1 October 2021
Men of Excellence: Hazrat Umarra ibn al-Khattab
After reciting the tashahud, ta‘awuz and Surah al-Fatihah, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa stated:
On one occasion, whilst speaking on the subject of tabligh in one of his addresses, Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra mentioned accounts from the life of Hazrat Umarra. He stated:
“In the battles that were fought after the demise of the Holy Prophetsa, the Muslims were mostly outnumbered. During the battle in Syria, there was a great shortage of soldiers. Hazrat Abu Ubaidahra sent a letter to Hazrat Umarra saying that the enemy was in far greater numbers and requested reinforcement. Hazrat Umarra took an assessment of the situation and found it impossible to form another battalion as the young men of the tribes in and around Arabia had either been killed or were already part of the army.
“Subsequently, Hazrat Umarra organised a gathering to seek consultation. People from various tribes were invited and this matter was put before them. They suggested that there was one tribe where some men could be found. Hazrat Umarra instructed one of his officers to immediately go there and gather the young men of that tribe. He also wrote to Hazrat Abu Ubaidahra stating that he was going to send 6,000 men to support him and they would reach him in a few days. Hazrat Umarra stated that 3,000 men would reach him from such and such tribe and he was sending Amr bin Ma‘di Karib as an equivalent of the remaining 3,000.”
Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra further states:
“If one of our youths was sent to confront 3,000 men, he would say that this was a completely illogical thing and would ask whether the Khalifa had lost his senses. Can a single person confront 3,000 men? However, observe how strong the faith of those individuals was! When Hazrat Abu Ubaidahra received the letter from Hazrat Umarra, he read it and told his soldiers to rejoice as Amr bin Ma‘di Karib would be reaching them the following day.
“The following day, the soldiers welcomed Amr bin Ma‘di Karib with great passion and raised slogans. The enemy thought that the Muslims were perhaps reinforced by an army of 100,000 or 200,000 men and that is why they were rejoicing so much. However, it was only Amr bin Ma‘di Karib by himself. Following this, the contingent of 3,000 men reached them as well and the Muslims defeated the enemy. For a single person to confront 3,000 men in a battle with swords is virtually impossible.”
Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra further states:
“During a debate, a single man can convey his message to several thousand. However, these people gave such importance to the words of the Khalifa of the time that when Hazrat Umarra sent Amr bin Ma‘di Karib as an equivalent of 3,000 soldiers, the soldiers did not raise any objection as to how a single person could confront 3,000 men; rather, they considered him to be equivalent to 3,000 men and welcomed him in an excellent manner. As a result of this welcome of the Muslims, the hearts of the enemy were filled with fear and they believed that perhaps an army of 100,000 or 200,000 men came as reinforcement for the Muslims. As such, the enemy was defeated during the battle and fled.”
Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra says, “At present, we must reassure our hearts in this manner as well.” (Spain Aur Sicily mein tabligh-e-Islam aur Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya, Anwar-ul-Ulum, Vol. 18, pp. 359-260)
This incident was narrated by Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra in relation to how to do tabligh in Europe; for example in Spain and Sicily etc.
Now I shall mention the conquests that took place in Egypt. Among those was the Battle of Farama [Pelusium]. Farama was a well-known city of Egypt which was situated to the east of the Mediterranean Sea and Paluzi, which was one of the seven tributaries of the River Nile and the city of Farama was situated on the mountain. (Hazrat Umar Farooq A‘zam, Muhammad Husain Haikal, pp. 556-557, Islami Kutub Khana, Lahore)
According to Allama Shibli Nomani, after the victory at Baitul Maqdis [Jerusalem], upon the insistence of Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas, Hazrat Umarra sent Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas with an army of 4,000 towards Egypt, but with the instruction that they must return if they received his letter prior to reaching Egypt.
They reached Arish when the letter from Hazrat Umarra was received in which he instructed them not to advance any further. However, seeing as the instruction was conditional, Hazrat Amrra said that since they were within the confines of Egypt, therefore they would advance from Arish to Farama. (Al-Faruq, Shibli Nomani, p. 160, Dar al-Isha‘ah, Karach, 1991)
There is a book called Al-Iktifa which covers the Muslim battles. It is written therein that Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas received the letter of Hazrat Umarra having reached a place called Rafah, but he did not take the letter from the messenger out of fear that it would contain the instruction from Hazrat Umarra to return. So instead, he continued marching forth until he reached a small village between Rafah and Arish, and enquired about the village. He was told that this was within the confines of Egypt. He then asked for the letter to be brought and read it. It was written that he and the Muslims accompanying him should all return.
And so he asked his companions, “Do you not see that this is Egypt?” They replied in the affirmative. He then said, “The Leader of the Faithful [Hazrat Umarra] instructed that if I receive the letter prior to reaching Egypt I should return, but I have received it having entered the land of Egypt. So let us go forth in the name of Allah.”
It is also mentioned in another narration that Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas was in Palestine and he advanced with his companions to Egypt without permission. Hazrat Umarra was displeased with this, so he wrote a letter to Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas and he received this letter when he was close to Arish, but did not read it until he had reached Arish. The letter read as follows:
“Umar bin al-Khattab to Amr bin al-Aas:
“Thereafter, indeed you are travelling to Egypt with your companions. There is a large army of the Byzantines there whilst you are few in number. I swear that it would have been better had you not taken them with you, therefore if you have not yet reached Egypt, you must return.” (Al-Iktifa bima Tadmanuhu min Maghazi Rasul Allah wa al-Thalathah al-Khulafa, Vol. 2, Chapter 1, pp. 324-325, Umarra bin al-Khattab, Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah, Beirut, 1420 AH)
On the way to Farama, the Muslim army did not encounter a single Byzantine soldier, and in fact, the Egyptians welcomed them in various places, and it was in Farama that the very first confrontation took place.
There are various narrations [with reference to Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas], but the one that seems correct is that letter was received after having reached Arish, which is situated within the border of Egypt. It cannot be that he continued to make excuses in order to only open the letter after reaching Egypt. Nevertheless, since they had already reached Egypt, the only option was to advance forward as the believers do not retreat.
The Byzantines received news that Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas was coming with a small army with insufficient preparation and could not lay a siege for too long. The Byzantines thought that since they were better prepared and in a greater number, therefore they would easily defeat them. The Byzantines secured themselves in their fortress. Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas had come to know of the military power of the Byzantines and that they were much greater in weapons and in number. He, therefore, made plans to either seize Farama whereby they would launch a surprise attack, have the rampart doors opened, or to then remain patient in their besiegement until the residents ran out of food and come forth out of desperation. Thus, they laid siege [to the city].
On the one hand, the Muslims were tightening their siege, and on the other, the Byzantines were stubborn in their persistence. As such, the siege continued for many months. Sometimes the Byzantine forces would emerge for a few skirmishes but would then retreat. The Muslims would always prevail in these skirmishes.
One day, some Byzantine forces came forth in combat against the Muslims and the Muslims prevailed over them. When the Byzantines retreated to their fort in defeat, the Muslims swiftly pursued them. Some Muslims beat the Byzantines to the rampart gates and opened them, clearing the path to a clear victory. (Al-Salabi, Sayyiduna Umar bin Khattabra translated [Khangarh, Pakistan: Al-Furqan Trust], pp. 756-757)
The conquest of Bilbeis and the circumstances in which it occurred are as follows: After the conquest of Farama, as Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas was setting out for Bilbeis, he was intercepted by Byzantine forces. Bilbeis is a city located approximately 30 miles from Fustat, en route to Syria. The Muslims were intercepted to prevent them from reaching the fort of Babylon. In ancient terminology, the land of Egypt was referred to as Babylon, particularly the region where Fustat was located. The Byzantines intended to fight there. Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas told them not to be hasty and to hold off until they had heard his proposal so that there would be no excuses or evasions later. Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas also said for them to send Abu Maryaam as an emissary to represent them. Thus, they deferred the battle and sent the two emissaries. Both these delegates were priests from Bilbeis. Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas presented them with the options of accepting Islam or paying jizya, and along with this, recounted the words of the Holy Prophetsa about the people of Egypt. The Holy Prophetsa said, “You will conquer Egypt, a land where the unit of qir‘at is used [to measure]. When you conquer that land, treat its people kindly because they have a right over you and are among your kin.” Or he stated, “They have a right over you and you share ancestral fathers.”
Upon hearing this, the two emissaries said that this was a very distant relationship that could only be fulfilled by prophets and asked to leave and deliberate on their decision, upon which they would return. Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas told them that he would not be fooled and that he would give them a period of three days to carefully contemplate on the matter. Both the emissaries asked for an additional day for deliberation, so they were given one additional day. The two of them then returned to Muqawqis, the leader of the Copts, and Artabun [Aretion], the governor of Egypt appointed by the Byzantine Emperor, and presented them with the proposal from the Muslims. Artabun denied the proposal and was bent on war, and he launched an assault on the Muslims overnight. The forces of Artabun are recorded to have been 12,000 in number. A great deal of Muslims was martyred in this conflict, while the Byzantines lost 1,000 soldiers to the battle and another 3,000 were imprisoned. Artabun fled the battlefield, while some say that he was slain in this very battle. The Muslims continued to prevail over Artabun’s forces until they reached Alexandria. Historians agree that the Muslims remained in Bilbeis for a month, during which time the battle continued and, ultimately, the Muslims were victorious. Historians, however, debate over whether or not this was an intense battle. (Al-Salabi, Sayyiduna Umar bin Khattabra translated [Khangarh, Pakistan: Al-Furqan Trust], pp. 757-758) (Hazrat Umar Farooq A‘zam, Muhammad Husain Haikal, translated by Habib Ash’ar, pp. 564-565, Islami Kutub Khana, Urdu Bazar, Lahore) (Al-Iktifa bima Tadmanuhu min Maghazi Rasul Allah wa al-Thalathah al-Khulafa, Vol. 2, p. 346, Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah, Beirut, 1420 AH) (Yaqut Ibn Abd Allah al-Hamawi, Mu‘jam al-Buldan, Vol. 1, Bilbeis [Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah], p. 567) (Atlas Futuhat Islamiyyah, Vol. 2, p. 225, Dar al-Salam, Al-Riyad, 1428 AH)
During this battle, an incident took place that is a testament to the sagacity and moral superiority of the Muslims. When Allah the Almighty granted Muslims victory in Bilbeis, the daughter of Muqawqis was imprisoned, whose name was Armanoosah. She was his favourite and beloved daughter whom he planned to marry off to Constantine, the son of Heraclius. She was not content with this marriage and took an excursion to Bilbeis with her maid. When the Muslims had imprisoned her, Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas gathered the noble Companionsra and recited the following words of Allah the Almighty:
هَلۡ جَزَآءُ الۡاِحۡسَانِ اِلَّا الۡاِحۡسَانُ
“Is the reward of goodness anything but goodness?” (Ch.55: V.61)
Then, in reference to this verse, he reminded them by stating, “Muqawqis sent a gift to our Holy Prophetsa. I am of the opinion that his daughter should be returned to him along with her entourage and servants and all the wealth that was seized.”
Everyone was in agreement with Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas. Accordingly, Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas sent Armanoosah to her father with great honour and dignity; along with all her jewellery and accompanying women and servants. On their journey back, one of Armanoosah’s maids remarked that they were protected in every direction by Arabs. Armanoosah replied to her, saying that she felt safe for her life and honour in the tents of the Arabs, but did not consider her life to be safe in her father’s fortress. When she reached her father, he was very pleased with how the Muslims had treated her. (Al-Salabi, Sayyiduna Umar bin Khattabra translated [Khangarh, Pakistan: Al-Furqan Trust], pp. 758-759)
Then, there is mention of the conquest of Umm Dunayn [Tendunyas]. After the conquest of Bilbeis, Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas was advancing along the desert’s perimeter when he reached a place close to Umm Dunayn, which was located on the Nile River at the source of Trajan’s Canal. This canal was close to Suez and joined Egypt City and the Mediterranean Sea, where Azbakeya, a district in Cairo, is located today. Umm Dunayn was located at this very place during that time, which the Byzantines had fortified. In the near vicinity were the riverbanks of the Nile, where many boats were docked. This area was to the north of Babylon, which was the largest fort of Egypt City. In this way, Umm Dunayn could be considered the foremost defensive outpost for guarding this precious region, which the Egyptians cherished as the centre of operations for many past pharaohs. The Muslims set up camp near Umm Dunayn. The Byzantines sent their finest soldiers to their fort in Babylon and heavily reinforced their fort in Umm Dunayn as they prepared for battle. According to information received from the reconnaissance, Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas estimated that his forces were not enough to conquer Fort Babylon or to besiege it. He sent a messenger with a letter to Medina detailing the circumstances of his journey to Egypt, intelligence on the enemy forts and the need for reinforcements in order to attack them. He also announced to his forces that reinforcements would join them shortly.
Following this, he advanced towards Umm Dunayn and laid siege, cutting the fort’s supply of food and military equipment. The Byzantines in Fort Babylon didn’t even consider coming out because they had witnessed Artabun’s outcome in Bilbeis and realised that they could not combat the Arabs on an open battlefield. The forces of Umm Dunayn would periodically emerge for a skirmish but would retreat in failure. Many weeks passed like this. At the same time, news arrived that the first reinforcements from the Khalifa were on their way and would arrive very soon. This news greatly supplemented the strength and resolve of the Muslims. (Hazrat Umar Farooq A‘zam, Muhammad Husain Haikal, translated by Habib Ash‘ar, pp. 567-570, Islami Kutub Khana, Urdu Bazar, Lahore)
Hazrat Umarra had sent 4,000 soldiers as reinforcements for the Muslim forces. He also appointed a leader for every 1,000 soldiers. Those leaders were, Hazrat Zubairra bin al-Awam, Hazrat Miqdadra bin Aswad, Hazrat Ubadahra bin Samit and Hazrat Maslamahra bin Mukhallad.
According to one narration, Kharijah bin Huzayfa was made the amir in place of Hazrat Maslamahra bin Mukhallad. Along with sending reinforcements, Hazrat Umarra wrote a letter to Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas saying, “Now you have 12,000 soldiers with you. They will never be defeated on account of being fewer in number.”
The Byzantines set out along with the Copts to fight the Muslims. A fierce battle ensued between the two sides. Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas devised a strategy whereby he divided the army into three parts; one was near Jabal-e-Ahmar, the second was by the Nile River at a place called Umm Dunayn, and the remainder of the army set out to battle the enemy.
As the two armies were engaged in fierce battle, the army hiding by Jabal-e-Ahmar came out and attacked from behind, which scattered the ranks of the opposing army and they fled towards Umm Dunayn. There, the second part of the Islamic army was waiting and stopped their path. Thus, the Byzantine army was trapped between the three Muslim armies as a result of which the opponents suffered defeat. (Al-Salabi, Sayyiduna Umar bin Khattabra translated [Khangarh, Pakistan: Al-Furqan Trust], p. 759)
It is mentioned regarding various other conquests that after the victory at Umm Dunayn, the first place Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas conquered was Fayum and the chief of that area was killed in this battle. (Hazrat Umar Farooq A‘zam, Muhammad Husain Haikal, translated by Habib Ash‘ar, pp. 571-572, Islami Kutub Khana, Urdu Bazar, Lahore)
Then, the Muslims faced the Byzantines in Ain al-Shams. Before this, reinforcements of 8,000 soldiers came and met Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas. Hazrat Zubairra bin al-Awwam was the commander and Hazrat Ubadahra bin Samit, Hazrat Miqdadra bin Aswad and Hazrat Maslamahra bin Mukhallad were also part of this. The Muslims were also victorious in this battle. Later, the Muslims gained victory over the entire area of Fayum. One part of the Muslim army gained victory in two cities of the Manoofiya region; Ithreeb and Manuf. (Hazrat Umar Farooq A‘zam, Muhammad Husain Haikal, translated by Habib Ash‘ar, pp. 573, 579, Islami Kutub Khana, Urdu Bazar, Lahore) (Atlas Futuhat Islamiyyah, Vol. 2, p. 229, Dar al-Salam, Al-Riyad, 1428 AH)
It is recorded regarding the victory over the Babylon Fort or Fustat that after gaining victory at Umm Dunayn, Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas marched towards the Babylon Fort and laid siege to it. Now this area is known as Fustat. The reason for it being called this is that in Arabic, tents are called “Fustat”. After successfully conquering the fort, Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas commanded to leave, and it so happened that a pigeon made a nest in Hazrat Amr’sra tent. When he saw it, he instructed that the tent should remain there and upon returning from Alexandria, he had a city established near the tent; and it subsequently became known as Fustat. (Al-Faruq, Shibli Nomani, pp. 150-151, Dar al-Isha‘ah, Karachi, 2004)
It is estimated that the protective forces inside the fort were around 5,000 to 6,000 and they were armed in every way. Hazrat Amrra began the siege of the Babylon Fort. After Alexandria, this was one of the strongest forts and had been built with cement blocks. It was surrounded by water from the Nile River. Since it was located on the Nile River, boats and ships would go straight to the door of the fort, and so it was essential for important work. The Arabs were not properly equipped to attack such a fort nor were they ready for this. (Sirat Umar Faruqra, Muhammad Raza, pp. 264-265, Maktabah Islamiyyah, 2010)
And so, first and foremost, Hazrat Amrra began making preparations to lay siege. Muqawqis, the ruler of Egypt, had already reached the fort before Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas and was preparing for battle. Hazrat Zubairra rode his horse around all four sides of the ditch and would appoint the necessary number of soldiers to a given area. This siege continued for seven months straight, and the determination of victory or defeat could not be made. (Al-Faruq, Shibli Nomani, p. 150, Dar al-Isha‘ah, Karachi, 2004)
During this time, sometimes the Byzantines would come out of the fort to fight but then would go back inside. All the while, Muqawqis would send his envoys to Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas in attempts to reconcile and strike fear.
Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas sent Hazrat Ubadahra bin Samit for reconciliation with three conditions; either accept Islam or pay jizya, otherwise there would be a war. He said that a treaty should not be reached based on any other condition apart from these. Muqawqis agreed to pay jizya, and went himself to Heraclius to seek permission. However, Heraclius did not accept this and in fact became quite angry and expelled him from the land as a result. (Sayyiduna Umar bin Khattabra – Shakhsiyyat aur karnamey, Ali Muhammad Salabi, Urdu translation, p. 760, Al-Furqan Trust, Khangarh, Pakistan) (Hazrat Umar Farooq A‘zam, Muhammad Husain Haikal, translated by Habib Ash‘ar, pp. 582, 584, 590, Islami Kutub Khana, Urdu Bazar, Lahore)
When victory at the Babylon Fort seemed to be delayed, Hazrat Zubairra bin al-Awam said, “I am going to present my life as an offering in the way of Allah. I am hopeful that this will allow the Muslims to become victorious.”
Upon saying this, he took an unsheathed sword, and using a ladder, scaled the wall of the fort. Some other companions supported him as well.
Once they had scaled the wall, they raised slogans along with which the entire army raised slogans, causing the floor of the fort to vibrate, as it were. The Christians realised that the Muslims had entered the fort, upon which they aimlessly ran. Upon coming down from the wall, Hazrat Zubairra opened the door to the fort, and the entire army came inside, and after some fighting, they conquered the fort. (Sayyiduna Umar bin Khattabra – Shakhsiyyat aur karname, Ali Muhammad Salabi, Urdu translation, p. 760, Al-Furqan Trust, Khangarh, Pakistan) (Al-Faruq, Shibli Nomani, p. 150, Dar al-Isha‘ah, Karachi, 2004)
Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas assured them security on the condition that the Byzantine army would take some provisions with them that will last them a few days, and that they would leave the treasures and armour in the Babylon Fort untouched as they were the spoils of the Muslims. Afterwards, Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas broke the domes and fortified walls of the fort. (Sayyiduna Umar bin Khattabra – Shakhsiyyat aur karname, Ali Muhammad Salabi, Urdu translation, p. 760, Al-Furqan Trust, Khangarh, Pakistan)
After conquering the Babylon Fort, the Muslims gained various victories in different places and forts in Egypt, of which, the most prominent was Tarnut, Naqyus, Sultais, Kiryon. (Hazrat Umar Farooq A‘zam, Muhammad Husain Haikal, translated by Habib Ash‘ar, p. 602, 603, 605, 608, Islami Kutub Khana, Urdu Bazar, Lahore)
As for the conquest of Alexandria, it is stated that after the conquest of Fustat, Hazrat Umarra granted permission for the conquest of Alexandria. There was a large battle with the Byzantines at a place between Alexandria and Fustat called Kiryon, which the Muslims eventually won. After that, the Byzantines did not come forward until Alexandria. Muqawqis wished to pay the jizya and establish peace; however, the Byzantines pressured him, as a result of which Muqawqis sent a message to Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas saying that he and the Copts would not be taking part in the battle, and so they should be left unharmed. The Copts remained separate from this and instead supported the Muslim army and began clearing paths and fixing bridges for the Muslims. During the siege of Alexandria, the Copts would provide the Muslims with provisions.
The significance of Alexandria can be gauged by the fact that when the Muslims conquered Alexandria, the city was considered its capital city. After Constantinople, this was known as the second largest city of Byzantine rule. Furthermore, this was also the world’s first trading city. The Byzantines knew very well that if the Muslims were to conquer this city, it would pose dire consequences. It was out of this fear that Heraclius said that if the Arabs overtook Alexandria, the Byzantines would be ruined.
Heraclius started preparing to fight the Muslims himself but died during his preparations, and his son Constantine succeeded him as the ruler. Alexandria was unique to its prominent structures, large forts, location and a large number of guards.
The siege of Alexandria continued for nine months. Hazrat Umarra was worried and wrote a letter saying, “Perhaps you have become driven by luxuries there otherwise obtaining victory should not have taken this long. Along with this message, deliver a speech to the Muslims about jihad and then level an attack.”
After reading out this letter from Hazrat Umarra, Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas called Hazrat Ubadahra bin Samit and handed him the flag. The Muslims carried out an intense attack and thus conquered the city.
Hazrat Amrra dispatched a messenger to Medina with instructions for him to ride as fast as he possibly could to convey this good news to the leader of the faithful. The messenger mounted the she-camel and traversed the landscape until finally arriving in Medina. It was afternoon and the messenger, thinking it was resting time, avoided going straight to the Khalifa’s residence and instead headed to the Prophet’s Mosque [Masjid al-Nabawi]. Coincidentally, a female servant of Hazrat Umarra was passing by and asked the messenger who he was and where he had travelled from.
“From Alexandria”, replied the messenger. The servant rushed and immediately informed Hazrat Umarra and on returning said, “Come, the Leader of the Faithful calls for you.” Hazrat Umarra was already about to head there himself and was arranging his shawl, when the messenger arrived. Hazrat Umarra received news of the victory and fell down into prostration in gratitude to Allah. He then got up and went to the mosque and made an announcement: “Al-Salat-ul-Jami”.
All of Medina heeded this call and arrived. The messenger informed all of the details of the victory. Thereafter, the messenger went with Hazrat Umarra to his residence and the messenger was presented with a meal. Hazrat Umarra enquired from the messenger, “Why did you not come directly to me?” The messenger explained, “I thought you would be resting at the time.” Hazrat Umarra said, “How did you misconceive this about me? If I rest during the day then who would bear the responsibility of the station of Khilafat?”
With the conquest of Alexandria, all of Egypt was conquered. Through these battles a large number of prisoners of war were captured. Hazrat Umarra gave the following directives in a letter to Hazrat Amrra regarding these prisoners: “Summon all of them and tell them they may choose to become Muslim should they wish to, or they may choose to remain upon their existing religion. If they accept Islam, they will be granted all those rights the Muslims have been afforded. Otherwise, they will have to give the jizya, which is given by all non-Muslim subjects.”
When this announcement was read before the prisoners, many chose to become Muslim, whilst many others chose to remain on their existing faith. Whenever anyone amongst them decided to embrace Islam, the other Muslims would all raise slogans of “Allah is the Greatest.” Whenever anyone amongst the prisoners professed to continue their belief in Christianity, the other Christians would sing tributes of praise, leaving the Muslims feeling sorrowful. (Al-Faruq, Shibli Nomani, pp. 162-165, Dar al-Isha‘ah, Karachi, 1991) (Al-Salabi, Sayyiduna Umar bin Khattabra translated [Khangarh, Pakistan: Al-Furqan Trust], pp. 760-764)
The incident of the burning of the Library of Alexandria is often cited with fervour by various orientalists. But what really occurred? An allegation is raised regarding the victory of Alexandria by the opponents of Islam, in particular by Christians, that Hazrat Umarra allegedly ordered for the great library in Alexandria to be burnt down. This allegation is an attempt to create the perception that the Muslims, God forbid, were opposed to literacy, education and knowledge. It is alleged that the Library of Alexandria burned for six months continuously. In truth, from a logical standpoint and on the basis of the narrations, this allegation is entirely false and fictional. Indeed, this is a religion whose founder taught:
طَلَبُ الْعِلْمِ فَرِيضَةٌ عَلَى كُلِّ مُسْلِمٍ
That is, “It is obligatory for every Muslim to seek knowledge.” (Sunan Ibn Majah, Iftitah al-Kitab fi al-Iman wa Fada‘il al-Sahabah wa al-‘Ilm, Bab Fadl al-Ulama wa al-Hath ala Talab al-Ilm, Hadith 224)
And he also stated:
أُطْلُبُوْا الْعِلْمَ وَلَوْ بِالصِّيْنِ
That is, “Seek knowledge even if you have to travel to China.” (Kanz al-Ummal, Part 10, p. 138, Kitab al-Bab al-Awwal fi al-Targhib fih, Hadith 28697, Mu‘assisat al-Risalah, Beirut, 1985)
Further, the Holy Quran in numerous verses teaches Muslims to ponder, reflect and study. To allege against a religion with the aforementioned teachings that it advocates the burning of libraries and books, is clearly contrary to logic and reason. Aside from this, many academics and researchers, including European and Christian researchers, disprove this allegation and provide evidence that supports the notion that the allegation of Muslims burning the Library of Alexandria is nothing more than a fabricated and false account. Thus, an Egyptian academic, Muhammad Raza, has written in his biography of Hazrat Umar Farooqra that the Library of Alexandria being burned is an allegation cited by Abul Farj Malati, in a book, Mukhtasir Al-Duwal. The author was born in 1226 CE and passed away in 1286 CE.
“A person by the name of Yuhanna Al-Nahwi, known by the Muslims as Yahya, was a Coptic priest from the Jacobite sect of Christianity and later on moved away from the concept of trinity. He had requested Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas for some books of medicine from ‘Khazain-e-Malukiyyat’ [the Library of Alexandria].
“Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas responded that he would give an answer only after seeking guidance from Hazrat Umarra.” This is a completely made-up account, but I am relating it so that its rebuttal can also be presented. “Hazrat Umarra [according to this account] wrote back, ‘If the contents of the books you have requested are in concordance with the Book of Allah, then the Book of Allah is sufficient and the books requested serve no purpose. And if the contents of the books you have asked for are contradictory to the Book of Allah, then such literature is useless to us. Thus, you should get rid of such books.’
:Hazrat Amrra bin al-Aas sorted these books in Alexandria and burnt them in a furnace. Over the course of six months, they were fully burned.
“This account is neither found in the history by Al-Tabari, nor in Ibn al-Athir, nor by Yaqubi and Al-Kindi, nor Ibn Abdul Hakam, nor Al-Baladhuri, nor Ibn Khaldun. This has only been cited by Abul Farj without any source, in the middle of the 13th century CE, corresponding to the beginning of the 7th century AH.
“Professor Butler has carried out research with regard to Yuhanna Nahvi and has written that he was not even alive in 642 CE, when the incident relating to the burning of the Library of Alexandria is mentioned. Encyclopaedia Britannica has written that Yuhanna lived at the end of the 5th century and the beginning of the 6th century, whereas we know that the conquest of Egypt occurred at the outset of the 7th century.
“On this basis, Professor Butler is correct to state that Yuhanna had already passed away by then. Further, the person whose reference is being given to support this fabricated incident”, even if, for argument’s sake, it is taken as true although it is false, “this individual in question passed away well before the alleged incident. Further, Dr Hassan Ibrahim Hassan, on the authority of Professor Ismail, in his book, The History of Amr bin al-Aas, writes, ‘The Library of Alexandria did not even exist at the time, because in 47 BC, the armies of Julius Caesar had, without reason, burned down one of two major parts of it. The second part of the library had also disappeared soon after. This occurred on the behest of the bishop Theophilus in the 4th century AD.’
“Professor Butler writes that the narrations of Abul Farj, from a historical standpoint, are mere conjecture and absurd. If the books really had to be burned [by the Muslims] they would have burned it at one time or in one go. If it had taken six months, then many of the books would have been stolen during this time. The Arabs were not known to let such material go to ruin. Gibbon has asserted that Islamic teachings prove contrary to this account for Islam teaches to not burn the books of Jews and Christians obtained during wartime. In terms of Islam’s stance on knowledge, philosophy, poetry, sciences and other branches of wisdom separate from religious teachings, Islam encourages to avail these. In the lands conquered by the Muslims, they never harmed the Churches and associated artefacts, and in fact allowed the non-Muslim subjects to continue practising their faith. On the basis of all of this, can logic or reason conclude that the leader of the faithful would ever have instructed the Library of Alexandria to be burnt down?” (Sirat Umar Faruqra, Muhammad Raza, pp. 294-297, Maktabah Islamiyyah, 2010)
Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Ira has replied to this allegation in his book, Tasdiq Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya by stating:
“[It is alleged that] Upon the request of Philoponus Hakeem and Fazal Ajal, the Muslim commander-in-chief, Amrra bin al-Aas enquired about what to do with the library to the Second Khalifa, Leader of the Faithful, so the Khalifa replied stating it ought to be burned down immediately and that this furnace burnt continuously for six months.”
This is what the people allege.
Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Ira continues:
“This allegation is as a result of spite on part of the priests and has no truth behind it. If people ponder over this, firstly, if this was part of the Islamic injunction [i.e. to burn books] then during the blessed era of Hazrat Umar’sra Khilafat, he ought to have ordered the burning of Christian and Jewish holy books, because it was these two religions with holy scriptures that were the primary addressee of Islam. Then, Islam ruled over the Magians, but there is not a single instance in history that mentions the burning of their books. If this was the practice of the Khalifas of Islam, then the means of this act ought to have been found in Islam, and also nothing would stop Islam from doing this.”
Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Ira further states:
“Secondly, if the burning of religious books was the practice of Muslim sovereigns and the Muslim people, then it would be impossible to find books on Greek philosophy, Greek medicine, and Greek sciences in the Arabic language. Thirdly, if the burning of books was the habit of Muslims, then the one refuting Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya ought to have presented an example from his own country.”
Hazrat Khalifatul Masihra in this book was replying to a person who was refuting Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya. [He continues,]
“He would not need to cross the sea to Alexandria to find an example. Which books were burned in India? Fourthly, Islam ruled in India for over 700 years; during this time and even until today the Bhagavad Gita, Ramayana, Mahabharata, and other renowned religious books such as Linga Puran and Markandeya still exist today and are considered to be their holy scriptures. Has anyone ever heard about the burning of any of them? In fact, some of these books have even been translated. It is a wonder therefore, just how did the Hindus assume that the Muslims would burn their holy books? Ponder over this with justice.” (Tasdiq Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya, Vol. 1, pp. 203-204)
In Tasdiq Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya, Hazrat Maulana Abdul Karim Sahibra has also written a note in reply to this allegation. He writes:
“It is true that until a time when this incident had not been investigated and the actual events had not come to light, this allegation was levelled against the Muslims. However, today, there are very few scholars who are just and adhere to the truth and still level this allegation against the Muslims. This allegation is mainly levelled owing to prejudice or being ignorant of the events. And even when this allegation was raised, they had no proof, i.e. regarding the ones who fabricated this incident were two historians born some 580 years after this alleged incident took place, who did not have any previous source. Saint Croix, who has written countless books about the libraries of Alexandria, has outright rejected this incident to be false. It seems that these books were burnt during a battle with Julius Caesar. Thus, Plutarch writes in Life of Caesar, that fearing being captured by the enemy, Julius Caesar burnt his boats. This fire spread to the extent that it burnt down the great library of Alexandria.”
In his book, Dictionary Relating to All Ages, Haydn has not only rejected this incident, but has also written a note:
“This incident is highly doubtful. The Muslims have not accepted this narration in which Hazrat Umarra is reported to have ordered the burning of all books that were contrary to Islam. Some have attributed this incident to Theophilus of Alexandria, who lived around 391 C.E. and others have attributed this to Cardinal Jimenez, who lived around the 15th century CE”.
Haydn further writes, “Our distinguished personality, Dr Leitner has mentioned this erroneous account in his book Sinnin Al-Islam, and regrettably the honourable doctor has erred in his research.”
In his famous book, John William Draper has mentioned this incident with the false narrators, but later he accepts that this incident was fabricated. He writes:
“In truth, these books were burnt during a battle with Julius Caesar. Now it can be said with full conviction that this incident is baseless and a mere tale. If there is an incident worth lamenting over, then that would be the true incident in which the bigoted Cardinal Jimenez, burnt 80,000 Arabic manuscripts in the plains of Granada.” When the Christians took control of Spain from the Muslims, they burned 80,000 books from the Library of Granada. This is something to truly lament over, as opposed to raising allegations against Islam. “See [History of the] Conflict Between Religion & Science where this reference can be found”. (Tasdiq Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya, Vol. 1, p. 203, footnote)
Nonetheless, this was the incident about the burning of the library on which allegations are raised.
Then, there is the conquest of Barqa [Cyrenaica]] and Tripoli. After conquering Egypt and establishing law and order there, Amrra bin al-Aas headed west so that the conquered lands would be safe from threat from that side. There were some Byzantine forces based in Barqa and Tripoli and were seizing an opportunity so that they could incite the people and subsequently attack the Muslims in Egypt. The area between Alexandria and Morocco was known as Barqa. Many towns and settlements existed in this region.
Thus, in 22 AH, Amrra bin al-Aas marched with his army towards Barqa. The land from Alexandria to Barqa was very lush and fertile and was densely populated. For this reason, until they reached there, they did not face any schemes of the enemy. When they reached there, the people agreed to a treaty on the condition of paying the jizya. Subsequently, the people of Barqa would themselves go to the governor of Egypt and pay the Kharaj and the Muslims would not need to go to collect it themselves. Among the people in this region, they were the most simple. They did not instigate any discord or rebellion. Amrra bin al-Aas left here and headed towards Tripoli, which was a city protected by forts. A large Byzantine army was stationed there.
When they learnt of the approaching Muslim army, they retreated to the forts and were forced to put up with the siege by the Muslims. This siege lasted for one month, but the Muslims did not attain much success. From the rear, the sea was connected to Tripoli and there was no wall between the sea and the city. The Muslims became aware of this secret and a few Muslims entered the city via the sea. They loudly raised the slogans of “Allah is the Greatest”. The opposing army was left with no other option but to take shelter in their boats. When they ran, Amrra bin al-Aas launched an attack and killed most of them, except the ones that had escaped on their boats. The equipment and wealth in the city were captured by the Muslims as spoils of the battle. After this, Amrra bin al-Aas spread his army in the surrounding areas.
His intention was that after attaining victories in the direction towards the West to then head towards Tunisia and Africa. And so, he wrote a letter to Hazrat Umarra; however, Hazrat Umarra, at the time, was reluctant to send the Muslim army to any new battlefront, particularly at a time when he was not convinced [of complete peace and security] in the lands which had been conquered from Syria to Tripoli in such a short space of time. And so, he instructed the army to remain stationed in Tripoli.
During the era of Hazrat Umar’sra Khilafat, the Islamic empire expanded far and wide. The Islamic empire established itself on the world map in the form of a single country, stretching from the River Gihon and the Indus River in the east to the Sahara desert of Africa in the West and similarly stretched from the Northern Anatolian Mountains and Armenia in the North to the Pacific Ocean and Nubia in the south. Nubia is an expansive and vast area of land which is situated in the south of Egypt. People of various nations, religions and cultures all lived in peace and security under the shade of justice and mercy established by the Muslims in the entire land that was under their control. Islam granted people their full rights and honoured the sanctity of their lives despite those people greatly opposing their beliefs, manner of worship, culture and way of life. (Sayyiduna Umar bin Khattabra – Shakhsiyyat aur karname, Ali Muhammad Salabi, Urdu translation, pp. 765-766, Al-Furqan Trust, Khangarh, Pakistan) (Yaqut Ibn Abd Allah al-Hamawi, Mu‘jam al-Buldan, Vol. 1, Barqa [Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah], p. 462) (Yaqut Ibn Abd Allah al-Hamawi, Mu‘jam al-Buldan, Vol. 1, Nubah [Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Kutub al-’Ilmiyyah], p. 357)
What was the standard of worship of the Muslims during the battles? Regarding this, Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra states:
“Everything in the world attains progress gradually. Even the greatest of feats are never accomplished in a single moment. Even in the time of the Holy Prophetsa, not everyone observed the Tahajud prayer; rather, this habit was being instilled in them gradually and even though it is proven that sometimes the Holy Prophetsa would not offer the Tahajud prayer during battle; however, in the era of Hazrat Umarra, the Muslims would offer the Tahajud prayer even in the days of battle. It is possible that the Holy Prophetsa would also wake up for the Tahajud prayer during the days of battle, but it is proven that on certain occasions, he would not offer Tahajud [during the days of battle].
“However, in the era of Hazrat Umarra, the Muslims would offer the Tahajud prayer even in battle. Once, Heraclius decided to launch a sudden attack on the Muslims; however, after much discussion, it was ultimately decided that there was no point to launch a sudden attack because the Muslims did not sleep at night and instead would offer Tahajud. This is another hallmark of their progression which was not found in them in the early days and thus the Holy Prophetsa would have to greatly urge and exhort them to offer this but later even those who were weak had developed the habit to offer the Tahajjud prayer.” (Khutbat-e-Mahmud, Vol. 13, p. 189)
Whilst mentioning the battles that took place during the era of the Khulafa-e-Rashideen [The Rightly Guided Caliphs], Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra states:
“Islam has not only given the command to challenge [the aggressors] but owing to certain wisdom and reasons it has also commanded to endure the injustices. Hence, Allah the Almighty grants permission that if one receives a slap, he can slap in return; however, if one feels that it would be wise not to retaliate, then one ought to remain quiet and not retaliate in the same manner. Thus, this argument which is generally presented in these instances [of battle] refutes the allegation levelled by the enemy against Hazrat Abu Bakrra, Hazrat Umarra and Hazrat Uthmanra.
“It is clear that Hazrat Abu Bakrra did not commit any injustice; rather, it was the Byzantine Emperor who committed injustice. Hazrat Umarra did not commit any injustice; rather, it was Chosroes who committed injustice. Hazrat Usmanra did not commit any injustice; rather, it was the tribes dwelling in Afghanistan and Bukhara and the Kurds etc. who committed injustice. However, we do not find any argument or reason as to why Hazrat Abu Bakrra, Hazrat Umarra and Hazrat Uthmanra did not forgive them.
“When [Hazrat Abu Bakrra] left for battle, he could have said to the Byzantine Emperor that a certain commander had committed an error and if their government apologised for it then they would forgive them and if not then they would proceed for battle. He did not say to the Byzantine Emperor that he or one section of his army had committed injustice on a certain occasion, but since their teaching also states that one can forgive their enemy, therefore if they sought an apology then they were ready to forgive. In fact, as soon as he committed an injustice, the Muslims were ready to challenge them in battle and continued to challenge them.
“Similarly, when the soldiers of Chosroes attacked at the border of Iraq, a battle between the companions and Chosroes was politically justified and lawful, but nonetheless Hazrat Umarra could have said to Chosroes that he himself may have not given an instruction to attack, but the soldiers did this of their own accord, therefore the Muslims were willing to overlook this attack providing they apologise and show remorse over their action; however, Hazrat Umarra did not do this.
“Again, in the era of Hazrat Uthmanra, he did not say to the enemy that though they had committed an injustice, since their religion also taught to forgive one’s injustices, therefore they would forgive them. In fact, he immediately stood to challenge them and sent his armies and fought against them and continued to battle against them. After all, what was the reason for this?”
Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra further continues:
“If we ponder over this, we find that there was no other reason for this except for the fact that Hazrat Abu Bakrra knew that whenever the external danger subsides, internal conflict will begin. He felt that it wasn’t the Byzantine emperor who launched an attack but it was in fact God, so that through this trial, the Muslims would reform themselves and instil in them a new life and bring about a transformation in themselves. Hazrat Umarra knew that it wasn’t Chosroes who launched the attack, but it was in fact God Who did so lest the Muslims became neglectful and indolent and immersed themselves in material pursuits; rather, they should always remain vigilant and ready. Hazrat Uthmanra knew that it wasn’t the various tribes who launched an attack on the Muslims, in fact it was God so that the Muslims became vigilant and instilled a new life and spirit within themselves.” (Khutbat-e-Mahmud, Vol. 30, pp. 175-176)
Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra mentioned this in one of his sermons. On the basis of this, Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra then advised the Jamaat that one had to go through trials and difficulties so that they could progress in spirituality.
If we wish to uphold this principle even today, then remember that these trials and difficulties ought to bring us closer to God Almighty and it is this that then becomes a means of attaining success and victories.
If, out of fear, we show reluctance in these matters and do not pay focus towards our reformation, then success cannot be attained. And when success is achieved and difficulties come to an end, even then we should continue to maintain our bond with Allah the Almighty.
However, these days particularly, we ought to pay greater attention towards Allah the Almighty and towards our spiritual betterment and progress.
Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra has stated that if we fail to grasp this point, then we have not understood anything at all. Hence, this is a point that every Ahmadi must try and understand these days.
(Original Urdu transcript published in Al Fazl International [Sirat-un-Nabi Number], 26 October 2021, pp. 5-10. Translated by The Review of Religions.)