"There are many virtues of al-Sham and its people established by the Book, the Sunnah and the traditions of the people of knowledge, and this is one of the things I relied upon in my encouraging the Muslims to fight the Tatars, my order to them to remain in Damascus, my forbidding them from fleeing to Egypt, and my inviting the Egyptian military to Syria and consolidating the Syrian military there …"
[Ibn Taymiyyah, speaking of the events of 700-702AH, when Damascus was successfully defended against the ravaging Mongol army]1
After Yarmuk the remnants of the Roman army withdrew in haste to Northern Syria and the northern part of the Mediterranean coast. The vanquished soldiers of Rome, those who survived the horror of Yarmuk, were in no fit state for battle. The victorious soldiers of Islam were in no fit state for battle either. Abu Ubaidah sent a detachment to occupy Damascus, and remained with the rest of his army in the region of Jabiya for a whole month. During this period the men rested; spoils were collected, checked and distributed; the wounded were given time to recover. There was much to be done in matters of administration, and this kept the generals occupied.
In early October 636 (late Shaban, 15 Hijri), Abu Ubaidah held a council of war to discuss future plans. Opinions of objectives varied between Caesarea and Jerusalem. Abu Ubaidah could see the importance of both these cities, which had so far resisted all Muslim attempts at capture, and unable to decide the matter, wrote to Umar for instructions. In his reply the Caliph ordered the Muslims to capture Jerusalem. Abu Ubaidah therefore marched towards Jerusalem with the army from Jabiya, Khalid and his Mobile Guard leading the advance. The Muslims arrived at Jerusalem around early November, and the Roman garrison withdrew into the fortified city.
For four months the siege continued without a break. Then the Patriarch of Jerusalem, a man by the name of Sophronius, offered to surrender the city and pay the Jizya, but only on condition that the Caliph himself would come and sign the pact with him and receive the surrender. When the Patriarch's terms became known to the Muslims, Sharhabeel suggested that instead of waiting for Umar to come all the way from Madinah, Khalid should be sent forward as the Caliph. Umar and Khalid were very similar in appearance;2 and since the people of Jerusalem would only know Umar by reports, they could perhaps be taken in by a substitute. The Muslims would say that actually the Caliph was already there-and lo, he comes!
On the following morning the Patriarch was informed of the Caliph's presence, and Khalid, dressed in simple clothes of the poorest material, as was Umar's custom, rode up to the fort for talks with the Patriarch. But it did not work. Khalid was too well known, and there may have been Christian Arabs in Jerusalem who had visited Madinah and seen both Umar and Khalid, noting the differences. Moreover, the Patriarch must have wondered how the great Caliph happened to be there just when he was needed! Anyhow, the trick was soon discovered, and the Patriarch refused to talk. When Khalid reported the failure of this mission, Abu Ubaidah wrote to Umar about the situation, and invited him to come to Jerusalem and accept the surrender of the city. In response the Caliph rode out with a handful of Companions on what was to be the first of his four journeys to Syria.
Umar first came to Jabiya, where he was met by Abu Ubaidah, Khalid and Yazeed, who had travelled thither with an escort to receive him. Amr bin Al Aas was left as commander of the Muslim army besieging Jerusalem. Khalid and Yazeed were magnificently attired in silk and brocade and rode gaily caparisoned horses-and the sight of them infuriated Umar. Dismounting from his horse, he picked up a handful of pebbles from the ground and threw them at the two offending generals, "Shame on you", shouted the Caliph, "that you greet me in this fashion ! It is only in the last two years that you have eaten your fill. Shame on what abundance of food has brought you to! By Allah, if you were to do this after 200 years of prosperity, I should still dismiss you and appoint others in your place."3
1. Introduction to Manaqib al-Sham wa Ahlih (The Virtues of al-Sham and its People) by Ibn Taymiyyah.