By Tariq Mehanna

The Best Arrows | Part I

Photo described by Tariq

Photo described by Tariq

I received the latest issue of Time magazine today. There is a photograph on the sixth page titled ‘The Protector.’ The caption of the photograph reads: ‘An Egyptian woman stands in the path of a military bulldozer as it bears down on a wounded man near the Raba’a al-Adawiya mosque during deadly skirmishes in eastern Cairo on Aug. 14.’ I would not do it justice to describe it in words, but under the caption, it’s indicated that you can view the photo at Please have the photo displayed before you while reading this article.

The Muslims being gassed, shot, and burned to death by secularists today in the streets and mosques of Cairo, Alexandria, and elsewhere are being targeted for just one reason: Islam. And what is happening is not but the latest in a series of events stretching far back into Egyptian history, which is replete with the stories of men and women whose lives revolved around guarding Islam and confronting its enemies. History gives context, and now is as good a time as ever to reach into it and highlight some relevant milestones along the path.

As the ‘protector’ in the photograph is an Egyptian woman, we likewise begin with an Egyptian woman – one who lived thousands of years ago:

* “O Allah! If you know that I believe in You and Your Messenger, do not let this kafir harm me!” These were the words with which Sarah supplicated as she stood in the captivity of a pagan Egyptian king who had taken her from her husband, Prophet Ibrahim. When he stepped forth to grab her, he suddenly went into a seizure. He became so terrified that he not only released her, but also gave her a female servant as a parting gift – an Egyptian woman named Hajar. Hajar eventually gave birth to Isma’il. Ibrahim took Hajar and Isma’il to a then uninhabited Makkah, and left them. As he turned to talk away, Hajar called out to him: “Where are you going, leaving us in this valley with nobody and nothing?” He kept walking, without responding. She then asked: “Did Allah command you to do this?” He responded: “Yes.” Hajar, alone with her son in a strange, desolate land far from her home in Egypt, gave a most amazing response that few today could sincerely give: “Then Allah will never abandon us.” Shortly thereafter, Jibril appeared and confirmed this to her: “Do not fear abandonment. There will be a House of Allah here that this boy will build with his father, and Allah does not abandon His people.” Indeed, Ibrahim returned years later to join Isma’il in building the Ka’bah in whose direction we now pray five times daily. This Egyptian woman is thus the ancestral mother of all the ‘Adnani Arabs, including the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon them all).

* Generations later, a Prophet found himself detained in the depths of an Egyptian prison. Yusuf one day turned to his fellow inmates and explained to them in a clear, calm, and reasonable style: {“I have renounced the way of those who don’t believe in Allah and deny the Hereafter, and I follow the way of my forefathers – Ibrahim, Ishaq, and Ya’qub. It is not for us to associate any with Allah. This is from Allah’s grace upon us and mankind, but most people are ungrateful. My fellow prisoners! Are multiple masters better, or Allah – the One and Mighty? Those you submit to besides Him are merely names fabricated by you and your fathers, without any authorization from Allah. Indeed, all rule is for Allah. He has commanded that you submit to none but Him. This is the right way, but most people are unaware.”} (12:37-40) The core of Islam was thus summarized in what is the sole Qur’anic depiction of da’wah in prison.

* Generations later, in the eastern Egyptian deserts of Sinai, another Prophet found himself standing at the sacred valley of Tuwa. Allah was speaking directly to Musa, sending him on a mission to confront the greatest taghut of the times, Fir’awn. Musa admitted to his Lord that he was afraid (20:45), but Allah reassured him that he had nothing to fear. He went to Fir’awn, spoke to his face, delivered the message clearly (7:103-105, 20:47-56, and 26:10-28), then secretly led the Muslims out of slavery and out of Egypt. When they reached the dead-end at the seacoast and saw Fir’awn’s army closing in on them, Musa’s companions fearfully exclaimed: “We are going to be overtaken!” (26:61) Notice how Musa had developed, as it was now him doing the reassuring: “No! Rather, my Lord is definitely with me and will guide me.” Sure enough, the sea miraculously split before their eyes, and Musa led them through. Fir’awn and his military tried to follow them through the sea, but were instead drowned into an eternity in Hellfire. Musa finally made it safely across the sea, back to the Sinai (where, ironically, 700 American soldiers are currently based).

* Generations later, one of Hajar’s Arab descendents (peace be upon him) turned to his Companions and said: “You will conquer Egypt.” This is an authentic hadith of the Prophet, in which he then said: “When you conquer it, treat its people well, as they have a right of protection and kinship.” The kinship here is the ancestral tie to Egypt through Hajar. Egypt was at the time a province of the eastern wing of the Roman Empire. A decade later, ‘Amr bin al-‘As showed up and brought it under the khilafah of ‘Umar. The jizyah was paid, and the very first mosque on the African mainland was built near Cairo, at the apex of the triangle formed by the Nile Delta. Egypt soon became one of the strongest centers of Islamic knowledge – a hub for scholars and worshippers. ‘Uqbah bin ‘Amir was the Companion who had the most influence on Egypt in terms of knowledge, and Egyptians loved him and learned much of the Sunnah from him. It also became one of the most favored bases for the Mujahidin of the Salaf. The great Imam al-A’raj (the close companion of Abu Hurayrah) said: “The best coastline at which to perform Ribat is that of Alexandria,” and Sufyan bin ‘Uyaynah once said regarding Alexandria: “It is the quiver of Allah in which He places His best arrows.”

* Generations later, Egypt found itself in the grip of the pagan Fatimid dynasty. It was none other than Salah ad-Din al-Ayyubi who came in from Syria to put an end to their rule, returning Egypt to the fold of the khilafah. It returned to being a center of knowledge for the Muslim world – for example, Ibn Kathir mentions that Salah ad-Din himself once travelled from his home in Cairo all the way to Alexandria to visit the scholars there and study with them the ‘Muwatta” of Imam Malik. It also returned to being a base for the Mujahidin – it was from Egypt that Salah ad-Din set out with his army for a series of expeditions against the Crusaders, which he began by shattering their forces at Hittin (ironically, on the 4th of July, 1187), continued by retaking the cities of Acre, Tyre, Beirut, Sidon, Nazareth, Nablus, and Ashqelon (all within a three month period), and ended by dealing them the ultimate blow: taking back Jerusalem after they’d occupied it for 88 years. Egypt was now considered the champion of the Muslim world against the Crusaders.

* When Richard the Lionheart set out for the third Crusade three years later (1190), he considered capturing Egypt in order to break Muslim power before trying to retake Jerusalem. By the time of the fifth Crusade (1217), this became official strategy. King Andrew departed from Hungary and set out for Egypt at the head of a coalition which included French, German, and Italian Crusaders. They landed at the city of Dimyat, and faced a Muslim force that was so weak that, according to Ibn Kathir, “they at times even offered to return Jerusalem to the Crusaders, as well as all of the coastal cities that Salah ad-Din had taken back, in exchange for their withdrawal from Dimyat. The Crusaders refused to do this. Allah then Willed for their supplies to run out. Supply ships were sent to replenish them, but these ships were overtaken by the forces of the water (i.e. the Nile’s floods), which then flooded Dimyat from every side. The Crusaders lost control of their own forces, and the Muslims laid siege to them until they squeezed them to the tightest parts of the city. At that point, they were inclined to unconditionally surrender.” Had they agreed to the initial offer, the Crusaders might have gotten Jerusalem. But in the end, they were kicked out of Egypt and returned to Europe with nothing.

* Thirty years later (1249), the French again headed towards Egypt for the sixth Crusade. Again, they arrived at and quickly took Dimyat, followed by the nearby city of al-Mansurah. And again, the tables would soon turn against them. Ibn Kathir wrote that “on Wednesday, the third of Muharram, the great commander Turanshah shattered the Crusaders at the frontlines of Dimyat, and killed 30,000 of them. Some say he killed 100,000. They also acquired plenty of war spoils, thanks to Allah.” He then mentioned a striking detail: “Those who were taken prisoner included the French king and his brother” – Louis IX! King Louis was detained at the Dar Ibn Luqman prison in al-Mansurah. Chains were put on his legs, and he was held until he was able to pay a hefty ransom. Only then was he allowed to leave Egypt and return to France in humiliation. Louis was traumatized by this defeat even twenty years later, when he set out from France for yet another Crusade (1270). But this, too, would end in failure. Soon after he landed at the northern coast of Africa, a plague spread through his army which killed him.

* While Egypt was being invaded by Crusaders from the West, it was simultaneously facing an even more brutal threat from the East. The Mongols were at this time in the middle of expanding what was to become the biggest land empire in history, and they were the most savage conquerors in history. The specialty of the Mongols was siege warfare. Ibn Kathir said that “they killed so many Muslims and non-Muslims, in so many lands – old and young – that they cannot be ennumerated. In general, they wouldn’t enter a land except that they killed every fighter and man in it, and many of its women and children. They plundered what they needed, and burned what they didn’t need. They would even pile up the silk that they couldn’t carry with them and set fire to it, watching as it went up in flames. They would ruin homes, and would burn whatever they couldn’t ruin by other means. They would burn mosques more than anything else – may Allah curse them – and they would use Muslims they had taken prisoner as soldiers and human shields with which to besiege others. If these fighters proved unskilled, they would kill them.”

He then quoted another historian, Ibn al-Athir, who actually lived to see what the Mongols had done and wrote about it at great length: “These Mongols did things not heard of in the past or the present. Imagine, a group emerging from the outskirts of China, and it doesn’t even take a year for some of them to reach the borders of Armenia from one side, and they cross over Iraq by way of Hamdhan. By Allah, surely those who come after us will see such events recorded in history and will refuse to believe them, and couldn’t be blamed for this. Whoever denies it should look to the fact that I and every historian of this era have written the same details at a time in which everyone knows what happened.” He also said: “One would not be exaggerating to say that since the creation of Adam until now, the world has not been afflicted with their likes… These people did not leave anyone – they killed men, women, and children. They cut open the bellies of pregnant women and killed the fetuses inside.”

He then went on for a number of pages detailing their takeover of territory all the way from northeast China to the western borders of Syria. Look, for example, at how Genghis Khan entered the city of Marw (Merv, Turkmenistan): “The Mongols then headed for Marw with Genghis Khan. Nearly 200,000 fighters consisting of Arabs and others were camped around it to defend it. They fought fiercely until the Muslims were beaten.” They then “laid siege to the city for five days, and gave its governor a false promise of safety. When he came out, they betrayed him and the people of the city. They killed them, plundered them, enslaved them, and subjected them to various forms of torture. All in all, they killed 700,000 human beings in a single day.”


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