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Category Archives: Writing

Elegant Mashups: Sword Song

So my brilliant writerly friends (who let me hang out with them sometimes) play a game in which we take two books, pick a sentence from each at random, and then attempt to connect the two in some semblance of sense.

It is a tremendously challenging exercise as a writer, all the more so when the skills-bar is raised so high.  We don’t know what it’s called, so I’m calling it an Elegant Mashup.


This week, we mashed Bernard Cornwell’s Sword Song, a historical fiction set in 9th and 10th century Britain- together with two Islamic books, Lost Islamic History and The Prophet’s Methods for Correcting Peoples Mistakes.

So without further ado, here are some of the results. The passages in bold are taken verbatim from the books selected, and everything in between is where the fun happens. 😀


First Blood

downloadBut as Islam fell in this western outpost, it was just starting to be revived in the East, where the Ottomans would reintroduce Islam to Europe and preside over a new golden age.

They would enter by invitation- as the locals knew long beforehand of their character, their honesty, and the desperately needed goods they brought. They were experienced merchants as well as men who feared their foreign God, even if they seemed to have no respect for ours.

At first, the Druids went nearly rabid trying to convince the townsmen to expel them, crying omens of darkness and the inevitable doom that the Turks would bring. We believed them, the same way we believed that tea leaves spoke truth and stars spoke for the dead, but our town was hungry. Our trade was dying. Our marketplace was empty, so we welcomed the Turks.

Gods, our gods, fell strangely silent when they came. The omens ceased and the ranting quieted, maybe because gods like a full belly and a pinch of salt too. Even gods need to eat I suppose.

But not all of the Turks feared their God, or our gods, or any God it seemed. One day a group of the Ottomans took up the very arms they had come to sell us, and blood was spilled on the newly cobbled road of the marketplace.

They fought one of our clansmen and took his home. They slew his sons, and from his daughters, they took liberties.

Sword_Song_coverThe rest of the merchants- the Ottoman strangers, took to arms up too- but against the rogue merchants. We stood with them, shoulder to shoulder, sword to sword and shield to shield, outside of the captured longhouse. I stood there too, with fire in my stomach and fear in my heart. Because Aethelflaed, sweet Aethelflaed, to whom I had made an oath, was a captive. 



The Freed Slave

Sword_Song_cover“How else can they send a messenger to the dead?” Ethelwold asked. His palms were damp but he could hide them. Just as he could hide the knots in his stomach. Ethelwold was almost sure Jason couldn’t see the panic inside him. Almost.

“The dead are not a threat to us,” Jason said, not hiding the disdain in his voice. “It’s those fool slaves, the ones who cry by the river.”

Ethelwold’s stomach contracted in fear. He had brought them food yesterday, bread tied flat against his belly and chest. He had chosen the darkest part of the night, and they had been too weak to be overjoyed. But they had whispered their thanks.

In a moment of blinding certainty, Ethelwold had pulled the scarf away from his face. Who had he to fear? Only Allah. Now, standing across from Jason, he struggled to remember who his real Lord was.

downloadHadn’t he, a few weeks ago, snuck across the valley and stood watching them? “I’m part of you,” he had wanted to say. But he’d held his tongue, making himself content with what his heart felt.It was actually the finest spectacle ever witnessed of Muslims leaving their homes, praying, acclaiming Allah’s Name.



The Rightful Claim

41J94FHmOgL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_“Were people to be given according to their claims, some would claim the wealth and blood of others. But the burden of proof is upon the claimant, and the taking of an oath is upon the one who denies an allegation.”

The old man’s face, brown and thin, housed eyes so earnest that I couldn’t hold his gaze for long lest my own resolve falter. I nodded gravely. “Thank you Ustadh. Your forebearance is a lesson upon which to reflect.”

I turned to my men. Hungry and bare, hair matted and bared, their eyes glittered. I counted their faces. Still twenty remained.

Of them, how many could be counted on to hold a sword, to wield a knife? Yusuf, Moiz, Qamar… perhaps ten. Maybe fifteen of them whose limbs now crowded the ship’s stern would stay their ground in a fight.

Not enough to take the garrison, not if we went straight in. But if we split into two, and half the mean went in from above while half set fire to the ships?

My mind was made up. With all deference to the Ustadh, we would stake our claim.

Sword_Song_cover“Let’s go ashore,” I said, “And take a city.”

Because it was time to fight.





“There are two gates,” I said, “One leads directly into the old Roman fort, the other goes to the marketplace.”

I gestured towards the heavy oaken door bound with strips of steel hammered, no doubt, from the broken swords of fallen Turks. Iskandar gave no indication that he had seen my signal

In the darkness I shifted carefully, so that the sound of my armor would not betray our presence to the guards. I found Iskandar’s eyes, in the half shadow beneath his visor staring vacantly at the wall itself.

There, hanging no more than a cubit’s height from the ground, hung a man. Rather, it used to be a man. Now it man-shaped collection of desiccated flesh, clinging to bone bleached from the sun and sinews putrid from its heat.

In the gentle pre-dawn breeze, it creaked slowly back and forth on the rope that suspended it.

How strange, I thought, that they should have hung him in his armor. Armor was precious, and the Turkish craftsmanship was so far superior to our poor saxon vests that our bandits wore their pilfered armor without any modifications at all.

If they left this man’s armor on, it was because they wanted it seen.

The wind rose, and the body turned to face us. Even without eyes, his face was still recognizable. No other man had inspired so much respect in the village, or commanded so much admiration in its people.

It was Saeed. Saeed Abu Iskandar As-Saleh. Turning slowly in the breeze.

Iskandar roared, and the very air trembled with his fury. I remember, very clearly, the thin metallic scrape of his sword being pulled from its sheath. He leapt onto the low wall itself and began clawing his way up to the Saxon guards who stood dumbstruck at its top.

41J94FHmOgL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The ignorant person needs to be taught, the one who has doubts needs to have things explained to him, the negligent one needs to be reminded. The one who willfully persists in error needs to be warned.


me and my headstrong heart

So what’s up with the heart anyway? A pure one is hard to find, and though there are plenty of decent ones, they tend to develop spots after a while. People try to use the heart as a metaphor for your true self or sincere desires (follow your heart?) but what they don’t realize is that the heart is not a compass. It’s more like a headstrong puppy on a leash that pulls you in whatever direction in wants, whether or not it’s the right one. Sometimes it goes the right way, but other times it wants to run out into the street into traffic because it smelled something interesting there. Bad heart, sit. I said sit!

Your brain and the heart vie for control, the brain being the more logical of the two. The brain is more like a compass, granted, it’s not perfect, but at least it can think where the heart only feels and living on your emotions is illogical. What you feel today is not what you’ll feel tomorrow, and the person you were completely in love with ten years ago who made you vow you’d never love again… you forgot their name. That’s because your brain is smart enough to move on. Good brain. *pat pat*

So not everyone has such good brains, but then, almost no one has an entirely good heart, so you’re still better off using your brain instead. Say you’re presented with two glasses of yellow liquid that look exactly the same. One’s lemonade and the other’s bathroom cleaning acid. Which one do you drink? The one you *feel* most right about? Or the one that smells lemony while the other smells caustic? One glass is pleasantly cool, the other one has gotten hot because the acid is starting to corrode the cup. You use your brains and pick the lemonade, hooray!

So the brain’s smarter. Yeah, the heart’s more in tune to emotion, but is emotion always a good thing? Emotionally speaking, you may want to punch the person who’s stabbed you in the arm, but logically, you realize it’s a doctor and that was a vaccination. Or you may want to talk to the woman who winked at you, but you realize she’s a prostitute. Yeah, you may feel attracted to her, but you logically know the moral, ethical, and health problems associated with such a liason.

So emotion is both good and bad and you’re stuck relying on your brain, no matter how squishy it is. You realize that na? So why is how you feel about religious devotion such an important thing? Why is it that if you sit down for zhikr and you don’t feel that Masha’Allah-SubhanAllah kinda feeling, you feel like there’s no point for you to do zhikr? I mean, what’s an act of worship without sincerity right? Ah, but where does sincerity come from darling, surely sincerity is not exclusive to the heart.

If sincerity is the perfect harmony of your intentions and your actions, then know that intentions are made in the brain, whether or not the headstrong puppy on the leash agrees where they should be going. After all, he wants to sniff trees, not jog. You want to go to the masjid, he wants to cavort with dogs. It is hard to train your heart, and even the most well-disciplined heart will sometimes turn whimpering away from the brain’s goals, but the brain must battle to keep it under control. This battle being a righteous struggle makes it a Jihad.

It is, in fact, Jihad-e-Nafs- the struggle to bring the self in line with the righteousness we logically know as compared to the unrighteousness we longingly feel. A sincere act of worship is one with sincere intentions, and having made the intention to do something for the sake of seeking God’s pleasure, the struggle to get that Masha’Allah-SubhanAllah kind of feeling does not take away from the experience, but only adds.

It is the same case with reading the Qur’an, a person who recites perfectly and without error earns blessings, but a person who struggles and reads with difficulty, possibly even making mistakes, they get double the blessings. One set for the act itself, and one set for the struggle. A person to whom zhikr comes naturally will be rewarded, but a person who sits down and makes themselves do zhikr even when the heart is whining that it wants to watch tv, they will be blessed more in proportion to the effort it took them.

There may be some people in this world to whom religiousness is a second nature the same way that some people are just born athletic. The rest of us though, being neither athletic nor spiritual, have to train harder, push ourselves farther to get to the level of performance that we seek, and the reward for our struggle is greater than that of their effortlessness.

Rejoice in the struggle, for there are blessings in the tears.