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Brigadier Fouad Hafeez

The writer is a retired mechanized infantry officer who served in various command, staff, and instructional appointments during his illustrious military career. He commanded an infantry battalion and an Infantry Brigade. Additionally, he served in the Pakistan Military Academy as an Adjutant and acted as a Defense Attaché in Jordan. The officer is presently serving in the Army Institute of Military History as the Director of the Contemporary Affairs Wing.


Hilal English

The Siege of 634 A.D. (Part II)

March 2024

The events, circumstances, and the tragic love affair that led to the Muslim conquest of Damascus. 

Jonah’s Search
For the next three days, while the Muslims were busy rejoicing over their momentous victory in the capture of Damascus, one man was engaged in a search for the most important thing of his life. Frantically, Jonah searched through the streets and alleys of Damascus, hoping to catch a glimpse of his beloved among the free people and slaves alike. However, this was not to be; she was nowhere to be found. Disconsolate and distraught, he continued his search until he stumbled upon a person who informed him of her fate. During the three-day period of amnesty that the Muslims had granted to anyone wishing to leave, she and her family had abandoned Damascus. At this very moment, along with Thomas and his retinue, she was likely fleeing as far from where Jonah was standing as possible.

The news lifted Jonah's spirits and then dashed them harder onto the rocks of despair. So near, yet so far, alive and well, but far from sight and touch.
It was probably this very combined state of elation and anguish that brought Jonah to Khalid's tent once again, where he questioned the Muslim army commander as to why he hadn't set out in hot pursuit of Thomas yet. Khalid must have smiled as he listened to Jonah, thinking that love makes a man ask questions and demand answers that he might never do ordinarily. Jonah voiced the question again and again. The last time, accompanied by protestations and declarations, of being the best guide to lead Khalid against the withdrawing forces of Thomas, which were now fair targets, given that three days had elapsed since the truce announcement.
A gleam probably lit up Khalid’s eyes as a plan began to take root in his brilliant soldiering brain. He gave orders to the Mobile Guard to be ready to march.

The Chase
By now, the Mobile Guard that Khalid had been slowly developing had turned into a four thousand-strong, cohesive, well-adjusted, cavalry-based instrument of war that was capable of being rapidly deployed at decisive junctures of the battle to catastrophic effect for its opponents. It had been honed during the march across the Syrian wastelands to the south, proving vital in latching the stranglehold around the city during the siege of Damascus. At various moments, during the Battle for Uqab Pass and against both sally-out maneuvers by the Byzantines, the Mobile Guard had arrived in the nick of time to save the day. It was about to be put to its most audacious test.
The Guard was divided into four columns. Each one comprising a thousand men, respectively commanded by Abdelrehman Ibn Abi Bakr, Rafay Ibn Umayr, Zarrar Ibn al-Azwar, and Khalid Ibn al-Waleed himself. What a terrifying sight it must have been for the enemies of this force to have seen the dust devils kicked up in the wake of thundering hooves of galloping steeds, when these columns set off in a fast-attack battle formations. A lone figure was at the head of this force in hot pursuit, his own steed straining as if somehow sensing the urgency of its rider and the moment. The figure was Jonah, son of Marcius.
His familiarity with the area was of great use to the Muslims, who were clueless about the topography. Navigating the attack columns through the terrain that started to grow progressively rough and broken around the Coastal Mountain Range of northwest Syria, divine intervention came into play. A torrential downpour began, driving down against man and beast in punishing, needle-point sheets.
"Fortuitous indeed," Khalid must have thought as he spurred his war horse onwards against and into the deluge. The muddy terrain would prevent dust trails from giving away the approach of the cavalry columns, and the sounds of lightning-strike and thunder-clap would mask the deafening pounding of hoof beats. As they ascended the twists and turns of the Jabal Al- Nasiriyah1 mountains, Jonah drew to a sudden halt as he picked up sounds coming from over a ridgeline. Raising his hand to halt the scouts behind him, who further signaled to the attack columns to stop, Jonah dismounted and crept forward, straining to listen for the sounds he had heard. It wasn’t his imagination after all; they had found what they were looking for.
The Meadow of Brocade
Jonah hurriedly moved back to the main body of the force and sought Khalid, where he told the general about what he had heard. Khalid’s excitement knew no bounds as the blood started to pump thick and hot in his veins in anticipation of the impending crossing of swords. Jonah was dispatched along with Al-Mufrit al-Ja’dah2 to carry out a visual reconnaissance of the area, and report back immediately.
After a stealthy and arduous ascent, only one of the two individuals could initially be seen hurrying back to the dispersed main columns as they waited for an intelligence update on the current scenario. Saif Ullah enquired of Mufrit: "What is behind you? And what has become of Jonah?”
Mufrit: “Good news and booty await you, Commander. They are behind this mountain, soaked with rain. They are resting in the sun and have spread out their goods.3 When we reached the top, we saw a great meadow filled with much large vegetation. The Romans had been caught in the rain, and their baggage was soaked. They have taken out their brocade, spread it out in the meadow, and most of them are asleep due to the difficulty of the journey, the fatigue, and the rain."4

It was at this moment that Jonah, too, appeared. Panting and ruddy from the exertions and the excitement writ large on his animated features. Without even pausing to catch his breath, he, too, addressed the Commander of the Muslim army:
Jonah: “Glad tidings, O Commander! They are complacent, but please order your men that whoever comes across her should guard her, for I want nothing from the booty beside her.”5
Khalid: “She is yours if Allah wills it.”6
The Iron Sickle
Khalid’s plan, formulated speedily because of the opportunistic nature of the situation encountered, could serve as a guiding beacon for any student of the modern tactics of waging an encounter battle, even today. Having already divided his force into four maneuver components, he launched them with staggered timings and from all cardinal points of direction while retaining the requisite balance to exploit success at any given time. The base of the “sickle” was his thousand-strong column, which charged into contact with the Byzantines from the south, effectively fixing them.7 

Believing that a small number of Arab scouts had discovered them, Thomas' soldiers, numbering around ten thousand, hastily rose and assembled to meet this perceived threat. As they charged toward Khalid’s contingent, they were unexpectedly attacked by Zarrar’s force, which maneuvered around Khalid’s detachment from the east and assailed the exposed Byzantine flank. After a brief period and considerable bloodshed, Rafay’s force circled around Zarrar’s column from the right and north, subsequently wheeling onto the hapless Romans from the rear.
The “sickle” was now in place, leaving only the west and the Mediterranean coast as the space for an evasive maneuver. Soon, though, this gap was also plugged, with Abdelrehman's column side-stepping around Rafay’s and securing the noose from the west around the Roman forces; who went from drying out themselves and their equipment in the sun to being encircled, isolated, and put to the sword in dizzyingly short  order.8
Khalid and Thomas
They were both easily identifiable to one another. One was turbaned, bearded, and dressed in the white linen and maroon-stained leather armor favored by the Arabs. An awe-inspiring figure that mowed through rank after rank of Byzantine’s most fearsome troops. The other, dressed in shining bronze armor of the type most prized by the soldiers of Rome, a ruby-encrusted gold Cross from the emperor of Byzantium9 borne aloft in front of his five hundred strong mounted troops, armed with broadsword and shield, laying waste all those Muslim soldiers who came within a distance of sword-strike and spear-thrust. The stallions atop which both were mounted, respectively; one, an Arabian of incredible speed, agility, and regal bearing; the other, massive, powerful, and intimidating, seemed to seek one another out automatically, drawn to battle almost by some base, animalistic instinct. The battle cries, shouts, and screams seemed to fade into the background, growing hushed and muted as the most important duel of the entire campaign began.

The horses must have careened into one another and sent both generals flying; so intense was the impact of man and beast meeting man and beast. The first to his feet was Khalid, who swiped at his opponent with the spear that had miraculously landed within arm’s reach of his fall, gouging against Thomas' side before his breastplate of armor deflected the point of the spear away. The Roman replied to this thrust with a mighty swing of his broadsword, the massive blade whistling perilously close to Khalid’s throat but missing it by a hair’s breadth. A javelin throw at Thomas bounced off his bronze breastplate, causing Khalid to draw his sword instead. Thus, they fought on the wily Khalid circling Thomas's blind right side10 using this advantage to subject him to several cuts, thrusts, and jabs of his sharp, sturdy battle sword. Thomas fought valiantly on several occasions, coming dangerously close to disarticulating his battle-hardened opponent. It was one such unsuccessful thrust that provided Saif Ullah with the opportunity he had been waiting for, pirouetting around and under the missed blow, he closed the distance with his opponent and struck. The point of his sword struck into Thomas’ left eye11, blinding him in the last fractions of a second of his life before it exited the back of his head.
Amongst the thousands who had been watching this, mesmerized, the first to act was Abdelrehman Ibn Abi Bakr, who galloped to the site of the duel, jumped onto Thomas’ slain chest, decapitated him, and raised his head aloft at spear point. Letting out a blood-curdling roar that thundered around the battlefield, drowning out the sounds of combat, conflict, and carnage, he declared, “By Allah, Thomas is slain!”12
Jonah and Ayna
While this epic duel was being waged, Jonah ran about, as if a madman, seeking out his beloved Ayna13 for this was her name.
He finally found her. Wearing a nun’s habit14 caused him much disturbance and fright. Their eyes met, and he murmured to her to accompany him. When her blazing eyes and angry lips replied "No!", perhaps Jonah might have implored her. To no avail. She was adamant that she would never give up her Church for a man who had joined the path of Islam. As Jonah took a step towards her, she tugged out a small, sharp dagger from her robes and held it to her breast, threatening to kill herself if the man approached even a step further. Jonah did take that step and watched as she suddenly pulled her hand towards herself savagely and violently. The slender blade struck her in the heart, causing her to keel over in the very throes of death, even though her ill-fated husband managed to catch her before her lifeless body hit the ground of the “Meadow of Brocade."
This was how the other companions of the Last Prophet found him, weeping profusely at his loss, cradling the blood-stained body of the only woman he had ever truly loved in his arms.
After this battle, the Muslim army cut through the rest of Syria like a scythe through grass. Homs and Ba’labbak fell to them. This led to the Battle of al-Yarmuk, which was perhaps the most significant battle of its time and possibly end any vestige of the Roman empire’s ability to contain the spread of Islam. Jerusalem fell bloodlessly, almost. Leaving only Antioch as the sole remaining bastion of an epoch that had ended, which, too, fell in due course.

Jonah lived on as a Muslim. Fighting on in the cause of his newfound religion until he died in battle many years later. Rafay Ibn Umayr said, “He (Jonah) fought with us until al-Yarmuk. There, I saw him fighting earnestly in the path of Allah, greatly inflicting the Romans, until an arrow struck his throat, and he fell dead. May Allah have mercy on his soul. Many moons later, I saw him in a dream, wearing glittering clothing and golden sandals, wandering in a lush garden.”15
It would appear that Jonah found peace in the afterlife. During his life, though, he chose never to remarry.

The writer is a retired mechanized infantry officer who served in various command, staff, and instructional appointments during his military career. He commanded an infantry battalion and an Infantry Brigade. Additionally, he served in the Pakistan Military Academy as an Adjutant and acted as a Defense Attaché in Jordan. The officer is presently serving in the Army Institute of Military History as the Director of the Contemporary Affairs Wing.

Note: The article originally appeared in the magazine of the Army Institute of Military History Pakistan, Bugle & Trumpet Summer 2019 issue.

1.     The Coastal Mountain Range of northwest Syria is the site that scholars widely accept as to where the encounter occurred, although the exact route of the Mobile Guard was never recorded. In “Futuh ush Shaam," Al-Tabari refers to the mountainous terrain they were negotiating as called "Al-Abrash" by the locals. Suleyman al-Kindi concurs with al-Tabari in “The Islamic Conquest of Syria," page 142.
2.     “The Islamic Conquest of Syria," Suleyman al-Kindi, page 141.
3.     “The Islamic Conquest of Syria," Suleyman al-Kindi, page 142.
4.     Ibid.
5.     Ibid.
6.     Ibid.
7.     “The Islamic Conquest of Syria”, Suleyman al-Kindi, page 143. Al-Kindi has faithfully recorded al-Waqidi in laying out the order of engagement by the Mobile Guard as Khalid’s detachment, followed by Zarrar, Rafay, and Abdelrehman. In other references, the order places Khalid as the last to “close” the ring from the west, having followed Zarrar  (south), Rafay (east), and Abdelrehman (north) in that order.
8.     Al-Waqidi in “Futuh ush Sham” does not mention any fixed time interval between the launching of each column, and al-Kindi in “The Islamic Conquest of Syria”, page 143, reproduces this. Modern narrators have stated that each of the four detachments was launched half an hour after the one preceding it.
9.     "The Islamic Conquest of Syria," Suleyman al-Kindi, page 69. According to Al-Waqidi, this cross was awarded by Heraclius to Warden, the Byzantine Governor of Hims, who was dispatched to Damascus to defend it against the Muslim army. After Warden’s death at the hands of Khalid Ibn al-Waleed, the same cross was passed over to Thomas, who inherited the command of this theatre of war.
10.   Which had been blinded in the first sally-out maneuver of the Byzantines while they tried to defeat the siege of Damascus.
11.   “Futuh ush Sham," al-Waqidi, as translated in “The Islamic Conquest of Syria," Suleyman al-Kindi, page 143.
12.   Ibid.
13.   “The Islamic Conquest of Syria," Suleyman al-Kindi, page 149.
14.   “The Islamic Conquest of Syria," Suleyman al-Kindi, page 139.
15.   “The Islamic Conquest of Syria," Suleyman al-Kindi, page 149.

Brigadier Fouad Hafeez

The writer is a retired mechanized infantry officer who served in various command, staff, and instructional appointments during his illustrious military career. He commanded an infantry battalion and an Infantry Brigade. Additionally, he served in the Pakistan Military Academy as an Adjutant and acted as a Defense Attaché in Jordan. The officer is presently serving in the Army Institute of Military History as the Director of the Contemporary Affairs Wing.