Front matter matters
If Knights 1 contained front matter, then we may never know if it corresponds with the material found in Knights 2. The Al-Sharq al-Awsat serialization of Knights 1 contains no information on front matter.
A book’s front matter usually includes things like dedications, tables of content, and expressions of gratitude. Authors chose favorite poetic or prose passages in their front matter as an expression of their book’s overall themes. The front matter in Knights 2 includes a hadith and a verse of secular poetry that encapsulate Knights 2 basic themes: self-sacrifice in the face of unjust rulers (hadith) and the inevitability of revolution (the secular poetic verse). It also represents the first of many sacred and secular pairings throughout the book.
Zawahiri choses a hadith that retells the story of the personal sacrifice of the disciples of Isa bin Maryam:
In the authority of Mu'adh Bin-Jabal, the messenger of God, prayers and peace be upon him, said: "Take the present as long as it is a present; but if it becomes bribery, do not take it. Verily the millstone of Islam is in action; then it goes with the book of God wherever it goes; verily the book and authority will depart, then never depart the book. Verily there will be on top of you rulers who do for themselves what they do not for you, and if you disobeyed them, they would kill you, and if you obeyed them, they would misguide you.” They said, “Oh messenger of God! What are we to do then?” He said, “The same thing the companions of Isa Bin-Maryam (Virgin Mary) did; they were sawed with saws and were carried on the wood, dead for obeying God, and it is better than a life while disobeying God."
Meanwhile, the poetic verses comes from one of the early Islamic revivalist - Abd-al-Rahman al-Kawakbi (alt Abd al-Rahman al-Kawakibi).
This is a word of truth and a shout in a valley, If it is gone with the wind today, Tomorrow, it will be forced on everybody
Zawahiri will return to these themes, often reemphasizing them with other sacred texts and poetic verses. He begins each chapter with poetic verse, and will often interrupt his narrative with poetry or sacred text, emphasizing his intended lessons. He tells the story of a time in history -- his youth -- spent in self-sacrifice against what he perceived to be an unjust government. In so doing, he creates a paradigm of Salafist-jihadist vocation in action, offered as a personal narrative to readers sympathetic to the cause.
Through Knights 2, Zawahiri attempts to communicate Truth, not facts in a temporal order, like a traditional biographic account. Thus, lessons are key, because they help turn complex theological ideas into tangible ideas, not unlike the role of parables in Christian sacred texts and literature. This is a point that many Western analysts appear to overlook in their search for al-Qaeda’s "ideology."
The story being told begins with front matter. And here, like in so many of the nooks and crannies of the Salafist-jihadist milieu, the sacred and secular meet uneasily, creating a personal narrative that grasps for heaven while all the while remaining rooted on earth.