ADVANCE ON THE SOUTH OF PERSIA.
AL-HORMUZAN TAKEN PRISONER
16-20 A.H. / 637-641 A.D.
TURNING once more to the eastern provinces of the Caliphate, we find the cautious policy of 'Omar still tending to restrain the Muslim arms within the limits of the Arabian 'Irak, or the country bounded by the western slopes of the Persian range. But they were soon, by the force of events, to burst the barrier.
To the north of Al-Medain, the Muslim border was securely defended by Holwan and other strongholds planted along the hilly range. In Lower 'Irak, 'Otba had, after repeated encounters, established himself at Al-Basra, from whence he held securely the country at the head of the Gulf. But the Persian satraps were still in strength at Al-Ahwaz and Ram Hormuz, within a hundred miles of him.
Hostilities in this direction were precipitated by a rash and unsuccessful raid upon Istakhr (Persepolis). Al-'Ala, who had distinguished himself by crushing the rebellion in Al-Bahrein, saw with jealous eye the conquests in Al-'Irak of Sa'd and 'Otba. Tempted by the nearness of the Persian shore across the narrow strait, he set on foot an expedition to seize the district lying opposite. This was done, not only without permission, but against the known unwillingness of 'Omar to trust the treacherous element. Success might have justified the project; but it fell out otherwise. The troops, landing on the Persian coast, met for a time with no check in their advance upon Istakhr. But before long they were drawn into a trap. Advancing altogether, they had neglected to secure their base, and were cut off by the
enemy from their ships.
After a severe engagement, unable to disperse the gathering enemy, and turning as a last resource towards Al-Basra, they found the road in that direction barred. Messengers were hurried to Medina, and 'Omar, incensed with Al-'Ala for his foolhardiness, despatched an urgent command to 'Otba to relieve the beleaguered army. A force of 12,000 men set out immediately; and forming, not without difficulty, a junction with Al-'Ala, beat back the Persians, and then retired on Al-Basra. The troops of 'Otba gained a great name in this affair, and the special thanks of 'Omar. This expedition of Al-'Ala is known as "the First Istakhar."
But the retreat, conducted with whatever skill bravery, put heart into the hostile border. Al-Hormuzan, a Persian satrap, had escaped from Al-Kadisiya to his own province of Al-Ahwaz, on the lower mountain range, at no great distance from Al-Basr. He began now to make raids upon the Arab outposts, and 'Otba resolved to attack him. Reinforcements were obtained from Al-Kufa, and 'Otba was fortunate enough to gain over a Bedawi tribe, which, though long settled near Al-Ahwaz, was by blood and sympathy allied to the garrison of Al-Basra. Thus strengthened, he dislodged the enemy from Al-Ahwaz, and drove him across the Karun River. A truce was called; and Al-Ahwaz, ceded to the Muslims, was placed by 'Otba in the hands of his Bedawi allies. After one of his victories, the girdle of the defeated Marzuban, or Persian warden of the marches, was sent as a trophy to the Caliph. The envoy, pressed by 'Omar, confessed that the Muslims were becoming luxurious in foreign parts;"The love of this present life," he said, "increaseth upon them, gold and silver dazzling their sight." Concerned at the unwelcome avowal, 'Omar summoned 'Otha, who came, leaving a Bedawi chief in charge at Al-Basra. The arrangement was highly distasteful to 'Omar,"What!" he cried, "hast thou put a man of the Desert over the Companions of the Prophet? That may never be!"
So Al-Moghira was placed in charge; and 'Otba dying on his journey back from pilgrimage, Al-Moghira became Governor in his stead. Thus early do we see the Spirit of antagonism rapidly breeding between the Bedawi chiefs and the men of Mecca and Medina.
In the following year a dispute as to their boundary arose between the Bedawi tribe and Al-Hormuzan; and the latter, dissatisfied with the Muslim general's decision, again raised his hostile standard. He was put to flight by the Muslims, who reduced the rebellious province, and sought permission to follow up the victory by a farther advance. But 'Omar, withholding permission, bade them rather busy themselves where they were in restoring the irrigation works, and so resuscitate the deserted fields of Khuzistan. Al-Hormuzan fled farther east, and was, for the second time, granted an amnesty.
Not long after, emissaries from Yezdejird at Merv were found at work stirring the people up to fresh rebellion. The attitude of Al-Hormuzan became once more doubtful; and the Caliph, suspecting serious opposition, ordered a powerful army to assemble from Al-Kufa and Al-Basra, of which he gave command to An-No'man. Al-Hormuzan, with a great Persian following, was pursued by it; again routed at Ram Hormuz, he fled to Tostar, fifty miles north of Al-Ahwaz, a stronghold which, obstinately defended by the Persians, kept the Muslims for several months at bay. In the end, but not without considerable loss, it was stormed, and Al-Hormuzan, with the garrison, surrendered at the discretion of the Caliph, and was accordingly sent to the Court at Medina.
Siege was then laid to Sus, the royal Shushan of ancient memory; still a formidable city, it was planted between two rivers, on a verdant plain with snow-clad mountains in the distance. The army succeeded here in drawing over a body of Persian nobles with a large native following; these were at once admitted to confidence, and commands conferred upon them, with the singular honour of a well-portioned place upon the tribal list. Still, it was not till after a protracted siege and conflict that Sus was taken.
'Omar gave orders for the reverential maintenance of the tomb of Daniel in this the scene of his memorable vision "by the river of Ulai"; and here, to the present day, the pious care of succeeding generations has preserved his shrine through thirteen centuries of succeeding change.
The important city of Jundai-Sabur, with surrounding country, was also reduced by An-No'man, and an advance
threatened on Ispahan. But events were now transpiring in Khorasan, which at length opened the way to an advance upon the heart of Persia, and called that leader to more stirring work.
The deputation which, along with the spoil of Tostar, carried Al-Hormuzan a prisoner to Medina, throws light upon the reasons that weighed with the Caliph to withdraw his long-standing embargo on a forward movement. As the party drew near Medina, they dressed out the captive in his brocaded vestments, to show to the Citizens the fashion of a Persian noble. Wearied with the reception of a deputation from Al-Kufa (for in this way he transacted much of the provincial business), 'Omar had fallen asleep, whip in hand, on his cushioned carpet in the great Mosque. When the captive Prince entered the precincts of the court, "Where is the Caliph?" he cried, looking round, "and where his guards and warders?" It was indeed a contrast between the sumptuous palaces of the Chosroes, to which he had been used, and the simple surroundings of the mightier Caliph! Disturbed by the noise, 'Omar started up, and, divining who the stranger was, exclaimed, "Blessed be the Lord, who hath humbled this man and the like of him!" He made them disrobe the prisoner and clothe him in coarse raiment. Then, still whip in hand, he upbraided Al-Hormuzan, and (Al-Moghira interpreting) bade him justify the repeated breach of his engagements. The captive made as if fain to reply; then gasping, like one faint from thirst, begged for a draught of water. "Give it," said the Caliph, "and let him drink in peace." "Nay," said the captive, trembling, I fear to drink, lest someone slay me unawares." "Thy life is safe," said 'Omar, "until thou hast drunk the water up." The words were no sooner spoken than Al-Hormuzan poured the contents upon the ground. "I wanted not the water," he said, "but quarter, and now thou hast given it me." "Liar!" cried 'Omar angrily, "thy life is forfeit." "But not," interposed the bystanders, "until he drink the water up." "Strange," said 'Omar, foiled for once, "the fellow hath deceived me, and yet I cannot spare the life of one who hath slain so many of the faithful by reiterated treachery. I swear that thou shalt not gain by thy deceit, unless thou embrace Islam." Al-Hormuzan, nothing loth, made profession
of the faith upon the spot; and thenceforth, taking up his residence at Medina, received a pension of high grade.
"What is the cause," inquired 'Omar of the deputation, "that these Persians persistently break faith and rebel against us? Maybe, ye treat them harshly." "Not so," they answered; "but thou hast forbidden us to enlarge our boundary; and the King is in their midst to stir them up. Two Kings can in no wise exist together, until the one expel the other. It is not our harshness, but their King, that hath incited them to rise against us after having made submission. And so it will go on until thou shalt remove the barrier and leave us to go forward and expel their King. Not till then will their hopes and machinations cease."
These views were also enforced by Al-Hormuzan. The truth began to dawn on 'Omar that necessity was laid upon him to withdraw the ban against advance. In self-defence, nothing was left but to crush the Chosroes and take entire possession of his realm.
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