Saturday, March 17, 2012

Khalid Al Walid, The Drawn Sword of Allah (1/2)

A good friend of mine texted me that he had commented on my piece, the Ten Promised Paradise, and wanted to see whether I have anything to say about it. 

Seeing what he wrote, I quickly called him and asked where he got his sources.  He told me he got it from "Sword of Allah" written by A.I. Akram, an ex-general of Pakistani army.

His source does not appear to be the problem, but my friend might have misperceived a thing or two.  Other than some passages here and there which appear presumptuous, mostly from the author's own narration and analysis, the book treats the subject rather fairly.   In any case, Akram's expertise is in warfare, not in literary critic, historical analysis, or the science of tradition (ilm hadith). 

For the sake of brevity, I shall not reproduce what my friend wrote.  If you like, you can check it yourself at the link above, or here.   Thanks to him, however, I have an excuse to write briefly about the celebrated general Khalid Al Walid, the Drawn Sword of Allah.

The first thing to note about Khalid is that he was a great general who never lost the battle, but he was not a saint.  He was not a hafiz (one who memorizes Quran) like Ibnu Masud, nor a scholar like Ibnu Abbas, nor a zahid  (one who leads austere life, living like a pauper) like Abu Dzar or Abu Darda, nor a saint warrior like Abu Ubaydah Ibnu Jarrah. 

He enjoyed lawful comfort, good food, good clothes.  But these are not forbidden and were likewise enjoyed by many great companions, including Uthman Affan, Abdul Rahman Auf, Sa'd Abi Waqqas and many others.

He was born an aristocrat, being the son of the wealthy man, Al Walid, the leader of Makhzom clan.  But he did not live like an aristocrat after his conversion to Islam.  His aristocracy background was not a minus point.  Muhammad the Prophet too was born an aristocrat, and was raised by Abdul Muttalib, and then by Abu Talib, both the aristocrats of Hashim clan. 

Khalid was rather lavish in his spending on his soldiers, but he did not go beyond what was within his right.  He wanted his soldiers to be motivated, not only by the promise of Paradise, but also by what was lawful by those taking part in jihad.  He couldn't be faulted for that, for the Prophet himself did the same at times. 

Those who died as martyrs in the battle would be blessed with Paradise, but those who remained alive should not be denied of what were lawful to them.   A great leader knows how to motivate and to reward his followers. 

But Khalid was also a man who had his own mind.  Upon being cautioned by Abu Bakar that he should not spend on his soldiers except by the latter's command, he wrote back to Abu Bakar: "Either you leave me to do my job, or you will do it yourself." 

Abu Bakar acquiesed to that.  After all, Khalid's lavish spending on his soldiers was based on Abu Bakar and Umar's standard.  It is chicken feet according to our standard.  Our current leaders tend to spend lavishly in every sense of the word, and often illegitimately, on their supporters. 

But Umar, due to his strictness and austerity, wanted none of that.  So he dismissed Khalid twice.  First was as soon as he took over the caliphate from Abu Bakar.  This was not a dismissal, but of demotion, putting Khalid under the command of Abu Ubaydah Ibnu Jarrah.  Khalid continued to be field commander, and Abu Ubaydah always consulted him for important warfare strategies. 

The second was a total dismissal.  This was what our friend alluded to in his comment.  The charge was his lavish spending on his soldiers, especially on the poet Ash'ath. 

It was an unwise move on the part of Khalid.  His oversight so to speak.  To spend on soldiers was one thing, but on a poet was a different matter altogether.  Yet, Khalid did not do it illegitimately, for he spent it with his own money, not out of public treasury. 

Since it was his own money, which he secured through lawful means, mostly through the spoils of war, many companions challenged the fairness of Umar's decision.  On his part, Umar had to defend himself when challenged by the companions on his sacking of Khalid.

This is what Umar said and I quote it directly from the book written by A.I. Akram:
"I have not dismissed Khalid because of my anger or because of any dishonesty on his part, but because people glorified him and were misled.  I feared that people would rely on him.  I want them to know that it is Allah who does all things; and there should be no mischief in the land." (pg. 536)
The author went on saying that by this admission, Umar had unwittingly paid Khalid "the highest compliment that any general could hope to earn: that his men regarded him as a god!"

My friend must have overlooked the right quotation and must have written based on his misperception.

Interestingly, Khalid himself did not challenge Umar's decision, other than saying that the latter had not been kind to him.  He accepted the decision gracefully, although deep in his heart, it was nothing but a death sentence.  What good would a born general be if he is not allowed to fight in war. 

The decision had rendered him a useless man, because he was not good at anything else.  He was not a merchant who can occupy his time with trade, nor a scholar who can disseminate knowledge and take pleasure being alone, lost in thoughts.  He was a born soldier.  He was born to lead soldiers in war.  Take that from him, the meaning of his life is lost.

Bidding farewell to his troops, he said: "The Amirul Mukminin appointed me as the Governor in Syria until things started to become smooth and sweet, then he dismissed me."

A man stood up and said: "Be patient, O' Commander, for it is the time for fitnah."

If you need translation, that is a suggestion for mutiny, for rebellion.  But Khalid merely replied: "So long as the son of Al Khattab is alive, there is no room for fitnah." 

If you need another translation, that reply is akin to the famous saying of Michael Corleone in Mario Puzo's The Godfather: "It is nothing personal, only business." 

The only difference is that, when Michael started to say it, then somebody is about to be killed.  In the case of Khalid, however, it means it was within Umar's right as the Caliph of the day to dismiss his subordinate on whatever ground he saw fit. 

What he had with Umar was professional difference.  He would not want to serve under Umar if he could not do it his way.  But, if due to the differences, Umar dismissed him, he was not the one to challenge the decision either.  It was nothing personal, only business, for Khalid continued to respect Umar, and so was Umar about Khalid. 

That was the quintessential Khalid.  He was always a man of his own mind. 

As for what my friend wrote, about Khalid being struck with the plague after coming back from Madinah, after registering his displeasure to the caliph, that was a misreading from some passages in the book by Akram.  Khalid did not get afflicted with the plague, because Madinah was not afflicted with one.  The plague was at Amawas, in Palestine. 

Abu Ubaydah was afflicted with that plague, along with many Khalid's children and his soldiers who served the army there.   He lost his beloved children and soldiers because of the plague, while he himself was free from it, for he was not there when the plague struck. 

As for Khalid not being able to do much with little stipend given to him, that was the opinion of the author, A.I. Akram.  Other writers, such as Hussein Haykal and Ali Muhammad Shallabi, did not put it that way.  Khalid was no longer a governor or a general.  He did not need too much money because he needed only to spend on himself and his family.

If one cares to know what Umar really felt about Khalid, let's see what happens a few years later. 

That we shall cover in Part 2.

End of Part 1

No comments:

Post a Comment