Khalid Bin Waleed is a national icon for many in the Islamic world. In Pakistan they have named their national battle tank after him. They have named their most prestigious line of submarines and even foreign legions after him. Bangladesh has named naval warships in his honor. Across the Arab world Khalid Bin Waleed has been a prestige figure, a icon and a hero to many.
As a companion to the prophet, Khalid Bin Waleed it was said was never defeated in battle. He has been given the great title of Saif ullah or the sword of Allah.
But who was this man really? Through his many battles, how is it that he succeeded out of Arabia against the mighty empires bordering Arabia being Persia and the Eastern Roman Empire. How does he continue to inspire those in the Islamic world through the ages. How does he serve to inspire many policy makers from across the border?
I recently came across a biography written by A I Akram. Being born in pre independence India in Ludhiana Punjab he rose to become a prominent general in the early Pakistani Army. Indeed he was eventually superseded by Zia Ul Haq himself, one of Pakistan’s long line of military dictators. His book on the sword of Allah Khalid Bin Waleed is often a primer for incoming officers into the Pakistani Army.
In this post I will try to analyze A I Akram’s reasons for Khalid Bin Waleed’s great success and hope that it may offer a line of thinking not just among the Pakistani Army but even among Pakistani elite which dominate and rule the demographics of Pakistan.
Khalid Bin Waleed came from a noble family of the Quaraish called the Bani Makhzum for which his father Al Waleed was chieftain. As many Arab families theirs was a trading family. Very early on however, Khalid grew to love the Martial sciences. Arab men of the desert were great horsemen, and very early on this is one of the foremost skills that were taught to them. Wrestling too was an early sport that many of them competed in. Early parts of his book talk about Khalid wrestling his cousin Umar who would later become the Caliph and the both of them becoming champion wrestlers.
Much of the early book is also dwelt upon the injustices suffered by the prophet by his tribe of the Quaraish for starting to preach about Islam. While he gained followers he was quickly ostracized by a many of his tribe.
His preaching split the old Arab custom and worship of many gods into two opposing sides. Those who believed in old Arab customs to many gods primarily Hubal and Mohamed now preaching for the new religion of Islam.
This eventually led to the first of the great battles of the Quaraish with the initial battle being fought at the battle of Badr. It seems that Khalid Bin Waleed did not participate in this battle as he was away at the time.
In the second battle Khalid Bin Waleed leading the forces with his longtime friend Ikrimah led the Quaraish to victory at the battle of Uhud. He would do this by instituting one of his long time favorite flanking maneuvers. Oftentimes he would lead an elite and hard trained corps that at his command would quickly flank the enemy and institute continual hit-and-run tactics to break the sides of the opposing army. He would often use this technique on many occasions and often times flank not only on both sides of the Army but even his horse riders would often ride around to the back of the Army and attack from there as well. This would often lead to confusion in the opposing ranks as they would often have to face hit-and-run battles on many flanks at once.
Indeed it is interesting to note that even the prophet leading his forces at the battle of Uhud, would not suceed against Khalid Bin Waleed using this flanking maneuver.
A I Akram throughout his book makes it essentially clear that the primary reason why Khalid was so successful was because of his conversion to Islam. He does not make it clear what made Khalid to make the choice, but it seems that politically Khalid knew the days of the Meccan tribe Quaraish were numbered and he made the forward thinking choice to join the winning side.
Within a few months after Uhud, Khalid would be battling against former lifelong friends such as Ikrimah that he shouldered side to side with. Indeed Islam cancels all friendships.
What follows is a siege of battles with Khalid being commander first under Mohammed and then under the first Caliph off Abu Bakr. He led them to sensational victories in the Arab apostasy wars, then against Persia and then against the great Eastern Roman Empire.
A I Akram however throughout the book and on numerous occasions makes it clear that those who faced Khalid and who were non-Muslims were deserving of the brutal and total destruction of their peoples. He often refers to them of the people of disbelief, infidels, hypocrites and liars.Here he already sets the tone of dehumanizing many of the tribes who opposed Khalid.
Before engaging in battle the opposing force was often only given three choices. To call the coming to prayer (Azaan), which meant conversion of the whole opposing army to Islam, to submit to the Islamic Army and accept Dhimmi status or to engage in battle. Upon engaging in battle this would often lead to complete destruction of the male members of society with the female members being taken as slaves and concubines.
A I Akram makes his glee for such battles entirely visible. For in destruction of the opposing forces he would often describe the riches and pleasures that would often come with the victory. This is often referred to as booty and such was greed for booty, that many Arab males would enlist into the Army for a share of the spoils. One scene comes to mind, where Khalid would chase down Thomas of Damascus after three days of peace because of his deep pain on seeing Thomas vacate Damascus with all of its riches. Khalid Bin Waleed raised his elite corps after three days and chased down Thomas through various shortcuts to reach him, to make sure the booty did not escape. Needless to say the entire populace of Damascus was butchered and the precious booty retained.
This Booty as previously mentioned would especially include wives of the demolished men for Khalid and his army. A I Akram’s passion for this seems quite obvious and it seems that not even his fellow muslims could be safe from Khalid’s desire.
Indeed during the apostasy wars Malik Bin Nuwairah, a leader for the Bani Yarbu decided to surrender. Having seen what Khalid did to Salma and her tribe, Malik decided to oppose the destruction of the male members of his tribe and seek forgiveness. A I Akram would describe his wife Laila as the beautiful maiden with lovely legs and gorgeous eyes who instantly aroused Khalid on seeing her. When they were both brought before him and professed their faith for Islam, Khalid scoffed at Malik assertions and promptly had him beheaded on the charge of apostasy. Laila had barely a chance to mourn before she was briefly wedded to Khalid to warm his bed the very night!
In another instance A I Akram would state that Khalid had next special fondness for the woman of the defeated Chieftains that he faced. In fighting the Christian Arabs of Daumat ul Jandal, Khalid had the opposing chief’s daughters bought for his personal pleasure right after the beheading of their father Judi.
A I Akram makes it clear that the reason for success for the Muslims was that because primarily they were Muslims. In any battle even with numerical superiority each Muslim accounted for 4 to 5 of enemy combatants. Thus even with a numerically much stronger army they were soundly trounced by the Muslims because of their inferior strength both in body and belief. An example of this is during the apostasy wars again in fighting the Hawazin and the Thaqeef where the Muslims were greatly outnumbered. Here again, the rewards for killing all the disbelievers were great with the Muslims capturing approximately 6000 woman children and slaves.
Later on in the book he even goes so far as to say that champion warriors like Dhiraar the half naked warrior, (because he would often fight with his shirt off!) once chased 19 Romans and killed them off one by one. It was only because of Khalid’s insistence that this was a reconnaissance mission he returned otherwise he might have dealt with the whole Roman army himself!
How were Muslims so successful at defeating larger armies? Well if each Muslim accounted for 4 to 5 men than one-on-one combat was an easy affair. Apparently , prior to the main battle individual commanders from Khalid’s hard battle corps would take on commanders from the other army on one-to-one challenges. These were all easy one battle affairs for the Muslims killing all key commanders in the opposing army even before the battle started thus crushing the moral of the opposing force before the battle even began.
This was quite evident in the battle with the Persians and later Roman armies. Khalid killing Hormuz who was the Persian commander prior to the battle of chains is one such example. Many times Khalid would crush his opponents with his bare hands such as the Roman Harbees where he bear hugged and crushed the life out of him.
These pre-battles would serve to completely demoralize the opposing troops much before the battle began. Many other tactics included night strikes catching enemy combatants completely unawares. Also he would employ his flanking maneuvers once again with the raids on all sides completely confusing the enemy.
Khalid greatest battle however was the defeat of the Eastern Roman Emperor Heraclius at the battle of Yarmouk which led to the Muslims completely occupying Syria. His great stratagem here was to withdraw many of the forts that he had occupied previously with stationary Muslim commandants and to amass the Muslim Army down south at Yarmouk waiting for Heraclius. After six days of intense fighting and using the riverbank as an impassable barrier on the southern side Khalid again would launch one of his well-rehearsed flanking maneuvers to the side and behind from the Army. In fact he would send Dhiraar, the half naked champion a night before to completely circuit the Roman army and attack them as well from behind. This would lead to a crushing blow of Roman Christians in Syria leaving Heraclius to completely abandon the Middle East for all time.
Shortly before the battle of Yarmouk, the first Caliph Abu Bakr had passed away. In his place came his old cousin Umar who had apparently always looked at Khalid unfavorably. What followed is negative hostility between the two with Umar finally dismissing him at the height of his success. We cannot be entirely sure as to why but it seems that the great general Khalid was caught indulging in rubbing alcohol on his body for medicinal means. Another account states he dismissed him for his extravagance in giving 10,000 dirhams to a poet singing in praise of Khalid. On both accounts Khalid would protest saying that this was only rubbing alcohol and that the money was given from his own pocket but to no avail.
One may lead these initial rumors to their final logical thought. Khalid’s extravagance, lust for women and now even likely drinking of alcohol could not be forgiven by a more disciplined and religious Umar. Abu Bakr forgave Khalid past transgressions which had even included killing of Muslims who stayed among infidels because of his military success!. Umar however would have none of it and may have even seen him as a threat to his own rule. He was promptly dismissed of the height of his command and the expansion in Syria slowed with his dismissal.
His lifestyle completely changed Khalid Bin Waleed retired to Homs in Syria. A few years later, the great plague of Amawas rising out of the East swept through Syria killing most of his family and friends. In fact it is said that he lost 40 sons in the epidemic and most of his family as well. Dhiraar the half naked champion who single-handedly killed 19 Romans succumbed like many of his compatriots to the plague . In 642 Khalid himself was taken ill by disease although not specifically described as plague. Lying on his deathbed with only a slave to his side Khalid would cry these last words ;
“I die even as a camel dies. I die in bed, in shame. The eyes of cowards do not close even in sleep”
He was later buried at the Mosque of Khalid Bin Waleed in Homs Syria where many of the faithful still visit to see him and get inspired.
Inspired how? A I Akram born in British India as an Indian Muslim and later becoming a high prominent general in the Pakistani Army studiously learned Arabic and travelled to the Middle East to resurrect the story of Khalid Bin Waleed. His inspirational story in fighting many battles, taking many wives, and accumulating much wealth in the form of booty seems to inspire A I Akram. It’s a sad fact to see that many Pakistanis who were Hindus converted by the religious doctrine of Sufism now see Khalid Bin Waleed as a champion to their cause.
In leading and fighting three wars with infidel and hypocritical India ending in defeat A I Akram must have looked for some reasoning. For many Pakistanis who truly believe in the superiority of the believers against disbelief, the constant loss causes great questions to their own faith, including A I Akram it seems. Although far removed from Arab culture, Pakistanis have looked to Khalid Bin Waleed and the sword of Allah as their motivation it seems for continued attack on those who disbelieve.
India and its land of idols, it’s prosperity and its woman were a draw for many Islamic conquerors who looked to Khalid as their motivation. In reading through the book one can’t help but think of A I Akram own belief in his superiority as a Muslim to any other disbelieving human. Any action ending in victory is sanctioned if it is a victory for the Muslims. Indeed rape, mass slaughter of captured victims, greed for booty, even killing of Muslims is all sanctioned if it leads to the greater good of the Ummah.
Sadly this prevailing thought has no better word than Islamic supremacism. Reading through the Pakistani newspapers, one can slowly start to understand the venom and bile thrown towards a openly secular India that has sheltered thousands of refugee communities through history.
The danger lies in the spread of such ideas. I can think of one example where Pakistani generals in their desperate attempt to hold onto East Bangladesh indulged in mass rape of tens of thousands of Bangladeshi women to breed out their inferior genes with superior Pakistani men. A conservative number by the Bangladeshi government lists close to 200,000 rapes with up to 70000 abortions in the first 3 months. The decimation of minorities and the exodus of hindus to India is a example of this perverse thinking.
Pakistanis would well remember the final days of Khalid. Lying on his bed and suffering from pain, inflicted by disease Khalid reaped what he sowed in miseries inflicted on the tens of thousands victims for the spread of Islam. His entire family demolished by the plague and only a servant at his final bed serves a fitting reminder that no one, even Khalid evades the Law of Karma.