34.9 Preparations Against Rome
The Roman and Persian empires were the two mighty neighbors of the Arabs. The Arab kingdoms on the borders of Roman territory paid homage to the Romans; the Arabs kingdoms on the border of the Persian territory paid homage to the Persian Empire. The Persian Empire, as mentioned earlier, was rent by internal strife, but the Roman Empire was a formidable enemy and a real danger to Arab freedom. Arab rulers in the Roman dominions were Roman vassals.
As soon a Mohamed returned from the Pilgrimage of Farewell, he began to prepare a great army to meet the Romans. The army was to go to the northern border and contained many of the great men of Islam, among them Mohamed's two ministers, Umar ibn al-Khattab and Abu Bakr. But the honorary position of leadership was given to a very young man, Usama, son of Zayd ibn Haritha, Mohamed's client, who had been killed fighting the Romans at the Battle of Muta. Zayd was a brave leader of men and it was an Arab custom that the son should follow in the footsteps of the father and should seek revenge for his death. But there were two obstacles in this case: the first was that Usama was very young, barely twenty, and the second that his father had been only a client, while there were many of noble birth and much experience in this army.
As always Mohamed made new customs. If Zayd was brave enough to lead the army against the Romans, then his son should have the honor of leading this army, even if it contained men of experience and nobility. Zayd had grown up in Mohamed's house and when he was killed fighting at Muta, Mohamed had grieved deeply for him. Usama, Zayd's son, had often sat on Mohamed's knee. Now when he had barely passed the threshold of boyhood, he was given this command of great moment. It was to honor the name of his father and to wipe out from the Arab mind once and for all the idea of the superiority of masters over clients.
He commanded Usama to take the enemy by surprise at early dawn. Then when Allah granted him victory, he was to return immediately and not to penetrate too deeply into Roman territory or remain too long in it.