History’s Greatest General: Reflections on Khālid ibn al-Walīd ibn al-Mughīra al-Makhzūmī


Whenever someone asks, who was the greatest general to have ever lived? The most widespread answers you may find will be Napoleon Bonaparte, Alexander the great or maybe even Hannibal of Carthage. Although they were all great in their own right, the greatest general to ever had lived on the earth without a qualm is Khālid ibn al-Walīd.

Before Conversion

Khālid was born in the Banu Makhzum clan, one of the three most prominent of the Qurayshi clans and the strongest one militarily speaking, as it took pride in taking care of martial expeditions and tasks likewise. He was born to al-Walīd ibn al-Mughīrah who was the chieftain of the Banu Makhzum clan. Therefore, Khālid received the best of discipline and training in horse riding, archery, swordsmanship, and learning strategy.

He had a robust and well-built figure due to his vigorous training and his devotion to becoming the ideal warrior. Khālid was also quite exceptional in wrestling. In one instance, he was wrestling with a good friend of his. The friend too was of similar background, born in a prominent family, and was very strong. But Khālid won in the end, the other man who he was fighting was was none other than ʿUmar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb, the second of the four Rashidun Caliphs.

Khalid Ibn Waleed’s conversion

At the advent of Islam, Khālid was a staunch adversary of Islam and fought alongside Amr ibn Hishām and Ṣakhr ibn Ḥarb against the Prophet (ﷺ). Amr Ibn Hisham and Shakhr Ibn Harb were infamously known as Abū Jahl and Abū Sufyān. Although he would eventually convert due to his brother, who convinced him to join Islam and many additional factors. 

The battle of Mu’tah and Khalid’s entitlement as the Sword of God

One night, amidst year-long tensions with the Muslims, Khālid snuck out of Makkah and decided to head towards Madinah ( Yathrib ).

Thus came about a new chapter in the life of Khālid, as he had converted to Islam. After several restless months, he joined the ranks of the Muslims army and marched towards Mu’tah to fight against the Arab Christian Ghassanid vassal state of the Byzantine empire. The Prophet (ﷺ)  himself directed the Muslim armies because a Ghassanid chief had killed a Muslim emissary. Thus seeking retribution, the expedition was decreed.

He was under the leadership of Zayd ibn Ḥārithah (581-629 AD) the second in command was Jaʿfar ibn Abī Ṭālib (590-629 AD) and the third in command was ʿAbd Allāh ibn Rawāḥah ibn Thaʿlabah (?-629 AD).

It was decided that if Zayd fell, Ja’far would take the command. And if he fell, Abd Allāh would take command but if he too fell, the Muslims are ought to elect someone to command them in the war. The Muslim and Ghassanid troops consisted of approximately 3,000 Muslims and approximately 10,000 Arab Christians respectively.

As the battle commenced, bravery was at the forefront, and swords clashed, the ground was shaking with footsteps deeply embedded, and horses glided through the wavy sand. Then Zayd, Ja’far and Abd Allāh fell.

Now it was looking hopeless for the Muslims and some began to rout and morale was low. But then a courageous man, Thabit compelled the Muslims to listen to him and regrouped, and knowing of Khālid’s military prowess he handed over the banner of the commandment to him. 

Thus began his glorious and illustrious career as “Saifullah” (“Sword Of Allah”) in the Muslim army as he was entitled the leader of the Muslim army. He knew that the Muslims couldn’t win and began to make arrangements to withdraw and save as many Muslims as possible from dying In vain. As the Muslims returned from Mu’tah, they arrived at Madinah. 

The casualties in the battle were 12 for Muslims who fell in battle, and a higher number of casualties for the Ghassanids. The soldiers returned defeated and were berated.

They were seen as cowards and Khālid was shown disdain. The berating was loud and thorough as everyone in Madinah knew of it, the Prophet (ﷺ) as well, hearing of this, he ordered an imminent stop to this and because of the bravery and charismatic leadership of Khālid, he bestowed the title of “Saifullah” upon Khālid, which translates to

The Ridda wars 

After the passing away of the Holy Prophet Muhammad SAW,  Abu Bakr was titled the first of the four Rashidun Caliph, in his tenure of 2 years as the Caliph before his passing away, 632-634 CE, Abu Bakr R.A. had to deal with many apostates who claimed prophethood due to the passing of Prophet (ﷺ) and had risen up in rebellion against the Caliphate. Many tribes and clans only submitted and joined Islam for political reasons thus after the departure of the Prophet (ﷺ) they returned to their old ways. Every part of the Arabian peninsula betrayed and left Islam and the central authority except Madinah, Makkah, and Taif. Thus began the apostate wars, also known as the apostate wars. Abu Bakr made Khālid the supreme commander and all the other commanders and the progress of the war itself relied heavily on Khālid himself.

He successfully defeated several rebel tribes and many tribes joined voluntarily. Khālid then went on to defeat the renegade Tulayha in the battle of Buzakha. The Muslims numbered approximately 6,000 and the enemy roughly 35,000 a huge contrast in the numbers which would show up in many of Khālid R.A. battles, and just like the battle of Buzakha, all would be won with low casualties and the suppression of the enemy with higher numbers of soldiers. 

Similarly, Khālid fought the final apostate, the toughest of them all, Musaylima at the Battle of Yamama. The Muslims numbered around 13,000, but it had risen due to recruits joining from their prior win over Tulayha, and the Muslim army numbered approximately around 40,000. 

It was a harsh, bloody, draining battle as the men lunged at each other’s throats, many necks dropped, the blood was flowing as if a lake had taken shape. 

The aftermath was 1,200 Muslim casualties and a huge number of Musaylima’s men and himself dying with their number of casualties ranging around 32,000. 

It was a great triumph, but also a grim reminder for the Muslims, as 300 Huffadh had died in that battle (Hafidh are people who have wholly memorized the Qur’an, letter by letter.) Because of this battle, Umar ibn Al-Khattab had the idea of preserving the Qur’an and the idea was passed onto the Caliph, Abu Bakr. The Qur’an would be completely preserved during the reign of the third Rashidun Caliph ʿUthmān ibn ʿAffān (579-656 AD).

The aftermath of the Rida wars

After the Apostate Wars, the name of Khālid Ibn Al-Walid had spread to every corner of the Arabian peninsula, and his popularity increased, together with his title of “Saifullah” (“Sword of Allah”). Although every person, every baby in the Arabian peninsula knew his name, his name would be witnessed by the rest of the world soon, and the lands of the Levant would be erupted by his horses soon to come.


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