"I die even as a camel dies. I die in bed, in shame. May the eyes of cowards never find rest in sleep!" Last Words of Khalid bin Al-Waleed, Sword of Allah 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 Shara f 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 Alan-w-Nafeesa by Ibn Rust a and Al Buldan by Yaqui, 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, Yakut. 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, Tad mur, 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 rajahs 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 Z arba, 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!