Chapter 33: Memories of Conflict
29 Sha’baan, 1663
“Tell us another story,” young Abdur-Rahman cheerfully requested of his grandfather, Abbas. The two, along with a pre-teen Nizaam, had gone hunting for quails in a large field area just outside of the village. With his bow and several arrows, Abbas had managed to catch two quails within an hour’s journey. Things had gone smoothly thus far and it was time to return to the village so that the birds could be plucked and prepared for a meal. In the mellow tone of things, Abbas had decided to share with his grandsons some of the wisdom he’d learned over the ages.
“Alright then,” the old man chuckled, stroking his gray beard in consideration. “This is a story of a man walking through a jungle. As he went about his way, a roaring lion ran towards him, and the man ran as fast as he could to escape from it. He noticed a well in front of him and he jumped inside, hoping to escape from the lion. As he was falling inside the well, he grabbed onto a rope and saved himself. The man was quite relieved, but when he looked down he discovered a large snake at the bottom of the well. It had its jaws wide open, ready to swallow him up. The man then looked up and saw two mice near the rope. A black mouse and a white mouse were both chewing into the rope. Meanwhile, the scary lion was still prowling outside the well. The man’s heart was pounding as he wondered how he could escape from this. Then he noticed a honeycomb in front of him, which had sweet honey dripping from it. He stuck his finger into the honey and put it inside his mouth. It was delicious, and for a moment he forgot about the lion, the snake and the two mice chewing at the rope.”
“Did he ever get out?” Abdur-Rahman asked. Abbas looked to the boy with a smile, and he did the same to Nizaam, who’d also been carefully following along. Nizaam raised an eyebrow as if to ask the very same question. Abbas gripped the walking stick in his hand and took a few more steps, remaining silent to leave them to ponder for themselves. The two looked to one another and shrugged before marching on up ahead to their grandfather’s side. He smiled and carried on speaking.
“Imam Al-Ghazali explained that the lion is like the Angel of Death, which is always looming over us. The snake was like the grave, which all humans will inevitably face. The black mouse and white mouse were like the day and night, which are always nibbling at our life, the rope. The honey was like this Dunya, which, with its momentary sweetness, makes us forget the death and the eternal life afterwards. So now you tell me, did he ever escape? Will any of us ev-”
“Well now,” a raspy voice spoke out from the tall vegetation that surrounded the path. “What do we have here?” The shrubs were separated as six youths emerged onto the path, all holding sticks and stones. Their clothes were of blues and reds, tattered and torn. Their complexions were tanned from the sun, some darker than the others. The baldness of their heads and the accent in which they spoke were dead giveaways; these were Kwaadi boys.
“Looks like a couple of dust-faces,” one of the darker Kwaadi boys sneered. The foremost of the boys, tall and lean with a few missing teeth, stepped forth. He crossed his arms and looked down on Abbas and his grandsons. Abbas glared back, while inconspicuously guiding his grandsons to stand behind him. Abdur-Rahman worriedly grabbed onto his side, while Nizaam only gripped the bow he was carrying in his hands.
“What are you doing out in Kwaadi lands?” the lead boy asked Abbas. “You dust-face Muslims don’t belong here.”
“These lands are unclaimed,” Abbas answered back, his voice strong but nonthreatening. “We have every right to be here.”
“Hm, is that so? That wasn’t part of the agreement.”
“There is no agreement.”
“Precisely. So then what’s to stop me and my companions from bashing your skulls in and doing away with you for good? Your God?”
“If He wills to protect us, He will and no harm can befall us. If He allows harm to come upon us, there is none to protect us but Him. La hawla wa la quwwata illa billah*.”
“What does that even mean?”
“Maybe it’s an insult,” one of the other boys suggested.
“Or a prayer,” another added.
“Is that it, old man?” the lead boy asked Abbas. “You praying? Begging for mercy? Hmph. Figures you lowly dust-faces would be so foolish to pray to someone you can’t even see. Meanwhile here I am right in front of you. I should thrash you just for not using your logic to ask me for mercy rather than your God. But I shall be kind to you this day, as I pity you and your mental delusions. Hand over your catch, and your equipment, and we will allow you to go about your way.”
“We will never submit to yo-” Abdur-Rahman began, leaning out from behind his grandfather’s back and waving his little fist. He was hushed by the gentle hand of Abbas, earning a chuckle from the thuggish youths. His wide eyes looked up in shock, seeing the gentle face of his grandfather had become stern. When he looked to his brother, he saw Nizaam gripping the bow tighter, looking to Abbas for an answer on what move to make.
Abbas signaled for him to lower the weapon, and he himself eased his grip on the walking stick in his hand. He reached for the sack which had been slung over his shoulder; a sack containing the two quails he’d captured. He tossed them over to the adolescent thug, who looked at him with a haughty grin. Next, Nizaam reluctantly handed over the bow in his hand and the two remaining arrows along with it. The thugs even had the gall to demand Abbas hand over his walking stick, which he obliged to.
Abdur-Rahman was left gawking at how easily Abbas and Nizaam gave up their belongings. The Kwaadi youth erupted in laughter and tribal chants, signaling other members hidden in the fields. Five of the boys turned back and headed into the shrubs. The lead boy remained behind for one last comment. “Smart move, old man,” he jeered. “I suppose you’re not as foolish as the beard makes you look. If only you didn’t believe in fairytales and myths you’d still have your food and your hunting equipment. But hey, why don’t you all return to your home and pray to your God to feed you? No need to hunt right? Hahaha, you are a people of nonsense.”
With no further remarks to make, the boy headed back into the fields after his companions, leaving Abbas and his grandsons alone on the path. Abbas tightened his fists in anger, before letting out a heavy sigh and relaxing slightly. Nizaam stood by his side, letting him rest his hand on his shoulder for aid. When Abdur-Rahman questioned why he’d given into the demands of the Kwaadi youth, Abbas returned to his gentle manner and looked to the boy with a smile. “Because,” he said. “Those things which they took were from the honey in the honeycomb, and I did not want myself and my grandsons to fall to the snake because of a few insects messing in our honey.” With that, he took Abdur-Rahman’s hand and the three continued on their path, leaving the honey to hold on to the rope just a little longer…
“And what happened next?” Puedam curiously asked his companion as they trekked through the snow. It had been a long day and to pass the time the two had decided upon sharing stories from their pasts. Abdur-Rahman continued marching, his feet numb from the blistering cold of the thick snow. He scratched the back of his neck and paused a moment to think.
“I can’t remember,” he answered back. “My memories still haven’t fully returned.”
“Hmph. Well then, I suppose it’s my turn. Though I must say I am surprised your grandfather did not stubbornly refuse in the hopes that if he died he’d be in your fantasy heaven. Guess he wasn’t so full of foolish faith after all, eh?”
“You’re wrong. He did have faith; that much I remember. Being faithful doesn’t mean diving headlong into danger without reason. As believers we’re taught that God gave us brains and logic so that we could reason and think before we act. Besides, it would be wiser to do what you can to remain living and do good deeds to please God and earn His mercy to be able to enter Heaven, as opposed to getting killed assuming you’re guaranteed a spot there already. What a tragedy it would be to be slain by miserable looters in this life only to meet a worse end in the next.”
“Hmph, miserable looters, eh? Well it isn’t as if your people are always peaceful.”
“I suppose you were exposed to the conflicts as a youth?”
“Not in person, no. But…”
It was a calm, peaceful day in the lively town of Kwonnun. The lush fields of green were fertile as ever; streams of fresh, sweet water ran through. The sun was perfectly placed right above the town, keeping the icy waters from freezing over and thawing out the glaciers and heaps of snow from the surrounding mountains. The town was exuberant and festive, with a celebration being held in honor of another successful mission in the western lands.
Prime Minister Ekaf Eman had just returned from a meeting with the high priest in one of the more distant lands. They’d struck a deal concerning the conflicts with the Kwaadi nation and their Christian neighbors. Using his wits and the vast wealth at his disposal, he’d managed to buy the allegiance of yet another adversary. As a part of the negotiations, the Christians of that land would not openly practice their religion; their Churches would be closed or converted into museums of study as opposed to religious institutions. There would be no preaching from any clergymen; the rulers would govern by an agreed upon set of secular laws known as the Secular Pact of Human Dignity, (SPHD); and all warriors and monks would retire their practices and pursue civilian occupations. In return, the Kwaadi Nation would provide them with material wealth, sending foods and goods of various means in a monthly expense. It was of little consequence to the wealthy Kwaadi Nation, and they would benefit far more from now having a nation of secular, subdued Christian subordinates than one of faithful and rebellious Christian enemies.
“Eman my good man,” a wealthy nobleman greeted the prime minister as he welcomed him into the luxurious palace located in the town’s very center. “What an excellent return. Redael knew well to assign you to the task. Persuading those religious nuts is like your natural gift.”
“Yes indeed,” Ekaf chuckled with pride, placing his hand over his puffed out chest. “When I first agreed to strike a deal with them to end the conflict their peoples were shouting chants of Glory be to God. When I left they were chanting praise of Kwaade’s fairness, glory to ways of man.”
“It really is amazing work you do. How does one deal with the primitive minds of such lowly, deluded fools without losing sense himself? They are fools in their beliefs and they are fools in their dealings. I predict that within mere months we shall have their lands and their allegiance to Kwaade, with no traces of their so-called faith remaining in their hearts.”
“Months? Shall I undertake another expedition so that we may have their hearts within weeks?”
“No, no, my good man, you’ve done well enough. They’ll come around when it is time. Besides, it’s those bothersome Muslims and their battles with the Jews that are our next worry. We need to put a stop to that before the violence dampens our business means in the region.”
“True enough; how do you suppose we go about it?”
“Well prior to this most recent turn of events with the Muslims gaining the upper-hand, the Jews were like an ally to us. They neither opposed us nor did we openly oppose them, as Kwaade had given them amnesty as a respected heritage for the time being. Now, however, with them battling those barbaric Muslim tribes, they attack and plunder our caravans for supplies so that they can fight the Muslims. We are losing profits and more importantly respect and governance in the region. The question is, as you said, how do we go about getting that back?”
“Hm, yes. We could send in an army to aid them against their enemies, however that would give the impression that we actually support their people and, in turn, support their beliefs. That would ultimately prove to be hindering to our cause, so let us dispose of the idea. Perhaps though, perhaps it needn't be us sending them the aid."
"What do you mean?"
"In both the Jewish beliefs and these Christians beliefs the Jews are the so-called Chosen people of their God, right? So why don't we use that to our advantage? Rally these already subdued Christians and convince them of a need to defend their God’s ‘Chosen’ people against the barbaric Muslims. Let them send soldiers and aid to fight them and drive them from the land. We will attain a double success, as these Christian folk will take our ‘sincere concern’ for their values and beliefs to be a sign of our loyalty and acceptance and would then be more inclined towards obedience and loyalty to Kwaadi rule, as would the Jews who would be indebted to them and by virtue of our advising, us. Just as well, our original purpose of gaining further control and expanding our rule would also be served.”
“Glory to your clever mind, Ekaf,” the nobleman praised him. “Redael will have high praise of you once he hears of this plot; and even Kwaade himself may bestow upon you a great reward, should it prove a successful stratagem.”
“Yes, I- just a moment.” Ekaf paused his conversation upon seeing his young son, Puedam, casually strolling over. The young boy was dressed fancifully in the traditional colors of red and black, with his golden hair cut low to his head. He held a sullen look on his youthful face, his beady eyes fixed in a blank stare. By all means he was a spoiled child, getting almost anything he wanted. Still, for whatever reason he’d felt particularly unhappy that day, even with the return of his father.
“Greetings father,” he spoke, his voice respectful and proper. “I trust your trip was safe and well?”
“Yes, my boy,” Ekaf replied. “Now what is it that you want?”
“Mother sent me to stand at your side and learn from you the values of life and merit of logical wisdom.”
“Ah, did she now? Rather unfortunate timing; I am preoccupied at the moment. You will have to learn another day.”
“She told me to stay by your side and learn from your speech, your logic, and your understanding. To remain silent and not interact, neither by questioning nor answering nor obeying any orders of dismissal until I have learned something.”
“Wily one, isn’t she? No matter, hush up and listen; we are discussing a very important matter. You see, as members of the Kwaadi nation, we understand the value of our logic and human reasoning. We understand that through the works of our minds and not by some fantasy faith, that the world can be fixed. As you well know, there are people outside this great nation who hold onto primitive beliefs of some mythical deities who govern and control this world; thus when harm befalls them they accept it and when they come upon good they praise and thank these deities and do not value their own accomplishments. In the past, and even to this day, many a war have been fought with the intention to make this god or that god, this religion or that reign supreme. Even in these times when the world’s resources are low, these mongrels would rather pursue war and bloodshed over beliefs, than cast aside their differences and work to preserve the greatest entity that has existed on this planet: mankind. With our superior brains and logic, there is no doubt as to why we have survived the ages, whilst many species have perished in extinction. Our minds, our logic and reasoning are the greatest tools on this planet, but unfortunately those who hold on to religion and the ways of the past cast that aside for their faiths and beliefs. The world is kept in darkness because of this. We, however, are the solution. The great mind of Kwaade has determined that we shall be like a phoenix; that our nation will burn the world and start anew with a peaceful, more enlightened world view. The end of religion will be the end of wars, for it is religion that divides the people. It was religion that allowed races to enslave one another and dehumanize them; it was religion that allowed women to be degraded and held as second-class; it was religion that allows men to go to war with their fathers and their brothers, striking one another to the death over an ancient belief. Alas, no more. We are a people of reason, and so we shall bring peace through clever wisdom and reasoning.”
“Indeed,” the nobleman added with a nod. He patted young Puedam on the shoulder to grab his attention. “Your mother was wise to send you to listen to your father. He is one of our most clever minds, you know? Why, the very reason for the celebration this day is to honor his triumphant return upon persuading one of the distant branches of the Christian empire to yield to our rule. Our nation expands daily because of men like your father working hard at bringing sense to these religious nuts.”
“Yes well, some nuts are a bit harder to crack,” Ekaf stated in a very matter-of-fact tone. “Those stubborn Muslims are causing conflicts all over.”
“It amazes me that they can be such a trouble even whilst in varying factions with no head. Who is even leading them in these schemes and atrocities they commit? And more importantly, how can we put a stop to an enemy with no main head? They are scattered tribes and clans enacting various unpredictable plots all over. Even when we exterminate one clan or village, yet another rises and they attack seeking to avenge these so-called martyrs. How can we ever rid ourselves of these people?”
“This is true. Our expenses are wasted and in some areas the Kwaadi people are threatened and their economies impacted by the cost of combatting these Muslims. They’ve become more than just a nuisance like they were before. Now they pose even more harm to us than these Christians and their empire, even though they are the largest as of yet. I think perhaps we must toss aside the peaceful attempts at reasoning and persuasion; bribery and political schemes will not work with these folk, nor will covert offenses led by others. Instead, it seems time we make an outright attack upon them.”
“Won’t that tarnish our ideals of ‘peace’ and nonviolent conflict resolution? The people would turn away from us and reject our principles.”
“No, not if we claim it was in self-defense. If we are able to create a circumstance in which we appear the victim of Muslim aggression, it would only be logical that we raise an army and defend ourselves as the champions of peace. We will wipe them out with one swift strike, destroying the very religion itself.”
“And how would we do that?”
“We will attack the faith in their hearts by removing the physical elements from this world. If they fail to see logic and understanding because of their beliefs, we will eradicate them and any traces of their religion.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Simple: we shall destroy their shrine in that miserable little desert. No more Ka’ba means no more worship, right? And no more worship means no more belief. We’ll do away with the Muslims once and for all; thereafter we will have easy pickings with the rest of the religions. We’ve already got so many under our thumbs and some have already become nothing but a mere mention. If all goes well, I predict that within half a century we shall have a world free of conflict, free of divisions, and free of religion. The Kwaadi nation will be the only nation. How excellent is our clever planning! How excellent indeed...”
“Just how is this an example of Muslim aggression?” Abdur-Rahman asked his companion. “This just proves more Kwaadi hostility and scheming. The irony is, in planning such a foolish attack, your people gave the Muslims of the world something to unite for and created an even more fearsome foe, thus elongating the conflicts and pushing away your so-called peace ideals.”
“Quiet you,” Puedam scolded him. “Had your people not been so problematic the Kwaadi would have held to our ideals of peace and there would not have been a continuing of bloodshed. It was because of you Muslims and your inclination towards violence and conflict that things spiraled out of control and the years of war resumed.”
“Muslims have no such inclination towards violence. Islam is a religion of peace.”
“Then why does it mean submission?!”
“Because only through submission to the Will of God, our Creator, can one attain true peace. Peace within himself, peace within his community, and peace within the world. What could be violent about a religion in which God says to the believers, ‘And do not make mischief in the earth after it has been set in order, call on Him (God) with fear and hope; surely the Mercy of God is near to those who do good (to others). (7:56)”
“Hmph,” Puedam snorted. “That’s what you believe, eh? Then what about me? I don’t believe a word of that, so now what does your religion say about that?”
“‘To you be your way, to me be mine.’(109:6) If you want to believe something I think is wrong, go for it.”
“And what if speak against you?”
“‘And the servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth in humility, and when the ignorant ones address them (with bad words) they reply only, “peace,”’ (25:63).”
“Then…then explain the fighting.”
“We are allowed to defend against aggressors and oppressors, no? Even you would have to agree with this.”
“Well, what if there is no aggression? Then how can the Muslims fight anyone?”
“Simple, they can’t. ‘So if they remove themselves from you and do not fight you and offer you peace, then God has not made for you a cause [for fighting] against them.’ (4:90)”
“How do you even remember all of this, and yet you still can’t remember major parts of your own life?”
“Allahu ‘Alam; perhaps it’s yet another Blessing from Him that I’ve retained the most beneficial memories.”
“You don’t care about remembering your own life, and yet you consider it well that you remember the words to some so-called divine scripture? I cannot comprehend the logic of you people.”
“Everything isn’t about human logic. True, we believe our mind is a great thing, certainly a blessing from God. Our ways of reasoning and understanding are truly marvelous. But those shouldn’t lead one away from belief but rather guide them towards it. Just in the miracle of life itself, in the beauty and order of nature and all existence, there are Signs from our Creator.”
“Really now? And why haven’t I seen any of these so-called signs?”
“Because they are a reminder and a sign for those who think, those who reflect, and earnestly seek understanding. You readily dismiss belief and stick to the limitations in your own mind, your so-called logic.”
“That’s because there’s no proof for anything else! No reasoning. Even with these so-called signs.”
“My friend, beyond the signs and reminders, which are so blatantly clear, there is something else called faith. This faith and belief in the unseen make up a very crucial part of the test of this life.”
“Hmph, I nearly forgot you folk believe in some so-called afterlife.”
“Yes. This life is but a test. In the end, we all die. Then we will be brought back to life. Then we will be questioned about what we used to do, on the Day of Judgment. Then we will be entered into Heaven or cast into Hell. This is-”
“Yes, yes I know. Those are your beliefs and I’m not interested in hearing any more. Enough memories and enough preaching. Let’s just continue our journey please.”
“Very well then,” Abdur-Rahman replied with a friendly smile, covering up the disappointment inside. As Puedam turned his back and continued on, Abdur-Rahman shook his head and followed suit. The icy cold winds blew on pass, howling in bitter anger. The ice crunched beneath their feet as they marched on in silence, their tales of memories only being memories of conflict…
La hawla wa la quwwata illa billah: There is no might nor power except (through) Allah.