Crown Infernal

One-way Ticket to Paradise? by Adam Higgs-Boson

Summary: Rashid finds that all is not as he was led to believe.

Thanks to X. Greggay for the beeta.

Author's Note: I chose Rashid as the central character of this little tale simply because most of the terrorist activity and suicide bombings at the present time are claimed by extreme fundamentalist Muslims. It does not imply that he is in any way typical of the vast majority of right-minded and peace-loving Muslims.

It would be the same story if the principal character was an I.R.A. man named Declan or a Basque separatist called Deunoro. They're just less common these days, thank heaven!

Every socio-politico-religious group has its idiots and evil-doers, and their activities should not be used to smear the good name of everyone else in the group, regardless of their - or your - belief system. No one is totally irredeemable, given time.

[ 4,300 words ]

The terrorist - though that is not how he saw himself of course - had made an oath to die on the morrow. He had renewed his vows, shaved excess hair from his body, showered and sprinkled himself with cologne. Then he had read al-Tawba and Anfal, reflecting on their meanings, and dwelling - though not in any selfish or prurient way - on all of the things Allah promises for the martyrs. Before going to bed, he had spoken relevant texts into his hands, then rubbed his hands over his body to bless it.

That night, he dreamed of Paradise. It seemed auspicious - heaven-sent.

He arose before dawn, dressed quickly then prayed al-fajr salat and dedicated his mission to the glory of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Compassionate. He then collected all he would need for this one-way trip. Finally, he washed himself before he left because he knew that, in a state of ablution, the angels would ask for forgiveness, and would pray for him.

He drove to the small rural airfield. The 'plane, a twin-engined Cessna, was ready and waiting for him on the runway. The original plan had been to target a wide-bodied jet heading for the U.S., Washington for preference, out of Heathrow or Manchester.

Exploratory flights had argued against it. R.A.F. Tornado fighters had been scrambled and escorted the cell's small, and apparently innocent, aircraft away from the areas. Further reconnaissance had resulted in the selection of a 737 out of Leeds Bradford Airport.

The Cessna currently awaiting him was already packed with explosives. Only one fellow cell member was there. His prayer ~ "Oh Lord, protect us from the enemy as You wish. Lord, take your anger out on the infidels and we ask You to protect us from their evils and, Oh Lord, block their vision from in front of them, so that they may not see,' ~ seemed to have been answered. Apparently the security forces had not seen. A third cell member 'phoned from a new, and unknown, mobile number to confirm that the flight which they planned to intercept would depart on time.

The pair repeated their prayers and gave thanks also for their good fortune in getting their hands on a quantity of radar absorbing paint. The weather, too, was favourable. Allah had smiled upon them. InshAllah, the mission would succeed. Completely. It might be less spectacular than the original plan, but it would send an unmistakable message to the infidels. And inshAllah, it would be the day he would spend with the women of paradise - this day and every day. Forever.

The terrorist did the pre-flight checks then, when the time was right, he taxied along the runway. There was no sign of the police, no high-powered cars with sirens blaring and blue lights flashing, racing across the runway to cut him off...

He took off smoothly and turned westward, rising steeply. As he flew, he kept in mind the instruction, 'Oh ye faithful, when you find the enemy, be steadfast, and remember God constantly so that you may be successful.'

The journey was short and he arrived in good time. He circled at a moderately high altitude, well above the low banks of cloud that gave him cover, until the Boeing 737 should rise above them also. Still he waited until it had reached a high enough elevation so that the spread of wreckage would do maximum damage, then he dived, Stuka-like, towards his target, coming out of the sun.

He repeated over and over, "There is no God but God, and Muhammad is His messenger. There is no God but God, and Muhammad is His messenger. There is no God but God, and Muhammad is His messenger..."

When the pilots of the Boeing noticed they had a problem, it was beyond too late. They tried to take evasive action but the only effect was that the Cessna hit above the starboard engine instead of the port.

The full load of fuel exploded with a deep boom on impact. Flame blossomed from the starboard wing. Pain seared through the terrorist as if the fire burned along every nerve in his body. The Cessna ploughed on into the side of the Boeing until its cargo of high explosives detonated filling the air with sound and splitting the 737's fuselage in two.

The terrorist had thought that death would take him in an instant, yet that instant seemed to stretch into eternity. "There is... no... God... but God... 'nd Muham... mad is... His... messen... ger," still struggled through his mind as, in blazing pain, everything disintegrated around him.

Suddenly the pain cut out as if a switch had been tripped. The terrorist stared round in surprise. Had something gone awry?

A deadly rain of burning fuel, shards of metal, debris and bodies - body parts - was falling earthward. This was as it should be. So why was he still conscious of it? Why could he hear the screams of the not yet dead cutting through the roar? Had he bottled out at the last moment?

Then he saw an arm, his arm, bloody and trailing bone and tendons, drift past him in its descent. He had succeeded! Paradise was his! Below him, the first bits of wreckage were hitting a housing estate. Then darkness wrapped itself around him and he slept.

When he became aware of himself again, he had forgotten the past, feeling blissfully warm and comfortable and content. He enjoyed the moment - quite a long moment - then began to wonder where he was and why.

He opened his eyes and looked around. Tall trees met overhead, a golden light shimmering through their leaves and dancing across his face. He was lying on a green satin couch in a garden. He sat up and took in the view.

It was unfamiliar yet, at the same time, very familiar. It was exactly as he had imagined the Paradise Garden to be - overwhelmingly verdant, the air scented by many beautiful flowers and tinkling with sounds of running, falling water. Brightly coloured birds sang sweet, sweet melodies.

To his right hand were vines. He reached out and picked a grape. It was plump, juicy. He bit into it and was shocked by its intense flavour. He picked a small bunch and stood up. The garden was crossed by intricate mosaic pathways. Where to go?

It was at this point that he noticed what was missing from this idyllic place. Seventy-two houris - beautiful, dark-eyed virgins awaiting his pleasure. He also remembered his martyrdom and had a moment's panic when he realized his body hadn't reacted to the thought of all those houris as it should have. A quick check reassured him that no part of his spirit self had been damaged in transit.

He registered his apparel for the first time too. He was wearing a long sandy coloured robe, open, over a white tunic. It wasn't his normal attire, nor even traditional dress. There was a lot to take in. Maybe that was why he was alone. It was a little disquieting though.

He ate another grape while he wondered what to do. Something. And soon. He was feeling full of fizzing energy and wanted to do something with it. The obvious thing for the moment was to follow one of the paths, so he did, calling out from time to time as he went. Maybe someone - a houri for preference - would hear him and come to greet him. There was no response.

He was walking for a long time without any noticeable change in his surroundings - still the verdant, fragrant loveliness. Was he in some kind of maze? Were the houris playing games - hiding and waiting to be found? Still no response to his calls. Wait. Was that a light through the trees? He made his way towards it.

The light grew to brilliance as he approached. He rounded a corner and came upon a smiling man, tall and spare with long silky white hair. He was dressed in white robes which seemed to glow in the light that surrounded him. It should have been blinding yet it wasn't. Who was this person, this shining being? Surely not... But maybe— He threw himself to the ground in the manner of salat.

"Rise, child," said a gentle voice. "You are welcome here, as are all who come."

Rashid did as he was bid, keeping his eyes respectfully lowered. "What would you have me do, my Lord?"

"I am not your Lord. We are all equal here."

"Oh," he looked up then. "You are not—"

"The One whom you call Allah?" The smiling man shook his head. Actually, he looked a little like Rashid's uncle Ahmad. Maybe it was the beard?

The man thought for a moment then added, "You could say I am your mentor."

"Mentor? Er, Sir?"

"Yes, child. That is my function. If it will make you feel more comfortable, you may call me... Malik."

"Thank you, Malik. My name is—"

"Rashid,"his mentor said. His smile held a hint of sadness, of disappointment. It was a little unnerving. "You seem to have survived the transition in good heart, so we may as well begin now."

"Begin...?" Rashid was unsure of where this was going.

"The review of your life. Come with me."

They walked through the garden side by side, Malik serene, Rashid puzzled.

"Sir, er, Malik," Rashid began tentatively. Malik smiled encouragingly. "Where are all the... the others?"

Malik chuckled. "You were expecting houris maybe?"

Rashid felt himself blushing.

"That would hardly be fair, now would it?" Malik asked.


"What would we give to your womenfolk when they come here?"

"Um, the suicide bombers?" Rashid asked. There had been a number of women bombers, it was true. He'd never given any thought to their rewards.

"Yes, if you wish. Suicide bombers, mothers, nurses, sisters, teachers..."

"They come here?" Rashid's voice rose in surprise.

"But of course. Everyone comes here from time to time."

"Everyone?" His voice rose higher still. "Then, where are they all?"

Malik laughed then, a gentle chuckling laugh. "The universe is a big place— a very, very big place. And this place, where we are now, is no bigger than a raindrop. There is plenty of room for all."

Before Rashid could get his head around that revelation, Malik led him through an archway into a colonnaded courtyard garden. The surrounding buildings had white, almost shining walls. Rashid wondered if they were reflecting the light which surrounded - emanated from? - the mentor. Actually, that light seemed to have faded a little.

The two men went to a wide shallow bowl of white alabaster which was set upon a pedestal of the same mineral. The bowl was full of water, overflowing in fact and trickling through the rounded white stones that surrounded the base of the pedestal. Malik passed his hand across the surface of the water which darkened.

Rashid stared at the surface in fascination as figures moved across it. The images moved so rapidly that it was a continuous blur, yet he saw the unfolding story with complete, sometimes painful, clarity; it was the story of his life. It ended after a breathtakingly short time with the explosions of the two 'planes.

He turned his face to Malik then, eyes afire with triumph and delight. But Malik was not smiling. Far from it. He looked very grim. No, not grim. More a combination of hurt and sorrow, disapproval and, again, disappointment. Rashid was confused.

"You grieve that the infidels are burning in Hell?" he eventually ventured to ask.

"I grieve for you," Malik said sadly, "that you should think that the killing of one hundred and seventy four people would be acceptable to the one you call Allah."

"But— but they were infidels!"

"One hundred and fifty nine of them were not Muslims, that is true."

"But the other fifteen... they are here. In Paradise. Right?"

"They are all here in what you call Paradise, yes."

"What?" Rashid was completely at sea. "The infidels are in Paradise too? No, that cannot be right."

"Why? They are all the children of... Allah. All are equally valued, equally beloved."

"I do not understand."

"No, you do not," Malik sighed, "though that is not entirely your fault. You were misled, manipulated - and those responsible will atone for it - but the ultimate choice was yours and yours alone."

"I chose what was the right thing to do," Rashid agreed with an air of pride.

"You chose."

"You seem to be saying that I have done wrong somehow."

"Let us have a look at the results of you choice." Malik waved his hand over the bowl once more. The water, which had returned to bright clarity, darkened again.

More images flashed across its surface as circles rippled across it, sometimes crossing, intersecting, then moving out into the air. Each circle - sphere - began at the moment of each death, and grew as the ripples caused by that death affected more and more people.

The birds had fallen silent as ululations - cries of grief, wails of distressed children, heartbroken screams - began to build. As the ripples on the water spread outwards, the ripples in the air grew in volume until Rashid thought his eardrums would burst. Still the sound grew. It made the ground shudder like an earthquake until he could no longer keep his feet and he fell over, hands pressed uselessly over his ears.

At another wave of Malik's hand, the thunderous roar stopped abruptly as if it had been switched off. He bent down, offering the hand to Rashid and helping him to rise.

"This is just a small portion of the pain and sorrow you have unleashed," he said gently.

"But surely, the pain and sorrow of evil people is music to the ears of Allah?"

"I have already told you that all are equal and equally beloved by Allah." There was a faint hint of impatience in Malik's voice. "Tell me, do you think Allah is weak?"

"No! Of course not."

"Do you think Allah is... ineffective?"


"Do you think Allah is unwise - that His judgement is suspect?"

"No," Rashid replied, wondering where this line of questioning was going.

"Then, do you think Allah is omniscient... all-knowing?"

"Of course I do!"

"Do you think Allah is omnipotent... all powerful?"


"Do you think Allah is omnipresent and can see into men's souls?"

"Why are you asking me all these things?"

"Do you?"


"Think Allah is omnipresent and can see into all men's souls?"

"Certainly," Rashid said, annoyed as well as confused.

"Then why did you act as if you think Allah needs your help?"

"I didn't."

"And why did you take it upon yourself to pass judgement on your fellow humans— and then execute them? People whom you did not know and had never met..."

"But they were—"

"Infidels. Yes, I got that some time ago. What pride! What arrogance! What hubris! Pride, to believe that yours is the only 'right' religion. Arrogance, to think that those who follow a different path towards The Divine One are in some way subhuman. Hubris, to try to take to yourself god-like powers in order to annihilate those whom you consider worthless."

Malik's voice had not changed in volume during his tirade. It simply grew in power until Rashid felt as if it was reverberating through his chest wall and rattling every bone in his body. When his mentor had finished speaking, he was curled up in a shivering heap at his feet again.

"Rise, Rashid. There are more things that you should see."

Rashid stood up, certain he was not going to like that which he should see.

This time, the view in the alabaster bowl focussed on the starboard engine. It followed a tumbling trajectory above the M62 and fell out of the clouds there it scored a dead hit on a coach taking a group of school children to an art exhibition at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester. The coach burst into flames, and the air filled with the screams of burning teenagers. Rashid saw only one of them, his beloved - and beautiful - fourteen year old sister, Jamilah...

More was to come. With the low cloud, there was little or no time for other drivers to process the information and take evasive action. A traffic pile-up ensued as other vehicles skidded into the blazing wreckage. Rashid saw only one of them, the silver grey Mondeo that belonged to his father. He remembered that his father had a business meeting in Preston that day.

Could it get any worse? The answer was in the affirmative.

Rashid's mother was returning home from shopping, escorted by her brother, his Uncle Nasim. There was a police car waiting outside their house in Farnley. A policeman and woman, looking strained, asked to come in. There, they broke the news of the school coach disaster and the death of her daughter. They gave the standard information about grief counselling, then left.

A short while later, another police car arrived with the news that the crash had also claimed the life of her husband. They were very courteous and caring.

This consideration disappeared the following evening when an armoured car drew up outside and heavily armed police arrested Rashid's brother, Hassan - three years younger than himself - for questioning. The two brothers had been very close, so of course, Hassan must have known about the plot and should have alerted the authorities. He was to be charged with a number of offences under the Terrorism Acts which would probably mean jail time.

His older brother, Mohamad, was arrested later although he no longer lived at the family home but shared a house a couple of miles away with his new wife and her brother from Pakistan. They, too, were arrested, but later released.

Further trouble was brought upon his family through his actions. His mother was treated as an outcast by all her neighbours; his younger sister Zahirah, already desperately unhappy at the loss of her sister, brother and father, was bullied at school as if she should have, or could have, prevented the outrage perpetrated against her fellow pupils.

His mother had to leave the area, and having lost her husband as breadwinner, could not afford to maintain the standard of living previously enjoyed. Her identity somehow found its way to her new neighbours, so she and Zahirah had to move on again. And again. It was as if she had the words, 'Mother of a child-killing terrorist' tattooed across her face.

Hassan, eighteen and old enough to be imprisoned in an adult jail, was the hardest hit. As handsome as his named declared, he became very 'popular' with his fellow prisoners. He was anally raped on a regular basis and because of the nature of his 'crimes' - which were non-existent - the jailers always looked the other way. Although his sentence had been relatively short, he left prison a heroine junkie and H.I.V. positive.

Rashid slowly crumpled to the ground and wept. "What have I done? What have I done? Forgive me! Forgive me! Forgive me forgive me forgive me!"

It was a cry from the depth of his soul, full of repentance, bitter sorrow and true remorse. "It is I who belong in hell," he whispered.

He felt something grip the back of his clothing and lift him into the air. When he dared to open his eyes, all the verdure had gone, replaced by the wildness of the void, stars and galaxies whirling on their appointed paths. He was no longer held up but floating. Alone. Apparently.

Was this his fate? Not hellfire as such. Just to drift around the universe - the very, very big universe? Forever? Alone with his thoughts? Remembering, ever remembering, and re-living his crimes? His folly? He wept silent tears. No. There were no tears. He was not living. Not breathing. What was he? Just a soul in torment?

He tried to move. It worked. He didn't know how. The view changed slightly. Different stars. Different galaxies. He wondered where 'home' was. Not that it mattered. He would never see it again, he was sure. That pale blue dot, home to so many millions of lives. Once he had been a big guy, a guy with aspirations. He was to have played a significant part in the glorious Islamisation of the world.

Pride. Arrogance. Hubris. Malik had been right. And he had been so wrong. Now he saw reality, and his place in it. Unimportant. Infinitesimal. Powerless.

He became aware of a voice in his mind. It sounded like Malik. He looked around. His mentor was still there with him. He had changed - not so much in appearance; he was still recognizable - but now, he seemed to have grown to the size of the Statue of Liberty, and become tenuous, like a thick mist. Rashid could see the stars and galaxies through him.

Malik in space

He tried to recall what Malik had just said and failed. He wondered how he'd communicated out here in the void of space. Then he wondered dully if Malik had come to cast him into the deepest, hottest pit of hell.

He felt an amused chuckle in his mind. Ah, telepathy. That must be it.

"Something like that," Malik said, "and no, you are not going to hell. Neither is anyone else. It doesn't exist."

Rashid thought a question mark.

"It was just a man-made concept thought up by weak men many thousands of your years ago to make stronger people do what they willed. But this does not - what's the saying? - get you off the hook."

"Then what will happen to me?"

"You will make atonement to everyone of your victims."

Rashid gasped. "All one hundred and seventy four?"

"That is not the full tally of your victims. Your are forgetting your father, mother, sisters and brothers, not to mention your extended family."

"But that would take the figure over two hundred—"

"Yes it does, and when you add in all the families and friends of the original one hundred and seventy four, the final tally comes to... let's see... fifteen thousand, eight hundred and ninety six."

Rashid felt like he'd been hit in the stomach by a giant-sized demolition ball. "How?" he asked in a very small voice.

"Well, you cannot clear a debt that size in one lifetime. Fortunately, you have an infinite number of lifetimes ahead of you, as many as it takes—"

"What?" Rashid couldn't take it in immediately.

"You didn't think you would be judged on the basis of just one lifetime, did you?"

"Well, yes."

"Now how fair would that be, when a life may last from a matter of minutes to over a century?"

Rashid was silent as the import of many lifetimes sank in.

"How can I atone to so many people?" he asked at last.

"Some will be less damaged by your actions - sharing the pain of a friend - and you may clear a number of those debts in a single lifetime."

"But how will I know who to atone to? And how?" Rashid whined. "I might do the same wrong things again. Because I'm not going to remember any of this, am I?"

"Maybe. Maybe not. Some do, but they keep their counsel. Who would believe them anyway?"

"I guess." Rashid knew damn' well he would've ridiculed anyone who'd told him this!

"Quite," Malik said.

"So, if you're my mentor, help me. Please. This is a monumental task."

"Yes, it is and you must do the work yourself. I cannot do it for you. That would be like giving you the answers before you go into an exam. It wouldn't be fair, now would it?"

"No," Rashid agreed. "But is it against the rules to give me a hint? Or two?"

"One thing I can tell you is that, if you have truly taken on board the enormity of your actions, then you will not make quite the same mistakes. Just the suggestion of taking innocent lives, however apparently good the cause, will fill you with an abhorrence that will be almost impossible to overcome."


"Yes. Only by making it possible for you to make the wrong choices can we be sure that the right choices are genuinely yours."

"When will I be born again?"

"When your sister, Zahirah, is married. You will be her first child - a daughter, Safiyya."

"A girl?!" Rashid exclaimed in horror.

"Yes, a girl child. Did I ever suggest this would be easy for you?"

"No." Rashid sounded subdued.

"But it will make it easier for you to resist your more aggressive inclinations and to develop the caring side of your nature. You will help your new mother, Zahirah, with the care of your present mother, your brother, Hassan, who will be in great need of your help, and your new siblings who will be your father and sister, Jamila."

"So, we'll all be a family again?" Rashid smiled.

"Yes," Malik smiled and his face lit up like the sun, bathing Rashid in peace and warmth. "Now sleep, child, until it time for you to awaken again.

And Safiyya slept.

Crown Infernal