The first time I heard about Khalid bin al-Walid-the 7th century Muslim jihadi affectionately known in Islamic history as "The Sword of Allah"-was when I was in college researching for my MA thesis on the Battle of Yarmuk, when the Muslims, under Khalid's generalship, defeated the Byzantines in 636, opening the way for the historic Islamic conquests.
Nearly a decade and a half later, Khalid, that jihadi par excellence, has come to personify a dichotomy for me-how the jihad is understood in the West and how it really is: officially, Western academia, media, and politicians portray it as defensive war to protect Muslim honor and territory; in reality, however, jihad is all too often little more than a byword to justify the most primitive and barbaric passions of its potential recruits and practitioners.
Based on the English language sources I perused in college, Khalid was a heroic, no-nonsense kind of jihadi-fierce but fair, stern but just. He was the champion of the Apostasy Wars, when he slaughtered countless Arabs for trying to leave Islam after the death of Muhammad.
Modern day Muslims writing about Khalid-see for example Pakistani army lieutenant-general A.I Akram's The Sword of Allah-had naught but praise for him, the scourge of infidels and apostates.
But as years went by, I came across more arcane and Arabic sources telling of the "darker side" of The Sword-a depraved and sadistic side.
For example, only recently I came across a video of a modern-day Egyptian Salafi explaining how Khalid raped Layla, the wife of Malik bin Nuwayra-but only after he severed her husband's head, lit it on fire, and cooked his dinner on it.
Khalid was recalled and questioned by the caliph-not because he killed and dined on an apostate's head and "married" his wife, but because some believed that Malik was still Muslim, not an apostate to be treated so, and that Khalid killed him on the accusation of apostasy only as a pretext to take possession of his wife, whose beauty was renowned.
In the words of Ibn Kathir's authoritative historical tome, The Beginning and the End (al-bidaya we al-nihaya), "And he [Khalid] ordered his [Malik's] head and he combined it with two stones and cooked a pot over them. And Khalid ate from it that night to terrify the apostate Arab tribes and others. And it was said that Malik's hair created such a blaze that the meat was so thoroughly cooked."
More eye-opening is the way the videotaped Egyptian cleric recounts this whole narrative with awe and admiration-boasting, for example, how that when Khalid entered the caliph's tent for questioning he was "wearing armor all soaked and rusted from blood [of his enemies], with arrows sticking out of his turban."
As for the near-cannibalistic meal that the Sword of Allah ate, the cleric complained that "People wonder how our lord Khalid could have eaten from such meat? Oh yes-he ate from it! Our lord Khalid had a very strong character, a great appetite, and everything! All to terrorize the desert Arabs [apostates]. The matter requires determination; these matters require strength-terrorism."
Of course, all this accords with the Koran's many commands to "strike terror" into the hearts of disbelievers, be they born infidels or apostates (see Koran 3:151, 8:12, 8:60).
Now, let us fast-forward to the modern era's "Arab Spring" and U.S. support for "freedom-fighters" trying to "liberate" Syria (the official, Western narrative of the jihad), and let us reflect on its true nature-from a jihadi (ironically named "Khalid") biting into the heart of a soldier (and thus striking terror into the hearts of Assad's "apostate" regime) to Islamic clerics justifying rape and prostitution to gratify the many swords of Allah.
And at last, let us understand that the heartbeat of the jihad-sex, violence, and rapine-has scarcely changed in nearly fourteen centuries.