`Amr ibn al-`As
عمرو بن العاص

`Amr ibn al-`As

The Companions of Prophet Muhammad
(peace be upon him)

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Biography | Early life

” `Amr ibn al-`As (Arabic: عمرو بن العاص‎ ‘Amrū ibn al-‘Āṣ; c. 592 – January 6, 682) was an Arab military commander who is most noted for leading the Muslim conquest of Egypt in 640. A contemporary of Muhammad, and one of the Sahaba (“Companions”), who rose quickly through the Muslim hierarchy following his conversion to Islam in the year 8 AH (629). He founded the Egyptian capital of Fustat, and built the Mosque of Amr ibn al-As at its center—the first mosque in Africa.”

ʻAmr belonged to the Banu Sahm[1] clan of the Quraysh. Assuming he was over ninety years old when he died, he was born before 592. He was the son of Layla bint Harmalah aka “Al-Nabighah”. Before his military career, Amr was a trader, who had accompanied caravans along the commercial trading routes through Asia and the Middle East, including Egypt. Amr ibn ul Aas was born in Mecca, Arabia and died in Egypt. He was a shrewd, highly intelligent man who belonged to the nobility of the Quraysh. He fought with the Quraysh against Islam in several battles.

He went to fight the Muslims when he saw them praying with the prophet, he got highly interested and tried to find out more about Islam. He was determinedly hostile to Islam. In fact he was Quraysh’s envoy to the Negus, the ruler of Abyssinia. Once he converted to Islam with Khalid ibn al-Walid, he became a great commander fighting for the Islamic cause. Amr ibn ul aas mosque, the first mosque in Africa, was built under the patronage of Amr ibn ul aas. He came to Egypt as the commander in chief of the Arab troops in 640 AD.

Prophet Muhammad’s era

Like the other Quraysh chiefs, he opposed Islam in the early days.

ʻAmr headed the delegation that the Quraysh sent to Abyssinia to prevail upon the ruler, Aṣḥama ibn Abjar (possibly Armah), to turn away the Muslims from his country. The mission failed and the ruler of Abyssinia refused to oblige the Quraysh. After the migration of Muhammad to Medina ʻAmr took part in all the battles that the Quraysh fought against the Muslims.

He commanded a Quraish contingent at the battle of Uhud.

ʻAmr ibn al-ʻĀs was married to Umm Kulthum bint Uqba but he divorced her when she embraced Islam.

In the company of Khalid ibn al-Walid, he rode from Mecca to Medina where both of them converted to Islam. He was seeking the right path to Medina and he became Muslim. Abu Bakr, Umar and Abu Ubaidah ibn al Jarrah served under ʻAmr ibn al-ʻĀs in the campaign of Dhat as-Salasil and had offered their prayers behind him for many weeks. At that time, ʻAmr ibn al-ʻĀs was their chief not only in the army but also as a leader in religious services.

ʻAmr was dispatched by Muhammad to Oman and played a key role in the conversion of the leaders of that nation, Jayfar and ‘Abbād ibn Al-Juland. He was then made governor of the region until shortly after Muhammad’s death. There are some hadith regarding him and his fathers will.

Under Abu Bakr and Umar

ʻAmr was sent by the Caliph Abu Bakr with the Arab armies into Palestine following Muhammad’s death. It is believed that he played an important role in the Arab conquest of that region, and he is known to have been at the battles of Ajnadayn and Yarmouk as well as the siege of Damascus. Following the success over the Byzantines in Syria, Amr suggested to Umar that he march on Egypt, to which Umar agreed.

The actual invasion began towards the end of 640, as Amr crossed the Sinai Peninsula with 3,500-4,000 men.He is reported to have celebrated the feast of pilgrimaga in Arish on 10th Dhul Hij A. H 18 or 12th December 640. After taking the small fortified towns of Pelusium (Arabic: Al-Farama) and beating back a Byzantine surprise attack near Bilbeis, Amr headed towards the Babylon Fortress (in the region of modern-day Coptic Cairo). After some skirmishes south of the area, Amr marched north towards Heliopolis, with 12,000 men reinforcements who had arrived on 6th June 640 reaching him from Syria, against the Byzantine forces in Egypt, under Theodore Trithyrius.

The resulting Arab victory at the Battle of Heliopolis brought about the fall of much of the country. The Heliopolis battle resolved fairly quickly, though the Babylon Fortress withstood a siege of several months, and the Byzantine capital of Alexandria, which had been the capital of Egypt for a thousand years, surrendered a few months after that. A peace treaty was signed in late 641, in the ruins of a palace in Memphis. Despite a brief re-conquest by Byzantine forces in 645 which was beaten at the Battle of Nikiou, the country remained firmly in Arab hands.

Needing a new capital, Amr suggested that they set up an administration in the large and well-equipped city of Alexandria, at the western edge of the Nile Delta. However, Caliph Umar refused, saying that he did not want the capital to be separated from him by a body of water. So in 641 Amr founded a new city on the eastern side of the Nile, centered on his own tent which was near the Babylon Fortress. Amr also founded a mosque at the center of his new city—it was the first mosque in Egypt, which also made it the first mosque on the continent of Africa.

The Mosque of Amr (Mosque of Amr ibn al-As) still exists today in Old Cairo, though it has been extensively rebuilt over the centuries, and nothing remains of the original structure. One corner of the mosque contains the tomb of his son, ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Amr ibn al-‘As.

Although some Egyptians did not support the Byzantine forces during the Arab conquest, some villages started to organise against the new invaders. After the battle of Nikiou on 13th May 641, Arab troops having defeated the Byzantine forces, destroyed many Egyptian villages on their march to Alexandria as the Delta rebelled against the new invaders. The Egyptian resistance seems to have been village by village without a unified command and therefore failed.

After founding Fustat, Amr was then recalled to the capital (which had, by then, moved from Medina to Damascus) where he became Muawiyah’s close advisor. Muhammad had told Amr “that when you conquer Egypt be kind to its people because they are your protégée kith and kin”. Muhammad’s concubine, Maria al-Qibtiyya (the Copt) was an Egyptian. After Amr Ibn Al Aas conquered Egypt, he informed Mikakaus, the Patriarch of Alexandria, who retorted that “Only a prophet could invoke such a relationship!”, referring to Abraham’s marriage to Hagar.

Later life

After his military conquests, Amr was an important player in internal conflicts within Islam. Amr was a supporter of the caliph Othman ibn Affan and later a supporter of Muawiya. He died during Muawiya’s reign. Following the murder of Uthman ibn Affan and the dispute between the supporters of Ali ibn Abi Talib and the supporters of Muawiyah ibn Abu Sufyan for successorship, Amr was selected as one of two arbitrators of the dispute, as Muawiyah’s selection.

Liberator of Egypt from Rome

There were three from the Quraish who used to trouble the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) with the fierceness of their resistance to his call and their torture of his Companions. The Messenger called them and pleaded to his glorious Lord to inflict them with His punishment, and while he was calling and inviting, he received the revelation of these noble verses: < The matter is not in your hands, whether GOD turns to them or chastises them, for surely they are evildoers > (3: 128).

The Messenger’s understanding of the verse was that he was to stop calling Allah to punish them and to leave their affair to Allah alone. Either they would continue their wrongdoing and His punishment would be inflicted upon them, or He would accept their repentance. They repented so His mercy reached them. ‘Amr Ibn Al-‘Aas, was one of these three. Allah had chosen for them the path of repentance and mercy, so He guided them to Islam. He transformed ‘Amr Ibn Al-‘Aas, into a Muslim fighter and into one of the brave leaders of Islam.

In spite of some of ‘Amr’s positions, his point of view of which we cannot be convinced, he played a role as a glorious Companion; he sacrificed and gave generously; he was a defender and combatant, and our eyes and our hearts shall continue to open on his countenance, especially here in Egypt. Those who see in Islam a glorious valuable religion and see in its Messenger a merciful gift and a blessed gift.

Those who see the truthful Messenger who called to Allah according to clear vision and inspired life abundantly with its sensible conduct, forthrightness and devout piety. Those who carry this faith shall continue with enhanced allegiance to look to the man whom fate made the cause — for whatever reason — for the introduction of Islam to Egypt and the guidance of Egypt to Islam. So, blessed is the gift and blessed is the gift giver.

That is he, ‘Amr Ibn Al-Aas, The historians were accustomed to describing ‘Amr as the conqueror of Egypt. However, I see in this description an underestimation and an overestimation. Perhaps a more truthful description of ‘Amr would be that which we call him, “Liberator of Egypt”. For Islam did not conquer the country with the modern understanding of conquering, but it liberated it from the hegemony of two imperial powers, two modes of worship of two countries, and the worst punishment, the imperial power of Persia and the imperial power of Rome.

Egypt, in particular, on the day the advanced guard of Islam appeared, had been plundered by the Romans, and its inhabitants were resisting without result. When the shouts of believing armies reverberated over the frontiers of their country, “Allah Akbaar! (Allah is the Greatest)” they hastened all together, in a glorious crowd, toward the coming dawn and embraced it, finding in it liberation from Caesar and from Rome.

So, ‘Amr and his men did not conquer Egypt but opened the way for Egypt to attach its destiny to the truth, tie its fate to justice, and find itself and its reality in the light of the words of Allah and the principles of Islam. He was careful to separate the inhabitants of Egypt and its Copts away from the army and keep the fighting restricted between himself and the Romans who occupied the land and robbed the wealth of its people.

On account of that, we find him talking to the Christian leaders and their high priest. He said to them, “Indeed Allah sent Muhammad with the truth and ordered him to teach it. The Prophet carried out his mission, and he died after leaving us on that path, the clear straight path. Among the things he ordered us to do was to be responsible to the people, so we call you to Islam. Whoever responds is of us. He has what we have and he has the same rights and obligations as we do.

And whoever does not respond to Islam, we enforce on him the payment ofjizyah and we offer to him defense and protection. Our Prophet informed us that Egypt would open for us and advised us to be good to its people, saying, ‘Egypt will be opened to you after me, so you are advised to treat its Copts well, for indeed, they have a covenant of protection and kinship relations,’ so if you answer to what we call you to, you will have protection and security.”

No sooner had ‘Amr finished his words, than some of the priests and rabbis shouted, saying, “Indeed the kinship of which your Prophet advised you is a remote kinship relationship, the like of which cannot be reached except by the prophets.” This was a good start for the hoped-for understanding between ‘Amr and the Copts of Egypt, in spite of what the Roman leader had tried to do to frustrate it.

‘Amr Ibn Al-^Aaa was not among the earliest ones to embrace Islam. He embraced Islam with Khaalid Ibn Al-Waliid, just shortly before the Conquest of Makkah. It is surprising that his Islam began at the hands of An-Najaashiy in Abyssinia, and that is because An-Nagaashiy knew ‘Amr and respected him because of his several visits to Abyssinia and abundant gifts which he used to carry to An-Najaashiy.

In his final visit to that country, mention was made of the Prophet who was calling to monotheism and to the nobility of morals in the Arabian Peninsula. The Abyssinian ruler asked ‘Amr, “How could you not believe in him and follow him, when he is truly a Messenger from Allah?” ‘Amr then asked An-Najaashiy, ” Is he thus?” An Najaashiy answered, “Yes, so obey me, 0 ‘Amr, and follow him, for indeed, by Allah, he is on the path of truth and he will surpass those who stood against him!”

‘Amr traveled, taking the sea route, immediately returning to his country and turning his face in the direction of Al-Madiinah to surrender to Allah, Lord of the Worlds.

On the road leading to Al-Madiinah, he met Khaalid Ibn Al-Waliid coming from Makkah, going also to the Messenger to swear allegiance to Islam. No sooner did the Messenger see the two of them coming than his face beamed with joy and he said to his Companions, “Makkah has gifted you with its most noble leaders,” Khaliid approached and swore allegiance.

Then ‘Amr approached and said, “Indeed, I swear allegiance to you provided that you ask Allah to forgive me my previous sins.” So the Messenger answered him saying, “O ‘Amr, swear allegiance, for indeed Islam disregards whatever preceded it.”

‘Amr swore allegiance and placed his wits and bravery at the service of his new religion. When the Messenger passed on to Allah, Most Exalted, ‘Amr was appointed ruler over Oman and during the caliphate of ‘Umar he performed his famous deeds in the Syrian wars and then in the liberation of Egypt from the rule of Rome.

Oh, if only ‘Amr Ibn Al-‘Aas, could have resisted the love of commanding and rule in his soul, then he would have greatly overcome some of the positions which this love entangled him in. Yet, ‘Amr’s love for the authority of ruling, to a certain extent, was a direct expression of his nature, which was filled with talent.

Moreover, his external appearance, his way of walking and conversing, indicated that he was created for commanding to the extent that it has been related that the Commander of the Faithful ‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattaab saw ‘Amr once approaching, so he smiled at the way he was walking and said, “It should not be for Abu ‘Abd Allah to walk on the earth except as a commander.”

The truth also is that Abu ‘Abd Allah did not forget the right. Even when dangerous events overwhelmed the Muslims, ‘Amr dealt with these events in a commanding manner, as one who possesses intelligence, wits, and a capability which made him self-confident and proud of his excellence. Moreover, he possessed such a portion of honesty that it” made ‘Umar Ibn Al-Khaftaab — even though he was strict in choosing his governor — choose ‘Amr as governor over Palestine and Jordan, then over Egypt.

This even though the Commander of the Faithful knew that ‘Amr had exceeded a certain limit in the opulence of his life style, while the Commander of the Faithful demanded from his governors to set an example by staying always at the level or at least close to the general level of the people.

Even though the caliph knew about the abundance of ‘Amr’s wealth, he did not remove him but sent Muhammad Ibn Maslamah to him and ordered ‘Amr to split with him, all of his wealth and possessions. So, he left him one half of it and carried the other half to the treasury in Al-Madiinah. However, if the Commander of the Faithful had known that ‘Amr’s love for wealth would lead him to carelessness in his responibility, it is conceivable that his reasonable conscience would not have allowed him to stay m power for even one moment.

‘Amr (May Allah be pleased with him) was sharp-witted with strong intuitive understanding and deep vision, so much so that whenever the Commander of the Faithful saw a person incapable of artifice, he clapped his palms in astonishment and said, “Glory be to Allah ! Indeed, the Creator of this and the Creator of ‘Amr Ibn Al-‘Aas. is one God!” ‘Amr was also very daring and unhesitant. He used to combine his daring with his wits in some instances so that he would be thought to be cowardly or hesitant. However, it was the capacity to trick which ‘Amr perfected with great skill to get himself out of a destructive crisis.

The Commander of the Faithful ‘Umar knew these talents of his and appreciated their true value. For that reason, when he sent him to Syria, before his going to Egypt, it was said to the Commander of the Faithful, “At the head of the armies of Rome in Syria is Artubun, a shrewd and brave leader and a prince.”

‘Umar’s response was, “We have hurled at Artubun of Rome Artubun of the Arabs, so let us see how the matter unfolds.” Matters unfolded in a massive victory for the Artubun of the Arabs, their dangerous, sly old fox, ‘Amr Ibn Al-‘Aaa, over the Artubun of Rome, who left his army to defeat and fled to Bgypt. ‘Amr would catch him shortly thereafter to raise the standard of Islam above its secure lands.

What are the situations in which the intelligence and wits of ‘Amr excelled? We do not count among them his position with Abu Muusaa Al-Ash’ariy in the incident of arbitration when the two of them agreed to depose ‘Ally and Mu’aawiyah to refer the matter back to consultation between the Muslims.

Abu Muusaa implemented the agreement and ‘Amr relented from carrying out his part of the agreement. If we want to witness a picture of his wits and the skill of his intuitive insight, we find it in his position with respect to the commander of the Citadel of Babylon (near present day Cairo) during his war with Rome in Egypt, and, in another historical narration, in the battle we shall mention which took place in Yarmuuk with Artubun of Rome.

When Artubun and the commander invited ‘Amr to talk, they gave an order to some of their men to throw a rock at him immediately upon his departure from the Citadel and to prepare everything so that the killing of ‘Amr would be an inevitable matter. ‘Amr met the commander, not suspecting anything from him, and their meeting ended.

While “Amr was on his way out of the Citadel, he glimpsed over the walls something suspicious that aroused in him a strong sense of danger, and immediately he behaved in an outstanding manner. He returned back to the commander of the Citadel, in safe, secure, slow steps, with confident, happy feelings, as if nothing had scared him at all or had aroused his suspicion.

He met the commander and said to him, “An idea came across my mind I wanted you to know. I have with me, where my companions are camped, a group from among the first Companions of the Messenger to enter into Islam. The Commander of the Faithful would not decide anything without consulting them and would not send an army unless he put them at the head of its fighters and soldiers. I will bring them to you so that they hear from you that which I heard, so they will become as clear in the matter as I am.”

The Roman commander realized that ‘Amr, by his naivete, had granted him the opportunity of a lifetime. Therefore, he thought. Let us agree with him, and when he returns with this number of Muslim commanders and the best of their men and their leaders, we will deliver the coup de grace and finish off all of them at once, instead of finishing off ‘Amr alone.

Secretly he gave his order to put off the plan that was devised to assasinate ‘Amr, and he saw ‘Amr off cordially and shook his hand with enthusiasm and fervor. ‘Amr smiled the most intelligent of Arab smiles as he was leaving the Citadel. In the morning ‘Amr returned to the Citadel at the head of an army , mounted on his horse that whinnied in a loud burst of laughter, behaving proudly and haughtily and making fun. Yes, for it, too, knew a lot of things about the shrewdness of its owner.

In A.H. 43, death caught up with ‘Amr Ibn Al-Aas in Egypt, where he was ruling. He recaptured his life in the moments of departure, saying, “In the first part of my life I was a disbeliever, and I was one of the fiercest people against the Messenger of Allah, so if I had died on that day, the fire would have been my fate. Then, I swore allegiance to the Messenger of Allah, and there was no person more dear to me than he and more glorious in my eyes than he.

If I wanted to describe him, I could not, because I was not able to fill my eyes with him on account of being in awe of him. If I had died back then, I would have wished to be of the inhabitants of Paradise. Then after that I was tested with command and with material things. I do not know if they were for me or against me.”

Then he raised his sight to the sky in awe, calling upon his Lord, the Merciful, the Magnificent, saying, “0 Allah, I am not innocent, so forgive me. I am not mighty, so help me. And if Your mercy does not come to me, I will surely be of those destroyed.” And he continued in his yearning and his prayers until his spirit ascended to Allah and his last words were, “There is no god but Allah.”

Under the ground of Egypt, which ‘Amr acquainted with the path of Islam, where his corpse was finally placed, and above its ,hard earth, his seat is still standing throughout the centuries. Here he used to teach, judge, and rule, beneath the ceiling of his ancient mosque, the Mosque of ‘Amr, the first mosque in Egypt, in which the name of Allah, the One and Only is mentioned and declared between its walls and from its pulpit, the words of Allah and the principles of Islam.