March 634 – 2 Years Before The Battle of Yarmouk
Heraclius (one of the great leaders of the Byzantine Christian Romans) stood by the window with one hand on the wall gazing down at the city. He stared at the morning bustle in the streets of Constantinople but he wasn’t interested in the life below. He was lost in thought, disturbed by the reports he just received. A Roman Legion defeated by desert nomads!
The engagement at the oasis of Dasin, just outside of Gaza, was a minor skirmish but the Muslim victory sent a shock wave all the way up to Constantinople!
To Heraclius the Arabs were a backward people living in a desert wasteland. The Arabs he knew were an unsophisticated lot in constant conflict with each other, just barely eking out an existence under the unforgiving desert sun. The Arabs were not a military threat let alone a military power they were just a thorn in his side when they did pop out of the desert. He looked down on them as petty raiders looking to snatch camels, goats and sheep; the modern day equivalent of pick pockets.
But united for the first time under the banner of Islam, the Arabs unleashed a gale force wind that would sweep across the Middle East and blow as far East as China and West across North Africa.
The soldiers at Dasin were not raiders but the advance guard of an organized Muslim army with large ambitions. They were sent by the Caliph in Medina with a strategic objective… conquer Syria.
Heraclius wrapped his arms behind his back and staring down at the cobblestone floor he pulled away from the window and trudged his way back towards his chamber. He entered his dimly lit room as his mind raced back four years earlier; the citizenry showered him with honour as he rode through the streets of Constantinople in triumph after defeating the Persians and restoring the Empire’s splendor. It was a glorious time. He clenched his teeth and grimaced. Now was the time to enjoy the fruits of his labour, he did not expect this.
Four Muslim divisions marched through the Holy lands and swept across Jordan, Palestine, up the Mediterranean coast and penetrated as far north as Emessa. The Muslim armies terrorized the countryside but they did not lay siege to any city. He didn’t understand why.
He sat down at his large oak desk illuminated by a red candle sitting at the corner. A parchment with his general’s plan and strategy to stop the Muslim advance lay on his desk.
Heraclius was a military genius and a master organizer. It was due to his incredible abilities that the Roman defeated the Persians and took back Anatolia and the Holy lands. But most important, he recovered the True Cross and brought it back to its rightful place.
Heraclius nodded his head in agreement as he read the plan to concentrate troops at Ajnadein; a strategic location where the Romans could strike at any of the four Muslim divisions in the theater of operations. He had an astute understanding of the situation and immediately understood the thinking behind the plan. First, by placing a large army behind Muslim lines it would stop the advance in its track; the Muslims would have to secure their rear before moving forward and second it gave the Romans the ability to strike back.
He grabbed the candle sitting at the corner of his desk. After four years of idleness his generals had not lost their ability to defend the Empire. He tilted the candle to allow several drops of hot red wax to drip on the plan. He stamped it with his royal seal and sent it off.
He leaned back in his chair and looking up at the ceiling, he asked the good Lord to help him once again!
THE BURDEN UPON THE SHOULDERS OF AMEERUL MU’MINEEN UMAR (RA)
Umar ibn Khattab (RA) sat in the Prophet’s (SAW) Mosque in Medina burdened with the weight of the nascent ummah on his shoulders. It had only been several weeks since Abu Bakr (RA), the first Caliph of Islam, passed away. Umar (RA) had inherited two wars on two fronts against two superpowers (Romans and Persians) but he was the ideal leader for the trials that lay ahead.
Umar (RA) was a towering figure, stout, firm and resolute. He had a fair complexion with a reddish tint. Although he was Caliph, he despised extravagance. He walked the streets of Medina in garments of wool patched in places with leather. He lived a frugal life.
His anger was well known but he was just and had genuine concern for the people under his rule, he kept their needs central to his leadership. His vision was to ensure that everyone in his domain slept on a full stomach.
Umar (RA) was known to have said:
“If a dog dies hungry on the banks of the River Euphrates, Umar will be responsible for dereliction of duty”. –Umar (RA)
Such was his sense of responsibility to his people.
______ …. ______
The Sahaba sat in a semi circle around their new leader. The Majlis-al-Shura included Uthman ibn Affan, Ali ibn Abi Talib and Abdur Rahman bin Awf; giants who were some of the closest Companions of the Prophet (SAW).
Umar (RA) sat crossed legged leaning against a wall. He read out loud the reports filtering in from Syria. The Sahaba’s faces were lit with expressions of relief as they listened.
Khalid bin Waleed (RA) had just recently entered Syria with 9000 veterans from the Persian campaign in Iraq and assessed the situation. The Muslim force of 32,000 were scattered across the land with 90,000 Romans concentrated at Ajnadein behind Muslim lines. The Roman concentration at Ajnadein had to be dealt with before further conquests could be made otherwise the Muslim forces would be picked off one division at a time. Khalid (RA) ordered all commanders to converge at Ajnadein with haste.
On July 30, 634, Khalid (RA) ordered a general assault and 32,000 Muslims fell upon 90,000 Romans. 50,000 Romans perished including the commander in chief, his deputy and several generals versus 450 dead on the Muslim side. The Roman army of Ajnadein cease to exist. Those who survived sought refuge behind the walls of Jerusalem, Gaza and Jaffa.
It was a crushing victory!
Umar (RA) heard murmurs of “Subhan Allah” in hushed tones from the gathered majlis, he continued.
A week after the mammoth battle, the combined army marched north to Damascus under Khalid’s (RA) orders. On Aug 20, 634 Khalid (RA) laid siege to the city with 20,000 men against a garrison of 15,000 deep inside Roman territory.
After two months of skirmishing with the Roman garrison, Khalid (RA) finally had an opening. Jonas the Greek crossed to the Muslim side and informed Khalid (RA) of a festival. During this festival the people would be drunk and the walls would have a skeleton crew manning them.
Khalid selected 100 of his elite soldiers and scaled the most impregnable point in the defenses. He and his men subdued the few men guarding the wall, dropped down on the other side and opened the gate from the inside. Khalid’s division rushed in and after several hours of fighting the city fell. The loss of Damascus was a staggering blow for Heraclius.
The army rested at Damascus awaiting their next orders.