"What an excellent slave of Allah: Khalid ibn al-Walid, one of the swords of Allah, unleashed against the unbelievers!" [Prophet Muhammad (SAWS)]1
Three months after his arrival at Madinah, Khalid got his chance to show what he could do as a soldier and a commander for the faith which he had just embraced. The Prophet had sent an envoy to the Ghassan2 Chieftain of Busra, with a letter inviting him to join Islam. While passing through Mutah this envoy was intercepted and killed by a local Ghassan chieftain by the name of Shurahbil bin Amr. This was a heinous crime among the Arabs, for diplomatic envoys held traditional immunity from attack no matter how hostile a power they represented. The news of this outrage inflamed Madinah.
An expedition was immediately prepared to take punitive action against the Ghassan, and the Prophet appointed Zaid bin Harithah as the commander of the force. If he were killed, the command was to be taken over by Jafar bin Abi Talib. If he were killed, the command would devolve upon Abdullah bin Rawahah. Having appointed these officers in the chain of command, the Prophet said, "If all three of these are killed, let the men select a commander from among themselves."3
The expeditionary force consisted of 3,000 men, one of whom was Khalid, serving as a soldier in the ranks. The mission the Prophet gave to Zaid was to seek out and kill the person responsible for the murder of the Muslim envoy, and to offer Islam to the people of Mutah. If they accepted Islam, they were not to be harmed. At the time this force was sent out the Muslims had no knowledge of the enemy strength that they would have to deal with.
Spirits were high as the expeditionary force began its march from Madinah. When the force arrived at Ma'an, reports were received for the first time that Heraclius, the Eastern Roman Emperor, was in Jordan with "100,000 Romans" and had been joined by "100,000 Christian Arabs"-mainly from the Ghassan. The Muslims remained in Ma'an for two days debating their next move. There was a certain amount of hesitation and nervousness. Some suggested that the Prophet be informed of the large strength of the enemy so that he could give them fresh orders on what course of action they should adopt; but Abdullah bin Rawahah (the third?in?command) did not agree with this suggestion, as it would entail unnecessary delay and would give the impression that the Muslims were afraid. He recited a few verses and made a stirring speech to raise the spirits of the men. He concluded by saying, "Men fight not with numbers or weapons but with faith. By going into battle we have a choice of two glorious alternatives: victory and martyrdom."4 This speech dispelled all doubt from the minds of the Muslims, and they promptly resumed their march towards Syria.
The Muslims reached a place near the frontier of Balqa-a district in the east of what is now Jordan-where they made contact with a large force of Christian Arabs. Not finding this place suitable for battle, the Muslim commander withdrew his force to Mutah. The Christian Arabs followed the Muslims, and the two forces again met at Mutah. Both sides now decided to fight. It was the second week of September 29 (the third week of Jamadi-ul-Awwal, 8 Hijri).
Zaid deployed his force in the normal pattern of a centre and two wings. The right wing was commanded by Qutba bin Qatadah and the left wing by Ubaya bin Malik. Zaid himself commanded the centre, and in the centre, too, was Khalid. The battlefield lay to the east of, and stretched up to about a mile from, the present village of Mutah. The ground here was even, but had a slight undulation, and the gentle slope of a low ridge rose behind the Muslims as they faced the Christian Arabs to the north.5
1. Tirmidhi and Ahmad from Abu Hurayrah, Sahih Al-Jamií Al-Saghir No. 6776.
2. A large and powerful tribe inhabiting Syria and Jordan.
3. Ibn Sad: p. 636.
4. Ibn Hisham: Vol. 2, p. 375.
5. A new mosque is being built by the Jordanian Government to mark the site of this battle.