Tales of the Divine Comedy

by      Thomas Ragazzi   and Dr. Philip A. Pecorino

Chapter ONE

The Promise

In a small room in a once-abandoned government building, a young man, no more than eighteen years of age, was standing in a metal tub as two attendants tended to what seemed to be important preparations.  The seriousness of these undertakings was proven by the care in which the attendants performed their duties.

                The young man smiled with pride as they studiously shaved his body and periodically dipped the large metal razor in water to clean the blade.  Thoughts of God, bliss, and inner peace scattered through his mind as he contemplated what he had been gloriously chosen to do.

                “It is an honor, a great honor,” he beamed.

                “Yes it is, Bilal,” said the older attendant, a grey-bearded man with a dark complexion.  “You are now al-shaheed al-hai.[1]  And it is an honor to be a part of these ceremonious preparations.  I feel as though this event will be a whirlwind whose force will take me up to Heaven with you.”

                “That may well be true, Khalis.  You will be among the first that I will intercede for, inshallah.[2]

                “Inshallah,” responded Khalis.  “Allah knows that I have not been the most righteous man, and I know I have so few years left and…”

                “It is done,” interrupted Bilal.

                “Thank you,” said Khalis.

                “I feel your words are so true, Khalis.  This event will create a whirlwind, a whirlwind of greatness.”

                “For to be great is to be close to Allah.”

                “Very true.  I feel closer than I have ever been to Allah in my life,” said Bilal.

                “I am praying for you,” said Khalis.

                “Thank you.”

                As the two attendants finished shaving the young man, the younger attendant spoke:

                “Let us wash al-shaheed al-hai.  The preparations are almost finished.”

                The two attendants then washed the young man with soap and flower water and helped him to clothe.  He was led out of the room and brought out of the abandoned building.  He was given a hooded robe so that the scorching sun would not burn his newly-shaved head.  Two more attendants relieved the other men of their duties and escorted the young man across town by car to a small, square mosque with a green geometric design around its white entrance, secluded from the residential and business districts, called The Mosque of Man’s Duty to Allah.  He walked into the all but empty house of worship and was greeted by a white-robed cleric with a black beard who looked about forty-five years of age.

                “The glory of Allah shine upon you,” said the cleric.

                “May he continue to bless our cause,” responded Bilal.

                “Verily.  So what, may I ask, are the thoughts of al-shaheed al-hai?”

                Bilal smiled and responded, “Bliss, endless rest, seeing Allah face-to-face, and the honor of being the one chosen to strike fear into the heart of the enemy.”

                “This is good,” said the cleric.  “These are all the correct thoughts that you must have.  You will bring great honor to your family’s name.”

                Bilal smiled and nodded.

                “My son, our friends will be here shortly.  When they arrive, I will begin my sermon.”

                Bilal nodded.

                In the interim, the cleric and the attendants spoke on matters of religion and politics, while al-shaheed al-hai went to a secluded room to sit and pray.  In no less than a half-hour, the mosque was filled with the friends of the cause.  There were about thirty men, young and old, wealthy and poor, from all walks of life, from families of all different distinctions; but all of them had this in common: their dedication to the cause and their conviction that their tactics used were sanctioned by Allah. 

The cleric walked to the podium, raised his hands, and they settled down.  The men sat on the ground and awaited the cleric’s words.

The cleric began his sermon:

                “Is Allah good?  Is Allah just?  Indeed the Creator of All is good and just, and he expects us to be the same, insofar as we use the limited powers and faculties that He has bestowed upon us.  It is stated in our Holy Qur’an, which our most glorious prophet Muhammad has given us, peace be upon him, that we shall be successful in war against our enemies, despite the odds.  We shall be victorious although our enemy outnumber us ten to one.  This was true in the days of our victorious past when our people fought massive armies of the idol-worshipping polytheists and their Jewish allies, and we were outnumbered.  But we strove, and with Muhammad as our leader, we defeated our enemies.  By Allah’s grace, we defeated the odds.  This is historical proof that Allah does not turn away from His people and that the Qur’an is His true word.  This is proof that Allah’s promise shall be kept.

                Today, our people likewise have a common enemy, whether that enemy is in our land right here that they stole from us through deception and arms, or that enemy is afar and sends its armies and its proxies to wage war upon our people.  Therefore, do not distinguish between those who are among the enemy.  Do not say ‘you are evil, but you, on the other hand, are not so evil.’  Do not say ‘you could be my friend if you were not my enemy.’  Only Allah can judge.  And indeed he has.  Our Holy Qur’an states that we must not take Christians and Jews for our friends, for they are friends of each other and will use their alliance to plot against us.  Indeed, history has proven this to be true.  Take for friends your Muslim brothers who are dedicated to Allah and who follow the Qur’an’s teachings.  Your brothers will form the bond that makes you strong enough to stand up to the enemy.  And my friends, the source of this bond is not man; it is Allah.

                I ask you this: How many decades shall we be oppressed?  How many centuries shall we be without a home of our own?  How much longer can we tolerate the great injustice of the theft of our land and the murder of our people?  The crime that has been committed was against man and Allah, and every crime shall be repaid.  With the sword and shield of spiritual warfare, we shall be victorious against our enemies who are infidels and thus have no such protection.

                For those who make the sacrifice for the sake of Allah and His people, they will not go unrewarded.  The martyr shall be granted a palace unto himself and will have rewards this world has never seen.  At the moment of sacrifice, his sins shall be washed away.  He will have the honor of meeting our most holy prophet face-to-face.  He will be given the power to intercede for seventy of his friends and relatives so they can be saved from the tortures of Hell.  In his heavenly palace, the martyr will be tended to by seventy-two beautiful maidens, spiritually pure, who will shower him with gifts and honor him eternally.  The delicacies at his dining table shall be endless.  And what is most important is that he shall for all time be in the presence of Allah.

                The Qur’an serves as a reminder for all this.  It serves as a reminder that for the martyr, as well as for the rest of us, Allah’s promise shall be kept.  Allah will never forsake those who are dutiful followers of His word.”

                The cleric then made a gesture indicating for the worshippers to stand.  He opened his Qur’an and sang two verses:

                “’Associate not any other god with Allah, lest thou sit down despised, forsaken.’[3]  ‘Surely thy Lord makes plentiful the means of subsistence for whom He pleases, and He straightens.  Surely He is ever Aware, Seer of His servants.’”[4]

                The cleric then stated:

                “May you all find the peace that only Allah can bring, and may you all be made strong by His spirit.”

                The congregation then began to slowly leave the mosque as the cleric waited for them all to leave.  When the mosque was finally empty of the congregants, the cleric walked into the room where Bilal was praying. 

                As the cleric entered, Bilal stood up.

                “Have you paid off all your debts, my son?”


                “Have you asked Allah for forgiveness of sins?”


                “Then you are ready to bring glory to your family and your people.”

                From his robes, the cleric handed Bilal a small Qur’an, which he put in his left breast pocket.  Bilal was then led out to another room at the opposite end of the hall.  This room was locked, so the cleric took out some keys and opened the door.  In the far corner of the room was a belt consisting of fourteen cylinders filled with explosives.  Bilal took off his robes and shirt and strapped on the explosive belt around his waist and stomach.  He then put back on his shirt and robes.

                “May Allah be with you and grant you success on your sacred mission so that you shall be with Him in Paradise,” said the cleric.

                “Inshallah, in Paradise we will meet again,” said Bilal.

                Minutes later, the two attendants who escorted Bilal to the mosque came to the room and greeted the cleric.   An attendant spoke:

                “We are ready to complete our mission, as I am sure al-shaheed al-hai is also ready.” 

                Bilal nodded. 

                He was escorted out of the mosque and into the car. Bilal took the back seat, one attendant took the front passenger seat, and the other was the driver.  The car was started and the attendant began to drive through the dirt roads of the town.  There were no words spoken among the men, as they had planned and prepared and knew well what they had to do.

                After about a half hour of driving, they came to the outskirts of the occupied city.  Shortly, they arrived at the perimeter of a series of government buildings that were known to hold high-level meetings with representatives of other nations regarding political and financial affairs.  The driver parked the car on the side of the road and waited behind the wheel as the other attendant and Bilal got out of the car and walked towards the main building in the center of the perimeter.

                About thirty feet before the entrance, the men were stopped by two armed and uniformed guards with machine guns by their sides who demanded to see the men’s papers and know their business.  The attendant then took a concealed pistol from under his robes and shot the guards two times each in the chest. 

As the shots were fired, Bilal panicked and started running towards the building’s entrance.  At no more than eight feet from the glass doors, he heard shots fired his way from behind.  Immediately, he frantically took out the detonator from under his robes.

Bilal shouted, “Allahu akbar,”[5] and pressed the detonator . . .   


                “Bilal Al-Awad . . . rise,” said an unfamiliar voice.

                His awareness restored, Bilal found himself lying down in a wall-less room of white.  He stood up and felt neither joy nor pain, without any real feeling at all, no burden, light of mind and heart.

                “Come this way, Bilal,” said the voice.

                Bilal walked in the direction of the voice.

                Soon, he saw the looming of a shadowy anthropomorphic figure.

                The figure said:

                “I am Gabriel.  Follow me.  You shall have the rewards that Allah has given you.”

                Bilal followed Gabriel to a large white palace with many minarets rising from its base.  As they entered through its golden doors, Bilal was blinded by the brightness of the place.  They stopped when they reached the main corridor, which had many adjoining rooms.

                “Follow me to the banquet hall where a feast is prepared for you,” said Gabriel.

                Bilal followed Gabriel to the first room beyond the corridor.  It was a room of green emerald-crystal walls.  The ceiling and floor too were of emerald.  The room was filled with treasures that surpass what is capable for human comprehension.  Gold and silver trinkets filled bronze tables.  Chains of platinum and gold littered the floor.  Piles of gold coins were hoarded in all four corners of the room.  In the far end of the room, above the doors, there was a bronze plaque, which said these words:

                “One who is ruled by the spirit will go to the land of the spirit.  One who is ruled by instinct will go to the land of instinct.”

                They then went through the doors and entered a room all of red ruby.  Platinum pottery and trinkets lined the walls.  Silver chains and bracelets crowded the clear, crystal tables.  Obsidian chests were filled with all sorts of multi-colored precious gems.  Heaps of gold and platinum coins were piled in the center of the room.  Silver axes and gold scimitars hung along all four ruby walls.  Above the far doors, at the end of the room, was a silver plaque, which read:

                “Those who are in the Dark will ever remain in the Dark, and no Light that shines upon them will unveil the Truth before their eyes.”

                They walked through the doors, and Bilal found himself in a room of blue sapphire.  The walls, ceiling, and floor were all of sapphire.  Chests of clear crystal were packed with colored gems and platinum coins.  Piles of silver necklaces, gold bracelets, and diamond chokers were scattered throughout the room.  Trinkets of gold and platinum filled silver tables.  In the far corner of the room, platinum coins piled against the wall and were as numerous as the Arabian sands.  Above the end doors was a golden plaque, in which was inscribed:

                “True Paradise is a land of gardens and flowing rivers.  The discerning and the righteous know this and can tell the true from the false.  For the rest, there is Darkness and the Pain that soon accompanies.”

                Gabriel then led Bilal through one beautiful room after another until they had reached the double doors of the banquet hall.  As they entered, Bilal was amazed to see the large, ornately decorated table in the center of the room overspread with foods and delicacies from all parts of the world.  Gold goblets were filled with exotic and refreshing drink.  The smells of tender veal, roast duck, and all sorts of meats and poultry were wafting throughout the hall.  Succulent fruits and sugared desserts were glistening with sweetness.  Around the perimeter of the hall were seventy-two beautiful maidens with wide and enchanting eyes.

                Bilal sat at the table with eagerness.  He was about to enjoy himself to a feast that only kings were sanctioned to receive.  The maidens, all the while, were at hand and ready to serve him and wait on his commands.  So enthralled was he that his eyes could not stray from the view of all of these beautiful maidens.  Indeed, he was tempted to count the seventy-two, but resisted, as it looked to be true, and he was fixed at gazing at one or two of them at a time.

                After a while, Bilal spoke:

                “Fetch me a gold-embroidered towelette and a silver-laced robe,” Bilal said to one of the young virgins to his side.

                These were brought to him immediately. 

                He placed the towelette on his lap and put on the robe.

                He smiled with delight, thinking on the power he now held and the dignity of his position.  He felt satisfied that the sacrifice he had made was worth the cost.  The promise that was foretold was kept, as Allah always keeps his promises.  Bilal could now reap the rewards that were duly his.  He thought on this, and his pride and sense of satisfaction deepened.

                Then, as he was about to start the feast, he paused.  Within himself, he felt a desire, strong and intractable.

                He stood, placed the towelette upon the table, and approached one of the maidens, the most beautiful of them all, who had long, shimmering, sable hair and wide emerald-green eyes.

                He began to lay his hand upon her shoulder when suddenly there came a voice, deep and booming, directed at Bilal, loud and clear, shocking, and even horrifying:

                “THEY SHALL REMAIN VIRGINS!”

                Bilal, recoiling from the contact and shaking from the message, now looked around as he heard doors opening around the banquet hall.

                Through the doors came other women, older women, not attractive women at all, and they surrounded the younger ones.

                Bilal called out:

                “Who are they?!  Who are they?!”

                The feast began to disappear before the young man’s eyes, then the ornate, feasting table and chairs, the maidens, and the room itself.

                The voice boomed, as the room began to darken:

                “Your  MOTHERS-IN-LAW !”

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[1] Al-shaheed al-hai translates as “the living martyr.”

[2] Inshallah translates as “God willing.”

[3]The Qur’an, Sura 17, Verse 22.

[4]The Qur’an, Sura 17, Verse 30.

[5]Allahu akbar translates as “God is great.  All praise to Him.”

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© Copyright Thomas Ragazzi and Philip A. Pecorino 2010. All Rights reserved.