Masna ibn Haris: the unsung hero of Islam

Masna Ibn Haris Al-Shybani of Banu Bakr tribe in Basra contributed to early rise of Islam in a manner worth noting in letters of gold. He remains the unsung hero of Islam, not as well known as Saifulah Khalid (RA) Hazrat Abu Obadiah (RA) or Hazrat Saad bin Waqas (RA). The exploits of Masna ibn Haris got woven into Islamic lore with a silken touch, so delicate was the art of the noble warrior in winning adherents to his cause. While as appeal to friends and supporters was a heart to heart affair, the steel in his person aimed straight at the jugular of enemies. His effort orchestrated with other heroes makes the song of Islam, a melody with soulful rendering.

The tribe of Banu Bakr in Bahrain bordered Iranian Empire. Masna started border skirmishes on his own without any word from Medina, the capital of what was then the nascent Islamic republic. The forays were cross border raids meant to announce the golden tiding on the horizon of equality between the ruler and the ruled, and of governance by consensus. It was an appealing concept to the downtrodden masses groaning under the yoke of autocratic order of Roman Caesars and Iranian Khosrows. Added to this discomfort was almost a constant state of war between Romans and Iranians, superpowers of the 7th century. 

Cross border forays of Masna ibn Haris had a dual purpose. The prime purpose was uniting the tribes of Bahrain, some of whom were half hearted in accepting the message of Islam. Two, by providing them with a purpose to work for and carrying the massage further to people of Arab stock living in the border areas of mighty Iranian Empire, which included Iraq. The capital was Madian (twin city in Arabic) across Tigris, with Greek city Ctesiphon on one bank and Iranian city of Bu-Shahr on the other, a short distance away from present day Baghdad. Masna¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬ had initially great difficulty in convincing the tribes in Bahrain that Iran with all its might could be taken on in a combat and that given the effort, the faith in the Islamic order would work.

History has seen very few instances of such a belief in the mission impossible. Any geopolitical strategist would have been right in calling Masna a day dreamer. He went on belying forecasts, negating prophets of doom, and continued with his challenging cross-border raids. A day dawned when Masna felt he had enough in his score card to make a passionate plea for help to Hazrat Abu-Bakr (RA) in the seat of Caliphate located in Medina. He made the plea in person, answered tough queries regarding logistics. The Caliph had problems on various fronts. Forces were already engaged in Syrian province of Roman Empire.  In Medina not everyone was inclined to open another front, nor could the moving plea of Masna-the brave warrior with a statesman like demeanour be neglected. He carried a warning too. Iranians had to be met inside their border. No action would mean, Iranians coming inside Islamic lands in trying to offset, what would sooner or later be taken as a serious threat to the Iranian Empire. Moreover Iranians and Romans had to be taken on separately before they would ever think of uniting to contain the resurgent Islamic forces.

Masna sounded convincing even to those, who were disinclined to open another front. The Caliph weighed heavily in his favour. The Islamic Shoura, the consultative body was operational with Shoura-e-Baynahum (mutual consultation) as its guiding principle. The Shoura finally decided to back the Iranian campaign simultaneously with the Syrian campaign. Masna back with his small delegation was promised that the supporting contingent would follow, close on his heels. Soon he got wind that the most valuable sword in Islamic armour–Saifulah next only to Al-Zulfqar of Hazrat Ali (RA) would lead his campaign. Saifulah Khalid ibn Waleed (RA) one of the greatest leaders of men in battle asked for logistic details of fertile Al-Jazira, the operational area between rivers Tigris and Euphrates. Saifulah Khalid (RA) mastered details before he moved. And once he moved, there was no holding back. Speed was his essence, the surprising element of his command. Masna knew the operational area like the palm of his hand. The twosome, the leader and his deputy complimented each others, moving on with neat surgical strikes, leaving the  Iranian forces gasping for breath.

The day came, when the two had to part. Saifulah Khalid (RA) got a SOS from Medina to move to the Syrian front. Exchanging the tearful and tense last look, the famed Islamic warrior sped away to yet another battlefield. The Iranian campaign continued. Hazrat Abu Obadiah (RA) namesake of Hazrat Abu Obaidah ibn Al-Jarrah (RA) the famed commander of the Syrian front was appointed as his commander. In a major battle, he insisted on going against Masna’s advice by choosing to fight on a narrow front with little room for manoeuvre. Islamic forces faced a reverse, the commander lost his life. Masna reorganised his forces and dealt a huge blow to enemy forces in the battle of ‘Buwaib’. By now fully alerted to the advancing Islamic forces, Iranian monarch Yazdegerd III collected a force of 100,000. Masna was forced to fall back and wait for reinforcements from Medina. As destiny would have it, he did not see the end of Iranian campaign. While waiting, he lost his life to ‘Chaldean Fever’.  Hazrat Saad bin Waqas (RA) the new commander took Masna’s widow–Silmi in his care by marrying her. He took Iranian campaign to its logical conclusion in decisive battles of Qadsia and Nahavand. 

 Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]