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  • Then He Sent Prophets

    In mid-fourteenth century Fes, Zakaria is a gifted young scholar trying to make ends meet while committing to a rigid moral code. Refusing to be tempted by a life of power and fortune, he is writing a reform book about Islam to guide a society that has lost its moral compass. But Zakaria lives in a time of compromise—unsuited for idealists, especially those with modest means. Devastated by his inability to pay for the treatment of his sick daughter, he seeks a job at the palace through Ibn Khaldun, the sultan’s secretary

    Zakaria joins the royal chancery and tries to nourish the idea that he could walk the thin line of serving the sultan without sacrificing his principles. Soon enough, however, a rumor spreads that the sultan has murdered twenty children from the royal family to consolidate his reign. Zakaria’s equally idealist childhood friend, Musa, gets involved in a related incident, accuses all who serve the sultan of complicity in this crime, and falls out with Zakaria for the first time in their lives. Unable to resign from his job because a palace official has acquired his “blasphemous” manuscript and is manipulating him, Zakaria spends a year tormented by his conscience and shunning public affairs. But the situation in Fes goes from bad to worse, Musa decides to take part in an attempt to topple the sultan, and the death of Zakaria’s proud grandmother, who was disappointed in how his life had turned out, pushes him to the brink of collapse. To save his protégé, Ibn Khaldun convinces the sultan that Zakaria should join Muhammad ibn Yusuf, the exiled king of Granada, on his journey to Andalusia to reclaim his throne.

    During the expedition, Zakaria acquires the complete trust of Muhammad, who decides to make him a principal adviser. Zakaria develops ideas of grandeur, convinces himself this is his much-awaited chance to use his scholarship to help people, and persuades Muhammad against all counsel to withhold military activity to avoid a civil war. Zakaria’s purposefulness, however, is soon diverted by a mad obsession with Muhammad’s enchanting sister Aisha, and his insistence on withholding military activity backfires after a rebellion breaks out in Fes, leading to the withdrawal of the sultan’s army supporting Muhammad and leaving him exposed. On receiving news that his family has perished in a fire in the uprising in Fes, Zakaria suffers an emotional shock but follows Muhammad, whose fondness of Zakaria has turned into an abhorrence, in a failed attack on Granada. Muhammad escapes to his allies in Castile after sacrificing his loyal guards and vindictively assaulting Zakaria, who loses consciousness on the battlefield.

     

    In Castile, Zakaria comes to his senses, recalls his family’s tragedy, develops an intense rage, cuts his relationship with Aisha, and contemplates killing Muhammad upon hearing he has accepted military help from the Castilians to reclaim his throne. Before executing this plan, Zakaria learns that his daughter has survived the fire and is in Granada with Musa. Zakaria sets out there, wishing the reunion with his daughter would spare him some of his agonies, but she shuns him, and after the war starts, he blames himself for leaving Castile without killing Muhammad, believing his death would have saved thousands. Muhammad and the Castilians move to attack a castle near Granada, and Zakaria joins the defending army along with Musa. In an ensuing battle, Zakaria slays a preacher supporting Muhammad, whom Zakaria has known since childhood and always considered corrupt, while Musa’s fierce resistance against the invaders inspires Muhammad to abdicate his throne. Zakaria returns to Granada in a shattered state as the Castilians continue their attacks with the pretext of reinstating Muhammad despite his withdrawal.

     

    The killing of a soul makes Zakaria finally realize that all his attempts to live ethically have led to misfortunes because they were driven by pride—not empathy. This desire to love and excuse everyone is, however, challenged by witnessing a simple incident of domestic violence, where he finds himself neither able to justify it nor act to change it without compromising his new spiritual realization. Concluding that life is unbearable because living would always entail compromises, watching the Castilians closing in on Granada and Musa vowing to fight to the death, and judging that Muhammad’s abdication of the throne, despite his past failings, makes him the best possible ruler, Zakaria decides to sacrifice himself, save his childhood friend, and end the war. After impersonating Musa, Zakaria deceives Muhammad’s cousin, the king of Granada, into seeking the arbitration of the Castilians and sets out with him to Seville, where they are both executed.

     

    Part I

    1. The Eyebrow
    2. Blamed for Everything
    3. The Cursed Child
    4. The Slippers
    5. The Enemy of Horses
    6. Tamima’s Stone
    7. The Overthrown King
    8. Except the Sultan
    9. Muslims and Mujrims
    10. No Musicians or White Storks

    Part II

    1. The Royal Chancery
    2. Are We Not All Muslims?
    3. On Ethics and Rituals
    4. The Voice of Fes
    5. The Rift
    6. A Cup of Milk
    7. A Year to Forget
    8. The Bad Smell
    9. A Sultan’s Verdict
    10. Um al-Wazir

    Part III

    1. The Journey
    2. The Caravan
    3. The Race
    4. The Princess
    5. The Savior
    6. An Eye Without an Eyebrow
    7. The Sword Verse
    8. The Philosopher King
    9. The Mad Scholar
    10. Jahannam

    Part IV

    1. The Crow
    2. The Fall
    3. The Frying Pan
    4. The Hypocrite
    5. Reunion
    6. A Knight without a Horse
    7. An Innocent Soul
    8. The Mirror
    9. Gold and Diamonds

    The Red Prophet