Chapter 36: The Completion of Conquest
"There are many virtues of al-Sham and its people established by the Book, the Sunnah and the traditions of the people of knowledge, and this is one of the things I relied upon in my encouraging the Muslims to fight the Tatars, my order to them to remain in Damascus, my forbidding them from fleeing to Egypt, and my inviting the Egyptian military to Syria and consolidating the Syrian military there …"
[Ibn Taymiyyah, speaking of the events of 700-702AH, when Damascus was successfully defended against the ravaging Mongol army]1
After Yarmuk the remnants of the Roman army withdrew in haste to Northern Syria and the northern part of the Mediterranean coast. The vanquished soldiers of Rome, those who survived the horror of Yarmuk, were in no fit state for battle. The victorious soldiers of Islam were in no fit state for battle either. Abu Ubaidah sent a detachment to occupy Damascus, and remained with the rest of his army in the region of Jabiya for a whole month. During this period the men rested; spoils were collected, checked and distributed; the wounded were given time to recover. There was much to be done in matters of administration, and this kept the generals occupied.
In early October 636 (late Shaban, 15 Hijri), Abu Ubaidah held a council of war to discuss future plans. Opinions of objectives varied between Caesarea and Jerusalem. Abu Ubaidah could see the importance of both these cities, which had so far resisted all Muslim attempts at capture, and unable to decide the matter, wrote to Umar for instructions. In his reply the Caliph ordered the Muslims to capture Jerusalem. Abu Ubaidah therefore marched towards Jerusalem with the army from Jabiya, Khalid and his Mobile Guard leading the advance. The Muslims arrived at Jerusalem around early November, and the Roman garrison withdrew into the fortified city.
For four months the siege continued without a break. Then the Patriarch of Jerusalem, a man by the name of Sophronius, offered to surrender the city and pay the Jizya, but only on condition that the Caliph himself would come and sign the pact with him and receive the surrender. When the Patriarch's terms became known to the Muslims, Sharhabeel suggested that instead of waiting for Umar to come all the way from Madinah, Khalid should be sent forward as the Caliph. Umar and Khalid were very similar in appearance; 2 and since the people of Jerusalem would only know Umar by reports, they could perhaps be taken in by a substitute. The Muslims would say that actually the Caliph was already there-and lo, he comes!
On the following morning the Patriarch was informed of the Caliph's presence, and Khalid, dressed in simple clothes of the poorest material, as was Umar's custom, rode up to the fort for talks with the Patriarch. But it did not work. Khalid was too well known, and there may have been Christian Arabs in Jerusalem who had visited Madinah and seen both Umar and Khalid, noting the differences. Moreover, the Patriarch must have wondered how the great Caliph happened to be there just when he was needed! Anyhow, the trick was soon discovered, and the Patriarch refused to talk. When Khalid reported the failure of this mission, Abu Ubaidah wrote to Umar about the situation, and invited him to come to Jerusalem and accept the surrender of the city. In response the Caliph rode out with a handful of Companions on what was to be the first of his four journeys to Syria.
Umar first came to Jabiya, where he was met by Abu Ubaidah, Khalid and Yazeed, who had travelled thither with an escort to receive him. Amr bin Al Aas was left as commander of the Muslim army besieging Jerusalem. Khalid and Yazeed were magnificently attired in silk and brocade and rode gaily caparisoned horses-and the sight of them infuriated Umar. Dismounting from his horse, he picked up a handful of pebbles from the ground and threw them at the two offending generals, "Shame on you", shouted the Caliph, "that you greet me in this fashion ! It is only in the last two years that you have eaten your fill. Shame on what abundance of food has brought you to! By Allah, if you were to do this after 200 years of prosperity, I should still dismiss you and appoint others in your place." 3
1. Introduction to Manaqib al-Sham wa Ahlih (The Virtues of al-Sham and its People) by Ibn Taymiyyah.
2. Waqidi: p. 162, Isfahani: Vol. 15, pp. 12, 56.
3. Tabari: Vol. 3, p. 103.
Umar was dressed in simple, patched garments as he was wont to wear in the time of the Holy Prophet. Becoming Caliph had made no difference to his austere and unspoiled way of life, and he continued to abhor luxury and ostentation.
Recovering from their discomfiture, Khalid and Yazeed hastily opened their robes and showed the armour and weapons which they wore underneath. "O Commander of the Faithful!" they cried. "These are only garments. We still carry our weapons". 1 Umar was sufficiently mollified by this reply. Now Abu Ubaidah walked up, dressed as simply and unaffectedly as always, and the Caliph and the Commander-in-Chief shook hands and embraced each other.
From Jabiya, Umar proceeded to Jerusalem, accompanied by his generals and the escort. His arrival at Jerusalem was a great moment for the Muslim soldiers, and they rejoiced at the sight of their ruler.
Next day, at about noon, Umar sat with a large group of Companions, talking of this and that. Soon it would be time for the early afternoon prayer. Bilal the Negro was also present. Bilal, who has been mentioned in the second chapter of this book, had suffered many tortures in the early days of Islam at the hands of the unbelieving Qureish, but had remained steadfast in his faith. When the institution of the Adhan (the Muslim call to prayer) was adopted in 2 Hijri, the Prophet appointed Bilal as the Muazzin; and thereafter, five times a day, the powerful and melodious voice of Bilal could be heard at Madinah, calling the Faithful to prayer. Over the years Bilal had risen in stature as a saintly Muslim, and had become one of the closest and most venerated Companions of the Prophet. But on the death of the Holy Prophet, Bilal had fallen silent; he would not call the Adhan any more.
It now occurred to some of the Companions that perhaps the conquest of the holy city of Jerusalem was an important enough occasion for Bilal to break his silence. They asked Umar to urge him to call the Adhan, just this one time! Umar turned to Bilal: "O Bilal! The Companions of the Messenger of Allah implore you to call the Adhan and remind them of the time of their Prophet, on whom be the blessings of Allah and peace." 2 For a few moments Bilal remained lost in thought. Then he looked at the eager faces of the Companions and at the thousands of Muslim soldiers who were gathering for the congregational prayer. Then he stood up. Bilal would call the Adhan again!
The glorious voice of the illustrious Muazzin beat upon the vast multitude. As he called the opening words, Allah is Great, the minds of the Faithful turned to memories of the dearly loved Muhammad and tears welled up in their eyes. When Bilal came to the words, Muhammad is the Apostle of Allah, his audience broke down and sobbed.
1. Tabari: Vol. 3, p. 103.
2. Waqidi: p. 165.
On the following day the pact was drawn up. 1 It was signed on behalf of the Muslims by Caliph Umar and witnessed by Khalid, Amr bin Al Aas, Abdur-Rahman bin Auf and Muawiyah. Jerusalem surrendered to the Caliph, and peace returned to the holy city. This happened in April 637 (Rabi-ul-Awwal, 16 Hijri). After staying 10 days at Jerusalem, the Caliph returned to Madinah.
Following the Caliph's instructions, Yazeed proceeded to Caesarea and once again laid siege to the port city. Amr and Sharhabeel marched to reoccupy Palestine and Jordan, which task was completed by the end of this year. Caesarea, however, could not be taken till 640 (19 Hijri), when at last the garrison laid down its arms before Muawiyah. Abu Ubaidah and Khalid, with an army of 17,000 men, set off from Jerusalem to conquer all of Northern Syria.
Abu Ubaidah marched to Damascus, which was already in Muslim hands, and then to Emessa, which welcomed his return. His next objective was Qinassareen, and towards this the army advanced with Khalid and the Mobile Guard in the lead. After a few days the Mobile Guard reached Hazir, 3 miles east of Qinassareen, and here it was attacked in strength by the Romans. 2
The Roman commander at Qinassareen was a general named Meenas-a distinguished soldier who was loved by his men. Meenas knew that if he stayed in Qinassareen, he would be besieged by the Muslims and would eventually have to surrender, as at present no help could be expected from the Emperor. He therefore decided to take the offensive and attack the leading elements of the Muslim army well forward of the city and defeat them before they could be joined by the main body. With this plan in mind, Meenas attacked the Mobile Guard at Hazif with a force whose strength is not recorded; He either did not know that Khalid was present with the leading elements of the Muslim army or did not believe all that he had heard about Khalid.
For Khalid to throw his cavalry into fighting formation for battle was a matter of minutes, and soon a fierce action was raging at Hazir. The battle was still in its early stages when Meenas was killed; and as the news of his death spread among his men, the Romans went wild with fury and attacked savagely to avenge their beloved leader's death. But they were up against the finest body of men of the time. Their very desire for vengeance proved their undoing, for not a single Roman survived the Battle of Hazir. 3 The Mobile Guard took this encounter in its stride as one of its many victories.
As soon as the battle was over, the people of Hazir came out of their town to greet Khalid. They pleaded that they were Arabs and had no intention to fight him. Khalid accepted their surrender, and advanced to Qinassareen.
When Umar received reports of the Battle of Hazir, he made no attempt to conceal his admiration - for the military genius of Khalid. "Khalid is truly the commander," 4 Umar exclaimed. "May Allah have mercy upon Abu Bakr. He was a better judge of men than I have been." 5 This was Umar's first admission that perhaps he had not judged Khalid rightly.
1. According to some reports, the pact was actually signed at Jabiya with representatives of the Patriarch, and after signing the pact there, Umar travelled to Jerusalem and received the surrender.
2. Hazir still exists-a large farming village.
3. Tabari: Vol. 3, p. 98.
4. Literally: "Khalid has made himself commander", i.e., that the role comes naturally to him.
5. Tabari: Vol. 3, p. 98.
At Qinassareen the part of the Roman garrison which had not accompanied Meenas to Hazir shut itself up in the fort. As soon as Khalid arrived, he sent a message to the garrison: "If you were in the clouds, Allah would raise us to you or lower you to us for battle." 1 Without further delay Qinassareen surrendered to Khalid. The Battle of Hazir and the surrender of Qinassareen took place about June 637 (Jamadi-ul-Awwal, 16 Hijri). 2
Abu Ubaidah now joined Khalid at Qinassareen, and the army marched to Aleppo, where a strong garrison under a Roman general named Joachim held the fort. This general, following the same line of thought as the commander of Qinassareen, set out to meet the Muslims in the open and clashed with the Mobile Guard 6 miles south of the city. A bloody engagement took place here, in which the Romans were worsted; and Joachim; now wiser, pulled back in haste and regained the safety of the fort.
Aleppo consisted of a large walled city and a smaller but virtually impregnable fort outside the city atop a hill, a little more than a quarter of a mile across, surrounded by a wide moat. The Muslims moved up and laid siege to the fort. Joachim was a very bold commander and launched several sallies to break the siege, but received heavy punishment every time. After a few days of this, the Romans decided to remain in the fort and await such help as Heraclius might be able to send. Heraclius however, could send none; and four months later, around October 637, the Romans surrendered on terms. The soldiers of the garrison were allowed to depart in peace; but Joachim would not go. He became a Muslim and elected to serve under the banner of Islam. In fact, over the next few weeks, he proved a remarkably able and loyal officer, and fought gallantly under various Muslim generals.
Once Aleppo was taken, Abu Ubaidah sent a column under Malik Ashtar to take Azaz on the route to 'Rome'. The region which the Muslims called Rome included the area which is now Southern Turkey east of the, Taurus Mountains. Malik, assisted by Joachim, captured Azaz and signed a pact with the local inhabitants, whereafter he returned to Aleppo. The capture and clearance of Azaz was essential to ensure that no large Roman forces remained north of Aleppo, whence they could strike at the flank and rear of the Muslims as the next major operation was launched. As soon as Malik rejoined the army, Abu Ubaidah marched westwards to capture Antioch. (See Map 28 below)
The army moved via Harim and approached Antioch from the east. Some 12 miles from the city, at Mahruba, where a bridge of iron spanned the River Orontes (now known as Nahur-ul-Asi), the Muslims came up against a powerful Roman army-the defenders of Antioch. A major battle was fought here, the details of which are not recorded, and the Romans were soundly thrashed by Abu Ubaidah, Khalid again playing a prominent role with his Mobile Guard. With the exception, of Ajnadein and Yarmuk, the Roman casualties here are believed to have been the highest in the Syrian Campaign, and the remnants of the Roman army went fleeing in disorder to the city. The Muslims moved up and laid siege to Antioch, but not many days had passed before the greatest city of Syria, the capital of the Asian Zone of the Eastern Roman Empire, surrendered to the Muslims. Abu Ubaidah entered Antioch on October 30, 637 (the 5th of Shawwal, 16 Hijri). The defeated Roman soldiers were allowed to depart in peace.
1. Tabari: Vol. 3, p. 98.
2. Qinassareen lay in a South-South-Westerly direction from Aleppo, 20 miles by road and about 18 as the crow flies. It was built on a low ridge which runs astride the present Aleppo-Saraqib road, but most of it was on the Southern slope of the Eastern part of the ridge, i.e. on the East side of the road. The ridge is now known as Al Laees, and this is also the name of a small village which stands on that was probably the South-Eastern corner of Qinassareen. The visitor to Qinassareen today imagines that he can see the ruins of the city-ancient ruins such as one sees in many places in Syria. But on closer examination he finds that they are not ruins but immense whitish rocks and caves shaped by nature into semblance of ruins. Actually nothing remains of Qinassareen-not a stone, not a brick.
Following the surrender of Antioch, Muslim columns moved south along the Mediterranean coast and captured Latakia, Jabla and Tartus, thus clearing most of North-Western Syria of the enemy. Abu Ubaidah next returned to Aleppo, and during this move his columns subdued what remained of Northern Syria. Khalid took his Mobile Guard on a raid eastwards up to the Euphrates in the vicinity of Munbij, but found little opposition. In early January, 638, he rejoined Abu Ubaidah at Aleppo.
All of Syria was now in Muslim hands. Abu Ubaidah left Khalid as commander and administrator at Qinassareen, and returned with the rest of his army to Emessa, where he assumed his duties as governor of the province of Emessa, of which Qinassareen was then part. From Qinassareen Khalid would keep watch over the northern marches.
By the end of 16 Hijri (corresponding roughly to 637 A.D.) all Syria and Palestine was in Muslim hands, except for Caesarea which continued to hold out. The various Muslim commanders settled down to their duties as governors of provinces: Amr bin Al Aas in Palestine, Sharhabeel in Jordan, Yazeed in Damascus (but currently engaged at Caesarea) and Abu Ubaidah in Emessa. Khalid had a lower appointment as administrator in Qinassareen under Abu Ubaidah. This state of peace continued for a few months until the mid-summer of 638, when clouds again darkened the sky over Northern Syria. This time the Christian Arabs of the Jazeera took to the warpath.
Heraclius was no longer able to attempt a military comeback in Syria. In fact he was now more worried about the rest of his Empire, which, after the destruction of his army at Yarmuk and Antioch, was extremely vulnerable to Muslim invasion. He had few military resources left with which to defend his domains against an army which marched from victory to victory. To gain time for the preparation of his defences it was essential to keep the Muslims occupied in Syria, and he did this by inciting the Arabs of the Jazeera to take the offensive against the Muslims. Bound to him by ties of religion, they submitted to his exhortations; and gathering in tens of thousands, began preparations to cross the Euphrates and invade Northern Syria from the east.
Agents brought Abu Ubaidah information on the preparations being made in the Jazeera. As the hostile Arabs began their move, Abu Ubaidah called a council of war to discuss the situation. Khalid was all for moving out of the cities as one army and fighting the Christian Arabs in the open, but the other generals favoured a defensive battle at Emessa. Abu Ubaidah sided with the majority, and pulled in the Mobile Guard from Qinassareen and other detachments from places which they had occupied in Northern Syria. He concentrated his army as Emessa and at the same time informed Umar of the situation.
Umar had no doubt that Abu Ubaidah and Khalid would hold their own against the irregular army which now threatened them; but he nevertheless decided to assist them, and did so in a most unusual manner. He sent instructions to Sad bin Abi Waqqas, the Muslim Commander-in-Chief in Iraq, to despatch three columns into the Jazeera: one under Suheil bin Adi directed at Raqqa, another under Abdullah bin Utban directed at Nuseibeen and a third under Ayadh bin Ghanam operating between the first two. (See Map 29 below) At the same time Umar ordered the despatch of 4,000 men under Qaqa bin Amr from Iraq to Emessa, along the Euphrates route, to reinforce Abu Ubaidah.
The Christian Arabs arrived at Emessa to find the Muslims safely fortified, and not knowing what else to do, laid siege to the city. But hardly had the siege begun when messengers came galloping from the Jazeera to inform them that three Muslim columns were marching from Iraq towards the Jazeera. The Christian Arabs now realised the absurdity of their situation: while they were fighting the Muslims in Syria, pulling Heraclius' chestnuts out of the fire for him, their own land was about to fall to the Muslims coming from another direction. They abandoned the siege and hastened back to the Jazeera, which was the only sensible thing to do. Qaqa arrived at Emessa three days after the departure of the Christian Arabs.
As soon as the three Muslim columns from Iraq heard of the return of the Christian Arabs, they halted on their route to await further instructions from Sad. Their mission had been accomplished. With this neat, indirect manoeuvre Umar had repulsed the invading army of the Jazeera, without shooting an arrow!
The abortive attempt of the Arabs of the Jazeera to fight the Muslims did no damage to the Muslims in Syria. It did, however, arouse the anger of the Muslims and made them conscious of the fact that they could not regard Syria as being safely in their possession until neighbouring lands were cleared of all hostile elements. These elements existed in the Jazeera and in the region east of the Taurus Mountains; and they would have to be destroyed or subdued in order to create a zone of security beyond the borders of Syria.
Umar decided to deal with the Jazeera first. He ordered Sad to arrange for its capture, and appointed Ayadh bin Ghanam as the commander of this theatre of operations. Sad instructed Ayadh to continue the invasion of the Jazeera with the forces under his command, and the Muslims from Iraq resumed their forward march late in the summer of 638. Ayadh operated with three columns, and over a period of a few weeks overran the region between the Tigris and the Euphrates up to Nuseibeen and Ruha (now Urfa). (See Map 29) It was a bloodless operation. 1
As soon as this part of the Jazeera was occupied, Abu Ubaidah wrote to Umar and asked for Ayadh to be put under his command, so that he could use him for raids across the northern border. Umar agreed to this request, and Ayadh moved to Emessa with part of the Muslim force sent from Iraq to the Jazeera.
In the autumn of 638, Abu Ubaidah launched several columns, including two commanded by Khalid and Ayadh, to raid Roman territory north of Syria up to as far west as Tarsus. Khalid's objective was Marash, and he arrived here and laid siege to the city which contained a Roman garrison. By now the presence of Khalid was sufficient to strike terror in the hearts of the Romans; and a few days later Marash surrendered on condition that the garrison and the populace be spared. As for material wealth, the Muslim could take all they wished. And the Muslims did. Khalid returned to Qinassareen laden with spoils such as had seldom been seen before. Just the spoils of Marash were sufficient to make the soldiers of this expedition rich for life.
Had Khalid acquired the quality of thrift in his youth, he would have been one of the richest men of his time. It was the custom in those days that a warrior who won a duel took all the possessions of his vanquished foe, and this reward was apart from his normal share of the spoils taken in battle. Khalid had fought more duels than anyone else in the Muslim army and won each one of them. Moreover, his adversaries were usually generals, more richly equipped than others, especially the Persian and Roman generals who wore jewels and gold ornaments with their dress. Thus more wealth came into the hands of Khalid than of others; but it slipped through his fingers like sand. He would live well and give generously. Whatever wealth was gained in one battle lasted only till the next. Khalid had acquired a large retinue of slaves. He had married many times and had dozens of children; and the upkeep of his household took a good deal of money. Then there were the soldiers. After every battle Khalid would pick out warriors who had done better than others and give them extra gifts from his own pocket.
1. Some narrators have described a considerable amount of fighting in the Jazeera; but most early historians agree that it was a peaceful occupation.
This was known to the austere and frugal Caliph, who regarded it not as generosity but as extravagance. 1
On Khalid's return from Marash the same thing happened; he gave lavishly to his soldiers. And by now a number of unscrupulous persons had arisen in the Muslim army who would approach successful generals, sing their praises and receive gifts- in true Oriental fashion. One such man was Ashath bin Qais, chief of the Kinda, who has been mentioned in Part II of this book. (He had led the apostate revolt of his tribe in the Yemen, and saved himself at the last minute by betraying his own followers!) Ash'as was a great poet. He came to Khalid at Qinassareen and recited a fine poem in praise of the great conqueror; and in return Khalid gave him a gift of 10,000 dirhams. Within a fortnight the agents of the Caliph had informed him of this episode; and Umar was furious. This, thought Umar, was the limit!
Ash'as did not know that when he recited his eloquent poetry, he was in fact digging the grave of Khalid's military career.
1. Khalid's earnings from his duels and from his share of the spoils of war were not part of his pay, the scale of which for a corps commander was between 7,000 and 9,000 dirhams a year (Abu Yusuf: p. 46).