The Syrian Campaign

While as Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) initiated the restructuring of world order, the Caliphs, Hazrat Abu Bakr Sidiq (RA) and Hazrat Omar Farooq (RA) planned it deftly at the seat of Caliphate in Medina-ul-Nabi [the city of Prophet (PBUH). In the Syrian campaign, the initial forays of Hazrat Osama ibn Zaid [RA] were meant to forestall any offensive by Roman Empire. The forces hardly had the numerical strength of a major campaign. The forays did have a deterrent effect, as well as a surprise element for border Arab tribes living as tributaries of Roman Empire. Many of these Arabs were Christians. They had however cross border tribal links, just like Pakhtoons have on Pak-Afghan border. Tributaries of Romans no doubt, however the ethnic link was providing some food for thoughts. Arabs of Hejaz in Islamic fold were getting to be far different, in fact the opposite of what they were in pre-Islamic era. Their life seemed to be assuming a purpose hitherto unknown. This set the Arabs on Syrian side of the border thinking. And it worked in favour of Islamic campaign, though initially there were some hiccups.   

Hazrat Osama ibn Zaid [RA]’s forays did witness some reverses, fallbacks, regroupings and in 634 A.D/13 A.H, a major change in the plan. Before the restive Byzantines had a chance to recoup, the Caliph, Hazrat Abu Bakr (RA) devised four division level military formations making provision for the topography and logistics of theater of war. The country called Syria by the Romans is called Barr-ush-Sham by the Arabs, meaning land to the left of Sham in simple terms. The theatre of war was however was not restricted to Syria, as we know and understand the country in modern times. It included Palestine and Jordan also. Hazrat Abu-Obaidah (RA) was assigned the corps at Hems (Emessa) a city in Syria and this formation included large number of Medinites and Suhaba-e- Karam [companions of Prophet (PBUH).  The commander was one of the most eminent of Suhaba, who had fought heroically in the battle of Ohod to defend Prophet (PBUH) from a vigorous assault. He was kind and gentle in disposition, with the knack of getting into administrative details of the campaign and wellbeing of his troops.

Amr ibn Aas (RA) commanded the Palestinian division. He is recorded in Islamic history as a deft politician, who would count his stakes before making a move. He is better known as the conqueror of Egypt. And it is recorded in Arab chronicles that he knew the terrain of Egypt like the palm of his hand. He had traded in those parts in pre-Islamic days. Yezid ibn Abu-Sufian [RA] commanded the Damascus division. He should not be confused with his half nephew Yezid ibn Amir Muwaiyah. He had Meccans and Arabs of Tehama in his command. Many of these Meccan notables had fought against the Islamic forces in Badr and Ohod. However, following the conquest of Mecca, in the most benevolent act of forgiveness, fortitude and forbearance of the conqueror towards the conquered, Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) not only let them off but allowed them to attain position of honour and prestige in the Islamic fold. Shorabhil ibn Hasnah (RA) led the fourth army division in Ardan. The four generals advanced in assigned directions. Shams-ul-Ulama Shubli Nomani says in his book ‘Al-Farooq’ that the troops totaled 24,000, while as Ameer Ali in his famous book ‘History of Saracens’’ quotes a figure of 35,000. 24,000 or 35,000, the forces were no match for what Heracles could marshal in his Asian and Eurasian territories, while Muslims could bank only on a small reserve force under command of Amir Muwaiyah.

Heracles alarmed at the audacity of Arabs, considered to be ragtag desert beings, incapable of an organized campaign collected a large force at Ajnadin. The commanders of Islamic formations by mutual consent resolved to close ranks and fight jointly. The Caliph was informed and re-enforcement was sought. The Caliph asked Saifulah Khalid (RA) engaged in the Iran theatre of war to move camp to the Syrian theatre. This lead to the famous desert march through the shortest but the most dense and dangerous route, which just had one water source known to just one person in famous warrior’s army. The water source however got obliterated; with the person in know, unable to locate it. With half the way still uncovered, and the throats parched with thirst, the army faced mass dehydration. Fortunately, after an intense search, the obliterated source was detected. Thirst quenched, water stocks replenished, the march continued. The short but potentially dangerous desert route showed readiness of Saifulah Khalid (RA) to accept grave risk in pursuit of an objective.  The enemy informed of his march expected him to take the safer longer route. He got on their head much earlier than accepted.

Speed in movement combined with surprise as elemental in his war strategy made Saifulah Khalid (RA) one of the most daring generals in the annals of warfare. As he reached Syria from Iranian front, he assumed overall command. Ajnadin was the first stiff test.  Shubli Nomani’s account notes 3000 Muslim causalities; however the battle was won on 28th Of Jamad-ul-Awal in the 13th Year of Hijra, corresponding to 634-35 A.D, as noted by Ibn Ishaq, the famous compiler of Islamic history. Following this the commander of joint forces– Saifulah Khalid (RA) laid siege to Damascus, the four gates of the city guarded by Hazrat Abu-Obaidah (RA) at Jabiah gate, Hazrat Amr ibn Aas (RA) at Tuma gate, Hazrat Shorabhil ibn Hasnah (RA) at Faradis gate, while Saifulah Khalid (RA) posted himself at the Eastern gate.We are just in the middle of fascinating Syrian campaign, as Islamic forces are seen knocking at the heart of Roman Empire, their financial nerve center, the city of Damascus.

Next week, God willing, we shall take-up the ‘Battle of Damascus’ as the world order was getting restructured in 7th century.

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