Teach your Children Swimming, Archery, and Horsemanship


Salam alaykom oua rahmatou Allah

Dear Shaykh

I’m having intention to go and serve in the army as a reservist for a couple of months InshaAllah

i think it’s important to respect the command :
علموا أولادكم السباحة والرماية وركوب الخيل
I could swim and deal with horses but I have no idea how to ‘fight’, and I would like to improve that point.

As a reservist I will stay in the country and will never go fight against others : so it’s pacifist.

What could you advise me Sayidi

Jazakum Allah Khayr


wa `alaykum salam,

Your words concern the “lesser jihad,” that of the battlefield, but the conditions of this time preclude its implementation. This lesser jihad must always be subordinate to the “greater jihad” of the soul; and the authorites in this domain – the only domain in which “fighting” may always be exercised –  have not only enjoined the people of this time to harm no person, but moreover to harm no creature.

The tradition you mention – traced to Sayyidina `Umar al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him – presupposes marriage (as well as, arguably, the ability of those addressed to teach these skills), since its advice concerns children. Marriage is, according to Tradition, half of religion. Not only is this sunnah of marriage of special importance in this time, but it is not for nothing that the chivalry of history has very often been expressed in terms of a knight’s relationship with his lady. That being said, a benefit of serving in the army is no doubt to practice a kind of discipline; but it would be unusual – to say the least – for an army to practice archery and horsemanship in this time.

It is perhaps worth considering the aforementioned tradition more closely. The precise sequence of skills – swimming, archery, riding – is not insignificant, for here discipline in the three degrees of body, mind, and spirit may be discovered. Swimming concerns the disciplining of the body’s breath; archery that of the mental focus in sighting; and even though the Prophet – peace be upon him – favored archery over riding, in this context riding a horse represents the restoration through discipline of spiritual authority in the soul.

The command to teach children these skills may therefore be understood in light of the words of Sultan ul-awliya Shaykh Nazim al-Haqqani concerning religion: “a man only becomes a man through discipline.” Indeed, he specifically relates manhood to riding, beginning with a remarkable play on words:

“You must try to leave infancy. What did I say, ‘infantry?’ That is better!… ‘Rijalullah! A`inuna bi `awnillah.’ ‘Rijalullah’ means adults…They are knights, not ordinary ones. Who is a knight? He who rides on his ego. All of us come here and ego is riding on us…Be adults in knighthood.”

In the greater jihad, with its weapons of supererogatory worship, the knight (literally “servant”) quests for his Lord, and He has promised: “My servant does not cease to approach me through supererogatory acts of obediance until I love him; and when I love him, I am the hearing with which he hears, the sight with which he sees, the hand with which he grasps…” What need is there then for such knights to improve “how to fight?” When they take the battlefield, again according to Mawlana Shaykh Nazim al-Haqqani: “Armies turn to ashes under their gaze!”

Mahmoud Shelton

About Ustadh Mahmoud Shelton

Mahmoud Shelton studied at the University of Edinburgh before taking a degree in Medieval Studies at Stanford University. Shelton is the author of Alchemy in Middle Earth: The Significance of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, The Balance of George Lucas' Star Wars, and numerous articles. He is also a contributor to The Royal Book of Spiritual Chivalry and The Sufi Science of Self-Realization. Contributions by Mahmoud Shelton * Chivalry of the Night and Day * Alchemy in Middle Earth * contributor, The Royal Book of Spiritual Chivalry
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