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The Battle Of Moota

By 8 A.H. there was security in most of Arabia and the call of Islam had extended to many parts. The Jews in the north and the Quraish in the south had been subdued by the victories of the Muslims in battle and they did not pose a threat any longer.

The Holy Prophet (S) sent envoys to neighbouring countries and invited their rulers to embrace Islam. Some of these envoys were well received, while others were mistreated and even killed. One such envoy, Harith bin Umayr Azdi was sent with a letter to the ruler of Syria. Before he could reach his destination, he was captured at Moota by Shurahbil, the governor of the ruler of Syria in the border towns. Disregarding the universal law about the safety of envoys, Shurahbil killed Harith. In a separate incident, 15 missionaries sent to the Syrians were also killed.

When the Holy Prophet (S) received the sad news, he was deeply grieved and decided to punish Shurahbil and those who obstructed the spread of Islam. He gave orders for Jihad and 3,000 men assembled at Jurf, the military station of Madinah. He instructed the army to march towards Moota and first invite the people to become Muslims. If they accepted Islam, the murder of the envoy would not be avenged but if they resisted, the Muslims should fight against them in the Name of Allah .

Ja'far bin Abu Talib was appointed as the commander of the army and the Holy Prophet (S) said that if Ja'far was killed then Zayd bin Harith would lead them, and if he was killed then Abdullah bin Rawaahid would assume command. If he too was killed, then the Muslim army should select their commander from amongst themselves. Before dispatching the expedition, the Holy Prophet (S) instructed them to observe the following rules:
  1. Not to interfere with the monks and nuns who were worshipping in their monasteries.
  2. Not to lift their hand against any women, children or old people.
  3. Not to cut down trees or destroy buildings.
These instructions were an example of the Holy Prophet's (S) vision and the efforts he was making to bring about changes and reforms in all walks of life, in a period in Arabia when no scruples were exercised, particularly in war. In response to the news of the march of the Muslim army, Hercules of Rome and the Syrian Ruler sent their best troops to the borders and Shurahbil gathered an army of 100,000 soldiers.

In addition to being hopelessly outnumbered, the Muslims were also facing a professional army. Due to their constant wars with Iran, the Romans had become experts in war strategy and tactics. They were also equipped with better weapons and transport. Also, the Romans had the advantage that they were fighting at home while the Muslims were in a foreign land.

Despite being in a weaker position, the Muslim forces gave a heroic account of their valour. Ja'far divided his men into 3 divisions and the armies met at Sharaf near Moota. The battle began with single combats but soon turned into a full scale war. The Muslims fought courageously but soon the differences in number proved too great. Ja'far was surrounded and lost one arm and then the other. Eventually, he was killed with a blow to the head and after him Zayd and then Abdullah were also martyred.

By the end of the first day the Muslim army was in disarray and their numbers were severely reduced. As their new commander, the Muslims chose Khalid bin Walid.

During the night, Khalid ordered the remaining wings of the Muslim army to change sides with each other, and the sound of the movements of a large number of men convinced the enemy that reinforcements had arrived.

On the next day Khalid arranged the Muslim army in such a way as to give an impression that new troops had joined them. These tactics made the enemy hesitate and Khalid took the opportunity to withdraw the Muslim army and return to Madinah.

The retreat of the Muslims was not well received by some in Madinah who said that they should have fought on till the very end. However, given the circumstances, Khalid was right in bringing them back because it would have been pointless to sacrifice the lives of more Muslims.

The Holy Prophet (S) was much grieved at the loss of Muslim lives and especially that of his cousin Ja'far. He saw in his dream that Ja'far had been given 2 wings like angels in heaven and since then Ja'far in known as Tayyaar - the one who flies.

Just before his death, the Holy Prophet (S) prepared a strong force under Usama bin Zayd, to return to Moota. However, this expedition never got off the ground because of his illness. Although Usama was ready to march, some Muslims, especially Abu Bakr and Umar, were worried that they would be absent from Madinah when the Holy Prophet (S) passed away.

They wanted to be present to put a stop to the successorship of Imam Ali (A) and put their own plans into action. However, two years later, a powerful Muslim army returned to Syria and conquered the Romans in the battle of Yermuk, bringing a large part of Syria under Islam.

Exercise
  1. Why did the Battle of Moota take place?
  2. What instructions did the Holy Prophet (S) give to the army and what did this show about the Holy Prophet (S)?
  3. Who was appointed as the commander of the army, and how was he related to the Holy Prophet (S)?
  4. What happened to the first commander of the army, and what did the Holy Prophet (S) dream about him?
  5. What tactics did Khalid use in this battle and was he right to do this?
(Courtesy of:- Shia Ithna asheri Madressa)