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: 5

Mahan next sent Jabla, hoping that as an Arab he would have more success in talking the Muslims into leaving Syria in peace. Jabla tried his best to persuade the Muslims, but like Gregory, returned unsuccessful.

Mahan now realized that a battle was inevitable and nothing could be done to avoid it. Consequently he sent Jabla forward with the bulk of his Arab army to put in a probing attack on the Muslims. This was not so much an offensive as a reconnaissance in force to test the strength of the Muslim front. For such an action the mobile Christian Arab was better suited than his more heavily equipped comrades of the imperial army. This happened some time in late July 636 (middle of Jamadi-ul-Akhir, 15 Hijri).

Jabla moved up with his Arabs and found the Muslims arrayed in battle order. Cautiously the Christian inched his way forward wanting to get as close as possible before ordering a general attack; but before he could give such an order, he found himself assailed by powerful groups of Muslim cavalry operating under the Sword of Allah. After a certain amount of half-hearted resistance the Christian Arabs withdrew confirming Mahan's fear that battle with these Muslims would not be an easy matter.

Thereafter, for almost a month, there was no major action on the Plain of Yarmuk. The cause of this inactivity is not known. We can only guess that the Muslims were not strong enough to take the initial offensive, and the Romans did not feel brave enough to do so. The respite, however, proved beneficial to the Muslims, as during this period a fresh contingent of six thousand Muslims arrived to join them, the majority of whom were from the Yemen. The Muslims now had an army of 40,000 warriors, including 1,000 Companions of the Prophet, and these in turn included 100 veterans of the Battle of Badr-the first battle of Islam. The army included citizens of the highest rank, such as Dhulbair (the Prophet's cousin and one of the Blessed Ten), Abu Sufyan and his wife, Hind.

When a month had passed after the repulse of Jabla, Mahan felt strong enough to take the offensive, but decided to make one more attempt at peace. This time he would hold talks himself. He asked for a Muslim envoy to be sent to his headquarters, and in response to his request, Abu Ubaidah sent Khalid with a few men. Khalid and Mahan met in the Roman camp, but nothing came of these talks as the positions taken by the two sides were too rigid to allow for adjustment. Mahan threatened Khalid with his great army and offered a vast sum of money to all the Muslims, including the Caliph at Madinah; but this made no impression on Khalid, who offered the three alternatives: Islam, the Jizya or the sword. The Armenian chose the last. It appears, however, that as a result of this discussion, both commanders were favourably impressed by each other and the Muslims began to regard Mahan as a fine man except that, to quote Abu Ubaidah: "Satan has got hold of his reason!" 1

As the two leaders parted, they knew that henceforth there would be no parleys. The point of no return had been reached, and the following day the battle would begin.

The rest of the day was spent in feverish activity. Both sides prepared for battle. Plans were finalized and orders issued. Corps and regiments were placed in position so that everyone would know his place in the forthcoming battle. Officers and men checked their armour and weapons.

Both sides offered fervent prayers for victory, beseeching Allah for His help to 'the true faith', and of course they prayed to the same Allah! On the Roman side the priests brandished crosses and exhorted the soldiers to die for Jesus. Tens of thousands of Christians took the oath of death, swearing that they would die fighting and not flee from the enemy. Many of them would remain true to their oath.

The battlefield which stretched between the two camps consisted of the Plain of Yarmuk which was enclosed on its western and southern sides by deep ravines. On the west yawned the Wadi-ur-Raqqad which joined the Yarmuk River near Yaqusa. This stream ran north-east to south-west for 11 miles through a deep ravine with very steep banks, though less so at its upper end. The ravine was crossable at a few places but there was only one main crossing, at a ford, where the village of Kafir-ul-Ma stands today. South of the battlefield ran the canyon of the Yarmuk River, starting at Jalleen and twisting and turning for 15 miles, as the crow flies, down to its junction with the Wadi-ur-Raqqad, beyond which it continued on its way to join the Jordan River south of Lake Tiberius (Sea of Galilee). At Jalleen a stream called Harir, running from the north-east, flowed into, and became the Yarmuk River. On the north the plain continued beyond the battlefield, while to the east it stretched for a distance of about 30 miles from the Wadi-ur-Raqqad to the foot of the Azra hills. The western and central part of this plain was the battlefield.

1. Waqidi: p. 128.