Chapter 23: The Conquest of Hira
"And the day we surrounded the citadels
One after another, at calm Hirah.
We forced them down from their thrones,
Where they had acted as cowardly opponents."
[ Al-Qa'qa' bin Amr, commander in Khalid's army]1
In the middle of May 633 (beginning of Rabi-ul-Awwal, 12 Hijri) Khalid marched from Ullais towards Amghishiya. This place was very near Ullais; in fact Ullais acted as an out post of Amghishiya! 2 The same morning the army reached Amghishiya, and found it a silent city.
Amghishiya was one of the great cities of Iraq-a rival the richness to Hira in size, in the affluence of its citizens and in find the and splendour of its markets. The Muslims arrived to city intact, and its markets and buildings abundantly stocked with wealth and merchandise of every kind; but of human beings there was no sign. The flower of Amghishiya's manhood had fallen at Ullais. Those who remained-mainly women and children and the aged-had left the city in haste on hearing of the approach of Khalid and had taken shelter in the neighbouring countryside, away from the route of the Muslim army. The fear which the name of Khalid now evoked had become a psychological factor of the highest importance in the operations of his army.
The Muslims took Amghishiya as part of the legitimate spoils of war. They stripped it of everything that could be lifted and transported, and in doing so accumulated wealth that dazzled the simple warriors of the desert. After it had been thoroughly ransacked, Khalid destroyed the city. 3 It is believed that the spoils taken here were equal to all the booty that had been gained from the four preceding battles in Iraq; and as usual, four-fifths of the spoils were distributed among the men while one-fifth was sent to Madinah as the share of the State.
By now the Caliph had become accustomed to receiving tidings of victory from the Iraq front. Every such message was followed by spoils of war which enriched the state and gladdened the hearts of the Faithful. But even Abu Bakr was amazed by the spoils of Amghishiya. He summoned the Muslims to the mosque and addressed them as follows:
"O Quraish! Your lion has attacked another lion and overpowered him. Women can no longer bear sons like Khalid!" 3
This was one of the finest compliments ever paid to Khalid bin Al Waleed.
These were difficult days for Azazbeh, governor of Hira. He had heard of the disaster that had befallen the Persian army, at Kazima, at the River, at Walaja and at Ullais; and it was obvious that Khalid was marching on Hira. If those large armies, commanded by distinguished generals, had crumbled before the onslaught of Khalid, could he with his small army hope to resist? There were no instructions from the ailing Emperor.
Azazbeh. was the administrator of Hira as well as the commander of the garrison. He was a high official of the realm-a 50,000 dirham-man. The Arab king of Hira, Iyas bin Qubaisa who has been mentioned earlier, was a king in name only. Other chieftains who were like princes of the realm also had no governmental authority except in purely Arab or tribal matters. It fell to Azazbeh to defend Hira; and as a true son of Persia, he resolved to do his best.
He got the army garrison out of its quarters and established a camp on the outskirts of Hira. From here he sent his son forward with a cavalry group to hold the advance of Khalid, and advised him to dam the Euphrates in case Khalid should think, of moving up in boats. This young officer rode out to a place where the River Ateeq joined the Euphrates, 12 miles downstream from Hira. Here he formed a base, from which he sent a cavalry detachment forward as an outpost to another river junction a few miles ahead, where the Badqala flowed into the Euphrates, a little above Amghishiya. 5
1. Ibn Kathir, Al-Bidayah wan-Nihayah, Dar Abi Hayyan, Cairo, 1st ed. 1416/1996, Vol. 6 P. 425.
2. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 563; Amghishiya was also known as Manishiya.
3. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 563.
5. The River Ateeq still exists. It is a small river, hardly more than a large stream, and may have been a canal in those days. Taking off from the area of Abu Sukhair, the Ateeq flows west of Euphrates, going up to 5 miles away from the main river, and rejoins the Euphrates a mile above modern Qadisiya (which is 8 miles south-east of the old, historical Qadisiya). In the latter part of its journey, this stream is also known as Dujaij. The Badqala was a canal or channel which joined the Euphrates near Amghishiya (Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 563). In his account of this operation, Tabari is both confusing and confused, and has got the two river junctions mixed up.
Khalid had now resumed his march on what was to be the last leg of his journey to Hira. He decided to use the river for transport and had all the heavy loads of the army placed in boats. As the army advanced on camels and horses, the convoy of boats, manned and piloted by local Arabs, moved alongside. Khalid had not gone far, however, when the water level fell and the boats were grounded. The son of Azazbeh had dammed the river.
Leaving the army stranded at the bank of the Euphrates, Khalid took a detachment of cavalry and dashed off at a fast pace along the road to Hira. Before long he arrived at Badqala, to encounter the Persian horse sent forward by the son of Azazbeh as an outpost. These green Persians were no match for the Muslim veterans; and before they could organise themselves for defence, Khalid's horsemen bore down upon them and slaughtered them down to the last man. Next Khalid opened the dam so that the water flowed once again in the right channel; and the army resumed its advance by river.
The son of Azazbeh also was not as wakeful as, the situation demanded. In the belief that his outpost at Badqala was sufficient precaution against surprise by the Muslims-not for a moment doubting that the outpost would inform him of the approach of danger-he had relaxed his vigilance. Then suddenly he was hit by Khalid. Most of the Persians in this group were killed, including the young commander; but a few fast riders managed to get away to carry the sad news to Azazbeh.
From these riders Azazbeh heard of the loss of the cavalry group and the death of his son. From couriers who came from Ctesiphon he heard of the death of Ardsheer. Heartbroken at the loss of his son and staggered by the news of the Emperor's death, he found the burden of his responsibilities too heavy for his shoulders. He abandoned all intentions of defending Hira against Khalid; and crossing the Euphrates with his army, withdrew to Ctesiphon. Hira was left to the Arabs.
Khalid continued his advance towards his objective. It is not known when he abandoned the boats and took to the road, but this must have happened a few miles downstream of Hira. Expecting stiff opposition at Hira, Khalid decided not to approach it frontally. Moving his army round the left, he bypassed Hira from the west and appeared at Khawarnaq, which was a thriving town 3 miles north-north-west of Hira. 1 He passed through Khawarnaq and approached Hira from the rear. There was no opposition to his columns as they entered the city. The inhabitants were all there. They neither fled nor offered any resistance, and were left unmolested by the Muslim soldiers as they entered deeper into the city.
Soon the situation became clearer; it was a mixed situation of peace and war. Hira was an open city; the Muslims could have it. But the four citadels of Hira, each manned by strong garrisons of Christian Arabs and commanded by Arab chieftains, were prepared for defence and would fight it out. If Khalid wanted any of these citadels, he would have to fight for it.
Each of the four citadels had a palace in which the commanding chieftain lived; and each citadel was known after its palace. The citadels were: the White Palace commanded by Iyas bin Qubaisa ('King' of Iraq); the Palace of Al Adassiyin commanded by Adi bin Adi; the Palace of Bani Mazin commanded by Ibn Akal; and the Palace of Ibn Buqaila commanded by Abdul Masih bin Amr bin Buqaila.
Against each citadel Khalid sent a part of his army under a subordinate general. These generals, besieging the citadels in the order in which they have been mentioned above, were: Dhiraar bin Al Azwar, Dhiraar bin Al Khattab (no relation of Umar), Dhiraar bin Al Muqarrin and Muthanna. All the generals were ordered to storm the citadels; but before doing so they would offer the garrisons the usual alternatives-Islam, the Jizya or the sword. The garrisons would have one day in which to think it over. The generals moved out with their forces and surrounded the citadels. The ultimatum was issued. The following day it was rejected by the Christian Arabs and hostilities began.
1. Nothing remains of Khawarnaq but a mound 600 Yards west of the Nejef road.
The first to launch his attack was Dhiraar bin Al Azwar against the White Palace. The defenders stood on the battlements and in addition to shooting arrows at the Muslims, used a catapult to hurl balls of clay at their assailants. Dhiraar decided to knock out the catapult. Working his way forward with a picked group of archers, he got to within bow?range of the catapult and ordered a single, powerful volley of arrows. The entire crew of the catapult was killed, and many of the enemy archers too. The rest hastily withdrew from the battlements
Similar exchanges of archery were taking place at the other citadels, though none of the others had a catapult. It was not long before the four chieftains asked for terms. They agreed to nominate one from amongst themselves who would speak for all, to negotiate directly with Khalid. The man chosen was the chieftain of the Palace of Ibn Buqaila-Abdul Masih bin Amr bin Buqaila.
Abdul Masih came out of his citadel and walked towards the Muslims. He walked slowly, for he was a very, very old man, "whose eyebrows had fallen over his eyes." 1
Abdul Masih was in his time the most illustrious son of Arab Iraq. He was a prince. Known as the wisest and oldest of men, he enjoyed no official authority from the Persian court, but was held in reverence by the Iraqis and wielded considerable influence in their affairs. He also had a sparkling, if impish sense of humour. He had become a noted figure as early as the time of Anushirwan the Just. Meeting Anushirwan shortly before the latter's death, Abdul Masih had warned him that after him his empire would decay.
Slowly the old sage approached Khalid. When he stopped, there began one of the most unusual dialogues ever recorded by historians.
"How many years have come upon you?" asked Khalid.
"Two hundred", replied the sage.
Awed by the great age of the man, Khalid asked, "What is the most wonderful thing that you have seen?"
"The most wonderful thing that I have seen is a village between Hira and Damascus to which a woman travels from Hira, with nothing more than a loaf of bread."
He was alluding to the incomparable order and system which existed in the time of Anushirwan. The meaning of his words, however, was lost on Khalid, who, concluded that the man must be stupid. Without raising his voice Khalid remarked, "Have you gained nothing from your great age but senility? I had heard that the people of Hira were cunning, deceitful scoundrels. Yet they send me a man who does not know from where he comes."
"O Commander!" protested the sage. "Truly do I know from where I come."
"Where do you come from?"
"From the spine of my father!"
"Where do you come from?" Khalid repeated.
"From the womb of my mother!"
"Where are you going?"
"To my front."
1. Abu Yusuf: p. 143.
"What is to your front?"
"Woe to you!" exclaimed Khalid. "Where do you stand?"
"On the earth."
"Woe to you! In what are you?"
"In my clothes."
Khalid was now losing his patience. But he continued his questioning.
"Do you understand me?"
"I only want to ask a few questions."
"And I only want to give you the answers."
Exasperated with this dialogue, Khalid muttered: "The earth destroys its fools, but the intelligent destroy the earth. I suppose your people know you better than I do."
"0 Commander," replied Abdul Masih with humility, "it is the ant, not the camel, that knows what is in its hole!"
It suddenly struck Khalid that he was face-to-face with an unusual mind. Everything that the sage had said fell into place; every answer had meaning and humour. His tone was more respectful as he said, "Tell me something that you remember."
An absent look came into the eyes of Abdul Masih. For a few moments he looked wistfully at the towers of the citadels which rose above the rooftops of the city. Then he said, "I remember a time when ships of China sailed behind these citadels." He was mentally again in the golden age of Anushirwan.
The preamble was over. Khalid now came to the point. "I call you to Allah and to Islam", he said. "If you accept, you will be Muslims. You will gain what we gain, and you will bear what we bear. If you refuse, then the Jizya. And if you refuse to pay the Jizya, then I bring a people who desire death more ardently than you desire life."
"We have no wish to fight you," replied Abdul Masih, "but we shall stick to our faith. We shall pay the Jizya."
The talks were over. Agreement had been reached. Khalid was about to dismiss the man when he noticed a small pouch hanging from the belt of a servant who had accompanied the sage and stood a few paces behind him. Khalid walked up to the servant, snatched away the pouch and emptied its contents into the palm of his hand. "What is this?" he asked the sage.
"This is a poison that works instantaneously."
"But why the poison?"
"I feared", replied Abdul Masih, "that this meeting might turnout otherwise than it has. I have reached my appointed time. I would prefer death to seeing horrors befall my people and my land." 1
1. This dialogue has been taken from Balazuri: (p. 244) and Tabari (Vol. 2, pp. 564-6).
In the end of May 633 (middle of Rabi-ul-Awwal, 12 Hijri) the terms of surrender were drawn up. A treaty was signed. The citadels opened their gates and peace returned to Hira. The objective given by the Caliph had been taken after four bloody battles and several smaller engagements. Khalid led a mass victory prayer of eight rakats . 1
According to the treaty, the people of Hira would pay the Muslim State 190,000 dirhams every year. The pact included certain supplementary clauses: Hira would give the Muslim army one saddle (the army was one saddle short!), 2 the people of Hira would act as spies and guides for the Muslims. And then there was the clause about an Arab princess!
One day at Madinah the Holy Prophet was sitting in the company of some of his followers, talking of this and that. The subject turned to foreign lands, and the Prophet remarked that soon the Muslims would conquer Hira. Thereupon one Muslim, a simple, unlettered man by the name of Shuwail, 3 said eagerly, "O Messenger of Allah! When we have conquered Hira may I have Kiramah bint Abdul Masih?"
Kiramah, the daughter of Abdul Masih, was a princess. The people of Arabia had heard of her as a breathtaking beauty-a woman more beautiful than any other in existence. The Prophet laughed as he replied, "She shall be yours?" 4
Hira was now conquered. As Khalid's troops came to hear of his talks with Abdul Masih and the preparations to draw up the terms of surrender, Shuwail, who was serving under Khalid, approached the Sword of Allah. "O Commander!" he said. "When Hira surrenders may I have Kiramah bint Abdul Masih? She was promised to me by the Messenger of Allah."
Khalid found it difficult to believe that the Prophet had promised a princess of the house of Abdul Masih to this simple fellow. "Have you any witnesses?" he asked. "Yes, by Allah!" replied Shuwail, and brought witnesses whose testimony proved the veracity of the man's statement. Khalid then included this point as a clause in the pact: Kiramah bint Abdul Masih would be given to Shuwail!
The women of the house of Abdul Masih wailed in distress when they were given the devastating news. Was a princess who had lived all her life in splendour and refinement to be handed over to a crude Arab of the desert? What made the situation ludicrous was that Kiramah was an old woman of 80. She had once been the leading beauty of the day, but that was a long time ago.
The princess herself solved the problem. "Take me to him", she said. "This fool must have heard of my beauty when I was young, and thinks that youth is eternal." 5 Accompanied by a maid, she left the Palace of Ibn Buqaila.
Excited by visions of amorous delight, Shuwail awaited his prize. Then she stood before him. The poor man's shock and dismay made a pathetic sight as he looked at the lined face. He was left speechless.
The princess broke the embarrassed silence. "Of what use is an old woman to you? Let me go!"
Now Shuwail saw his chance of making her pay for her freedom. "No," he replied, "not except on my terms."
"And what are your terms? State your price."
"I am not the son of the mother of Shuwail if I let you go for less than a thousand dirhams."
The shrewd old woman assumed a look of alarm. "A thousand dirhams!" she exclaimed.
1. A unit of prayer.
2. Balazuri: p. 246.
3. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 569. According to Balazuri, however, this man's name was Khuraim bin Aus. (p. 245).
"Yes, not a dirham less."
Quickly the princess handed over 1,000 dirhams to the exulting Arab and returned to her family.
Shuwail rejoined his comrades, many of whom were more knowledgeable than he. Bursting with pride he told them the story: how he had released Kiramah, but made her pay through the nose-1,000 dirhams!
He was quite unprepared for the laughter which greeted his boastful account. "1,000 dirhams!" his friends exclaimed. "For Kiramah bint Abdul Masih you could have got much, much more."
Bewildered by this remark, the simple Arab replied, "I did not know that there was a sum higher than a thousand!" When Khalid heard the story he laughed heartily, and observed, "Man intends one thing, but Allah intends another." 1
Once Hira was his, Khalid turned to the subjugation of other parts of Iraq, starting with the nearer districts. He wrote identical letters to the mayors and elders of the towns, offering them the usual alternatives-Islam, the Jizya or the sword. All the districts in the vicinity of Hira had the good sense to submit; and pacts were drawn up with the chiefs and mayors, laying down the rate of Jizya and assuring the inhabitants of Muslim protection. These pacts were witnessed by several Muslim officers, including Khalid's brother, Hisham, who served under him in this campaign.
Meanwhile the affairs of Persia were going from bad , to worse. The Persians were split over the question of the succession to the throne. In opposition to Khalid, they were united, but this was a sterile unity, offering no positive results. With the military affairs of the Empire in disarray, Bahman had assumed the role of Commander-in-Chief, and was working feverishly to put the defences of Ctesiphon in order against a Muslim attack which he was certain would come. Bahman aimed at nothing more ambitious than the defence of Ctesiphon; and in this he was being realistic, for over the rest of the region west of the Lower Tigris the Persians had no control.
Over this region the Arab horse was now supreme. Khalid, having crushed four large Persian armies, knew that there was no further threat of a counter-offensive from Ctesiphon, and that he could venture into Central Iraq in strength. He made Hira his base of operations and flung his cavalry across the Euphrates. His mounted columns galloped over Central Iraq up to the Tigris, killing and plundering those who resisted and making peace with those who agreed to pay the Jizya. For the command of these fast-moving columns he used his most dashing generals Dhiraar bin Al Azwar, Qaqa, Muthanna. By the end of June 633 (middle of Rabi-ul-Akhir 12 Hijri) the region between the rivers was all his. There was no one to challenge his political and military authority.
Along with military conquest Khalid organised the administration of the conquered territories. He appointed officers over all the districts to see that the Jizya was promptly paid and that the local inhabitants provided intelligence about the Persians and guides for the movement of Muslim units. Khalid also sent two letters to Ctesiphon, one addressed to the court and the other to the people. The letter to the Persian court read as follows:
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. From Khalid bin Al Waleed to the kings of Persia.
Praise be to Allah who has disrupted your system and thwarted your designs. And if He had not done so it would have been worse for you. Submit to our orders and we shall leave you and your land in peace; else you shall suffer subjugation at the hands of a people who love death as you love life. 2
The letter addressed to the people was in much the same words, with the added promise of Muslim protection in return for the payment of the Jizya. Both the letters were carried by local Arabs of Hira and delivered at Ctesiphon. There was no reply!
1. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 569; Balazuri: p. 245.
2. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 572.