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Unity Against Fear: The Battle of Ain- Jalut

posted on: Jan 18, 2021

Unity Against Fear: The Battle of Ain- Jalut
“Conquering the world on horseback is easy; it is dismounting and governing that is hard.” Genghis Khan

By: Ahmed Abu Sultan/ Arab America Contributing Writer

During the early middle ages, the Abbasid Islamic Dynasty was considered to be the controlling force of the world. The Abbasid Caliphate stretched from the Atlantic to the Caspian Sea. The end of the dynasty was witnessed at the hands of an unlikely foe, the Mongols. Their Empire had dominated most of the Asian continent and it was at their hands that Arabs saw their greatest threat yet. It was not until a handful of brave leaders and soldiers that the march of the Mongols was halted at the Battle of Ain-Jalut.

The Mongols

The world saw many empires rise and fall over the centuries. Many aspired to inscribe their name in history as conquerors. However, no one made a dent in the world like the Mongol hoard. Since prehistoric times, Mongolia has been inhabited by nomads who, from time to time, formed great confederations that rose to power and prominence. One of these men was named Temujin, otherwise known as Genghis Khan. He enlarged his Mongol state under himself and his kin. Temujin forbade the looting of his enemies without permission and he implemented a policy of sharing spoils with his warriors and their families instead of giving it all to the aristocrats. As a result, he became very popular among those loyal to him, although it did make him unpopular with his powerful relatives. Nonetheless, he saw victory after victory until his empire saw its borders in Europe. 

The Mongol Empire emerged from the unification of several nomadic tribes in the Mongol homeland under the leadership of Genghis Khan. The empire grew rapidly under his rule and that of his descendants, who sent out invading armies in every direction. The vast transcontinental empire connected the East with the West, the Pacific to the Mediterranean. The largest contiguous empire in history, emitted from a country halfway across the world, resulted in the demise of the Islamic legacy in one of the greatest catastrophes in Islamic history. 

Unity Against Fear: The Battle of Ain- Jalut
“There are but two powers in the world, the sword and the mind. In the long run the sword is always beaten by the mind.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

The Sack of Baghdad

In the thirteenth century, Baghdad was not just the center of the Islamic world, it was one of the greatest cities on Earth. Since 751 AD, it had been the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate, an Islamic empire that ruled over most of the Middle East and much of North Africa. The city thrived for centuries and became a symbol of power for Muslims all over the world. Besides, it held the House of Wisdom, which was the center of science during the Viking era. They translated work from all of the ancient empires across the globe into Arabic and recorded them in books that were stored in the city’s library.

On February 13th, 1258, the world saw one of the greatest tragedies in history: the loss of centuries of knowledge and the death of over a million people. That day marked the demise of the most powerful Caliphate since Omar bin al-Khattab. The Mongols produced the largest army in their history to fight the Muslims in their homeland. Historical estimates suggest this force ended up totaling anything from 100,000 to 150,000 soldiers. Al-Musta’sim, the ruler of Baghdad at the time, was not prepared for what was to come. He was deceived by his Grand Vizier to fight the Mongols hoping that after the fall of Al-Musta’sim, he would take his place. The city had about a million inhabitants, and none were allowed to escape. The Mongol warriors put men, women, and children, old and young, to the sword. Those they did not kill they took as slaves. Al-Musta’sim was captured and forced to watch all of these horrendous mass killings. There was nothing but inhumanity and savagery from foreign invaders. After the city was destroyed, it did not take the Mongols a lot of time before they marched west.

“If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.” – Sun Tzu

The Battle of Ain Jalut

After the fall of Baghdad, the golden age for Muslim rule ended and the entire Muslim population saw the Mongols as the bringers of the Apocalypse. They even assumed that they were the infamous Gog and Magog (Yajooj wa Majooj). Nonetheless, Sultan Qutuz of the Mameluke did not fret in fear. Instead, he began rallying support for a counter army to stop the Hoard. It wasn’t until 1260 that Qutuz received a threat from the Mongols to surrender. He replied by killing the envoys, which rallied many people to his cause as the one who will avenge Baghdad. Qutuz then marched his forces into Palestine in Acre. After receiving news that the Mongols are entering Palestine, he marched to stop any defilement of the Holy Land, finally meeting them in Ain Jalut.

The first to advance were the Mongols. The Mamluks had the advantage of knowing the terrain, and Qutuz capitalized on that by hiding the bulk of his force in the highlands and hoping to bait the Mongols with a smaller force, under Baibars. Both armies fought for many hours, with Baibars usually implementing hit-and-run tactics to provoke the Mongol troops and to preserve the bulk of his troops intact. This strategy was known to be the prime success of Mongol invaders in other states. Baibars and his men feigned a final retreat to draw the Mongols into the highlands to be ambushed by the rest of the Mamluk forces concealed among the trees. The Mongol leader, Kitbuqa, already provoked by the constant fleeing of Baibars and his troops, committed a grave mistake. Instead of suspecting a trick, Kitbuqa decided to march forward with all of his troops on the trail of the fleeing Mamluks. When the Mongols reached the highlands, Mamluk forces emerged from hiding and began to fire arrows and attack with their cavalry. The Mongols then found themselves surrounded. It was all over then. Once again, Qutuz employed a strategy Mongols used countless times before. 

The battle ended with the halt of Mongol expansion for the first time since their conception. Baghdad was lost, but Jerusalem was spared. It was the great effort of Qutuz that united the Arab forces to put aside their differences to stop the growing menace. Imagine when illiteracy was plaguing the world, a small number of people put a halt to an apocalyptic savage Hoard. Imagine now what can be achieved by Arabs should they unify under one banner. We can only imagine.

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