Read Stories from Islamic History Online

Authors: Nayab Naseer

Tags: #history, #islam, #islamic history, #baybars

Stories from Islamic History (3 page)

BOOK: Stories from Islamic History
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On the departure of the defectors Zayd
remarked: “I am afraid they have done unto me as they did to
Hussain.” On Wednesday the 1st Safar 122 AH (6th January 740 CE)
Zayd and his little army fought bravely and attained martyrdom.

It does not come as a surprise that after
this incident none of the Shiite
s ever attempted an
armed revolt against the



Queen Irene, the regent for Constantine IV,
Holy Roman Emperor was the first to speak. “What you are saying
Naqfoor, is that we rush in with unprepared troops.”

The Papal representative interrupted: “Your
commander in chief Naqfoor has a good point this time. Ever since
your predecessor Heraclus bid Syria goodbye, we have suffered
reverses after reverses in the hand of the Muslims. We all know the
reason behind their success has been first their strong adherence
to the teachings of their Prophet Mohammed and secondly their

Naqfoor took over: “Finally things are
different. Their
Harun al Rashid is besieged by
dissentions and rebellion all around him, and our spies report the
corrupting influence of wine and women finally starting to manifest
itself in Baghdad, I think the time has come to regain some of our
lost territories”

The Queen did not display the enthusiasm of
Naqfoor. “This is nothing new. Time and time we have taken the
offensive, hoping to take advantage of dissension in the Muslim
ranks. But we have seen is whenever they face an external threat,
they temporarily forget their differences, join hands and crush

The Queen had a grasp of history and was a

Naqfoor was unwavering.

He retorted: “I say the time to attack is
now. The power of the Muslims is at the lowest ebb ever since the
offensive began a century ago. Our spies report that Harun cannot
move out of Baghdad, thanks to the rebellion by his half-brother
Jafar. There is serious unrest and disturbances in the provinces.
The Shiites still have not digested the fact that they were used by
As-Saffah, Harun’s great-grandfather to unseat the Umayyad.”

“OK. Go ahead,” the queen said much against
her wishes.

Whether she liked it or not, she could not
hope to survive for long by antagonizing the other two pillars of
the state – the army and the papacy.



“So war it will be. Let’s hope for the best.”
Markus, the governor of Heruclia dismissed the messenger from
Constantinople, and called for his chief aide. He asked him to
instruct all the vicars in the province start exhorting the
villagers to enlist as volunteers.

He turned to Istribriq, Naqfoor’s son, who
was staying with them.

“Your father wants to groom you as the next
commander in chief and as such wants you to lead from the front.
Are you prepared?’

Before Istribiq could answer, Sofia, the
daughter of Marcus, intervened: “The Queen was right in being
reluctant to take up hostilities. The basic problem is our system.
The center has to depend upon the response of provincial governors
and fortress keepers to raise troops, and as such cannot raise an
efficient army at short notice.”

“But this time we are going in well prepared.
Though the formal declaration has come only now, we have been
preparing for some time now” Istribiq replied.

Sofia and Istribiq had become close friends
when the former had been in Constantinople to complete her studies.
A lady of diverse skills and talents, she had a sharp brain, and
could not be taken in.

“I have been studying about Islam, much like
the Queen does and much to the chagrin of the conservatives within
our establishment. What I have deduced that is the secret of their
success lies in believing an unseen, all powerful, all watching
Allah; and upholding a set of virtues and values that make them lay
down life here for reward in the hereafter. They love poverty and
abstinence exactly as we love liquor and sex. They clash with the
mightiest of armies because they believe in divine help.

Christianity too could do the same during its
early days. The Muslims themselves hold our Jesus Christ in high
esteem. They consider him as a Prophet, just like Mohammed, and
always send salutations of peace when they mention his name. They
believe that Jesus or Isa as they call them was send with the same
divine message Mohammed was send with, and that a group among the
Children of Israel did believe in him. What they differ in is that
they believe that he was not crucified, but God raised him to the
heavens, and that he will come before the world will end and
establish the true religion of God. They believe that a group of
Isa’s followers rejected his true message and invented lies that he
was the son of God and the concept of trinity. They also claim the
advent of Mohammed as a Prophet is mentioned in our Torah and
Injeel and that we are obliged to follow him.

Whatever be the case, as of now our followers
have begun to run after worldly interests, and have nothing to give
by way of material spirit. The day the followers of Islam also
start thinking about the pleasures of this world, we shall be on
equal footing, and then the mightiest army and the best tactician
will win. Until that time, war with them is suicidal.”


Later in the evening, as Sofia and Istribiq
made their usual stroll through the cliffs of the shore, Istribiq
said: “I think what you say is the right thing, Sofia. But I am a
solider, and I cannot turn my back.”

“And I would despise you if you did.” Sofia

After a brief period of silence Istribiq
managed to let it out “Will you marry me?”

Sofia had no such qualms in answering. “I
will marry a man who is successful, and knows what he is doing. I
have certain values and principles, and if I see the same in a man,
I would like to marry him.”

After some time she added “I know you very
well, and you are a good friend of mine. You have many qualities
that I spoke of. Let the war end, and if you are successful, I
shall indeed be happy to marry you.”

The next day Istribiq bid farewell to Marqus
and Sofia and began preparations for war, which started soon
enough. Naqfoor started the offensive with a troop of one lakh, but
most of who had never seen action.



Harun Al Rashid opened up two fronts, one led
by Qasim who proceeded to Qarrah, and the other led by Abbas ibn
Jafar, who proceeded to Sana. Qarrah was taken by Qasim, and Sana
was under siege. Naqfoor divided his army into two. He first
regained Qarrah, and then joined the second division proceeding to

Taking advantage of the absence of the
commander in chief and the army in Constantinople, the nobles
started a plot to overthrow Queen Irene. Naqfoor took ten thousand
soldiers with him and returned to Constantinople, leaving Istribiq
with the task of repulsing the besiegers of Sana.

Now Harun al Rashid opened up a third front
under Ibrahim bin Jibreel, who proceeded to Constantinople itself.
Naqfoor gave Ibrahim the slip and reached Constantinople. Fifteen
valuable days were lost to quell the rebellion, and then Naqfoor
set forth to Sana again.

However Ibrahim was waiting.

In the ensuing battle, Naqfoor was routed and
his army annihilated.

At Sana, Istribiq had encircled Abbas ibn
Jafar. Had he attacked at that time, victory was certain, for Abbas
was sandwiched between Istribiq and the garrison at the fort.
Istribiq wavered, partly overawed by the situation and partly due
to a lack of confidence in his abilities.

This hurt, not only him, but his cause as

Qasim, having abandoned Qarrah had been fast
approaching Sana. Very soon Istribiq found himself sandwiched
between Abbas and Qasim. It was a case of the besieger being
besieged, who in turn was besieged. Very soon Ibrahim had also
entered the scene.

The chief of the fort, fed up, took the
offensive for battle. But against the combined might of Qasim,
Abbas and Ibrahim, neither he nor the tepid Istribiq could do much.
By the time Naqfoor, now a commander without an army reached
Istribiq’s camp, the rout was complete.

Istribiq and Naqfoor became fugitives
overnight. They managed to reach Constantinople undetected, but
their joy was short lived, for they were greeted with the sight of
the mightiest Muslim army the Byzantines had ever seen knocking on
the gates of Constantinople.

Queen Irene sued for peace, which was granted
on payment of heavy tribute and surrender of Sana and a major
portion of Asia Minor to the



Naqfoor simmered for revenge.

He bode his time and made a proposal to the
Queen to violate the treaty and renew hostilities. The Queen put
her foot down and Naqfoor left the palace in rage.

Back in Marcus’ palace, Sofia had heard of
Istribiq’s tepidness which had been instrumental in turning the
tide against the Byzantines.

“Do not darken this doorstep again.” she
screamed and virtually threw him out. But darken the doorstep he
did, the very next day, along with his father.

For the next month the governor’s palace at
Heruclia was a beehive of activity with messengers and chiefs
coming and going, and discussions and parleys going on till the wee
hours of the morning. It was not until the trio of Marcus, Naqfoor
and Istribiq finally proceeded to Constantinople, backed by a
sizable number of feudal lords that the full details of the
conspiracy became evident.

The Queen was holding court as usual when
Naqfoor stormed in. Before anyone could utter a word he proclaimed
“Queen Irene, regent to our Holy Roman Emperor, having made a
treaty of peace and friendship with the heathens is unworthy to
rule. I hereby declare her deposed. I am now the regent of our

“Get out,” the Queen shouted.

But when nobody bothered to hear her words
and as one by one the nobles began to swear their allegiance to the
new incumbent, the full implication of the coup struck the Queen.
Naqfoor had toppled her, to save whose throne he had earlier dashed
in, abandoning Sana. Before the hourglass turned, the Queen was
settled in her new home in the dungeons, her final home in this
world before rodents clawed away the life out of her body.

The swearing in of the new dispensation was
delayed only until the papal bull arrived. The marriage of
Istribiq, the new commander in chief and Sofia was conducted on the
same day. It needed more than plain guts to resist the proposal of
the regent and the commander in chief of the Holy Roman Empire,
which had the backing of her father in any case.

No sooner had Naqfoor settled down in the
throne than he decided to resume hostilities.

He wrote a letter to Harun al Rashid:

From Emperor Naqfoor of the Roman Empire to
Harun al Rashid

“May it be known to you that it was a queen
who formerly ruled this empire. She was worthless enough to loose
the war and agreed to pay huge cash sums as tribute for two years.
Now a strong man of fireproof iron will rule the empire, who knows
how to deal with such cheap kings as you. It is in your interest to
return all monies already received. If you refuse we are ready to
clash swords and you will know how much you are worth in the

Within days of dispatching the letter it came
back. On the back, something was scribbled. The courtier read it

Amir al Mu’minin kalifah
al Rashid

To the Dog Naqfoor of Constantinople

Oh infidel! You will see our reply shortly.
Keep your eyes open.”



“May God grant us victory and keep the Holy
Roman Empire safe.” Sofia was in tears as Istribiq readied himself
for the battle.

“Promise me you will come back safely.” Sofia
was in tears.

“I will.” So saying Istribiq strode away.

The one lakh army under Istribriq penetrated
as deep as Maisiya, but only to be routed left and right by
Harun al Rashid entered the field in
person, and to counter him, Marcus and Naqfoor did likewise. The
battle did not end until both Marcus and Naqfoor were taken
prisoners, and the black banner of the Abbasids flew over the
governor’s fort of Heruclia, the very residence of Marqus, Istribiq
and Sofia. There was now nothing in the way of Harun al Rashid and

Naqfoor was given the most humiliating of
terms, which included a heavy tribute and surrender of almost all
Asia Minor, Heruclia included to the Abbasid
. Among
the prisoners of war, the male combatants were killed, the
non-combatants ransomed off, and the women taken in as slaves.

Istribiq searched in vain for Sofia. No one
knew what happened to her or where she went. Days turned into
weeks, and weeks into months. Istribiq turned despondent. One day,
as he took a pensive evening stroll, he heard clamor outside the
palace. One Sylvania, a former maid of Sofia’s palace was arguing
with the guards to let her in. Istribiq called her in.

“Oh master, after the war at Heruclia, you
forgot about the maids in the palace. They were all taken as
slaves, and Sofia is one of them. I managed to escape, and after a
fatiguing journey, here I am to give the news.”

No sooner had Istribiq informed Naqfoor of
this matter, than he called for his scribe and began writing:

“From Naqfoor, the emperor of Constantinople
al mu’minin
Harun al Rashid, the
believer of Allah and the Prophet of Islam, may Allah bless him,
and grant him peace.

Allah has made you the most powerful ruler on
earth. I appeal your great self to help me in a little matter –
very little for you but very great for me. My daughter in law Sofia
Angelica was captured during the war, and reports have reached me
that she is in the prison there, at the very palace where her
father was once the governor. Please return her to me and this will
put me in lifelong obligation.”

BOOK: Stories from Islamic History
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