The Sword of Allah - Khalid Bin Waleed (Ral)

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Chapter 27: The Perilous March

 Part III: The Invasion of Iraq

 

Page: 4

"Lo! We belong to Allah and indeed to Him we shall return", said Raafe, quoting a Quranic verse. "Then we all perish. But look once again." The men looked again, and this time found the trunk of a thorn tree of which the remainder had vanished. "Dig under its roots", 1 instructed Raafe. The men dug under the roots, and, in the words of Waqidi, "water flowed out of the earth like a river!" 2

The men drank their fill, all the while praising Allah and invoking His blessings on Raafe. Then the animals were watered, and there was still water to spare. Hundreds of men filled their water skins and set off back on the route which they had travelled, looking for stragglers, of whom there were many. All were found and brought in alive.

The perilous march was over. They had made it. It had never been done before, and would never be done again. Khalid had reached the border of Syria, leaving behind the Roman frontier and its garrisons facing Iraq. They were now only a day's march from Suwa, where the desert ended and habitation began. (See Map 15.)

Khalid had no doubt that he and his army had gone through hell and come very near annihilation. But the real extent of the peril which they had faced was not known to him until Raafe, now smiling, came to him and said, "O Commander, I have only alighted at this spring once, and that was 30 years ago, when as a boy I travelled hither with my father!" 3

In later years a certain caliph wrote to an eminent scholar and asked him for a description of the lands under Muslim rule. The scholar wrote back and gave the required description. When he came to Syria, he said, "Know, O Commander of the Faithful, that Syria is a land of clouds and hills and winds and abundance upon abundance. It freshens the body and clears the skin, especially the land of Emessa, which beautifies the body and creates understanding and forbearance. Its waters are pure and sharpen the senses. Syria, O Commander of the Faithful, is a land of pleasant verdure and large forests. Its rivers run in the right courses, and in it camels have plenty to drink." 4

Indeed, Syria was a beautiful land-the fairest province of the Byzantine Empire. Its temperate climate, conditioned by the Mediterranean, provided relief from the heat of the desert and the cold of northern climes. Antioch, now in Turkey, was the capital of the Asian region of the Byzantine Empire, and second only to Constantinople in glory and political importance. The great cities of Syria-Aleppo, Emessa, Damascus-not only contined immense commercial wealth, but were also seats of culture and civilisation. Its thriving ports on the Mediterranean-Latakia, Tripolis, Beirut, Tyre, Acre, Jaffa-saw ships of the entire known world and bustled with trade and commerce.

Politically, the Syrian region consisted of two provinces. Syria proper stretched from Antioch and Aleppo in the north to the top of the Dead Sea. West and south of the Dead Sea lay the province of Palestine, which included the holy places of three great faiths and cities no less rich and sophisticated than any in the world. The Arabs of the time also spoke of the Province of Jordan, lying between Syria and Palestine; but this was more of a geographical expression that a term denoting a political and administrative unit. And all this was part of the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine Empire. To invade Syria was to invade Rome, and this was not an action to be undertaken light-heartedly.

The Eastern Roman Empire too was declining, and this decline had been going on for a much longer period than that of the Persian Empire. The latter still enjoyed a degree of stability and strength, which was due, among other factors, to the powerful Sasanid Dynasty that had ruled in unbroken succession for the past four centuries. The Romans, on the other hand, had no such ruling dynasty, nor did they subscribe to the concept of a royal house to which the privilege of rule was confined. On the death of a ruler, the Empire fell to the most successful general or politician or intriguer.

1. Tabari: Vol 2. p. 609.
2. Waqidi: p. 14.
3. Tabari: Vol. 2, pp. 604, 609. For other versions of Khalid's route, which are mistaken, see Note 9 in Appendix B.
4. Masudi: Muruj, Vol. 2, pp. 61-2.