The Sword of Allah - Khalid Bin Waleed (Ral)

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Chapter 22: The River of Blood

 Part III: The Invasion of Iraq


Page: 4

The Muslim cavalry broke up into several groups and galloped out in pursuit of the fugitives who had crossed the Khaseef and were fleeing in the direction of Hira. Parties of desperate Persians and Arabs were isolated from one another, surrounded, overpowered, disarmed and driven back to the battlefield like flocks of sheep. As each group was brought back, it was herded to the river, and every man was beheaded in the river bed or on the bank whence his blood ran into the river. The pursuit by the Muslim cavalry, the capture and return of the Persian and Arab warriors, and their killing in the river went on for the rest of that day and the whole of that night and the whole of the next day and part of the next. 1 Every vanquished warrior who fell into the victors' hands was decapitated. Khalid was keeping his pledge! Not till sometime on the third day was the last man killed.
Once the killing had stopped, a group of officers gathered around Khalid on the river bank. They looked upon a messy sight. Qaqa turned to Khalid and said, "If you kill all the people of the earth their blood will not flow as long as this river is dammed. The earth will not absorb all the blood. Let the water run in the river. Thus you shall keep your pledge." 2

Others added, "We have heard that when the earth absorbs some of the blood of the sons of Adam, it refuses to accept more." 3

Khalid ordered that the dam be opened. As it was opened the water rushed over the bed of the river and the blood lying in pools on the bed flowed with the water. This river then became known as the River of Blood.

As night fell after the day on which the battle was fought, while the Muslim cavalry was out bringing in the fugitives, the army of Khalid sat down to eat the food of the Persians, laid out upon the meal?cloths. The desert Arab marvelled at the fine fare on which the Persian soldier was fed.

The Battle of Ullais was over. An enormous amount of booty fell into Muslim hands and included the families of the defeated imperial warriors. According to Tabari, 70,000 Persians, and Christian Arabs were killed by the Muslims including those beheaded in the river. 4 But Jaban escaped.

On the following day Khalid entered into a pact with the local inhabitants of the district. They would pay the Jizya and come under Muslim protection; but this time another clause was added to the pact: the local inhabitants would act as spies and guides for the Muslims.

The episode of the River of Blood has been twisted and exaggerated beyond all limits by certain writers who have been unable to resist the temptation of resorting to sensationalism. This has led to some misconceptions which it would be well to correct.

These writers tell us that the river actually ran with blood; that there was a mill downstream of the battlefield powered by the water of this river; that so much blood flowed in the river that for three days the mill was grinding not with water but with blood!

This is a fantastic untruth. Balazuri makes no mention at all of any mill. Tabari, coming to the end of his account of this battle, mentions the mill, "…as related by Shuaib, who heard it from Saif, who heard it from Talha, who heard it from Mugheerah." According to Mugheerah, there was a mill down-stream, powered by the water of this river; this mill was used for grinding corn for the army of Khalid for three days; and the water was red. 5

In so far as this report may be correct, it still says nothing about the mill being run by blood. And there is no other mention in the early accounts of the mill. The facts are as they have been narrated above. When the dam was opened, on Qaqa's advice, the water naturally turned red and remained so for quite some time. But to run a mill with whole blood for three days would require the lives of millions of men. The story of the river running with blood for three days can be accepted as something from the Arabian Nights; it is not history.

Furthermore, to call what happened a "killing of prisoners" is an oversimplification. Normally they would have been killed in the pursuit, as had happened before and would happen again, with no questions asked. In this battle Khalid had pledged to make the river run with blood, so those thousands of men, instead of being killed in the pursuit, were brought to the river and killed. And that is all that there is to the episode of the River of Blood.

Of the battles which he had fought in the time of the Holy Prophet, the Battle of Mutah had a special place in the memory of Khalid. Nowhere else had he had to take command of so disastrous a situation and save the Muslims from the jaws of death. Of the battles fought in Iraq, the Battle of Ullais was similarly engraved upon his memory.
One day, after the campaign had been fought to a successful conclusion, Khalid sat chatting with some friends. He said, "At Mutah I broke nine swords in my hand. But I have never met an enemy like the Persians. And among the Persians I have never met an enemy like the army of Ullais." 6

Coming from a man like Khalid, there could be no finer tribute to the valour of Persian arms. But the Persian court was now down and out. Ardsheer lay dying, and the empire would send no more armies to face the Sword of Allah. Ullais was the swansong of Ardsheer, great-great-grandson of Anushirwan the Just.

1. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 561.
2. Ibid: Vol. 2, pp. 561-2.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 562.
6. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 569.