It was the most significant and the fiercest battle during the lifetime of Allah’s Messenger (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), as it was a start to the great conquests of the land of the Christians. It took place in Jumada Al-Ula, 8 A.H./September 629 C.E. Mu’tah is a village on the borders of Greater Syria, it is a short distance from Baitul-Maqdis. The Prophet had sent Al-Harith bin `Umair Al-Azdi (May Allah be Pleased with him) on a mission to carry a letter to the ruler of Busra. On his way, he was intercepted by Shurahbil bin `Amr Al-Ghassani, the governor of Al-Balqa’ and a close ally to Caesar, the Byzantine Emperor. Al-Harith was tied and beheaded by Al-Ghassani.
The killing of envoys was regarded as severe crime, and amounted to a declaration of war. The Prophet was shocked at hearing the news and ordered that an army comprising of three thousand men be mobilized and dispatched to the north to discipline the transgressors. It was the largest Muslim army ever mobilized up to that time on this scale, except in the course of the battle against the Confederates.
Zaid bin Harithah (May Allah be Pleased with him) was appointed as the leader of the army. Ja`far bin Abi Talib (May Allah be Pleased with him) was to replace him if the former was killed, and `Abdullah bin Rawahah would succeed Ja`far in case the latter also died. A white banner was raised and handed over to Zaid (May Allah be Pleased with him).
The Prophet recommended that when they reach the scene of Al-Harith’s murder they invite the people to Islam. If they respond positively to the invitation then no fighting should take place, otherwise not alternative would be left except to fight them.
He ordered them:
``Fight the disbelievers in the Name of Allah, neither plunder nor conceal the booty; do not kill any women or children, and do not kill an ageing man or a hermit; additionally, neither trees should be cut down nor homes demolished.’’
The Army Prepares and `Abdullah Cries
At the conclusion of the military preparations, the people of Madinah gathered and bade the army farewell. `Abdullah bin Rawahah (May Allah be Pleased with him) began to weep at that moment. When questioned as to why he was weeping, he swore that it was not love for this world or under a motive of passion with the glamour of life but rather the Words of Allah speaking of the Fire that he heard the Prophet reciting:
``There is not one of you but will pass over it (Hell); this is with your Lord, a Decree which must be accomplished.’’ [19:71]
The Prophet and the people then accompanied the army until they reached the valley of Thaniyah where they stopped and he supplicated for them.
The Army Marches forth and Holds a Council at Ma’an
The army marched northward to Ma`an, a town bordering Greater Syria. News of the Muslim army had reached Heraclius who had mobilized a hundred thousand troops together with another hundred thousand men from Lakhm, Judham, Balqain, Bahra’ and Bali, all who were Arab tribes allied to the Byzantines. The Muslims, on their part had never thought of encountering such a huge army. They were at a loss about what course to follow, and spent two nights debating these unfavorable conditions. Some suggested that they should write a letter to the Prophet seeking his advice. `Abdullah bin Rawahah(May Allah be Pleased with him) was opposed to their unwillingness [to confront the enemy] and so he addressed the Muslims saying: “I swear by Allah that the very object which you are trying to avoid is the one you have set out seeking, martyrdom. In our fight we do not count on number of soldiers or equipment, but rather on the faith that Allah has honored us with. Hasten to win either of the two, victory or martyrdom.”
The Army Heads for the Enemy
In the light of these words, they moved to engage with the enemy in Masharif, a town of Al-Balqa’, but then changed direction towards Mu’tah where they encamped. The right flank was led by Qutbah bin Qatadah Al`Udhari(May Allah be Pleased with him), and the left by `Ubadah bin Malik Al-Ansari(May Allah be Pleased with him). Bitter fighting began between the two parties: three thousand Muslims soldiers against an enemy fifty-fold as large.
Zaid bin Harithah (May Allah be Pleased with him), the closest to the Messenger’s heart assumed leadership and began to fight with full strength and in unmatched bravery until he fell, fatally stabbed. Ja`far bin Abi Talib (May Allah be Pleased with him) then took the leadership and did a miraculous job. In the thick of the battle, he dismounted, killed his horse and resumed fighting until his right hand was severed.
He seized the banner with his left hand until this too was severed. He then clasped the banner with both arms until a Byzantine soldier struck and cut him into two parts. After his death he was called “the flying Ja`far’’ or “Ja`far with two wings’’ because Allah rewarded him two wings to fly wherever he desired in the eternal Garden. Al-Bukhari reported that fifty wounds were on his body, and not one of them was on his back.
`Abdullah bin Rawahah (May Allah be Pleased with him) then proceeded to take the banner and fought bravely on his horse while reciting enthusiastic Verses until he too was killed. Thereupon a man, from Bani `Ajlan, named Thabit bin Al-Arqam (May Allah be Pleased with him), took the banner and called upon the Muslims to choose a leader. The honor was unanimously granted to Khalid bin Al-Walid (May Allah be Pleased with him), a skilled and brave fighter who was an outstanding strategist. It is reported by AlBukhari that he used and broke nine swords that day while relentlessly and courageously fighting the enemies of Islam. Having realized the grave situation that the Muslims were in, he began to follow a different course of action, which would reveal the great strategy-maker that Khalid was rightly called.
He reshuffled the right and left flanks of the Muslim army and made the rear division come to the front so as to cast fear into the hearts of the Byzantine, who misleading thought that fresh forces had arrived. The Muslims engaged with the enemy in random clashes while gradually and judiciously retreating in a fully organized and well-planned manner.
The Byzantines, seeing this new course of events, believed that they were being entrapped and drawn into the heart of the desert, causing them to stop their pursuit. The Muslims were able to manage an orderly retreat back to Madinah with minimal losses.
The Muslims suffered twelve martyrs, whereas the number of casualties of the Byzantines is unknown, although the details of the battle point clearly to a large number. Even though the battle would not satisfy the objectives of the Muslims, namely avenging the murder of al-Harith (May Allah be Pleased with him), it resulted in far-ranging consequences and attached to the Muslims a great reputation in the battlefield. The Byzantine Empire, at that time, was a power to be reckoned with, and merely thinking of going against it was considered suicide; let alone a three-thousand-soldier army going into battle against two hundred thousand soldiers who were far better equipped and lavishly furnished with all the luxurious and conveniences of an army.
The battle was a true miracle, which proved that the Muslims were something exceptional. Additionally, it offered evidence of Allah’s support for them, and that their Prophet was really a Messenger from Allah. In the light of these new strategic changes, the archenemies among the desert Bedouins began to reconcile themselves toward the true rising faith, and several disobedient tribes like Banu Sulaim, Ashja’, Ghatafan, Dhubyan, and Fazarah, as well as other, came to accept Islam out of their own free will.
The Battle of Mu’tah was the forerunner for the bloody encounter that would subsequently take place with the Byzantines. It pointed markedly to a new era of the Islamic conquest of the Byzantine Empire and other remote countries, which would occur at a later stage.
Dhatus-Salasil is an area situated at a ten days walking distance north of Madinah. It is said that during this expedition the Muslims encamped in a place with a well Salsal, hence the name Dhatus-Salasil. In view of the alliance between the Arabian tribes on the borders of Syria and the Byzantines, the Prophet deemed it of the utmost urgency to carry out a wisely-planned design that would bring about a state of relationship with those Bedouins, and would at the same time separate them from the Byzantines. For the implementation of this plan, he chose `Amr bin Al-`As
(May Allah be Pleased with him), whose paternal grandmother came from Bali, a tribe that dwelled in that area. This motive in mind, combined with provocative military movements by Bani Quda’ah, brought about this preventive strike which started in Jumada Ath-Thaniyah, 8 A.H.
`Amr bin Al-`As was awarded a white flag with a black banner to go with it. He set out at the head of three hundred Emigrants and Helpers, assisted by a cavalry of thirty men. He was told to seek help from the tribes of Bali, `Udhrah, and Balqain. He marched at night and camped in a concealed location during the day.
On approaching the enemy lines and realizing the large build up of men, he sent for more forces from Madinah, which was headed by Abu `Ubaidah bin Al-Jarrah and comprised of two hundred soldiers, included in them was Abu Bakr and `Umar bin Al-Khattab (May Allah be Pleased with all of them).
All of them were given strict orders to cooperate, work in harmony, and never leave any area of disagreement.
At noon, Abu `Ubaidah (May Allah be Pleased with him) wanted to lead the Muslims in prayer, but `Amr (May Allah be Pleased with him) objected on grounds that the former had only come to assist him, and that leadership in prayer was given to him [as he was the overall leader of the army].
The Muslim army reached the location of Quda’ah and penetrated deep in their land, destroying the enemy and causing others to flee in different directions.
At the conclusion of the military operations, a courier was dispatched to Allah’s Messenger to brief him on the developments of events and the ultimate victory achieved.
The Khadrah Mission
Inthe month of Sha’ban, 8 A.H., news reached the Prophet that Bani Ghatafan, who was still outside the domain of Islam, was gathering troops. He urgently summoned Abu Qatadah(May Allah be Pleased with him) and sent him at the head of fifteen men to discipline them.
It took fifteen days to teach them an unforgettable lesson. Some were killed, others were captured, and all their property was seized.