Battle of Mu'tah
The Battle of Mu'tah (Arabic: مَعْرَكَةُ مُؤْتَة, romanized: Maʿrakah Mu’tah, Arabic: غَزْوَة مُؤْتَة, romanized: Ġazwat Mu’tah) was fought in September 629 C.E. (1 Jumada al-awwal 8 A.H.), 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.
|Battle of Mu'tah|
|Part of the Arab–Byzantine Wars|
The tomb of Muslim commanders Zayd ibn Ḥārithah, Ja`far ibn Abī Tālib, and ʿAbdullāh ibn Rawāḥah in Al-Mazar near Mu'tah, Jordan
|Commanders and leaders|
Zayd ibn Harithah †|
Ja'far ibn Abi Talib †
Abdullah ibn Rawahah †
Shurahbil ibn Amr
|Casualties and losses|
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. 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 forces.
The Byzantines were reoccupying territory following the peace accord between Emperor Heraclius and the Sasanid general Shahrbaraz in July 629. The Byzantine sakellarios Theodore, was placed in command of the army, and while in the area of Balqa, Arab tribes were also employed.
Mobilization of the armiesEdit
Muhammad dispatched 3,000 of his troops to Jumada al-Awwal in 629, for a quick expedition to attack and punish the tribes for the murder of his emissary by the Ghassanids. 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 bin Walid to take the lead.
Khalid bin Walid reported that the fighting at Mu'tah was so intense that he used nine swords which broke during the battle. Khalid, seeing that the situation was hopeless, prepared to withdraw. He continued to engage the Byzantines in skirmishes, but avoided pitched battle. It is said that Khalid killed at least one identified Arab Christian commander, namely Malik.
- Zaid bin Haritha
- Ja'far ibn Abi Talib
- Abdullah bin Rawahah
- Masoud bin Al-Aswad
- Wahab bin Saad
- Abbad bin Qais
- Amr ibn Saad (not Sa'd ibn Abi Waqqas's son)
- Harith bin Nu'man
- Saraqah bin Amr
- Abu Kulaib bin Amr
- Jabir ibn 'Amr
- Amer bin Saad
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. David Powers, Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Cornell, also mentions this curiosity concerning the minuscule casualties recorded by Muslim historians.
It is reported that when the Muslim force arrived at Medina, they were berated for apparently withdrawing and accused of fleeing. 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. It would not be until the third century A.H. that Muslim historians would state that Muhammad bestowed upon Khalid the title of 'Saifullah' meaning 'Sword of Allah'.
After the Farewell Pilgrimage, the Prophet Muhammad appointed Usama ibn Zayd as the commander of an expeditionary force which was to invade the region of Balqa in the Byzantine Empire. This expedition was known as the Expedition of Usama bin Zayd and its stated aim was to avenge the Muslim losses at the Battle of Mu'tah, in which Usama's father and Muhammad's adopted son, Zayd ibn Harithah, had been killed. 
Today, Muslims who fell at the battle are considered martyrs (shuhadā’). 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.
According to al-Waqidi and Ibn Ishaq, the Muslims were informed that 100,000 or 200,000 enemy troops were encamped at Balqa'. Consequently, modern historians refute this stating the figure to be exaggerated. 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. While the Byzantine forces at Mu'tah are unlikely to have numbered more than 10,000.[a]
Muslim accounts of the battle differ over the result. In early Muslim sources, the battle is recorded as a humiliating defeat (hazīma). While, later Muslim historians would rework the early source material, revising the narrative of the battle as a Muslim victory on grounds that most of the Muslim soldiers returned safely while retreated from Byzantine forces.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Battle of Mu'tah.|
- The Byzantines do not appear to have used many Greek, Armenian, or other non-Arab soldiers at Mu'ta, even though the overall commander was the vicarius Theodore. The number that the Byzantines raised are, of course, uncertain, but unlikely to have exceeded 10,000.
- Kaegi 1992, p. 72.
- Kaegi 1992, p. 67.
- Tucker 2010, p. 200.
- Powers, David S. (2014-05-23). Zayd. University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 58–9. ISBN 978-0-8122-4617-9.
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- Ibn Ishaq (2004). The Life of Muhammad. A. Guillaume (trans.). Oxford University Press, USA. p. 532. ISBN 0-19-636033-1.
They went on their way as far as Ma‘ān in Syria where they heard that Heraclius had come down to Ma’āb in the Balqāʾ with 100,000 Greeks joined by 100,000 men from Lakhm and Judhām and al-Qayn and Bahrāʾ and Balī commanded by a man of Balī of Irāsha called Mālik b. Zāfila.
- Haldon 2010, p. 188.
- Peters 1994, p. 231.
- Buhl 1993, p. 756-757.
- Kaegi 1992, p. 79.
- Peterson 2007, p. 142.
- Powers 2009, p. 80.
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