Chapter 10: Broken; Unbroken
4 Rajab, 1663
The last flicker of sunlight was fading from the mountain sky. Soon there would be nothing but black skies and white snow. The coolness of night took away the warmth of life.
Back at the camp, two of the three scouts sent out by General Isa had returned. There was no word yet on the remaining scout. The camp was in waiting, having just finished their Maghrib* prayer. General Isa had to be carried back to his tent after he'd stubbornly refused to remain inside for prayer away from the jama'a*. The prayer was made with haste so as to shorten his exposure to the elements. His condition had worsened and everyone knew what was coming. With that in mind, Isa had insisted on increasing his good deeds whilst he was still able to.
Back in his tent, the general was at rest once again. He lay wrapped up in layers upon layers of blankets to slow his illness. It wasn't much, but it was something of benefit. Groaning in agony, he summoned Abdur-Rahman to his bedside again. Abdur-Rahman wasted not a moment in hurrying to his general and old friend's side. Seeing Abdur-Rahman, the general smiled. "So young," he murmured. "So young, and so full of passion." Wheezing and coughing, the general sat up in anguish.
Abdur-Rahman tried to lay him back again, but he refused. "It's alright boy," the general assured him. "Lying down and sitting up hurt just the same. And nothing compares to the hurt in my heart, in my memories. I only pray that I will be forgiven for what I've done."
"In Shaa Allah," Abdur-Rahman replied.
"Yes, and my s-son. I want you to know, I've seen my son." The general’s eyes began to swell with tears. "I've seen my son in every battle we've fought up here. And I've seen him in every dream I've dreamt. And I've seen my son...in you."
Abdur-Rahman remained silent. The general held a blank stare in the distance. "He was so young and so full of passion. Always. When Kwaade invaded our homes and imprisoned us, he was so brave and so resistant to Kwaade's evil. He always held faith that God would set us free someday and we would be the avengers of His people. His heart was always set on helping others and doing what's right. When he came into Islam and began stirring up this idea of taking on Kwaade with the help of God, I was so proud. And so ashamed. Ashamed of myself, that is. Me, a man who’d been freed for years and was taken in by a supportive family, and yet I'd forgotten own my family. I'd neglected to go back for their freedom. He was just a youngster, but he was ready to go out and not only fight to free his family, but fight to free all those under Kwaade's oppression. He was ready to risk imprisonment or death once more in a land of hardship, just because his heart told him it was right. When he felt a thing, he didn't betray it. And he didn't resort to misery and depression when things got tough. He went to calling upon his Lord, and he called on others to do so. He had so much potential and yet it all went to waste because of me."
"Don't say that," Abdur-Rahman tried to comfort his friend. "Everything happens only by the Will of Allah. Good or bad."
General Isa just sighed. He knew it was true, but something in his heart still held on to the guilt. "Either way, my son never got the chance to contribute to this war effort against Kwaade. His voice was never heard, ideas never played out, and passion never realized. But when I see you out here, I remember him. The way he'd speak out against anything he saw wrong, the way he'd scold me for my recklessness in the loving way only a son could. I see these things and I remember the day I first met you and your brothers; it was you who suggested taking me in to protect me. It was you who tried teaching me about a religion I thought was the enemy. It was you who spent days teaching me and helping me get my life around. It was you who, no matter how many times I let you down and disappointed you, you never gave up on me. You would scold me like a furious bull, but you wouldn't give up on me. It seems that, like my son, you have a great passion for helping others. You hold in your heart a type of care and concern that many people have neglected. The type of care that makes one a source of inspiration for others, a leader. And so because of this, I want you to take my place."
"What about Abu Salman? He's the lieutenant general."
"And he'll remain so. I've already met with him and the others and I nominated you for the head position after me. He was unhappy, boy was he unhappy. But I insisted; I know that even as a youngster, you have what it takes. Abu Salman will be your number one advisor and close companion, but try not to let him make too many decisions for you. He's got a good heart, but he's very much a traditionalist and lacks the vigor and passion of the youth."
"We've already decided the matter. I consulted my advisors and put it forth with the other commanders; in my passing you will become the unofficial general of this army for this expedition. Do not fail them Abdur-Rahman, do not fail them."
"I won't," Abdur-Rahman promised.
"Good. I have one final request of you," Isa said before he laid back down, his breathing getting heavy. "Finish the recitation." Abdur-Rahman sat comfortably by the bed and cleared his throat to finish the recitation of the surah he'd been reciting previously. As Abdur-Rahman recited, a team of medics entered the tent to check on the general. Abdur-Rahman motioned for them to sit down, and from the look on his face they understood that it was the end. Nothing more would be done. There was no prolonging of life except for what God Wills.
General Isa had fought bravely in this long lasting war, taking on many foes and earning many injuries through every battle. He fought not only for victory, but for repentance, seeking Forgiveness and Mercy from His Lord. For all his faults and mishaps, General Isa sought redemption in the Sight of his Lord. The old man gave all he had to right his wrongs and fix the faults of his broken life. In the end, it was up to his Lord to decide.
His breathing slowed and became a whisper; then a faint blowing. Then, like a flickering candlelight, his breathing ceased. So as he succumbed to the wounds and illness thereafter, his life slipped away and his soul passed on to meet its destiny. General Isa would come to see the fate his Lord had Written for him.
A single tear rolled down the bearded cheek of Abdur-Rahman as he recited the 169th verse of that surah, "And think not of those who are slain in God's way as dead. Nay, rather they live, finding their sustenance in the presence of their Lord." (3:169).
He stuttered as he was momentarily overcome with grief. The medics in the room respectfully lowered their gaze to the floor, contemplating on the verses of the Quran. One medic quietly rose up to go inform the others of what had happened. In times of war, there is no time for mourning the dead; everything had to continue moving on...
The night was dead and silent. Abdur-Rahman ibn Ali stood near the burial place of the dead general. He looked out over the horizon, staring into the darkness, reciting again and again to himself the 170th verse of that same surah from before. "(They are) Rejoicing in what God has bestowed upon them from His bounty, and they receive glad tidings about those after them who have not yet joined them - that there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve." (3:179).
The crunching footsteps of men approaching could be heard. It was the trio of scouts at last having regrouped. "Sir," Shah, the youngest of them spoke. "We have arrived to report to you our findings and await your orders."
"As for your reports, speak to me in my tent later," Abdur-Rahman spoke, with his back still facing the men. With a steely look of determination in his eyes, he turned to face them and in a stern voice spoke again. "As for my orders, summon the three teams and convey to them what General Isa ordered before his passing."
"Sir you said yourself that it's insane," Shah spoke up.
"You asked me what my orders are. I say to you: get to building and do not falter in following orders. The wisdom in everything isn't always evident to us, until it's too late sometimes. Sometimes logic is a burden we weigh ourselves down with because we don't have the passion to make things happen. Sometimes we are broken, only to be unbroken. So again I say to you, prepare the troops for the three night strategy of General Isa Abu Ahmad. Make haste my brothers, and may Allah Guide us and have Mercy on us all..."
Maghrib: 4th daily prayer of Muslims, performed just after the sun sets.
Jama'a: congregation. Praying in congregation is an obligation upon Muslim males when available unless there is an extreme burden preventing them. The reward for praying in congregation is multiplied many times as opposed to praying alone.