The Battle of Damascus

Damascus mattered, as it was the global financial nerve center of yore. Here, trade caravans crossed paths. The caravans from Yemen and Hejaz would make a regular appearance to unload their merchandize. In exchange, they would load their beasts of burden with woven textiles of varied fibers including expensive silk. Spices to provide taste to their cuisine was an Indian item much relished. Here the Jew, the Christian, the Hindu, the Confucian, the Zoroastrian, the pagan Arab interacted freely. Pauline Christianity, the order of St. Paul remained the dominant Christian narrative in Byzantine Empire. It was orthodox and intolerant; however maintaining freedom to interact in the city of Damascus was a financial compulsion for Byzantines.

Byzantine Empire from Europe to Asia Minor stretched to west of Asia. Governance of Eastern Roman/Byzantine Empire was a geopolitical challenge. Defending Damascus had heavy stakes involved for Caesar Heracles. Reverse at Ajnadin jolted Romans; they feared battle in an open field. Historians agree that Byzantines banked on a strategy of getting fortified, with the belief of winter giving desert Arabs cold feet. This didn’t happen; Muslims forces were too resilient to be upset by challenges of weather. The stalemate continued until Caliph, Hazrat Abu Bakr (RA) departed for heavenly abode in the year 634 A.D. Hazrat Omar Farooq (RA) assumed the charge of Caliphate, with momentous decisions awaiting him. As the orderly change of Caliphate was taking place, Saifulah Khalid [RA] was getting restless. He loved to remain in action. Fortification was unknown to Arabs. Do or die in the desert warfare, was all they were known for.

 Saifulah Khalid [RA] examining openings constantly witnessed a point where he could cross the wall of fort from waterway intervening between Muslim positions and the wall. He made maximum of a God given opportunity.  In the dead of night, he swam across the water filled moat around the rampant guarding the city and getting over the wall caught the city guards unawares, drunk as they were celebrating the birth of the son of Governor of Damascus. He had the gates opened to let in his subordinate commanders from various gates. Fearful of Saifulah Khalid (RA) the enemy sought sanctuary by negotiating surrender with mild mannered and soft hearted Hazrat Abu-Obaidah (RA). Even an ordinary soldier could provide sanctuary; here a close associate of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) was promising relief. Saifulah Khalid (RA) respected his decision. And with that the peace deal on the city of Damascus was concluded in the month of Rajab, in the year 14thA.H/635-636 A.D.

Following the conquest of Damascus, the cities of Hims/Emessa, Jerusalem and Antioch remained to be conquered, however the Muslims turned in the direction of Jordan, as the Romans had started collecting another combative force at Baisan, an important town of Jordan. The chief town of Jordan was Tibriyah, which has a 12 km lake to the east of it. The Islamic forces laid camp in town of Scylla (Arabic Fahl) now extinct except for a few ruins near it. The Romans fearing an assault created a water barrier by demolishing embankments of neighbouring canals and sued for peace, a ruse while waiting for re-enforcements.

The standard Muslim answer to peace pleas was to either accept Islam or pay ‘Jaziah’ for protection and in case of non-acceptance of these proposals, it was left to the ensuing battle, as to  whose word prevails. Yet again in Fahl, the Muslim forces were disproportionate to what the Romans put forth and as usual their valour carried the day in the 14th year of Hijra [635/636 A.D]. The rest of the towns of Jordan were easily gained, the resistance melting away with advancement of Islamic troops. As Shubli Nomani notes in his book on ‘Syedena Omar Farooq [RA]’ the terms of peace were that the lives, goods and chattels, lands, houses, churches and temples would be under protection, and only a few sites would be acquired for mosques.

With Jordan under control, the Islamic forces turned back their attention to mainland Syria and in the same year; 14th Year of Hijra [635 A.D], the ancient city of ‘Emessa’ called ‘Hims’ by Arabs, known for its great ‘Sun temple’ of ancient times fell after a token resistance by the Romans. The city had a mixed Christian and Jewish population. The Christian clergy had turned the heat on Jews. The way Muslims treated them carried a highly favourable impression. That is how the Jews behave, whenever they sound low. The world is moved by their wail of despair. However, the movement they gain power, they are a different people, impossible to contend with. That is precisely why a philosopher has commented that ‘World would always have the Jewish question’?

With Jordan, Damascus and Hims under control, Caesar Heracles was alarmed and a great council was convened in Antioch. Initially disheartened and almost prepared to leave Syria, one Christian delegation after another made him to change his mind in favour of the last ditch effort. He dispatched orders to Constantinople, Armenia and Jazira. Jazira is the fertile land between Tigris and Euphrates. The land belonged to the Iranian Empire. However, it was conquered by Islamic forces, under the command of Hazrat Saad ibn Ibi Waqas [RA]. The area had nevertheless a Roman enclave on the fringes, where border between the Iranians and Roman Empire was located. It was populated by Arab Christian tribes. Before the re-enforcement column could move, Hazrat Saad ibn Ibi Waqas [RA] checkmated the move. Still, column after column of troops from provinces of Byzantine Empire was collecting in the vicinity of Antioch until a huge army convinced Hercules that Romans might carry the day.

We are moving to battle of Yarmouk, which with Qadsia ranks as two of the greatest battles Muslims fought to re-structure world order, the fascinating tale continues.

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