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: 8

The flanking corps would use their own cavalry regiments as corps reserves to re-establish their positions in case they were pushed back by the Romans. Khalid with his Mobile Guard and one cavalry regiment would provide the local reserve for the two central corps and also be available as an army reserve to intervene in the battle of the flanking corps as required.

The situation of the two armies with regard to flanks was similar. Each had its southern flank on the Yarmuk and this flank could not be turned. The northern flank of both armies was exposed, and on this side outflanking movements were possible. The difference in the situation of the two armies lay in their respective rears. Behind the Muslims stretched the eastern extension of the Plain of Yarmuk, beyond which rose the broken Azra hills and the Jabal-ud-Druz; and into this region the Muslims could withdraw in safety and be invulnerable in case of a reverse. Behind part of the Roman position, however, lay the forbidding ravine of the Wadi-ur-Raqqad-deep and precipitous. As a discouragement to retreat this was fine and would probably make the Romans fight more desperately; but in case the Romans were worsted in battle and cut off from the northern escape route, the ravine would prove an abyss of death. Against it they would be caught like mice in a trap. However, the Romans had no intention of losing this battle.

This topographical situation was uppermost in Khalid's mind when he formulated his plan of battle. Initially the Muslims would stand on the defensive and receive and hold the Roman attack until it had lost its impetus and the enemy was worn out. Then the Muslims would go on to the offensive and drive the Romans towards the Wadi-ur-Raqqad. The terrible ravine would be the anvil on which the Muslim hammer would fall, crushing the Roman army to powder! At least, so Khalid planned!

The women and children were placed in camps stretching in a line in the rear of the army. Behind the men of each regiment stood their women and children. 1 Abu Ubaidah went round the camps and addressed the women: "Take tent poles in your hands and gather heaps of stones. If we win all is well. But if' you see a Muslim running away from battle, strike him in the face with a tent pole, pelt him with stones, hold his children up before him and tell him to fight for his wife and children and for Islam." 2 The women prepared accordingly.

As the army formed up in its battle position, Khalid, Abu Ubaidah and other generals rode round the regiments and spoke to the officers and men. Khalid gave a set speech before each regiment: "O men of Islam! The time has come for steadfastness. Weakness and cowardice lead to disgrace; and he who is steadfast is more deserving of Allah's help. He who stands bravely before the blade of the sword will be honoured, and his labours rewarded, when he goes before Allah. Lo! Allah loves the steadfast!" 3

While Khalid was going past one of the regiments, a young man remarked, "How numerous are the Romans and how few are we!" Khalid turned to him and said, "How few are the Romans and how numerous are we! An army's strength lies not in numbers of men but in Allah's help, and its weakness lies in being forsaken by Allah" 4

Other commanders and elders, while exhorting the men to fight, recited verses from the Quran, the most popular one being: "How many a small group has overpowered a large group by Allah's help, and Allah is with the steadfast." [Quran: 2:249.] They spoke of the fire of hell and the joys of paradise, and quoted the example set by the Holy Prophet in his battles. For good measure they also reminded the soldiers of the hunger of the desert and the good life of Syria!

The night that followed was hot and sultry. It was the third week of August 636 (second week of Rajab, 15 Hijri.).5 The Muslims spent the night in prayer and recitation of the Quran, and reminded each other of the two blessings which awaited them: either victory and life or martyrdom and paradise. The Holy Prophet had established a tradition after Badr of reciting the chapter of Al Anfal from the Quran before battle, and all night the verses of this chapter could be heard wherever Muslims sat, singly and in groups.

The fires in the two camps burned merrily the whole night and could be seen for miles like twinkling stars descended to earth. But there was no merriment in the hearts of those who sat in the light of these fires. The thought of the ordeal that awaited them had driven all joy from their minds. They were brave men, these soldiers who awaited the morrow, these Romans and Arabs, these Europeans and Asians, these Christians and Muslims. They were lions and eagles and wolves. But they were also human beings and thought of their wives and children to whom they would bid farewell in a few hours-perhaps for the last time.

This was the eve of Yarmuk …. the greatest battle of the Century…. one of the decisive battles of history .... and perhaps the most titanic battle ever fought between the Crescent and the Cross.

1. According to some reports, the families were put on a hill well to the rear. This, as we shall see from the course of battle, could not have been so.
2. Waqidi: pp. 129-30.
3. Ibid: p. 137.
4. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 594.
5. The only thing recorded in the early accounts about the date of this battle is the month-Rajab, 15 Hijri. My statement recording the week in which the battle began is the result of calculations made from the timing of earlier events narrated in this chapter.