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Posted on: 17 Mar 2013 Tagged by:

Battle of Mu'tah

The Battle of Mu'tah (معركة مؤتة , غزوة مؤتة) was fought in 629 (5 Jumada al-awwal 8 AH), near the village of Mu'tah, east of the Jordan River and Karak in Karak Governorate, against the forces of the of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire.

 

The Treaty of Hudaybiyah initiated a truce between the Muslim forces in Medina and the Qurayshite forces in control of Mecca. Badhan, the Sassanid governor of Yemen, had converted to Islam and many of the southern Arabian tribes also joined the rising power in Medina. Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم was therefore free to focus on the Arab tribes in the Bilad al-Sham to the North.

 

Historians say that the immediate impetus for a military march north was the mistreatment of emissaries. Prophet Muhammad  صلى الله عليه وسلم is said to have sent emissaries to the nomadic Banu Sulaym and Dhat al Talh tribes of the north (tribes under the protection of the Byzantines). The emissaries were killed. The expedition sent for revenge was the largest Muslim army raised yet against a non Meccan confederate force and would be the first to confront the Byzantines. 

 

Mobilization of the armies

 

According to later Muslim historians, Prophet Muhammad  صلى الله عليه وسلم  dispatched 3,000 of his troops to the area in Jumada al-awwal of the year 8 A.H., i.e., A.D. 629, for a quick expedition to attack and punish the tribes. The army was led by Zayd ibn Haritha; the second-in-command was Jafar ibn Abi Talib and the third-in-command was Abdullah ibn Rawahah.

 

The leader of the Ghassanids is said to have received word of the expedition and prepared his forces; he also sent to the Byzantines for aid. Muslim historians report that the Byzantine emperor Heraclius gathered an army and hurried to the aid of his Arab allies. Other sources say that the leader was the emperor's brother, Theodorus.

 

The combined force of Roman soldiers and Arab allies is usually reported to be approximately 200,000. When the Muslim troops arrived at the area to the east of Jordan and learnt of the size of the Byzantine army, they wanted to wait and send for reinforcements from Medina. Abdullah ibn Rawahah reminded them about their desire for martyrdom and questioned the move to wait when what they desire was awaiting them, so they continued marching towards the waiting army.

 

The Battle

 

The Muslims engaged the Byzantines at their camp by the village of Musharif and then withdrew towards Mu'tah. It was here that the two armies fought. Some Muslim sources report that the battle was fought in a valley between two heights, which negated the Byzantines their numerical superiority. During the battle, all three Muslim leaders fell one after the other as they took command of the force: first, Zayd ibn Haritha, then Jafar ibn Abi Talib, then Abdullah ibn Rawahah. Al-Bukhari reported that there were fifty stab wounds in Jafar's body, none of them in the back. After the death of the latter, some of the Muslim soldiers began to rout. Thabit ibn Al-Arqam, seeing the desperate state of the Muslim forces, took up the banner and rallied his comrades, and managed to save the army from complete destruction. After the battle the troops asked Thabit ibn Al-Arqam to assume command; however, he declined and asked Khalid ibn al-Walid to take the lead.

 

Khalid ibn Al-Walid reported that the fighting was so intense that he used nine swords which broke in the battle. Khalid, seeing that the situation was hopeless, prepared to withdraw. He continued to engage the Byzantines in skirmishes, but avoided pitched battle. One night he completely changed his troop positions and brought forth a rearguard that he had equipped with new banners; all this was intended to give the impression that reinforcements had arrived from Medina. He also ordered his cavalry to retreat behind a hill during the night, hiding their movements, and then to return during daytime when the battle resumed, raising as much dust as they could. This also was intended to create the impression that further reinforcements were arriving. The Byzantines believed in the fictitious reinforcements and withdrew, thus allowing the Muslim force to safely retreat to Medina. Military commentators on the battle have often praised the skirmishing tactics of Khalid ibn al-Walid.

 

Aftermath

 

It is reported that when the Muslim force arrived at Medina, they were berated for apparently withdrawing and accused of fleeing. Salamah ibn Hisham is reported to have prayed at home rather than going to the mosque to avoid having to explain himself. Prophet Muhammad  صلى الله عليه وسلم ordered them to stop, saying that they would return to fight the Byzantines again and bestowed upon Khalid the title of 'Saifullah' meaning 'The Sword of Allah'.

 

Islamic primary sources

 

The event is referenced in many Sunni Hadith collections. The Sahih al-Bukhari hadith collection mentions that 9 swords of Khalid ibn Walid were broken: Narrated Khalid bin Al-Walid: On the day of Mu'tah, nine swords were broken in my hand and only a Yemenite sword of mine remained in my hand.Sahih al-Bukhari,5:59:565

 

It also mentions that Jafar should take over as commander if Zaid ibn Haritha was killed: 'Abdullah bin 'Umar said, "Allah's Apostle appointed Zaid bin Haritha as the commander of the army during the Ghazwa of Mu'tah and said, "If Zaid is martyred, Ja'far should take over his position, and if Ja'far is martyred, 'Abdullah bin Rawaha should take over his position.' " 'Abdulla-h bin 'Umar further said, "I was present amongst them in that battle and we searched for Ja'far bin Abi Talib and found his body amongst the bodies of the martyred ones, and found over ninety wounds over his body, caused by stabs or shots (of arrows). Sahih al-Bukhari, 5:59:565

 

The event is also referenced in the Abu Dawud hadith collection as follows: My foster-father said to me - he was one of Banu Murrah ibn Awf, and he was present in that battle, the battle of Mu'tah: By Allah, as if I am seeing Ja'far who jumped from his reddish horse and hamstrung it; he then fought with the people until he was killed.Sunan Abu Dawood, 14:2567

 

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