Chapter 27: The Perilous March
"Allah bless the eyes of Rafi, how did he succeed
In finding the way from Qaraqir to Nawa?
Five days it had marched, when the army wept;
No human ever made such a journey before!"
[A soldier who took part in the march]1
At Hira, in late May 634, Khalid opened the Caliph's letter and read:
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. From the slave of Allah, Atiq, son of Abu Quhafa, 2 to Khalid, son of Al Waleed. Peace be upon you.
I render praise unto Allah save whom there is no Allah, and invoke blessings on His Prophet, Muhammad, on whom be the blessings of Allah and peace.
March until you reach the gathering of the Muslims in Syria, who are in a state of great anxiety ...
Khalid stopped reading, fearing that this meant demotion and that at last the pressure of Umar against him had borne fruit. And what bitter fruit! Khalid muttered, "This must be the work of that left-handed one. He is jealous of me for conquering Iraq." 3 But his fears turned to joy as he read on:
I appoint you commander over the armies of the Muslims and direct you to fight the Romans. You shall be commander over Abu Ubaidah and those with him.
Go with speed and high purpose, O Father of Sulaiman, and complete your task with the help of Allah, exalted be He. Be among those who strive for Allah.
Divide your army into two and leave half with Muthanna who shall be commander in Iraq. Let not more go with you than stay with him. After victory you shall return to Iraq and resume command.
Let not pride enter your mind, for it will deceive and mislead you. And let there be no delay. Lo, to Allah belongs all bounty and He is the dispenser of rewards. 4
Thus was Khalid appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Muslim forces in Syria. 5
Khalid now set about the preparations for his march. He explained the instructions of the Caliph to Muthanna, divided his army into two and handed over one half of it to Muthanna. But in the division of the army, Khalid tried to keep all the Companions of the Prophet-the Emigrants and the Ansars, men held in special esteem by the soldiers. To this Muthanna objected vehemently. "I insist on a total execution of Abu Bakr's orders", he said. "I shall have half the Companions also, for it is by their presence that I hope to win victories." 6
Khalid saw the justice of Muthanna's claim. He revised the division to leave Muthanna a satisfactory share of the Companions, particularly as these included many of the finest officers of the army. This done, Khalid was ready for the march to Syria.
It was Abu Bakr's way to give his generals their mission, the geographical area in which that mission would be carried out, and the resources that, could be made available for that purpose. He would then leave it to his generals to accomplish their mission in whatever manner they chose. This is how he had launched Khalid into Iraq, and this is how he was now launching Khalid into Syria. The mission given to Khalid was clear: he was to move with all speed to Syria, take command of the Muslim forces and fight the Romans until victory was achieved. What route Khalid should take to get to Syria was left to him, and this was the most important immediate decision that Khalid had to take. The detailed locations of the Muslim forces in Syria were not known to him. He knew, however, that they were in the general area of Busra and Jabiya, and he had to get there fast.
1. Ibn Kathir, Al-Bidayah wan-Nihayah, Dar Abi Hayyan, Cairo, 1st ed. 1416/1996, Vol. 7 P. 10.
2. Although the Caliph is known to history as Abu Bakr, his actual name was Abdullah, and he had also been given the name of Atiq by the Holy Prophet.
3. Tabari. Vol. 2, p. 608.
4. Ibid. Vol. 2, pp. 600, 605; Waqidi: Futuh, p. 14 (All references to Waqidi in the remainder of this book are from his Futuh-ush-Sham).
5. Other versions of how Khalid assumed command in Syria suggest that he himself prevailed upon the other generals to let him command the army, or that the generals themselves appointed him commander on account of his military stature. These versions are not correct. Khalid was expressly appointed Commander-in-Chief in Syria by Caliph Abu Bakr.
6. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 605.
There were two known routes available to Khalid for his march. The first was the southern route via Daumat-ul-Jandal whence the army could move along the normal caravan track into Syria. This was the easiest and simplest approach, with ample water on the way and no enemy to interfere with his movement. But it was also the longest route and the movement would take considerable time to complete. The Caliph had emphasised speed, as the situation of the Muslims was apparently serious. So after due consideration Khalid rejected this route.
The other route was the northern one along the Euphrates to North-Eastern Syria. This too was a well-travelled route, but it would take Khalid away from the Muslim armies, and Roman garrisons on the Euphrates would bar his way. He could, no doubt, overcome this opposition, but again there would be delay. He had to find another way of getting to the Muslim forces in Syria.
Khalid called a council of war and explained the situation to his officers. "How can we find a route to Syria", he asked, "by which we avoid the front of the Romans? They will certainly try to prevent us from going to the aid of the Muslims." His reference was to Roman garrisons along the northern route.
"We know of no way", the officers replied, "that could take an army, though a single man might take such a route. Beware of leading the army astray!" 1
But Khalid was determined to find a new route, and asked his question again. None responded except one noted warrior by the name of Raafe bin Umaira. Raafe explained that there was indeed a route through the Land of Samawa. The army could proceed from Hira to Quraqir via Ain-ut-Tamr and Muzayyah, and this would be an easy march. Quraqir was a well-watered oasis in the west of Iraq. Thence to Suwa there was a little known route which led through a barren, waterless desert. At Suwa again there was ample water, and one day's journey before Suwa there was a spring which he knew would provide sufficient water for the army. The most dangerous part of the journey was from Quraqir to this spring, about 120 miles.
But Raafe cautioned: "You cannot take this route with an army. By Allah, even a lone traveller would attempt it at the peril of his life. It involves five days of extreme hardship without a. drop of water and the ever-present danger of losing the way." 2
The officers present nodded agreement. To take the army on such a route, where the entire force could get lost and die of thirst, was something that no man in his right senses would consider.
In a quiet voice Khalid said, "We shall take this route!" Seeing the look of alarm on the faces of his officers, he added, "Let not your resolve be weakened. Know that the help of Allah comes according to your deserts. Let not the Muslims fear anything so long as they have the help of Allah." 3
The effect of his words was instantaneous. With one voice his officers replied, "You are a man on whom Allah has bestowed His goodwill. Do as you wish." 4 And with cheerful enthusiasm the army of Khalid set about its preparations for the march to Syria on a route that no army had travelled before and which was known only to one man, Raafe bin Umaira. (See Map 15 below.)
In early June 634 (beginning of Rabi-ul-Akhir, 13 Hijri) Khalid marched from Hira with an army of 9,000 men. 5 No women and children accompanied the army; they were left behind under Khalid's orders for despatch to Madinah, where they would remain until it was convenient to have them moved to Syria. The army moved via Ain-ut-Tamr, Sandauda 6 and Muzayyah to Quraqir; and Muthanna accompanied Khalid up to here before returning to Hira to resume watch over the new frontier with Persia. For the night the army camped at Quraqir and filled its water skins and other containers with supplies of water that were expected to last the men and animals five days.
1. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 603.
2. Ibid: Vol. 2, p. 609.
3. Ibid: Vol. 2, p. 603.
4. Ibid: Vol. 2, p. 609.
5. The strength of the force that took part in this march has been given variously as 500, 700, 800, 6.000 and 9,000; but the last figure is the correct one. It was the strength of half the army as ordered by Abu Bakr; and all the early writers in their accounts of the campaign in Syria, have said that the Muslim forces included 9,000 men who marched with Khalid from Iraq.
6. Sandauda is the ruined Mashaihad which lies a few miles east of the present Ramadi. (Musil, p. 299)
Early next morning, as the perilous march was about to start, Raafe again approached Khalid. He seemed uncertain of himself. "O Commander," he pleaded "You cannot traverse this desert with an army. By Allah, even a lone traveller would attempt this journey only at the peril of his life."
Khalid turned on him angrily. "Woe to you, O Raafe", he said. "By Allah, if I knew of another route to get to Syria quickly I would take it. Proceed as ordered!" 1
Raafe proceeded as ordered and led Khalid's army of 9,000 men into the desert. As usual the men rode on camels, while the horses were led. It was the month of June when the sun beat mercilessly upon the sands of the desert, destroying all traces of life and daring man to set foot on the tortured, waterless waste. Sensible men would not do this-certainly not at this time of year; certainly not in such large numbers; and certainly not when the fate of the Muslims in Syria hung on their safe arrival. But the greatest glories of man have never been achieved by sensible men. These soldiers were not sensible men. They were the warriors of Khalid, the Sword of Allah, setting out to perform one of the greatest feats of military movement in history.
The first three days passed uneventfully. The men were oppressed by the intense heat and glare, but they were inured to hardship and as long as there was water, all was well. But the water, which was meant to last five days, finished at the end of the third day. They had another two days' journey ahead of them with not a drop of water. 2
Silently the column resumed the march on the fourth day. The heat now appeared to become more intense. There was no conversation on the march, for the men could think only of water and the horrors of getting lost in the desert and dying of thirst. They shuddered to think of what would happen if Raafe lost the way or was otherwise incapacitated. That night the men camped as usual, but there was no sleep. With the agony of fire in their throats and their tongues swollen in their mouths, they could only repeat in their minds the prayer: Sufficient for us is Allah, and what a good protector He is! [Quran: 3-173]
On the fifth morning began the last stage of the march which would, by Allah's will, get them to the spring which Raafe knew. Mile after weary mile the column trudged in silence. Hour after painful hour the men struggled through sandy wastes, tortured by the pitiless glare and heat. The day's march was completed and the men still lived, though most of them had reached the limits of human endurance. The column was no longer a neat, orderly formation as it had been at the start of the march. Many of the warriors were straggling in the rear of the column, hoping against hope that they would not fall by the wayside.
As the head of the column reached the area where the spring was supposed to be, Raafe the guide could no longer see. He had been suffering from opthalmia and the blinding glare of the sun had worsened the condition of his eyes. He now wrapped part of his turban over his eyes and halted his camel. The men following him were horrified to see this, and called to him piteously, "O Raafe! We are on the point of death. Have you not found the water?" But Raafe could no longer see. In a voice which was little more than a hoarse whisper, he said, "Look for two hillocks like the breasts of a woman." The column moved on, and soon after the two hillocks were identified and the guide informed accordingly.
"Look for a thorn tree shaped like a man in a sitting posture", ordered Raafe. A few scouts rode out to look for the tree, but returned a few minutes later to say that no such tree could be found.
1. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 609.
2. For the romantic legend of the camel carrying water in a pouch in its belly, as was supposedly done on this march, see Note 7 in Appendix B.
"Lo! We belong to Allah and indeed to Him we shall return", said Raafe, quoting a Quranic verse. "Then we all perish. But look once again." The men looked again, and this time found the trunk of a thorn tree of which the remainder had vanished. "Dig under its roots", 1 instructed Raafe. The men dug under the roots, and, in the words of Waqidi, "water flowed out of the earth like a river!" 2
The men drank their fill, all the while praising Allah and invoking His blessings on Raafe. Then the animals were watered, and there was still water to spare. Hundreds of men filled their water skins and set off back on the route which they had travelled, looking for stragglers, of whom there were many. All were found and brought in alive.
The perilous march was over. They had made it. It had never been done before, and would never be done again. Khalid had reached the border of Syria, leaving behind the Roman frontier and its garrisons facing Iraq. They were now only a day's march from Suwa, where the desert ended and habitation began. (See Map 15.)
Khalid had no doubt that he and his army had gone through hell and come very near annihilation. But the real extent of the peril which they had faced was not known to him until Raafe, now smiling, came to him and said, "O Commander, I have only alighted at this spring once, and that was 30 years ago, when as a boy I travelled hither with my father!" 3
In later years a certain caliph wrote to an eminent scholar and asked him for a description of the lands under Muslim rule. The scholar wrote back and gave the required description. When he came to Syria, he said, "Know, O Commander of the Faithful, that Syria is a land of clouds and hills and winds and abundance upon abundance. It freshens the body and clears the skin, especially the land of Emessa, which beautifies the body and creates understanding and forbearance. Its waters are pure and sharpen the senses. Syria, O Commander of the Faithful, is a land of pleasant verdure and large forests. Its rivers run in the right courses, and in it camels have plenty to drink." 4
Indeed, Syria was a beautiful land-the fairest province of the Byzantine Empire. Its temperate climate, conditioned by the Mediterranean, provided relief from the heat of the desert and the cold of northern climes. Antioch, now in Turkey, was the capital of the Asian region of the Byzantine Empire, and second only to Constantinople in glory and political importance. The great cities of Syria-Aleppo, Emessa, Damascus-not only contined immense commercial wealth, but were also seats of culture and civilisation. Its thriving ports on the Mediterranean-Latakia, Tripolis, Beirut, Tyre, Acre, Jaffa-saw ships of the entire known world and bustled with trade and commerce.
Politically, the Syrian region consisted of two provinces. Syria proper stretched from Antioch and Aleppo in the north to the top of the Dead Sea. West and south of the Dead Sea lay the province of Palestine, which included the holy places of three great faiths and cities no less rich and sophisticated than any in the world. The Arabs of the time also spoke of the Province of Jordan, lying between Syria and Palestine; but this was more of a geographical expression that a term denoting a political and administrative unit. And all this was part of the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine Empire. To invade Syria was to invade Rome, and this was not an action to be undertaken light-heartedly.
The Eastern Roman Empire too was declining, and this decline had been going on for a much longer period than that of the Persian Empire. The latter still enjoyed a degree of stability and strength, which was due, among other factors, to the powerful Sasanid Dynasty that had ruled in unbroken succession for the past four centuries. The Romans, on the other hand, had no such ruling dynasty, nor did they subscribe to the concept of a royal house to which the privilege of rule was confined. On the death of a ruler, the Empire fell to the most successful general or politician or intriguer.
1. Tabari: Vol 2. p. 609.
2. Waqidi: p. 14.
3. Tabari: Vol. 2, pp. 604, 609. For other versions of Khalid's route, which are mistaken, see Note 9 in Appendix B.
4. Masudi: Muruj, Vol. 2, pp. 61-2.
But the army of Eastern Rome was still a powerful instrument for the waging of imperial wars and, after the Persian Army, the most efficient and formidable military machine in the world. Its legions were well-equipped and ably led, and could still strike terror into the hearts of the peoples over whose lands they marched. Like any great imperial army, it was not one national unit but a heterogeneous collection of contingents from many peoples inhabiting many lands. In its ranks served Romans, Slavs, Franks, Greeks, Georgians, Armenians, Arabs and tribes from far-flung regions. These soldiers manned garrisons in the cities of Syria, most of which were fortified.
Syria, like Iraq, was partly an Arab land, especially in its eastern and southern parts. The Arabs had been there since pre-Roman times; and when Emperor Constantine made Christianity the State religion of the Empire in the early part of the fourth century A.D., these Arabs also embraced Christianity. But, the Arabs of Syria were people of no consequence until the migration of the powerful Ghassan tribe from the Yemen to Syria, which occurred a few centuries before Islam. For some time the Ghassan fought the Roman garrisons in Eastern Syria. Then as the Romans came to realise and value their martial spirit and warlike traits, they made peace with them and agreed to their living in Syria as a semi-autonomous people with their own king. The Ghassan Dynasty became one of the honoured princely dynasties of the Empire, with the Ghassan king ruling over the Arabs in Jordan and Southern Syria from his capital at Busra. The last of the Ghassan kings, who ruled at the time of Khalid's invasion, was Jabla bin Al Aiham. This man shared with Adi bin Hatim, who has been mentioned earlier in this book, the distinction of being the tallest Arab in history. His feet too touched the ground when he rode his horse! 1
This then was the Syria, and this its political and military condition, that greeted the Muslim army in the early weeks of the thirteenth year of the Hijra.
The man who commanded the first serious military venture into Syria was a namesake of Khalid, viz. Khalid bin Saeed-a man whose military ability was just the opposite of Khalid's! Towards the end of 12 Hijri (beginning of 634) Abu Bakr placed him at Taima, some distance north of Madinah, with a detachment which was to act as a general reserve.
While at Taima, it occurred to Khalid bin Saeed to invade Syria; and for this project he sought the Caliph's permission. Abu Bakr had no intention of attempting the conquest of Syria with a small body of men, especially under an indifferent and untried general. But the Muslims knew little about the detailed military situation in Syria and Abu Bakr decided to let this operation proceed as a reconnaissance in force. He therefore wrote and gave Khalid bin Saeed permission to enter Syria; but cautioned him against getting involved in any serious hostilities which might threaten his withdrawal into the safety of Arabia.
Khalid bin Saeed set out with his small force, entered Syria and ran headlong into some Roman forces. The Roman commander in contact with the Muslims-a skilful tactician by the name of Bahan-lured the unwary Muslims into a trap and executed a pincer movement to encircle them. At this, Khalid bin Saeed lost his nerve and fled, leaving most of his men behind. Luckily for the Muslims, Ikrimah bin Abi Jahl was present at this action; and taking command of the situation, he extricated the Muslims from a blunder that was about to turn into a major tragedy. Ikrimah was able to save the Muslims, but inevitably the expedition bore the stigma of defeat. Khalid bin Saeed was now in disgrace, and Abu Bakr made no secret of his contempt for the man's pusillanimity and lack of skill. (Later, however, this man was allowed to join the Muslims in Syria, and he retrieved his honour by dying in battle.)
The exact location of this action is disputed. Some historians suggest that it took place at Marj-us-Suffar, south of Damascus, but it is unlikely that the expedition could have got that far before being seriously engaged by the Roman army. The benefit of this abortive venture to the Muslims, however, was that it made it clear to the Caliph that the invasion of Syria was not a matter to be taken lightly.
On return from the annual pilgrimage at Makkah in February 634, Abu Bakr issued a call to arms for the invasion of Syria. All was now quiet on the Iraq front. Khalid's campaign in Iraq had proved an unqualified success: it not only expanded the political boundaries of the Muslim State but also filled the coffers of Madinah. The Muslims therefore came to feel that if they could win against the formidable and much-feared Persians, why not also against the Romans who were not so fearsome as an imperial military power? Moreover, the promise of the new religious movement had to be fulfilled and its destiny achieved. Islam had come as a blessing for all mankind; and the message had to be conveyed to all mankind.
1. Ibn Qutaiba: p. 644.
Tribal contingents responded eagerly to the call from Madinah. They came in thousands from all over the peninsula. From as far away as Oman and the Yemen. They came mounted and armed for battle, but also brought their women and children with them. Only those who had apostatised were excluded from the summons. The concentration of the able-bodied manhood of Muslim Arabia was both begun and completed in March 634 (Muharram, 13 Hijri).
Abu Bakr now organised the available manpower into four corps, each of about 7,000 men. The commanders of these corps and the objectives given to them were as follows:
a. Amr bin AI Aas: Objective Palestine. Move on Eila route, then across Valley of Araba.
b. Yazeed bin Abi Sufyan: Objective Damascus. Move on Tabuk route.
c. Shurahbil bin Hasanah: Objective Jordan. Move on Tabuk route after Yazeed. (Shurahbil had fought in the Iraq Campaign under Khalid, and had recently been sent as a messenger to Madinah, where the Caliph detained him and gave him the command of a corps for the Syrian Campaign).
d. Abu Ubaidah bin Al Jarrah: Objective Emessa. Move on Tabuk route after Shurahbil.
Abu Bakr's intention was to invade Syria and take as much of it as possible. (See Map 16 below.) Not being aware of the size and detailed dispositions of the Roman army, he did not strengthen any one corps at the expense of the others. But he realised that the Romans could concentrate a very large army in any sector of the theatre of operations, and consequently ordered that the corps commanders would, keep in touch with each other and that any one of them could seek the help of his comrades if a serious clash with Roman forces appeared imminent on his front. In case the corps had to concentrate for one major battle, the command of the entire Muslim army would be taken by Abu Ubaidah.
In the first week of April 634 (beginning of Safar, 13 Hijri), the Muslim forces began to move. The first to leave Madinah was Yazeed; and as his column started from its camp outside Madinah, Abu Bakr walked for a short distance by his side. His parting words to Yazeed, which he repeated to the other corps commanders, were as follows:
In your march be not hard on yourself or your army. Be not harsh with your men or your officers, whom you should consult in all matters.
Be just and abjure evil and tyranny, for no nation which is unjust prospers or achieves victory over its enemies.
When you meet the enemy turn not your back on him; for whoever turns his back, except to manoeuvre for battle or to regroup, earns the wrath of Allah. His abode shall be hell, and what a terrible place it is!
And when you have won a victory over your. enemies, kill not women or children or the aged and. slaughter not beasts except for eating. And break not. the pacts which you make.
You will come upon a people who live like hermits in monasteries, believing that they have given up all for Allah. Let them be and destroy not their monasteries. And you will meet other people who are partisans of Satan and worshippers of the Cross, who shave the centre of their heads so that you can see the scalp. Assail them with your swords until they submit to Islam or pay the Jizya.
I entrust you to the care of Allah 1
In making this speech Abu Bakr was following the example of the Holy Prophet, who, when despatching a military expedition, would instruct its commander: "Fight in the name of` Allah: fight but do not exceed the bounds; and do not be treacherous; and do not mutilate; and do not kill women and children; and do not kill the inmates of monasteries." 2 It is reported that Abu Bakr walked beside Yazeed for nearly 2 miles, and when Yazeed asked him to return, said, "I heard the Messenger of Allah say that the feet that get covered with dust in the way of Allah shall not be touched by the fire of hell." 3
1. Waqidi: p. 4.
2. Abu Yusuf: pp. 193-5.
With these words ringing in his ears, Yazeed set off from Madinah. The invasion of Syria had been launched.
Yazeed made good speed on the road to Tabuk. Behind him marched the corps of Shurahbil, and behind that the corps of Abu Ubaidah, each a day's march from the other. Amr bin Al Aas marched with his corps on the western route to Eila. Yazeed had advanced two or three stages beyond Tabuk when he first contacted the enemy-a force of Christian Arabs sent forward by the Romans as a reconnaissance element. These Arabs withdrew hastily after a brush with the Muslim advance guard. Following their withdrawal, Yazeed made for the Valley of Araba where it meets the southern end of the Dead Sea. (See Map 16)
Yazeed arrived at the Valley of Araba at about the same time as Amr bin Al Aas reached Eila. Both corps now made contact with Roman forces of about equal strength which had been sent forward from the main Roman army to prevent the Muslims from entering Palestine. Both Yazeed and Amr bin Al Aas fought the Roman detachments facing them and drove them back with heavy losses. When the Romans defeated by Yazeed withdrew in precipitous haste, Yazeed sent a fast column which overtook the retreating detachment at Dasin, some distance short of Gaza, and caused it considerable damage before rejoining Yazeed at the Valley of Araba. Meanwhile Amr bin Al Aas was moving north along this valley. These engagements took place within a fortnight of the start of the Muslim march from Madinah.
While these actions were being fought by the corps of Yazeed-which had strayed from the objective given by the Caliph-Shurahbil and Abu Ubaidah continued their march northwards on the main route: Ma'an-Mutah-Amman. They were followed a little later by Yazeed. By the end of the month of Safar (early May) Shurahbil and Abu Ubaidah had got to the region between Busra and Jabiya; 1 Yazeed was camped somewhere in North-Eastern Jordan; and Amr waited by the Valley of Araba. It was at this stage that the Muslims came to realise that the Roman eagle was stirring. Indeed the Roman eagle was already on the wing!
The Emperor Heraclius was in Emessa, planning countermeasures against the Muslims. When he first heard of the crushing defeats suffered by the Persian Army at the hands of Khalid, he was not a little surprised, for he had had no higher opinion of the Arabs than did the Persian court once have. But he was not unduly worried. Then came news of the fiasco of Khalid bin Saeed, and Heraclius felt reassured. However, as a precaution, he ordered the positioning of several Roman legions at Ajnadein, whence they could operate against any Muslim force entering Palestine or Jordan.
As the Muslim corps set off from Madinah, the Roman army received intelligence of the move from Christian Arabs. Apprised of the latest situation and the direction of the Muslim movement, Heraclius realized that this was a serious attempt at the invasion of his domain. Soon after this he heard of the defeat of the Roman covering forces sent from Ajnadein at the hands of the leading corps of the Muslim army. He decided to punish these rough intruders and throw them back into the desert whence they had come. On his orders, large detachments of the Roman army began preparations for a move to Ajnadein from garrisons in Palestine and Syria.
By now the Muslim commanders had established contacts with the local population and laid the foundations of an intelligence network. They had already come to know of the existence of a Roman army at Ajnadein. A few days later they received intelligence of the movement of more Roman legions in the direction of Ajnadein; and all corps commanders sent messages to Abu Ubaidah informing him of these moves. Three corps of the Muslim army were in more or less the same region-i.e., Eastern Jordan and Southern Syria-and Abu Ubaidah at once took these corps under his command. Amr bin Al Aas was more isolated from the others and felt that the Roman preparations were being made against his corps. He therefore sought help from Abu Ubaidah.
1. Masudi (Muruj, Vol. 4, p. 66) gives the location of Jabiya as 2 miles from Jasim. It was a little to the west of the present Jasim-Nawa line, and after the arrival of the Muslims, became known as a military cantonment.
Some time in the middle of Rabi-ul-Awwal (third week of May), the Caliph received a message from Abu Ubaidah giving a fairly clear picture of the situation in Syria and Palestine. Muslim estimates suggested that presently the Romans would have an army of 100,000 men at Ajnadein, from where it could either strike frontally against Amr bin Al Aas, or manoeuvre against the flanks and rear of the other three Muslim corps. This estimate of Roman strength was not far from the mark, as we shall see later.
The situation had taken a turn for the worse. The Romans were in much larger strength than had been anticipated by the Muslims when the invasion was launched; and it was clear that the Romans were not going to sit in their fortified cities and await attack. They were concentrating into one great army to fight a grand offensive battle in the field. The Muslims would either have to fight a general set-piece battle with the Imperial Roman Army or withdraw hastily into Arabia, neither of which alternatives was pleasant to contemplate. The Caliph rejected the second one outright. There was no question of returning to Arabia in face of the Roman threat. The invasion of Syria had been launched; it must be sustained. But what caused Abu Bakr the greatest anxiety was the question of who should command the Muslim army? Abu Bakr had ordered that Abu Ubaidah would take command of the army whenever the corps were united for battle. Abu Ubaidah was a wise, intelligent man, and a widely esteemed and venerated Muslim. He was also a man of unquestionable personal courage. But knowing his mild and gentle nature and his lack of experience in the command of military forces in major operations, Abu Bakr had serious misgivings about his ability to lead the entire Muslim army in a serious clash with the powerful and sophisticated army of Eastern Rome.
Abu Bakr reached the best conclusion which was possible under the circumstances: he would send Khalid bin Al Waleed to command the Muslim army in Syria! Khalid had recently shattered the Persian army in several bloody battles. Khalid would know what to do. This decision made Abu Bakr feel lighter, as if a heavy burden had been lifted off his shoulders. "By Allah," he said, "I shall destroy the Romans and the friends of Satan with Khalid bin Al Waleed!" 1 He consequently despatched a fast rider to Hira with instructions for Khalid to move with half his army to Syria, take command of the Muslim forces and fight the Romans.
The next chapter takes up the thread of events which constituted Khalid's conquest of Syria. This subject is taken up with the full realization of the possibility of error in the account of this campaign, because of the confusion and the contradictions that exist in the narratives of the early historians. There is disagreement about many important aspects of this military history-in the dates of the great battles; in the strengths of the forces deployed in these battles, in the order in which these battles were fought; even, in the case of the odd battle, about who commanded the army at the time. The only writer who has described the campaign in meticulous detail is Waqidi; but his account also contains errors, as it is based on narratives passed down orally from the Syrian veterans, which sometimes conflict.
In this book has been prepared, from all the accounts available, a sequence of events and a version of these events which makes the most military sense and leaves the least room for contradiction. The reader has been spared copious footnotes, explaining each alternative version and each deviation from the commonly accepted version of this campaign; but he will find footnotes in the case of the more important issues, so that he may form his own opinion. And Allah knows best!
1. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 603.