The caliphate of Hazrat 'Umar R.A
Before his death (13 AH), Abu Bakr named 'Umar as his successor. The Muslims at large took Bay’ah (oath of allegiance) at the hand of 'Umar in Al-Madeenah on Tuesday, 23 Jumaadaa Al-Aakhirah, 13 AH. After accepting the oath of allegiance for his Caliphate, 'Umar aroused in the people the determination for taking part in Jihaad. He desired to continue the conquests begun by Abu Bakr . 'Umar had to face the two superpowers -- the Byzantine and Persian Empires. Actually, he was politically and militarily gifted -- a fact that will be proven through this article.
Important events during the Caliphate of 'Umar
Conquest of Damascus (13 AH)
After a major defeat at the hands of the Muslim troops in the battle of Yarmook (mentioned in detail in an article on the Caliphate of Abu Bakr ), the Roman soldiers took to their heels and stopped only at Fihl. Shocked and disappointed, Heraclius issued fresh orders to the Roman soldiers to assemble again. Damascus was refortified and large reinforcements from Palestine and Hims were arranged. Nastas bin Nasturas was appointed the commander-in-chief of the Roman forces. Mahan, the governor of Damascus was already there.
The Muslim army under the command of Abu 'Ubaydah bin Al-Jarraah laid a siege around the city. Although the city contained large barracks, the Romans could not muster enough courage to face the Muslims in the open. They had to take refuge in their strong fortifications and use defensive means of war. At times, the besieged Romans hurled stones through catapults and shot arrows at the Muslim soldiers, which were countered effectively and without delay. The siege dragged on for about six months. The reinforcements dispatched by Heraclius to Damascus were effectively intercepted by Muslim troops. At last, the people of Damascus lost hope of Heraclius' help and their zeal for battle began to dissolve. On being informed of their distress and despair, Abu 'Ubaydah issued orders to all the commanders to launch a full-scale attack the next morning.
When the besieged Romans came to know of the Muslim army’s next step, a deputation appeared before Khaalid bin Al-Waleed at Tuma gate and sought peace, which the Muslim commander immediately granted and entered the city without any fight.
About the same time that Khaalid bin Al-Waleed entered the city with the peace agreement, other commanders and their men forced into the city through ladders and by breaking the gates open. Khaalid and Abu 'Ubaydah came across each other in the middle of the city.
When the two commanders met in the middle of the city, the question arose whether the city was peacefully seized or conquered by force. Some people argued that since Khaalid was simply a commander, he had no right to write a peace document when the commander-in-chief was there to make a final decision. However, Abu 'Ubaydah bin Al-Jarraah rejected this point by saying that if peace or shelter was provided even by an ordinary member of the army, it applied to everyone. He declared peace to prevail in the entire city according to the peace document signed by Khaalid, and every point therein was handled with due care. The citizens of Damascus enjoyed perfect peace. Yazeed bin Abu Sufyaan was appointed as the governor of Damascus, who not only brought peace to the city but let the Roman soldiers go at will.
Conquest of Saida, Irqah and Beirut (in Lebanon today)
Soon after exercising full control over Damascus, Yazeed bin Abu Sufyaan sent his brother, Mu'aawiyah bin Abu Sufyaan to Irqah at the head of a squadron who conquered Irqah without facing any resistance. Yazeed then turned to Saida, Habil and Beirut, and these territories easily yielded to the Muslim attack. Thus, Damascus and the entire territory of Jordan came under control of the Muslims.
Campaigns in Iraq
In the very first week after assuming the Caliphate, 'Umar dispatched Muthannaa bin Haarithah, Sa’eed bin 'Ubayd, Sulayt bin Qays and Abu 'Ubayd bin Mas'ood to Iraq. Even though Abu 'Ubayd bin Mas’ood, the commander-in-chief of the Iraqi forces, left Al-Madeenah along with Muthannaa bin Haarithah, he stopped to take with him men from the Arab tribes along the way and made brief halts at different places, he reached Iraq one month after Muthannaa. On reaching Hirah, Muthannaa bin Haarithah saw with anxiety that the Persians had roused all the Iraqi chiefs against the Muslims, and Rustam, an eminent Persian leader and the governor of Khurasaan, had taken his position in Madaa'in, the Persian capital, after making massive military preparations. With the arrival of Muthannaa, Rustam sent a large army to combat him. Rustam sent another huge army to Kaskar headed by Narsi, a very brave and experienced general of the royal family. The third strong army he entrusted to Jaban and sent it towards the Euphrates, they pitched their camp at Namariq. Muthannaa bin Haarithah on the other hand came out from Hirah and camped at Khaffan.
Meanwhile Abu 'Ubayd bin Mas'ood arrived and took charge of the entire Muslim army. He left Muthannaa at Khaffan, entrusting him with the command of the Muslim cavalry and he launched a massive attack on Jaban at Namariq and tore apart their ranks, causing the Persians to flee the battlefield.
Abu 'Ubayd bin Mas'ood fought fierce battles against Persians and inflicted them with heavy losses. But the Persians had begun to put elephants ahead of their army with archers sitting on them. The horses on the Muslim side had never seen elephants before and they began to flee in terror at the sight of the huge animals. With this scenario of the battle, Abu 'Ubayd asked his men to fight on foot. When the elephants began to trample the Islamic ranks under their feet, Abu 'Ubayd called out to strike their swords at the elephants’ trunks and he was himself the first to do this. He cut off the trunks of several elephants and inflicted deep injuries on their feet, which resulted in the riders being thrown off and killed.
Inspired by the matchless bravery of their commanders and commanding officers, the Muslim soldiers made heroic assaults on the elephants. During these fateful moments, Abu 'Ubayd bin Mas'ood came under the attack of a combat elephant. He fell upon the elephant and struck its trunk off with one stroke of his sword. Despite this, the aggressive animal knocked him down and put its foot on him, crushing his chest. This battle took a toll of 6000 Muslim combatants.
The Battle of Buwayb
When 'Umar came to know of the martyrdom of Abu 'Ubayd and the heavy losses incurred by the Muslims, he became infuriated and with all his energy and resources he commenced preparations for a fresh campaign against the Persians. He dispatched heralds and messengers to all the tribes and roused them to fight for Islam. Several tribes poured into Al-Madeenah and were dispatched to Iraq to lend their help to Muthannaa, who had already launched a recruiting drive, which resulted in a large army.
When the Persians were informed of these preparations, Rustam sent a huge army under the command of Mehraan Hamadaani. The reason Mehraan was nominated to the command, was that he was brought up in Arabia and could, therefore, realize the power and strength of the Arabs and appreciate the magnitude of the task before him. Informed of the Persian movements, Muthannaa bin Haarithah marched with his army and encamped at Buwayb, along the Euphrates. Mehraan, marching from the capital, advanced straight upon Buwayb and pitched his camp on the other side of the Euphrates. Mehraan then sent word to Muthannaa to either come to his side or let him come to his (Muthannaa's) own side. In the light of the bitter experience of the past, Muthannaa invited him to his side. Mehraan crossed the river with his entire army and combat elephants. Then, he arranged his forces in such a manner that he put his infantry in front, followed by elephants with archers sitting on them, and both right and left flanks occupied by cavalry divisions.
The Islamic army was also ready to fight. The Persians initiated the attack, which was answered by the Muslims. The battle grew intense and both sides displayed bravery. However, the Muslims were crowned with victory. When Muthannaa bin Haarithah noticed the Persians running away, he rushed forward and broke the bridge, with the result that a large number of the enemy soldiers were either killed or drowned. Mehraan Hamadani was also killed on the battlefield. The Persian fugitives were given chase up to Sabat. At that point, the entire territory from Sawad to Tigris came under the Muslim forces. This battle took place in Ramadhaan 13 AH.
After the defeat of Buwayb, the Persian chiefs and nobles buried their differences and mobilized their forces to serve their country even in the face of death. Rustam and Fayrouz (prime minister of the Persian Empire) were the pillars of the State, but a violent friction raged between them. Now both of them were persuaded to shake hands in the interest of the Persian Empire. The coronation of Yezdgird also infused new life into those who were disheartened because of the adverse state of affairs in every field. The provinces and cities under the possession of Muslim officers began to show signs of unrest and rebellion. The Persian camps were packed with soldiers and the Persian forts and military outposts were fortified and strengthened. Many other regions under Muslim control broke into revolt and rose in support of the Persians.
The Caliph decides to lead the Muslim army
'Umar came to know of these fresh developments in the month of Thul-Qi'dah in Al-Madeenah. He issued prompt orders for Muthannaa bin Haarithah together with all the troops to fall back towards the frontiers of Arabia. He summoned the tribes of Rabee'ah and Mudhar that were scattered throughout Iraq, strengthened his forces and vacated the threatened areas to gather close to the frontiers of Arabia. He also issued orders to the governors to collect and send warriors to fight in the way of Allaah. As the season for the pilgrimage had arrived, 'Umar set off to Makkah.
On returning from the Hajj, he found Arab tribes pouring into Al-Madeenah from all sides. The suburbs of Al-Madeenah were now teeming with groups of warriors. He entrusted the divisional command of the vanguard to Talhah and that of the right wing to Az-Zubayr while 'Abdur-Rahmaan bin 'Awf was appointed to the command of the left wing of the army. When the army was drawn up, he put 'Ali in charge of the Caliphate, left Al-Madeenah, and advanced towards Persia. At Sirar, the first halt was ordered.
The fact that the Caliph himself was leading the army filled them with unbounded confidence and enthusiasm. However, 'Uthmaan bin 'Affaan called on the Caliph and said that it was not expedient that he should go personally into the battlefield. Following this advice, 'Umar set up a general council of war at Sirar and invited the opinion of everyone present. Everyone unanimously exclaimed that the expedition could not terminate successfully unless he led it himself.
Thereupon, 'Abdur-Rahmaan bin 'Awf said: “I disapprove of such a suggestion. The Caliph's presence on the battlefield is too risky. In case a commander is killed in action, the Caliph can do what is necessary to keep the situation under control; but if Allaah forbid, the Caliph himself is eliminated, it would be extremely difficult to manage the affairs.” 'Ali was also called from Al-Madeenah to take part in this crucial deliberation. He and the other Companions lent support to 'Abdur-Rahmaan bin 'Awf’s opinion.
The Caliph agreed not to lead the campaign. After a long discussion about who would take command of the Muslim army at this juncture, Sa'd bin Abu Waqqaas was named. The entire council, including 'Umar agreed.
The Battle of Qaadisiyah
Sa’d was at Siraf when he received a fresh order from the Caliph directing him to proceed towards Qaadisiyah. The order further enjoined him to arrange himself and his troops in such a manner, so as to have the plains of Persia in front and the hills of Arabia in the rear. In this way, he might advance as far as he chose in case of victory, and take refuge by retreating to the hills in case of defeat.
News began to pour into the Persian capital that the Arabian army was encamped in Qaadisiyah and they had ravaged the surrounding areas of the Euphrates. The Persian leader, Rustom, marched up to Sabat where he was joined by forces from almost every part of the country in such great numbers that, in a short time, the Persian army numbered nearly 180,000 men. It was not only a well-equipped army, but also showed a rage and enthusiasm against the Islamic forces.
Armed with war equipment and weapons on such a massive scale, Rustam marched from Sabat and camped at Kutha. Now the distance between the Persian and the Muslim armies was much closer. Small raiding squads would come out from both sides to pounce on the other's provisions and other things of necessity.
Rustam ordered preparations for a decisive battle. He ordered a bridge to be constructed over a canal that separated the armies, and it was completed within a short period. Rustam then enquired from his counterpart as to who should cross the bridge, and Sa’d invited him to cross. Thus, the large and strong Persian army moved across the bridge and battle lines were drawn up. Rustam launched an all-out assault on the Muslim troops, and by way of a war strategy, combat elephants were set off to attack the Muslim ranks. The Bujaylah tribe obstructed them at the cost of heavy casualties. Sa’d who was watching the battle scene very minutely, reinforced the Bujailah with Banu Asad who showed utmost manliness in the assigned duty. However, when they too showed signs of reverses, the warriors of Banu Kindah took the field and made such a heavy charge that the Persians were forced to retreat. In view of constant retreat and repulses, Rustam ordered a joint attack. Sa’d cried the Takbeer (Allaahu Akbar – Allaah is the Greatest) at the top of his voice and the entire Muslim army joining his Takbeer, charged against the Persian troops. It looked as if two oceans or mountains had collided with each other. When the rival forces were in the thick of battle, the Persian elephants began to cause heavy casualties on the Muslim side. Sa’d immediately ordered the archers to shoot arrows at the elephants and their riders. 'Aasim charged at the elephants with his lance, followed by others who inflicted deep wounds on the elephants' trunks with their spears and swords. As a result, the elephants retreated leaving the Muslim swordsmen to display their bravery. After a daylong battle, night intervened to stop it until the next day.
After fierce fighting that lasted for three days, all the tribes rose as one man to charge forcefully at the enemy. When the horsemen of Al-Qa'qaa' reached near Rustom, he got down from his throne and began to fight. However, on being wounded he took to his heels. But Hilaal bin Ulafah chased him and hit him so powerfully with his spear that his hip was broken and he fell down in a nearby canal. Hilaal dismounted from his horse at once, pulled him out by his legs and put him to death. Following this, Hilaal called out at the top of his voice standing on Rustam's throne: "By Allaah, I have killed Rustam." Having heard this announcement, the Muslim troops cried Allaahu Akbar (Allaah is the Most Great) and the Persian soldiers were left shocked and astonished. They fled the battlefield. Out of 30,000 Persian cavaliers, only 30 saved their lives. About 6000 Muslims were honored with martyrdom.
Conquest of the Persian capital
After their flight from Qaadisiyah, the Persians quartered themselves at Babylon. A number of renowned generals prepared themselves for battle again. The fugitives of the battle of Qaadisiyah were also collected and encouraged to avenge their defeat. Sa’d stayed in Qaadisiyah for about two months after the Muslim victory. On receiving fresh orders from the Caliphate, he marched to Madaa'in leaving his family in Qaadisiyah. With the news of the arrival of Sa’d the Persian generals left Babylon and moved to Madaa'in, Ahwaz and Nihawand destroying the bridges on the way and making the Tigris and its canals impossible to cross. When Sa’d arrived at the bank of the Tigris, he found neither bridge nor boats. The next day Sa’d mounted on his horse and said after getting his troops ready: "Who among you is brave enough to promise to save me from an enemy onslaught while I cross the river?" 'Aasim bin 'Amr came forward and offered his services.
He then charged right into the surging water of the Tigris. Others also followed suit and rushed their horses into the river. The river was deep and fast moving but the turbulent conditions could not affect the resolute and undaunted spirits of the Muslim army. The waves slammed furiously against the sides of the horses, but the horsemen steered their course calmly and in perfect order. When the cavalry was halfway across the river, the Persian archers began to shoot arrows at the Muslim troops but in vain. The Muslim fighters crossed the river by force and put the opposing force to death.
With the news of the crossing of the river by the Muslims, Yezdgird took flight from Madaa'in. The Muslim troops began to enter the city from different directions. Sa’d stepped in the White Palace (royal palace) reciting the verses (which mean):
"How much they left behind of gardens and springs. And crops and noble sites. And comfort wherein they were amused. Thus! And we caused to inherit it another people. ” [Quran 44:25-28]
He offered eight Rakahs (units) of victory prayer. In the palace of Kisra (Chosroes), a pulpit was set up in place of the royal throne and the Friday prayer was performed there. This was the first Friday prayer that was performed in the Persian capital.
The fall of Madaa'in, the Persian capital, was followed by that of Ahwaz, Nahawand and Hamadan but the latter rose in revolt after only a few days. Being fed up with the continual revolts of the Persian regions, 'Umar later ordered a general attack which resulted in victory. Thus, the Muslims captured all the Persian land and the empire of Magians became extinct.
Conquest of Jerusalem, 15 AH/ 636 AD
In course of time, when Muslim troops were winning victories in Antakiyah and its suburbs, Yazeed bin Abu Sufyaan the governor of Damascus sent his brother, Mu'aawiyah bin Abu Sufyaan towards Qaisariyah (Caesarea or Kayseri) as per the Caliph's order. After a heavy toll of 80,000 Christians, the city fell to the Muslims.
Heraclius now ordered Artabun, a noted general, to gather troops in Ajnadain. Artabun kept a huge army under his direct command and two other detachments in Ramlah and Jerusalem. The opponents of Islam were well-equipped and huge in number, awaiting the arrival of the Muslim force. 'Amr bin Al-'Aas marched to Ajnadain to face Artabun while he dispatched Alqamah bin Hakeem Firaasi and Masroor bin Al-Akki to Jerusalem and Abu 'Ayyoob Al-Maaliki to Ramlah with the permission of Abu 'Ubaydah . A fierce battle was fought in Ajnadain. It was a conflict similar to Yarmook. Artabun could not muster courage to face 'Amr bin Al-'Aas and fled to Jerusalem and the city fell to the Muslim forces.
After the getaway of Artabun to Jerusalem, 'Amr bin Al-'Aas conquered Ghazzah (Gaza), Sabastiyah, Nabulus (Nablus), Ludd, Amawas, Bayt Jibreen, and Yafa (Yafo). He then proceeded to Jerusalem and tightened the siege. About the same time, Abu 'Ubaydah had proceeded to Palestine. The news of his arrival disheartened the besieged Christians who until then, had been defending themselves. They were left with no alternative but to accept peace negotiations. All of them knew about the readiness of the Muslims to accept a peace proposal and their easy terms. However, the Christians of Jerusalem put an unusual condition on finalizing the peace agreement. They wanted the Caliph of Islam to reach Jerusalem to write down the peace document. Even though the fall of the city was only a matter of time, Abu 'Ubaydah was in favor of avoiding further death and destruction, so he preferred peace to war. He wrote a letter to the Caliph describing the whole account of events with the request that his arrival in Jerusalem could win for them the city without shedding a drop of blood.
'Umar convened a meeting of all the distinguished Companions and consulted them. 'Uthmaan declared that the Christians had been struck with terror and had lost heart and that if the Caliph were to reject their request, they would be still more humiliated, and consider that the Muslims regarded them with utter contempt, they would lay down their arms unconditionally. 'Ali however, dissented from this view and gave the contrary opinion; and 'Umar shared the same opinion.
'Umar's journey to Palestine
On this historic mission to Jerusalem, a bag full of parched barley meal, a camel, a slave, and a wooden cup were all the belongings of 'Umar the Chief of the Muslims, when he left Al-Madeenah, the headquarters of Islam. Leaving 'Uthmaan in charge of Al-Madeenah, he set out on the journey noted for its strain and stress.
It was a unique scenario of Islamic equality and human dignity, that at times, the Caliph sat on the camel and the slave walked along holding the rein of the camel and at other times, vice versa. It was the journey of a magnificent and powerful Islamic ruler whose cavalry had already trampled down palaces and crowns and thrones under the hooves of its horses. It was Rajab 16 AH (After Hijrah), when Madaa'in and Antakiyah (Antioch) had been conquered.
The commanders of the Muslim forces at Damascus and Jerusalem had already been informed about the movement of the Caliph of Islam. Thus Yazeed bin Abu Sufyaan, Abu 'Ubaydah bin Al-Jarraah and Khaalid bin Al-Waleed received the Caliph of Islam with exemplary honor. However, when 'Umar saw them arrayed in brilliant dresses and imposing appearance, he flew into a fit of rage at the sight of them and remarked: "Within the short span of two years have you fallen into Persian habits?" However, when the officers explained that they had their weapons beneath their luxurious dresses and they had not lost their Islamic character, the Caliph gained peace of heart.
The Caliph stayed for a long while at Jabiah, where some of the nobles of the city proceeded to see him and the treaty was drawn up there. The elite of the Companions like Khaalid bin Al-Waleed, 'Amr bin Al-'Aas, ‘Abdur-Rahmaan bin ‘Awf and Mu'aawiyah subscribed to it.
The Conquest of Egypt
During 'Umar's stay in Jerusalem, 'Amr bin Al-'Aas had obtained his consent for launching an attack on Egypt. 'Amr marched to Egypt at the head of 4000 troops. In his dispatch from Al-Madeenah, the Caliph of Islam put before Muqawqis, the king of Egypt, three conditions: accept Islam or pay Jizyah (poll protection tax as a sign of their surrender to Muslims) or prepare for battle. The Roman general Artabun along with his entire army was in Egypt at that time. First Artabun moved forward and then fled the battlefield after experiencing a decisive defeat.
Afterwards the Muslim army advanced further and laid siege around 'Ayn ash-Shams and from there dispatched two squadrons to besiege Farama and Alexandria. Both the cities fell to the Muslim troops. 'Amr bin Al-'Aas then sent Az-Zubayr bin Al-Awwaam to Fustaat as a commander; he conquered the fortified citadel after a heavy encounter. 'Amr bin Al-'Aas attacked Alexandria, which fell after a siege of three months.
The Summary of Conquests
The area of conquests during the Caliphate of 'Umar is said to have spread over 2,2,500,000 square miles. This was the result of victories won by people who were once considered “small and wretched” against the mighty empires of Persia and Rome. The conquests of the Caliph 'Umar include Persia, Iraq, Jazeerah, Khurasaan, Baluchistan, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and Armenia. The provinces carved out by 'Umar himself in 22 AH, were Makkah, Al-Madeenah, Syria, Jazirah, Basrah, Kufah, Egypt, Palestine, Khurasaan, Azerbaijan and Persia. Some of them were equal to two provinces in area, with two centers of power and separate governors and their administrations.
Firsts accomplished by 'Umar
'Umar invented and enforced many things in the sphere of financial, political, administrative and social spheres, which are accomplishments first instituted by him. Some of them are mentioned below:
· He set up a formal Bayt-ul-Maal or public treasury and introduced the Hijri calendar
· He adopted the appellation of Ameer Al-Mu'mineen (Commander of the Faithful)
· He established a regular department for the military; a separate department for financial affairs, and fixed the salaries for men in voluntary services.
· He also introduced the practice of measuring the land and keeping its record, adopted a census system, he had canals dug and populated cities like Koofah, Basrah, Jeezah, Fustaat (Cairo) and delineated provinces out of the occupied territories.
· He was first to allow traders of rival countries to enter Muslim territories for the purpose of business.
· He was also the first to make use of the whip for corporal punishment and set up a prison and police department.
· He introduced a system of collecting direct information concerning states and conditions of the masses, he established a secret intelligence service.
· He had wells bored, built houses and fixed a daily payment for the destitute among the Christians and the Jews.
Martyrdom of 'Umar Al-Faarooq
'Umar was one day walking in Al-Madeenah when a Persian youth, named Fayrouz who was known by the patronymic `Abu-Lu'lu'ah, met him. That youth was a slave under Al-Mugheerah bin Shu'bah and had been taken captive after the conquest of Nahawand. He complained to the Commander of the Faithful about his master, saying that he had imposed upon him a very heavy tax. 'Umar asked him about his job, and he answered that he worked as a carpenter, a blacksmith and a house painter. Then 'Umar remarked that the tax his master had imposed upon him was quite fair, but the youth was not happy with that remark, and went away full of indignation.
The next day when the people assembled in the mosque to perform the morning prayer, Fayrouz came into the mosque armed with a poisonous dagger. As the ranks of the congregation were put straight and in order, and 'Umar came up and took his position at the head of the ranks to lead the prayer, Fayrouz suddenly rushed from the first rank and struck 'Umar six consecutive blows, one of which fell below his navel.
He was wounded on Wednesday, Thul-Hijjah 27, 23 AH, died, and was buried on Muharram 1, 24 AH. His term as Caliph was ten and a half years. Suhayb led his funeral prayer. 'Ali, Az-Zubayr, 'Uthmaan, ‘Abdur-Rahmaan bin ‘Awf and 'Abdullaah bin 'Umar lowered his body into the grave and performed the burial service.
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