The Sword of Allah - Khalid Bin Waleed (Ral)

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Chapter 32: The Battle of Fahl

 Part III: The Invasion of Iraq


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Shurahbil deployed the army at the foot of the slope below Fahl, facing north-west, with Abu Ubaidah and Amr bin Al Aas commanding the wings. Dhiraar was appointed commander of the Muslim cavalry, while Khalid with his corps was placed in front to lead the advance to Baisan. In this formation the Muslims advanced. But they had not gone far when the Advance Guard got stuck in the mud and had considerable difficulty in extricating itself. Cursing the Romans for this stratagem, the Muslims returned to Fahl and waited. Thus a whole week passed.

Now Saqalar, the Roman commander, decided that the time had come to strike. His preparations were complete and he hoped to catch the Muslims off guard since the marsh would give them, he hoped, a false sense of security. His guides would lead the army through the marsh which the Muslims regarded as impassable. Soon after sunset on January 23, 635 (the 27th of Dhul Qad, 13 Hijri), the Roman army formed up west of the river and began its advance towards Fahl, intending to surprise the Muslims in their camps at night.

But the Muslims had not relaxed their guard. Shurahbil was a watchful general and had deployed the Muslim camp to correspond to the battle positions of the corps, and kept a large portion of each corps in its battle positions during the night. He had also placed a screen of scouts along the marsh to watch and report any movement by the Romans towards Fahl. Thus, as the Romans neared Fahl, they found an army, not resting in its camp, but formed up in battle array. Immediately on contact the battle began.

The two armies fought all night and the whole of the next day-January 24, 635. The Muslim army remained on the defensive and beat off all attempts by the Romans to break through, during one of which Saqalar was killed. By the time darkness had set in again, the Romans decided that they had had enough. They had suffered heavily at the hands of the Muslims, who had stood like a wall of steel in their path; and this wall had not been breached at a single place. Under cover of darkness the Romans disengaged and began to withdraw across the marsh towards Baisan.

This was the moment that Shurahbil was waiting for. He had fought the Romans until they were exhausted, and suffering from the adverse psychological impact of repeated repulses, had started to withdraw. Now was the time to launch the counterstroke. Shurahbil ordered the advance; and in the darkness, the desert-dwellers leapt upon the backs of the Romans!

This time the Roman 'traffic control plan' failed. Thousands of them were lost in the marsh, and as the screaming masses of the Muslims came after them, they gave way to panic and lost all order and cohesion. The Muslims set to with gusto to finish this army and played havoc with their terrified enemy. About 10,000 Romans perished in the Battle of Fahl, which is also known in Muslim history as the Battle of Mud. 1 Some of the Romans arrived safely at Baisan while others, fleeing for their lives in total disorder, dispersed in all directions.

With the defeat of this Roman army, the Muslim army also broke up. Abu Ubaidah and Khalid remained at Fahl, whence they would shortly set out for Damascus and Northern Syria. Shurahbil, with Amr bin Al Aas under command, crossed the marsh and the river, routes through which had now been found, and laid siege to Baisan. After a few days the Romans in the fort made a sally but were slaughtered by Shurahbil. Soon after this sally Baisan surrendered and agreed to pay the Jizya and certain taxes. Shurahbil then went on to Tabariya, which also surrendered on similar terms. This last action was over before the end of February 635 (Dhul Haj, 13 Hijri). There was now no opposition left in the inland part of the District of Jordan.

With the beginning of the fourteenth year of the Hijra, Amr bin Al Aas and Shurahbil turned their attention to Palestine. Here again a change of command took place. Palestine was the province of Amr, and consequently he assumed command of the army, while Shurahbil served under him as a corps commander. But it was some time before this small army of two corps entered Palestine.

1. Most early historians have said that the bulk of the Roman army was destroyed in this battle. Balazuri, however, has placed Roman losses at 10,000 (p. 122); and this is here accepted as the most conservative estimate.