29.1 The Battle of Muta
Mohamed sent an army to the borders of the Roman territories in Al-Sham to chastise the tribes there for killing the emissaries he had sent to call them to Islam. The army was three thousand strong, the banner of command being given to Zayd ibn Al-Haritha. If he fell, it was to go to Jafar ibn Abi Talib, and if he fell, it was to be given to Abdullah ibn Rawaha. Khaled went out with this army. He had just entered into Islam and wanted to prove his valor in the service of the religion that had convinced him of its truth.
Before they left, Mohamed did something he had not done with the armies he had sent out before. He seemed afraid for them and prayed for them, and ordered all the Muslims to pray that they would return safely to their homes, then he went out to bid them farewell and walked with them to the outskirts of the city. He charged them not to kill women, children, boys, or blind men, not to destroy a house or cut down a tree.
They had hoped to take the tribes who had killed their brethren by surprise, but when they arrived in Muta in Al-Sham, they found the tribes had heard of their approach and were prepared for them, having collected all the neighboring tribes. They had also alerted the agent of Hercules in the area and asked for his assistance and Hercules had sent some battalions to strengthen their own numerous forces.
When the three thousand Muslims learnt of what was awaiting them, some counseled that it would be better to inform the Prophet of the numbers of their enemy, then wait for his orders. Many approved and this counsel would have prevailed had not Abdullah ibn Rawaha, who besides being a passionate poet was also an indomitable warrior, spoken fiery words to them, saying that they were evading what they had come for, the honor of dying for Allah's sake.
"We do not fight by weapons and numbers, but by the great religion that Allah had bestowed upon us," he reasoned.
They were all moved by these words and decided to march forwards. So on marched the three thousand to face an army of, some say, and two hundred thousand in all.
On the borders of AI-Balqa, they met the Roman legions and the tribesmen in a village called Masharif where a fierce battle took place. Zayd ibn Al-Haritha charged forward with the banner, knowing very well that it meant death, and fought bravely until he was killed. Jafar ibn Abi Talib took the banner from his hand and led the battle until he fell. The enemy killed his horse and he fought on foot until they cut off his right arm, so he held the banner with the left. When they cut it off, he held it by the upper arms until he was killed. Now it was the turn of' Abdullah ibn Rawaha to lead the battle. He hesitated a moment and uttered this poem:
I swear, my heart, thou shalt charge in,
I swear I shall compel thee.
Then he charged in and continued to fight until he too was killed.
Who would take the banner after that, knowing full well that he would be cut to pieces? Khaled ibn Al-Walid accepted it. Khaled was a military genius of rare ability and he could see that the Muslims were beginning to lose control over their movements and were being driven right and left by the two great hosts. So he turned the army round and fought a rearguard action. It is said nine swords were broken in his hand that day. Fighting continued until it was dark and the Muslim and Roman armies separated for the night.
In the cool of the night, Khaled made his plans. Before dawn he changed the positions of his men. He placed the right wing in place of the left and the centre in place of the rear and vice versa. In the rear he ordered a long line of men to march, making such noise and din as to give the impression that a great army was on its way to reinforce the Muslims.
When morning came, the Romans saw faces they had not seen the day before (due to the change of position) and heard great noise from afar. They feared that a great army was coming as reinforcements from Medina. If three thousand had been able to stand against them and almost win, what would this great army do to them? They drew back and would not fight the Muslims anymore. Khaled was then able to withdraw and turn with the army towards Medina, saving it from odds far beyond its powers to tackle.
The Romans were relieved that the Muslims had left their territory, but the Arab tribes of these parts had watched with great admiration how the Muslims had fought. These were Arabs like them, yet they surpassed the feared Roman legions in courage and ability. What was it that gave them this tremendous power and endurance? Surely there must be something in this new religion that liberated the souls of men. One of their leaders, who was at the same time the head of a Roman detachment, entered into Islam and would not be deterred by the threats or temptations of Hercules. He was beheaded, but Islam began to be studied and loved by these northern tribes. Many from the tribes of Ghatafan, Salaman, Ashja, Abbasa, Zabyan and Kazan entered into Islam.