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Siege of Jerusalem (637)
Part of the Muslim conquest of Syria and the Byzantine-Arab Wars
Al aqsa moschee 2.jpg
The Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem, is said to be the third most sacred site of the Muslims.
Date November 636 – April 637 A.D
Location Jerusalem
Result Rashidun victory, Jerusalem captured by Rashidun Caliphate.
Flag of the Greek Orthodox Church.svg Byzantine Empire Flag of Afghanistan (1880–1901).svg Rashidun Caliphate
Commanders and leaders
Patriarch Sophronius Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah
Khalid ibn al-Walid
Yazid ibn Abu Sufyan
Amr ibn al-A'as
Sharjeel ibn Hassana
~20,000 unknown

Jerusalem was besieged and captured by the Rashidun army in 637 CE during the Islamic invasion of the Byzantine Empire, shortly after the decisive defeat of the Byzantine army at the Battle of Yarmouk. Rashidun army under Abu Ubaidah besieged Jerusalem in November 636. After a prolonged siege of six months, Patriarch Sophronius agreed to surrender the city but only to caliph himself. In April 637, Caliph Umar personally came to Jerusalem to receive its submission. The Muslim conquest of Jerusalem solidified the Arab control over Palestine, which would not again be threatened until the Crusades. The city of Jerusalem came to be regarded as a holy site by Islam as well as the earlier major religions of Christianity and Judaism. It was after the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem that the Jews were allowed to live and practice their religion freely in Jerusalem by Caliph Umar after nearly 500 years of expulsion from the Holy Land by the Romans.[1]


Jerusalem was the capital of the Byzantine province of Palestine. Just twenty three years prior to Muslim conquest, in 614 it fell to an invading Sassanid army under Shahrbaraz during the last of Roman-Persian War. The Persian looted the city and are said to have massacred 90,000 Christians inhabitants of the city.[2] It is believed that the Jews, who were oppressed in their Roman-controlled homeland, aided the Persians. The True Cross was captured and taken to Ctesiphon as a battle-captured holy relic, it was later bought back to Jerusalem by Emperor Heraclius once he was victorious against the Persias.[3] Prophet Mohammad died in 632 and was succeeded by Caliph Abu Bakr, who established sovereignty over Arabia after series of campaigns known as Ridda Wars. Once Arabia was consolidated he started a war of conquest in east by invading Iraq, then a province of Sassanid Persian empire, and on western front his armies invaded Byzantine empire. In 634 Abu Bakr died and was succeeded by Caliph Umar who continued his war of conquest.[4] Emperor Heraclius, in May 636 launched a major expedition to roll back his lost territory his army was defeated decisively at the Battle of Yarmouk in August 636 CE. Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah, the Muslim Commander in Chief of the Rashidun army in Syria, held a council of war in early October 636 CE to discuss future plans. Opinions of objectives varied between the coastal city of Caesarea and Jerusalem. Abu Ubaidah could see the importance of both these cities, which had so far resisted all Muslim attempts at capture. Unable to decide the matter, he wrote to caliph Umar for instructions. In his reply the Caliph ordered the Muslims to capture Jerusalem. Abu Ubaidah accordingly marched towards Jerusalem with the army from Jabiya, with Khalid ibn Walid and his Mobile guard leading the advance. The Muslims arrived at Jerusalem around early November, and the Byzantine garrison withdrew into the fortified city.[5]

The siege[edit]

Jerusalem was an important city of the Byzantine province of Palestina prima. The town was well fortified, a reason why Muslims had so far not attempted any closed siege of the city, it is however noted that all the routes to the city were under potential danger of the Arab forces since 634 and it was though not encircled but was in a state of siege since Muslims captured the neighboring forts of Pella and Bosra, specially after the battle of yarmouk the city was served from rest of Syria and was presumably being prepared for a siege that seem inevitable.[6] Muslim troops besieged the city some time in November 636. The weary Muslim troops[7], instead of involving in a costly siege warfare, decided to press the siege until Byzantines run short of supplies and a bloodless surrender could be negotiated.[8] The details of the siege are not recorded in history[9] and it appears to be a closed but bloodless siege.[10] The Byzantine garrison could not expect any help from the humbled regime of Heraclius and after a prolonged siege of four months, as expected the Patriarch of Jerusalem Sophronius, having no hope of any help from the emperor, offered to surrender the city and pay the jizya, he however put a condition that the Caliph himself would come and sign the pact with him and receive the surrender.[11] It is said that when Sophronius' terms became known to the Muslims, Sharhabil ibn Hassana, one of the Muslim commanders, suggested that instead of waiting for caliph Umar to come all the way from Madinah, Khalid ibn Walid should be sent forward as the caliph, as he was very similar in appearance to Umar.[12][13] The subterfuge however did not work. Rather Khalid was too famous in Syria, or there may have been Christian Arabs in Jerusalem who had visited Madinah and had seen both Umar and Khalid, noting the differences. Consequently, the Patriarch of Jerusalem refused to negotiate. When Khalid reported the failure of this mission, Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah wrote to caliph Umar about the situation, and invited him to come to Jerusalem and accept the surrender of the city.[14]

Surrender of Jerusalem[edit]

The present day building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Sophronius invited caliph Umar to offer Salah.

Umar arrived in Palestine in early April 637 and first came to Jabiya[15], where he was received by Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah, Khalid ibn Walid and Yazid ibn Abu Sufyan, who had travelled with an escort to receive him. Amr ibn al-A'as was left as commander of the Muslim army besieging Jerusalem.[16] On Umar's arrival to Jerusalem a pact was drawn up, which surrendered Jerusalem and gave guarantees of civil and religious liberty for Christians in exchange for jizya ("tribute") – known as The Umariyya Covenant. On behalf of the Muslims it was signed by caliph Umar and witnessed by Khalid ibn Walid, Amr ibn al-A'as, Abdur Rahman bin Awf and Muawiyah and in late April 637 CE, Jerusalem was surrendered to the caliph.[17] It has been recorded in the annals of Muslim chronicles that when the at the Zuhr prayers time Sophronius invited Umar to pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but Umar declined fearing to endanger the Church's status as a Christian temple and that the Muslims may not break the treaty to make it a mosque as the Caliph had prayed in it.[18] By his command the ground of the Temple Mount was prepared for the foundation of a Masjid al-Aqsa. After staying 10 days at Jerusalem, the caliph returned to Medina.


Following the Caliph's instructions, Yazid ibn Abu Sufyan proceeded to Caesarea and once again laid siege to the port city. Amr ibn al-A'as and Sharhabil ibn Hassana marched to complete the occupation of Palestine and Jordan, which task was completed by the end of this year. Caesarea however could not be taken till 640, when at last the garrison laid down its arms before Muawiyah I, then a governor of Syria. Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah and Khalid ibn Walid, with an army of 17,000 men, set off from Jerusalem to conquer all of northern Syria, which ended with the conquest of Antioch in late 637 CE and the Taurus Mountains region in south-eastern Anatolia.[19] In 639 Rashidun army invaded and conquered Egypt.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Moshe Gil, page: 70-71
  2. ^ Greatrex-Lieu 2002, p. II, 198.
  3. ^ Haldon, p.46.
  4. ^ Bernard Lewis, p.65.
  5. ^ Akram, A. I, p.431.
  6. ^ Moshe Gil, p.51.
  7. ^ Muslims are said to have lost 4,000 men in the Battle of Yarmouk fought just two months before the siege
  8. ^ Edward Gibbon, vol.6, p.321
  9. ^ Muslim historians differ in the year of the siege while Tabari says it was 636, al buladhuri placed its date of surrender in 638. A.I.Akram believe 636-637 to be the most possible date.
  10. ^ Akram, A. I, p.432.
  11. ^ Meron Benvenisti, p.14
  12. ^ Waqidi, vol.I, p.162,
  13. ^ Isfahani, Vol.15, pp. 12, 56.
  14. ^ Akram, A. I, p.433.
  15. ^ Moshe Gil, p.52
  16. ^ Akram, A. I, p.434.
  17. ^ Moshe Gil, p.54.
  18. ^ Edward Gibbon, vol.6, p.321.
  19. ^ Akram, A. I, p.438.


  • Gil, Moshe (February 1997). A History of Palestine, 634-1099. Cambridge University Press.
  • Al-Waqidi, Futuh al-Sham (Conquest of Syria).
  • Imad ad-Din al-Isfahani, al-Fath al-Qussi fi-l-Fath al-Qudsi.
  • Akram, A.I. (1970). The Sword of Allah: Khalid bin al-Waleed, His Life and Campaigns. Rawalpindi: National Publishing House. ISBN 0-710-10104-X.
  • Meron Benvenisti, City of Stone: The Hidden History of Jerusalem Publisher, University of California Press (1998), ISBN 0520207688, 9780520207684
  • Edward Gibbon, The history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 6 Publisher J.D. Morris, (1862).
  • Haldon, John (1997). Byzantium in the Seventh Century: the Transformation of a Culture. Cambridge. ISBN 0-521-31917-X.
  • Bernard Lewis: The Arabs in History,
  • Dodgeon, Michael H.; Greatrex, Geoffrey; Lieu, Samuel N. C. (2002). The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars (Part II). Routledge. ISBN 0-415-003423.

Category:Islamic history Jerusalem Jerusalem Jerusalem Jerusalem 637 Category:Islam in Jerusalem Category:7th century in the Byzantine Empire Category:636 Category:637 Jerusalem