Sayyidina Umar RA was the Companion at whose hands the prophecy of liberation of Masjid al Aqsa occurred, in person. The story of his journey to Jerusalem, the opening of the city, his arrival at Masjid al Aqsa and the guarantees of peace he offered to its residents, is nothing short of epic.

However, it is important to note that the liberation of al Quds and the reuniting with Masjid al Aqsa only transpired after a series of hard fought battles with the Romans in Shaam under Sayyidina Umar RA’s leadership, which in turn was inspired by the solid foundation afforded to him by his predecessor, Sayyidina Abu Bakr RA.


Subjugation of Persia a springboard to Shaam
Expeditions in Shaam

Final Leg in the Conquest Of Shaam
The Liberation of Al Quds
The Treaty of Umar (may Allah be pleased with him)

Subjugation of Persia a springboard to Shaam

On receiving the news of the subjugation of the capital of the Persian empire, Sayyidina Umar RA led a thanksgiving prayer. The Holy Prophet had prophesied that the Muslims would one day overpower the mighty empire of Persia and this prophecy had been fulfilled only within six years of the death of the Holy Prophet.

As Umar surveyed the vast riches that had been brought to Madina, he wept. These were tears partly indicative of his joy and partly of his fear lest such wealth might turn the head of the Muslims.

Having freed Iraq and having scored decisive victories in the battles of Qadisiyya, Ctesiphon, Jalaula, and Ahwaz the spirits of the Muslims reigned high as they dreamt of advancing their cause much further.

Battle Of Bait Lihya

In Syria, the siege of Damascus began on 21st August 634, and on 23rd August Sayyidina Abu Bakr RA had passed away and Sayyidina Umar had become the Caliph though the army in Syria did not know of this change. Sayyidina Khalid bin Walid was the Commander-in-Chief of the Muslim forces in Syria.

When the siege of Damascus began, the effort of Khalid was to isolate Damascus’ so that no relief could reach it from any side. The road to Emessa lay open, and there was the danger that a relief force might come from Emessa. Khalid sent a detachment to take up its position at Bait Lihya ten miles from Damascus on the road to Emessa. The Commander of the detachment was instructed by Khalid to send out scouts to look for the approach of the Byzantine relief columns.

On the 9th of September 634, news was brought to Khalid that a large Byzantine army was marching from Emessa and was likely to reach Damascus within a couple of days. Khalid organised a mounted force of 5,000 men under the command of Zarrar. Zarrar was instructed to intercept the Byzantine force at Bait Lihya. Reaching Bait Lihya, Zarrar organised an ambush near “Thaniyyat-ul-Uqab”-the pass of the Eagle.

When the Byzantine army reached the pass, Zarrar ordered the attack. The Byzantines were prepared for the attack, and they deployed themselves in battle formation almost immediately. In the battle that ensued many Byzantines were killed, and the rest of the Byzantine army fled from the bartlefield. The Byzantines were, however, able to capture Zarrar alive. The loss of Zarrar had a depressing effect on the Muslim forces. The command was taken over by Rafie, and word was sent to Khalid for further help.

Leaving the command of Damascus to Abu Ubaida, Khalid set off to Bait Lihya with his mobile guard of 4,000 horse. As Khalid approached the battle-field, he saw a Muslim rider with a masked face gallop off towards the Byzantine front. This warrior would kill a number of the soldiers of the enemy, and then withdraw. He would after some time pounce upon the enemy once again and kill every one who came his way. Khalid wanted this warrior to tell him who he was. The warrior, however, dashed to the front again. As he returned from the attack after killing a number of the enemy, Khalid wanted the warrior to halt and identify himself. The warrior said “I am Khaula, sister of Zarrar. My brother has been captured by the Byzantines, and I am dashing against the enemy with a view to liberating Zarrar”. Khalid praised the young girl for her bravery, and assured her that he would have her brother rescued.

Khalid launched the attack against the Byzantines with full force and by mid-day the Byzantines began to withdraw under the pressure of the Muslims. The scouts brought the news that they had seen a contingent of 100 Byzantines riding to Emessa with a half-naked man in their midst tied to his horse. Khalid ordered Raf’e to take one hundred picked horsemen, move forward along the flank of the Byzantines, get to the Emessa road, and intercept the escort taking Zarrar to Emessa. Raf’e set off at once on the mission with one hundred horsemen. Khaula accompanied the party.

Raf’e and his party got to the Emessa road at a point where the Byzantine escort had not yet reached, and there lay in ambush. When the Byzantines arrived at the spot, the Muslims fell on the Byzantines, killed most of them, and set Zarrar free.

Under the unrelenting pressure of the Muslims the force sent for the relief of Damascus was forced to retreat to Emessa in a state of disorder. As Zarrar came back to the camp of Bait Lihya, Khalid was much pleased to meet him. Khalid thanked Raf’e and Khaula for their services in freeing Zarrar. Khalid had a mind to pursue the fleeing force of the Byzantines, but he could not do so as his presence was required at Damascus. Khalid left a detachment at Bait Libya, and himself along with his mobile guard returned to Damascus.

Conquest Of Damascus

The Muslim army besieging Damascus was divided into five corps each under a Commander. Each corps was required to guard one or two gates of the city. In the north there were two gates, namely the Thomas gate, and Paradees gate. The corps commanded by Shurahbil was stationed outside Thomas gate, while the corps commanded by Amr bin Al Aas was posted outside Paradees gate. In the east there was one gate. Here corps commanded by Khalid himself was posted. In the south there were two gates. Here the corps commanded by Yazid was posted to look after both the gates. In the west there was one gate, namely the Jabiya gate. Here the corps commanded by Abu Ubaida was posted. The Byzantine force within the fort was commanded by Thomas who was a son-in-law of the Byzantine emperor Heraclius.

Thomas counted on the arrival of a relief force to be sent by Heraclius. When Thomas came to know that the relief force had been battered at Bait Lihya, he decided to sally forth from the fort and break through the besieging Muslim forces. On a September day mustering a strong force, Thomas broke out through the Thomas gate in the north. Here he was opposed by the force led by Shurahbil. There was an exchange of shots leading to casualties on both sides. On the Muslim side, one of the soldiers killed was Aban bin Saeed bin Al Aas. He had only been married a few days ago. As soon as his widow came to know of his death, she donned his uniform, took a bow and joined the Muslim archers, determined to seek revenge for the death of her husband.

The Byzantine soldiers rushed out of the Thomas gate and launched an attack on the Muslims. There was heavy fighting. Shurahbil’s corps was outnumbered, but the Muslims held their ground. Thomas commanded the Byzantine forces personally. In order to demoralise the Muslim forces, Thomas rushed forward to overpower the Muslim Commander Shurahbil. Before Thomas could reach Shurahbil, an arrow shot by the widow of Aban struck him. That made the Byzantines fall back to the fort leaving behind a large number of the dead.

The following night, the Byzantines sallied forth from all the gates simultaneously. There was hard fighting. The Byzantines tried their best to break through the Muslim forces. The Muslim forces withstood their ground seeing that there was no weakening in the Muslim front, the Byzantines returned to the fort, leaving hundreds of their soldiers dead on the battlefield.

The following day a young Greek, Jonah by name, assisted the Muslims in finding a location through which they would enter the walls of the city, after the Muslims had promised to assist him in reuniting with his lost bride. That night Khalid and a picked band of his soldiers scaled the wall and entered the fort. Then they made for the gate and broke it open. Through the gate the Muslim army rushed in, and began to attack the Byzantines .

When Thomas came to know of the entry of Khalid through the eastern gate, he waited on Abu Ubaida at the western gate, and offered surrender on the usual terms of paying Jizya. Abu Ubaida accepted the surrender and offered amnesty to the Byzantines. When the forces of Abu Ubaida entered the city from the western gate they soon found that Khalid had already entered it from the eastern gate. Khalid and Abu Ubaida met in the heart of the town. Abu Ubaida told Khalid that the Byzantine Commander had surrendered and that he had offered the Byzantines amnesty. Khalid said that he had won Damascus and there was no question of allowing amnesty. A council of war of the Muslim Generals met, and it was ultimately decided that the guarantee given by Abu Ubaida should be respected.

The Byzantines were allowed to move out of the fort. They were allowed to carry their belongings. It was further stipulated that there would be no pursuit for three days.

All the Byzantines left the fort, which was thereafter occupied by the Muslims. The Muslims conquered Damascus some time towards the end of September 634 CE.

Battle Of The Meadow Of Brocade

Khalid RA was not entirely pleased that while he had taken the city of Damascus by sword, the fruit of his labour had been snatched away by clever diplomacy of Thomas. He was also sad that the Commander of the Byzantine forces. Thomas and his Deputy Harbees had escaped. Khalid had wanted to kill them. The Muslim soldiers were also dissatisfied that the Byzantines had carried away all valuable property leaving no booty for the Muslim soldiers.

When the truce allowed for three days was over, the Muslims caught up with the Byzantine convoy at Al Abrash, a short distance from Antioch. Here rain had fallen, and the convoy had dispersed on the plateau seeking shelter from the inclement weather. Their goods lay in the open. So many bundles of brocade lay scattered on the ground that the plain came to be known as ‘Marj-ud-Deebaj’ the Meadow of Brocade.

The Muslim forces attacked the convoy from all the four sides. There was much fighting. Khalid duelled with Thomas and Harbees, and killed both of them. After some fighting the Byzantine resistance collapsed.

The Muslims marched back with their spoils and captives. When they were a day’s march from Damascus, they met a small party of riders. From this party a Byzantine noble stepped forward and said:

“I am the ambassador of Heraclius the Byzantine emperor. You have killed his son-in-law and captured his daughter. He requests you to return his daughter to him, either on the payment of ransom, or as a gift.”

At this address, Khalid was touched. He said:

“Take her as a gift; there will be no ransom.”

The ambassador took the daughter of Heraclius, offering profuse thanks. Thereafter the Byzantines marched back to Antioch.

The following day Khalid and his force reached Damascus loaded with spoils. The booty was distributed to the Muslim soldiers.

Thereafter Khalid sat to write a detailed report to the Caliph about the conquest of Damascus. The letter was addressed to Abu Bakr RA, and therein Khalid reported as to how Damascus had been conquered, how Abu Ubaida had been deceived by the Byzantines; and how he had taken the revenge by pouncing upon the convoy after three days, the period stipulated by the truce. When Khalid was about to hand this letter to a messenger to carry it to Madina, Abu Ubaida waited on Khalid to say that Abu Bakr RA was dead, and that the new Caliph Umar had passed orders deposing Khalid from the high command and vesting the command in him (Abu Ubaida).

Change of Leadership

On assuming office as Caliph, the first official order that Umar RA passed as the Caliph was to depose Khalid from the chief command of the Muslim forces in Syria.

Umar addressed his order to Abu Ubaida as follows:

“I urge upon you the fear of Allah Who lives eternally while everything else perishes, Who has guided us away from wrong doing and taken us out of darkness into light. I appoint you Commander of the army instead of Khalid bin Waleed. So take charge from him as is your duty.

“Send not the Muslims to their destruction for the sake of plunder; and place not the Muslims in a camp without reconnoitring it and knowing what is there.

“Send not expeditions except in properly organised units. And beware of taking any steps which may lead to the annihilation of the Muslims.

Allah has tried me with you, and tried you with me. Guard against the temptations of this world lest they destroy you as they have destroyed others before you; and you have seen how they fell.”

The Caliph instructed the messenger to carry the letter to Shaam and hand it over personally to Abu Ubaida.

The messenger arrived with the letter at Damascus in the first week of September 634, and handed over the letter to Abu Ubaida. Abu Ubaida read the letter, but he felt that with the siege of Damascus in progress, that was not the opportune time for making a change in the command. He kept the letter with him as a closely guarded secret, and proceeded to act as if no orders had been received from Madina.

When Damascus fell, the pact with the Byzantines was signed by Khalid, Abu Ubaida had offered amnesty to the Byzantines over the head of Khalid, but even when Khalid felt annoyed, Abu Ubaida merely argued in conciliatory terms, and did not drop a hint that he had indeed acted with due authority.

After Khalid had returned from his campaign of the ‘Meadow of the Brocade’, and written a report addressed to Abu Bakr, Abu Ubaida could no longer keep the letter of the Caliph as a secret. Reluctantly he handed over the letter of Umar to Khalid. Khalid read the letter, and was surprised at its contents.

Turning to Abu Ubaida, Khalid said, “This letter must have reached you about a month ago: why did you conceal it from me?” Abu Ubaida said that he did not wish to shaken his authority while he was engaged with the enemy.

Khalid gave the charge of the command to Abu Ubaida. The options before Khalid were to retire, or to seek transfer to some other front Khalid did not avail of these options, and he chose to serve in Shaam under the command of Abu Uhaida. Khalid said that he was fighting in the name of Allah and it made no difference to him whether he held the command or fought under the command of someone else.

Battle Of Fahl

After the Byzantines had lost Damascus, the emperor Heraclius planned a large scale action against the Muslims. His strategy was to cut off the Muslim forces in Syria from communication with Arabia. With this object, he ordered a large concentration of the Byzantine force at Beisan to the west of the Jordan river to the south of Damascus.

The Muslims had only a small garrison at Fahl to the east of Jordan at some distance from Beisan. When Abu Ubaida came to know of the concentration of the Byzantine force at Beisan, he held a council of war. The concensus of opinion was that all the forces that the Muslims could muster should march to Fahl, and meet the Byzantine force before it could gather further strength. Abu Ubaida left a corps under the command of Yazeed at Damascus, and the rest of the Muslim forces marched to Fahl.

When the Byzantines came to know that the Muslims were marching southward they dammed the Jordan river, and thereby flooded the countryside around Fahl. The Muslim forces cantoned at Fahl. The Byzantine forces were led by Saqlar bin Makhraq. He asked the Commander of the Muslim forces to depute some representative for the purposes of negotiation Abu Ubaida deputed Muadh b. Jabal as the Muslim representative.

The Byzantines had a cloth of gold laid for Muadh to sit. Muadh, however, sat on the bare ground. When asked to explain his conduct he said:

“It is the wont of slaves to sit on bare ground. I am the slave of God, and therefore I sit on the bare ground.”

Addressing Muadh, Saqlar advised the Muslims to attack Persia and Abyssinia where the chances of their success were greater. He said that in the case of the Byzantines, the Muslims were ill advised to wage war, for the Byzantine could muster forces as numerous as the stars in heaven.

Muadh said that they would launch a campaign against Persia in due course. He said that the Muslims were in no way afraid of the large strength of the Byzantine forces. They were fighting in the way of Allah and they were fortified with the faith that God would help them. Saqlar said that the Muslims could have Baqla and some other districts adjoining Arabia provided they withdrew from Shaam. Muadh turned down the offer. He offered the Byzantines the usual three alternatives. Muadh then returned to the Muslim camp.

The following day a Byzantine representative came to the Muslim camp. He found the Muslim Commander-in-Chief Abu Ubaida dressed as an ordinary soldier sitting on the bare ground examining arrows. He gave Abu Ubaida a message from Saqlar that if the Muslims withdrew from Shaam he would pay them a good deal of money. Abu Ubaida rejected the offer, and said that the issue between the Muslims and the Byzantines would be decided on the battle-field.

The following day the Muslims decided to cross the river, and attack Beisan. Khalid led the advance guard. The Muslim forces had not proceeded very far when they got stuck in the mud, and had great difficulty in extricating themselves. They accordingly returned to Fahl and decided to wait.

The Byzantines were happy that their stratagem of flooding countryside had paid dividends. Byzantine had guides who assured them that they could negotiate the marsh. The Byzantine forces commanded by Saqlar crossed the Jordan river and proceeded to Fahl. They hoped to catch the Muslims unaware.

The Byzantines launched the attack on 23rd January 635. As the Byzantines advanced, all advantages lay with them. They were larger in strength and they were better equipped. The topography was also in their favour. They could negotiate the marsh. They opened the attack with a rain of arrows. The Muslim cavalry was led by Khalid and they formed the Muslim vanguard. Due to the rain of arrows from the Byzantine side the Muslim forces had to fall back. They steadily withdrew until they were on firm ground beyond the flooded area. Then the Muslims charged. In the hand to hand fight that ensued the Muslims were superior to the Byzantines. The Commander-in-chief of the Byzantine forces Saqlar and many other commanders were killed. That demoralised the Byzantines.

Overpowered, the Byzantine forces pulled back and decided to withdraw to Beisan. The Muslims increased their pressure. Under the pressure of the Muslim assault the retreat of the Byzantines soon became a rout. The Muslims played havoc with the forces. The retreating Byzantine got bogged up in the mud, and the pursuing Muslims made easy work of them. The marsh which the Byzantines had created to trap the Muslims became a death trap for the Byzantines themselves. Over ten thousand Byzantines perished in the battle of Fahl. The marsh came to be studded with the dead bodies of the Byzantine soldiers. The battle ended in victory for the Muslims. Because of the mud, the battle of Fahl came to be known in the Arab chronicles as the Battle of the Mud.

After the battle of Fahl, the main Muslim army under Abu Ubaida and Khalid returned to Damascus. One contingent was left to conquer Beisan. Another contingent proceeded to capture Tabariyya.

The Muslims crossing the Jordan proceeded to Beisan. The Persians shut the gates of the city in the face of the Muslims, and the Muslims laid siege to the city. After a few days finding resistance futile the Byzantines surrendered and agreed to pay Jizya.

Tabariyya was eighteen miles from Beisan. It was the chief town of Jordan. The town was fortified and at the approach of the Muslims, the gates of the city were shut against them. The Muslims laid siege to the town, and blocked all routes to the town. After the fall of Beisan, the citizens of Tabariyya also found that any further resistance was useless. They, therefore, surrendered and agreed to pay Jizya. They vacated fifty per cent of the houses in the city which were occupied by the Muslims. With the fall of Tabariyya, the whole of Jordan came under the occupation of the Muslims.

The campaigns in Jordan ended in February 635 and the Muslims settled down to administer the land.

Battle Of Marj-ur-rum

When the Muslims were busy operating in the Jordan sector, Heraclius thought that it was a good opportunity to attack Damascus and recapture it. Heraclius accordingly sent from Antioch a strong Byzantine force under a General named Theodorus to recapture Damascus.

When Abu Ubaida came to know that a Byzantine force was marching to Damascus, the Muslim contingents led by Abu Ubaida and Khalid left Fahl and moved northward to Damascus. When Heraclius came to know of the movements of the Muslim force, he ordered a detachment of the Byzantine forces stationed at Emessa north of Damascus to be sent to Damascus to reinforce the Byzantine forces under Theodorus.

The Muslim and Byzantine forces met in the plain of Marj-ur-Rum to the west of Damascus. As the two armies stood in battle formation, the Byzantine contingent from Emessa under the command of Shans faced the corps of Abu Ubaida, while the corps of Khalid faced the main army commanded by Theodorus. The two armies remained in their battle positions, each waiting for the other to make the first move. No side made the move.

As night fell, leaving Shans to face the Muslims, Theodorus pulled back his corps under the cover of darkness, and by dawn the following day arrived at Damascus. The movement was carried out with great skill and it was only about dawn that the Muslims came to know that the bulk of the Byzantine army had left for Damascus.

The Muslim garrison at Damascus was under the command of Yazeed. On coming to know that a Byzantine force had arrived under the command of Theodorus, Yazeed immediately deployed his force outside the fort. Just after sunrise the battle began between the Muslims and the Byzantines. The Byzantines vastly outnumbered the Muslims, and in spite of the strong pressure of the Byzantines the Muslims held fast till noon. Thereafter the Byzantines increased their pressure and the force under Yazeed began to fall back.

At that juncture Byzantines were struck in their rear by a furious mass of Muslim horsemen. This was the mobile guard led by Khalid. When Khalid came to know that the force under Theodorus facing him was no longer at Marj-ur-Rum he guessed that the force must have proceeded to Damascus. Khalid accordingly rushed with his mobile guard to the relief of Damascus. So great was the onslaught of the Muslim cavalry that the Byzantine forces wedged in between the forces of Yazeed and Khalid were rapidly annihilated.

Khalid killed Theodorus. With his death the Byzantine forces lost nerve. They retired from the battle-field in great confusion. Thousands of them were killed. Only a few escaped to tell the tale of disaster. The battle of Damascus ended in a victory for the Muslims.

At Marj-ur-Rum the Muslims under Abu Ubaida faced the Byzantines under Shans. The battle began with a personal duel between Abu Ubaida and Shans. In this duel, Abu Ubaida killed Shans.

Thereafter the battle began, and both the sides appeared to be balanced. By afternoon news was received that in Damascus the Byzantine force had been shattered. That unnerved the Byzantine force fighting at Marj-ur-Rum. As night fell, the Byzantines fell back and retreated to Emessa. The battle of Marj-ur-Rum was fought in March 635 CE.

Battle Of Emessa

After the battle of Marj-ur-Rum, the Muslim forces under Khalid advanced to Emessa in the north and laid siege to the city. After some time, Abu Ubaida also arrived at Emessa along with the rest of the Muslim army. The citizens of Emessa thereupon felt that they were no match for the Muslim forces. They asked for a truce which was allowed. The people of Emessa paid 10,000 diners and 100 robes of brocade. The truce was stipulated for a period of one year during which period the Muslims were not to attack them. If Emessa received any reinforcerment during this period, the citizens of Emessa could resume hostilities. After the truce was agreed upon the gates of the city of Emessa were thrown open, and the Muslims were free to move in the city.

After the truce with Emessa, the Muslims attacked the neighbouring cities, and these cities also sought truce on the lines of the truce of Emessa. In the meantime the winter set in. Heraclius sent considerable force to reinforce the garrison of Emessa. With the arrival of reinforcement the truce ended and the hostilities were resumed.

The military Governor of Emessa was Harbees, and to him Heraclius wrote, “The Muslims cannot stand the cold of Syria. Fight them on every cold day so that none of them is left till the spring.”

For some time the siege of Emessa continued with unbroken monotony. Every day there was an exchange of archery, but there was no major action. The Byzantines hoped that the severe cold of Syria would be enough to destroy the desert dwellers and drive them away. The Muslims, however, withstood the cold with great resoluteness. By March 636 the severity of the cold was over, and the hopes of the Byzantines that the cold would drive away the Muslims were dashed to the ground. The Byzantines now became desperate. One morning a gate of the city was flung open, and Harbees the Byzantime Commander led a surprise attack against the unsuspecting Muslims. In the momentum of the surprise attack the Byzantines moved forward and the Muslims were forced to fall back.

At this juncture, Abu Ubaida commissioned Khalid to go to the relief of the Muslims. Khalid regrouped the Muslim army, and launched a counter attack. By sunset the Byzantines were forced back inside the city. The Byzantines had fought hard, and the Muslims felt that Harbees was no ordinary Commander; he was a force to be reckoned with.

The following morning, Abu Ubaida held a council of war. Most of the Muslim soldiers were in a restrained mood. Khalid advised that they should stage a withdrawal. When the sun rose, the Muslims had packed their belongings, struck the tents and had begun the withdrawal. Harbees thought that his action during the previous day had unnerved the Muslims, and they had accordingly raised the siege.

Harbees felt elated and he thought of giving a beating to the retreating Muslims. Harbees launched his mounted force into a fast pursuit to catch up with the retreating Muslims. The Muslims increased their pace, and the Byzantines also quickened the pursuit. When they were sufficiently away from Emessa, Khalid gave the signal, and the Muslim forces rushed from all sides to surround the Byzantines. Steadily closing in from all sides, the Muslims struck the Byzantines with spears and swords. The Byzantines fought desperately but were subdued in large numbers. Breaking through the Byzantine force, Khalid reached Harbees, and then a duel began between the two Generals. In this duel the sword of Khalid broke and for some time Khalid was at the mercy of Harbees. Despite his life appearing in grave danger, Khalid prevailed and managed to overcome Harbees. The death of Harbees was the signal for the end of the Byzantine resistance.

The Muslims marched back to Emessa triumphant. There was no further resistance at Emessa. The citizens surrendered on the usual terms and the city of Emessa was occupied by the Muslims towards the closing days of March 636.

Battle Of Yarmuk

When Emessa was still under siege, Heraclius the Byzantine emperor made another bid to muster strength and drive away the Muslims from the land of Shaam. This time he planned action on a massive scale. By May 636 A.D., a Byzantine army of 150,000 men had been put in arms and concentrated at Antioch.

At this time the Muslims were operating in four pockets. Amr b. Al Aas was operating with his corps in Palestine; Shurahbil was in Jordan; Yazeed was in Caesara, while Abu Ubaida and Khalid were at Emessa.

The plan of the Byzantines was that one Byzantine force was to march from Damascus from the west, and cut off the Muslim force at Emessa. Another force was to attack the Muslims at Emessa from the north. One force was to attack Emessa from the east and still another from the west. The plan was to recapture Emessa and Damascus.

When the Muslims came to know of the Byzantine plan they held a council of war. The Muslims decided that instead of being divided into four pockets, they should consolidate their forces at one point and face the Byzantines as a united force.

The next point for consideration was where should the Muslim forces concentrate? If the Muslims concentrated their forces in North Shaam, they were apt to be surrounded by the Byzantine forces and their contact with the Arabian desert was likely to be cut off. The only strategy under the circumstances was that the Muslims should concentrate their forces in southern Shaam where they could always maintain contact with Arabia. In accordance with this decision, the Muslims vacated Emessa, Damascus and other posts in North Shaam, and concentrated their forces at Jabiya in Yermuk valley to the south of Damascus.

When the Byzantine force reached Emessa they found that the Muslims had left. They found that Damascus had also been evacuated. The Byzantines marched to the south and reached the Yarmuk valley some time in the third week of July 636. Here they settled down in camps, and began their preparations for a confrontation with the Muslims. The Byzantine camp was 18 miles long, and between the Byzantine camp and the Muslim camp lay the central parts of the plain of Yarmuk. The Byzantine forces comprised of 2 lakh men fully equipped.

The Muslim army consisted of 40,000 men. Against every five Byzantine soldiers there was only one Muslim soldier. When the Byzantine Generals surveyed their army, they felt sure of their victory.

The Muslims were fired with their faith, and hoped that Allah would grant them victory in spite of the odds against them. Abu Ubaida felt that it was going to be a tough battle. He thought that at that critical stage it was necessary to avail of the military skill of Khalid. Abu Ubaida accordingly decided to remain the nominal Commander-in-Chief. He delegated his powers of field operations to Khalid.

For some time there were negotiations between the two parties. The Byzantines offered to pay the Muslims some money in case they left Shaam and returned to Arabia. The Muslims spurned the offer. In return the Muslims offered the Byzantines the usual three alternatives, Islam, Jizya or the sword.

After the failure of negotiations, the arbitration was left to the sword. The battle began in the third week of August 636.

Both the armies faced each other across the plain of Yarmuk, about a mile apart.

Before the two armies clashed, a Byzantine General George emerged from the Byzantine centre and rode towards the Muslims. Approaching the Muslim centre he asked for Khalid. Khalid rode out thinking that George wanted to have a duel with him. But George had no intention to duel. Instead George asked a few questions about Islam, and the Holy Prophet. He also enquired as to why Khalid was called ‘The Sword of Allah’. Khalid answered these questions, and George said that he was satisfied. Khalid thereupon invited George to accept Islam and declare the article of faith Surprisingly enough, George accepted the invitation and was converted to Islam at the hands of Khalid. Then George rode to the Muslim side where he was welcomed with great enthusiasm.

The Commander-in-chief of the Byzantine force felt much annoyed at the walk over of his General George to the Muslim camp. He vowed vengeance against the Muslims as well as George. In a fit of fury he chose a few selected warriors from the Byzantine side, and they challenged the Muslims to duel. Scores of duels were fought on the plain of Yarmuk. Practically all the Byzantine champions were killed in the combat. On the Muslim side honours went to Abdur Rahman the son of Abu Bakr who killed five Byzantine champions one after the other.

After the duelling was over, Mahan the Commander-in-Chief of the Byzantine forces asked his forces to launch the assault. The Muslims withstood their ground. At sunset when the action ended there were more casualties on the Byzantine side than on the side of the Muslims.

On the second day, the Muslims were still at morning prayer when the Byzantines launched the attack. The Muslims got into position immediately and the two armies clashed. The Byzantines did not press at the Muslim centre; they directed their pressure on the Muslim flanks. The Muslim right was led by Sayyidina Amr bin Aas. The Muslim corps on the right withstood two attacks, but at the third attack which was very severe they fell back in some disorder. The Muslim cavalry held up the Byzantine advance for some time, but they were unable to hold it for long. Repulsed by the Byzantines the Muslims fell back on their camp. Here they were greeted by Muslim women with stinging rebukes. That made the Muslim warriors turn back from the camp. The Muslims launched a counter attack and the Byzantines were pushed back.

The Muslim left flank was led by Yazeed. The corps under Yazeed withstood the first attack but fell back under the severity of the second attack. The Muslim cavalry launched the counter attack but it was repulsed, and the Muslims fell back to their camp. Here the Muslim women put the Muslim warriors to shame. They exhorted them to return to battle and show their courage. They returned to the battle and launched a coupler attack.

Seeing the pressure on the flanks, Khalid decided to come to their help. First he turned to the right wing and struck at the flank of the Byzantine army. The Byzantines reeled under the pressure of these blows and beat a retreat. Thereupon the corps of Amr regained all the ground they had lost.

Khalid next turned to the left wing, and attacked the Byzantine corps. Here again the Byzantines withdrew under the force of the counter attacks launched by the Muslims from the front as well as the flank. The attack on the Muslim side was led by Zarrar. He killed Derjan, the Commander of the Byzantine corps.

By sunset the two flanking armies of the Byzantines had been pushed back. The Muslims had faced a critical situation, but they had managed to regain the lost ground. When the battle ended on the second day the result was still undecisive.

On the third day, the Byzantines again launched the attack. The initial attacks were repulsed by the corps of Amr and Shurahbil. But when the Byzantines increased their pressure, the Muslims fell back. The Byzantines broke through in several places, and the Muslims fell back to their camp. The corps of Shurahbil was similarly pushed back to the camp. The Muslim women in the camp once again came into action with sharp tongues and tent poles. The Muslim warriors felt that it was easier to face the enemy than their women. That made the Muslim warriors return to the battle. Khalid again came to the rescue of these corps. The Byzantine opposition to the Muslim counter attack was very stiff but by dusk the Byzantines had been pushed back to the original position.

On the third day also the battle remained undecisive. The losses of the Byzantines outnumbered those of the Muslims. The Byzantine attacks had been beaten back by the Muslims. The Muslims were satisfied with their performance, but in the Byzantine camp, Mahan the Commander-in-chief was not satisfied with the performance of the Byzantines.

On the fourth day the Byzantines again started the battle with an attack on the corps of Amr bin Al Aas and Shurahbil. The corps of Amr was pushed back, but there they held up with drawn swords. In the sector of Shurahbil the Byzantines broke through and pushed the Muslims to their camp. Seeing the predicament of Shurahbil, Khalid came to his assistance with his reserve. At the same time Abu Ubaida and Yazeed launched a frontal attack in their sector to prevent the increase of further pressure in the sector of Shurahbil. As the Byzantines advanced in the sector of Shurahbil, by a counter flank movement. Khalid attacked the Byzantines from two sides. The Byzantines broke under the blows of the Muslim cavalry and fell back to their original position, losing heavily in the process. The Byzantine archers now let loose a rain of arrows on the Muslim forces. Over 700 Muslims were hit in their eyes.

The fourth day’s battle because of these arrows came to be known as “The Day of Lost Eyes”. That was the worst day of the battle for the Muslims. Seeing the consternation in the Muslim ranks the Byzantines increased their pressure. Even the corps of Abu Ubaida and Yazeed were pushed back. At this critical hour, Sayyidina Ikramah and his contingent refused to retreat. They took the oath of death, and fell upon the Byzantines with the fury and violence of desperate men. Under their blows the Byzantines pulled back. Of the four hundred dedicated men who took the oath of death almost all including Ikramah died, but they saved the day for the Muslims. Seeing the plight of the Muslims the Muslim women rushed forward with tent poles to fight against the Byzantines. That inspired the Muslims to heroic effort, and when the day’s action was over, both the armies stood once again on their original lines.

On the fifth day the two armies again lined up for action, but there was no assault. Then an emissary came forward from the Byzantine side proposing a truce for the next few days so that fresh negotiations could be held. The Muslims did not accept the proposal. They said that they were in a hurry to finish the business. That day there was no battle.

On the sixth day before the battle began’ Gregory a General of the Byzantine army stepped forward and challenged the Muslim Commander-in-chief to a duel. Abu Ubaida accepted the challenge. In the duel, Abu Ubaida killed Gregory.

Thereafter Ahu Ubaida gave the signal for a Muslim attack, and the Muslim front surged forward. The Muslim cavalry led by Khalid intensified their blows against the Byzantine cavalry, and after a hard struggle the Byzantine cavalry was driven away from the field. The Byzantine infantry was now left without the support of the cavalry. By a flanking movement, Khalid attacked the Byzantines both from the front as well as the rear, and so no sectors of the Byzantine army collapsed. The Byzantine infantry was now in full retreat, and the Muslims suffered it to retire.

The Byzantines retreated towards Qadi-ur-Raqqad. Here a Muslim contingent under Zarrar lay in ambush and they subdued the Byzantines.

By the afternoon of the sixth day of the battle only a third of the Byzantine army remained in the battle-field; the rest had fled away. The Muslim army now fell on the Byzantines.

In the meantime a storm began to blow. It blew against the faces of the Byzantines, and provided a greater momentum to the Muslims to rush forward. In the confusion that followed the Byzantines lost their bearings. Panic stricken they fled, and the pursuing Muslims killed thousands of Byzantines right and left. The battle of Yarmuk ended in a great victory for the Muslims.

The Byzantine Commander-in-chief, Mahan with the remnants of his army fled towards Damascus. The Muslims pursued them, and overtook them a few miles short of Damascus. The Muslims attacked the Byzantine rearguard with great valour. In the scuffle that followed Mahan was killed. Many Byzantines also met their end, but some managed to escape to tell Heraclius the story of the disaster that the Byzantines had met at the battle-field of Yarmuk.

The battle of Yarmuk was the greatest battle that the Muslims had fought so far. It compellingly spelt the end of the Byzantine rule in Shaam, and ushered in the glorious Muslim era.

Final Leg in the Conquest Of Shaam

The battle of Yarmuk was a historic battle which changed the course of history. When the news of the disaster of Yarmuk were conveyed to the Byzantine emperor Heraclius at Antioch the capital of Syria, he at once decided to abandon Syria and withdraw to Constantinople. His parting words were “Farewell Syria! It is with great pain that I part from you. My salutations to thee O beautiful land.”

From Yarmuk, Abu Ubaida sent a detailed report of the victory of the Muslims to Umar along with the state share of the spoils of war. The message was carried by a highpowered delegation led by Sayyidina Hudhaifa bin Al-Yaman. Umar had not slept for many nights anxiously awaiting news from Yarmuk. As the news of the victory of the Muslims at Yarmuk was intimated to Umar he had all the Muslims in Madinah assemble at the Prophet’s mosque, and a special prayer of Shukr was offered.

Umar in a letter addressed to Abu Ubaida congratulated him for the victory. He instructed that the cities in Shaam like Damascus and Emessa which the Muslims had abandoned on the eve of the battle of Yarmuk should be returned to their rule. He further desired that after the withdrawal of the Byzantine emperor from Shaam, the whole of Shaam should be brought under Muslim control.

When the instructions of Umar were received, Abu Ubaidah left a few contingents in Jordan and Palestine and with the rest of the army marched northward. The city of Damascus opened its gates to the Muslims, and their return was enthusiastically welcomed.

From Damascus the Muslim army proceeded to Emessa. The people of Emessa also welcomed the return of the Muslims.

From Emessa a column under Khalid marched to Qinnissrin. Here a Byzantine force under Minas offered resistance to the Muslims. Khalid defeated the Byzantine army, and demolished all defensive works. There were many Arab tribes in the city. Khalid offered them Islam and they became Muslims. The other citizens agreed to pay Jizya. When the exploits of Khalid were reported to Umar RA, he acknowledged the services of Khalid in generous terms. He wrote “God bless Abu Bakr. He singled out Khalid for his favours and he was a better judge of men than me.”

The victory of Qinnissrin cleared the way to Aleppo. Abu Ubaida accordingly marched to Aleppo at the head of the Muslim army. In the outskirts of Aleppo there were many settlements of Arab tribes. They were offered Islam and accepting the offer they entered the fraternity of faith. There was a Byzantine garrison at Aleppo which chose to shut itself in the fortifications. The city was besieged, and the Byzantines came to agree on the usual term of paying the Jizya.

From Aleppo the Muslim army marched to Antioch. It was the capital of the Byzantines in Shaam. Although the emperor Heraclius had left for Constantinople, there was a sizable Byzantine garrison at Antioch. There was a large concentration of the Christians in the city. On the approach of the Muslim army the citizens of Antioch and the Byzantine garrison shut themselves within the fortified city. The Muslims besieged the city and blocked all approaches to the city. Within a few days the citizens suffered from the shortage of foodgrains and other provisions, and they settled on paying Jizya. With the capitulation of Antioch the Muslims were the masters of Shaam. So great was the awe of the Muslim forces that wherever a few Muslim soldiers appeared the Christians waited on them and sued for peace.

After overcoming Antioch, Abu Ubaida spread the Muslim forces in all directions. The neighbouring towns of Buqa, Jumah, Surmin, Tuzi, Quras, Tilghraz, Daluk and Ruban were captured one after the other without firing a shot. There was some show of resistance at Balis and Qasrin but such resistance was overcome by the Muslims without any difficulty. At Bughras, a town on the border of Asia Minor there was a fierce conflict. The Muslim force under Habib bin Maslamah ultimately carried the town by assault. The people were killed in thousands and those who survived fled to seek shelter in Constantinople. Khalid led a campaign against Mara’sh. Here too there was a sanguinary battle. Brought to bay the Christians said that they were prepared to leave the city to the Muslims provided they were allowed to depart in safety. Khalid accepted the offer, and the Christians were allowed to escape to Constantinople without taking any property.

As a result of these campaigns, the Byzantines completely disappeared and Shaam became a province of the Muslim Caliphate.

Sayyidina Abu Ubaida sent a detailed report to Sayyidina Umar about the conquest of Shaam. Writing about Antioch, Abu Ubaida said:

“O Commander of the faithful, Antioch is a very beautiful and attractive place. Our soldiers were so much enamoured of the place that they insisted on staying there. I was afraid lest by staying there the Muslims might be involved in a luxurious way of living. I have accordingly come back to Emessa along with the army. The Byzantine women are very beautiful and the Muslim soldiers are very much attracted by them. They long to marry such women and that is a matter of headache for me”.

In reply Umar congratulated Abu Ubaida for the victories that Allah had bestowed on the Muslims Umar appreciated Abu Ubaida’s views about Antioch and his anxiety to pull out the Muslim soldiers from such a beautiful place lest they might be involved in a luxurious way of life. Umar, however, pointed out that God had not declared good things unlawful for the Muslims. Allah had said, “Avail of fine things, and do fine deeds. He also says, O ye faithful, out of the sustenance provided by Us eat delicious things, and offer thanks to Allah Who has provided you such delicacies.” Umar added that it would have been advisable if he had allowed his soldiers to rest at Antioch for some time, but as he had pulled the Muslims from the attractive surroundings of Antioch with good intentions whatever he did was good. As regards the Byzantine women Umar said:

“Those who are unmarried let them marry Byzantine women provided they accept Islam. If any Muslim wishes to purchase a Byzantine woman as a slave let him do that for that is permissible.”

The Liberation of Al Quds

After the battle of Yarmuk, when the main Muslim army under Abu Ubaida and Khalid left for the north of Syria, some Muslim contingents under Sayyidina Amr bin Al As and Shurahbil remained stationed in the southern sector comprising Jordan and Palestine.

Finding that the bulk of the Muslim army had left, Artabun the Byzantine Governor assembled a large force at Ajnadin in another bid to drive away the Muslims from the soil of Shaam. The battle at Ajnadin fought towards the close of 636 was very bloody and gruesome. Both sides fought bravely but ultimately the Byzantines were defeated, Artabun defeated with heavy loss fled to Jerusalem with the remnant of his army.

After the victory of Ajnadin the Muslim forces spread in all directions in Jordan and Palestine. The towns of Sabtah, Gaza, Nablus, Bait-Jibrin and many other towns entered Muslim hands one after the other. That cleared the way to Jerusalem. The city of Jerusalem sacred to the Jews and the Christians was strongly fortified. It was protected on every side by deep valleys and steep ascents. Military engines were mounted on the walls which were intended for playing havoc with the advancing invader. It was the winter season, and the severity of the winter added to the difficulties of the besieging Muslim force. The siege dragged on and the Byzantines offered very stiff resistance.

Amr bin Al Aas the Muslim Commander in the southern sector wrote to Abu Ubaida for reinforcement. By this time, northern Shaam had fallen to the Muslims and Abu Ubaida was able to spare many contingents which rushed to the aid of the Muslims fighting in the southern sector.

Abu ‘Ubaidah ibn Al-Jarrah RA sent seven armies, each headed by a general. He assigned five thousand horsemen to each and a banner for each leader. Thus, the total army was thirty-five thousand cavalry. The generals were Khalid ibn Al ­Walid, Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan, Shurahbil ibn Hasanah, Al-Mirqal ibn Hashim ibn ‘Utbah ibn Abi Waqqas, Qais ibn Hubairah Al-Muradi, Al-­Musaiab ibn Najiyah Al-Fazazi and ‘Urwah ibn Muhalhil ibn Zaid Al-Khail RA.

The cavalrymen of Shurahbil were from Yemen. Abu ‘Ubaidah ordered Al-Mirqal ibn Hashim to go to the fort and he went by himself.

The seven generals each marched on his own. Every day, a general marched with his army scheming to terrify and puzzle the enemy. The first to advance with the banner was Khalid ibn Al-­Walid, who cried, “Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!” when he attacked.

The army of Khalid raised their voices crying, “Allahu Akbar!” When the people of Jerusalem heard the tumult of their voices, they were terrified and puzzled. They mounted the walls of the city to look and, discovering that the Muslims were small in number, they underestimated and belittled them. The Byzantines thought that these were all the Muslims. Khalid and his army were camping near Ariha.

On the second day, Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan proceeded. On the third day Shurahbil ibn Hasanah advanced, followed on the fourth day by Al-Mirqal ibn Hashim. The fifth day witnessed the coming of AI-Musaib ibn Najiyah, and on the sixth came Qais ibn Hubairah. Finally, on the seventh day came ‘Urwah ibn Al-Muhalhil ibn Zaid Al-Khail from the road to Ramlah.

The armies camped at Jerusalem for three days without any fight or assault. The Muslims did not see or talk to any of the Byzantines. However, the citizens fortified their walls with mangonels, swords, leather shields and armor of the best kinds. Al-Musaib ibn Najiyah reported: We never before went to any city of Al-Sham and saw such finery and such arrangements like those of Jerusalem. We never surrounded any people but they were pleading to us because of the terror and horror that they felt except those people of Jerusalem, for we camped near them for three days, yet none of them talked to us or moved.”

On the fourth day one of the Bedouins said to Shurahbil ibn Hasanah, “O general! Those people seem as if they are deaf or dumb or blind. Let’s march towards them.”

When it was the fifth day, after the Muslims had performed the Fajr Prayer, the first general to mount his horse to talk to the people of Jerusalem was Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan. He drew his sword and approached their wall. He took a translator with him to interpret their speech. Yazid stood facing their wall so that they could hear him talking, but they were silent when he said to his translator, “Tell them, the leader of the Arabs tells you: What about answering the call to Islam and to the word of faith: ‘there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.’ On that account Allah will pardon your previous sins and you will thus save your souls. If you refuse and do not comply, reconcile with us on behalf of your city, as did other people than you, who were more powerful than you. If you refuse both alternatives, you will be doomed to ruin and Hell will be your dwelling.”

The translator advanced and said to them, “This general calls you to one of three choices: entering Islam, jizyah or war.” One of the priests replied, “We will not quit the religion of honor. Killing us is better to us than this.”

Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan returned to the other generals of the army and told them the priest’s answer, then said, “What causes us to wait?”

They said, “Abu `Ubaidah did not order us to attack or fight those people. We will write to the ‘Guardian of the Nation’ Abu ‘Ubaidah.” So Yazid wrote to him about the reply of the people, asking him what the next step was.

Abu ‘Ubaidah RA replied ordering them to advance and telling them that he would follow them soon after that letter.

When the generals read the message of Abu ‘Ubaidah, they were pleased, hopeful and waited for the morning. Each one of them wanted the opening to be done by his own hands and enjoy praying in Jerusalem and looking at the relics of the prophets (peace be upon them all). When Fajr was announced, the people performed the prayers and Yazid recited Allah’s words that mean:

{O my people, enter the Sacred Land which Allah has destined for you to enter, and do not turn back or you will be losers.} (Al-Ma’ida 5: 21)

When the prayers were done they cried “To arms! To arms! Horses of Allah, ride!”

The first to launch the attack were the men of Himyar and Yemen. The Muslims fought resolutely as if they were fearless lions. The people of Jerusalem observed the Muslims excited to fight them, so they shot them with arrows, which the Muslims caught on their leather shields. The fighting lasted from morning till sunset. When the sun set, the two parties retreated to their former positions and the Muslims prayed the prayers that they had missed during the day.

The Muslims spent the night restoring their condition, eating and taking some sleep and rest. In the morning, the archers advanced and showered arrows on the people of Jerusalem while praising Allah and pleading to Him. The battle continued this way for several days, and on the eleventh day, Abu `Ubaidah arrived with his troops, and his standard was held by his servant Salim. The cavalrymen surrounded him from all sides with their banners. The women and money came as well. The people were jubilant and their excitement in praising and thanking Allah terrified the citizens of Jerusalem. Patriarch Sophronius went to the wall that was in the direction from which Abu ‘Ubaidah had come, but the wall was so high. A man who accompanied the patriarch cried out, “O you Muslims! Cease the fight so that we can ask you and clarify some issues.”

The Muslims ceased. A man spoke to them in good Arabic, “You had better know that the characteristics of the man who will open this city of ours -Jerusalem -and all of our lands are known to us. If we find these characteristics in your general, we will surrender to you and stop fighting. Otherwise, we will never surrender and we will resume the fight.”

On hearing this, some of the Muslims went to Abu ‘Ubaidah and told him what they heard. Abu ‘Ubaidah approached the Byzantines. Patriarch Sophronius looked at him and said, “He is not the man meant.” Then he looked at his army and cried, “Rejoice and fight for the sake of your city, religion and women!” Then they resumed the battle. Sophronius returned without speaking even a single word to Abu ‘Ubaidah. The Muslims were harsh in their fight against the Byzantines.

The battle was fierce day after day till four whole months passed by. The Muslims endured very cold weather, snow and heavy rain. When the people of Jerusalem realized how firmly the Muslims encircled them, they went to Patriarch Sophronius and told him of their hardships and asked him to negotiate with the Muslims and learn their demands.

The patriarch climbed the wall with them, overlooking the place where Abu ‘Ubaidah was. One of the Byzantines cried, “O you Arabs! The Patriarch of Christianity and the executor of its laws have come to talk to you, so let your leader come forward.” Abu ‘Ubaidah was told what they said and replied, “I will go to him.”

He then went with some generals, fellows and a translator and stood by the patriarch. The Byzantine translator said, “What is it that you want from us in such a holy city that the one who schemes against it will expose himself to God’s wrath?”

Abu ‘Ubaidah said, “Yes, it is an honorable city from which our Prophet rose to Heaven. We deserve it more than you do, and we will fight you till Allah helps us to dominate it, as He did to other cities.”

The patriarch asked, “What do you want from us?”

Abu ‘Ubaidah answered, “One of three: first, to admit that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is His servant and messenger. If you declare so, you will enjoy the rights we have and be liable to judgment as we are.”

“It is a great declaration and we would utter it except that we do not believe that your Prophet Muhammad is a messenger. This choice we will not select. What is the second one?”

“You reconcile with us on behalf of your city, paying jizyah whether you like it or not, as other people of Al-Sham did.”

“It is recorded in our book that the one who will open this city, Jerusalem, is a Companion of Muhammad called ‘Umar known as Al-Faruq, who distinguishes between right and falsehood. He is known to be a firm man who does not fear the blame of anyone in things concerning Allah. We, however, do not see his characteristics among you.”

When Abu ‘Ubaidah ibn Al-Jarrah heard this, he smiled and said, “We have opened the city by the Lord of Ka’bah.” Then he drew nearer and asked, “Can you recognize the man if you see him?”

The patriarch answered, “Certainly, how can I mistake him while I have full knowledge about his merit, life and office?

Abu ‘Ubaidah said, “He is our caliph and the Companion of our Prophet. I swear to this by the name of Allah.”

“If it is as you say, you have thus realized the truthfulness of our talk. Save our blood and send to your caliph to come. If we see him and recognize him, and ascertain his characteristics and merits, we will open the city for him without any troubles or sorrow and we will pay jizyah.”

“I would prefer to fight, or shall we cease the battle?”

“O you Arabs! Can’t you stop your harshness? How can we tell you that we believe you and demand a cessation of fighting and you aim at nothing but fighting?”

Abu `Ubaidah said, “Yes, because this is more worthy to us than life, for it is the way by which we ask for the pardon and forgiveness of our Lord.” He then ordered the fight against the people of Jerusalem to cease and the patriarch left.

Sayyidina Abu ‘Ubaidah RA wrote a message to ‘Umar, the Commander of the Faithful:

“In the name of Allah the Most Merciful, the Ever Merciful. To the servant of Allah, the Commander of the Faithful ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab from the general assigned by him, Abu ‘Ubaidah ibn Al-Jarrah. Peace be on you. I thank Allah the One and Only God and pray for His Prophet Muhammad~. It is worth mentioning Commander of the Faithful, that we have remained four months fighting against the people of Jerusalem. Every day we attacked them and they attacked us. On that very day on which I wrote this letter, their patriarch, whom they highly regard, came to us and said that they have in their books that none will open their city except the Companion of our Prophet who is called ‘Umar. He added that he knows his characteristics and description, which are recorded in their books. He asked us to stop the bloodshed. So, come to us yourself and rescue us. May Allah open this city to us by your own hands.”

He signed and sealed the message and then Maisarah ibn Masruq Al-Abasi took it to deliver it to ‘Umar.

Abu Ubaida referred the matter to Umar RA at Madinah. Umar RA called a meeting of his Consultative Council, and asked for their advice. Sayyidina Uthman expressed the view that it was not necessary for the Caliph to go, and that the defeated Byzantines would themselves surrender. Sayyidina Ali said that Jerusalem was as much sacred to the Muslims as the Jews or the Christians, and that in view of the sanctity of the place it was desirable that its surrender should be received by the Caliph personally. Umar RA decided to accept the advice of Ali RA.

‘Umar RA went to the Prophet’s mosque and prayed four rak’ahs, then he went to the Prophet SAW’s grave and greeted him and Abu Bakr RA. He then assigned `Ali to be his successor in Madinah.

Afterwards, ‘Umar RA left Madinah seen off by its people. He rode a red camel, and on its back were two sacks, one containing fine flour and the other containing dates. In front of ‘Umar was a waterskin and behind him a bag containing some bread.

No retinue accompanied the Caliph. Umar was accompanied by one slave only, and between these two persons they had only one camel which they rode turn by turn. The slave and he would take turns riding the camel and they also gave the camel time off from carrying either passenger.

Sayyidina ‘Umar RA headed towards Jerusalem. Whenever he rested somewhere, he did not leave it unless he prayed Fajr. When he finished he looked at the Muslims and said, “All praise to Allah Who dignified us through Islam and honored us through faith and distinguished us by His Prophet ~. He the Almighty led us to guidance after error, united us on the word of piety though we had been enemies, removed any hatred from our hearts, granted us victory over our enemy, gave us sovereignty in our land, and made us brothers, loving and caring about each other. So thank Allah, you servants of Allah, for these countless blessings and manifest gifts, for Allah multiplies for those desirous who strive more for what He has and he completes His blessings on those who thank Him.”

As they neared Jabia where the Muslim Commanders were to meet Umar, it was the turn of the slave to ride. The slave wanted Umar to ride the animal, but Umar refused. As they came to Jabia the people saw the strange spectacle of the slave riding the camel and the Caliph walking on foot.

Abu ‘Ubaidah RA went to welcome him together with some of the Muhajirun and Ansar. When they reached ‘Umar, he looked at Abu ‘Ubaidah, who was dressed in his armor, wearing a dignified garment and holding his bow while riding his camel. When they saw each other, they stopped their camels, dismounted and approached each other. Abu `Ubaidah stretched out his hand to sake hands with `Umar, then they embraced each other. The Muslims then came one after the other to greet ‘Umar, then they all rode their camels and horses. ‘Umar and Abu ‘Ubaidah went ahead talking together till they reached Jerusalem. Abu Ubaida explained in detail the situation in Syria. He elaborated how with the grace of God the Muslims had been able to overthrow the mighty Byzantine power in Shaam. As Umar saw the green fields, orchards and lofty buildings of Shaam he was greatly moved and he recited from the Holy Quran:

“They have left many a garden, fountain, park, arbour, and riches which they used to enjoy. Thus it is that We put another community in possession thereof.”

The two companions came upon a creek, so Umar RA dismounted from his camel, took off his sandals and placed them over his shoulder, and then led the camel over the creek. Abu Ubaida said, “O commander of the faithful, are you doing this? You have taken off your sandals and placed them on your back and you led the camel through the creek yourself. I do not think it will be easy for me to get the people of this country to honor you.” Umar said, “If only someone else had said this, O Abu Ubaida! I have made this a deterrent for the nation of Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. Verily, we were a disgraceful people and Allah honored us with Islam, so if we seek honor from other than Islam, then Allah will humiliate us.”( Al-Mustadrak ‘ala as-Saheehain 214)

‘Umar RA rode his camel wearing a garment with fourteen patches, some of which were of skin. The Muslims said to him, “Commander of the Faithful, what about riding a horse instead of your camel and wearing good white clothes instead of these patched ones?” ‘Umar accepted the suggestion and wore white clothes. Zubair ibn Al-`Awwam reported: I perceived the clothes were Egyptian and were worth fifteen dirhams.

‘Umar RA put on his shoulder a linen scarf that was neither new nor old. A gray work horse that had once belonged to the Byzantines was brought to him. When ‘Umar rode it, the horse started to sway with ‘Umar on its back. Seeing this, ‘Umar dismounted quickly saying, “Raise me from my fall! May Allah raise you from your falls on the Day of Resurrection, for your leader was about to be ruined by the vanity and conceit that penetrated his heart. I heard Allah’s Messenger say, ‘He shall not enter Paradise who has pride in his heart that weighs even a speck of a dust. “(Narrated by Muslim from Ibn Mas’ud.)

‘Umar then pushed the horse’s face and said, “May the one who taught you such vanity be a failure.” Then he added, “Your white garment and the swaying horse could have ruined me.”

‘Umar RA took off the white garment and put on again his patched and shabby clothes. He then headed towards ‘Aqaba to leave from there to Jerusalem.

The Commander of the Faithful ‘Umar Al-Faruq encountered a group the Muslim commanders wearing silk garments. He ordered dust to be thrown in their faces and their garments to be tom off. He then proceeded till he, reached Jerusalem. He looked at it and said, “Allahu Akbar! O Allah, let this opening be an easy one and grant us victory and sovereignty from You.”

Then he went on and was met by the tribes, chiefs and others till he rested in the place where Abu ‘Ubaidah had once camped. A woolen tent was pitched for him, wherein he sat on the dusty ground, then stood and prayed four rak’ahs.

When the Commander of the Faithful reached Jerusalem, the Muslims cried out loudly, “There is no god but Allah! Allahu Akbar!” The clamor was heard by the people of Jerusalem. The patriarch exclaimed, “What is the cause of this tumult?” He was answered, “‘Umar, the Commander of the Faithful has come from Madinah to Jerusalem.”

The next day, ‘Umar led the Muslims in the Fajr Prayer and then said to Abu ‘Ubaidah, “Proceed to the people and inform them of my arrival.”

Abu `Ubaidah advanced and cried to them, “O people of this city! Our leader has come, so what will you do regarding your claims?”

The patriarch left his church with a crowd, mounted the wall and looked at Abu ‘Ubaidah, who said, “The Commander of the Faithful, who has no leader above him, has come.” The patriarch asked to see him.

‘Umar was determined to go but was stopped by his companions who said, “Commander of the Faithful, will you go alone by yourself without any arms except this patched attire? We are worried about you lest they should betray or deceive and harm you.”

‘Umar replied with the Qur’anic verse meaning:

{Say, “Nothing will happen to us except what Allah has preordained for us, He is our Protector, in Allah let the believers put all their trust.} (Taubah 9: 51)

‘Umar RA’s camel was brought to him and he mounted it dressed in his patched garment. This was due to his humbleness (May Allah be pleased with him) for he was capable of wearing the best and richest attire and to ride the best sort of horses and to be adorned with the most exclusive ornaments. However, he abstained from all this, taking as his example the honorable Prophet SAW who led to all goodness. ‘Umar RA had his only patched garment and he bound his head with a piece of a cotton cloth. No one accompanied him but Abu ‘Ubaidah, who walked by him till ‘Umar Al-Faruq approached the wall and stood by it. When they approached Jerusalem, Umar was walking and had to cross through muddy ground, as a result of which his feet and clothes got mud on them. When Umar entered Jerusalem, he was holding the rope of his camel leading it and his clothes were patched and muddy.

At the gates of Jerusalem, Umar was greeted by the Patriarch of Jerusalem and the elite of the city.When the people of Jerusalem saw Umar’s simplicity they started crying. The patriarch looked at him and recognized him to be the one meant. Some narrations mention that the scriptures of the Christians foretold 14 patches on the clothes of the person to whom the keys of Jerusalem would be handed. When the Patriareh of Jerusalem saw this ascetic simplicity of the Caliph of Islam, contrasted with his own costly dress, he said, “Verily Islam has excelled all other religions”. He also reportedly said: “In truth, this is the abomination of the desolation established in the holy place, which Danyaal(Daniel) [AS] spoke of”.

The Patriach announced to the people of Jerusalem, “Conclude an agreement and treaty with him, for truly, this is the Companion of Muhammad ibn ‘Abdullah.” Consequently, they opened the door and hurried towards ‘Umar, asking him for an agreement of safety.

On seeing this, ‘Umar RA praised Allah, humbled himself to Him and bowed down on the saddle of his camel as much as its hump allowed him. Then he dismounted and said to them, “Go back to your city and you will be given a treaty of security if you ask for it and agree to pay jizyah.” The people returned to their city without closing its gates. ‘Umar returned to his troops and spent the night among them.

The Partriarch of Jerusalem handed over the keys of the city of Jerusalem to Umar. The Muslims were now the masters of Jerusalem. That was a special divine favour of God to the Muslims.

On entering Jerusalem, ‘Umar said, “Here I am, Allah, at Your service!” (Narrated by Ibn Rahwih and Al-Baihaqi from `Abbad ibn `Abdullah ibn Al-Zubair)

As Umar entered the city he was greeted by the citizens with great enthusiasm.

Umar RA entered along a promenade that led him to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Caliph Umar was inside when the time for Salaah arrived. The Patriarch permitted him to pray then and there. However Caliph Umar declined, fearing it might establish a precedent that would threaten the church’s continued use as a Christian house of worship. Instead he prayed in an area to the south of the church, now the site of the Mosque of Umar in Jerusalem.

Umar RA reportedly said to the Patriach, “If I performed salah here[at the church], then the Muslims after me will take this church away from you saying that our khalifah performed Salah here”. He then wrote a document stating that salah in congregation could not be performed nor could adhan be called out at the church.

In doing so Caliph Umar showed the world the meaning of tolerance and generosity in victory and strength. It was the greatness of Islam that shone in his spirit and was reflected in his ethics though he was a person known for his firmness and courage.

Soon upon arrival, Umar RA was eager to go to Masjid al Aqsa.

Umar RA could not immediately find the site, but patriarch showed him the way.

On arrival, accompanied by hundreds of Muslims, he found the area covered in dust and debris.

Umar RA exclaimed:

“Allah (God) is Great, I swear by the one who holds my soul in his hand that this is the Mosque of Dawud [AS] which the prophet of Allah described to us after his night journey.”

He rolled up his sleeves and began sweeping and clearing the mosque immediately. On seeing this other Muslims including army generals and soldiers joined him in cleaning the place. Once cleaned up, Caliph Umar took off his cloak, turned towards the mihrab of Dawood AS, and prostrated the prostration of Dawud. Thereafter, he led the Muslims in Salah. In the first rak’ah, he recited Surah Sa’d(38) and in the next, Surah Bani Israeel(17). Surah Sad mentions the story of Dawud AS, whilst Surah al Isra begins by mentioning the journey of Isra, the most magnificent episode in the history of Jerusalem.

It was the first prayer of Muslims from the final Ummah in Masjid Al Aqsa after the Prophet Muhammad SAW led all the Prophets of Allah in Salaah there, during the Isra.

As the Byzantines watched the Muslims at pray, they felt that such people so obedient to God were bound to command. The Patriarch said that he was not sorry for surrendering the city for he had surrendered it to a better people.

Umar RA immediately ordered the restoration of Masjid al Aqsa. Since the area of the blessed compound of Masjid al Aqsa is vast, he sought a location whereupon a covered prayer hall could be established.

He called for Ka’b al-Ahbar , formerly a Jewish Rabbi who had become a Muslim seeking his input on where the musalla should be established.

Ka’b RA said: “Place the Masjid behind the Rock”. Umar RA disagreed saying, ‘You son of a Jewish woman! Are you influenced by your Jewish ideas! Rather I will build it in front of it.’

Umar RA disagreed as this would mean people having to stand behind the rock in order to face the Qibla. His fear was that this could eventually lead to erroneous veneration of the rock.

Umar RA hence order the construction of the musallah with its Qiblah in front of the Rock.

A huge timber mosque, in a similar location to today’s Masjid Qibli, with a capacity to accommodate 3000 worshippers was erected on this site at the southernmost wall of the Noble Sanctuary.

He prayed with his companions the Jum’ah Prayer, and the Muslims did not take anything of the possessions of the natives.

On the inaugural occasion Bilal RA, the Prophet Muhammad SAW’s beloved Muezzin, was requested to give the call to prayer as he used to do during the Prophetic era. After the death of the Holy Prophet, Bilal had ceased to give the Adhan, due to the emotional toll it would take on him. At the request of Umar RA, however, he agreed to give the Adhan to mark the liberation of Masjid al Aqsa. As Bilal gave the call to pray in his stentorian voice. Umar RA and the Muslims wept recalling the days when the Holy Prophet used to be in their midst. As the inspiring words of the Adhan resounded in the hills and dales of Jerusalem, the people stood in awe realising that a new era had dawned in Shaam.

‘Umar remained in Jerusalem for anything between 10-40 days reorganising the administration and civil affairs, and making the necessary arrangements to look after the needs of the citizens.

He divided Al-Sham into two zones. Abu ‘Ubaidah was in charge of the zone from Huran to Halab and what followed it. He ordered him to advance towards Halab and to fight its people till Allah granted him victory and allowed him to open it. Palestine, Jerusalem and the coasts were under Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan.

It appears that Sopronius and Umar RA built up a cordial relationship during this historic stay. Once, the Patriach offered Umar a robe and loincloth as gifts. Umar RA initially refused but, on the persistence of the Bishop, compromised and agreed to wear the new clothes while his old one were being washed.

Whilst in Jerusalem, Tamim al Dari RA, a companion of the Prophet SAW who had his origins in Palestine, presented to Umar RA a document signed by the Prophet SAW that granted him an area around al Khalil(Hebron) as a Waqf, with the condition that this land could not be sold to anyone.

Umar RA affirmed this request, dividing the said piece of land into three parts: a third for Tamim RA and his family; a second third for the poor, wayfarers and travellers; and the last third to be built on by the people.

The Treaty of Umar (may Allah be pleased with him)

As they did with all other cities they conquered, the Muslims had to write up a treaty detailing the rights and privileges regarding the conquered people and the Muslims in Jerusalem. This treaty was signed by Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) and Patriarch Sophronius, along with some of the generals of the Muslim armies. The text of the treaty read:

In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. This is the assurance of safety which the servant of God, Umar, the Commander of the Faithful, has given to the people of Jerusalem. He has given them an assurance of safety for themselves for their property, their churches, their crosses, the sick and healthy of the city and for all the rituals which belong to their religion. Their churches will not be inhabited by Muslims and will not be destroyed. Neither they, nor the land on which they stand, nor their cross, nor their property will be damaged. They will not be forcibly converted. No Jew will live with them in Jerusalem.


The people of Jerusalem must pay the taxes like the people of other cities and must expel the Byzantines and the robbers. Those of the people of Jerusalem who want to leave with the Byzantines, take their property and abandon their churches and crosses will be safe until they reach their place of refuge. The villagers may remain in the city if they wish but must pay taxes like the citizens. Those who wish may go with the Byzantines and those who wish may return to their families. Nothing is to be taken from them before their harvest is reaped.


If they pay their taxes according to their obligations, then the conditions laid out in this letter are under the covenant of God, are the responsibility of His Prophet, of the caliphs and of the faithful.

– Quoted in The Great Arab Conquests, from Tarikh Tabari

At the time, this was by far one of the most progressive treaties in history. For comparison, just 23 years earlier when Jerusalem was conquered by the Persians from the Byzantines, a general massacre was ordered. Another massacre ensued when Jerusalem was conquered by the Crusaders from the Muslims in 1099.

The Treaty of Umar allowed the Christians of Jerusalem religious freedom, as is dictated in the Quran and the sayings of Muhammad ﷺ. This was one of the first and most significant guarantees of religious freedom in history. While there is a clause in the treaty regarding the banning of Jews from Jerusalem, its authenticity is debated.

Nonetheless, history notes that before the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem, the Jews were not allowed to live inside the city. Although Jews were eventually allowed to come to Jerusalem for worship, the Christian ruler had requested that the Jews were not to be allowed to live in Jerusalem. It is said that under the surrender terms, Caliph Umar accepted that request.

Later, Caliph Umar however, reversed the four hundred year Christian ban on Jews, allowed them to return to Jerusalem and granted Christians free use of their holy sites .Thus he turned Jerusalem into a city where Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived in tolerance, peace and harmony.

The significance of such a progressive and equitable surrender treaty, which protected minority rights, cannot be emphasized enough. The treaty became the standard for Muslim-Christian relations throughout the former Byzantine Empire, with rights of conquered people being protected in all situations, and forced conversions never being a sanctioned act. The Muslim rulers following Caliph Umar understood the nobility of Jerusalem in the hearts of Jews and Christians and thus the three religions started to practice their beliefs freely in Jerusalem.

In course of time, many scholars belonging to the three religions came and settled in Jerusalem. For Muslims, Jerusalem, especially the Al-Aqsa mosque, became a large hub of learning. It also became common for Muslims to start mentioning in their wills the desire to be buried in Jerusalem. This is one of the reasons why there are thousands of Muslim graves in Jerusalem. The Muslim rulers later also built many schools, religious centers and hospitals in Jerusalem. Large areas of land was purchased and dedicated to religious activities.

The Muslim conquest of Jerusalem under the caliph Umar in 637 was clearly an important moment in the city’s history. For the next 462 years, it would be ruled by Muslims, with religious freedom for minorities protected according to the Treaty of Umar. Even today, as turbulence continues over the future status of the city, many Muslims, Christians, and Jews insist that the Treaty maintains legal standing and look to it to help solve Jerusalem’s current problems.