"O joy to Syria! O joy to Syria! O joy to Syria! For the angels of the Ever-Merciful spread their wings over it."
[Prophet Muhammad (SAWS)]1
If the soldiers hoped that they would have a day of rest after the harrowing experience of the five days' march-which had brought them closer to annihilation than any battle could have done-they were mistaken. The very next morning Khalid set his army in motion towards Suwa. The men could not complain, for their commander himself took no rest nor looked as if he needed it. In fact as the march began and Khalid rode up and down, the column to see that all was well, the sight of their commander put fresh vigour into the soldiers, and they forgot the horrible memories of the perilous march. This day they would draw their first blood in the Syrian Campaign. They had to draw blood, for Khalid had arrived!
Khalid started his Syrian Campaign wearing a coat of, chain mail which had belonged to Musailima the Liar. At his broad leather belt hung a magnificent sword which had also belonged to Musailima the Liar. These two were trophies of the Battle of Yamamah. Over his chain helmet he wore a red turban, and under the helmet, a red cap. In this cap, if examined carefully, could be seen a few black lines; and in the eyes of Khalid this cap was more precious than all his weapons and armour. Its story shall be told at another time. In his hand Khalid carried a black standard which had been given him by the Holy Prophet. It had once belonged to the Prophet and was known as the Eagle.
With Khalid travelled 9,000 fearless fighters, veterans of many victorious battles, not one of whom would think twice before laying down his life on the orders of his beloved commander. In this army also travelled some of the bravest young officers of the time, who would perform prodigies of valour and laugh at death. There was Khalid's own son, Abdur-Rahman-just turned 18. There was the Caliph's son, also named Abdur-Rahman. There was Raafe bin Umaira, the guide on the Perilous March, who was Khalid's son-in-law and a redoubtable warrior. There was Qaqa bin Amr, the one-man-reinforcement sent to Khalid by the Caliph. And there was one young man of whom we shall hear a great deal in this campaign, Zarrar bin Al Azwar, a slim, sinewy youth whose cheerful countenance and bubbling enthusiasm could make exhausted men want to get up and fight again. Dhiraar was to become Khalid's right-hand man. He would be given the most daring missions and would show both a reckless disregard for danger and a most uncanny knack of survival.
In the early afternoon the column reached Suwa, (See Map 15) This was the first settlement near, the border, of Syria and was an oasis surrounded by a grassy area of land used to graze large flocks of sheep and herds of cattle. Moving through this settlement, Khalid put down all resistance and commandeered the grazing flock to stock up the army's food supply for the campaign.
Next day the army arrived at Arak, which was a fortified town defended by a garrison of Christian Arabs under the command of a Roman officer. As the garrison had retired to the safety of the fort on sighting them, the Muslims laid siege to Arak. It was here that Khalid first came to know that his fame had spread beyond the lands in which he had fought. His reputation proved sufficient to bring about a peaceful surrender.
In Arak lived an old scholar who kept himself informed of the affairs of the world. When he was told of the arrival of a hostile army across the desert, he asked, "Is the standard of this army a black one? Is the commander of this army a tall, powerfully built, broad shouldered man with a large beard and a few pock marks on his face?"2 Those who had seen the approach of Khalid and brought the news to Arak confirmed that it was indeed so. "Then beware of fighting this army", warned the sage.
The Roman garrison commander made an offer to surrender the fort, and was astonished at the generous terms offered by the Muslims. Beyond the payment of the Jizya, the people of Arak would pay or suffer nothing. The pact was signed, the fort was surrendered, and the Muslim army camped outside for the night.
The next morning Khalid despatched two columns to subdue Sukhna and Qadma (now known as Qudaim). At the same time, he sent a camel rider to find Abu Ubaidah in the area of Jabiya and tell him to remain at his position until the arrival of Khalid or the receipt of further instructions. Then, with the main body of his army, Khalid marched to Tadmur (Palmyra).
1. Tirmidhi, Ahmad and Hakim from Zayd bin Thabit. Sahih Al-Jami' Al-Saghir No. 3920.