Chapter 9: On Thin Ice
2 Rajab, 1663
The winds howled high up on the snow-covered mountains. The thin, mountain air was frosty and barely breathable. There was an army encampment within the eastern mountains on the Northern Continent. Just outside of 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 groaned in a raspy voice. "I am trying to sleep."
"You need to stay awake," a portly, young man answered back. Though he was neither a medic nor the man’s caretaker, Abdur-Rahman ibn Ali was more than concerned about the man’s wellbeing. With a stern glare, he sat beside his older companion and crossed his arms over his chest.
"He's right General Isa," a medic spoke to the old man. "I've wrapped your wounds but you've lost a substantial amount of blood. If you lose consciousness, you may very well lose your life. Try to stay awake for a few more hours while we continue trying to get you some proper medication and resupply your body with some vitamins and nutrients to speed up the healing process."
General Isa looked up, barely opening his bluish-gray eyes. "Why the in the world am I laying down if I'm not supposed to sleep?"
"Because, sir, if you sit up, you may open up your wounds and cause yourself to bleed out. And all of the strain you will put on your body will cause the pain from your internal injuries to increase.”
"And if stay lying down I will fall asleep," the general spoke as he tried to force himself up. As he pushed his upper body off the ground and into a sitting position, Isa immediately felt a sharp pain surging through his body and a throbbing knot in his head. He collapsed back onto 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 scolded him. "You need to listen and think before you act, man. You never consider the consequences of your actions and that is exactly what has led you to this condition you are in right now!”
“Yep,” Isa replied with a shrug. Abdur-Rahman sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose in frustration.
"I need a breath of air," he said to the medic. "Keep an eye on him until you are certain that it is okay for him to sleep. Keep me informed of his condition.”
"Of course; I will report to you within an hour."
“Right.” Abdur-Rahman gave a nod of acceptance and stood to exit the tent. He opened the dark blue flaps of cloth and looked to the two men standing guard. "Keep your eyes and ears open at all times. Alert me if anything else happens." The two nodded in affirmation and Abdur-Rahman walked away.
As the young man disappeared behind the snowy winds, one of the two guards turned to his companion and spoke. “You would think that he is the superior here,” he commented. “The way he speaks to General Isa is quite surprising, wouldn’t you say?”
“Perhaps,” the other guard agreed. “But it is mostly out of concern. Tough love if you will. He may be young, but Abdur-Rahman is a Captain and he has known General Isa for many years. He knew him before he was a general in this army; in fact, he knew him before he was even a Muslim.”
“Is that so?”
"Indeed. You see, the man we know as General Isa today was once a simple man named Richard. He was a poor Christian man run out of his home by the persecution of Kwaadi forces. It is been said by some that he had actually seen Kwaade with his own two eyes, and that the torture inflicted upon him was dealt by Kwaade himself. That, however, is beside the point. He managed to escape all of the persecution by fleeing to a nearby village of Muslims. He was hiding out there until one night, Abdur-Rahman and his two brothers found him scrounging for food in the city waste.”
“Subhaan Allah; I would never think he had lived such a miserable life before.”
"Yes, indeed. Alhamdulillah, despite being young children, the three had enough compassion to invite the man 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?"
"Yes, but it was certainly no easy task. I actually happened to live in that town during those times, and I remember it all. I remember even after embracing Islam he was still a hard case to deal with. When life got tough he would 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 an utter 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."
"And this is General Isa? I mean, I certainly see his recklessness, but the drinking and fitnah? How did he change from that?”
"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 Muslim vilalge. With his newfound freedom and faith, the son felt almost guilty that his brothers could not enjoy the same peace and liberation that he had. He tried to raise up an army to go forth and fight the Kwaadi. Unfortunately, there was such a huge fuss about it, things became heated. I don’t think that I will ever forget it all. The town was completely divided. Kwaade had not yet made a move on any of the local Muslim lands, and we had no binding ties with the Christians; so some of the people argued that we owed them nothing and had no reason to fight. Others argued that regardless of any personal ties to the oppressed peoples, it was our duty as Muslims to fight against anyone who commits injustice and persecution.”
“At the time, Isa felt that it was a hopeless cause and he resorted to his drinking habit after three previous months of sobriety. His son was understandably upset with him, and he refused to speak with him thereafter. Instead, he went out to call his supporters to arms so that they could march against Kwaade the next day. This, of course, caused further dissent, and a huge crowd gathered to argue amongst themselves. Isa’s son shouted at the people who opposed him, angering them with insults like calling them lazy cowards and telling them they had no care for their fellow human beings. In the heat of it all, 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 down from his standing and ended up lying on the ground unconscious. The blow had knocked him out and his hard landing caused damage to his brain. From that point on he could no longer move, speak, or function like a normal man. Eventually, his condition worsened until he died weeks later.”
“Subhaan Allah. What a miserable way to die; may Allah have Mercy on him.”
“What happened with General Isa?”
“It had been General Isa who threw the cup, and when he came to realize that he killed his own son, the guilt was overwhelming. He felt so ashamed and remorseful for his actions that he swore himself off of alcohol and fled the town. Eventually, it was learned that he had 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 under his command. He's risen through the ranks to become a general and is continuing his efforts against Kwaade and his people."
"Yes, quite interesting how things have turned out. And now I see why Abdur-Rahman treats him the way that he does, having known him for so long. I thought it was just a lack of respect or insubordination, but perhaps it is as you say, a type of concern for him. Tough love.”
"Exactly so. 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."
"Yes, that is true. Taking on so many opponents at once during our last battle is the reason he’s badly injured right now.”
"That, and his attempt at taking down those vicious mountain wolves unarmed."
"Yeah, that was pretty stupid."
"In any case, he is the general for this mission, and so we are under his command for now. May Allah protect us and him from any further reckless decisions and the consequences thereof."
"Ameen. If he perishes, I don't know which way this mission will go."
"True; for all of 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 have the advantage of familiarity within this terrain. To any other commander, something like this would have been a suicide mission.”
"No," the man replied lowly. "Not suicide. If we die here, it will be only as martyrs; and we will have our return with our Lord pure and free In Shaa Allah."
3 Rajab, 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, wooly 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 the white blanket wrapped over himself, Abdur-Rahman treaded through the snowy mountain side. As he walked the path from his own tent to the general's quarters, he pondered over the state of the army. They'd been stationed in the mountains for weeks, 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 to the Black Sea was worth the fight. The access to various marine foods and sea travel were advantages the Muslims truly needed in the nearest lands.
It was taking a much longer time than expected to overcome the Kwaadi forces stationed in the region though. With an army three times the size and the advantage of having become accustomed to the land longer, the Kwaadi were keeping the Muslims at bay. Neither of the two sides had yet been able to gain victory over the other, and so they were locked in a stalemate. Though skirmishes and battles would occur occasionally, many of the casualties suffered on both sides were actually the result of hypothermia and other illnesses.
As he neared the general's tent, Abdur-Rahman began to hear a light crunching sound echoing his own footsteps in the snow. He stopped moving and looked around. He could tell that someone else was there with him, but could not pinpoint their exact location. He looked to the tent up ahead and spotted two men standing guard as he had left them. Neither of them seemed to be moving from their positions, which cleared them of any suspicion.
With that settled, Abdur-Rahman looked around to search elsewhere for the sound of footsteps. He slowly reached for his sword as he neared a small cave entrance. When his hand reached his side, he came to recall leaving his sword back in his tent near his armor. 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 squeezed it tightly until it became a hard chunk of ice. Then, peering into the small crevice, he reached his arm back and prepared to launch the piece 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 snowy powder falling. He looked up to see a dark figure crouching atop the cliffside. Squinting his eyes, he managed to get a better view of the figure and make out the shape an enemy soldier lying in wait. "Ya aduwallah*!" Abdur-Rahman shouted as he threw the ice at the man. "Anta jasus ash-shaytan*!" He continued throwing more and more snow 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 with his shirt open as he snored rather 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 awake."
"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. No one is to move from his position until daybreak."
"Yes, sir!" The man promptly exited the tent and relayed the general's orders to the other soldiers.
"I see," Abdur-Rahman said as he pondered the orders. "You want us to remain stationary because we 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 slapped a palm to his forehead as he glared at the old man. 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 his sides. Abdur-Rahman quickly dropped to his side and tried to sit him down.
"You need to stay sitting," he advised. "Clearly your body is not healed enough for you to be standing and walking around."
"I can handle it. My legs don't feel like walking, but if I remain inside this tent I am going to fall back asleep. 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 high guard, and we both know that's not going to happen so long as you're carrying a sword in your hands."
"When you become the general," Isa spoke as he reached for his sword again. "Then you can decide who fights and who doesn't. 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 of 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. There were over one thousand five hundred men all standing along the mountain side; their feet were firmly planted in the snow and their hands were 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 of the men were asleep in their tents; another quarter of them were having a morning meal; and the remaining group was standing guard. General Isa sat within his tent along with a small group of advisors. Though most of the men were elders like Isa himself, Abdur-Rahman was also present amongst them. Despite being a captain and therefore ranks below General Isa himself, Abdur-Rahman was always a close companion to the General and often participated in the more important meetings. 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 a 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, okay?" 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 you just might learn something," General Isa replied with a grin. "Now, as I was saying, we have no clue where they are or how many of them there are now. The intel from our most recent battle indicates that the have at least 4,000 men. But, assuming they haven’t gotten any reinforcements, this is good. If they can barely deal with us while we are only a fraction of them, imagine if our army was the same size or larger."
"Sir," the lieutenant general, 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 do not think that 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 are asking me.”
"Well come on guys? Does anyone want to answer that? Do we need a specific kind of men?"
The men around the room all had puzzled looks upon 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 three nights. The first night, one-third of the army -team Alif- will stand guard while another one-third -team Baa- will rest; and the remaining one third -team Taa- will 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 that they will, he will see under the cover of darkness an increase in our men. Then during the day when they see two-thirds 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 absurd, even for you Isa."
"Well they are Kwaadi folk, they're not known for their intelligence; even if the dummies do boast about having a superior intellect. Hmph. They know nothing about the One Who Created them, and yet they think that they are the smart one? What fools they are," General Isa chuckled to himself before having a short coughing fit.
“Are you alright?” Abdur-Rahman questioned and Isa gave a nod.
"In any case, that's beside the point. Back to my planning; team Taa will be working in pairs of two to quickly construct five snowmen for every one soldier in our 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 next day team Baa will rest, while the others stand guard. Then, when the darkness settles on 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 that they're defeated."
"You seem so confident in this snowman idea," Abdur-Rahman commented, crossing his arms. "It's very risky and presumptuous. We can't afford to just sit around here while there are still wounded men in our army, like you for instance. We're sitting ducks, especially you. If we stay here for three nights, the enemy will surely return to fight us and you will end up dead. I think that we ought to plan a better strategy before we all end up killed while 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 Shah ibn Azad; they are going to be my scouts that I will send 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’s was ailing 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 of his tent. The medics were giving the general all of the treatments that they could, and still, his condition was not improving. 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, forehead as he rubbed his temples to ease a painful headache. With his head pounding 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 slurred voice. "They're my responsibility; I can't fail them. I have to go find them."
"Sir," one medic respectfully reprimanded him. "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 closed 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 Quran to calm me down; you are the only hafiz* of our army. Recite some Quran for me."
"What surah do you wish to hear?"
"Recite from s-s-surah Ali-Imran."
"Okay," Abdur-Rahman agreed, 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 purple-yellowish mixture. 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 that they needed to further analyze the general's condition. They prompted Abdur-Rahman to sit the general up so that 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 had begun 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. I think he was bitten and received scratches from those filthy dogs when the Kwaadi sent them after us."
"I don’t see any signs of bites, but perhaps their saliva may have entered one of the scratches already present on his body. Either that, or this was a deliberate poisoning from the enemies during the last fight."
"Either way," the other medic cut in. "We have no prepared remedy for this and even in aa more proper setting, the treatment would take months until he was cured."
"So then what is 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 second of the three 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, nearly fighting 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 Quran (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 Quran from any corruption throughout all time, and so the way this has been done is that the Quran 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.
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).