The Sword of Allah - Khalid Bin Waleed (Ral)

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Chapter 11: The Gathering Storm

 Part II: The Campaign of the Apostasy


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"The desert Arabs say, 'We believe.' Say, 'You have not believed, but say: 'We have submitted,' for Faith has not yet entered your hearts.
But if you obey Allah and His Messenger, He will not belittle anything of your deeds: For Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.'
Only those are Believers who have believed in Allah and His Messenger, and have never since doubted, but have striven with their belongings and their persons in the Cause of Allah: such are the sincere ones."
[Quran 49:14-15]

Apostasy had actually begun in the lifetime of the Prophet, and the first major action of the apostasy was fought and satisfactorily concluded while the Prophet still lived. But the real and most serious danger of apostasy arose after the Prophet's death, when a wild wave of disbelief-after-belief moved across the length and breadth of Arabia and had to be tackled by Abu Bakr. Hence the Campaign of the Apostasy is here taken up as a whole, although chronologically the first of these events belongs to Part I of this history.

The first major event of the apostasy occurred in the Yemen and is known as the Incident of Aswad Al Ansi. Aswad was a chief of the Ans-a large tribe inhabiting the western part of the Yemen. His actual name was Abhala bin Kab, but because of his very dark colour he was called Aswad, i.e. the Black One. A man of many qualities, few of them enviable, he was, before the apostasy, known mainly as a tribal chieftain and a soothsayer.

During the tenth year of the Hijra, the people of the southern and south-eastern regions of the Arabian peninsula had been converted to Islam. The Prophet had sent envoys, teachers and missions to various places to accomplish this task and the task had been duly completed. But the majority of the inhabitants of these regions had not become true Muslims, their conversion being more a matter of form than a sincere change of heart.

Before this conversion the Yemen was governed, on behalf of the Persian Emperor, by a noble-born Persian named Bazan. 1 This man became a Muslim and was confirmed in his appointment as governor of the Yemen by the Prophet. As he was a wise and virtuous officer, the province prospered under his rules; but shortly before the last pilgrimage of the Prophet, Bazan died, and the Prophet appointed Bazan's son, Shahr, as governor at San'a. Peace continued to prevail in the Yemen, and no clouds darkened the southern skies.

Then, at about the time of the Prophet's last pilgrimage, Aswad decided that he would become a prophet. He gathered his tribe, recited some of his verses, claiming that they were verses of the Quran revealed to him, and announced that he was a messenger of Allah.

Aswad had a donkey which he had trained to obey certain commands, and he used this donkey to demonstrate his powers. He would give the order, "Bow before your lord", and the donkey would bow its head before Aswad. He would then command, "Kneel before your lord!", 2 and the donkey would kneel. Because of this, Aswad became known in the region as Dhul Himar-the One of the Donkey, or 'Donkey-Walah'. Some chroniclers, however, maintain that he was known not as Dhul Himar, but as Dhul Khumar, i.e. the Drunk. 3 This could be true because he was heavily addicted to alcohol and often in a drunken stupor. Nevertheless, his tribe followed him, believing him to be a genuine prophet; and in this error they were joined by some of the lesser tribes of the Yemen.

Aswad organised a column of 700 horsemen and rode to Najran. He captured the town with no difficulty and drove out its Muslim administrator. Elated by this easy victory, he left his own man to govern Najran and moved on San'a. (See Map 7) Shahr, the newly appointed Muslim governor of the Yemen, heard of the fall of Najran, came to know of the intentions of Aswad and decided to tackle Aswad before he could reach San'a. Organising a small armed force (he did not have many warriors), he marched out to meet his adversary, and the two forces met some distance north of San'a. The short, brisk engagement that followed ended in Aswad's favour. The Muslims suffered a defeat and Shahr was killed in battle, leaving behind a beautiful young widow named Azad. Five days later Aswad entered Sana' as a conqueror. He had worked fast for his unholy mission, for it was now only 25 days since he had first gathered his tribe and proclaimed his prophethood.

map 1 chapter 11


1. Called Bazam by some historians.
2. Balazuri: p. 113.
3. Ibid