This books brings to our attention two pivotal events in the history of Muslim ummah; Salahuddin Al-Ayubbi's recapture of Palestine during the Third Crusade from the hands of the Christians, and the invasion of the Mongols which ignited the fall of the Abbasiniyyah dynasty. In short, one about Muslim being victorious and another about Muslim defeat.
I admit I don't know much about Salahuddin Al-Ayubbi, other than him being considered one of the greatest Muslim heroes. Reading this book made me understood why he deserve the respect and reputation. Salahuddin (better known in the West as Saladin) was in a do-or-die mission to defend Islam against the combined forces of the Christian Crusaders. When the Christian army conquered the Jerusalem, the population were slaughtered in the streets and in their homes. It was an opposite scenario when Salahuddin took control. He pardoned the enemy soldiers and allowed them to leave unharmed. This one reason why Salahuddin is revered even by Western historians.
That doesn't mean Salahuddin's soft-heartedness is misplaced. He executed the Reginald (Rayland) of Châtillon because of Reginald's plans to attack the Holy Cities of Makkah and Madinah and wanting to take the body of Rasulullah SAW from out of his blessed grave.
He also was once moved to tears by the plea of a Christian Frank mother whose baby was kidnapped and sold in the slave market. Salahuddin helped the mother until her child was finally found.
In the battlefield, Salahuddin was described as,
... a bereaved mother... who had been deprived of her only child by the cruel hands of Death. He could be seen trotting on his horse from one side of the battlefield to another, exhorting the people to fight for the sake of Allah. He would himself go round all the detachments, with tears in his eyes, asking people to come forth for the aid of Islam.If Salahuddin's story is something we could be proud of, the story of the Mongol invasion is certainly a cautionary one.
The Mongol invasion didn't occur without any blame on the part of the Muslims. It was a time when Muslims had failed to uphold the commandments of Islam and Muslim societies had decayed socially, spiritually, and morally. The Khalifah of the day were paid obeisance by having the subjects put their forehead on the ground, an act forbidden even for Rasulullah and reserved only for the worship of Allah.
And the event that triggered the first Mongol attack was the murder of a envoy of Mongol merchants by Muslim ruler Khwarism Shah. He suspected that there were spies among them, and the surviving members of the envoy immediately went to Genghiz Khan, seeking justice. And justice came swiftly and severely for the Muslims.
What followed was so horrific that even the historical scholars couldn't bring themselves to describe, although they did so in the end, omitting the gory and possibly unnecessary details. (Unnecessary because, in my opinion, it would describing the tarnishing of the honour of many Muslims. In the Shariah point of view, protection of the honour of individuals is a must and an aim.)
But Islam didn't disappear by the swords of the Mongol, or the Tartar people, to be exact. In fact, generations later (in just approximately 40 years) the Tartar discovered Islam and several prominent Tartar Mongol leaders embraced Islam, which included Tuqluq Timur Khan and Tarmashirin Khan.
One important lesson embedded in both stories is the significance of jihad. Many people, Muslims and non-Muslims, understand jihad as waging a holy war against other religions. But this entirely false. Jihad is act of striving in the path of Allah in order to keep Islam alive, particularly in the hearts and minds of Muslims. The Tartar Mongol invasion left many Muslim governments in disarray, but the faith of Islam survived due to the efforts of pious and steadfast Muslims.
Tuqluq Timur Khan embraced Islam after a conversation with Syeikh Jamaludin, a teacher from Bukhara who accidentally trespassed on a land that belonged to him. Syeikh Jamaludin was caught and brought before Tuqluq. Tuqluq pointed to his dog and asked whether the Syeikh thinks the dog or the Syeikh himself is more noble. When Tuqluq learned that Syeikh and his travelling party were Persian people, he insulted them by saying that a dog is worthier than a Persian. To Tuqluq's surprise Syeikh Jamaludin answered, "Yes, if we had not the true faith, we would indeed be worse than dogs." Another source quoted Syeikh Jamaludin saying something similar, "If I pass away from this world with my faith intact, I would be better than the dog. If not, the dog would be better than me." The word faith shook Tuqluq so much that he had to know more about it and in doing so he found iman and Islam.
Salahuddin's role as a Muslim general and defender is an example of jihad in a time when brutal enemies are threatening the sanctity of Islam. It wasn't a time for round table negotiations. Like I said earlier, it was a do-or-die mission.
At the time when Muslims are weaken militarily, as shown in the days beyond the Tartar Mongol invasion, jihad is still a necessity. If the spirit of jihad had died in the hearts of Muslims at the time including Syeikh Jamaludin, even we wouldn't be Muslims today, let alone Tuqluq Timur Khan. Syeikh Jamaludin also defended Islam and his act is definitely an act of jihad. No swords unsheathed and not a drop of blood spilled.
As the current Muslim generation, we need to seriously ponder about our situation, as we are still in the cross hairs of people who wish to see Islam obliterated. The challenges that come our ways appear in many guises. The desire for jihad or the struggle for betterment should be in our heart and the heart of all Muslims.
On a separate note, I wonder if someone at the book's publishing company thought Photoshopping the face of George W. Bush on a picture of a crusader (I think) on the book's cover would be a good marketing idea. I don't know. Maybe. I only noticed it a few days after I bought it. (Is that really G. W.? I don't know.)