A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Homs: What Would Khalid ibn al-Walid Do?

Tomb of Khalid in Homs
I'm working on a longish piece on options in Syria, but as the slow destruction of Homs continues, but it's not ready for prime time yet, Meanwhile, I thought it might be worth wondering what one of the most distinguished historical figures buried in that city might think of what's going on. I'm thinking of Khalid ibn al-Walid, the "Sword of God," perhaps the most famous military commander during the Arab Conquests of the Middle East. Though not born in Homs (he was a Qurayshi from Mecca), Khalid is buried there, and his name is widely invoked there..

There are several narratives of the early Islamic conquests and sorting out their contradictions is a challenge to historians, something I have tried myself on occasion without ever publishing the results. but all the sources agree that Khalid was a major contributor to the military successes against both the Persian and Byzantine forces, playing crucial roles in the conquests of both Iraq and Syria.

Khalid showed his military prowess even before conversion to Islam, fighting with the Meccan forces against the Muslims in the Battle of Uhud, which the Meccans won. After his conversion he led Muslim armies in the  ridda wars in Arabia and in the campaign to conquer Iraq from the Sassanian Persian Empire. Then he crossed the desert from Iraq to Syria and fought in the campaigns in Syria. He was involved in the Battle of the Yarmuk and the conquest of Damascus, Homs (without a siege), and other cities. Eventually dismissed from service by the Caliph ‘Umar,he went into loyal retirement and died four years later, in 642 AD. He had settled in Homs, and was buried there.

Homs is sometimes said to have been the first city in Syria to be majority Muslim after the conquests, and it, and Hama up the road, are still centers of Sunni piety or, some would argue, radicalism.

No comments: