Oranges in the Mountains

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

People are most likely to change their religion in early adulthood.  This would be from about eighteen to twenty-five.  And such people are also very vulnerable to radicalisation.  The young always want to change the world without realising that they have to change themselves first.  And that is why it is very important for a new convert to have a support network ready to steer them away from these fancy ideas.

I knew this guy once who converted in his late teens.  He had barely converted when he was caught up in this talk about re-establishing the Caliphate.  This was the period when Imran Hosein was the flavour of the month in the Muslim talk circuit, the Americans were threatening to invade Afghanistan and some entity called al-Qaeda had allegedly committed mass murder in the name of Islam.  The Muslim community was understandably restless.  We had no idea what was going on.

At this point of time, he had barely learned to read the Qur’an, let alone understand it.  A learned friend put him in his place: “Learn the Qur’an before you talk about jihad.”  In this, he was rather fortunate in that he had someone to talk to him.  He wanted so much to be a mujahid, fired up by romanticised stories of Khalid ibn Walid (r.a.) and Swalah ad-Din al-Ayyubi (r.a.).  And he was not alone.  This was fertile ground: zeal, youth and ignorance.

A short time later, he migrated to Australia to study.  He met amongst the people of the Muslim community there, a real mujahid - an old man who fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan before leaving to settle down in Australia.  When they met, this old war horse was already a grandfather with a slight limp caused by an old bullet wound.  I was fortunate to be with him when this old warrior told his stories.

He told this one story of a group of young men who answered the call of jihad to liberate Afghanistan from Soviet occupation.  They went to Afghanistan by way of Pakistan’s tribal region.  There, they spent days learning nothing but the Qur’an and the ahadits.  There was no weapons training, no tactics, nothing else.  Some of them began to get restless and they left before they were actually allowed to join the fight.

On the way to the front, they were caught in a valley by Soviet Hind gunships whilst traveling in a truck carrying oranges.  The truck cab was blown and they were trapped in a cold valley, in high altitude, surrounded by the enemy.  They had nothing to eat but oranges.  And these oranges had started to spoil.  Some had more oranges than others.  And there were tensions.  Eventually, the tension became violence and they began to fight each other for food, or because of some perceived slight.  That gunship only killed the two people in the cab. The Russian soldiers in the mountains never came.  These young Muslims, who wanted to be mujahidin, killed each other for oranges.  Only a few of them survived.  From the way the story was told, I gathered that the story-teller was one of them.

The lesson was brutally learnt.  We cannot fight the lesser jihad, if we fail to conquer the nafs of the greater jihad.  They wanted to free a land but failed to free the self from the oppression of their desires.  Their knowledge was incomplete.  And this is how terrorists get young Muslims, including converts to commit terrible deeds in the name of Islam.  These foolish young and not so young men have no knowledge, no spirituality and no relationship with the Divine.  Which god are they fighting for?

Imam as-Suyuthi (q.s.) said that Hafizh al-Khathib al-Baghdadi (r.a.) related in his Tarikh on the authority of Jabir (r.a.) that the Prophet (s.a.w.) came back from one of his campaigns saying, “You have come forth in the best way of coming forth: you have come from the lesser jihad to the greater jihad.”

They asked, “And what is the greater jihad?”

He replied, “The striving of Allah's servants against their lower desires.


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