Post-classical history



‘Ali ibn Tahir al-Sulami (1039 or 1040–1106) was a religious scholar who taught grammar in the Umayyad Great Mosque in Damascus. In 1105, over the course of several months, he publicly composed Kitab al-Jihad (The Book of the Jihad), a treatise on the jihad that was intended to serve as a call to the inhabitants of the region, and especially to its political leaders, exhorting them to respond to the Frankish offensive.

A number of the enemy pounced on the island of Sicily while the Muslims disputed and competed, and they conquered in the same way one city after another in al-Andalus [Muslim Iberia]. When the reports confirmed for them that this country suffered from the disagreement of its masters and its rulers’ meddling, with its consequent disorder and disarray, they confirmed their resolution to set out for it, and Jerusalem was their dearest wish.

They looked out from al-Sham on separated kingdoms, disunited hearts and differing views laced with hidden resentment, and with that their desires became stronger and extended to whatever their outstretched arms could desire. They did not stop, tireless in fighting the jihad against the Muslims. The Muslims were sluggish, avoiding fighting them and reluctant to engage in combat until the enemy had conquered more than their greatest hopes had conceived of the country and destroyed and humiliated many times the number of people that they had wished. Still now they are spreading further in their efforts, assiduous in seeking an increase in their achievements. Their desires are multiplying all the time because of what appears to them of the Muslims’ abstinence from opposing them, and their hopes are invigorated by virtue of what they see of their enemies’ contentedness with being unharmed by them, until they have become convinced that the whole country will become theirs and all its people will be prisoners in their hands. May God in His generosity frustrate their ideas by the bringing together of everyone and the setting in order of the unity of the Muslim community. He is near and answers prayers.

The most astonishment is [what one feels] at a sultan who takes pleasure in life or remains where he is despite the appearance of this calamity, of which the outcome is conquest by these infidels, expulsion from the country by force and subjugation, or staying with them in degradation and servility, with the killing, capture, torture and torment by night and day that this involves. By God! By God, you community of sultans of this country, and those aides, soldiers and others from the local militia, stalwart auxiliaries and lords recently acquired with wealth and passed as inheritance among yourselves, families and close friends, who follow them [meaning mamluks], go out, lightly or heavily armed, and fight the jihad with your wealth and your selves [Qur’an 9: 41]. O you who believe, if you aid God, he will aid you and make your footsteps firm [Qur’an 47: 7]. Do not fight one another or you will fail and expire [Qur’an 8: 46]. […] Know that God, be He praised, only sent this enemy to you as a trial, to test your steadfastness with it. He, be He blessed and exalted, said, ‘We will test you so that We will know those of you who fight hard and are steadfast, and We will test your experiences’ [Qur’an 47: 31].

Put the jihad against your souls ahead of the jihad against your enemies, for truly your souls are greater enemies to you than your human enemies. So prevent your souls from being disobedient to their Creator, be He praised. You may [hence] succeed in your hopes of victory over your human enemies. Make right what is between you and your Creator, and what is wrong with your current state of being will be made right for you, and your enmity [in your relationship with God] will be reconciled. Tear out your disobedience to God, be He praised, and follow your tearing it out with doing what is right in what you start afresh. It may be that your Lord will destroy your enemy and make you rulers over the world. He may observe how you act and how you conduct that which God, be He praised, ordered your Prophet, may God bless him, and his Companions regarding giving Him priority by carrying out the jihad, and they were endowed with seriousness in obedience to Him and being sincere in fighting hard in the jihad. Among His words, be He exalted, are: ‘O you who believe! Bow and prostrate yourselves in prayer, worship your Lord and do good. Perhaps you will prosper’ [Qur’an 22: 77].

In this way it is obligatory on our sultans and whomever God, be He praised, has appointed to rule us, may God make good their peace-making and guidance, that they emulate those like them who preceded them, according to what was said about that in their religion and what their Prophet, may God bless him, entrusted them with, about which his words, may God bless him, are approximately: ‘Do not snub each other, oppose each other or envy each other. Be worshippers of God in a brotherhood as God, be He exalted, ordered you,’ and other such words of instruction. Helping them and aiding them all that they can, applying their hands and abilities to the cause, and taking on all this burden and toil in targeting this group [of enemies], is obligatory on all the people, be they soldiers, citizens, peasants or all the rest of the people. Even the smallest contribution will be appreciated. They will perform in their jihad many times what people did in their military expeditions to their lands and the lands of the rum, to drive them from there and efface their traces. That is because there are associated with the duties of fighting hard against the enemy many requirements that make insignificant the great number of deeds involved and defy with them the greatness of the terrors that must be faced. Among them is defence of the country of the coast and support of its peoples, who are besieged and fighting with great efforts because they are currently keeping the enemy distracted from these countries, what is near them, Egypt and its environs. From them come our hopes of hastening a victory over the enemy because of what is true concerning [the enemy’s] weakness, the paucity of their horses and equipment and the far distance of their reinforcements and support. That has happened with the help of God, be He praised, along with the calming of concerns about them by the removal of their devouring of worldly riches from what they have taken as booty, the deferred requital accompanying suitable behavior towards them and liberation in this world from the shame of delaying in opposing them and from the disgrace of fearing them.

Source: ‘Ali ibn Tahir al-Sulami. (in press) The Book of the Jihad of ‘Ali ibn Tahir al-Sulami (d. 1106): Text, Translation and Commentary. Ed. and trans. Niall Christie. Crusade Texts in Translation. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, pp. 200–1, 205, 212–13 and 228–9.

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