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Battle of Muta, and other Events in the first Eight Months of A.H. VIII A.D. 629.

Ętat 61.

Unfortunate expedition against the Bani Suleim Dzul Hijj, A.H. VII. April, A.D. 629

DURING the summer, several military excursions were undertaken. Some of these ended disastrously. About a month after the return of Mahomet from pilgrimage, he despatched a party of fifty men to the Bani Suleim,1 with the view apparently of demanding their allegiance to the faith of Islam. But the tribe, suspicious of their designs, received the strangers with a cloud of arrows; The most of them were slain, and the leader with difficulty escaped to Medina. The Bani Suleim must have seen cause shortly after to change their views, for we find them amongst the tribes which in the following year sent embassies of submission to the Prophet.1

1 A branch of the Bani Kasafa, and sister tribe to the Hawzin. See Introd. vol.i. p. ccxxiv.; and vol. ii. p.256. Some months farther on in the summer, a small expedition was sent against the B. Hawazin at Al Syya beyond Al Madan, and near Rakuba. Their object, the mere plunder of camels and flocks, was accomplished. I have not thought it important enough to be entered in the text K. Wackidi, 125.

2 K. Wackidi, 124 ½; and the same authority for the following expedition.

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A marauding party sent against the Bani Leith. Safar, A.H. VIII. June, A.D. 629.

Two or three months later, an expedition was planned against a petty branch of the Bani Leith, near Cudeid, on the road to Mecca, the object of which is not stated. The encampment of the tribe was surprised, and their camels plundered. But shortly after, the marauders were pursued, and were only saved by a rapid flight back to Medina.1

The Bani Murra chastised.

In the preceding winter, a small party sent by Mahomet towards Fadak, had been cut to pieces by the Bani Murra.2 A well-appointed detachment of two hundred men was now despatched to inflict chastisement upon them: "If the Lord deliver them into thy hands;" said Mahomet to the leader, "let not a soul of them escape. The commission was executed with complete success. All who fell within reach of the avenging force were slain, and the camels of the tribe were carried off in triumph to Medina.

Mishap at Dzat Atlah; 1st Rabi, A.H. VIII. July, A.D. 629.

Soon after this, a party of fifteen men was sent to Dzat Atlah, a place on the borders of Syria. There they found a great assemblage of people, who were called upon to embrace Islam A shower of arrows was the decisive answer. The Mussulmans fought desperately; one man alone

1 K. Wackidi 124 ½, and Hishami p.445. The place is given both a. Kadid and Cudeid. It is pretended that a supernatural flood intervened between the Moslems and their pursuers, and frustrated the intentions of the latter.

2 The same expedition of Bashir mentioned in the note at the beginning of the last chapter, p.83.

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survived to tell the tale. Mahomet was much afflicted by this calamity, and planned an expedition to revenge the death of his followers. But tidings reached him that the place had been deserted, and he relinquished the idea for the moment.1

Perhaps the cause of the attack on Muta

A reverse is generally described by tradition with enigmatical brevity; and, from the few details, it is difficult to determine what was the object for which this little band was sent forth. It may have been on embassy to certain tribes; or a secret mission to spy out the cause of the rumoured gathering and uneasiness on the Syrian frontier. However this may be, I cannot but connect the above disaster with the great inroad' directed by Mahomet about two months afterwards upon the border-districts of Syria.

A large army marches from Medina upon Muta. 1st Jumad, A.H. VIII. Sept. A.D. 629.

The cause ordinarily assigned for this invasion of the Roman territory was the murder by Sharahbil, chief of Maab or Muta, of a messenger despatched by Mahomet to the Ghassanide Prince at Bostra.2 It

1 The spot is said to have been beyond Wadi al Cora, and to hare been a part of Syria; . K. Wackidi; 125.

2 The chief of Muta is called Shurahbil, son of Amr: see vol. i. p. clxxxix.; and M. C. de Perceval vol. ii. p.253. No details of the murder are anywhere given; and it is not mentioned at all by Hishami. It is remarkable that this messenger is called, by the Secretary, Ibn Omeir, and that the leader of the expedition just recounted (i.e. to Dzat Atlah) has the same patronymic. The personal name, however, and the tribe, are given differently. He is said to have been the only ambassador of Mahomet that was put to death. I am much inclined to identify

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was, tradition tells us, immediately resolved to attack and punish the offending chief. A general assembly of the fighting men was called, and a camp of three thousand soldiers formed at Jorf. A white banner was prepared, and the Prophet, placing it in the hands of Zeid ibn Haritha as commander, bade him march to the spot where his messenger had been slain, summon the inhabitants to embrace Islam, and, should they refuse, in the name of the Lord to fight against them. If Zeid were cut down, then Jafar was to command; if Jafar, then Abdallah ibn Rawaha;1 and if he too were disabled, then the army should choose their own commander. Mahomet accompanied them as far as the Mount of Farewell;2 and as they passed onwards, blessed them

the expedition to Dzat Atlah with the embassy, and to regard its disastrous issue as the cause of the invasion of Muta.

1 Abdallah was a poet, and Mahomet desired him to stir up the spirit of the army destined for Muta by reciting martial verses. He objected, saying that he had left off composing poetry; but at last obeyed. The verses are precisely the same as those ascribed to Mahomet himself at the building of the Mosque, at the battle of the Ditch, and at Kheibar.

It is related that one day, as Abdallah was passing the Mosque, Mahomet called him, and bidding him sit down, asked how he contrived to compose poetry at will, expressing surprise at the faculty. Abdallah replied, "I think upon the subject for a while; then I recite" Mahomet said, "Recite to me now something regarding the Unbelievers." He had nothing ready: but after thinking for a little, he repeated a poem to the purpose. Mahomet was pleased, and smiling, blessed him, and said, "The Lord strengthen thee." K. Wackidi p.283.

2 Thaniat al Wiaa; a rising ground a little way out of Medina,

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thus: "The Lord shield you from every evil, and briug you back in peace, laden with spoil!"

Preparations made by the Syrian tribes for its repulse

Tidings of the approach of this formidable army reached Sharahbil, who summoned to his defence all the tribes of the vicinity. The hostile incursions which Mahomet had from time to time directed against the Syrian border, the repeated attack on Duma, the conquest of Kheibar, and his generally aggressive attitude towards the north, had no doubt led to precautionary measures of alliance among the people of the frontier. Upon the alarm of invasion, they quickly rallied round Sharahbil, a large and (compared with the troops of Medina) a well-appointed army.1

Council of war held by the Maan

On reading Maan, Zeid first received the startling intelligence of these preparations. The enemy, he heard, was encamped at Maab, in the territory of Belcaa; and his apprehension was increased by the rumour that the

on the Syrian road. Merchants proceeding in caravans to Syria probably took leave of their families here; whence the name.

1 The traditions pretend that he had collected one hundred thousand men. M.C. de Perceval quotes Theophanes to show that this great army was probably brought together by Theodorus, brother of Heraclius, which might account for the rumour reaching the Moslem camp that the Emperor himself was in the field with two hundred thousand men. Not having Theophanes by me, I must be content with this reference at second hand.

The Syrian army was composed partly of Romans, partly of the semi-Christian tribes of the desert, -- the Bard Bahra, Bali, Wail, Bakr, Lakhm, and Judzam. See Introd. ch. iii. vol. i. p. clxvi. The attack of Zeid upon the Bani Judzam two years before, will be in the reader's recollection, see above, p.10.

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Emperor was himself at their head. He halted, and for two whole days the Moslem chiefs discussed the difficulties of their position. Many advised that a letter should be sent to Mahomet. He had not contemplated, they said, an encounter with the Imperial forces: they were sent only to avenge the treachery of a petty chief; they ought not to risk an encounter with an enemy so vastly their superior: at least, the Prophet should be apprised of the new aspect of affairs, and solicited for fresh instructions. Abdaflah, on the contrary, urged an immediate advance: - "What have we marched for thus far," he cried out indignantly, "but for this? Is it our numbers, or the help of the Lord, in which we trust? Victory or martyrdom, - one - or the other, - is surely ours! Then forward!" Overcome by this fervid appeal, they all responded: - "By the Lord! The son of Rowaha speaketh the truth. Let us hasten onwards!" So the camp advanced.

Battle of Muta

On entering the confines of Belcaa,. they suddenly found themselves confronted by the enemy; alarmed at the glittering array, they fell back, notwithstanding the enthusiastic aspirations which had just pervaded their ranks, on the village of Muta.1 There,

1 They met the Romans first at a village in Belcaa, called Masharif, said to be a little way south of Kerak, and hair a day's march south of Moab. The backward movement is related by Hishami, but not by the Secretary, who, as usual in the narrative of reverses, is brief and unsatisfactory. He simply says, that the Moslems were met at Muta by the force of the Idolaters, which,

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finding advantageous ground, they halted, and forming front, resolved to offer battle. The Roman phalanx, with its cloud of Arabs upon either flank, moved steadily down upon them. Zeid seizing the white flag, led his columns forward, and fought manfully at their head, till he was pierced by the spears of the enemy, and fell to the ground. Then Jafar leaped from his horse, and maiming it in token that he would either conquer or die,1 raised aloft the banner, and urged forward the attack. His body was soon covered with wounds, yet he fought on till a Roman soldier closed with him, and dealt him a fatal blow.2

for numbers, and arms and' equipments, and rich furniture, and vestments of silk and gold, far surpassed anything that had yet been met by any Moslem army.

1 Recorded as the first instance of a Moslem having hamstrung his horse on the field of battle.

2 Hishami (but not the Secretary) gives the popular story of his right hand having been first cut off, and of his then carrying the standard in his left: when that too was lost, he held the standard with the mutilated remnants of his arms, till he was slain. This is rather a favourite and suspicious description of bravery in Moslem battles, more likely perhaps to occur in the single and scattered combats of Arabian warfare than in the general encounter which took place here. The Secretary speaks of seventy-two wounds having been counted on the front of his body. But I doubt whether the body itself was even recovered. The burial of the Moslem dead is not mentioned. They were apparently left on the field of battle. The believers were too glad to seek for safety in flight.

The song with which Jafar led the attack is no doubt apocryphal, but it strongly illustrates the fanatical feeling now rapidly growing up: - "Paradise! How fair a resting-place. Cold is the water there, and sweet the shade! Rome! Rome! thine hour of tribulation

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Seeing Jafar fall, Abdallah seized the standard, but he, too, speedily met the same fate. Then, following the instructions of Mahomet, the chief men assembled in hasty council, and with one consent fixed on Khalid, who forthwith assumed the command. But the chance of victory had passed away. The ranks were already broken; and the Romans in full pursuit made great havoc amongst the fugitives.1

Khalid saves the broken force

It the broken only remained for Khalid to save his scattered and retreating columns from destruction, and even this taxed to the utmost his great skill and prowess. By a series of ingenious and rapid movements, he succeeded in deceiving or eluding the enemy, and drew off the shattered remains of his army from the field, with little further loss. He dared not linger in this dangerous vicinity, but marched back straightway to Medina. As he drew near to the city, the people came out to meet the returning army, and reproach- fully cast dust at them, crying out, - "Ah ye

draweth nigh. When I close with her, I will strike her down to the ground." Hishami, p. 350.

Jafar was displeased at Zeid having been appointed by Mahomet to the command before himself. K. Wackidi, 187 ½..

1 So, distinctly, in the Secretary of Wackidi, p.125 ½. Some accounts (as the one which I will presently quote in a note) pretend that Khalid rallied the army; and either turned the day against the Romans, or made it a drawn battle. But, besides that the brevity of all the accounts is proof enough of a reverse, the reception of the army on its return to Medina admits of only one conclusion, viz. a complete, ignominious, and unretrieved, discomfiture.

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aways! Do ye indeed flee before the enemy when fighting for the Lord?" But Mahomet, who also had ridden out, carrying on the mule in front of him the little son of Jafar, put a stop to these reproaches, and reassured the downcast troops by saying,- "Nay, they are not runaways; but they are men who will yet again return unto the battle, if the Lord will."

Mahomet's grief at the Jafar and Zeid

The loss of his cousin Jafar the brother of Ali, of Zeid, the faithful and beloved friend of five - and - thirty years,1 affected Mahomet deeply. On the first intelligence of the reverse, and of the death of these dear friends, which he received early through a confidential messenger, he proceeded to the house of Jafar. His widow, Asma, tells us that she had just bathed and dressed her little ones when the Prophet entered, and calling for them, embraced the children tenderly, and burst into a flood of tears. Asma guessed the truth, and wailed loudly. A crowd of women soon gathering around her, Mahomet left the place, and returning to his own family, desired them to send provisions to Jafar's house. "No food," he said, "will be prepared there this day; for they are sunk in grief at the loss of their master." He then went to the house of Zeid; and Zeid's little daughter rushed into his arms, crying bitterly. At this sight, Mahomet was overcome by tender emotion, and he

1 For the age of Zeid, see vol.ii. pp.47-50: Nothing is said about his wife, Mahomet's nurse, Omm Ayman, who must now have been very old.

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wept until he sobbed aloud. A bystander, thinking to check his grief, said to him. "Why is this, O Prophet? " - " This," he replied," is the fond yearning in the heart of friend for friend."1

Martyrdom of Farwa

In connection with the battle of Muta, I may mention here the story of Farwa, an Arab of the

1 K. Wackidi,125 ½, 187 ½, 282 ½. Hishami, 350. The popular tradition is that Mahomet had supernatural information of tine reverse instantly communicated to him; that he explained to those round about him the incidents of the battle, as they were occurring at the moment; and that, on going to Jafar's widow, he told her that her husband had been killed that day. At the moment when Jafar seized the falling standard, Mahomet called aloud to his companions, announcing to them the fact, and saying : "Verily, just now the war is waxing hot!" These fictions hare probably grown out of the private nature and speedy arrival of the first message Bent by Khalid to the Prophet.

The following tradition, though very loose on other points, is probably accurate on this. Abu Aamir relates that Mahomet sent him to Syria: on his way back, he passed the battle-field, and watched the fate of the Moslems. He saw their lenders fall, and the army pursued stud scattered. But Khalid rallied them, and they pursued and slew the Romans: - "Then I went to Mahomet and gave him tidings of the event, and it grieved him sore, so that after the mid-day prayer, instead or conversing (as was his wont) with the people, he returned straightway to his house; and so he did at the other prayers that day.

But next morning, he entered smiling into the Mosque, and when the people accosted him he said - "That which ye saw in me yesterday was because of sorrow for the slaughter of my companions, until I saw them in Paradise, seated as brethren, one opposite to the other, upon couches. And in some I perceived marks, as it were wounds of the sword. And I saw Jafar, an angel with two wings, covered with blood, - his limbs stained therewith." Thence- forward Jafar is known ns "the winged Martyr." K.Wackidi 126. 126.

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Bani Judzam, and Governor of Amman, who is represented by tradition (though upon imperfect evidence) as one of the early martyrs. He sent a despatch announcing his conversion to Mahomet, with several presents, --- a white mule, a horse, an ass, and raiment wrought with gold. The presents were graciously acknowledged in a letter from the Prophet, which contained directions for the spiritual guidance of the new convert. The Roman government heard of his defection, and sought to bribe the renegade, by offers of promotion, to return to the Christian faith. He refused, and was put to death.1

1 K. Wackidi, 50 ½, 55, 66 ½, Hishami, 429. I give the tradition in the shape in which I find it, without being able to say to what extent it is founded in fact. The reply of Farwa to the Emperor is in the stereotyped traditional style:---" I will not quit the faith of Mahomet. Thou thyself knowest that Jesus prophesied before of him. But as for thee, the fear of losing thy kingdom deterreth thee from confessing the new faith." He was crucified.

He may have been put to death as a rebel or a traitor. I have no means of fixing the date of the event. M.C. de Perceval is of opinion that it took place after the battle of Muta, as a punishment for Farwa's defection.

Theophanes mentions about this period the secession of the Arabs employed in guarding the Syrian frontier, as occasioned by the insolent refusal of a Roman officer to pay them their perquisites. On this they are said to have organized an attack on Ghaza from Sinai. Such a movement may have occurred in connection with the numerous accessions to Mahomet's cause about this time, and the expedition to Tabuk next year. M. C. de Perceval, iii. 216; Theophanes, 278-9.

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Amru, reinforced by Abu Obeida; restores the prestige of Mahomet on the Syrian borders. 2nd Jumad, A.H. VIII. October, A.D. 629.

The repulse of his army from Muta affected dangerously the prestige of Mahomet among the tribes of the Syrian frontier. There were rumours that the Bani Codhaa 1 had assembled in great force, and were even threatening a descent upon Medina. Amru, the new convert, was therefore placed at the head of three hundred men, including thirty horse, with instructions to subjugate the hostile tribes in that quarter, and incite those whom he found friendly to harass the Syrian border.2 The name and ability of Amru justified the selection; being, moreover, connected with the Bani Bali, a powerful community in the vicinity of the field of operations, he was possessed of personal influence which would aid in effecting the objects of the campaign.3 In the event of serious opposition, he was to call upon those Arabs who had already tendered their submission, to come to his aid.4 After a march of ten days he encamped at a spring called Salasil, near the Syrian confines.5 There he found that the enemy were assembled in vast numbers, and that he

1 The Bani Odzra, Buli, Bahra, &C See Table, vol. i. p. cxlix.

2 The former object is mentioned by the Secretary, p.126; the latter by Hishami, p.448. Both objects were probably intended by Mahomet.

3 His father's mother was of the Bani Bali. Hishami, p.443.

4 They are named as the Bani Bali, B. Odzra, and tribes of Balcaa.

1 "It is variously called a spring or the B. Odzra, or of the Bani Judzam.

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could look for but little aid from the local tribes. he halted and despatched a messenger for reinforcements. Mahomet at once complied, and sent two hundred men (among whom were Abu Bakr and Omar) under command of Abu Obeida ibn al Jarrah. On joining Amru, Abu Obeida wished to assume the leadership of the whole force, or at the least to retain the chief authority over his own detachment; but Amru, giving promise of that decision and firmness which characterized him in after days, insisted on retaining the sole command. Abu Obeida, a man of mild and pliant temper, succumbed. "If thou refusest to acknowledge my authority," he said, "I have no resource but to obey thee; for the Prophet strictly charged me to suffer no altercation, nor any division of command." Amru replied imperiously: "I am the chief over thee. Thou hast only brought a reinforcement to my army." "Be it so," said Abu Obeida. Amru then assumed command of the united troops, and led their prayers. Thus early were the spiritual functions in Islam indissolubly blended with the political and military.

Strengthened by this addition to his forces, Amru went forward. He passed through the territories of the Bani Odzra and Bali, receiving their allegiance: when he reached their farther limits, the enemy which had assembled to oppose him fled in alarm. Thus Amru had the satisfaction of despatching a messenger to announce to Mahomet the complete success of his first campaign, and the re-establishment

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of the Prophet's influence on the frontier of Syria. He then returned to Medina.

Expedition of the Fish. Ranjab, A.H. VIII. November, A.D. 629.

In the month following, to compensate Abu Obeida for his disappointment in giving tip the command to Amru, Mahomet sent him at the head of three hundred men to chastise a refractory branch of the Bani Joliena on the sea-coast. There was no fighting in this expedition, but it has become famous from the occurrence of a curious incident. Provisions failed, aud the troops were already well nigh famished, when to their joy a prodigious fish was cast opportunely on the shore, and sufficed amply to relieve their hunger.1

Raid upon the B. Khudhra Shaban, VIII. Decr. 629.

There was one other petty expedition during the winter against a tribe of the Ghatafan, in Najd, which yielded large plunder in camels, flocks, and prisoners.2

Various tribes tender their submission.

Besides the Bedouin tribes in the direction of Syria gained over by the success of Amru, several others now gave in their adhesion to Mahomet. Among these were the Bani Abs, Murra, and Dzobian; and the Bani Fezara with their chief Uyeina, who had

1 The Secretary (p. 120), relates the story as in the text; but Hishami deals in extravagancies. The whole army, which had been reduced to a famishing state, fed for twenty days upon it, and from being lean and famished became strong and fat. One of its bones, being set up as an arch, a camel with its rider passed under without touching it, &C p. 450.

1 K.Wackidi, 126 ½. The object is not slated. A fair damsel fell to the lot of the leader, Abu Cotada. He presented her to Mahomet, who again gave her to one of his followers.

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so long caused anxiety and alarm at Medina. The Bani Suleim,1 a powerful tribe in the Hejaz, which, like the Fezara, had taken part in the siege of Medina, also joined the cause of Islam about this time; they engaged to bring, when called upon, one thousand men into the field. Most of the tribes in the vicinity of Medina, as the Bani Aslam and Ghifar, the Mozeina, Ashja, and Joheina, had already recognized the supremacy of Mahomet.2 The courteous treatment which the deputations of these various clans experienced from the Prophet, his ready attention to their grievances, the wisdom with which he composed their disputes, and the politic assignments of territory by which he rewarded an early declaration

1 Vide supra, p.90, and ref. quoted there.

1 The Bani Ashja, who had joined in the siege of Medina, gave in their adhesion shortly after the massacre of the Coreitza; they told Mahomet that they were so pressed by his warring against them, that they could stand out no longer. K. Wackidi, p.60. In the Secretary's chapter of "Deputations from the Tribes," &C the Bani Ashar from Jedda, the B. Khushain, and the B. Dous, came to Mahomet at Kheibar, the latter with sixty or seventy followers, to all of whom were assigned shares in the booty. Ibid. 67, 68, 121. The Bani Sad ibn Bakr came over, A.H. V.; p. 58 ½. The B. Thalaba, A.H. VIII. Ibid. The B. Abd al Keis (partly at least Christian) from Bahrein, in the same year. Ibid. 61 ½. The B. Judzam also in that year. The chief of the latter tribe carried back to them a letter from Mahomet, of this tenor: "Whoever accepteth the call to Islam, he is amongst the confederates of the Lord: whoever refuseth the same, a truce of two months is allowed him for consideration." All the tribes of the vicinity accepted the invitation. Ibid. 68 ½.

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in favour of Islam, made his name to be popular, and spread his fame as a great and generous Prince throughout the Peninsula. And the accession of so many tribes enabled him, whenever the occasion might require it, to call into the field a far more imposing force than he had ever before aspired to command.

The Life of Mahomet, Volume IV [Table of Contents]