Battle of Mu'tah

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Battle of Mu'tah (غزوة مؤتة)
Part of the Arab–Byzantine Wars
Zarih Jafer-at-Tayyar.JPG
The tomb of Ja`far ibn Abī Tālib, the second commander of the Muslim army.
Date September 629[1]
Location Mu'tah in Kerak Governorate, Jordan
Result The draw
Belligerents
Muslim Arabs Byzantine Empire,
Ghassanids
Commanders and leaders
Ja'far ibn Abi Talib  ,
Zayd ibn Haritha  ,
Abdullah ibn Rawahah  ,
Khalid ibn al-Walid
Theodore,
Heraclius,
Shurahbil ibn Amr
Strength
3,000 [2][3][4][5] Unknown but 100,000-200,000 according to Islamic tradition[6][5]
Modern historian Walter Kaegi says that the battle was "probably a very modest clash".[7]
Casualties and losses
12 soldiers (Muslim sources)[4] Unknown, though 3,000 soldiers according to Islamic tradition[4]

The Battle of Mu'tah (Arabic: معركة مؤتة , غزوة مؤتة‎) was fought in 629 (5 Jumada al-awwal 8 AH in the Islamic calendar[4]), near the village of Mu'tah, east of the Jordan River and Karak in Karak Governorate, between the forces of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad and the forces of the Eastern Roman Empire.

In Muslim histories, the battle is usually described as the Muslims' attempt to take retribution against a Ghassanid chief for taking the life of an emissary; it ended in a draw and the safe retreat of both sides.[8] However according to Byzantine sources, the Muslims sent a force to attack the Arab pagan settlement of Mucheon during a pagan feast day. The local Byzantine Vicarius learned of their plans and collected the garrisons of the fortresses. The Muslims were routed after three of their leaders were killed.[6]

Background[edit]

Ruins of a mosque built in the Mu'tah battle field

The Treaty of Hudaybiyah initiated a truce between the Muslim forces in Medina and the Qurayshite forces in control of Mecca. Badhan, the Sassanid governor of Yemen, had converted to Islam and many of the southern Arabian tribes also joined the rising power in Medina.[9] Muhammad was therefore free to focus on the Arab tribes in the Bilad al-Sham to the North.

Muslim historians say that the immediate impetus for a military march north was the mistreatment of emissaries. Muhammad is said to have sent emissaries to the nomadic Banu Sulaym and Dhat al Talh tribes of the north (tribes under the protection of the Byzantines). The emissaries were killed.[9] The expedition sent for revenge was the largest Muslim army raised yet against a non-Meccan confederate force and the first to confront the Byzantines.[9] According to F. Buhl, another possible reason "seems to have been that he wished to bring the Arabs living there under his control."[10]

Mobilization of the armies[edit]

According to later Muslim historians, Muhammad dispatched 3,000 of his troops to the area in Jumada al-awwal of the year 8 A.H., i.e., A.D. 629, for a quick expedition to attack and punish the tribes. The army was led by Zayd ibn Haritha; the second-in-command was Jafar ibn Abi Talib and the third-in-command was Abdullah ibn Rawahah.[4]

The leader of the Ghassanids is said to have received word of the expedition and prepared his forces; he also sent to the Byzantines for aid. Muslim historians report that the Byzantine emperor Heraclius gathered an army and hurried to the aid of his Arab allies. Other sources say that the leader was the emperor's brother, Theodorus.[citation needed] The combined force of Roman soldiers and Arab allies is usually reported to be approximately 200,000.

When the Muslim troops arrived at the area to the east of Jordan and learnt of the size of the Byzantine army, they wanted to wait and send for reinforcements from Medina. Abdullah ibn Rawahah reminded them about their desire for martyrdom and questioned the move to wait when what they desire was awaiting them, so they continued marching towards the waiting army.

The battle[edit]

The Muslims engaged the Byzantines at their camp by the village of Musharif and then withdrew towards Mu'tah. It was here that the two armies fought. Some Muslim sources report that the battle was fought in a valley between two heights, which negated the Byzantines their numerical superiority. During the battle, all three Muslim leaders fell one after the other as they took command of the force: first, Zayd ibn Haritha, then Jafar ibn Abi Talib, then Abdullah ibn Rawahah. Al-Bukhari reported that there were fifty stab wounds in Jafar's body, none of them in the back. After the death of the latter, some of the Muslim soldiers began to rout. Thabit ibn Al-Arqam, seeing the desperate state of the Muslim forces, took up the banner and rallied his comrades, and managed to save the army from complete destruction. After the battle the troops asked Thabit ibn Al-Arqam to assume command; however, he declined and asked Khalid ibn al-Walid to take the lead.[4]

Khalid ibn Al-Walid reported that the fighting was so intense that he used nine swords which broke in the battle. Khalid, seeing that the situation was hopeless, prepared to withdraw. He continued to engage the Byzantines in skirmishes, but avoided pitched battle. One night he completely changed his troop positions and brought forth a rearguard that he had equipped with new banners; all this was intended to give the impression that reinforcements had arrived from Medina. He also ordered his cavalry to retreat behind a hill during the night, hiding their movements, and then to return during daytime when the battle resumed, raising as much dust as they could. This also was intended to create the impression that further reinforcements were arriving. The Byzantines believed in the fictitious reinforcements and withdrew, thus allowing the Muslim force to safely retreat to Medina.

Aftermath[edit]

Medina, the Muslim capital.

It is reported that when the Muslim force arrived at Medina, they were berated for apparently withdrawing and accused of fleeing. Salamah ibn Hisham is reported to have prayed at home rather than going to the mosque to avoid having to explain himself. Muhammad ordered them to stop, saying that they would return to fight the Byzantines again and bestowed upon Khalid the title of 'Saifullah' meaning 'The Sword of Allah'.


Today, Muslims who fell at the battle are considered martyrs (shahid). Some have claimed that this battle, far from being a defeat, was a strategic success; the Muslims had challenged the Byzantines and had made their presence felt amongst the Arab Bedouin tribes in the region. A mausoleum was later built at Mu'tah over their grave.[10]

Non-Muslim accounts[edit]

Aside from the Muslim accounts, there may be a reference to the battle in the chronicle written by ninth century Byzantine monk and chronicler Theophanes.

According to Theophanes, the Muslim army intended to attack the local Arabs on a feast day (the word that Theophanes used most likely indicates a pagan rather than a Christian holiday). However, the vicarius Theodorus (who might be emperor's brother, in this case vicarius augustus (emperor's deputy) is meant, i.e. viceroy) learnt about their plans and gathered a force from the garrisons of local fortresses:

He determined from the Saracen the day and hour on which the emirs intended to attack, and attacked them at a place called Mothous. He killed three of them and most of their army, but one emir, Khalid (whom they call the sword of God), got away.[11]

It has been argued by some scholars, such as Walter Kaegi, that this is a reference to the Battle of Mu'tah, but this is not certain.

Islamic primary sources[edit]

The event is referenced in many Sunni Hadith collections. The Sahih al-Bukhari hadith collection mentions that 9 swords of Khalid ibn Walid were broken:

It also mentions that Jafar should take over as commander if Zaid ibn Haritha was killed:

The event is also referenced in the Abu Dawud hadith collection as follows:

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Kaegi, W. Heraclius, Emperor of Byzantium. p. 231
  2. ^ Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya, Zad al-Ma'ad 2/155
  3. ^ Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Fath al-Bari 7/511
  4. ^ a b c d e f Saif-ur-Rahman Mubarakpuri, ar-Raheeq al-Makhtoom, "The Sealed Nectar", Islamic University of Medina, Dar-us-Salam publishers ISBN 1-59144-071-8
  5. ^ a b General A. I. Akram, The Sword of Allah: Khalid bin Al-Waleed, Chapter 6, p. 2
  6. ^ a b Gibb, H. A. R. (1993). "Muʾta". In Nuhl, F. Encyclopaedia of Islam 7 (Second ed.). BRILL. pp. 756–757. ISBN 9789004094192. Retrieved 1 August 2012. 
  7. ^ Kaegi, W. Heraclius, Emperor of Byzantium, Cambridge University Press, 2007, ISBN 0-521-03698-4, p. 231.
  8. ^ Muhammad Husayn Haykal, The Life of Muhammad (Allah's peace and blessing be upon him), Translated by Isma'il Razi A. al-Faruqi, 1976, American Trust Publications ISBN 0-89259-002-5
  9. ^ a b c Sayed Ali Asgher Razwy (1996), A Restatement of the History of Islam and Muslims, The Battle of Mootah, ISBN 0-9509879-1-3
  10. ^ a b "Muʾta", F. Buhl, in Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel and W. P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2010. Accessed 2 October 2010 via Brill Online: [1]
  11. ^ p. 36, The Chronicle of Theophanes, tr. Harry Turtledove, University of Pennsylvania, 1982, ISBN 978-0-8122-1128-3.

References[edit]

Online References[edit]

  • [2] Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum (THE SEALED NECTAR)
  • [3] The Life of Muhammad
  • [4] Sword of Allah

See also[edit]