Empires Of Faith

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Chapter 11: Desert Dreams

Rajab 8, 1663

The sweltering heat was spread like a blanket in the desert. The sky held no clouds; only the shining, yellow lamp burning away any moisture in the dusty, desert air. Slowly trotting along on their horses, Muhammad and Imran travelled through the ruins of past nations, sacked for their treasures and burned to the ground. The two lowered their turban-covered heads and kept going about their business, lest God send a disaster upon them like the peoples of the past.

Their journey was long and gruesome, with no end in sight. Up ahead, along the rocky path there were large mountains scraping at the sky and stretching down the horizon on either side. As the two riders neared their mountainous path, arrows began to fly from both sides. They could see no archers, only dark clouds of arrows raining across the path. They turned their horses around and raced back to the ruins for safety. They knew not who was fighting the war, but they were certainly not a part of it and did not wish to be among its casualties.

Racing through the ruins, the two sought safety behind the mud-brick walls of an old building. "Stay here," Muhammad said to his companion as he dismounted his horse.

"Where are you going?" Imran queried. Muhammad gave no answer. He peaked around the side of the wall and glanced towards the mountains. He still could not see any of the warriors shooting the arrows, but their fighting had not ceased nor was there a decrease in the arrows being fired. Some arrows even began to fly in the direction of the village. Muhammad jumped back behind the wall as an arrow sped straight into the ground near his foot.

Looking across the way to the next place of shelter, Muhammad inhaled deeply and took off running, ducking and dodging arrows along the way. He jumped over fallen palm trees along the path. He climbed up a yellowish stone building and stood on the rooftop, franticly surveying the area. Even from atop the village’s highest viewpoint, he could not spot a single archer on either mountain. Still, the arrows continued to fly back and forth.

Spotting another wave of arrows headed his way, Muhammad jumped down from the roof onto the ledge of a building left barely standing. As the lower building began to collapse, Muhammad somersaulted off of the edge and landed on the ground, immediately rolling over to seek cover behind a pile of rubble. Coming to a halt, Muhammad opened his eyes to see the dark hooves of a horse right before him.

Beside the horse stood a woman dressed in a flowing red gown and a large blue cloak thrown over that, topped with a silky blue hijab covering her hair. "Munirah?" Muhammad questioned as he looked upon his wife. "What are you doing here?"

"Never mind that," she replied hopping on her horse. "We need to get out of here!"

"Right; but I need to get Imran first though."

"Hop on," Munirah said, scooting forward so Muhammad could sit on her horse. He held onto her waist as she pulled the reigns of her horse and set off. Galloping through the village, Munirah and Muhammad drew closer to the wall which Imran had been hiding behind. Seeing Muhammad coming back, Imran hopped on to his horse and made ready to depart.

As the horse stopped just behind the wall, Muhammad dropped down to the ground and immediately hopped back on his own brown horse. "We need to get out of here," Imran spoke. "Those arrows are coming after us too now!"

"Lead the way," Muhammad replied. "You know this area better than me!" Imran kicked the side of his horse, and with a fierce neighing sound, the strong, white horse galloped off. Muhammad and Munirah followed suit. As the trio fled the scene and left behind their shelter, more and more arrows came their way. Imran quickly unsheathed a long curved blade he had and began to swing at the arrows that passed him by.

As fast as they raced, it seemed that the three could not get out of the reach of the arrows. The mountains seemed to be moving closer and closer; and the sand seemed to be sucking the horses down into the ground. There was no escape. Muhammad unsheathed a sword he was carrying and rode beside Munirah to protect her from any incoming arrows. Still, they seemed to be sinking into the sand; the horses were slowing their running. The arrows were getting closer to their targets. Muhammad swung with all his might, combining speed and aim to deflect the arrows from he and his wife.

Alas, his efforts were eventually overcome as an arrow struck the front leg of his horse. The horse toppled over into the sand and Muhammad fell from its side. Rolling over on impact, Muhammad was quick to his feet, wielding his sword. Munirah stopped to give him a ride on her horse, but as the arrows came in faster than ever he had no time to divert his attention from defending her.

Just when he felt his energy depleting, Muhammad noticed the arrows came to a halt as a cloud of dust blew through the valley. Imran came racing back to his side and hopped down off his horse. The two peered into the distance, noticing a tall figure, cloaked in black, approaching. The two men gripped their blades firmly, readying themselves for whoever was coming.

"Munirah," Muhammad spoke in a stern voice. "Get out of here, and do not come back, even if you see us dying or if you see us defeat him. Do not return. Run as far away as you can, we will catch up later In Shaa Allah."

"But what if-" Munirah stuttered.

"Go!" Muhammad commanded as he eyed the approaching enemy. "Fi amanillah*, go!" Munirah offered no further protest. She spurred her horse and set off toward an unknown location. Muhammad turned around briefly to look at her; then he turned back to the approaching figure. It seemed the clouds of dust were following him like servants bent on guarding him.

He grew nearer, now standing only a matter of yards away from them. Their feet were firmly planted in the sand. Their eyes were dead-set on his every movement. His footsteps could now be heard even over the blowing of the desert winds. Hanging from his right side the two noticed what appeared to be a long olive tree branch, and from his left side hung a thorny branch of equal length covered in spikes. They couldn't make out his face, but somehow they knew he held a wicked smile on it. They prepared themselves to attack, and then-

"WAKE UP YA MUHAMMAD," Usama called out. Muhammad sat up inside his tent, seeing the silhouette of his short companion outside his tent. "Hurry up man," Usama spoke. "You're going to miss suhur*."

Muhammad rubbed his tired eyes and reached for a piece of cloth that he then lazily threw over his head to cover his thick, messy hair. He got to his feet and groggily walked outside his tent where he was greeted by the orange glow of a warm fire and the sight of a pile of stones on which his two travelling companions sat. The three horses and one camel were all kneeling beside the fire place; they needed as much -if not more- rest than their human masters.

Imran tossed Muhammad a small piece of bread. "Eat quickly," he advised. "Fajr will be in shortly." Muhammad walked over by the camel and took hold of a small canteen of water he kept hidden in its saddle. He took a sip and began to munch on the bread.

Imran and Usama were engaged in a conversation, something Muhammad was too tired to care about. He blurred them out as his eyes turned to staring into the distance. There was nothing but sand and darkness all around. The same sand and darkness he'd known for months as they travelled through the lands. Thinking back on his dream, Muhammad's mind soon drifted into thoughts of longing for his wife. It had been 98 days since he last seen her beautiful face and his heart ached with every passing moment as he counted the days.

The lovesick look on his face completely gave away his thoughts, and his friends took notice. "Why're you thinking about Munirah again when you should be thinking about fasting for the sake of Allah?" Imran jokingly asked. "This is just like the old days; you're always thinking about Munirah, Munirah, Munirah." Imran and Usama laughed. Muhammad did his best to ignore them. After all, he endured their teasing in the old days when he was just a love-struck teen praying to be with Munirah; so he could handle a few silly jokes now that she was finally his wife.

"You need to calm down man," Usama joked. "We're gonna have to pray Fajr soon and you can't do ghusl* out here hahaha." The two men laughed to the point of almost inaudibility. Muhammad just stared them down with a disapproving look.

"Is this how you prepare for fasting?" he asked. "By making inappropriate jokes?"

"Calm down man, we're just messing around."

"Maybe I'd be a bit calmer if you two clowns would stop messing around so we can get on with things."

"We still have to pray man," Imran interjected.

"I'm not talking about just right now, I mean the past few weeks. Things have been really slow and brought a huge delay in our journey."

"It's okay man," Usama replied. "We'll get there when we get there."

"Yeah man," Imran supported. "We'll get there when Allah Wills. Why're you trying to push things? Haste is from Shaytan,* so have some patience."

"I am being patient," Muhammad protested. "But I'm also concerned about how much time we're wasting taking so many breaks along the way."

"We have to be careful now that we're crossing Kwaadi lands. Look, we understand you're worried about your wife; Usama wants to get back to his family too. But still, you must have a little patience, man."

"That last stop we made wasn't about safety. We stopped because you wanted to go into town and buy some attar*! And I'm not just worried about my wife, although yes, I am very concerned for her well-being. I think the situation with the Muslims we are heading too will only worsen as time goes by. The longer we delay, the worse they will get. At some point they may reach a level we cannot help. We should be hurrying in this journey."

"Again, man, be patient. Are we not fasting today? The desert heat coupled with hunger and thirst makes for an unpleasant journey, especially if you try to rush it."

"That's just it though, we are travelers, we do not have to fast! You two chose to continue on in the Sunnah fasts and I went along with it so as not to be the odd man out. But this difficulty, this burden on us is from ourselves and if the situation becomes dire we are certainly able to break our fasts. So don't use that as an excuse."

"Look," Usama said, cutting in. "It's Fajr time, we shouldn't be arguing. We're fasting now. Let's put the food away and get ready to pray. We can continue our journey after Fajr In Shaa Allah. Soon we'll be in a land where we can rest at day and travel in the night, that'll give us more time for moving and thus we'll be getting along faster. Okay?"

Muhammad sighed. He placed his canteen back on the camel and walked back into his tent. Imran and Usama began to put their things away and get ready to pray. Standing in his tent, Muhammad looked to his resting place. By a bundled sack of clothing he used for a pillow, Muhammad kept a small leaf-wrapped booklet. In it, he wrote daily journal logs to his wife. He knew he couldn't send them back to her as letters, but writing to her kept him calm and eased his yearning. It was almost as if he could talk to her.

Muhammad walked over and sat down by the book. He opened the little green book to make sure there were still empty pages to write on. Certainly, he would be recording his dream later on. And more certain than that, he would be praying for Munirah's safety. He didn't know what, if anything, the dream he'd just had meant; but he felt a little uneasy about it. He'd had a strange occurrence of often running into similarities between his dreams and real life. This fact only increased his worry out on this journey, with these wearisome desert dreams...



GLOSSARY/TRANSLATIONS

Fi amanillah: lit in the Protection of God. Just a farewell saying wishing for the protection of God upon a person departing.

Suhur: The predawn meal Muslims eat before they begin observing their fast from dawn until dusk. While fasting, Muslims are prohibited from eating, drinking, and engaging in sexual relationships for the duration of the fast. One must also try to avoid cursing and thinking evil thoughts, with the aim of controlling the tongue and temper during the fasting hours. Fasting is essentially an attempt to seek nearness to God and increase one's piety, however other benefits of fasting include a deeper understanding and empathy for those less fortunate members of society who do not always have food and drink readily available. Fasting is also viewed as a means of controlling one's desires (of food, drink and sex) and focusing more on devoting oneself to God.

Fasting is just as much -if not more- of a spiritual act of worship as a physical one. It teaches one the principle of love: because when one observes fasting, it is done out of deep love for and devotion to God and to learn self-restraint.

Ghusl: an Arabic term referring to the full body ritual washing ablution required, if the adult loses the state of body cleanness. Ghusl is mandatory for any adult Muslim after having sexual intercourse, sexual discharge (e.g. semen), completion of the menstrual cycle, giving birth, and death by natural causes, among other things. A person cannot pray if they are in a state of impurity and have not done ghusl yet.

Shaytan: Satan. The Devil.

Attar: Body oils, perfume, cologne, etc etc.

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