The Sword of Allah - Khalid Bin Waleed (Ral)

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Chapter 34: The Eve of Yarmuk

 Part III: The Invasion of Iraq


Page: 3

When the leading elements of Jabla's army arrived at Emessa they found no Muslims. The army of Qanateer hit Damascus from the west in joyful anticipation of the destruction of the Muslims thus trapped in Damascus and the north. But there was not a single Muslim soldier in Damascus and the north. The birds had flown!

It was at Shaizar, through Roman prisoners, that the Muslims first came to know of the preparations being made by Heraclius. The Muslims had established an excellent intelligence system in the land, and no major movement or concentration of enemy forces remained concealed from them. In fact they had agents within the Roman army. As the days lengthened into weeks, the pieces of intelligence brought in by agents were put together like a jigsaw puzzle, and the movement of the Roman armies had hardly got under way when the Muslims knew of it and of the directions taken by the armies. Even the reinforcement of Caesarea and its strength were known.

The Muslims were staggered by the reports, each of which seemed worse than its predecessor. The horizon became darker and darker. Khalid, however, with his unerring sense of strategy at once saw the design of Heraclius and realized how terribly vulnerable the Muslim army was at Emessa and Shaizar. The soundest course was to pull back from North and Central Syria, as well as from Palestine, and concentrate the whole army so that strong, united opposition could be put up against the Roman juggernaut, preferably not far from the friendly desert. Khalid advised Abu Ubaidah accordingly and the Army Commander accepted the proposal. He ordered the withdrawal of the army to Jabiya, which was the junction of the routes from Syria, Jordan and Palestine. Moreover, exercising his authority as Commander-in-Chief in Syria, he ordered Shurahbil, Yazeed and Amr bin Al Aas to give up the territory in their occupation and join him at Jabiya. Thus, before the Romans reached Damascus, Abu Ubaidah and Khalid, with elements of Yazeed's corps, were at Jabiya while the other corps were moving to join them. They had safely extricated themselves from the jaws of death.

The remarkably generous treatment of the populace of Emessa by Abu Ubaidah, when the Muslims left that city, throws light on the sense of justice and truth of this brave and noble general. On the conquest of Emessa, the Muslims had collected the Jizya from the local inhabitants. This tax, as has been explained before, was taken from non-Muslims in return for their exemption from military service and their protection against their enemies. But since the Muslims were now leaving the city and were no longer in a position to protect them, Abu Ubaidah called a meeting of the people and returned all the money taken as Jizya. "We are not able to help and defend you", said Abu Ubaidah. "You are now on your own." To this the people replied, "Your rule and justice are dearer to us than the oppression and cruelty in which we existed before." 1 The Jews of Emessa proved the most loyal in their friendship, and swore that the officers of Heraclius would not enter the city except by force. Moreover, not content with doing total justice in the matter of the Jizya in his own province, Abu Ubaidah also wrote to the other corps commanders in Syria to return the Jizya to the people who had paid it, and this was done by every Muslim commander before he marched away to join Abu Ubaidah at Jabiya. 2 Such an extraordinary and voluntary return by an all-conquering army of what it has taken according to mutually arranged terms, had never happened before. It would never happen again.

In the middle of July 636, the forward elements of the imperial army, consisting of Christian Arabs, made contact with Muslim screens between Damascus and Jabiya. Abu Ubaidah was now deeply worried. A battle was certain, and one that would decide the fate of the Muslims in Syria. The enemy strength, believed by the Muslims to be 200,000, seemed like a horrible nightmare. Abu Ubaidah worried not for himself but for the Muslim army and the Muslim cause. He called a council of war to brief the officers about the enemy situation and get ideas.

The officers sat in silence, weighed down by the forbidding prospect which faced them. One spoke in favour of a withdrawal into Arabia where the army could wait until this Roman storm has passed and then re-enter Syria, but this proposal was rejected as being tantamount to abandoning all the Muslim conquests in Syria and exchanging the good life of this land for the hardship and hunger of the desert. Others spoke in favour of fighting "here and now", trusting to Allah for victory, and most of the assembled officers favoured this proposal. The mood of the council, however, was not of happy enthusiasm but of grim determination to fight, and if necessary, go down fighting.

1. Balazuri: p. 143.
2. Abu Yusuf: p. 139.