THE BATTLE OF MU’TAH
By the year seven Hijri, the Muslim state in Medina had achieved great progress in spreading Islam in the Arabian Peninsula. This brought about both apprehension and a sense that this emerging state was a threat. Accordingly, there were frictions in the northern Arabian Peninsula, and incidents took place with more frequency augur an imminent confrontation between the people in the regions, especially between the Byzantines and Muslims, relations with whom were characterized by tension. The Byzantines and their followers from amongst the Arabs continuously harassed and provoked the Muslims by all means, most importantly, the repeated attempts to impede the trade flow incoming from Syria. The climax occurred when the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) sent Al-Harith Bin Umeir Al-Azdi bearing a letter to the governor of Busra, whereupon Sharhabil Bin Amro Al-Ghassani- who was the lieutenant of the Byzantine ruler in Balqa of the land of Syria- chained and killed him. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) reacted by preparing the Muslim army for the Battle of Mu’tah, which was one of the greatest battles fought by the Muslims in the life of the Prophet (PBUH), and which was a prelude to the Muslim expansion. The battle occurred in Jamadi Al-Oula in the 8th year Hijri/August (September) 629 AD.
The Prophet in this military campaign appointed three commanders: Zayd Bin Haritha, Ja`afar Bin Abi Taleb, and Abdullah Bin Rawaha (God be pleased with them). On this occasion the Prophet said: "If Zayd is injured then command over the army should be given to Ja`afar Bin Abi Taleb, and if Ja`afar falls, then Abdullah Bin Rawaha should be in command, and if Abdullah is injured then the Muslims should choose a man from amongst them whom they would install as emir (commander)," and he gave a white banner to Zayd Bin Haritha. In this battle the Muslim army consisted of three thousand (3000) men, while the Byzantines under the command of Heraclius numbered two hundred thousand (200000).
Upon arrival at Mu’tah, bitter combat began with three thousand men facing the attacks of two hundred thousand combatants. Zayd Ibn Haritha fought carrying the banner of the Prophet (PBUH) until being struck and martyred by the spears of the enemy. The banner was then handed over to Ja`afar Bin abi Taleb who fought with heroic fortitude. He fought, so that when the combat became intense he went forth on his horse, and sacrificed it (to indicate that he leaves himself no choice but to fight.).
Ja`afar fought in the battle heroically; his right hand was severed, and he carried the banner with his left hand, which was also severed, whereupon he held the banner with his upper arms until he was martyred . He was a 33 year old knight.
After the martyrdom of Ja`afar, the banner was carried by Abdullah Bin Rawaha with which he proceeded to fight.
After he was also martyred, the muslim army agreed upon Khaled Bin Al-Walid (God be pleased with him) as commander, who sensed the pressing need for a military ploy that would strike terror in the hearts of the Byzantines, so as to succeed in effecting a retreat while avoiding a rout by the Byzantines.
Khaled Bin Al-Waleed (God be pleased with him), succeeded in organizing the battle through deploying the cavalry at the appropriate locations, while using them wisely, where he made the horses gallop the entire night in the battlefield so as to stir intense dust, exploiting their mobility and perseverance. This made the Byzantines think that reinforcements had come to the rescue of the Muslims. Moreover, the use of horses allowed him to make rapid changes in the deployment of the army. He replaced the right wing of the army with the left wing and the vanguard with the rearguard. Hence, when the Byzantines noticed the change of the banners and the faces, they feared what they thought was a new army. Khaled left a group of soldiers on their horses atop one of the hills at a long distance in order to stir dust, creating the illusion on the part of the Byzantines that reinforcements are continuously arriving.
The Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) said on the day of Mu’tah, as related by Bukhari in his Sahih, a communication through revelation he received, prior to news arriving from the battlefield: “The banner was held by Zayd but he was injured, then Ja`afar took it and he was struck, then Ibn Rawaha held it but was struck. His eyes full of tears, he continued: the banner was carried by a sword of Allah, until victory was achieved, God is Greater.”
With the cover of dust came greater opportunity to manipulate; with the knowledge of the horse's capability of speed and agility came the awareness of opportunity for strikes during the battle - these are elements and tools that only knights are aware of as they are skilled in battle and are able to connect with their surroundings and all that enables them.
SOURCES AND REFERENCES
- Ibn A`tham Al-Kufi (314 Hijri), kitab al-futuh, edited by: Ali Shiri, 8 volumes and an index, Dar Al-Adwa`a,
- Ibn Sa`ad, Abu Abdullah Muhammad Bin Sa`ad Al-Zuhri (d. 230 Hijri), ghazawat al-rasul wa sarayah, with an introduction by Abdel Ghafour Attar, Beirut Printing House, Beirut, 1981.
- Ibn Al-Kalbi, Abu Al-Munthir Hisham Bin Muhammad Bin Al-Sa`eb (d. 204 Hijri), ansab al-khayl, edited by: Ahmad Zaki, Al-Masriyyah Printing Press, Cairo, 1946.
- Al-Tabari, Abu Ja`afar Muhammad Bin Jarir (d.310 Hijri), tarikh ar-rusul w`al muluk, edited by: Muhammad Abu Al-Fadl Ibrahim, 10 volumes and an index, Dar Al-Ma`arif, Cairi, 1963.
- Ibn Al-A`rabi, Abu Abdullah Muhammad Bin Ziyad (d. 231Hijri), asma`a khayl al-'arab wa falasanuha, edited by: Muhammad Abdel Qader Ahmad, Maktabat Al-Nahda, Cairo, 1984.
- Jawad Ali, al-mufassal fi tarikh al-'arab qabl al-Islam, Dar EL-'Ilm L`il Malayeen, 1st edition, Beirut, 1969.
- Samih Atef Al-Zain, ma`rakat mu`ta, Al-Sharikah Al-'Alamiyyah L`il Kitab, Beirut, 1988.
- Muhammad Ahmad Bashmil, ghazwat m`uta, Dar El-Fikr, Beirut, 1972.
- Muhammad Ahmad Salameh, al-khayl w`al furusiyya, Dar El-Fikr Al-'Arabi, Cairo, 1993.
- Muhammad Bin Umar Al-Waqdi (d. 207 Hijri), maghazi al-waqidi, edited by Marsden Jones, Dar Al-Ma`arif, Egypt, 1965.
Dr. Salameh S. Naimat
University of Jordan-Faculty of Arts