Mu’āwiya (d. 60/680) directed a major campaign against Constantinople in the year 49/669, less than forty years after the Prophet’s death. In these earliest of days, it was often at the very walls of the city itself that some Companions of the Prophet reportedly breathed their last breath.

The present post is the first of a series that will document the lives and alleged burial sites of many of these Sahaba.* By some counts, more than thirty such tombs are spread across the city. During our last visit to the city in May of 2012 we visited many- but far from all- of these in order to properly locate and photo-document them. It is hoped that this series will facilitate the future visits of other travelers and to shed further light on Istanbul’s importance for the tradition.

Eyüp Sultan Camii

Abū Ayyūb al-Anṣārī

Just beyond the city walls and alongside the Golden Horn is the district of Eyüp, named after the tomb and mosque complex built around the burial site of Abū Ayyūb al-Anṣārī (d. 52/672). Our guide to the city John Freely reports:

The mosque of Eyüp is the holiest in Istanbul; indeed after Mecca and Jerusalem it is perhaps the most sacred place of pilgrimage in the Islamic world. This is because it is the reputed burial place of Eyüp (Job) Ensari, the friend and standard-bearer of the Prophet Muhammed. Long after the Prophet’s death, Eyüp is said to have been one of the leaders of the first Arab siege of Constantinople from 674 to 678 and to have been killed and buried somewhere outside the walls. When some eight centuries later Fatih Mehmet besieged the city, he and his advisors, as Evliya Çelebi writes,

“spent seven whole days searching for the tomb. At last Akşemsettin (the Şeyh-ül Islam) exclaimed, ‘Good news, my Prince, of Eyüp’s tomb!’ Thus saying he began to pray and then fell asleep. Some interpreted this sleep as a veil cast by shame over his ignorance of the tomb; but after some time he raised his head, his eyes became bloodshot, the sweat ran from his forehead, and he said to the Sultan, ‘Eyüp’s tomb is on the very spot where I spread the carpet for prayer.’ Upon this, three of his attendants together with the Şeyh and the Sultan began to dig up the ground, when at a depth of three yards they found a square stone of verd antique on which was written in Cufic letters: ‘This is the tomb of Eba Eyüp.’ They lifted the stone and found below it the body of Eyüp wrapped up in a saffron-coloured shroud, with a brazen play-ball in his hand, fresh and well-preserved. They replaced the stone, formed a little mound of the earth they had dug up, and laid the foundations of the mausoleum amidst the prayers of the whole army.”

This pleasant story, though still current and recounted in one form or another by the guides and guidebooks, seems rather unlikely – apart from its supernatural elements – because it appears that the tomb had always been known and respected even by the Byzantines. Various Arab historians note that it was made a condition of peace, after the first Arab siege, that the tomb should be preserved. An Arab traveller during the reign of Manuel I Comnenus (r. 1143-80) mentions it as still existing in his day, while another traveller, Zakariya al-Kazwini (ca. 1203-83), relates that “this tomb is now venerated among them (the Byzantines) and they open it when they pray for rain in times of drought; and rain is granted them.” If the tomb was still extant in early Palaeologan times [dynasty begins 1259], it seems improbable that it should so completely have disappeared before the Turkish conquest. Probably, Fatih restored or rebuilt it on a grander scale. (Sumner-Boyd and Freely, Strolling Through Istanbul, 363-4) 

Remarkably, the early historian al-Ṭabarī (d. 311/923) corroborates Freely’s account of Byzantine Christians visiting the tomb of Abū Ayyūb al-Anṣārī. Furthermore, al-Ṭabarī’s attestation forwards the popular phenomenon to the early 4th/10th century:

It was reported that the Greeks frequent his grave, renovate it, and pray there for rain in times of drought. (al-Ṭabarī, The History of al-Ṭabarī, 39:40)

Philip K. Hitti provides a slightly different account than Freely of the burial place’s discovery as well as offering some details concerning Abū Ayyūb’s final campaign:

Tradition asserts that in the course of the siege abu-Ayyūb  died of dysentery and was buried before the walls of Constantinople. His legendary tomb soon became a shrine even for the Christian Greeks, who made pilgrimages to it in times of drought to pray for rain. During the siege of Constantinople in 1453 by the Turks, the tomb was miraculously discovered by rays of light… and a mosque was built on the site. Thus did the Madīnese gentleman become a saint for three nations. (Hitti, History of the Arabs, 201-2)

The Courtyard of Eyüp Sultan Camii. The tomb of Abū Ayyūb al-Anṣārī lies in an alcove just behind the tree.

Returning to the immense historical chronicle by al-Ṭabarī we find the following about Abū Ayyūb listed among “The Events of the Year 49 (February 9, 669-January 28, 670)”:

The raid of Yazīd b. Mu’āwiyah against the Byzantines occurred during this year. He reached Qusṭanṭīniyyah accompanied by Ibn ‘Abbās, Ibn ‘Umar, Ibn al-Zubayr, Abū Ayyūb al-Anṣārī. (al-Ṭabarī, History, 18:94)

Then later under “Those Who Died or Were Killed in the Year 52 (January 8, 672-December 26, 672)” al-Ṭabarī states:

Among them was Abū Ayyūb. His name was Khālid b. Zayd b. Kulayb b. Tha’labah b. ‘Abd b. ‘Awf b. Ghanm b. Mālik b. al-Najjār. All [the biographers] are unanimous that he was one of the seventy Anṣār who swore allegiance to the Prophet on the night of the ‘Aqabah meeting. The Prophet established the bound of brotherhood (mu’ākhāh) between Abū Ayyūb and Muṣ’ab b. ‘Umayr. Abū Ayyūb participated in [the battles of] Badr, Uḥud, and the Ditch and all the [other] events on the Prophet’s side.

Abū Ayyūb died when Yazid b. Mu’āwiyah raided Constantinople during the caliphate of his father, Mu’āwiyah. His grave is at the foot of the fortress in Constantinople, in the Byzantine territory. (al-Ṭabarī, History, 39:40)

As al-Ṭabarī has related, Abū Ayyūb was among the first Muslims of Medina. In fact, as Ibn Isḥāq and al-Balãdhūrī report, the Prophet took up residence with Abū Ayyūb when he first arrived in the city and stayed there until the mosque’s construction was completed (Ibn Isḥāq, The Life of Muhammad, 228-30; al-Balãdhūrī, The Origins of the Islamic State, 19).

More on the life of Abū Ayyūb al-Anṣārī can be found in a modern pietistic compilation by AbdulWāhid Hāmid. We will conclude this post with an excerpt from the end of his account given his appropriately memorializing tone of Abū Ayyūb:

The last campaign he took part in was the one prepared by Mu’āwiyah and led by his son Yazīd against Constantinople. Abū Ayyūb at that time was a very old man, almost eighty years old. But that did not prevent him from joining the army and crossing the seas as a ghāzī in the path of God. After only a short time engaged in battled, Abū Ayyūb fell ill and had to withdraw from fighting. Yazīd came to him and asked: “Do you need anything, Abū Ayyūb?” 

“Convey my salāms to the Muslim armies and say to them: ‘Abū Ayyūb urges you to penetrate deeply into the territory of the enemy as far as you can go, that you should carry him with you and that you should bury him under your feet at the walls of Constantinople.'” Then he breathed his last.

The Muslim army fulfilled the desire of the companion of the Messenger of God. They pushed back the enemy’s forces in attack after attack until they reached the walls of Constantinople. There they buried him. (Hāmid, Companions of the Prophet, 1:157-8)

Visitors and pilgrims gathered before the tomb of Abū Ayyūb al-Anṣārī.

*I say “alleged” simply because the history of such sites are more rich and complicated than they initially appear. Several of these sites, for example, were in fact places of veneration for the city’s Christians as well, well before the arrival of the Ottomans. Rather than wrestling with questions of historicity, the posts of this series will focus more on what the available narratives and sources have to report about the Companions supposedly buried in Istanbul. And to encourage more curious readers, I refer to English-language sources or English translations of primary sources wherever possible, though this may not always be maintained throughout the series. Finally, I try to provide dates both in the ḥijrī (Islamic calendar, AH) and Common Era (CE).

al-Balãdhūrī, Abū l-‘Abbās Aḥmad b. Jābir. The Origins of the Islamic State: Kitāb Futūḥ al-buldān. Translated by Philip Khūri Hitti. Beirut: Khayats, 1966.

Hāmid, AbdulWāhid. Companions of the Prophet, Book One, New Revised Edition. London: MELS, 1998, 153-8.

Hitti, Philip K. History of the Arabs. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

Muḥammad b. Isḥāq b. Yasār. The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Isḥāq’s Sīrat Rasūl Allāh. Translated by A. Guillaume. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Sumner-Boyd, Hilary and John Freely. Strolling Through Istanbul: The Classic Guide to the City. London: Tauris Parke Paperbacks, 2010.

al-Ṭabarī, Muḥammad b. Jarīr. The History of al-Ṭabarī, Volume XVIII: Between Civil Wars: The Caliphate of Mu’āwiyah. Translated by Michael G. Morony. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987.

al-Ṭabarī, Muḥammad b. Jarīr. The History of al-Ṭabarī, Volume XXXIX: Biographies of the Prophet’s Companions and Their Successors. Translated by Ella Landau-Tasseron. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998.

To access the other posts in the series:

The Sahaba of Istanbul [2] The Underground Mosque

The Sahaba of Istanbul [3] Eyup

The Sahaba of Istanbul [4] The City Wall Beside the Golden Horn 

The Sahaba of Istanbul [5] Ayvansaray Coast

The Sahaba of Istanbul [6] Galata/Eminonu/Sultanahmet (forthcoming)