Sha'ban 12th, 1663
The winds howled high up on the snowy Lesser Caucasus Mountains. The frosty, cold air was thin and barely breathable. There was an army encampment hidden on the eastern side of the mountain. Outside one central tent, there stood two armed men, wielding doubled edged swords and large iron shields. Inside the tent two men stood discussing a pressing matter. Resting on a mat on the floor, there was a wounded old man. Numerous bandages covered up large stab wounds on his stomach, chest, and several cuts on his arms.
"Would you two yappers take it outside," the old man said in a raspy voice. "I'm tryna sleep."
"You need to stay awake," a young man by the name of Abdur-Rahman ibn Ali spoke. He crossed his arms and stood closer to the old man.
"He's right General Isa," a medic spoke to the old man. "I've wrapped your wounds but you've lost a lot of blood. If you lose consciousness you may very well lose your life. Try to stay woke for a few hours while we try to get you the proper medication and resupply your body with some vitamins and nutrients to speed up the healing process."
General Isa looked up, barely opening his baby-blue eyes. "Why the in the world am I laying down if I'm not supposed to sleep?"
"Because of if you sit up you might bleed out from your wounds."
"And if stay lying down I will fall asleep," the general spoke as he sat up. Immediately after sitting up the man felt a sharp pain surging through his body and a throbbing knot in his head. He collapsed back on the mat, holding his wrinkled forehead. His long, curly gray hair draped over his hand as he writhed in pain.
"You see Isa," Abdur-Rahman said sitting at his side. "You need to listen man; you always do this kind of stuff." Abdur-Rahman sighed. "I need a breath of air," he said to the medic. "Keep an eye on him until you're sure he's okay to sleep."
"Of course. I will report to you within an hour." Abdur-Rahman exited the tent with haste.
"Keep a close watch and an open ear," he spoke to the two men standing guard. "Alert me if anything else happens." The two nodded in affirmation and Abdur-Rahman walked away.
One of the two, a bald man by the name of Uthman ibn Sulayman, spoke to the other, Saabr ibn Nadeem. "What's the story with him?" he asked.
"What do you mean?" Saabr asked.
"Why's he like that with the General?"
"Oh, well it's just out of concern for him; he's known the general for a while. Even I've known him for a while."
"Well, believe it or not, he used to be a refugee from the Christian lands. He was a poor Christian man run out of his home by the persecution of Kwaadi forces. Rumor has it he's actually seen Kwaade with his own eyes and suffered the torture by his hand. But that's beside the point. He managed to escape persecution hiding out in the small Muslim city Abdur-Rahman's family stayed in. One night while scrounging for food in the city waste, he was discovered by Abdur-Rahman and his two brothers."
"Right, Muhammad's friends?"
"Yeah. Anyways, they were kids but they still had big hearts, so they invited him back to their home. Their parents fed and clothed him for the night, allowing him to stay there. He stayed with them for some years, working on their small farm for payment. They gave da'wah* to him over the years until eventually he said the shahadah* accepted Islam."
"So they really helped turn his life around?"
"Yeah but man was it a struggle. I was staying in that town at the time and I remember even after Islam he was a hard case to deal with. When things got tough he'd resort to drinking no matter how much they proved to him the negative effects it had. Such a shame too, he'd work so hard to earn his pay, and spend it all going out of town to find somewhere to buy alcohol. When he got drunk, he was just a disaster. He would go about starting fights with the locals, cause fitnah in the Masajid*, and do so many reckless things that endangered himself. It was such a dangerous habit."
"So how did he get over it?"
"It was actually because of his son that he stopped."
"He had a few sons, all of whom had been locked up and tortured under Kwaade. But one son, his youngest, eventually escaped like he had. He even accepted Islam when he came to the land. With his newfound freedom and faith, the son felt obligated to see it that his brothers back home enjoy the same liberty. He tried to raise up an army to go forth and fight Kwaade. There was such a big fuss about it, I'll never forget. The town was divided, Kwaade hadn't really made a move on any of the local Muslim lands, and they had no ties with the Christians. Some felt this meant they owed them nothing, while others said unjust persecution must be fought no matter who it's against."
"General Isa felt like it was hopeless and resorted to his drinking habit again, after 6 months of sobriety. His son was so ashamed he wouldn't speak to him. Instead he went out to call his supporters to arms to march against Kwaade the next day. There was a huge crowd and so much arguing. The son shouted at his opposers, angering them with insults like calling them lazy, cowardly, unjust, telling them they don't have ikram for their fellow humans, and so on. There came an angry shout from the crowd and then a small drinking mug flew forward and struck him in the head. The son fell from his standing and lie on the ground unconscious. The blow knocked him out and his hard landing caused damage to his brain. From that point on he could no longer move, speak, or anything. Eventually, his condition worsened until he died weeks later. General Isa felt so ashamed and remorseful for his actions that he swore off alcohol and fled the town. Eventually it was learned that he'd joined the army in another land and began fighting against Kwaadi expansion. Now, here we are years later, with the rest of us in the army too, and he's risen through the ranks to become a general."
"Interesting how things work out. And now I see why Abdur-Rahman treats him like that."
"He doesn't treat him badly; it's just that he knows General Isa can be pretty reckless sometimes and doesn't want him to do anything else to make his life a misery."
"Yeah, he is pretty reckless; I mean the whole reason he's all messed up right now is because of trying to take on so many opponents at once during our last battle."
"That, and the whole trying to take down the enemy's war wolves unarmed."
"Yeah, that was pretty stupid."
"In any case, he's the general for this mission, so we're under his command for now. May Allah protect us and him."
"Ameen. If he perishes, I don't know which way this mission will go."
"True, for all his recklessness, he's the only one crazy enough to lead this mission. It's freezing cold and only getting colder. The enemy is much larger than us and they've got the home terrain advantage. To everyone else this was practically a suicide mission."
Suicide. That word resounded deeply in Uthman's thoughts. For a brief moment up here in the mountains he'd managed to escape his thoughts. But now his memories were coming back all too quickly. He could feel the heavy weight of the past, dragging on him like chains of steel. How many evils he'd committed himself. How low he'd sunken in sinning, what darkness he'd drifted into. From the immeasurable debts he owed, to the tears he caused his mother to shed, to the hurt he caused his wife and kids back on their island home, everything was weighing down on him. Often times before he'd considered the only way to free himself from the stress of it all, through the most unholy of ways, even knowing the consequences.
But something stopped him. He couldn't quite figure it out, but it whatever it was, it wouldn't let him end it, not like that. He had to live for a purpose or die for a purpose. With a promise from his younger brother Tariq to pay off his debts, Uthman decided to join the ranks of the Muslim men striving in the path of Allah. It gave him purpose in life, and perhaps in the end maybe a meaningful death with a joyful return.
"No," he spoke lowly. "Not suicide. If we die here, it's only as martyrs, and we'll have our return with our Lord pure and free InShaAllah."
Sha'ban 13th, 1663
Night eventually fell and the camp was covered in yet another blanket of snow. The winds whirled furiously through the mountain peaks. Abdur-Rahman sat alone in his tent, reading from a small Quran he kept with him. When the winds pierced through the opening of his tent, they managed to blow out his candles and left him sitting in the darkness. He sighed as he sat the Quran atop his armor. Wrapping himself in a thick furry blanket, he headed outside his tent; if he couldn't read Quran anymore he figured he might as well go check on General Isa.
Holding tightly to his white, wooly blanket, Abdur-Rahman treaded through the snowy mountain side. As he walked the path from his own tent to the general's quarters, he pondered on the state of the army. They'd been stationed in the mountains for months, trying to overcome the Kwaadi forces nearby and expand the Muslim territories. While the snowy mountains themselves wouldn't be a practical residency for the growing Muslim population, the travel route they would open the Black Sea was worth the fight. The access to various marine foods and sea travel were advantages the Muslims truly needed at the time.
It was taking a much longer time than expected to overcome the Kwaadi forces stationed in the region though. With an army 3 times the size and the advantage of having become accustomed to the land longer, the Kwaadi were keeping the Muslims at bay. Neither side was yet able to win over the other, and so they were locked in a stalemate. Battles would occur occasionally but many casualties on both sides were the result of hypothermia and other illnesses.
As he neared the general's tent, Abdur-Rahman began to hear a light crunching side echoing his own footsteps in the snow. He stopped moving and looked around. He could tell someone was there, but couldn't see where. He looked to the tent up ahead and spotted two men standing guard. Neither was moving from his position. Abdur-Rahman looked around, further investigating the noises.
He slowly reached for his sword as he neared a small cave entrance. As his hand reached his side, he remembered that he'd left his sword back in his tent. Cursing his forgetfulness, Abdur-Rahman crept closer to the small crack in the mountainside until he reached the opening. He picked up a ball of snow in his hand and squoze it tightly until it became a hard block of ice. Then, peering into the small crevice, he reached his arm back and prepared to launch the block of ice at whatever was lurking inside.
Just as he'd set his aim on the inside, he heard more crunching from above him and saw small piles of snow powder falling. He looked up to see a dark figure crouching atop the Cliffside. He squinted his eyes to better view the figure and made out the shape of an enemy soldier lying in wait. "Ya aduwallah*!" Abdur-Rahman shouted as he threw the block at the man. "Anta jasus ash-shaytan*!" He continued throwing more until the man fled from his spot.
Thereafter Abdur-Rahman rushed to the tent of the general, shouting to the guards and all those around, "As-silah*! As-silah! All to arms immediately! I have spotted an enemy spy! As-Silah! As-Silah!" The soldiers began coming from their tents almost instantly, all carrying their weapons and standing in rows. Abdur-Rahman entered the tent of General Isa and was astounded to see him lying on his back, skin bared and snoring loudly. "Wake up, wake up!" he shouted as he tugged at the man's arms. "The enemy has come to spy on us! I do not know whether he was a lone scout or if there is a troop close in tow. We must act quickly! Wake up, wake up!"
"Alright, raa-aah," the old man groaned in a raspy voice. "I'm woke."
"What are your orders, sir?" another man asked as he entered the dark tent.
"Yes, what are we going to do?" Abdur-Rahman queried.
"Prepare the troops," General Isa ordered. "Call them from their tents and prepare them to fight."
"They're already out, sir."
"Good, then tell them to stand guard along the camp outline, and don't move from their positions 'til daybreak."
"Yes, sir!" the man promptly exited the tent and relayed the general's orders to the soldiers.
"I see," Abdur-Rahman said as he pondered the orders. "You want us to remain stationary because you don't know if the scout may have been trying to lead us into a trap or if they have sent troops to come around and sneak up on us. Right?"
"Well, that, and I'm too freak'n tired to go marching right now." Abdur-Rahman shot the general a straight face. General Isa just smiled and shrugged his shoulders before trying to get to his feet. He winced in agony as a sharp pain bolted through is sides. Abdur-Rahman quickly dropped to his side and tried to sit him down.
"You need to stay sitting," he advised. "Clearly your body isn't healed enough for you to be standing and walking around."
"I can handle it. My legs don't feel like walking, but if I stay inside this tent I'm going back to sleep. Now help me up" Abdur-Rahman sighed as he reluctantly helped the general to his feet. Once on his feet, General Isa reached for his sword and armor.
"No," Abdur-Rahman spoke as he turned the general's hand away. "Are you crazy? You're too weak for that right now. If this comes to fighting, we need you here under protection, and we both know that's not gonna happen so long as you're carrying a sword in your hands."
"When you're the general," Isa spoke as he reached for his sword again. "You decide who fights and who doesn't, but until then, move out of the way and let this general go and fight in the way of Allah."
Abdur-Rahman gave no answer. He allowed General Isa to grab his sword and assisted him in putting on his armor. He then escorted the general outside the tent and into the snow. Side-by-side, the two men stepped out into the now lighted campsite of the Muslim army. They looked out over the warriors standing guard over the camp. 1,500 men all stood along the mountain side, feet firmly planted in the snow and hands tightly gripping their weapons. Their watchful eyes peered out into the distance; the battle raged on in their hearts as they waited to carry on fighting with the enemy army.
The sunlight barely pierced through the thick clouds high up on the mountain. After such a long night, the soldiers were resting. Half were asleep in their tents, a quarter were having a morning meal, and the remainder was standing guard, save for the general and his company. General Isa sat in his tent with a small group of men; mostly fellow elders but Abdur-Rahman was also amongst them. He was always a close companion to General Isa. He sat quietly in the room while his elders discussed the next course of action.
"No, no, no," General Isa spoke as he cleared away another man's drawing of proposed strategy. "That'll never work man. Look, I asked you for your ideas if you had something good to suggest, this plan is going to get us all killed. Let me tell you a good plan."
The tent fell silent as the men all focused on their general. He had a wily smile on his face as he began to draw in the snow with a small twig. "This is our camp here, ok?" he said point to a large triangle. "Now, the enemy knows where we are and they'll probably be coming after us soon. So what are we going to do? Make them believe that that would be a mistake."
"I'm not getting what you mean," one man spoke before the others hushed him.
"Well if you'd keep your mouth shut ya' just might learn something," General Isa replied in a mock-snarky way. "Now, as I was saying, we have no clue where they are. However, we do have intel from our most recent battle, which indicates that they have somewhere up of 4,000. If they can barely deal with us while we are only a fraction of them, imagine if we were the same size or larger."
"Sir," the second-in-command, Abu Salman cut in. "Haven't you already appealed to the Amir to send us reinforcements? We sent that messenger hawk months ago and have yet to receive a reply. With all due respect, I don't think we will be having reinforcements any time soon."
"No, we won't, and yes we will."
"Tell me, what is it that we need to have a stronger army here?"
"Yes, and do they have to be a specific kind of men?"
"I-uh, I'm not sure what you're getting at."
"Well come on guys? Anyone wanna answer that? Do we need a specific kind of men?"
The men around the room all had puzzled looks on their faces. What could the general mean? They all pondered. Brave men? Skilled men? Strong men?
"So no one wants to guess?" General Isa asked after a moment's passing. The men looked at each other silently and then returned their glances toward their general.
"You guys are no fun," he said, pausing to cough a little. "The answer is no; we don't. In fact, they don't even have to be real men." The men all looked at him perplexedly. "Listen closely because I don't feel like saying this twice. Here is what we're going to do: we will stay at our camp for 3 nights. The first night, 1/3 of the army -team Alif- will stand guard while another 1/3 -team Baa- rest and the remaining third -team Taa- get to building snowmen."
"Snowmen?" came a collective query from the group.
"Snowmen. They will be carefully constructed to hold the form and shape of real men, even down to the details of armor and weapons. When the enemy sends another spy, which I don't doubt they will, he will see under the cover of darkness an increase in our men. Then during the day when they see 2/3 of the army out instead of the usual half, or less, they will certainly come to think we have been reinforced and that the majority of our troops are still resting."
"Do you really expect them to think snowmen are real soldiers?" Abdur-Rahman questioned. "That's really silly."
"Well they are Kwaadi folk, they're not known for their intelligence; even if the dummies do boast about having a superior intellect. Dummies. They don't even know Who God is; they don't know Who Created them and they think they're advanced in intelligence. Retards." General Isa chuckled to himself before having short coughing fit.
"But that's beside the point, back to my plan. Team Taa will be working pairs of two to quickly construct 5 snowmen for every 1 soldier on camp. In the morning at Fajr, these snowmen will be put down and team Taa will rest. Throughout the day team Alif and team Baa will stand guard. On the second night, the shifts will rotate and so team Alif will be resting, team Taa will stand guard, and team Baa will rebuild the snowmen. In the day team Baa will rest, while the others stand guard. Then, when the darkness settles the third night, team Alif will begin constructing the snowmen, team Baa will stand guard, and team Taa will pack up camp. After everything is packed up, we will set out in three directions to surround the enemy. Caught off guard and with no escape, the enemy will have no choice but to surrender."
"What makes you so sure they won't fight back?"
"Duh, the snowmen. Those Kwaadi fools are going to still think we have thousands more men coming in, so they will already believe they're defeated."
"You seem so confident in this snowman idea," Abdur-Rahman commented, crossing his arms. "It's very risky and assumptive. We can't afford to just sit around here while there are still wounded men in our army, like you. We're sitting ducks, especially you. If we stay here for 3 nights they will come back and you'll end up dead. I think we ought to plan a better strategy before we all end up killed playing in the snow like children. If you go through with this plan you're a madman."
"You watch yourself," Abu Salman hissed at Abdur-Rahman. "This is your general ordering a plan and here you are disrespecting him? You had better hold your tongue before you are-"
"Ah leave him alone," General Isa spoke in Abdur-Rahman's defense. "He's well within his rights to voice his opinion and speak what he thinks is endangering to the less fortunate of our soldiers. Still, a great leader considers all of his men; someday you'll see that Abdur-Rahman." Falling into another coughing fit, General Isa paused for nearly a minute before he could continue. "For now, go bring me Saabr ibn Nadeem, Uthman ibn Sulayman, and Adil ibn Azad; they are going to be my scouts I'm sending to find us the three quickest paths to the enemy camp."
Abdur-Rahman sighed. He rose to his feet and complied with the orders. He didn't want to anger the general or burden him with more conversation since it was apparent that he was sick and his illness made talking a difficulty. As Abdur-Rahman left the tent's ragged flaps, General Isa began discussing another matter with the remaining men.
It was midday and the three scouts had yet to return. General Isa began to grow impatient, fearing the worst. His stressing had a direct impact on his health, and his condition was worsening. Even though his wounds were healing up, his health was deteriorating with this new illness.
Currently, the general was resting in his tent with a team of medics at his bedside. Abdur-Rahman stood guard outside his tent. The medics were giving the general all the treatments they could and still, his condition got no better. In the cold, thin mountain air, others were near the point of shivering , but General Isa was dripping with sweat. Beads of sweat poured down his once pale, now beet-red, furled brow as he rubbed his temples to ease a painful headache. With his head throbbing and his body aching, there wasn't much the general could do and still his mind was busy in concern for the three scouts he'd sent out. "I need to make sure they haven't been found or killed," he spoke to the medics in a buzzed tone. "They're my responsibility, I can't fail them. I have to go find them."
"Sir," one medic said in a calm but stern voice. "You need to lie down and rest. You won't get any better if you go out there in the cold wandering around."
"Besides," another medic spoke. "We need to replace the bandages on your body. The old ones seem to have gotten filthy and you shouldn't be wading in filth in your condition; it might worsen your illness." The general gave no reply to the man. He only stared up at the top of the tent, whispering something beneath his breath. Then he just his eyes and raised his right hand. The crippling pain he felt was evident, as his shaky hand pointed toward the outside.
"You need something from out there?" the first medic asked. "Someone?"
"C-call Abdu-" he fell into a violent coughing frenzy. The medics both rushed by his side and sat him up. "I-I'm ok," he said, pulling his arms away from them. "Just get me my s- get me Abdur-Rahman." A medic left out to fetch Abdur-Rahman and returned immediately. Abdur-Rahman entered the tent and rushed to his general's side. "Re-recite for me," the old man mumbled.
"What?" Abdur-Rahman asked, barely understanding the request.
"I want to hear some Qur'an to calm me down; you are the only hafiz* of our army. Recite some Qur'an for me."
"What surah do you want to hear?"
"Recite from s-s-surah number 3."
"Ok," Abdur-Rahman said, sitting closer by the general's head. He gripped the old man's hand and began to recite, "Bismillahir Rahmannir Raheem...Alif laam meem. Allahu laa ilaaha illaa huwal hayyul qayyum...*"
The old man sighed in contentment as Abdur-Rahman went on reciting in a pleasant voice. The recitation filled the air with peace and serenity and soon the medics sat on the ground to have a listen, until Abdur-Rahman signaled for them to get back to work rewrapping the bandages. Abdur-Rahman carried on reciting and General Isa slowly closed his eyes as he further relaxed himself onto the mat he was resting on.
The medics cut the old bandages from his arms and were about to wash his wounds when they made a startling discovery. His skin beneath the bandages was covered in numerous little raised bumps of a yellowish color. The wounds also seemed to be infected. They kept their silence so as not to disturb the general, but Abdur-Rahman could sense something was wrong as he looked at their faces.
Smelling a pungent odor arising from the wounds, the medics decided they need to further analyze the general's condition. They prompted Abdur-Rahman to sit the general up so they could check the wounds on his torso. He slowly pulled the man up, still reciting in a rhythmic manner, lulling the man to sleep like a child. With a few scattered coughs here and there, the general soon lost consciousness and was fast asleep.
Abdur-Rahman stopped reciting and turned his attention to the two medics who were now unwrapping the body bandages of the general. "How serious is it?" he whispered to them.
"I've never seen anything like it in my life," one medic admitted. "It's beyond just a bacterial infection, he appears to have some kind of disease."
"How?" Abdur-Rahman queried, his voice shaken.
"I don't know," the second medic spoke. "But the sudden illness, the slow healing, heavy sweating, and these repulsive bumps lining his wounds; these are all symptoms of some well-known fatal diseases most commonly developed in people living in or near the wastelands."
"But we haven't been near any wastelands, how could this happen?"
"It can also be contracted from other life forms if an exchange of bodily fluids is made. Has he had-"
"The wolves!" Abdur-Rahman exclaimed as he pounded his left fist on the ground. "I told him not endanger himself trying to fend them off. Any animal that can survive way up here must be a hundred times more dangerous than what we see back in the flatlands."
"It may be the wolves or it may be a deliberate poisoning from the enemies during the last fight," the first medic suggested.
"Either way," continued the second medic. "We have no prepared remedy for this and treatment would take months, and in a much warmer environment at that."
"So what's going to happen to him?" Abdur-Rahman asked, feeling his grip tighten around the old man's hand.
"I'm afraid he's only going to get worse. Judging by the size and multitude of these feverish bumps and the redness of his complexion, I believe he's already in the 2nd of the 3 short stages in this illness. Pretty soon, he will either suffer from heart complications brought on by the excruciating pain and stress of the illness, or slowly seep into madness as the pain eats away at him. Either way, by the morrow he will be dead. "
"W-what?" Abdur-Rahman questioned, fighting back tears. "Isn't there anything we can do for him?"
"Yes; pray for him."
Da'wah: the proselytizing or preaching of Islam. Da'wah literally means "issuing a summons" or "making an invitation", being the active participle of a verb meaning variously "to summon" or "to invite."
Shahadah: The testification that there is no deity worthy of worship but God and that Prophet Muhammad is God's Servant and His Messenger. The utterance of this statement (i.e. "I bear witness that there is no deity of worship except God, and I bear witness that Muhammad is the servant and Messenger of God"), with sincerity and belief in the heart, are what makes some enter into Islam and thenceforth be a Muslim.
Masajid: plural of Masjid (Mosque). Muslim houses of Worship.
Aduwallah: enemy of God
Anta jasus ash-shaytan: You spy of Satan.
As-silah: To arms!
Hafiz: The title given to one who has memorized the entire Qur'an (in Arabic of course). Hafiz can mean preserver, protector, or guardian (one who looks after something) and the reason for this title is because Allah (God) said that He would protect the Qur'an from any corruption throughout all time, and so the way this has been done is that the Qur'an is memorized in the hearts of Muslims around the world. So even if today every single Quran ever compiled was burned and not a shred of paper nor file anywhere contained written Quran, Allah (God)'s Book would be preserved in the many hearts of Muslims. This ensures it cannot be destroyed nor can it be changed/corrupted. Were someone to try to make changes to it (either by adding things or taking from it), all the huffaz (plural of hafiz) would surely notice and correct such an error. Huffaz are just as important to Islam today as they were in the past, and it is a goal of every devout Muslim to memorize the entire Quran at some point in their lives.
Bismillahir Rahmannir Raheem: "In the Name of God, The Most Gracious, The Most Merciful." This is a phrase Muslims must say before doing numerous things, especially something like reading/reciting from the Quran. Beginning in the Name of God is the best way to ensure good comes from what one does. Keep this phrase in mind; you'll be seeing it again.
Alif laam meem: The first verse of this (and a few other) chapter(s). Verses that contain only the names of letters are a special kind of verse whose meanings are known ONLY by God. Thus even I cannot translate this for you...sorry
Allahu laa ilaaha illaa huwal hayyul qayyum: "Allah (God)! There is no god but He, the Ever-living, the Self-Sustaining (Whom all things depend on).