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Book: The Shade of Swords: Jihad and the conflict between Islam and Christianity
Author: M.J. Akbar
Routledge, New York, pp. 272

Excerpt from jacket:

The Shade of Swords traces the origins of Jihad in struggle against oppression that was part of the earliest consciousness of Muslims. Traveling across centuries and continents, from the triumphant rise of Islam under the Prophet Muhammad to the depression of defeat in the First Crusade, through the renewal of Saladin to the rise and fall of the Ottoman and Mughal empires to the raw passions of Afghanistan and the Indian subcontinent, M.J. Akbar’s gripping story explains how Jihad thrives on complex and shifting notions of persecution, victory and sacrifice. The conflict between Islam and Christianity began from the time of the Prophet himself and as acquired myriad shapes over fourteen-hundred years: in doctrine, dialectics, literature, culture and of course on the battlefield, from the fall of Jerusalem to the Caliph Omar in 637, to the presence of British and American troops in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2002. The anger visible on the streets of the Muslim world today is fueled by a perception of injustice and exploitation by the West. Akbar observed in an essay written just after the collapse of the Soviet Union: ‘The West’s next confrontation is definitely going to come from the Muslim world. It is in the sweep of Islamic nations from the Maghreb to Pakistan that the struggle for a new world order will begin.’

Excerpt from Book:

Narrated Abdullah bin Abi Aufa: Allah’s Messenger (May Peace Be Upon Him) said, ‘Know that Paradise is under the shade of swords’

From the Book of Jihad in Sahih al Bukhari

In the beginning was a miracle and the miracle was a word: iqra. Read. Read, said the angel of God, Gabriel, and the literature Muhammad began to read the word of God out to the world in an enchanting prose that was later compiled and called the Holy Quran.

Islam was twice-born. The Christian calendar begins with the birth of Jesus, but the Muslim calendar begins its journey not from the birth of the Prophet, or the day of the revelation, but from the moment of survival, the Hejira, or the migration of the Prophet from Mecca to Medina along with his devoted companion Abu Bakr, a friend who also became a father-in-law when the Prophet married Aisha.

The Quraysh, his tribe, persecuted the Prophet when he announced his revelation; and when he sought refuge in Yathrib, soon to become famous as Medina, they wanted the life of this kinsman who promised to destroy idol worship in the Kaaba and thereby hurt the lucrative benefits of the pilgrimage. The Quraysh sent an army, between nine hundred and a thousand strong, led by the best nobles, to, in the words of the most formidable Muslim-baiter, Abu Jahl (nicknamed by Muslims as the Father of Folly), destroy . . . him that more than any of us hath cut the ties of kinship and wrought that which is not approved’. The Muslims, some three hundred strong, took position at the well of Badr, blocking the water from the advancing Quraysh. Battle was joined on the seventeenth day of Ramadan, and some indication of the apostle’s anxiety is evident in this story. As he prayed to Allah, the Prophet cried out: ‘Oh Allah, if this band of Muslims perish today Thou will not be worshiped any more’. Muhammad the slumbered, and when he awoke he was reassured for he had seen Gabriel holding ‘the rein of a horse and leading it. The dust is upon his front teeth’ (the quotations here are from The Life of Muhammad, a Translation of Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, ed. by A Guillaume, Oxford, 1955).

After victory, Muslim soldiers insisted that angels, in white turbans, had come to their aid in a battle in which they were heavily outnumbered; believers to this day are convinced they will receive Allah’s help in the midst of battle. Stories of Badr are part of the Islamic inspiration.

Table of Contents:

1. Chapter and verse

2. The joys of death: a bargain with Allah

3. Rebellion in the dark of the night

4. A map of Islam

5. Circle of Hell

6. Allah! Muhammad! Saladin!

7. The doors of Europe

8. Jihad in the East: a crescent over Delhi

9. The Holy Sea: pepper and power

10. The bargain goes sour

11. The wedge and the gate

12. History as anger, Jihad as non-violence

13. Islam in danger zone

14. Jinnah Redux and the age of Osama


A suggested reading list

Thumbnail sketches

A relevant calendar