Ramadan a time of military favor?

By Mary Jo Anderson

TOURS, France – Frederic Guesdon won the 100th edition of the Paris-Tours classic on Sunday. The picturesque valley where cyclists whooshed uphill toward their prize no longer bears the scars of the ferocious Battle of Tours. But in this valley, Oct. 10, A.D. 732, Frankish chieftains and Gallic forces led by Charles Martel defended their homeland from Abd-er-Rahman and his Muslim raiders.

Charles de Steuben’s ‘Bataille de Poitiers en Octobre 732’ depicts the Battle of Tours

Nearby in the same river valley, S?gol?ne Royal moves closer to becoming the first woman president of France. A contender for the French Socialist Party’s nomination, Royal makes her home in the now peaceful city of Poitiers where Martel dealt the decisive blow to the invading Moors. If elected president, Royal will face the reality of Muslim jihad 2007.

Historians calculate that the Umayyad Caliphate – that met its match at the Battle of Tours – was the mightiest military power on earth in the year 732. That the defeat occurred during Ramadan, the Islamic holy days, still rankles many Muslims.

A Muslim website devoted to the restoration of the Caliphate, or Islamic empire, features a recollection of the Battle of Tours for this week of Ramadan,

Clearly Allah (swt) has blessed the believers with many victories in the past in the blessed month of Ramadhan…The conquests deeper into France were continued by Abdur Rahman, who even captured Bordeaux, Lyon, Sens and finally Tours. But it was at Tours where a reversal of fortune began for the Muslims. In Ramadhan 732 CE the Islamic army was defeated by the Frankish army led by Charles Martel. The causes for the Muslims defeat here though could be linked to glaring internal problems including emerging rivalries between Berber and Arab factions and the immense booty they were carrying from earlier successes in southern France, which limited their manoeuvrability.

The Web-savvy Muslim who hosts this site may have drawn his conclusion from Arab chroniclers of the time:

Near the river Owar (Loire River) the two great hosts of the two languages and the two creeds were set in array against each other. The hearts of Abderrahman, his captains and his men were filled with wrath and pride, and they were the first to begin to fight. The Muslim horsemen dashed fierce and frequent forward against the battalions of the Franks, who resisted manfully, and many fell dead on either side, until the going down of the sun. Night parted the two armies: but in the grey of the morning the Muslims returned to the battle. Their cavaliers had soon hewn their way into the center of the Christian host. But many of the Muslims were fearful for the safety of the spoil which they had stored in their tents, and a false cry arose in their ranks that some of the enemy were plundering the camp; whereupon several squadrons of the Muslim horsemen rode off to protect their tents.

Cyber chatter recalling crucial battles of 1,300 years ago has grown with the recent declassification of al-Qaida documents, including those recovered after the June 2006 air strike that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. That document indicates that al-Qaida senses its failures are compounding, that they are losing ground against the U.S. and allied forces in the War on Terror.

Iraqi National Security Adviser Muwaffaq al-Rabi released a letter from an al-Qaida leader to al-Zarqawi on Sept. 18.

The document contains strong expressions of anxiety and doubt: “The path is long and difficult … the enemy isn’t easy, for he is great and numerous, and he can take quite a bit of punishment” and, al-Qaida fighters are “weak, and we ask God that He strengthen them and mend their fractures.”

Fractures exist across the spectrum of Islamic groups. Muslim proponents of a restoration of the Khilafah (Caliphate) urge solidarity among the branches of Islam. Particular focus falls upon the Sunni sect that has called for the reestablishment of Islamic law as the rule of all Muslim nations. Kemal Ataturk established modern (secular) Turkey in 1924 when he abolished Islamic law as the law of the nation. As Turkey prepares to receive Pope Benedict XVI for his scheduled November visit, radical Islamic groups ratchet up the rhetoric against any meaningful dialog with the “Crusaders.” Christian victories in Europe, such as the Battle of Lepanto (October 7) and the Battle of Tours (October 10th) still rub raw the visions of Caliphate held by modern jihadis.

Niall Ferguson, an Oxford trained historian, notes that his predecessor of 1794, historian Edward Gibbon, author of “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” observed that had Charles Martel lost the Battle of Tours, minarets would some day loom over Oxford University. Ferguson laments that the prediction will, oddly, come true. The opening of a massive Saudi financed Islamic Studies center will open in Oxford in 2007. Its minaret is 108 feet high.

While Muslim radicals urge their followers to purify themselves so that Allah will give them victory over the world and reestablish the Caliphate, some modern-minded Christians dismiss the idea that God “takes sides.” In Portsmouth, N.H., a weekly church bulletin scorns the idea that the Christian victory at the Battle of Lepanto was due to heaven’s intervention: “The notion that God is clearly on one side or another in wars and political struggles strikes many contemporary people, including most Christians, as dangerous.” Another cleric suggested that what was more dangerous was a “Man of God who did not believe God gave Joshua the city of Jericho, or defended the Christians at the Battle of Tours.”

Ninth century scribes interpreted the victory at Tours as divine intervention. They are the source for the moniker “Martel” meaning “The Hammer” – a play on the name of the Biblical Judas Maccabeus (The “Hammerer”) whose victory over the Syrians was attributed to God.

In the third century St. Gatien brought Christianity to the river valley of modern-day Tours and Poitiers. By the fourth century St. Martin of Tours had gathered Christian leaders into an important religious center. In 732 Charles Martel repulsed the Muslims from Poitiers – as his grandson, Charlemagne, would do again a generation afterwards.

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