The Shade of Swords: Jihad and the Conflict between Islam and Christianity

By M. J. Akbar | Go to book overview

6

ALLAH! MUHAMMAD! SALADIN!

Almighty God! Let his soul be acceptable to thee and open to him the gates of Paradise, that being the last conquest of his hopes.

[Inscription on the grave of Saladin. He died on 4 March 1193]

It all began with a castration. The story has an Arabian Nights quality to it, but that does not make it a fantasy.

Najm ad Din, head of a prosperous Kurd family of Tovin, in Armenia, had a great friend, a charming man called Bihruz. Charm was both his strength and his weakness. He charmed the robes off the wife of the local emir but had the distinct misfortune of being caught in her company with his pants down. The emir promptly castrated him, and then, probably to make doubly sure, banished him.

Najm ad Din decided to accompany his friend; the two made their way to Baghdad and the court of the Abbasid Caliph Mustafi. To turn misfortune into opportunity reflected the spirit of the times, or at least the spirit of the two friends. Unlike in our very civilized era, eunuchs then were not ridiculed, insulted, prostituted, and ostracized merely because they were devoid of one facility. This absence was even considered a virtue, not merely for jobs that required contact with the family and women, but also in office. Their minds possibly focused better. Bihruz’s infamous charm now brought dividends. He became a chess-playing friend of the Sultan himself. One reward that he received for high office was a castle in the city of Takreet, on the Tigris, north of Baghdad. Bihruz appointed Najm ad Din governor of the castle, and the latter invited his brother Shirkuh to join him in his good fortune.

In 1137 a son was born to Najm ad Din at Takreet, whom he named

-67-

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The Shade of Swords: Jihad and the Conflict between Islam and Christianity
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Preface xiii
  • Introduction xv
  • 1 - Chapter and Verse 1
  • 2 - The Joys of Death: a Bargain with Allah 12
  • 3 - Rebellions in the Dark of the Night 26
  • 4 - A Map of Islam 40
  • 5 - Circle of Hell 52
  • 6 - Allah! Muhammad! Saladin! 67
  • 7 - The Doors of Europe 83
  • 8 - Jihad in the East: a Crescent Over Delhi 99
  • 9 - The Holy Sea: Pepper and Power 113
  • 10 - The Bargain Goes Sour 131
  • 11 - The Wedge and the Gate 145
  • 12 - History as Anger, Jihad as Non-Violence 160
  • 13 - Islam in Danger Zone 177
  • 14 - Jinnah Redux and the Age of Osama 189
  • Glossary 214
  • A Suggested Reading List 218
  • Thumbnail Sketches 228
  • Index 251
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