CAMPAIGN IN AL-'IRAK - NEED OF REINFORCEMENTS.
AL-MUTHANNA FINDS ABU BEKR ON HIS DEATHBED
FIRST HALF OF 13 A.H. / MARCH-AUGUST 634 A.D.
BEFORE he left for Syria, Khalid, seeing that with a diminished force the situation in Al-'Irak would be somewhat insecure, sent away the sick with the women and children to their homes in Arabia. On his departure, Al-Muthanna made the best disposition in his power to strengthen the line of defences towards the Persian Capital. Fresh dangers threatened. A new Prince had succeeded to the throne, who thought to expel the invaders by an army under Hormuz 10,000 strong. Al-Muthanna at once called in the outlying garrisons; but with every help, his force was in numbers much below the Persian. The King, confident of victory, wrote to Al-Muthanna insultingly, that he was about to drive him away by an army of fowl-men and swine-herds." Al-Muthanna answered: "Thou art either a braggart or a liar. But if this be true, then blessed be the Lord that hath reduced thee to such defenders!" Having despatched this reply, he advanced to meet Hormuz. Leaving Al-Hira, the little force crossed the Euphrates and encamped north of the shapeless mounds that mark the site of Babylon.
There, some fifty miles from the Capital, he chose the battle-ground; and, placing his two brothers in charge of either wing, himself at the head of the centre, awaited thus the attack of Hormuz. The Persian line was headed by an elephant, which threw the Arab ranks into confusion, and for a while paralysed their action. Al-Muthanna, followed by an adventurous band, surrounded the great creature and brought it to the ground. Deprived
of this help, the enemy gave way before the fierce onslaught of the Arabs, who pursued the fugitives to the very gates of Al-Medain. The praises of the "Hero of the Elephant" have been handed down in Arab verse.
The King did not long survive his defeat. His son succeeding him was killed in a rebellion caused by the attempt to give a Princess of the royal blood in marriage to a favourite Minister. The Princess, saved from dishonour succeeded to the throne. From a Court weakened thus by continual change and treachery, there was little, one might think, to fear, but Al-Muthanna had to guard a frontier of great extent, and for the task his army was inadequate. The inhabitants were, at the best, indifferent; the Syrian Bedawin distinctly hostile. Victories might be won but could not be followed up. The position, with so small a force, was full of risk. Accordingly, Al-Muthanna urged upon the Caliph the pressing need of reinforcements. He also pointed out the ease with which they might be raised: Remove the embargo from the apostate but now repentant tribes," he wrote; "they will flock to the war, and none more brave or eager." Answer being long delayed, Al-Muthanna ventured to Medina, there to urge his suit in Abu Bekr in person.
He found Abu Bekr on his deathbed. The aged Caliph knew that his end was near; but the mind was clear, and he at once perceived the urgency of the appeal. "Call 'Omar to me," he said (for he had already named him his successor); and then addressed him thus:"Command a levy for Al-Muthanna. Tarry not. If I die, as I may, this day, wait not till the evening; if I linger on to night, wait not till the morning. Let not sorrow for me divert thee from this service of the Lord. Ye saw what I myself did when the Prophet died (and there could be no greater sorrow for mankind than that); truly if grief had stayed me then from girding my loins in the cause of the Lord and of His Prophet, the Faith had fared badly; the flame of rebellion had been surely kindled in the city. And, list thee, 'Omar! when the Lord shall have given victory in Syria, then send back to Al-'Irak its army; for they are the proper garrison thereof, and fittest to administer it."
'Omar was touched by the delicacy of these last words, and the allusion they contained; "For," said he, "Abu Bekr
knew that it grieved me when he gave the command to Khalid; therefore he bade me to send back his army to Al-'Irak, but forbore to name the name of Khalid or bid me send him back." He listened attentively to the dying Caliph's words, and promised to fulfil them.
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