The Sword of God
By: Ahmed Abu Sultan/Arab America Contributing Writer
Khalid ibn al-Walid was an Arab Muslim commander in the service of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and the caliphs Abu Bakr and Umar. He played a leading role in the Ridda wars against rebel tribes in Arabia and the early Muslim conquests of Sasanian Iraq and Byzantine Syria. His story is one of the Arab tribesmen who defeated the prophet Mohammed (PBUH) in the battle of Uhud. After his conversion to Islam, he became a leading general that contributed to the defeat of the Byzantine Empire in Yarmouk and strengthening the Islamic cause. His title was the Sword of God due to his service to the prophet and his people.
The Last Prophet
A horseman of the Quraysh tribe’s aristocratic Makhzum clan, which ardently opposed Muhammad. Khalid’s father was al-Walid ibn al-Mughira, an arbitrator of local disputes in Mecca in the Hejaz. He belonged to the Banu Makhzum, a leading clan of the Quraysh tribe and Mecca’s pre-Islamic aristocracy. The Makhzums are credited for introducing Meccan commerce to foreign markets, particularly Yemen and Abyssinia, and developed a reputation among the Quraysh for their intellect, nobility, and wealth. Their prominence was owed to the leadership of Khalid’s paternal grandfather al-Mughira ibn Abd Allah. Khalid’s paternal uncle Hisham was known as the “lord of Mecca” and the date of his death was used by the Quraysh as the start of their calendar.
The Makhzum were strongly opposed to Muhammad, and the clan’s preeminent leader Amr ibn Hisham, otherwise known as Abu Jahl, Khalid’s first cousin, organized the boycott of Muhammad’s clan, the Banu Hashim of Quraysh. The Makhzum under Abu Jahl commanded the war against the Islamic prophet, who had emigrated from Mecca to Medina in 622. They pursued the Muslims until their defeat in Badr two years later. About The following year, Khalid and his cousin Ikrima, the son of Abu Jahl, respectively commanded the right and left flanks of the cavalry in the Meccan army which confronted Muhammad at the Battle of Uhud north of Medina. The Muslims gained the early advantage in the fight, but after most of the Muslim archers abandoned their positions to join the raiding of the Meccans’ camp, Khalid charged against the resulting break in the Muslims’ rear defensive lines. In the ensuing rout, several dozen Muslims were killed. The narratives of the battle describe Khalid riding through the field, slaying the Muslims with his lance. This was the only engagement in which Mecca saw victory against the Prophet.
After the peace treaty, Khalid embraced Islam in Muhammad’s presence alongside the Qurayshite Amr ibn al-As who later became the ruler of Egypt. Khalid participated in the expedition to Mu’ta ordered by Muhammad in September 629. The purpose of the raid may have been to acquire resources in the wake of the Sasanian Persian army’s retreat from Syria following its defeat by the Byzantine Empire in July. The Muslim detachment was routed by a Byzantine force consisting mostly of Arab tribesmen led by the Byzantine commander Theodore and several high-ranking Muslim commanders were slain. Khalid took command of the army following the deaths of the appointed commanders and, with considerable difficulty, oversaw a safe withdrawal of the Muslims. Muhammad rewarded Khalid by bestowing on him the honorary title Sayf Allah or the Sword of God.
In January 630 Khalid took part in Muhammad’s capture of Mecca, after which most of the Quraysh converted to Islam. After Muhammad’s death in June 632, most tribes in Arabia, except those inhabiting the environs of Medina, discontinued their allegiance to the nascent Muslim state or had not established formal relations with Medina. An early and close companion of Muhammad, Abu Bakr, became the leader of the Muslim community and dispatched the bulk of the Muslim army under Usama ibn Zayd against Byzantine Syria. Abu Bakr dispatched Khalid against the rebel tribes in Najd. Throughout the campaign, Khalid demonstrated considerable operational independence and did not stringently abide by the caliph’s directives.
The Great Empires
With the Yamama pacified, Khalid marched northward toward Sasanian territory in Iraq. The bulk of the Muhajirun may have withdrawn to Medina before Khalid embarked on his campaign and he consequently reorganized his army. He arrived at the southern Iraqi frontier with about 1,000 warriors in the late spring or early summer of 633. The focus of Khalid’s offensive was the western banks of the Euphrates river and the nomadic Arabs who dwelt there. Khalid’s first major battle in Iraq was his victory over the Sasanian garrison at Ubulla near Basra, and the nearby village of Khurayba, though al-Tabari holds this was erroneously attributed to Khalid. He then marched west to AL-Hira. Al-Hira’s capture was the most significant gain of Khalid’s campaign. After besting the city’s Persian cavalry under the commander Azadhbih in minor clashes, Khalid and part of his army entered the unwalled city. It wasn’t long before his success in Iraq called him and his forces to march west to Syria.
Syria and the Battle of Yarmouk
By the time Khalid had left Iraq, the Muslim armies in Syria had already fought several skirmishes with local Byzantine garrisons and dominated the southern Syrian countryside, but did not control any urban centers. Khalid reached the meadow of Marj Rahit north of Damascus after his army’s trek across the desert. Khalid and the Muslim commanders headed west to Palestine to join Amr as the latter’s subordinates in the Battle of Ajnadayn which ended in a heroic victory for the Muslims. The remnants of the Byzantine forces from the battles of Ajnadayn and Fahl retreated north to Damascus, where the Byzantine commanders called for imperial reinforcements. Khalid hastily besieged the city and captures it.
In the spring of 636, Khalid withdrew his forces from Damascus to the old Ghassanid capital at Jabiya in the Golan. He was prompted by the approach of a large Byzantine army dispatched by Heraclius. The Byzantine army set up camp at the Ruqqad tributary west of the Muslims’ positions at Jabiya. Khalid consequently withdrew, taking up position north of the Yarmouk River, close to where the river meets with the Ruqqad. After careful strategizing, a victory was granted for the Muslim troops.
In 638, Khalid was discharged due to several reasons, the biggest being his massive success. Umar feared that people will begin creating cults due to his success as a military commander. Khalid died in Medina or Homs in 642 CE. Purported hadiths related to Khalid include Muhammad’s urgings to Muslims not to harm Khalid and prophecies that Khalid would be dealt injustices despite the enormity of his contributions to Islam. With that, the Sword of Islam rests until the day his genius will be inherited by someone who will carry that title with pride.
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