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CHAPTER XIX

RISING IN NORTHERN SYRIA

17 A.H.   /   638 A.D.

Rising in Northern Syria.

IN the sixth year of 'Omar's Caliphate, a desperate effort was made by the Greeks, at one moment not without some prospect of success, to shake off the Muslim yoke and recover possession of Northern Syria.

Greeks support Bedawi rising, 17 A.H., 638 A.D.

The movement is attributed to an appeal from the Christian tribes of Upper Mesopotamia, who besought the Emperor to save them from falling under the adversary's sway. Although the strongholds of Mesopotamia had fallen into the hands of Sa'd, yet their garrisons had little control over the wandering Bedawin; and many of the Christian tribes still looked for support to the Persian or Byzantine rule. The maritime power of the West was yet untouched. Cęsarea with its naval supports remained proof against landward attack; and the whole sea-coast was kept unsettled by the fear, or by the hope, that a fleet might at any time appear. The Emperor now promised the dwellers in Mesopotamia to second their efforts by way of the sea. An expedition was directed from Alexandria against Antioch, while the Bedawin gathered in great hordes around Hims. Thus seriously threatened, Abu 'Obeida called in his outlying garrisons. But finding the enemy too strong to be dispersed by the force at his disposal, he sent an urgent summons for assistance to Medina. Thereupon 'Omar ordered Sa'd to despatch at once a strong column from Al-Kufa under Al-Ka'ka' for the relief of Hims; and likewise to effect a diversion in Upper Mesopotamia. Meanwhile the Greeks had landed from their ships. Antioch threw open her gates to them; and Kinnasrin, Aleppo, and other towns in the north, were in full revolt. A council of war was called. Khalid was for giving battle, but Abu 'Obeida,


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feeling too weak to cope with the now combined forces of the Bedawin and Greeks, retired to Hims; and there, hemmed in by enemies, awaited the succour advancing from Al-Kufa. So grave did 'Omar himself consider the crisis, that, quitting Medina for the second time, he journeyed to Al-Jabiya, intending to march in person with the reinforcements northwards1. But while on his journey, a change had already come over the scene. Their prolonged absence in the distant north had alarmed the Bedawin for the safety of their desert homes, so that, returning south, they began to forsake the Emperor's cause.

Abu 'Obeida puts enemy to flight.

Seeing now his opportunity, Abu 'Obeida issued from his fortress, and after a severe engagement routed the enemy, who fled in confusion, and before the arrival of Al-Ka'ka' were already totally dispersed. 'Omar returned to Medina, delighted at the result. He specially commended the alacrity of the Kufa column: "The Lord reward them," he wrote to Sa'd, "for their ready gathering and speedy march to the succour of their beleaguered brethren."

Campaign in Northern Mesopotamia. 17 A.H., 638 A.D.

It was the last effort of Constantinople to expel the invader from Syria, whose yoke was now plainly not to be in shaken off. The diversion attempted in Mesopotamia had also the opposite effect of reducing that province to its farthest limits. Not content with this, the infant faith, becoming conscious of its giant strength, began to stretch itself still farther north. Success in Mesopotamia was followed up by a campaign in Asia Minor; and the name 'Iyad, under whom even Khalid did not disdain to serve, begins to figure as one of terror in the brief Byzantine record. Nasibin, Ar-Roha, and other strong places on the frontier were taken or recaptured, and part even of Armenia overrun.

Christian tribes. Beni Iyad.

Most of the Bedawi tribes in Mesopotamia embraced Islam. There were exceptions, and the story of Beni Iyad is singular. They migrated to the north, and found an asylum in Byzantine territory. But 'Omar, nettled at their disappearance, and fearing lest they should remain a thorn in his side, demanded their extradition, on pain of expelling all Christian tribes living under his protection. The Emperor, unwilling to expose these to ill-treatment, complied with

1 This second visit of 'Omar to Al-Jabiya is recorded by Ibn al-Athir, ii. 414


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Beni Taghlib allowed to pay tithe.

the demand. Equally remarkable is the tale of the Beni Taghlib. They tendered submission to Al-Welid, who, solicitous for the adhesion of this famous race, pressed them with some rigour to abjure their ancient faith. 'Omar was displeased;—"Leave them," he wrote, "in the profession of the Gospel. It is only within the Arabian peninsula, where are the Holy Places, that none but a Muslim tribe is to remain. Al-Welid was removed from his command; and it was enjoined on his successor to stipulate only that the usual tribute should be paid, that no member should be hindered from embracing Islam, and that children should not be educated in the Christian faith. The tribe deeming in its pride the payment of "tribute" an indignity, sent a deputation to the Caliph:—They were willing, they said, to pay the tax, if only it were levied under the same name as that taken from the Muslims. The liberality of 'Omar allowed the concession; and the Beni Taghlib enjoyed the singular privilege of being assessed as Christians at a "double Tithe," instead of paying the obnoxious badge of subjugation.

Fall of Cęsarea. 17 A.H., 638 A.D.

The last place to hold out in Syria was Cęsarea. It fell in the fifth year of 'Omar's Caliphate. 'Amr had sat long before it. But, being open to the sea, and the battlements landward strong and well manned, it resisted his efforts; and although Yezid sent his brother Mu'awiya with reinforcements from Damascus, the siege was prolonged for several years. Sallies persistently made by the garrison, were driven back with equal constancy: but in the end, the treachery of a Jew revealed a weak point in the defences; the city was carried by storm and with prodigious carnage. Four thousand prisoners of either sex were despatched with the royal booty to Medina, and there sold into slavery.1

1 The Jew betrayed the town by showing the Arabs an aqueduct, through which they effected an entrance. The population was mixed; 70,000 Greeks; 30,000 Samaritans; and 200,000 (?) Jews. It was a sad fate that of the captives. Multitudes of Greeks, men and women, pined miserably in strange lands in hopeless servitude. Amongst these must have been many women of gentle birth degraded now to menial office or if young and fair to look upon, reserved for a worse fate,—liable, when their masters became tired of them, to be sold into other hands. No wonder that Al-Kindi in his Apology inveighs, with scathing denunciation, against the proceedings of the Muslims in these early wars.


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The accounts vary as to who it was who actually took the town. 'Amr had attempted to take it immediately after the fall of Jerusalem. Yezid, as soon as be had succeeded Abu 'Obeida as governor of Syria came to try his hand at it but a malady from which he suffered required his departure to Damascus, where he died at the end of the year 18. Then Mu'awiya, his brother, who succeeded him, made a grand effort and, aided by treason, took the town in the month of Shauwal of the year 19 (October 640 A.D.). 'Amr passed to fresh conquests, and Mu'awiya remained in Syria to lay the foundations of a dynasty and a throne.

Khalid brought to trial, 17-18 A.H., 638-9 A.D.

The career of Khalid ibn al-Welid had an unfortunate ending. He came back from the campaign in the north to his seat of government at Kinnasrin greatly enriched with the spoils of war. In hopes of his bounty, many old friends flocked around him. Amongst them was Al-Ash'ath, the Kinda chieftain, to whom he gave the princely largess of one thousand pieces of gold. Again, at Amid, Khalid had indulged in the luxury of a bath mingled with wine, the odour whereof, as he came forth, still clung about his person. On both charges he was arraigned. About the second, there could be no question; the use of wine even in a bath, was a forbidden thing, and Khalid now forswore the indulgence. The other offence was graver in the Caliph's eyes. Either the gift was booty of the army; or, if Khalid's own to give away, he was guilty of culpable extravagance. Whichever it was, he deserved to be deposed from his command. In such terms a rescript was addressed to Abu 'Obeida, and sent by the hands of a courier charged to see that the command was fully carried out. Khalid was to be accused publicly; his helmet taken off; his hands bound with his head-kerchief; and so arraigned he was to declare the truth.

Arraigned for malversation before Abu 'Obeida.

Abu 'Obeida had an ungracious task, seeing that to the degraded warrior he was beholden for his victories in Syria. But 'Omar's word was law. And so he summoned Khalid from Kinnasrin, proclaimed an assembly in the Mosque of Hims, and, standing in the pulpit, placed Khalid in their midst. Then the courier put the Caliph's question—From whence the money given to Al-Ash'ath came? Khalid, confounded at the unexpected charge, made no reply. Pressed by his friends, still he remained


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silent. Abu 'Obeida himself embarrassed, a painful pause ensued. At last Bilal, privileged as the Muezzin of the Prophet, stepped forth, and with stentorian voice cried, Thus and thus hath the Commander of the Faithful said, and it is incumbent on us to obey; so saying, he unwound the kerchief from the head of Khalid, bound his hands therewith, and took his helmet off. The great warrior, to whom Islam so greatly owed its conquests, stood as a felon before the congregation. Bilal repeated the question, and Khalid at length replied, "The money was my own." At once Bilal unbound his hands, and, replacing the helmet on his head, wound round the kerchief as before, and said, "We honour thee still, even as we did honour thee before, one of our chiefest captains." But Abu 'Obeida was silent; and Khalid, stunned by the disgrace, stood speechless and bewildered. Abu 'Obeida had not the heart to proclaim his deposition; but still spoke kindly to him as one who had his confidence. 'Omar, informed of what had passed, made allowance for Abu 'Obeida's delicacy, and summoned Khalid to Medina.

Summoned to Medina.

Prompt to obey, though sore at heart, Khalid first returned to his seat of Government; and both there and at Hims, bidding 'adieu to his friends and people, complained of the ingratitude of the Caliph, who scrupled not to use him in times of difficulty, but cast him aside when, through his aid, he had reached the summit of his Sovereign power. Arrived in the Caliph's presence, Khalid broke out in bitter reproach:—"I swear that thou hast treated despitefully a faithful servant to whom thou owest much. I appeal from thee to the whole body of the Faithful." "Whence came that money?" was 'Omar's only answer. The question was repeated day by day; till at last, galled by the charge, Khalid made answer: "I have naught but the spoil which the Lord hath given me in the days of Abu Bekr as well as in thine own. Whatever thou findest over 60,000 pieces hath been gained in thy Caliphate; take it if thou wilt." So his effects were valued, and the estimate reaching 80,000, 'Omar confiscated the difference. But he still affected to hold the great General in honour and regard. Accordingly, he sent a rescript to the various provinces,


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and deposed

announcing that he had deposed Khalid from his government, not because of tyranny or fraud, but because he deemed it needful to remove a stumbling block out of the way of the people, who were tempted to put their trust in an arm of flesh, instead of looking alone to the Giver of all victory.

Dies in penury and neglect, 21 A.H., 642 A.D.

So closed the career of Khalid. The first beginning of 'Omar's alienation was the affair of Malik ibn Nuweira, followed by acts of tyranny in Chaldęa which grated on his sense of clemency and justice. But these acts had 642 long since been condoned; and therefore his conduct now was both ungenerous and unjust. He used the "Sword of God" so long as he had the need, and when victory was gained, he cast the same ungratefully away. Khalid retired to Hims, and did not long survive. His manner of life when in the full tide of prosperity, may be gathered from the brief notice that in the Plague, from which he fled with his family to the desert, he is said to have lost no fewer than forty sons. Soon after, in the eighth year of 'Omar's caliphate, he died. In his last illness he kept showing the scars which covered his body, marks of bravery and unflinching prowess. "And now," he said, "I die even as a coward dieth, or as the camel breatheth its last breath." His end illustrates forcibly the instability of this world's fame. The hero who had borne Islam aloft to the crest of victory and glory, ended his days in penury and neglect. His tomb was visited by the traveller Ibn Jubeir in 1185, and is mentioned by Yakut (1225), as also his house. According to another account, however, Khalid died, not at Hims, but at Medina. A part of his lance was long preserved in the great Mosque of Damascus.


The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decline, and Fall [Table of Contents]

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