Lieutenant-General A.I. Akram, Rawalpindi, Pakistan in his own words:
Muslim history is replete with great military achievements and glorious feats of arms. In the annals of war there are no battles which surpass, in brilliance and decisiveness, the battles of Islam; no commanders who surpass, in courage and skill, the gifted generals of Islam. The sword has always held a place of honour in Muslim culture. And yet very little is known in the world today about the military history of Islam. There is not a single work by a trained military mind, written after proper research and a thorough examination of the ground, describing in detail the famous battles of Islam. In fact there has been no real research. There is a void.
I became conscious of this void in early 1964 when I was Chief Instructor at the Staff College, Quetta. Having always been a keen student of Military History, which subject I used to direct, among others, at the Staff College, I felt that I was perhaps better qualified than many Muslim soldiers to undertake the task of filling this gap in literature. The whole of Muslim military history would take several hundred volumes, but at least a beginning could be made; and I decided to accept the challenge. I would start at the beginning; and I would describe the campaigns of Khalid bin Al Waleed (may Allah be pleased with him).
I found that a good deal of material was available on the early battles of Islam, but it was all in Arabic. Not all early Muslim historians have been translated; and where translations exist, they are often inaccurate and sometimes downright dishonest. For such research one would have to know the language in which the original accounts were written. So I learned Arabic.
I then prepared a bibliography to include all the early historians, but excluded from it all writers, Muslim or Christian, who lived and wrote after the Tenth Century. Since the latter obtained all their information from the former, I decided to concentrate exclusively on the early sources and thus avoid being influenced in any way by the opinions and conjectures of later writers. The preparation of the bibliography was relatively easy; the real problem was the procurement of the books, for these were not available in Pakistan and their cost in Arab countries was considerable. In this matter, however, I was helped out by certain friends who very generously donated the books as a contribution to this project. These friends, who have all been my students at Quetta, are: Brigadier Majid Haj Hassan of Jordan, Brigadier H.U. Babar of Pakistan, and Majors Naif Aon Sharaf and Abdul Aziz Al Sheikh, both of Saudi Arabia. I thus came to possess an excellent library of early Muslim historical works; and with the acquisition of this material my research began.
One of the most difficult tasks which faces any scholar dealing with such research is the absence of geographical data. Geography forms the physical basis of military strategy and no military history is possible without knowing, with a reasonable degree of accuracy, the geographical conditions prevailing at the time. I was fortunate to acquire two excellent geographical works of the early Muslim period: Al Alaq-w-Nafeesa by Ibn Rusta and Al Buldan by Yaqubi, which explain in considerable detail the physical and political geography of the time. From these works I was able to reconstruct the terrain conditions and pinpoint accurately the locations of many places which no longer exist. It took me several weeks of concentrated study to solve this problem and prepare the maps which are included in this book.
In my quest for maps I was also helped by Brigadier Majid Haj Hassan of Jordan and Brigadier H.U. Babar of Pakistan. And the last, though by no means least, of my geographical aids was a historical atlas of Iraq prepared by Dr. Ahmad Sousa of Baghdad-an excellent piece of research which covers much more than Iraq in its scope.
Although the giants of historical literature in the first few centuries of the Muslim era were almost all Muslims (as indeed were the giants of most branches of literature), I was anxious to study some early Western authors as well in order to know their version of events, especially with regard to the Muslim conquest of Syria. I was able to discover two Byzantine historians, viz Nicephorus and Theophanes, both of the late Eighth and early Ninth Centuries, but unfortunately could not find any translations of their works in languages which I know. I therefore decided to rely for the Western point of view on the celebrated Edward Gibbon whose work: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, is undoubtedly a monumental contribution to history, his anti-Muslim prejudice notwithstanding. It only gives a bird's-eye view but I had to be content with that in the absence of other detailed, reliable Western literature.
While avoiding all books written after the Tenth Century for reasons already stated, I nevertheless studied certain later authors for help in matters of geography, so that I could collect all possible data which would make this book more accurate. I made extensive use of the famous Mu'jam-ul-Buldan by the Twelfth/Thirteenth Century scholar, Yaqut. And of Twentieth Century geographical works, the one of greatest help to me was The Middle Euphrates by Alois Musil, a Czech scholar who travelled extensively in Iraq and Syria in the second decade of this Century and carried out a thorough study of the geography of the region traversed by the Euphrates.
Having completed my study of the books and the preparation of a first draft, I took leave of absence from the Army and in early August 1968, set out from Pakistan. I first spent some time in Europe, mainly in London and particularly in the British Museum, looking for works on Muslim campaigns against the Byzantine Empire. I could not find any English translations of early Western writers, but did get some useful references from the Museum's library.
In late August I landed at Beirut, and now began my tour of the battlefields of Khalid bin Al Waleed. I would see the lands over which Khalid marched, the places where Khalid fought his battles, and the sands on which the blood of his enemies had flowed in rivulets. In Lebanon I had no other work than to locate Abul Quds, a place where Khalid rescued a trapped Muslim column; and having located this place, I travelled by road to Syria.
In Syria I stayed at every city which Khalid conquered -Damascus, Emessa, Tadmur, Aleppo-saw every place where Khalid fought his battles, and got the correct location of all the remaining places mentioned in Part IV of this book. In Damascus I saw the walls of the fort, traces of which still remain except in its western part, whence it has vanished altogether. I also saw the six gates which are still named as they were in Khalid's time; but the inside of the fort has changed completely. And while in Damascus I took the opportunity of visiting the very imposing National Museum and studying some valuable works of reference which I did not possess in my private library.
In Emessa I carried out the sacred duty of visiting (it was almost a pilgrimage) the Mosque of Khalid bin Al Waleed. It was a poignant moment for me when I stood at the foot of the grave of the master of war-the man I had been thinking about and reading about and writing about for the past four years. I sat in contemplation in the mosque, beside Khalid's tomb, for an hour. Then I stood up and said two rakahs of prayer and prayed to Allah to give to the Muslims of today the victories which He had bestowed upon Khalid, even though they be less deserving.
One of the most interesting days which I spent in Syria was the one on which I searched for and found Qinassareen (the ancient Chalcis), which Khalid had captured, and at which he had held his last command. Many people in Aleppo had heard of Qinassareen and knew that it was somewhere near their city. It was also marked on archaeological maps as a site of ancient ruins. But nobody knew just where it was and how one could get there; for no visitor in living memory had ever come to see Qinassareen. However, I engaged a taxi and by good fortune found a Bedouin in the city (a man whom I took to be a simple peasant) who lived two miles from Qinassareen and had come to Aleppo on a visit. If I would drop him at his village, he would point out to me the rest of the way to Qinassareen. I took him along. We drove on a good road to Zarba, 14 miles south-west of Aleppo, and here, on the Bedouin's instructions, turned off the road on to a small country track which later became so bad that the car lurched along with difficulty. After five miles of this, we reached the Bedouin's village where he alighted from the car and told us to "keep going round the hill" and we would find Qinassareen, The driver and I did keep going round the hill, and not only found Qinassareen, but also that we were back on the very road we had left a few miles back! Qinassareen, or rather the site of it, for there is no Qinassareen left, is actually on this road, and we could have driven straight down to it, but were made to do a wide detour just so the Bedouin could get to his village. Clever Bedouin! But he was a pleasant fellow and did me a service by getting me to within two miles of Qinassareen; for while everybody in the surrounding villages knew the location of Qinassareen nobody in Aleppo did.
The most important of my visits to battlefields in Syria was the visit to Yarmuk. This is a prohibited area because of its nearness to the Cease Fire Line, and foreigners are not allowed to visit it; but thanks to the help of our Ambassador, Mr. A.A, Sheikh, I was given permission by the Syrian Government to visit any part of the area that I wished to see. And not only that-the Syrian Army also provided me with transport for cross-country driving and a conducting officer who knew the area well and proved an indispensable guide. Thus I was able to spend many hours, armed with map and compass, carrying out a thorough examination of the famous battlefield. I drove along the entire length of what had been the battle front, examined the terrain from several vantage points and had a good look at the Yarmuk gorge from the north bank. I could not see the Wadi-ur-Raqqad because it is the Cease Fire Line, but from a village named Shajara, three miles from the ravine, I had a clear view of the area where the last bloody phase of this battle was fought.
After Yarmuk I drove with my conducting officer to Busra, saw the famous fort, examined the terrain outside Busra and then returned to Damascus.
I spent altogether a fortnight in Syria-a country full of beauty and full of history. Here my travels were made easier and more enjoyable with the help and cooperation of our Ambassador and our First Secretary, Mr. Fazal Rahim. On September 13, I traveled by taxi to Amman.
I arrived in Jordan to find (not entirely to my surprise) that a Pakistani is not an alien in Jordan. In fact, in no country in the world does a Pakistani, when outside his own native land, feel so much at home as in Jordan, where the affection and hospitality shown to Pakistanis is overwhelming and unforgettable. I stayed in Jordan as a guest of the Jordanian Army, and was given every facility to see all that I wanted to see, for which my thanks are due to the Chief of the General Staff, General Amer Khammash. And I am indebted to my old student and friend, Brigadier Majid Haj Hassan, for taking upon his broad shoulders the entire responsibility of organising my programme and for seeing it through to a successful conclusion with the utmost efficiency.
I spent a whole day examining the battlefield of Yarmuk from south of the Yannuk River. This was supplementary to the reconnaissance which I had carried out earlier from the Syrian side. I visited Fahl and saw the area of the Jordan Valley where the Battle of Fahl was fought. I drove down to Mutah and walked over what is believed to be the site of the battle, in the centre of which a fine new mosque is now being built. Here, strangely enough, several people claim to have seen visions of the Battle of Mutah-the movement of Muslim warriors, the clash of combat-and I myself met two men who said that they had seen such visions. The three Muslim commanders who fell martyrs in this battle are buried at Mazar, two miles away, and I visited and prayed at the grave of each.
My visit to Jordan ended on September 21, 1968, when I flew to Baghdad, via Beirut, carrying with me memories of an interesting and heart-warming stay in a country small in size but big in spirit.
I arrived at Baghdad to find all the arrangements for my tour of Iraq already made, thanks to the foresight of our Military Attache, Colonel H.M.I. Ameen. The Government of Iraq had responded in a positive and brotherly fashion to my project of writing about the conquests of Islam and the Minister of Culture and Guidance, Mr. Abdullah As-Salum, had already issued instructions that I was to be given every facility to see all that I wished in Iraq, This official help was of inestimable value to me. I was given transport and a conducting officer, Dr. Muhammad Baqir Al Hussaini, who proved a welcome guide and companion.
I first spent a week in Baghdad, studying in the library of the Baghdad Museum and holding discussions with some of the eminent scholars of Iraq-Dr. Saleh Ahmad Al'Ali, Dr. Ahmad Sousa (whose atlas I have already mentioned) and Mr Fuad Safan. These discussions revolved around historical and geographical themes and were of definite help to me. But my task of locating battlefields in Iraq proved much more difficult than it had been in Syria and Jordan, for the reason that while in those countries Khalid's battles were fought at great cities and on well-known plains which are still there for the visitor to see, his battles in Iraq were fought mainly at small towns which have ceased to exist. Moreover, the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, behaving like unpredictable women, have capriciously changed their course many times, thus altering the geography of the region through which they flow. This makes the task of accurately placing the towns on their banks a matter of considerable difficulty.
Nevertheless, I was able to achieve a good deal, by God's grace. I carried out a tour of several days' duration, based first at Baghdad and then at Kufa, and drove hundreds of miles in the desert and the sown. I located and visited every battlefield of Khalid with the exception of the places where he fought after the capture of Ain-ut-Tamr, for these places do not exist now and their location is not definitely established. I then went on to Basra and saw Mazar (the present Al Azeir) and the sites of Uballa and Hufeir, of neither of which does a trace remain.
This brought to an end my two and a half weeks' stay in Iraq-a stay made more interesting and comfortable by the hospitability of Colonel Ameen. On October 8, 1968, I travelled by road to Kuwait.
I had very little to do in Kuwait. I located and saw Kazima, the scene of Khalid's first battle with the Persians (actually not much remains of Kazima); and two days after my arrival from Iraq I flew back to Pakistan. In a little more than six weeks in the Middle East, I had travelled by road something like 4,000 miles.
For four months I remained at my post, rewriting the account of Khalid's campaigns in Iraq and Syria in the light of knowledge gained in my travels. Then, in early February, 1969, I set out once again for the desert, to complete what remained of my tour. I flew to Jedda on February 4, and was received at the airport by our Military Attache, Colonel Nur-ul-Haq, and representatives of the Saudi Arabian Army. Colonel Nur-ul-Haq had informed the Saudi Government of my coming and the purpose of my visit, and with typical Arab hospitality, the Government had invited me to stay as its guest. I happily accepted the invitation and this proved a great boon, for over the vast spaces which comprise Saudi Arabia my extensive travels would not have been possible without official assistance. In fact, as my tour progressed, and as I drove along sandy trails and over barren deserts, I became more and more conscious of my debt to the Saudi Government, and in particular to the Army, because without their help I could never have carried out such a thorough examination of these battlefields.
All my travel arrangements were made by the Army and I was given a conducting officer, Captain Abdur-Rahman Al Hammad, an intelligent young man who remained with me as my aide and companion throughout my five weeks' stay in the country.
Soon after my arrival, I did the Umra at Makkah and then flew to Riyadh. I decided to visit the northern part of Arabia first, as here my travels had to cover a much larger region, and I felt that it would be better to get this behind me, so that I would then be left with the easier and relatively better known, battles in the region of Makkah and Madinah. Thus I would first see the places where Khalid fought his battles against the apostates, the battles described in Part II of this book.
I stayed three days at Riyadh, during which I spent an entire morning examining the battlefield of Yamamah, and then travelled by road to Buraidah. Using this as a base, I drove out to Nibbaj (the present Nabqiyya) and Butah. On February 12, I flew to Hail and was surprised to see how cold it was. Here I spent three days-most of the time driving about the desert- and saw several places where Khalid fought the apostates. The difficulties of a reconnaissance such as I had undertaken can be judged by the fact that just to see Sameera and Ghamra, which are close to each other, I had to drive 200 miles in a round trip from Hail, going over desert trails and cross-country, a trip that took me 10 long, dusty hours. And the problem of locating places was further accentuated by the fact that I had to do my map reading with nothing better than a one million scale map.
I flew back to Riyadh on February 15, and the following day returned to Jedda. Now began the second phase of my tour-the region of Makkah.
On February 17, I went up to Taif for a night and a day, and saw the mosque where had stood the Muslim camp during the siege of Taif. I found no trace of any ruins which could give an indication of the Taif Fort, but I took the opportunity to visit a number of places connected with the route of the Holy Prophet to Taif. Then I returned to Jedda, and was sorry to leave Taif as it is a very pleasant spot and delightfully cool.
I spent a day over the Battle of Hunain and this proved a long day indeed. The maps show a road to and through the Hunain Valley, and this used to be the main road from Makkah to Taif before the present highway was built, but the road is now in disuse and recent rains have not been kind to it. Thus I was driving very often in sandy and stony wadi beds, and but for the fact that I had a land-rover, I would never have got through the valley. Luckily, I made it and was able to carry out a good examination of the valley in which the battle was fought.
I next spent a day studying Makkah itself, in order to place on the ground the plan of the cpnquest of Makkah. Makkah has expanded enormously since those early days of Islam, and it is not possible to determine the exact limits of the town as they were in the Prophet's time; yet the places known to exist then still exist, and I saw all these places. I also climbed the Hill of Kuda, about two miles south of the Kabah, from which I had a fairly good view of the southern approaches, I even tried to draw & panoramic sketch, but the area is so hilly that the task proved beyond my limited artistic ability and I had to be content with making a map without hills. I have found no large-scale topographical maps to guide me in this, and I confess that of all the maps in this book, this (Map 5) is the one with which I am the least satisfied. Perhaps another writer with cartographical talents superior to mine could improve on this infantryman's effort.
Thus ended Phase Two: the region of Makkah. And it was now time for the Hajj; so during the end of February, I did the annual pilgrimage-the dearest wish of every Believer- as a guest of the Saudi Arabian Government. This duty done, I drove to Madinah, on March 4, for the very last phase of my tour of Muslim battlefields.
At Madinah I made a critical examination of the Battles of Uhud and the Ditch, which are recorded in such detail and are so well known that it was quite easy to follow them on the ground. I made panoramic sketches of the various hill features which are shown in the maps of this book; and I visited Abraq about 70 miles from Madinah, where Caliph Abu Bakr trounced the apostates in the little-known Battle of Abraq. This part of my tour was organised by Major Muhammad Abdul Hameed Asad, and I had as guide the best of guides: the learned Sheikh Ibrahim bin Ali Al Ayyashi, a scholar and historian of repute, at whose knowledge of early Muslim history and geography I could not but marvel.
After a stay of five days at Madinah I returned to Jedda whence, on March 11, 1969, I flew back to Pakistan. I left Saudi Arabia with feelings of deep gratitude for the co-operation and help extended to me by the Government and the Army of this vast desert kingdom and the hospitality of all Saudis with whom I came in contact. I felt particularly indebted to His Royal Highness Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, the Minister of Defence whose kindness in treating me as a State guest had made possible what would otherwise have been an almost impossible task.
Back in Pakistan, once I had got over the fatigue of my Arabian travels, I pondered deeply over the many facets of my tour of Khalid's battlefields. I was more than a little surprised that I had been able to carry out this tour entirely on my own, for it was undoubtedly an ambitious project; and I was deeply thankful to God Almighty for His help in making it successful. I had to pay a high price in effort and time and money; but looking back upon it, I was glad that I had done it at my own expense and not at the expense of a kind donor (not that there had been any actual offer of help!). This was my service to Islam, my contribution to Muslim literature my humble act of worship as one of the Faithful.
It took me several months to rewrite the manuscript and in October, 1969, the revised manuscript is being sent to press. It had taken me over five years to carry out the entire project, from the initial collection of material to the final preparations for printing the book.
This is a book of history, specifically of Muslim military history. It deals with the life and campaigns of one of the most remarkable soldiers the world has ever known-Khalid bin Al Waleed, an all-conquering hero who never knew the meaning of military defeat. Seeking clarity for the layman as well as the professional soldier, I have avoided technical terminology and tried to maintain a simple style.
A good deal of what appears in this book is not generally known to the public; but every incident, every circumstance is historically correct. Every move, every duel, every blow, every quoted statement is taken from the accounts of the early historians. In the interpretation of the facts, I have at times had to rely on judgement, particularly with regard to the description of the battles; but I have tried to be as objective as possible. In my account of the battles and my description of the events which occurred in those early, fateful years of Islam, I have given credit to the enemies of Islam when they deserved it (and this was often); and I have pointed out the mistakes of the Muslims (though these were few).
While all the facts are given in the early accounts, there is a considerable amount of confusion because of the existence of various, and conflicting, versions. The early historians have faithfully recorded each version of a given event, even when these are directly contradictory, and left it to the reader to take his choice, with the remark: "And Allah knows best!" This confusion applies most seriously to the Syrian Campaign, with the result that the reader is left in doubt as to exactly how the campaign was fought and just what was the chronological sequence of events.
I have tried to dispel this confusion by giving one under-standable version which appears to me the most likely and sensible. I have not burdened the book with footnotes explaining differences of opinion among the early chroniclers, but I have given footnotes to show the historical source from which every dialogue or quoted statement is taken. These footnotes are for reference by research scholars rather than for the general reader; the latter may well disregard them, if he is not interested in further study of the subject. Moreover, in the case of important or controversial differences, I have given notes in an appendix at the end of the book, which would be of value to more demanding readers.
Some of the battles, particularly in the second half of the book, are reconstruction, but my account is based on incidents and clear pointers given by early historians. The difference lies in the fact that the early historians made no effort to analyse strategy and tactics, whereas I have tried to do so as a soldier as well as a historian. The philosophy of the manoeuvre and the analysis are my contribution to the account of each battle. All the facts that I have given belong to history. They are the bright flowers of history. But the thread that holds them is mine; and the arrangement of the flowers is mine.
Part I of the book-the battles fought in the time of the Holy Prophet-may appear to the reader to be more a military biography of Prophet Muhammad than of Khalid. This is unavoidable. Events which occurred in Arabia in the Prophet's time, whether religious, political, economic, cultural or military, were so completely dominated by the Messenger of Allah that no writer can describe these events without reflecting, in his account, the tremendous impact of the personality of Muhammad (on whom be the blessings of Allah) and the new message which he brought as the last Apostle of God. Moreover, a study of the Prophet's battles is essential to the student who wishes to trace the development of the art of war in early Islam from its humble beginnings at Madinah to the complex manoeuvres of Khalid at Yarmuk.
I have mentioned in these pages many who have been of assistance to me in carrying out the project. There are others who have helped me in various ways, but space does not permit me to name them all. I would, however, like to acknowledge my debt to my wife for drawing the maps and checking my draft, and my personal assistant, Naib-Subedar Abdul Sattar Shad, for typing the manuscript.
To conclude, the object of this book is to record and make known to the world the life and military achievements of Khalid bin Al Waleed. If the book succeeds in achieving this object, Allah be praised! If it does not, even then Allah be praised!
A. I. Akram
Rawalpindi, West Pakistan