At Hira, in late May 634, Khalid opened the Caliph's letter and read:
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. From the slave of Allah, Atiq, son of Abu Quhafa,2to Khalid, son of Al Waleed. Peace be upon you.
I render praise unto Allah save whom there is no Allah, and invoke blessings on His Prophet, Muhammad, on whom be the blessings of Allah and peace.
March until you reach the gathering of the Muslims in Syria, who are in a state of great anxiety ...
Khalid stopped reading, fearing that this meant demotion and that at last the pressure of Umar against him had borne fruit. And what bitter fruit! Khalid muttered, "This must be the work of that left-handed one. He is jealous of me for conquering Iraq."3 But his fears turned to joy as he read on:
I appoint you commander over the armies of the Muslims and direct you to fight the Romans. You shall be commander over Abu Ubaidah and those with him.
Go with speed and high purpose, O Father of Sulaiman, and complete your task with the help of Allah, exalted be He. Be among those who strive for Allah.
Divide your army into two and leave half with Muthanna who shall be commander in Iraq. Let not more go with you than stay with him. After victory you shall return to Iraq and resume command.
Let not pride enter your mind, for it will deceive and mislead you. And let there be no delay. Lo, to Allah belongs all bounty and He is the dispenser of rewards.4
Thus was Khalid appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Muslim forces in Syria.5
Khalid now set about the preparations for his march. He explained the instructions of the Caliph to Muthanna, divided his army into two and handed over one half of it to Muthanna. But in the division of the army, Khalid tried to keep all the Companions of the Prophet-the Emigrants and the Ansars, men held in special esteem by the soldiers. To this Muthanna objected vehemently. "I insist on a total execution of Abu Bakr's orders", he said. "I shall have half the Companions also, for it is by their presence that I hope to win victories."6
Khalid saw the justice of Muthanna's claim. He revised the division to leave Muthanna a satisfactory share of the Companions, particularly as these included many of the finest officers of the army. This done, Khalid was ready for the march to Syria.
It was Abu Bakr's way to give his generals their mission, the geographical area in which that mission would be carried out, and the resources that, could be made available for that purpose. He would then leave it to his generals to accomplish their mission in whatever manner they chose. This is how he had launched Khalid into Iraq, and this is how he was now launching Khalid into Syria. The mission given to Khalid was clear: he was to move with all speed to Syria, take command of the Muslim forces and fight the Romans until victory was achieved. What route Khalid should take to get to Syria was left to him, and this was the most important immediate decision that Khalid had to take. The detailed locations of the Muslim forces in Syria were not known to him. He knew, however, that they were in the general area of Busra and Jabiya, and he had to get there fast.
1. Ibn Kathir, Al-Bidayah wan-Nihayah, Dar Abi Hayyan, Cairo, 1st ed. 1416/1996, Vol. 7 P. 10.
2. Although the Caliph is known to history as Abu Bakr, his actual name was Abdullah, and he had also been given the name of Atiq by the Holy Prophet.
3. Tabari. Vol. 2, p. 608.
4. Ibid. Vol. 2, pp. 600, 605; Waqidi: Futuh, p. 14 (All references to Waqidi in the remainder of this book are from his Futuh-ush-Sham).
5. Other versions of how Khalid assumed command in Syria suggest that he himself prevailed upon the other generals to let him command the army, or that the generals themselves appointed him commander on account of his military stature. These versions are not correct. Khalid was expressly appointed Commander-in-Chief in Syria by Caliph Abu Bakr.