The Sword of Allah - Khalid Bin Waleed (Ral)

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Chapter 27: The Perilous March

 Part III: The Invasion of Iraq


Page: 3

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.