conquest of Syria
Khalid bin Sa'id:
The marvellous victories of Khalid bin AI-Waleed in `Iraq encouraged Abu
Bakr to send armies to conquer Syria. The Arabs had a good knowledge of
this country because of their continual land trade with it. There were
two main reasons why they decided to wage a daring1
war against what was then the greatest empire in the world:
a) the spreading of Islam, and
b) the wealth of Syria.
When Abu Bakr sent Khalid bin Sa'id at the head of an army to Tayma', just
near the Syrian border, he did not intend to invade the country; it was
only a defensive measure. But when he received letters from Khalid bin
Sa'id, who longed for military glory in Syria as great as that of Khalid
bin Al-Waleed in `Iraq, asking for permission to proceed, he could not
stand the temptation and gave the signal which started a new holy war.
In his first engagement with the Romans, Khalid bin Sa'id managed to win
the battle and occupy the Roman
camps. Tasting victory against "the people of the yellow complexion", as
they were usually described by the Arabs, Khalid pushed forward till he
reached the shores of the Dead Sea, where he defeated another Roman regiment
Now, the Romans realized that the Muslims were not merely indulging 2
in temporary raiding 3,
as they used to do before, but that they intended to conquer and stay.
So they sent a huge army led by Bahan, who was well-known for his clever
He withdrew intentionally before Khalid, who forgot Abu Bakr's piece of
advice to be always wary in his war with the Romans. Bahan's retreat stopped
when he was in the vicinity of Tiberias. There he managed to trap the Muslims
and kill Khalid's son, Sa'id, who was lagging behind6
with a group of his men.
When the news of his son's murder came to Khalid's ears he became so depressed
that he left the battlefield and fled at the head of a battalion, until
he was very near to Madina. His army was left under the leadership7
of 'Ikrimah bin Abu Jahl, the great leader of the wars of apostasy, who
proved skilful at manoeuvering 8
and managed to withdraw intact. As for Khalid bin Sa'id, he stayed at Thul-Marwah
and was forbidden by Abu Bakr to enter the capital.
The Battle of Yarmuk:
fortune which befell9
Ibn Sa'id did not make Abu Bakr despair. He ordered the recruitment of
new troops and immediately sent aid to 'Ikrimah, who was waiting near the
Roman !order. The total aid which `Ikrimah received amounted to 30,000
men. `Amr bin AI-'As had to proceed to Palestine, Abu `Obaydah bin AI-Jarrah
to Damascus, Shurahbeel bin Hasnah to Jordan and Yazeed bin Abu Sufyan
Heraclius, the Roman emperor, heard the news, he mustered10
about 240,000 troops. Theodore, his brother, led the huge army and proceeded
to Waqusah, some 40 miles to the south of Yarmuk, a tributary of the Jordan.
He camped beside the left bank of the river on a spacious plateau11
which was surrounded on three sides by high mountains.
the Muslim leaders acted separately; but when they realized the imminent12danger, they sent for advice from the caliph, and meanwhile consulted the
Amr bin Al- 'As. Both Abu Bakr and Amr recommended that the Muslims should
unite. So, the four armies marched and camped on the right bank of the
Yarmuk, just opposite the Romans.
passed without any action on either side because each was afraid of the
other. Then Abu Bakr got bored and sent a message to Khalid bin Al Waleed
in Al-Heerah ordering him to leave for Yarmuk. Khalid was unwilling to
leave as he was hoping to conquer Mada'in very soon, but he had to carry
out the caliph's orders. He chose his men, and at the head of some 9,000
men left 'Iraq for Syria.
He set out
towards Doomat Al-Jandal, then went along the Sirhan valley. When he reached
Qoraqir, he decided to take a longer and more dangerous route so as to
avoid any confrontation with the enemy. Following the advice of his guide,
Rafi bin `Ameerah, he made his camels go without water for a number of
days, then he let them drink their fill. He tied up their ears and lips
in order to prevent any evaporation14
of water. Then he crossed the desert, and after five days arrived in Palmyra,
just behind the armies of his opponents. Soon he joined his colleagues,
who were anxiously waiting for him at Yarmuk.
Khalid's arrival was offset 15
by the arrival of Bahan, the Roman conqueror of Khalid bin Sa'id. Another
month passed and still the Muslim emirs were acting separately, as Abu
Bakr had not appointed an overall commander-in-chief. The Romans began
to prepare for battle, and Khalid called for a council of war16
First he let the other leaders speak, and when his turn came, he spoke
zealously 17 and
suggested a genuine union of the five armies without which, he said, no
victory could be achieved. Regarding the commander-in-chief, he pointed
out that each leader might be given the post for one day, and that he himself
would assume it first.
unanimously agreed to the suggestion, and Khalid divided the armies into
companies each headed by a competent captain. Besides, there were people
whose task was to encourage the fighters and raise their morale; one of
them was Abu Sufyan, the Prophet's chief opponent in the battle of Badr.
While the Muslims were getting ready to fight against the Romans one of
them said, "Hownumerous the Romans are, and how few the Muslims
are!" Khalid got angry
and said, "The reverse 18
is true! It is victory that makes the troops numerous, and defeat that
makes them few!"
Such an encouraging leader, and the enthusiasm of the Muslims to fight
in the cause of God so as to attain Paradise, combined to make the men
brave and even inspired the women to take part in the war.
the Romans there was a captain called George, who had contacted Khalid
before the battle and promised to defect. When the fight started, he was
in the van, and when he reached the Muslims'lines Khalid gave way and let
him pass through. The other Romans thought that George needed help, so
they attacked the Muslims fiercely, which made them retreat.''Ikrimah bin
Abu Jahl was at the head of a company of 400 strong. Seeing what had happened,
he vowed martyrdom 19or victory and shouted: "Oh, that I should have fought the Prophet in so
many battles only to run away from infidels!" He advanced, followed by
his son Amr, Harith bin Hisham, Dhirar bin Al-Azwar and the rest of the
company, and made the enemy retreat. As for George, having embraced Islam
and said his prayers in Khalid's tent, he fought with the Muslims against
his countrymen. In spite of the Romans' heroic fighting, at sunset their
lines began to waver and then broke. In order to cut the battle short,
and because the Romans were besieged from all sides, Khalid allowed the
enemy's cavalry to escape. This being accomplished, he tightened 20
the siege on the infantry. Realizing that there was no chance of escape,
the Romans began to retreat, only to fall into the river. Muslim
historians estimate that between 100,000 and 120,000 enemy troops died
at Yarmuk. With them about 3,000 Muslims also died, among whom were `Ikrimah
and his son `Amr. They were brought to Khalid in Theodore's tent and their
heads laid on his lap. He wiped their faces gently with a damp21
cloth and dripped22 water in their mouths hoping they
might revive, but his attempts were futile and both of them died. As for
Abu Sufyan, whose loud voice had urged many a Muslim to war, he had one
of his eyes pierced by an arrow, which was pulled out by a skilled man
called Abu Hathmah.
be mentioned here that the news of Abu Bakr's death arrived while the battle
of Yarmuk was raging. On becoming caliph, the first thing `Omar bin al-Khattab
did was to send a message to Syria deposing Khalid from the general leadership
and appointing Abu `Obaydah to the post. Yet, when the latter received
the message, he concealed 23
it from everyone and did not show it to Khalid till the Muslims advanced
from Yarmuk and laid siege to Damascus. Khalid's remark at the new caliph's
order was: "I am fighting in the cause of God, not for 'Omar bin al-Khattab."
The end of the Roman
rule in Syria:
heard of his brother's defeat at Yarmuk he left Homs, the imperial headquarters,
and moved northwards. There he mustered a new army, which was met by the
Muslims and also defeated.
As for the
Muslims, they first took Jordan from the Romans and then laid siege to
Damascus, which was heavily fortified. The inhabitants resisted the Muslims
from behind their walls, and at the same time urged the emperor to send
them reinforcements. Heraclius made one attempt to help them, but finding
it futile stopped all further attempts. History books still quote the emperor's
words of farewell, "Good-bye, Syria! I do not think we shall meet again."
not long before Damascus opened two of its gates to the Muslims, one forced
by Khalid, and the other opened peacefully by Abu `Obaydah. With the capital
in the hands of the Muslims, and wit the Romans driven out for ever, Syria
became an Islamic country.