Liverpool put three past sorry Arsenal to keep top-four hopes alive

Liverpool kept their top-four hopes alive after a resounding 3-1 victory over the out-of-sorts Arsenal as their unbeaten record against top-six sides continued…

Source: Liverpool put three past sorry Arsenal to keep top-four hopes alive

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Manchester United fend off Southampton fightback to win classic cup final

With all the momentum and support Southampton had on this very special day, it would seem no surprise at all that they would keep on pushing till the final whistle against a buoyant Manchester Unit…

Source: Manchester United fend off Southampton fightback to win classic cup final

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One disastrous night in Munich…

Heading into this Champions League last 16 encounter, Arsenal were looking to finally end their curse against the daunting Bayern Munich but unfortunately for the Gunners…it was to be another…

Source: One disastrous night in Munich…

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From Nass to Captain Cook to Smokin’ Joe

Who would have thought that the young kid who made his debut with a solid 73 at Nagpur only 5 years back will be the future Lions captain. He can be most stylish as well as dogged when needed with …

Source: From Nass to Captain Cook to Smokin’ Joe

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The Obscenity and Fascination of War

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Aleppo, Syria

Another war, a bad guy and good guys, depends on which side you are betting on and the ones’ your sympathies lie with; the lines are ever so blurred as before we have seen times and again. The scene is Aleppo and the Inferno that is Syria, once a peaceful calm country just recently, embroiled in a bloody civil war. The media has its favourites, always dictated by the powers behind the scenes, journalists clambering over to get a story, the more the suffering, the more the impact of the stories especially with photojournalism reaching across the globe in a matter of seconds via the likes of Twitter, Instagram, Skype, Youtube and Facebook. Arm sales at their highest, the industry booming especially in US, UK, France and Russia. What a good way to promote your economy, fighting a war, funded by others in others’ territory. History repeated all over yet again and again!

War is fascinating, it’s always been since times immemorial, the history records them in gilded letters, we have all been brought up with our war heroes whether in folklore, religious or historic texts, no one is fascinated though with peacemakers and reflects on the horrors of war. We have all been guilty of that, Perhaps that’s how we have been brought up!

Myself for example, having seen at a very young and impressionable age, the documentaries and war movies on second world war and later lots of books on that, being guilty of being fascinated by Hitler, Guderian, Rommel and the Japanese (not the Italians by any stretch though!) and also by Montgomery, Eisenhower on the other side. Then The Falklands war, and the Iran Iraq War which gripped the region for a good part of the decade when I was opening up my eyes to the wide world around. Having lived in Libya, under a revolutionary anti West, anti American propaganda machine of the Qaddafi regime and having been taught about the nasty imperialistic occupation of the sub continent by the British Empire in the 19th century and onwards in our textbooks and how most of Africa, Latin America and parts of Asia was carved up by the European Colonialist powers through wider learning much later on; the inclination was always to support the oppressed against the deemed oppressor, lines would be blurred at many a times. But as they say, the British always love an underdog and so do I!

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Falklands

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Iran-Iraq War

We followed the Falklands war on radio, I vividly remember, cheering as if it was a football match, being Maradona fans, obviously the Argentinians were favoured against the erstwhile colonial power, now my adopted country. Supported Iran morally against all odds against the might of Saddam supported by all and sundry, the Arabs and would you believe it, the US. The vision of young Iranians embracing martyrdom against an oppressor who was heavily armed and supported to occupy oil rich Iran in the post anti US era after the overthrow and exile of the Shah, again a win for the oppressed against a dictator supported by the superpower! It was a stalemate but destroyed both countries, benefitting none but Israel in the region.

Then there was always a war rhetoric, living in Pakistan, every year on Defence day and Republic Day, the display of arms and renewed will to fight off the “evil designs of our neighbouring country hell bent on destroying us” having never forgotten the partition orchestrated in a bad, possibly deliberate way by the British, hurriedly leaving after the Second World War, which marked the end of an era for the European powers having a hold in Africa and Middle East. The war cries made sure both countries Pakistan and India were armed to the teeth and any skirmish usually on the hotbed of Kashmir, (still an unresolved issue despite so many UN resolutions, showing how toothless a body it is when it comes to big powers) led to rumours of full scale war and boasts of obliterating the other. At least the nuclear deterrent, no matter what the Western world says, was a sigh of relief, making sure they are not going to war that easily!  Still didn’t stop the later day Kargil and skirmishes at the Siachen Glacier.

The Gulf war in 1991 was the first one we saw live on TV, I still remember watching CNN on cable TV then, while doing my exams in 10th Grade. Saddam was suddenly made into a hero by many, forgetting his previous crimes, the reason– fighting the bigger evil; what a foresight!

We had seen the Intifada, the destruction of Beirut, Gaza shellings time and again, the Israeli excesses in Palestine, the second Gulf war, heard a lot about Vietnam and the Arab Israeli wars, The Korean war, the breakup of Yugoslavia into many pieces leading to a bloody civil war, the Serbs here were the scapegoats, and Bosnians being Muslims and oppressed our supported ones. Srebrenica always comes to mind and so does Sabra and Shatila! Who can forget Grozny and the Chechens fighting for independence from the mighty Russians.

Above all, in our region, we all supported the Afghan Mujahideens in 80s fighting against the “evil designs of the Soviets” this time Pakistani Intelligence fighting a proxy war on the behest of US, creating ongoing problems which lasted for decades and will continue to impact on both the countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan; Iran and India playing proxy roles later on, after the Russians and US washed their hands off it. Of course who could forget the role of the Saudis in that. Heroes were made out of the likes of Hikmatyar, Ahmad Shah Massoud. The War ended, the Soviets left and ultimately the country broke up, Afghanistan was blown into pieces by a far more bloodier civil war; enter the Taliban, of all the cruelty and excesses committed, give them the credit when due, even acclaimed by the American media, peace prevailed for a longer durable period, poppy production at its lowest.

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Afghan Mujahideens

The twin tower collapse in New York, seen live on TV was frightening but gave media an outlet and the Government with a free reign to raid! Afghanistan and Iraq suffered badly; in the name of collateral damage and the Middle East is a mess since then. The Arab Spring proclaimed so excitedly by the West, led to destabilization of many countries, destabilising many countries in North Africa, namely Libya and Egypt. Democracy was not seen favourably especially in Algeria, Egypt and Turkey, coups and overthrow of Governments at will, with a hidden hand always supporting. Europe started seeing the effects of terror; Paris, Madrid, London, Brussels, the major European capitals were not spared and media glared in its gory details; analysts and so called experts on regions had something to talk on. It was all fascinating stuff for many but at the cost of human misery and a bleak future for many, some who lost loved ones, some who would always live in fear in exile,how they would be treated as aliens , many in their own adopted countries and even their future generations not safe from the hate generated!

Syria is the big news these days, as Afghanistan, Iraq and ISIS are on a back burner. Kashmir and Palestine are forgotten and so is Yemen because it doesnt matter. The superpowers still playing a proxy war and the sufferers…poor civilians, being displaced in huge numbers, creating a huge crisis of immigration towards European shores where thousands are risking their lives, another story on forgotten people, people of a lesser god maybe.

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Yemen, in the aftermath of Saudi bombing

When will it stop, no one knows, as its endless and will go on in one way or the other, one continent or the other, till the widespread sale of arms is not stopped and the superpowers come off their agenda of interfering in other countries!

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Journey to the ancient grand capital of the Eastern Roman Empire

           

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      Istanbul had always been one of my dream destinations, not only because of the sights, location and its centrality in the Islamic history but also because of the immense historical importance from times unknown. I had been looking forward to this trip for months even a couple of years in advance. Even the recent Istanbul airport killings and the recent coup attempt (made by some rebels in the once powerful army against a popular democratically elected government, while nearly all the Western world wanted Erdogan to be overthrown; not miraculously but with people power unprecedented in recent years he survived) didn’t deter me. I wanted to see the Turkey and its proud people of which I had heard so much and the progress they have made over the last decade or so.

The Ataturk airport named after it founding father, who distinguished himself at Gallipoli and then fought both the Russians and British alike who wanted to carve out post world war Ottoman Turkey, with the Arab nationalism insurgent and laid the foundations for a Modern day secular republic that is Turkey; had long queues at the entry point, understandably due to the recent spate of terrorist attacks in the country since the ISIL and Syrian affair. The British Airways flight, I wont even comment upon and not likely to use again. We took a long metro ride to our rented flat in Sisli, Osmanbey was the stop, Metro looked immaculate, modern and air conditioned. Part of the way was underground and once appearing in the city, we were at the Golden Horn at Halic (pronounced khalij) where I could see the grandiosity of the Istanbul skyline towering with similar mosques with the Blue mosque Haghia Sophia and Suleymaniye mosque looking over the Bosphorus on one side!

There was a 10-15 minute walk through the district of Nisantasi, walking through narrow streets , chic shops and bustling cafes and it seemed more like a Western capital. Nisantasi I found out was named after a tradition in past when the sutans and the nobles used to aim and throw arrows and the point it landed was marked with stone, Nisantasi name coming after a monument based on such tradition.

Day 2:

Already up and and planning for the day ahead, seeing the sights and experiencing the sounds and local cuisines, I was more excited than a child, arriving here at Istanbul after a long 34 year period. Vezniciler was the metro stop, close to the historic Istanbul University, it was a short Tram ride to the famous Sultanahmet district where all the rich history resides. Walking through sultanahmet meydani, I could see the towering dome of Haghia Sophia on one side and the majestic Blue Mosque on the other, famed for its blue Iznik tile interior. I walked through the ancient Hippodrome of which only a slight remnant remains, important events and ceremonies took place in this square in the times of the Romans, for more than 1000 years. There was the remnant of the Serpentine column dating from 479 BC, shipped here from Delphi, (the head resting now in the Archaeological Museum)and the 3500 year old Theodosius Egyptian Obelisk.  Each nook and corner looked like a heritage site and a piece of history.

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Blue Mosque

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The Museum of Turkish and Islamic History was around the corner which was once the grand palace of the Vizier Ibrahim Pasha. It depicted various eras and periods in Turkish history form the Islamic perspective and various excellent specimens and artefacts, including copies of Quran, Sahih Bukhari and Hilia Sharif from older times gilded and calligraphed brilliantly in different eras. It was great to see the old Turkish script looking just like Urdu/Persian on many buildings’ entrances. Read Zuhr in the majestic Blue Mosque(Sultan Ahmet Camii); it looked grand with a huge chandelier and a big rotunda. The tile work was very nice but a bit too high to appreciate well, the compound gave the best views of the mosque. Afterwards there was a walk towards the Bosphorus along the ancient city walls on the Kennedy cad, which were ever so impregnable for many centuries. It was refreshing to see people swimming on the rocky shore and some fishing, a young boy proudly showing his prize catch, a jellyfish! The search for a beach was duly abandoned soon. Then I ventured inwards towards the city, alongside Topkapi walls, came across the majestic rectangular Ottoman fountain named after Ahmet III, the finest of Istanbul’s Rococo fountains inscribed with poetry likening it to the fountains of paradise, which is infact a sabeel! Later after some quick fast food, walked along the walls of the grand bazaar which we found to be closed sans a baklava shop who enticed me to get lots of it the next day. The sweet shops were just awesome with mouthwatering Turkish delight, dry fruit and varieties of Baklava, if only diabetes was taken off the face of earth! Another mosque loomed around the corner amongst the hundreds in the same typical architecture of a dome based on a rectangular base with narrow turrets on the edges. Read Asr in the Nuruosmaniye Mosque in serenity of Sunday. Close to the end of the day having failed the objective of the Bazaar, to kill another day, passed along another monument, the Cemberlitas (the Constantine Column), this 35m high column constructed in 330AD to celebrate the inauguration of the new Byzantine capital, the glorious city to dominate the ancient as well as modern history. Made of porphyry brought from Heliopolis in Egypt, used to have a statue of Constantine on the top dressed as Apollo, brought down in a storm in 1106.

Riding a tram, going along the European side of the Bosphorus, came to the Beyoglu District passing yet more Kebab and Baklava shops, in search of a beach head not to be found in Istanbul! What followed was a long steep uphill walk towards Taksim, seemingly very short on the map, but not giving any idea of the incline. The famous Taksim square, the historic site of many important events, the protests, processions and the Hyde Park of Istanbul, the centre of activity in this district with the famous Monument of the Republic depicting a young Mustafa Kemal Ataturk leading the troops alonsgside a cannon. Recent events of 7th August of a failed coup when the people’s power famously defeated an army coup of which there is no precedence in modern history, the context was aptly displayed in posters and ads against terrorism in red all over including the Metro stations. Ever since the Turkish involvement in the Middle East and the Syrian crisis, Turkey is at the forefront of the war, experiencing many terrorist attacks in recent times, one recently at the Istanbul airport, which nearly made us cancel our trip. Dead tired at the end of the day, only thing to do was to hang the feet and lie down in an air conditioned room!

Day 3:

Topkapi Sarayi(Palace) was the destination this day and it was sad to see very few visitors around, all due to the recent events happening in this area, got off at the Gulhane Tram stop, walked along the walls, another Word heritage site, cobbled streets, munching sesame covered Turkish bread bought from a hawker filled in with plenty of cold water gulped as I went along in the hot weather, a pleasant change from the chill of Britain. There were lots of things to see in the big complex and it’s a pity couldn’t take photographs in many sections. Saw the kitchens, with old menus and the amount of food made in those times in such a large scale, the swords and weapons of sultans and ornate armours and the grandiosity of the kings was so obvious and a sore to be honest at just the thought! The sword collection from different times and pottery ceramic and coin collections were nice and so were the various pavilions including the circumcision, Iftariye and Baghdad ones. Unfortunately the treasury part was under renovation.

The highlight was the sacred area Pavilion of the Holy Mantle, housing as the name suggests; resonating with Quranic recitation, housing amongst other collectable items, the ornate keys of the Kaaba, supposedly the sword of Daud AS, the staff of Musa AS, the hair from the beard of Prophet SAW, his letter written to Maquqas an invitation to Islam and an impression of the holy foot print, the ragged cloak of the daughter of the Prophet SAW Fatima RA, made my eyes well up with tears. Here was the ordinary garment of the queen of the worlds, the leader of the women in Paradise, one who led such a harsh life, one who was the most beloved to the Prophet Muhammad SAW, everytime he returned to the city she was the first person he wanted to see!

It was great to see the swords of the 4 rightly guided caliphs, including the powerful heavy blades of Umar and Ali RA. Then there was the sword of Jaffar Ibn e Abi Talib RA, Ammar bin Yassir RA, Zubayr ibn Awwam RA and most of all the Sword of Allah Khalid ibn Waleed RA……Subhan Allah, how lucky and full of emotion I was to see those relics which subdued the non believers, the famous companions and my idol heroes! The famous Quran of Usman RA when he was martyred, triggering the age long civil war which divided the Islamic world forever too. I didn’t want to come out of this place, out of reverence, Durood and prayers were incessantly coming out of the lips.

The Museum pass came handy as I went to the Haram apartments, where the Sultan and his wives and mothers used to live as well as the eunuchs, of which there was a mosque at the entrance, the Queen mother’s apartments were the best. Again very few people abound, there were excellent views from the palace walls looking over bosphorus and the golden horn.

Corn on the cob was the next snack on the way. Grand Bazaar is the oldest and largest covered mrket, foundation laid in 1461, with more than 60 streets and 3000 shops. It was built in order to generate fuds for restoration of Ayasofya. It has 20 domes and 12 columns supporting it. The hustle and bustle of the Grand Bazaar was ever so attractive. Rugs, carpets, souvenirs and yet more sweets…People getting themselves photographs in affluent robes of the Ottoman times. It was surprisingly very well sign posted inside when I thought we could get lost. Had Fresh Pomegranate Juice , a glass made out of 7, can you imagine not 2-3 but seven pomegranates and one could imagine how sour it would have been, never to try again, no matter how much I like the fruit, another bad experiment like the Turkish Coffee with delight!

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Grand Bazaar

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Grand Bazaar

On the way back, soaked up the atmosphere of the posh Nisantasi district where we were staying, with nice boutiques, fashion chains and coffee shops and big stores of which the clientele seemed to be rich Arabs or Russians, as mostly wholesale. Then there were Kebab shops, Sikander/adana or kofte kebabs…lots of them!

Olympics were going on in Rio and I was not even missing it, though catching the action and results at the end of the day though Turkish TV only showed the local athletes, one such basketball match between the Turkish girls against the Spanish was one of the closest I had ever seen, with Turkey scoring and equalizing with about 10 seconds to go, only to have a heart break when Spanish scored on the buzzer, the ball going through the ring as the bell rang after the release! Bolt was beating Gatlin again to be in Olympic folklore, defending his  Olympic 100m title twice, unprecedented in sprint history.

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Harem Topkapi Palace

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Harem Topkapi Palace

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Harem Topkapi Palace

Day 4:

Eyup Sultan was the next destination; I had always wished once in Istanbul, this was a must visit site and the most visited tourist attraction to my surprise, the resting place of the host of the Prophet (Mihmandar-e Nabi) Muhammad SAW Abu Ayub Ansari RA, He whose blessed house the Prophet SAW stayed with on decree of Allah on his arrival in Madinah after the Hijrah; who died during the campaign in the time of the Ummayads when Muslims first attacked Constantinople in the seventh century AD. He was according to his wishes buried as close as possible to the city walls. He is amongst the most famous people including Abu Darda and Owais al Qarni RA belonging here. This is a huge complex, built in 1459, which used to impart knowledge to children as well as preparing food on a large scale and distributing to poor people, working like a Waqf, for many years. It was the first imperial mosque built by the Ottomans and its importance reflects in the fact that the girding of the sword ceremony took place here, which was the most important symbols of Ottoman power, at the time of the enthronement of a new sultan! Hundreds of devotees were thronging the area and at the prayer time, the mosque was teeming up and couldn’t hold all the worshippers, there were the historic graveyards and the various tombstones with the Fez and headwear depicting the status of the buried person. There were life lessons inscribed on the walls on the way to the Pierre Loti, a café on a high rise hill, at the end of a short cable car ride. This is named after a French novelist who lived here from 1850-1923, and reportedly fell in love with a local woman. The Café in a calm and serene place, overlooking the sloping cemetery supports nice views atop, on the other side of the Golden Horn, where MiniAturk , the mini Turkey was, which I missed on this trip!

On the way back, after having some Turkish snacks in the famous Simit Sarayi Bakery chain, and a misadventure on the bus ride home got the taste for the Turkish Metrobus, the model for the Pakistani counterpart, was impressive in the very least! Captain Phillips starring Tom Hanks was on the item in the night before slumping in the bed!

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Eyup Sultan

Day 5:

Late start for the day, planned to be lazy, slept very late and waking up in due time, missing some important events as the Tennis final with no luxury of the Red button of BBC. Archaelogical Museum was one I was looking forward to in this city of immense historical importance from the times of the Trojans, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Byzantines and then the Muslims, leaving indelible marks on the geography and culture of this once centre of the world. There were priceless specimens and artefacts from times unknown, again very few visitors abound sadly. The Treaty of Kadesh (a tablet containing the worlds eariest surviving peace treaty agreed between the Egyptians and Hittites in  1269 BC. There was a segment on excavations of nine different civilizations t Troy (from 3000BC to the time of Christ) There were glazed friezes of bulls decorating the walls, taken from the Ishtar gate of the Great Babylon, of which I have already seen specimens in British Museum and the Louvre in Paris. There were priceless inscribed stone and clay tablets from ancient times. Saw the museum at a much hurried pace, with so much to see in the city!

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Ishtar Gate, Babylon, Archaeological Museum

Haji Mustafa, the Turkish delight shop which my brother had wished for and threatened me not to come back without, was mouth-watering. Haghia Sophia (Ayasofya), the church of hold wisdom, the grand imperial church; built and inaugurated by Emperor Justinian in 537 AD, once the biggest in the world, was to be the highlight of the day. It was converted into a mosque when Sultan Mehmet Fateh conquered Constantinople, the minarets and tombs were added later, the huge dome reaches a height of 56 m, together with Blue Mosque and the Suleymaniye Mosque, the trio complete the skyline along the Bosphorus and the Golden horn. It was majestic in every sense and one could feel the history climbing up the stony steps. Church of Haghia Eirine was on the way, it was quite imposing, being the first church built in this city long before the Haghia Sophia was completed, ow its included in the Topkapi Palace complex. These days with its fine acoustics, it holds concerts during the Music festival. Restored Ottoman wooden houses are visible around the corner on the Sogukcesme Sokagi. Had some vegetarian food on the famed road with abundant restaurants and eating places, found an Arsenal café amongst others too!

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Hagia Sophia

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On the way, took the opportunity of praying in the Blue Mosque, built between 1609-1616 by the imperial architect Mehmet Agha a pupil of the famous Mimar Sinan. It is said that Sultan Ahmed I, used to carry rocks and he wanted it to be built right across the Haghia Sophia. To me it was not as impressive as I had thought from inside. Arasta Bazaar was a short distance around the corner with the Mosaic Museum housing one of the largest mosaics discovered in the area quite recently. I was the only one inside the museum, I was availing the Istanbul Muze Pass to its full! The Basilica Cistern though visible every day I couldn’t go which was a pity. The Million stone form where the distances got measured from the centre of the city was also on Sultanahmet square.

Day 6:

Day of the Bosphorus Cruise, reminiscing memories when I came here with my family about 32 years ago when our PIA flight got stuck to my delight, there is an iconic polaroid with our tour guide and another family photo with the Blue Mosque in the background!

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Dolmebahce Palace

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Had a long walk in the morning towards the pickup point at the Intercontinental Hotel at Taksim, getting lost in between and hiring a cab in the end to reach in time only to wait another hour for the coach to arrive, picking up customers who were late, reminding me of my home country.The serene cruise took us through the Golden Horn, The Sea of Marmara and the Straits of Bosphorus, crossing many a landmarks including the skyline towered by the Blue Mosque, Suleymaniye Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. There were palaces, night clubs and the chic leafy Istanbul neighbourhoods, 9M Euro homes of footballers and celebrities as per our guide at least!, on the other side of the Bosphorus and the continent. There was the Vodafone arena, the home of Besiktas, the majestic Dolmebahce Palace which later I found out was very close to the area we were living in. The boat skirted near the Princes Island, to which many tourists pay a visit. Then there was a high school which lost all its pupils to Gallipoli and had no graduates for 4 years but the spirit continues after the war. The next stop was the Rumeli Hisari the simple yet elegant fortress, built by Sultan Mehmet Fateh in 1451-52 in preparation for the siege for the eventual fall of Constantinople to Muslim hands. It is on a strategic point on the European side of the Bosphorus at the narrowest point of the straits, just 660 m across, opposing the Anatolian Castle on the Anatolian side of the straits, with three towers named after the 3 viziers who supervised their construction. It was completed in a record time of just 4 months and 16 days and was vital in capturing Constantinople and cutting the lifeline to the fortress city. The Bosphorus bridge 1.6km long is just to the North of the Fortress and roughly 70 million every year. The Marmara metro line runs underneath.

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Rumeli Hisari

I had a wonderful time on the cruise lasting 2 hours or so, befriending a Pakistani uncle who was living his dream and visiting places after becoming a widower in late age, always nice to see someone with high spirits on a journey like this, envied his forthcoming trip to Mashad and Isfahan. Alighted at the end and went through the Spice Bazaar, visited the grand Suleymaniye Mosque, named after Suleyman the Magnificent, architecture is not much different as compared to other mosques.

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Suleymaniye Mosque

So that was the end of my trip to the magnificent city spanning east and the west, of which I saw some more glimpses on the way to the airport early next morning, nostalgic at leaving those grand city walls which were an enigma once and impenetrable for over a century! Such a rich history, so many things to see, such monuments and museums, every nook and corner storing thousands of years of rich history, awe inspiring. The street food and the baklavas and Turkish delight and the sights will always tempt me to return, and so shall I God Willing.

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Nostalgic Tram

Categories: Culture, Europe, History, Islam, Memoirs, Travel, Turkey | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

As the Crowe Flies……..

His latter life as a commentator and a columnist shed so much light on his perspective on life and many a readers benefitted from it, coming from a wise man, who had not only seen cricket but life…

Source: As the Crowe Flies……..

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The Big European Dilemma!

Source: The Big European Dilemma!

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The Big European Dilemma!

A paramilitary police officer carries the lifeless body of a migrant child after a number of migrants died and a smaller number were reported missing after boats carrying them to the Greek island of Kos capsized, near the Turkish resort of Bodrum early Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015. (AP Photo/DHA) TURKEY OUT

A paramilitary police officer carries the lifeless body of a migrant child after a number of migrants died and a smaller number were reported missing after boats carrying them to the Greek island of Kos capsized, near the Turkish resort of Bodrum early Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015. (AP Photo/DHA) TURKEY OUT

The current ongoing refugee crisis has gripped the attention of Europe like never before and it is beginning to threaten the very fabric of the idea of the European Union comprising of 28 member states. The idea about solidarity is being seriously questioned by the likes of Germany and Italy. First the appalling crisis at Calais in which both French and British were pointing fingers at each other, then the frequent news of capsizing boats in the Mediterranian which was like a weekly news for the coastguards of Italy and Greece, the countries which were the first stops for the migrants and asylum seekers from North Africa and Syria via Turkey respectively. Then the dreadful news came of the 71 suffocated dead bodies crammed in a refrigerated lorry abandoned on an Austrian roadside. That certainly pinched on the conscience of many hundreds and thousands in Western Europe who were silently watching the drama unfold in the theatre called the Middle East.

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Destruction in Homs

zatari refugee camp jordan, hosting 160,000 refugees

zatari refugee camp jordan, hosting 160,000 refugees

Partly the doing of some of the Western European powers namely Britain and France in conjunction with US, Turkey and Saudia, the mess in Syria was too hot to handle. After the repeated attempts at overthrowing Bashar al Assad’s regime by arming the rebels to the teeth, creating the monster that is ISIS, the Syrian public at large were left at the mercy of the two horrible adversaries. With utter destruction of the Syrian cities and villages, they had nowhere to go apart from cramming at Turkish borders, concentrating in makeshift camps in Jordan and Lebanon, which again bore the brunt of hundreds of thousands of refugees after the exodus of the Palestinians, it seemed the vast fertile grounds of Syria had contracted for its 23 million inhabitants. With nowhere to go apart from rotting in the camps dependent on aid from the charitable world, Syrians had to find a way out. Individually people were helping out a great deal. Turkish Government was a great support, but in the current economic climate, a million odd refugees is too big a strain for any country even with a sprawling economical giant as Germany which has taken an unprecedented 800,000 refugees in the last year alone. With no future in sight, the desperate ones were forced to look for so called greener pastures in Western Europe; France, Britain and Germany were the obvious destinations, but the dilemma how to cross the borders. Exploited not only in the camps but elsewhere, people pay thousands of dollars to smugglers and human traffickers which make them board small boats and dinghies at the mercy of the waves at times, with only hopes of making it alive to the shores of Europe; the Greek islands amongst many which are close to the Turkish borderlands. The holiday resort island of Kos is one of those which has taken thousands of refugees.

While Italian coastguards, with no help from the European partners, were constantly saving North Africans especially Libyans fleeing the civil war there, again fuelled by US, Britain and France to overthrow a totalitarian but very stable Qaddafi regime which was a thorn in the side of the Western powers but a major African economic hub. The Syrians were crowding into Greece, already in economic meltdown and in the news for its bailouts again and again and being saved by Germany and the Financial institutions in the end, not to go bankrupt. While the Dublin treaty implied, all the refugees at the first port of entry be registered there and provided for by the local government, no one was willing to do so in the face of overwhelming numbers and rightly so. France and Britain, the bigger powers were silent and so was Spain, Belgium, Austria and the Scandinavian countries. Greeks were giving free access for the migrants to move across Europe, soon there was another route found, the Eastern European states of Serbia, Macedonia and Hungary, the latter part of European Union and hence a portal of entry to the Schengen states, Germany being the land of opportunity and the most receptive of the nations, willing to take many, as they had done in hundreds of thousands in the Yugoslav war of attrition or independence, whatever one wants to call it.

Soon there were 150,000 refugees in Hungary, entering from Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Serbia(which are building a fence to ward off future immigrants and refugees across the border); the last ones not EU member states and not bound to keep the Migrants. Hungarian government doesnt want to do much about the migrants and asylum seekers and apparently trying to contain them in appalling conditions. People want to leave for Germany, of whose people are welcoming and handing out sandwiches, clothes, food etc voluntarily. The parks are teeing with people and the sights are unprecedented. While a small country like Iceland with a population of 330,000, has offered to take at least 10,000 refugees, Britain has pledged only 5,000, with the Labour leadership contender Yvette Cooper offering 10,000, still a drop in the ocean if we compare the millions of refugees including children and women, many of them have not got enough to eat and shelter. Germany, Austria and Italy are calling on EU member states to come forward in sharing the burden in taking the refugees. As one observer put in recently, we have conveniently forgotten Europe was itself in such a crisis when the Nazis were persecuting the Europeans and a vast exodus of Jews and Eastern Europeans was absorbed in various countries. The Scottish First Minister and the Hollyrood has called for more to be done by the Westminster and more refugees to be offered asylum, a difficult task for the Cameron Govt in the face of increasing hostility from the likes of UKIP  and many who would not be willing to take in any, citing huge financial drains on services in this country and also the changing public perspective especially after the appalling photographs of the young Syrian boy’s dead body swept to the Turkish shore and being picked up by a coastguard. It has been splashed across all newspapers and social media sites and would certainly stir the hearts of many to do more in this huge humanitarian crisis, rather than just gloating on our history in taking asylum seekers and making huge donations and focusing on human traffickers and aiming to send all the refugees back or prevent the boats form reaching the European shores as what is portrayed by the Conservative Government.

Immigrants on boats towards the Island of Kos, Greece

Immigrants on boats towards the Island of Kos, Greece

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The Syrian crisis has been going on for years now and everyone has seen the effects of destruction on a massive scale, until it reached the European shores, it was not our problem, now it is affecting the whole idea of the European Union and many member states are openly questioning it. The countries facing the brunt of it are not getting any help from others while the economic giants like Germany, France and Britain are the countries everyone likes to go to for a better life. As a former Belgian Premier Guy Verhofstadt suggested if some European countries are not willing to contribute or participate in this crisis, then those countries should not be a part of the main EU perhaps being given an associate status and Germans already threatening Britain about the likely failure on its negotiations to get some favours from the EU. Also border controls might be instituted to the detriment of the Eastern European states from which currently people can easily go to Paris, Brussels, Frankfurt and London to seek work.

The question is whether we let those poor Syrian Refugees die or just block them from entering EU, what else can be done about it to avert such disasters which are making headlines nearly every day. A way could be to equally distribute them amongst the European Union Member states and the ones refusing to do so losing the benefits of the shared European market. Denmark being one such country which has categorically refused to participate. One way could be to distribute them on 2-3 uninhabited islands in the Mediterranean which has got sufficient fertile soil to sustain many people. The countries in which refugees are camped, should be provided more economic aid/support by the world community. While looking at Europe, we conveniently forget what should be the responsibility of the rich Gulf states which haven’t come forward to support the Syrian refugees, their entry regulations being much more strict than the Europeans and human rights appalling and deplorable to say the very least.

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Winter in Syrian Camps

Winter in Syrian Camps

There would be many more Alan Kurdis unfortunately before the conscience of the world community will stir and only for a  little while and people would have their peaceful sleep, the Syrians will continue to suffer, while Bashar will rule roost till he would be overthrown and humiliated like Saddam and Qaddafi and then again on Judgement day, if there is one, people have certainly forgotten about it; the cauldron of Middle East will continue to consume hundreds of thousands of lives and people far off will continue to live in luxury free from any ill thoughts that far away, on the shores of Turkey, there was a boy or two or their mother died in vain…………….

Still smiling in adversity! Hope is alive

Still smiling in adversity!
Hope is alive

Categories: Europe, Middle East, Moral values, Politics | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Hajj Diaries…………………………The Serenity of Madinah tul Munawarra

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15th of September 2014:

Embarking on a journey of a lifetime indeed, the journey I had been looking forward to all year long ever so impatiently. My excitement was of no bounds starting a week ago maybe, had not taken such a long holiday from work before, four full weeks to be precise, with no worries about job, exams, commitments and family. Though I had travelled to the Holy Cities on  no less than four previous occasions since I had attained adulthood, discounting the ones I did which I would have the faintest of memories perhaps, ages ago.

Stayed over at Kent at brothers who kindly dropped me at Heathrow terminal 4 early in the morning with at least 5-6 hours to go, needing to kill plenty of time. This incidentally was the same place from where I departed on a similar trip over 2 years back, seemed a bit nostalgic; the thoughts quickly shrugged off. Had to endure a slightly tense period waiting as my Passport was still with the Travel agent who was going to deliver it to me at the terminal and was late. Frankly I was so confident nothing could possibly go wrong as I felt in my heart, nothing will and could stop me going for it! Check in process was very easy, this I found out to be the best Terminal at Heathrow hardly spent any time in the queue both at check in or at the security even. Roamed around for a little while in the shops and observed people while feeling super excited all on my own. While resting in one of the rest chairs, I observed a couple of pianos in the court. Thought of trying my hand at one of them, a decision I didn’t take gladly, as out of nowhere an airport worker in some airline Uniform came in and started playing a familiar tune. No one could appreciate it in the area, one middle aged lady looking at him with surprise when he sought applause which I duly did, remarking at the lady only I could appreciate his wonderful display as  it was the once highly popular “Tujhay dekha to yeh Jana Sanam”. Maybe I wont hear it ever again at least on purpose, but I enjoyed it in the otherwise dull part of airport terminal.

Boarded the Boeing 777 with nice cushy leather seats of Saudia, a stark contrast to our very own PIA. The food was good, watched the Despicable Me 2, as I am sure Mustafa will ask me next time about it and I didn’t want to be left behind on the review. Fell in love with Gru( a male character, by the way!) Sat alongside a very young couple from Leicester going for Hajj and praised the guy for prioritizing the Hajj at such an early stage of their lives, a matter which we tend to put aside for latter years unfortunately. The crew, which I came to know later on was from Pakistan mostly was welcoming and friendly, maybe flirtatious in a pleasant sense at times. The food was good and we were well taken care of. Prayed in the plane at prayer times in the designated area, the relieving factor was that we were going to Madina first rather than Jeddah, which I knew was going to take ages at the terminal. Surprisingly it was very quick at the airport after we stepped out of the aircraft in hot air around 33’C. The staff at airport were helpful, at least less intimidating as I felt on my last visits to this country. It took less than 40 minutes for the whole process, getting our luggage and out of the airport, far less time than it would have taken at Heathrow. There was a bit of a wait for all the buses and everyone to be counted and the short journey to the hotel started. Reached the Hotel where we were staying just in time for the buffet dinner to be taken away. And what a sumptuous dinner it was, the highlight being Um-e-Ali; a kind of filo pastry cum pudding, an Egyptian delight, which is a distant cousin of Sheerkhurma and Shahi Tukray! That’s the best way to describe it and I reckon is not very difficult to make either. Since I started cooking and making dishes nothing seems out of bound. But the amount of sugar will dissuade me from trying it, as when I learnt how to make Zarda (the sweet rice). Anyway that started my love affair, quite literally with Um-e-Ali which would last till the very last day in Makkah Hotels!

After the dinner, had some rest, a quick shower and off I went to the majestic mosque; the Masjid-e-Nabawi, prayed and offered Salam at the Roza Mubarak, with throngs of people at this time of the night. At hajj times, the mosque was teeming with people even late at night. Came back at around 0200 and just flopped on the bed. The room was spacious but a bit dark, the water was boiling hot, a fact which I had to contend with over the next 2 weeks. I can tolerate freezing cold water for a bath but certainly not hot water. This was also the start of my relationship with my roommate originally hailing from Yemen, whom I met briefly at the Hajj seminar in North London, who was going to be a very good friend in the days and indeed years to come.

16th to 19th September 2014:

Serene Madina tul Munawarra

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Got up in the morning after a fulfilling sleep, overjoyed, euphoric and what not, no superlatives can describe that feeling. I was here without an iota of a doubt. After a hearty buffet breakfast, only standing in queue for getting an omelette done and Fajr, it was time to relax in the majestic mosque, the place which the Prophet SAW made his very own and every pilgrim who comes for Umra or Hajj always tries to pay a visit here as reverence to the greatest human being who graced this planet. Inevitably you go down the history lanes, how it must have been to live in the city around 1300 years ago with the highly regarded companions roaming in the streets, the company of the Prophet SAW and the life evolving with the passage of time. How this mosque now so majestic and one of the architectural marvels, would have been so simple and primitive made of mud walls and palm leaves! The arches very much appeared like the Cordoba Mosque I visited just a few months back, yet more elegant, bright and pleasing to the eye. There is simply no comparison. Admiration of the beauty of the mosque is one thing which you just can’t avoid but that was not the reason I was here. It was no sightseeing tour. Though I had been to this place many times before and I knew what was the significance and value of prayers offered in this place, second only to the Masjid al Haram, according to one tradition, better than a thousand prayers elsewhere (Bukhari, Muslim), I intended to spend as much time in prayer and recitation as possible, not thinking of numbers which probably might be taken in context. You could see pilgrims from everywhere, you name it. I was getting the Hajj flavour form Madina expectedly. Thousands of people, men and women, very few children though coming in throngs in and out of the Mosque and its umbrella covered courtyard, especially at prayer times, all the shades between white and black, different ethnicities, races, backgrounds; Asians, Africans, Chinese even in their peculiar light blue waistcoats with the Chinese flag and “Alhaj al Seini” sewn onto them. Some you could tell by the dress, like Sudanese, some wearing colourful characteristic robes men and women alike, pilgrims from Niger, Cote de Ivore, Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal. There were the typical North Africans from Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt. Couldnt see any Saudis apart from the guards and religious men. Then there were Malays and Indonesians in their characteristic large monochrome groups soon to be annoyed by in a few days time!  Even their luggage seen in Hotel lobby was distinct Yellow or Orange, all exactly the same, no wonder they would have lot of trouble at the airport. Wearing the same kind of dress for identification or keep the group together might be a practical thing but I don’t approve it in the spirit of Hajj, I always felt we are not just here to do some rites and indulge in fervent prayers, cut off from other people, the millions who have come across for the same purpose, one of the ideas is to mingle with other pilgrims and have a feeling of Muslim Brotherhood which is lost if you try to be distinct. Many pilgrims from countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh for instance had no obvious tell-tale signs where they belonged form apart from their faces, dress (Shalwar Qameez) and language and maybe ID Cards. I was glad to see a large Indian contingent from various states again, displayed proudly, including the North east state of Manipur with their typical Chinese countenance.

The threat of MERS( a hidden one and people mostly kept unawares though lots of deaths in one area especially in Arabia) and Ebola was there with hundreds of thousands of people around, some from areas exposed to it as well. Even this couldn’t keep people away from this awesome occasion, for some once in a lifetime, spending all their lifelong savings to be able to perform a rite which is the pinnacle of their lives. The authorities had banned everyone from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, the 3 countries most affected by Ebola. It was sad not to see many Libyans or Syrians around, a testament to what was going on there. I was gladly surprised to be proved wrong later on in Makkah.

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I observed the Kyrgyz with their costumes and peculiar hats, Kazakhs, Uzbeks(in their light blues), Tajiks with their flags imprinted. There were throngs of Iranians in their typical attire especially the Imams, with a stubble and moist red eyes, you can’t but only admire the reverence they and many others have for the place and the love of the Holy Prophet SAW and his Mosque. Even pilgrims from as far away as Australia, one could spot a very few White Caucasian Europeans in between. Then there were Afghans, Turks ( a lot of them ), Iraqis even Kurds with their flags sewn across their backs, people from Darfur and Eritrea newly independent countries. Mustafa would have loved to see all this.

One cant even imagine how lucky we are seeing this spectacle, observing the rich and the poor, many you can tell, would have saved all life to be able to do this pilgrimage which is the last pillar of Islam and obligatory for everyone who can afford it, once in their life time. Many would have faced extreme difficulties even hostilities in the parent country where they were living especially the Burmese and the Uighurs.

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The Roza Mubarak, the place where the Prophet SAW used to live and is buried now, the Hujra (place of abode) of Mother of Believers Ayesha RA, is always a spectacle, people paying their homage in throngs all day long before and after prayer times, first thing in the morning and last act in the mosque at times, as if the Prophet SAW is still very much there in essence and the respect and the awe of that place has no match in the whole mosque. Along with the significance of praying in this mosque, this is the Ziarah people wish for all their lives all over the world. There is usually a long queue especially after prayer times. It is appropriately named as Bab us Salam! No one can compare it with any courts now or before, of the mightiest of the Kings. One can only imagine how it would be at the time when the Prophet Muhammad SAW was alive. Many an eye is moist and a multitude in obvious tears. I amongst many thousands each day pay regards and Salam to the Prophet SAW and his two illustrious companions Abu Bakr and Umar RA who are buried alongside here. I make a routine to try to do so at the start and the end of the day, how much I wished to be alive in those days in his illustrious company, like millions of others I am sure. Some first comers are guided by the gentle servants of the mosque and explained where the Prophet SAW is buried. Many people are taking snapshots, even selfies, one American I saw alongside me, surely on his first visit on some app online maybe Whatsapp doing a running commentary. Someone I told gently to lower his shoes in respect. I couldn’t bring myself to taking even a photo there in respect I guess though have done so in the past admittedly.

Jannat ul Baqi

Jannat ul Baqi

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I used to go to Jannat ul Baqeeh nearly every morning in my previous trip after fajr at or before sunrise. This time wanted to conserve my energies and focus on what I was here for mostly. Went along after Fajr prayers one day, the typical chirping of birds as if they were praising the Lord of the Heavens. It was inevitably thronged by thousands of people not only Iranians but devotees from all over the world this time. The women were barred from entering, some praying long the walls or besides. This is the famous cemetery which the Prophet SAW also used to visit and pray for the dead, some of the finest names in Islamic history including the wives, daughters, son and relatives of Prophet SAW, some of the illustrious companions RA and Tabai’ins and great scholars of Islam are buried. I find the South Asians and Africans to be revering such historic places more and more, the officials gently escorting the few aside if someone tried to explain to his group whose grave it was. Now all a flat vast expanse with pigeons feasting on the grain thrown as charity by many a sundry, which is always discouraged by the officials but people still manage to. You can see mud graves all exactly similar with small unmarked tombstones, some of them in a raised area or with some demarcation around, as one I knew from previous visits was Ibrahim ( Prophet SAW son who died in his infancy) and one was Jaffar ibn e Abi Talib’s to name a few.

The area called Riaz ul Jannah, the place between the Roza Mubarak to the Minbar (pulpit) which has been called as such in an authentic tradition, has huge significance, as being not only the ancient part of the mosque but acclaimed to be a garden of paradise!

“ Between my house and my Minbar lies one of the gardens of paradise (Bukhari)

It was always thronged by hundreds of devotees, didn’t have the opportunity to stay in the area much at all during this particular visit, in contrast to my previous visits when I could just go there on my will; perhaps the desire wasn’t there as much as before as I had the main mission in site and to pray more in solitude and peace rather than in an area teeming with activity. My room mate could boast at night that he had spent some time in the area at the times when most people were vacating the mosque. But I wasn’t too well on some of the days and I needed to conserve my energy for the coming days. The hajj lectures were at times more of a compulsion than by choice, reminiscing the good old days of school and college when we were half asleep or trying to catch the sermon giver off guard!

In four short days we were ready to leave and already awaiting our next step which was the Umrah and then onwards the big thing for which we were all here………to follow soon!

Categories: Hajj, Pilgrimage, reflections, Religion, Travel | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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