Islamic History Podcast 2-4: Umar And Syria

Islamic History Podcast 2-4: Umar And Syria


– We should discuss the army a bit
– In many ways, it was more of an organized mob. There were no uniforms and no ranks.
– Commanders were appointed at will, generally based on accomplishment or tribal position.
– Their weapons was whatever they could find. Many of them came from defeated Persian and Roman soldiers
– Most armies have to deal with supplies and feeding thousands of people. Many of the soldiers traveled with their families
– The Arabs didn’t have that problem as they carried their food with them and were used to living on very little

– They could live for days, even weeks on just dates, water, and camel milk.
– This allowed KIW and other commanders to travel long distances with no supply chain or base of operations
– The desert itself was another advantage. Most of the Roman soldiers were not used to it.
– Unless they were invading a city, the Muslims usually fought with their backs to the desert.
– If they were ambushed or fought in the open country, they could slip into the desert where their enemey couldn’t follow.
– The four armies sent by Abu Bakr pushed into southern Syria (modern day Jordan) and conquered many small towns
– Abu Ubaidah was the overall commander, though pious was not a good strategist
– Three of the four armies were with him; Yazid’s army was still fighting in Philadelphia
– The four armies united but found they were outnumbered by the Romans and sent word back to Medina
– The Romans were not dysfunctional like the Persians and were much more organized
– Abu Bakr sent word to KIW to travel to Syria to assist the Muslims there
– KIW and 10000 soldiers made incredible journey across the desert, over 500 miles from Hirah to Jordan
– Meanwhile the Muslims and Romans were fighting at Bosra, but the numerical advantage of the Romans gave them an edge
– The Romans had gotten so bold they even came out of their fortress to fight the Muslims
– The Muslims had trouble keeping from getting outflanked by the Romans
– Then KIW and his cavalry arrived and the Romans ran back into their fortress
– KIW laid siege to Bosra and it eventually surrendered
– KIW came into the region from Iraq to the east, and first captured Bosra
– From there his plan was to continue west into Palestine and then turn north towards the capital, Damascus
– They could have attacked Jerusalem but it was an important Roman city and had a large force within.
– The Battle of Ajnadayn took place in modern day Israel, on the western side of the Dead Sea about 25 miles from the Mediterranean Sea
– They had actually gone around Jerusalem in order to avoid it.
– Heraclius learned of Muslim advances in Syria and sent 250000 soldiers to fight them.
– 90000 of these soldiers were amassed at Ajnadayn
– The Muslims had about 20000 soldiers total. Most of KIW’s soldiers had come up with the four armies and had never seen such a large force.
– KIW and the veterans from Persia were used to it and used to fighting greater odds.
– KIW kept a force of 4000 in reserve under Yazid ibn abi Sufyan
– On the day of the battle KIW stretched his lines out long and thin to prevent being outflanked
– The Romans did likewise but their ranks were deeper.
– A Roman priest came out to speak with KIW and offered peace. KIW responded with the three options: Islam, jizyah, or war.
– In the beginning the Romans had the advantage as they let off volley after volley of arrows. Their bows were better and traveled farther than the Muslims
– Then came the individual duals with Muslim and Roman champions squaring off against each other.
– This favored the Muslims and they won several duels resulting in the loss of several Roman commanders and officers
– Then KIW orderd an all out assualt and the two sides clashed only breaking apart when it became too dark to fight any longer
– The Romans lost thousands of soldiers that day while the Muslims lost only a few hundred
– The Roman leader made a plan to trick KIW by offering peace the next day, then attacking him.
– However, KIW found out and turned it against the Romans and killed their leader
– The battle resumed and reached a stalemate with both sides exhausted.
– Then KIW called out Yazid’s reserve and that new vigor gave the Muslims the energy they needed to defeat the Romans.
– The Romans broke ranks and fled with the Muslims killing thousands of them along the way.
– This was a crushing defeat for the Romans who had lost a lot of men, wealth, and material in this fight.
– After this victory KIW continued his march towards Damascus, once again avoiding Jerusalem.
– There were a couple of smaller battles along the way and KIW was victorious in both of them
– Some information about Damascus
– It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Records of civilization go back to at least 2000 years before Jesus
– The ancient Egyptians called it Timskwa, the Akkadians called it Dimasqa, the ancient Hebrews called it Dammeseq. In Arabic it is called Dimashqi
– Alexander the Great conquered it in 323 BC, and the Roman general Pompey conquered it about 250 years later.
– When the Roman Empire split into two halves, Syria and Damascus became part of the eastern half. Outside of Jerusalem, Damascus the most important Roman city in the Levant.
– Book “Sword of Allah” says the following about Damascus:
Damascus was known as the paradise of Syria. A glittering metropolis which contained everything that makes a city great and famous, it had wealth, culture, temples and troops.
It had history. The main part of the city was enclosed by a massive wall, 11 metres high, 2 but outside the battlements lay some suburbs which were not protected.
The fortified city was a mile long and half a mile wide and was entered by six gates:
the East Gate, the Gate of Thomas, the Jabiya Gate, the Gate of Faradees, the Keisan Gate and the Small Gate.
– The Romans knew KIW was on his way, but they were not prepared for a battle. Damascus had a large population and it would take weeks to stockpile food and materials for a long siege.
– Until the battle of Ajnadayn, the Romans didn’t really think the Muslims were any threat.
– They had defeated their primary enemy the Persians 15 years earlier (Surah Al-Rum), and since the Persian government was in disarray, the Romans felt secure from external threats.
– The governor of Damascus was Emperor Heraclius’ brother-in-law Thomas.
– The Muslim forces met a Roman advance guard about 12 miles outside the city. There were more duels and the top two Roman generals were defeated and captured by the Muslms.
– After the duels, the two sides fought, but the Romans retreated back behind the city walls after a few hours.
– The next day KIW marched on the city with about 20000 soldiers. The Romans hadn’t had enough time to prepare so they only had about 15000 soldiers in the city.
– KIW positioned large forces at each of the city’s six gates and then began the siege of Damascus.
– The governor sent word back to Heraclius who responded by sending 12000 soldiers from Emessa in northern Syria
– KIW decided to lead half of his forces up north to deal with the Romans from Emessa. But he left at night so the people of Damascus wouldn’t know.
– If they found out KIW had left with so many men, they would try to attack the remaining fighters.
– KIW and the Muslims intercepted the force from Emessa, routed them and sent them running back up north.
– KIW returned to Damascus and continued the siege. Meanwhile the people of Damascus were were starting to worry.
– Supplies were running low and Heraclius wouldn’t be able to put together another force any time soon.
– The Romans tried to rush the Muslims guarding the gates but were repulsed each time. Prince Thomas lost an eye in one of these assaults
– Though they weren’t able to break through, the Muslims suffered severe losses from these attacks.
– Finally, a Roman from within the city informed KIW of a holiday within Damascus where most of the men and soldiers will be attending and getting drunk.
– On that night KIW and a few hundred of his soldiers scaled the wall on ropes and began attacking the soldiers inside the city
– Prince Thomas found out and offered peace with Abu Ubaidah who wasn’t aware of KIW’s attack.
– Abu Ubaidah agreed and went with the Prince to the center of the city where KIW was fighting a full out battle
– They argued about it but eventually KIW agreed to honor Abu Ubaidah’s peace agreement, and the people of Damascus were now subjugated under the Muslims and had to pay the jizyah
– KIW made Yazid ibn Abu Sufyan governor of Syria. Yazid was the older brother of Muawiyyah who would inherit the governance of Syria afterwards.
– Muawiyyah would go on to become the fifth Caliph and move the Muslim capital from Medina to Damascus which would become the seat of the Umayyah Dynasty for over a century
– Meanwhile, back in Medina, things were changing rapidly.
– Abu Bakr caught a fever and it continued to worsen over the next two weeks. This all happened while KIW was mired in the siege of Damascus
– When it became clear he would not recover, Abu Bakr called his closest advisors and asked their opinion of Umar as leader.
– Most of them agreed though some had concerns about his strictness.
– Eventually, Abu Bakr declared that Umar would succeed him as leader of the Muslim world after his death.
– ***Read Abu Bakr’s will, page 313, history of Islam***
– Abu Bakr died after two and a half years as Caliph. In that time he put down the rebellion of Apostacy and expanded the Muslim borders deep into Persia and Syria.
– During Abu Bakr’s reign, Muslim life and culture was very simple and largely tribal based. It was only a few years removed from Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
– Things would change dramatically with Umar.
– One of the first things Umar did when he became Caliph was dismiss KIW as general of the Muslim armies
– Actually, this order came during the siege of Damascus but KIW kept it hidden until the siege was over in order not to demorialize his soldiers
– There are two views regarding Umar and KIW’s relationship
– The orthodox Muslim view is that there were no hard feelings and Umar did this to show the Muslims succeeded because of Allah and not KIW.
– They also say now the Muslims were dealing with more professional armies and needed someone who was not just a bruiser and fighter; they needed a diplomat as well
– Others say there was friction between them going back several years. These also say the initial reaction to Umar’s decision was dismay by the Muslims of Medina.
– Most likely there was a combination of the two. Definitely, Umar disapproved of many of the things KIW did. But I don’t think Umar did this simply out of dislike for KIW
– Umar made Abu Ubaidah the general of the Muslims forces and encouraged them to continue their fight in Syria.
– By now the Muslims had probably stretched themselves too thin. The Romans and Persians were preparing to strike back after the initial shock of KIW’s victories.
– In Persia, several of the conquered cities revolted against Muslim rule.
– At the same time, the Persian government was a little more settled and they were able to send forces out to recapture these areas.
– For a few months the Muslims actually lost territory as the Persians tried to coordinate their attacks with Heraclius’ counterattacks in Syria.
– The Muslims and Persians fought at the Battle of the Bridge near the Euphrates river where the Persians used elephants.
– The Muslim commander Abu Ubaid (not Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah in Syria) was killed and the Muslims suffered heavy losses.
– The Muslims were pushed back from the Roman border to the city of Hirah which KIW had conquered almost a year earlier.
– When Umar heard of these losses he made a call to the Arab tribes to join in the fight.
– The need for manpower was so great he lifted the ban against the rebel tribes put in place by Abu Bakr.
– Umar also named Sa’d Ibn Abi Waqqas, a major companion as the leader of the Muslim forces in Iraq.
– Sa’d arrived in Iraq with about 5000 soldiers, 300 of them companions of the Prophet. Many of them had even fought in the Battle of Badr.
– These included Talhah, Zubair, and Salman al-Farisi.
– The Muslims and Persians negotiated for 3 months. The Muslim terms were always the same, Islam, Jizyah, or the sword.
– The Persians treated the Arabs as inferior and offered to give them food and money to return to the desert.
– Eventually these negotiations broke down and both sides prepared for battle.
– A large Persian force with more war elephants formed on one side of the Euphrates while SAW and his troops made camp on the other side.
– Rustam, the Persian general wanted to delay action as long as possible and entered into negotiations with the Muslim forces again.
– This lasted for about 3 months, but led to nothing as the Muslim terms were still the same.
– Eventually it came time to battle and the Muslims allowed the Persians to cross the river so they could fight each other.
– In Syria, the Muslims had pushed further north into Syria, but there were still many areas to the south, including Jerusalem, that they hadn’t conquered.
– The Roman lands to the south were cut off from those in the north, but this also meant the Muslims had to fight on two fronts in Syria, both north and south.
– Heraclius eventually put together enough forces to counterattack
– The Caliphate of Umar
– Considered the Golden Age of Islam.
– He ruled for 10 years.
– The title Caliph, means successor, so Abu Bakr was the first Caliph, or successor to the Prohpet
– Umar also had the title of Caliph, but additionally he also took the moniker Amirul Mumineen. All subsequent Caliphs and Muslim rulers would take that same title.
– Under his rule, the Muslim Empire became more like a traditional state. But Islam flourished during this time.
– The Muslims conquests continued in Syria and Persia and the their wealth flowed into Medina
– Umar realized these large additions had to be divided up into segments to make them easier to govern. By the time he died, there were 8 different provinces within the Empire
– The use of barter became less prevalent. Most stories during this era mention gold and silver coins.
– Abu Bakr already had men who acted as judges, but Umar made this more systemized. He separated the judges from the executive, and he found himself often in front of a judge.
– The judges were paid high salaries to prevent bribery
– However, non-Muslims in the newly conquered lands were not judged by Islamic law. Instead they were judged according to their faith and their leaders were responsible for administering justice
– Much of the new land that came under Muslim control was not confiscated. Umar only allowed Muslims to take public land that had been owned by the Roman or Persian governments.
– Private lands and churches were left alone. Muslims were allowed to by land from non-Muslim landholders, but they couldn’t just sieze it.
– Some of these policies angered Muslim soldiers many who laid claim to vast tracts of land that they had conquered during KIW’s time.
– Umar confiscated these lands and gave them away to people who needed them.
– The army became a professional standing army. The soldiers no longer received a portion of the spoils. They received a regular salary and were properly trained and outfitted.
– Umar is well known for his righteousness and justice. He established a stipend system for the warriors of Badr as well as the members of the Prophet’s family.
– Eventually everyone who lived in Medina, free and slave, was receiving a stipend.
– Poor non-Muslims were exempt from paying jizya, just like poor Muslims were exempt from Zakah.
– He would often walk through the streets of Medina at night to see how people were living. T
– here are many stories of him coming across injustices and poor people who did not know who he was and he correcting them immediately.
– Two of the most important things that came during his reign were the establishment of Salaatul Taraaweeh and the Islamic calendar.
– Salaatul Taraaweek existed during the Prophet’s time but it was only made in congregation a few times.
– Umar came into the Masjid one Ramadan night and saw everyone praying Taraaweeh separately and me made them all into one Jamaah. Since then, it’s been done as a single group.
– Before Umar’s time, the Arabs had months, and 12 months made a year, but they didn’t have an effective method of keeping track of the years.
– They usually identified a year by special events that took place at that time, such as the Year of the Elephant when Abrahah attacked Mecca with elephants.
– This was fine for simple tribal society but unsuitable for a growing Empire and beauracracy. Umar established the year of the Hijrah as the first year of the Islamic calendar.
– So we are now in 1437 AH, or 1437 years after the Hijrah.
– Under his rule, the ancient Sassanid Empire was completely conquered and the Romans were pushed out of Arabia.

Show Notes

Life of Umar

Life of Abu Bakr

Wars of Apostasy

Life of Saad Ibn Abi Waqqas and other companions promised Paradise

Spread the word

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