Tuesday, July 12, 2011

LOVE FAITH CHIVALRY - Abd al-Qadir al-Jazairi, Pickthall, Sherif and the little town of Alkader, Iowa, USA

BRAVE HEARTS. In my earlier posting, I mentioned the book, “Brave Hearts”, a short little book by M.A. Sherif giving a brief but poignant overview of the lives of Marmaduke Pickthall and St. John Philby (See Posting entitled 'Book connects us all - Lat. Marmaduke Pickthall and Yusuf Ali", Click Here).

SEARCHING FOR SOLACE. My first encounter with the writing of M.A. Sherif was in his touching biography of Yusuf Ali, the eminent translator of the al-Quran (like Pickthall), entitled “Searching for Solace”. Yusuf Ali’s Quranic translation was however, perhaps more accessible to my young mind then, with footnotes and a poetic introduction to each Chapter of the holy scriptures. What I remember of the autobiography was my profound surprise, as to why someone so gifted and inspired as Yusuf Ali, had so much family problems which deeply affected his life. Ten years on, and having been through my own stumbling and dramatic 30s, I am not so surprised. This is simply life, and often the bitter mixes with the sweet… only to magnify the sweet. God be Praised.

SAID THE FISHERMAN. I am only in the early part of Brave Hearts, but already I am moved to read in the book an excerpt from Pickthall’s first book which brought him some fame, entitled “Said the Fisherman.” In the book, as recounted by Sherif, was a story which illustrated the rescue of French nuns in Damascus by the Algerian mujahid Abd al-Qadir al-Jazairi, in the face of an angry Muslim mob, baying for blood, rape and revenge. From the view of his main character in the book, Said, this was what Pickthall wrote…
Abd al-Qadir al-Jazairi of Love, Faith & Chivalry
“The mob…set to work once more. “To the French convent!” Someone shouted. “Let the nuns be ravished and then slain!” The cry was taken up on all hands with laughter and coarse jibes…those in front hammered at a strong door (of the convent)…All at once there was a backward movement. Another panic got hold of the crowd. A cry, “The soldiers!” was again raised…A small troop of armed men rode up to the door of the monastery. They were seen plainly for all, towering as they did on horseback above the seething mass on foot. Most of them rode with their chargers at the foremost, who drew back in alarm, while a few, among whom was the leader, dismounted and entered the convent, the door of which was promptly open to them.

A mighty roar went up from the multitude.
“It’s Abdul Cader!” – “May Allah preserve his Grace!”-“He goes to take vengeance upon his enemies!”-“It was the French who wronged and imprisoned him, though he fought them brave as a lion!”-“He is come to claim all the French nuns for his harim!”-“Allah is just!”-“May all the Franks perish, and their women be dishonoured!”-“Long live the might of Islam!”-“May Allah preserve Abdul Cader, the glory of the Faith!”

But the applause was turned into oaths and howls of rage when the hero and his officers reappeared, escorting with respect a train of black-robed nuns, each with the obnoxious cross shining on her bosom. The horsemen closed around them as a bodyguard, the leaders sprang to their saddles. Then the fury of the crowd broke all bounds. The coolness of the rescuers as they rode away had a point of contempt which stung the rout to madness, raging like a winter-torrent, the crowd surged forward in pursuit. The horsemen were constrained to a foot’s pace, having regard for the women in their midst. The mob was close upon them. Stones and other missile began to whiz through the air. Of a sudden the whole mass swayed back, every man jostling his neighbour.

Abdul Cader had turned his horse about and was sitting motionless, his eyes ranging sternly over the sea of turbaned heads and swarthy, malignant faces. A last stone, flung at random from the heart of the throng, struck his arm and mad him wince. He raised his hand to his tarbush, commanding silence. An awe-stricken hush spread like a breath over the crowd. This man was the established idol of the populace. He was the greatest living hero of Islam, and at heart they gloried in his intrepidity.

“What is this, O my friends?” His voice rang out clear and measured. “Will you provoke the wrath of Allah against this city? Will you anger Him so that He turn away His face from us for ever? It has been told to you how I have fought for Islam - ay, and borne imprisonment and exile for our holy Faith. But I tell you I would rather be the meanest Christian slain this day in the sight of Allah than one of you whose hands are red with his blood. Shame on you, Muslimun! Shame on you, I say! Would to Allah I had gone to my grave ere ever this day dawned for the faith!”

He gazed for a moment, on the silent crowd, then, turning, set spurs to his horse and cantered away. But the foremost, among whom was Said, saw that his eyes glistened…”

ELKADER, IOWA, USA (Population (2000 census) 1,645). The connection between the past and present is often forgotten. And do many Muslims and even American know this? – That the small town of Elkader, Iowa, USA was named after him by the founders, Timothy Davis, John Thompson, and Chester Sage – in honour of his chivalric struggle against the French invasion of Algeria in 1830, before his defeat and exile to Damascus.

If we would only scratch the surface of history a little, and ignore the one-eyed one-sided speeches of bigots from all faiths, we would find a golden chain, linking good souls, many from different races, religions and nationalities, but linked inexorably by a thread that can never be severed – the connection of the Heart and the Conscience. And did I say ‘defeat’? Abd al-Qadir will never be defeated so long as his shining example lights the history of humanity with Love, Faith and Chivalry (Futuwat)… a blessing to all humanity, a blessing to all faiths.

Have a happy day, sunshine. Now that I have found this little gem of history, I am contented. I must visit this tiny community of Elkader one day. And to my brethren, to my co-religionists who claim to be Muslims, let me share with you a little advice I received only moments ago -

If you, as a Muslim, are not a blessing to people of all faiths, then TRULY, you have not done your duty! And let the bandits of today who disguise their madness and despair in the cloak of 'jihad' and 'Islam' bear witness that we see through their deceit! We reject them utterly.

Elkader, Iowa, USA
Spread the word.

Pax Taufiqa.

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