The Emergence of Islamic Empire During the Caliphate
We live in an integrated world. The ability to connect, communicate and commute has astonishingly increased in recent times. People ascribing to different religions and from different culture are found in more or less number almost everywhere. Yet the fault-lines still exist and despite this integration, the geographical landscape of the world can still be divided on the basis of faith. All of the three great Abrahamic religions developed in and around the Hilly Flanks. However, the majority of the people living in that area are the followers of the last of the Prophet of Abrahamic tradition. What makes Islam different from Christianity and Judaism in political terms is its continuous presence in this region ever since its emergence 1400 years back.
The very prevalence of Islamic faith in the Arabian Peninsula, Fertile Crescent and the areas around makes the enquiry that how the expansion of a nascent state that Muhammad established in
took place? The death of the Prophet led to widespread insurgency by the unruly
Arab tribes. The geo-political situation
of the besieged state was also very critical as two great empires, i.e.
Sassanid and Eastern Roman Empire, were
flexing muscles right across the north-eastern and western frontiers. Despite these odds, the Muslim
State of Medina showed an incredible resilience. In a short
span of time, it was able to make inroads into Persia
and Roman East and by the time of the assassination of Ali on 27thof January
661, the whole Peninsula, Mesopotamia, Persia, Kurdistan,
Armenia, Syria and
were under the Muslim rule. All this happened
during the reign of first four Caliphs, a.k.a Rashidun Caliphate (Abu Bakar,
Umar Ibn Khattab, Uthman ibn Affan, and Ali ibn Talib). These Caliphs presided
over republic which, despite the feud and infighting that took place by the end
of this period, was able to expand beyond the frontiers of peninsula and topple
the rule of Sassanid and Byzantine rule in the region. Rare in history are
examples of such electrifying expansion amidst formidable adversaries are found.
It laid the basis for the continued presence of Islamic faith and Muslim people
in the region.
The purpose of this writing is to narrate the major historical happenings of this period which last from 632- 661. As geographical expansion necessarily entails a conflict with the surrounding powers, the main emphasis is on the conflicts and wars of the time. It’s a pity that some of the groups today justify their religious violence as necessary to enforce their ideology. The historical expansion of the Islamic Empire through war is taken as justification for violence. However, as this writing will make it clear, most of the times Muslims were provoked into a conflict. The propagation of faith did not constitute the only reason and at times when some preemptive military decisions were taken, there was a strategic ground for that. This makes it further important to understand what happened during the early years.
The article focuses on the events in a chronological order and deal with the time period of each Caliph separately.
The time of Abu Bakar;
Abu Bakar (573-634) was the first Caliph of the four Rashidun. He belonged to the clan Banu Taym of the tribe Quraish. After the demise of Prophet Muhammad he was hastily elected to administer the new state. According to another tradition, Omer consulted the elders and pronounced him as the Caliph. Syed Amir Ali describes him “as man of fair complexion, thin countenance, of slender built and a stoop”.
The demise of the Prophet led to widespread political upheaval across the
Arabian Peninsula. The centre required the tribes to pay the
poor-tax. The political uncertainty
after the Prophet’s death provided an incentive to the tribes scattered across
north-east to do away with this obligation. This movement was spearheaded by one Malik Ibn
Nuwaira who contended that Zakat was no more obligatory after the Prophet’s
death. This was a highly critical moment for the new state and in a short span
of time it was again confined to the city of Medina. False prophets emerged in a futile
attempt to fill this political vacuum.
Abu Baker’s immediate tasks were to contain these threats and embolden the spirit of the people. After being elected, he spoke “ Behold me! Behold me with the cares of the government. I am not the best among you. I need all your advice and all your help. If I do well, support me. If I do mistake, counsel me. To tell the truth to the person commissioned to rule is faithful allegiance. To conceal it is treason. In my sight, the powerful and the weak are alike and to both I wish to render justice. As I obey God and his Prophet obey me; If I neglect the laws of the God and the Prophet, I have no more right to your obedience”
The main threat to the republic was from north-east and the west. Figure 1 shows the spatial distribution of the major empires during this time. The Sassanid covered the modern day
parts of Pakistan, Afghanistan and
Central Asia. The Roman East had Turkey, Syria,
Palestine and Egypt under its control. So the Fertile Crescent
was almost equally divided between the two empires. The two minor Kingdoms of
Ghassanid and Lakhmid were the Roman and Sassanian vassals respectively.
The Caliph barely had a chance to consolidate his rule when the rebellion at the frontiers brought the state with headlong clash with the neighboring empires. During his reign, these conflicts escalated into multiple theatres of war, in most of which despite being outnumbered and logistically inferior, the army of Saracens prevailed. During the last days of the Prophet, a Muslim envoy had been killed in
An expedition had been ordered by him to demand reparations for this murder. An army under the command of Usama bin Zaid
was gathered at Jaraf near Medina.
The Prophet’s death postponed this expedition which was later on executed by
Spatial distribution of the empires on the eve of Muslim era
The expedition was a success but it also threatened the Byzantine who had suzerainty over these Christian Arab tribes. The Christian tribes in the north-east also rose up to break away. Khalid bin Walid along with Mothana was entrusted with the task to pacify these insurgencies. This area bordered Al- Hira and
Chaldea, which were the possessions
of Sassanid. Chaldea is that historical
marshy land located between the Euphrates and Tigris
near Shatull Arab, the place where these two rivers converge.
These wandering tribes were scattered across this region from the tip of Persian Gulf to westward along the
Euphrates. These tribes were Arab in race but mostly
Christian in faith. The punitive raids conducted by Khalid Bin Walid though
pacified the tribes who were erstwhile under the Muslim control but this also
led to a friction between Saracens and the .
The kingdom of Hira Kingdom of Hira,
situated to the south of present day Kufa along the Euphrates,
was under the Sassanid rule [see Figure 2] . The tribes attached to carried out raids into the area
under the Muslim control. The conflict had a clear geographical and strategic
logic to it. The Hirrite Kingdom saw a threat in
Muslim expeditions. Supported by Kingdom
of Hira Chaldea, the ruler of Hira gathered a large force which
was defeated and Hira occupied by the Saracens.
During this time, Khalid bin Walid was called back to
Medina and Mothana was left to command the
forces at Persian frontier. Khalid, the son of Walid, was dispatched to another
theatre of war against the mighty Romans at present day Jordan- Palestine
border. The consequent battle with the
Christian army turned out to be one of the historical battles in the history of
mankind. Had the result of this battle been different, so would have been the
present day demography of the Middle East. The
battle ended the Roman rule in the region and shortly whole of Syria and Palestine
were under the Muslim rule.
The expedition of Usama bin Zaid in
sent shockwaves throughout the Roman East political domain. The area to the
west of Chaldea all along the Fertile Crescent to the Palestine was under the control of Byzantine.
The Roman Emperor Heraclius sensed the looming threat and gathered a large army
at Balca. The raids from the Syrian frontier compelled the Caliph to send
another force. This expedition was however met with disastrous defeat. Another
force was gathered to fight the encroaching Roman army but this time a
different strategy was applied. The force was divided into four divisions. A
division under the command of Abu Obaidah was to concentrate its effort on Homs [Emese], Amr- Al Aas was to lead the force to Palestine, Yezid bin Abu Sufian was given the command of Damascus division whereas the soldiers under Shorabil were
to fight in Jordan
valley [See Figure 3]. All these divisions moved forward supporting each other.
The Eastern Roman Emperor Heraclius sent four separate divisions against the
Muslim army. The Roman force totaled 240000 whereas the Muslim army had only 40000
fighters. The Saracens army was outnumbered by 6 to 1
and this disadvantage was going to be further exacerbated in the separate
battles. Therefore it was decided to concentrate forces at one place and fight
the Romans together. The Muslim generals along with their forces gathered in
April 634 at a place called Jualan near river Yermuk, at today’s Syrian - Jordan
Khalid bin Walid was dispatched from Persian front to Yermuk to lead the Muslim forces in one of the decisive battle ever.
was under the complete control of the Eastern Roman Empire.
This battle was going to seal the fate of Byzantine in Syria and bring
it completely under the Islamic dominion. Khalid bin Walid’s name was going to
be remembered as one of the greatest military tacticians of all times.
Byzantine army was numerically and logistically far superior to that of Muslims
and the common-sense implied an easy victory for Roman army.
The Romans aware of Saracen’s strategy also concentrated their forces by the river Yermuk. Almost thirty miles before entering
Jordan, the river forms a
semi-circular loop. A ravine known as Wakusa or Wadi ar Raqqad provides an
entrance to the plain by the river bank. The Romans thought of it as naturally
protected ideal place for encampment and entered through the ravine. The
Saracens army gathered outside to attack the Roman the moment they come out.
Despite their superior numbers, the Romans did not issue from within and the
stalemate existed for almost two months. The Caliph then dispatched Khalid Bin
Walid to take command of Saracens. The battle
finally took place on 30th of August 634 when finally the Roman army,
inspired by the priests, came out. Half
of the Roman army was annihilated. The estimated loss was 140000 killed , some fled to Syria and the
rest were drowned in the river. The Muslim lost 3000 men. For every Saracen
soldier who fell in the battle field, almost 47 Roman soldiers were killed. This
incredible battle changed the course of history for the time to come. The whole
of Levant fell under the Muslim rule
afterwards. The implication of Saracens victory was such that, had they lost
the battle, we might have been living an entirely different world today.
Abu Bakar however did not live to see Saracen’s victory over the Romans and died 7 days before the battle, on 23rd of August 634. Khalid bin Walid was informed of the death of the Caliph before the battle but he did not publish the news till the victory. That was the tenacity of one of the great generals of all time.
Abu Bakar’s rule lasted for two and half years. During his reign, the emerging Islamic Empire had come into conflict with the Sassanid and Eastern Roman Empires. Two major battles against these empires took place but the expansion into
and Levant happened during the time of Omer
Across the ravines lie the battlefield of Yermuk
Abu Bakar was one of the most highly respected Companion of the Prophet and was known as “Al SADIQ”( The Truthful). The level of his honesty can be judged by the fact that even on his death bed he was troubled by the pay he had taken from the treasury. Though a successful merchant himself, after becoming Caliph he concentrated his efforts on the public affairs and management of the empire. To compensate for his expenses, he was allowed to take 6000 Dirhem annually from the treasury which he refunded by selling a part of his property. Such were the immediate companions of Prophet. Such was character of one of the greatest human being in the history of Muslims.