Battle of Mu'tah

The Battle of Mu'tah (Arabic: مَعْرَكَة مُؤْتَةMaʿrakah Muʿtah, or Arabic: غَزْوَة مُؤْتَةGhazwah Muʿtah) was fought in September 629 CE (1 Jumada al-Awwal 8 AH),[1] 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 Byzantine Empire and their Arab Christian Ghassanid vassals.

In Islamic historical sources, the battle is usually described as the Muslims' attempt to take retribution against a Ghassanid chief for taking the life of an emissary. According to Byzantine sources, the Muslims planned to launch their attack on a feast day. The local Byzantine Vicarius learned of their plans and collected the garrisons of the fortresses. Seeing the great number of the enemy forces, the Muslims withdrew to the south where the fighting started at the village of Mu'ta and they were routed.[10][2] According to Muslim sources, after three of their leaders were killed, the command was given to Khalid ibn al-Walid and he succeeded in saving the rest of the force.[10]

The Byzantines were reoccupying territory following the peace accord between Emperor Heraclius and the Sasanid general Shahrbaraz in July 629.[14] The Byzantine sakellarios Theodore,[15] was placed in command of the army, and while in the area of Balqa, Arab tribes were also employed.[14]

Meanwhile, Muhammad had sent his emissary to the ruler of Bosra.[16] While on his way to Bosra, he was executed in the village of Mu'tah by the orders of a Ghassanid official Shurahbil ibn Amr.[16]

Muhammad dispatched 3,000 of his troops in the month of Jumada al-Awwal 7 (AH), 629 (CE), for a quick expedition to attack and punish the tribes for the murder of his emissary by the Ghassanids.[16] The army was led by Zayd ibn Harithah; the second-in-command was Ja'far ibn Abi Talib and the third-in-command was Abd Allah ibn Rawahah. When the Muslim troops arrived at the area to the east of Jordan and learned 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 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' numerical superiority. During the battle, all three Muslim leaders fell one after the other as they took command of the force: first, Zayd, then Ja'far, then 'Abdullah. 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 thus saving the army from complete destruction. After the battle, Al-Arqam took the banner, before asking Khalid ibn al-Walid to take the lead.[17]

The casualties of slain of the Muslim side were recorded as the four of them from Muhajireen while eight the rest from Ansar. Their names were:

Daniel C. Peterson, Professor of Islamic Studies at Brigham Young University, finds the ratio of casualties among the leaders suspiciously high compared to the losses suffered by ordinary soldiers.[12] David Powers, Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Cornell, also mentions this curiosity concerning the minuscule casualties recorded by Muslim historians.[13]

It is reported that when the Muslim force arrived at Medina, they were berated for withdrawing and accused of fleeing.[18] Salamah ibn Hisham, brother of Amr ibn Hishām (Abu Jahl) was 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.[18] It would not be until the third century AH that Sunni Muslim historians would state that Muhammad bestowed upon Khalid the title of 'Saifullah' meaning 'Sword of Allah'.[13]

Today, Muslims who fell at the battle are considered martyrs (shuhadāʾ).[citation needed] A mausoleum was later built at Mu'tah over their graves.[10]

According to al-Waqidi and Ibn Ishaq, the Muslims were informed that 100,000[6] or 200,000[7] enemy troops were encamped at Balqa'.[6][19] Consequently, modern historians refute this stating the figure to be exaggerated.[8][9][10] According to Walter Emil Kaegi, professor of Byzantine history at the University of Chicago, the size of the entire Byzantine army during the 7th century might have totaled 100,000, possibly even half this number.[20] While the Byzantine forces at Mu'tah are unlikely to have numbered more than 10,000.[a][11]

Muslim accounts of the battle differ over the result.[13] In the earliest Muslim sources, the battle is recorded as a humiliating defeat. (hazīma).[13] Later Muslim historians reworked the early source material to reflect the Islamic view of God's plan.[13] Subsequent sources present the battle as a Muslim victory given that most of the Muslim soldiers returned safely.[13]