<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> E A S T AND WEST<BR> When Muhammad ibn Abdallah first heard the word of <BR> God in or around the year 610, he had no intention of <BR> founding a world empire.<BR> He was not even sure he was sane.<BR> “Wrap me up!” the forty-year-old merchant said, shivering <BR> miserably as he crawled up to his wife, who threw a cloak around him <BR> and held him, stroking his hair as he wept. He had been meditating <BR> in his usual cave outside Mecca—a luxury afforded him by marriage<BR> to a rich widow fifteen years his senior—when the angel <BR> Gabriel appeared, threw him into a painful, ecstatic trance, and spoke <BR> to him the words of God. Muhammad was terrified that he was <BR> going mad and contemplated throwing himself off the mountain. But <BR> the voice kept coming back, and three years later Muhammad <BR> began to preach in public. Gradually the message emerged: the faith of <BR> Abraham and Jesus was the true faith, but it had become corrupted. <BR> There was one God, and He demanded Islam—complete surrender.<BR> This was bad news for the rulers of Mecca, who had grown fat <BR> on religious tourism to the city’s 360 shrines. Mecca had sprung up <BR> around a palmy oasis in the Hijaz, the baked barrier of mountains <BR> that stretches along the Red Sea coast of the Arabian Peninsula. Its <BR> authority radiated from the Kaaba, the square, squat sanctuary at <BR> its center that housed the Arabs’ chief idols. Every year hordes of <BR> pilgrims emerged from the desert, descended on the holy precinct, <BR> and circled the stone cube seven times, straining to kiss each corner <BR> before the press of bodies pushed them back into the whirl. Over <BR> time one tribe, the Quraysh, had orchestrated their guardianship of <BR> the Kaaba into a stranglehold on Mecca’s commercial lifeblood, and <BR> at first Muhammad’s revelations were aimed squarely at them. The <BR> greedy Quraysh, he accused, had severed the egalitarian threads of <BR> Arab society; they had exploited the weak, enslaved the poor, and <BR> neglected their duty to care for the needy and oppressed. God had <BR> taken note, and they would all go to hell.<BR> What infuriated the Quraysh was not so much Muhammad’s <BR> talk of the one merciful God, or even his claim to be God’s mouthpiece.<BR> To the north a kingdom of Christian Arabs had existed for <BR> centuries, and in the Kaaba itself the figures of Jesus and Mary stood <BR> proud among the idols. Jewish migrants to Arabia had been<BR> influential for even longer; the Arabs considered themselves the Jews’ <BR> fellow descendants of Abraham, through his firstborn son, Ishmael, <BR> and many identified their high god with the god of the Jews. In <BR> Muhammad’s time poet-preachers perpetually roamed the deserts, <BR> exhorting their tribesmen to renounce idolatry and return to the <BR> pure monotheism of their forefathers. Nothing could be less <BR> controversial; what was uniquely intolerable was that Muhammad was <BR> an insider. His family clan, the Hashemites, was a minor branch of <BR> the Quraysh. He was a respected businessman and a small but solid <BR> pillar of the community, and he had turned on his own kind.<BR> The Quraysh tried everything from bribes to boycotts to <BR> discredit the troublesome preacher, and finally they turned their hand <BR> to midnight assassination. Just in time Muhammad slipped out of <BR> his house, evaded the blade, and fled to a distant oasis settlement <BR> that would become known as Medina, the City of the Prophet. <BR> There, as his following grew, he implemented the radically new <BR> society he had only dreamed of in Mecca: an ummah, or community <BR> of equals, united not by birth but by allegiance, bound by laws that <BR> gave unprecedented rights to women and redistributed wealth to <BR> the neediest. As the revelations continued, he began to believe that <BR> God had chosen him not just to deliver a warning to his tribe but <BR> to be a Messenger to humanity.<BR> For his message to spread, he first had to reckon with Mecca. <BR> Eight years of ferocious wars with the Quraysh bloodied the <BR> establishment of Islam. At the darkest hour, his face smashed up and <BR> smeared with blood, Muhammad was dragged from the battlefield <BR> by one of his warriors, and only the rumor that he was dead saved <BR> the remnants of his army. The ummah’s morale was crushed, and <BR> it was about then that Muhammad made his fighters a promise that <BR> would echo through history. The slain in battle, it was revealed to <BR> him, would be swept up to the highest level of Paradise: “They shall <BR> be lodged in peace together, amid gardens and fountains, arrayed <BR> in rich silks and fine brocade. . . . We shall wed them to dark-eyed <BR> houris.”<BR> The Muslims—“those who submit”—clung on, and clinging <BR> on against the odds itself seemed a sign of divine favor. The <BR> decisive moment was not a battlefield victory but a spectacular public<BR> relations coup. In the year 628 Muhammad unexpectedly appeared <BR> before Mecca with a thousand unarmed pilgrims and asserted his <BR> lawful right as an Arab to worship at the Kaaba. As he solemnly <BR> performed the rituals, while the Quraysh stood sullenly by, the <BR> rulers of Mecca suddenly looked more foolish than invincible, and <BR> opposition began to crumble. In 630 Muhammad returned with <BR> massed ranks of followers. He once again circled the sanctuary <BR> seven times, intoning “Allahu akbar!”—“God is great!”—then <BR> climbed inside, carried out the idols, and smashed them to pieces <BR> on the ground.<BR> By the time he died, two years later, Muhammad had pulled off <BR> a feat that no other leader in history had even envisaged: he had <BR> founded a flourishing new faith and an expanding new state, the <BR> one inseparable from the other. In little more than a year the armies <BR> of Islam crushed the Arab tribes that held out against the new order, <BR> and for the first time in history the Arabian Peninsula was united <BR> under one ruler and one faith. Driven by religious zeal, a new found <BR> common purpose, and the happy alternatives of vast spoils in life or <BR> eternal bliss in death, God’s newly chosen people looked outward.<BR> What they saw were two superpowers that had been doing their <BR> utmost to obliterate each other from the face of the earth.<BR> For more than a millennium, East and West had faced off across <BR> the River Euphrates in Mesopotamia, the fertile land long known <BR> as the cradle of civilization and today home to Iraq. On the eastern <BR> side was the illustrious Persian Empire, the guardian of an ancient, <BR> refined culture and of the world’s first revealed religion, the <BR> monotheistic faith of the visionary priest Zarathuster—a faith known <BR> after his Latinized name, Zoroaster, as Zoroastrianism—that told of <BR> creation, resurrection, salvation, apocalypse, heaven and hell, and a <BR> savior born to a young virgin centuries before the birth of Christ. <BR> Led by their great shahanshahs—“kings of kings”—the Persians had <BR> been the inveterate foes of the Greeks until Alexander the Great had <BR> smashed their armies. When Persia’s power revived, it had simply <BR> transferred its hostility to the Greeks’ successors, the Romans. The <BR> ancient struggle was the formative East-West clash, and in 610, just <BR> as Muhammad was receiving his first revelations, it had finally <BR> exploded into total war.<BR> As waves of barbarians ran riot around western Europe, the <BR> emperor Constantine had built a new Rome on Europe’s eastern brink. <BR> Glittering Constantinople looked out across the Bosporus, a strategic <BR> sliver of water that leads from the Black Sea toward the Mediterranean,<BR> at Asia. Ensconced behind the city’s impregnable walls, <BR> Constantine’s successors watched helplessly as the Persians swept across <BR> their rich eastern provinces and headed toward holy Jerusalem. Long <BR> ago the Romans had razed Jewish Jerusalem to the ground, and a <BR> new Christian city had risen over the sites identified with Jesus’s <BR> passion; Constantine, the first Christian emperor, had himself built the <BR> Church of the Holy Sepulcher over the purported places of Jesus’s <BR> crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. Now, to Christian anguish <BR> bordering on the apocalyptic, the Persians carted away the True Cross on <BR> which Jesus was believed to have died, along with the Holy Sponge <BR> and Lance and the city’s patriarch, and left the Holy Sepulcher <BR> smoldering and hollowed out against a blackened sky.<BR> On the brink of oblivion, the Romans struggled back and <BR> emerged triumphant, and Persia imploded into civil war. But the <BR> victors, too, were exhausted. Roman cities had been laid waste and <BR> were overwhelmed by refugees, agriculture had been blighted and <BR> trade had ground to a halt, and everyone was heartily sick of the <BR> crushing taxes that had paid for imperial deliverance. In a time of <BR> churning Christian controversy, most damaging of all was <BR> Constantinople’s remorseless drive to enforce its orthodox version of <BR> Christianity across its lands. Having first fed Christians to the lions, <BR> the Romans had turned to persecuting anyone who refused to toe <BR> the official line, and across a large swath of the eastern Mediterranean,<BR> from Armenia in the north to Egypt in the south, Christian <BR> dissidents were far from unhappy at the prospect of a new regime.<BR> With breathtaking bravado, the Arabs attacked both ancient <BR> empires at once.<BR> In 636, eleven centuries of Persian might ended in a bellowing <BR> elephant charge near the future site of Baghdad. “Damn this world, <BR> damn this time, damn this fate,” Iran’s national epic would rue, <BR> “That uncivilized Arabs have come to make me Muslim.” Islam’s <BR> path opened north to Armenia, northeast to the Asian steppes <BR> bordering China, southeast to Afghanistan, and onward to India. That <BR> same year, an Arab army crushed a vastly larger Roman force at the <BR> Battle of Yarmuk and annexed Syria, where Saul of Tarsus had been <BR> converted on the road to Damascus and where, in Antioch, he had <BR> founded the first organized Christian church. The next year Jerusalem<BR> was starved into submission and opened its gates to the new set <BR> of conquerors, just eight years after the Romans had triumphantly <BR> restored the True Cross to its rightful place. The faith-torn city was <BR> holy to Islam as well as to Judaism and Christianity, and centuries <BR> of struggles between Romans and Jews over the sacred places gave <BR> way to centuries of clashes between Muslims and Christians.<BR> Four years later, fertile, gilded Egypt, the richest of all Roman <BR> provinces, fell to the Arabs. While Constantinople stood <BR> impotently by, the truculent desert tribesmen it disparagingly labeled <BR> Saracens—“the tent people”—had taken all the lands it had so <BR> recently reconquered, at such great cost. As kingdoms and empires <BR> were humbled and fell, even bishops began to wonder if Muhammad<BR> had been commanded from on high.<BR> From Egypt, the armies of Islam marched west across the <BR> Mediterranean shores of Africa—and there, quite unexpectedly, their <BR> seemingly unstoppable onrush stalled.<BR> The trouble was partly domestic. Muhammad had died without<BR> naming an heir, or even leaving clear instructions about how <BR> a successor should be chosen. Ancient rivalries soon resurfaced, <BR> sharpened by the booty of conquest that snaked in endless caravans<BR> across the deserts and invariably ended up in the pockets of <BR> the Quraysh, the very tribe whose monopolistic greed Muhammad <BR> had so roundly attacked. After some tribal jockeying, the first four <BR> caliphs—“successors” to the Prophet—were selected from among <BR> Muhammad’s close companions and family, but even that high <BR> status failed to protect them. An irate Persian soldier thrust a dagger <BR> into the second caliph’s belly, gutted him, and knifed him in the <BR> back while he was at prayer. A cabal of Muslim soldiers incensed at <BR> the third caliph’s lavish lifestyle and blatant nepotism bludgeoned <BR> him to death, and the ummah erupted into civil war. Ali, the fourth <BR> caliph—the Prophet’s cousin, son-in-law, and closest confidant—<BR> was stabbed with a poisoned sword on the steps of a mosque for <BR> being too willing to negotiate with his fellow Muslims. His followers,<BR> who had always maintained that Ali was Muhammad’s divinely <BR> anointed successor, eventually came together as the Shiatu Ali—<BR> “the party of Ali”—or Shia for short, and split irrevocably from <BR> the pragmatist majority, who became known, after the term for the <BR> path shown by the Prophet, as Sunnis.<BR> Out of the turmoil the first caliphal dynasty emerged in the <BR> form of the Umayyads, who moved the capital away from the snake <BR> pit of Arabia and ruled for nearly a century from ancient, <BR> cosmopolitan Damascus. Yet opposition continued to plague the young <BR> empire, this time from outside. In North Africa the Arab armies <BR> were bogged down for decades by ragged hordes of blue eyed <BR> Berbers, the ancient indigenous peoples of the region. The Berbers<BR> had rampaged down from their mountain redoubts every time <BR> previous waves of conquerors had paid them a visit, and they were <BR> not inclined to adapt their behavior merely because they professed <BR> themselves converts to the new faith. At the head of the Berber <BR> charge was a fearsome Jewish warrior-queen known to the Arabs <BR> as Kahina, or “the Prophetess,” who galloped into battle with her <BR> fiery red curls streaming out behind and drove the invaders far back <BR> east, until she was finally hunted down by a vast Arab army and <BR> died fighting, sword in hand.<BR> As the eighth century dawned the Berbers’ revolts petered out, <BR> and many swelled the ranks of their vanquishers. In little more than <BR> the span of a single lifetime, the armies unloosed by Muhammad <BR> had swept an unbroken crescent around the Mediterranean basin all <BR> the way to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.<BR> From there they gazed on Europe.<BR> With staggering speed, the world had turned full circle. A <BR> religion that had erupted in the deserts of the East was about to burst <BR> into a stunned Europe from the west. But for the obstreperous Berbers,<BR> it might well have stormed straight across the continent before <BR> Europe’s warring tribes had roused themselves to respond.<BR> In time, it would turn again. When Western Christendom <BR> eventually recovered from the shock, a struggle of faiths would rage <BR> on the mainland of Europe—a struggle that would drive Vasco da <BR> Gama into the heart of the East.<BR> Since the age of legends, two stony peaks had marked the western<BR> end of the known world. The ancients called them the Pillars of <BR> Hercules, and they told how the mighty hero had fashioned them <BR> on his tenth impossible labor. Hercules was sent to the far shores <BR> of Europe to steal the cattle of the three-headed, six-legged <BR> monster Geryon, and to clear his path he smashed a mountain in two. <BR> <p> <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>Holy War</b> by <b>Nigel Cliff</b> Copyright © 2011 by Nigel Cliff. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.