Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah
أبو عبيدة الجراح
Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah | أبو عبيدة الجراح
The Campanions of Prophet Muhammad
(peace be upon him)
Aamir ibn `Abdullah ibn al-Jarrah
أبو عبيدة عامر بن عبدالله بن الجراح
Aamir ibn `Abdullah ibn al-Jarrah (583-638) (Arabic: أبو عبيدة عامر بن عبدالله بن الجراح Abū ‘Ubaydah ‘Āmir bin ‘Abd Allāh bin al-Jarāḥ), more commonly known as Abu ‘Ubaydah ibn al-Jarrah, was one of companions of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. He remained commander of a large section of Muslim armies during the time of Caliph Umar (‘Umar ibn al-Khattab) and was on the list of Umar’s appointed successors to the Caliphate.
- Kunyah: Abu Ubaidah, Amin al-Ummah (Custodian of Ummah)
- Born: 583 Mecca, Arabia
- Died: 638 Jordan Valley, Jordan.
- Allegiance: Rashidun Caliphate.
- Service/branch: Rashidun army
- Years of service: 634 – 638
- Rank: Supreme Commander of the Rashidun army (634-638)
- Commands held: Governor of Levant (634-638)
- Battles/wars: Muslim-Quraysh Wars Rashidun conquest of Levant
Abu Ubaidah was born in the year 583 CE in the house of ‘Abdullah ibn al-Jarrah, a merchant by profession. Abu Ubaidah belonged to the Qurayshi clan of Banu al-Harith ibn Fihr. Even before his conversion to Islam, he was considered to be one of the nobles of the Quraysh and was famous among the Quraysh of Mecca for his modesty and bravery
Conversion to Islam
By 611 Prophet Muhammad was preaching the oneness of God to the people of Mecca. He began by inviting his closest companions and relatives in secret to the way of Islam. He embraced Islam just a day after Abu Bakr in the year 611.
Migration to Abyssinia
Abu Ubaidah lived through the harsh experience that the Muslims went through in Mecca from beginning to end. With other early Muslims, he endured the insults and oppressions of the Quraysh.
As the first migration to Abyssinia (Ethiopia) succeeded, this violence against the Muslims renewed itself with much conviction and became stronger in its force. Being the only person in his clan to have accepted Islam, Abu Ubaidah was foremost amongst them.
Prophet Muhammad suggested that the remaining Muslims who were especially subject to the atrocities of the people of Mecca migrate as well. Consequently, Abu ‘Ubaidah migrated to Abyssinia along with a delegation of 83 men and 20 women.
Migration to Medina
In 622 CE, when Muhammad migrated from Mecca to Medina, Abu Ubaidah also migrated. When Muhammad arrived in Medina, he paired off each immigrant (Muhajir) with one of the residents of Medina (Ansari), joining Muadh ibn Jabal with Abu Ubaidah making them brothers in faith. The Muslims remained in peace in Medina for about a year before the Quraysh raised an army to attack Medina.
Battle of Badr and Uhud
In the year 624, Abu Ubaidah participated in the first major battle between the Muslims and the Quraysh of Mecca, at the Battle of Badr. In this battle, he was attacked by his father Abdullah ibn al-Jarrah, who was fighting alongside the army of Quraysh. Abu Ubaidah avoided fighting with him but eventually his father succeeded in blocking Abu Ubaidah’s path. Abu Ubaidah then attacked him and killed him.
The following verse of the Qur’an was written about this display of character by Abu ‘Ubaidah:
You shall not find a people who believe in Allah and the latter day befriending those who act in opposition to Allah and His Messenger, even though they were their (own) fathers, or their sons, or their brothers, or their kinsfolk; these are they into whose hearts He has impressed faith, and whom He has strengthened with an inspiration from Him: and He will cause them to enter gardens beneath which rivers flow, abiding therein; Allah is well-pleased with them and they are well-pleased with Him these are Allah’s party: now surely the party of Allah are the successful ones.
Qur’an sura 58, Al-Mujadila, ayah 22
In the year 625, he participated in the Battle of Uhud. In the second phase of the battle, when Khalid ibn al-Walid’s cavalry attacked the Muslims from the rear, changing an Islamic victory into defeat, the bulk of the Muslim soldiers were routed from the battlefield, and few remained steadfast. Abu Ubaidah was one of them and he guarded Muhammad from the attacks of the Qurayshi soldiers. On that day, Abu Ubaidah lost two of his front teeth while trying to extract two links of Muhammad’s armour that had penetrated into his cheeks.
Conflict with Jewish tribes
Battle of the Trench, Invasion of Banu Qurayza, and Battle of Khaybar
Later in the year 627 he took part in the Battle of the Trench and also in the Invasion of Banu Qurayza. He was also made commander of a small expedition that set out to attack and destroy the tribes of Tha’libah and Anmar, who were plundering nearby villages.
In the year 628 he participated in Treaty of Hudaybiyyah and was made one of the witnesses over the pact. Later in the same year, he was a part of the Muslim campaign to Khaybar.
Campaigns during end of Muhammad’s era
Conquest of Mecca, Battle of Hunayn, Siege of Ta’if, and Battle of Tabouk
In the year 630, when the Muslim army conquered Mecca, Abu Ubaidah was commanding one of the four divisions that entered the city from four different routes. Later that year, he participated in the Battle of Hunayn and the Siege of Ta’if. He was also part of the Tabuk campaign under the command of Muhammad himself. On their return from the Battle of Tabouk, a Christian delegation from Najran arrived in Medina and showed interest in Islam and asked Muhammad to send them a person to guide them in the matters of religion and in other tribal affairs according to Islamic laws, Abu Ubaidah was appointed by Muhammad to go with them. He was also sent as the tax collector (‘aamil) to Bahrain by Muhammad. He was present in Mecca when Muhammad died in 632.
Campaigns as commander
Expedition of Amr ibn al-As and Expedition of Abu Ubaidah ibn al Jarrah
In the year 629 Muhammad sent ‘Amr ibn al-‘As to Daat al-Salaasil from where he called for reinforcements, this was known as the Expedition of Abu Ubaidah ibn al Jarrah. Muhammad sent Abu Ubaidah in command of an army that included Abu Bakr and Umar. They attacked and defeated the enemy. Later in the same year, another expedition was sent under his command to locate the routes of Qurayshi caravans.
During Abu Bakr’s era
When Muhammad died in 632 the matter of his succession took place at the Saqifah of Banu Sa’ida, Abu Ubaidah was there along with Abu Bakr and Umar. Umar said to Abu Ubaidah to stretch forth his hand for the caliphate, but he refused and said to Abu Bakr to stretch forth his hand to take the pledge of alliance. After the Ridda wars when Abu Bakr sent Khalid ibn al-Walid to Iraq to conquer it, he sent four Muslim armies into the Levant, making Abu Ubaidah commander of one of them. His target was selected to be Emessa and he was ordered to move through the Tabuk region after the army of Sharjeel ibn Hassana.
He remained commander in chief of the Muslim army until Khalid ibn al-Walid arrived from Iraq to Syria in 634. Abu Ubaidah was ordered by Khalid ibn al-Walid to remain where he was until Khalid ibn al-Walid reached the Ghassanid city of Bosra, where they met. The castle surrendered the city after the Battle of Bosra in mid July 634 and 130 Muslims died in the battle.
Soon the Muslims heard of a gathering of 90,000 Byzantine army (Eastern Roman army) at Ajnadayn, about 15 mi (24 km) southwest of Jerusalem. All the divisions of the Muslim army, about 32,000 in number, joined Khalid at Ajnadayn on 24 July 634. Under the command of Khalid ibn al-Walid the Muslims defeated the Byzantine army there on 30 July 634 at the Battle of Ajnadayn.
After one week, Abu Ubaidah, along with Khalid, moved towards Damascus. On their way to Damascus, they defeated another Byzantine army at the Battle of Yakusa in mid-August 634. Caloiis and Azrail, the governor of Damascus, led another army to stop Khalid’s corps but they were also defeated in the battle of Maraj-al-Safar on 19 August 634.
The next day the Muslims reached Damascus and besieged the city, which continued for 30 days. After defeating the Byzantine reinforcements sent by Emperor Heraclius at the Battle of Sanita-al-Uqab, 20 mi (32 km) from Damascus, Khalid’s forces attacked and entered the city. With Khalid’s divisions investing the city from the northeast, Thomas, the purported son-in-law of the Emperor Heraclius, surrendered the city to Ubaidah, who was besieging the Bab al-Jabiya (Jabiya Gate), on 19 September 634.
Abu Ubaidah was appointed by Khalid ibn al-Walid to siege the Jabiya Gate of Damascus. It was Abu Ubaidah who gave peace to Damascus after Khalid ibn al-Walid attacked the city and conquered it by force. Abu Ubaidah, Sharjeel ibn Hassana and ‘Amr ibn al-‘As, unaware of Khalid’s attack from the Eastern Gate, gave peace to them, which was reluctantly endorsed by Khalid. The Byzantine army was given a cease fire of three days and allowed to go as far as they could with their families and treasure.
Others simply agreed to stay at Damascus and pay tribute. The Muslims controlled the road to Emessa, so the Byzantines went west and then north up the Beqaa Valley. After the three day truce was over, the Muslim cavalry, under Khalid’s command, pursued the Byzantine column via the shorter Emessa road and caught them in the northwest Beqaa Valley, just before they entered the mountains en route to Antioch at the Battle of Maraj-al-Debaj.
During Umar’s era
Appointment as Supreme Commander
On 22 August 634, Caliph Abu Bakr died making Umar his successor. As Umar became caliph he relieved Khalid ibn al-Walid from the command of the Islamic army and appointed Abu Ubaidah as the new commander. This was done to dispel the impression that the victories were due to Khalid. Moreover Khalid was an overtly generous person, who according to some would often waste his money in giving gifts to his soldiers as a reward for their bravery in the battles.
Due to different style of commands, there was a slowdown in the pace of operations, as Abu Ubaida moved slowly and steadily, in contrast to Khalid who is said to rush ‘like a tornado from battle to battle’; using surprise, audacity and brute force to win his battles. The conquest of Syria continued under the new commander. Abu Ubaida used to rely heavily on the advice of Khalid, whom he kept with him as much as possible.
Conquest of central Levant
Soon after the appointment of Abu-Ubaidah as commander in chief, he sent a small detachment to the annual fair held at Abu-al-Quds, modern day Abla, near Zahlé; east of Beirut. There was a Byzantine and Christian Arab garrison guarding that fair, the size of the garrison was miscalculated by the Muslim informants and it quickly encircled the small Muslim detachment.
Before it would have been completely destroyed, Abu Ubaidah, having received new intelligence, sent Khalid to rescue the Muslim army. Khalid reached there and defeated them in the Battle of Abu-al-Quds on 15 October 634 and returned with tons of looted booty from the fair and hundreds of Byzantine prisoners.
With central Syria captured, the Muslims has given a decisive blow to the Byzantines. The communication between northern Syria and Palestine was now cut off. Abu Ubaidah decided to march to Fahl (Pella), which is about 500 ft (150 m) below sea level, and where a strong Byzantine garrison and survivors of Battle of Ajnadayn were present.
The region was crucial because from here the Byzantine army could strike eastwards and cut the communications line with Arabia. Moreover with this large garrison at the rear, Palestine could not be invaded.
Thus the Muslim army moved to Fahl. The Byzantine army was eventually defeated at the Battle of Fahl on the 23 January 635 A.D.
Battles for Emesa and the second battle of Damascus
After the battle, which would prove to be a key to Palestine and Jordan, the Muslim armies split up. Sharjeel and Amr’s corps moved south to capture Palestine. Meanwhile, Abu Ubaidah and Khalid with a relatively larger corps moved north through Lebanon to conquer Lebanon and northern Syria.
While the Muslims were occupied at Fahl, Heraclius, sensing the opportunity, quickly sent an army under General Theodore Trithyrius to recapture Damascus, where a small Muslim garrison had been left. Shortly after Heraclius dispatched this new army, the Muslims having finished the business at Fahl, were on their way to Emesa.
The Byzantine army met the Muslims half way to Emesa, at Maraj-al-Rome. During the night Theodras sent half of his army towards Damascus to launch a surprise attack on the Muslim garrison
Khalid’s spy informed him about the move, Khalid having received permission from Abu Ubaidah, galloped towards Damascus with his mobile guard. While Abu Ubaidah fought and defeated the Byzantine army in the Battle of Maraj-al-Rome, Khalid moved to Damascus with his cavalry and attacked and defeated Theodras in the second battle of Damascus.
A week later, Abu Ubaida himself moved towards Baalbek (Heliopolis), where the great Temple of Jupiter stood. Baalbek surrendered to Muslim rule after little resistance and agreed to pay tribute. Abu Ubaidah sent Khalid straight towards Emesa.
Emesa and Chalcis sued for peace for a year. Abu Ubaidah, accepted the offer and rather than invading the districts of Emesa and Chalcis, he consolidated his rule in conquered land and captured Hama, Maarrat al-Nu’man. The peace treaties were, however, on Heraclius’s instructions, to lure the Muslims and to secure time for preparation of defenses of northern Syria (present day Lebanon, Syria and southern Turkey).
Having mustered sizeable armies at Antioch, Heraclius sent them to reinforce strategically important areas of northern Syria, like Emesa and Chalcis. With the arrival of Byzantine army in the city, the peace treaty was violated, Abu Ubadiah and Khalid thus marched to Emesa, and a Byzantine army that halted Khalid’s advance guard was defeated. The Muslims besieged Emesa which was finally conquered in March 636 after six months of siege.
Battle of Yarmouk
After capturing Emesa, the Muslims moved north to capture whole of the northern Syria. Khalid, acting as an advance guard took his mobile guard to raid northern Syria. At Shaizer, Khalid intercepted a convoy taking provisions for Chalcis. The prisoners were interrogated and informed him about Emperor Heraclius’ ambitious plan to take back Syria.
They told him that an army, possibly 200,000 strong, would soon emerge to recapture their territory. Khalid stopped there. After his past experiences, Heraclius, now had been avoiding pitch battles with the Muslims.
He planned to send massive reinforcements to all the major cities and isolate the Muslim corps from each other, and thus separately encircle and destroy the Muslim armies. Five massive armies were launched in June 636 to roll back Syria.
Khalid, sensing Heraclius’s plan, feared that the Muslim armies would be isolated and destroyed. In a council of war he suggested that Abu Ubaidah draw all the Muslim armies to one place so as to fight a decisive battle with the Byzantines. As per Khalid’s suggestion, Abu Ubaidah ordered all the Muslim armies in Syria to evacuate the conquered land and concentrate at Jabiya.
This maneuver gave a decisive blow to the Heraclius’s plan, as he did not wish engage his troops in an open battle with the Muslims, where the light cavalry could be effectively used.
From Jabiya, on Khalid’s suggestion, Abu Ubaidah ordered the Muslim army to withdraw on the plain of the Yarmouk River, where cavalry could be used. While the Muslim armies were gathering at Yarmouk, Khalid intercepted and routed the Byzantine advance guard. This was to ensure the safe retreat of the Muslims from conquered land.
The Muslim armies reached there in July 636. A week or two later, around mid July, the Byzantine army arrived. The Byzantine commander in chief, Vahan, sent Christian Arab troops of the Ghassanid king,
Jabalah ibn al-Aiham, to check the strength of the Muslims. Khalid’s mobile guard defeated and routed the Christian Arabs; this was the last action before the battle started. For the next month negotiations continued between the two armies, and Khalid went to meet Vahan in person at Byzantine camp. Meanwhile the Muslims received reinforcements sent by Caliph Umar.
Abu Ubaidah in a council of war transferred the command of Muslim army to Khalid, who acted as a field commander in the battle and was the mastermind behind the annihilation of Byzantine army.
Finally on 15 August, the Battle of Yarmouk was fought, it lasted for 6 days and ended in a devastating defeat for the Byzantines. The Battle of Yarmouk is considered to be one of the most decisive battles of history.
It was the historic defeat that sealed the fate of Byzantines, the magnitude of defeat was so intense that Byzantine could never recover from it. It left whole of the Byzantine Empire vulnerable to the Muslim invaders. The battle was the greatest battle ever fought on Syrian soil till then and was a tactical marvel of Khalid.
With the Byzantine army shattered and routed, the Muslims quickly recaptured the territory that they conquered prior to Yarmouk. Abu Ubaida held a meeting with his high command, including Khalid, to decide on future conquests. They decided to conquer Jerusalem. The Siege of Jerusalem lasted four months after which the city agreed to surrender, but only to caliph Umar in person. ‘Amr ibn al-‘As suggested that Khalid should be sent as caliph, because of his very strong resemblance to Umar.
Khalid was recognized and eventually, Umar came and the Jerusalem surrendered on April 637. After Jerusalem, the Muslim armies broke up once again. Yazid’s corps went to Damascus and captured Beirut. Amr and Sharjeel’s corps went on to conquer the rest of Palestine, while Abu Ubaidah and Khalid, at the head of a 17,000 strong army moved north to conquer whole of the northern Syria.
Abu Ubaida sent the commanders ‘Amr ibn al-‘As, Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan, and Sharjeel ibn Hassana back to their areas to reconquer them. Most of the areas submitted without a fight. Abu Ubaida himself, along with Khalid, moved to northern Syria once again to conquer them with a 17,000 strong army. Khalid along with his cavalry was sent to Hazir and Abu Ubaidah moved to Chalcis.
Conquest of northern Syria
Further information: Muslim conquest of Syria
With Emesa already in hand, Abu Ubaidah and Khalid moved towards Chalcis, which was strategically the most significant Byzantine fort. Though Chalcis, the Byzantines would guard Anatolia, Heraclius’s homeland Armenia and there the Asian zone’s capital Antioch. Abu Ubaidah sent Khalid, with his elite cavalry, the mobile guard, towards Chalcis.
The fort was guarded by the Greek troops under their commander, Menas, who was reported to be of high prestige, second only to the emperor himself. Menas, diverting from conventional Byzantine tactics, decided to face Khalid and destroy the leading elements of the Muslim army before the main body could join them at Hazir, 5 km (3.1 mi) east of Chalcis. This is known as the Battle of Hazir, which even forced Umar to praise Khalid’s military genius. Umar is reported to have said:
Khalid is truly the commander, May Allah have mercy upon Abu Bakr. He was a better judge of men than I have been.
Abu Ubaidah soon joined Khalid at the virtually impregnable fort of Chalcis, which surrendered in June 637. With this strategic victory, the territory north of Chalcis lay open to the Muslims. Khalid and Abu Ubaidah continued their march northward and laid siege to Aleppo, which was captured after fierce resistance from desperate Byzantine troops in October 637. The next objective was the splendid city of Antioch, the capital of the Asian zone of the Byzantine Empire.
Before marching towards Antioch, Khalid and Abu Ubaidah decided to isolate the city from Anatolia. Accordingly, they sent detachments north to eliminate all possible Byzantine forces and captured a garrison town, Azaz 50 km (31 mi) from Aleppo; from there the Muslims attacked Antioch on the eastern side. In order to save the empire from annihilation, a desperate battle was fought between the Muslim army and that of the defenders of Antioch, popularly known as Battle of Iron Bridge.
The Byzantine army was composed of the survivors of Yarmouk and other Syrian campaigns. After being defeated, the Byzantines retreated to Antioch and the Muslims besieged the city. Having little hope of help from Emperor Herakleios, Antioch surrendered on 30 October 637, with the terms that all Byzantine troops would be given safe passage to Constantinople.
Abu Ubaidah sent Khalid northwards, while he marched south and captured Lazkia, Jabla, Tartus and the coastal areas west of Anti-Lebanon mountains. Khalid moved north and raided territory up to the Kızıl River (Kızılırmak) in Anatolia. Emperor Heraclius had already left Antioch for Edessa before the arrival of the Muslims.
He arranged for the necessary defenses in Al-Jazira and Armenia and left for his capital Constantinople. On his way to Constantinople he had a narrow escape when Khalid, after the capturing Marash, was heading south towards Munbij. Heraclius hastily took the mountainous path and, passing though the Cilician Gates, is reported to have said:
Farewell, a long farewell to Syria, my fair province. Thou art an infidel’s (enemy’s) now. Peace be with you, O’ Syria – what a beautiful land you will be for the enemy hands.
With the devastating defeat at Yarmouk his empire was extremely vulnerable to Muslim invasion. With few military resources left he was no longer in a position to attempt a military come back in Syria. To gain time for the preparations of the defense of the rest of his empire, Heraclius needed the Muslims occupied in Syria. He sought help of the Christian Arabs of Al-Jazira who mustered up a large army and marched against Emesa, Abu Ubaidah’s headquarters. Abu Ubaidah withdrew all his forces from northern Syria to Emesa, and the Christian Arabs laid siege to the city.
Khalid was in favour of an open battle outside the fort, but Abu Ubaidah rather sent the matter to Umar, who handled it brilliantly. Umar sent detachments of the Muslim army from Iraq to invade Al-Jazira, homeland of the invading Christian Arabs, from three different routes.
Moreover, another detachment was sent to Emesa from Iraq under Qa’qa ibn Amr, a veteran of Yarmouk who was sent to Iraq for the Battle of al-Qādisiyyah. Umar himself marched from Medina at the head of 1,000 men. The Christian Arabs, when they received the news of the Muslim invasion of their homeland, abandoned the siege and hastily withdrew to Al-Jazira. At this point Khalid and his mobile guard came out of the fort and devastated the army, attacking them from the rear.
Campaigns in Armenia and Anatolia
After the battle Umar ordered the conquest of Al-Jazira, which was completed by late summer 638 A.D. Following the victory, Abu Ubaidah sent Khalid and Ayaz ibn Ghanam (conqueror of Al-Jazira) to invade the Byzantine territory north of Al-Jazira. They marched independently and captured Edessa,
Amida (Diyarbakır), Malatya and whole of Armenia up to Ararat and raided northern and central Anatolia. Heraclius has already abandoned all the forts between Antioch and Tartus to create a buffer zone or no man’s land between Muslim controlled areas and mainland Anatolia.
Umar for the time being stopped his armies from further invasion deeper into Anatolia but rather ordered Abu Ubaidah, now the governor of Syria, to consolidate his rule in Syria. At this point, Umar is reported to have said:
I wish there was a wall of fire between us and Romans, so that they could not enter our territory nor we could enter theirs. Due to the dismissal of Khalid from the army and a famine and plague the next year, the Muslim armies were kept from invading Anatolia. The expedition to Anatolia and Armenia marked the end of the military career of Khalid.
The great famine
Later that year Arabia fell into a severe drought, and large sums of people began to perish from hunger and epidemic diseases alike, both resulting from the drought and its complications. Therefore, countless numbers of people (in the hundreds of thousands), from throughout Arabia, gathered at Medina as food was being rationed.
Soon, Medina’s food reserves declined to alarming levels; by this time, Caliph Umar had already wrote to the governors of his provinces requesting any relevant aid they might assist with. One such letter was rushed to Abu Ubaidah, who responded promptly:
I am sending you the Caravans whose one end will be here at Syria and the other will be at Madinah.
True to his assurance, Abu Ubaidah’s caravans of food supplies were the first to reach Medina, with 4,000 camels arriving full of food. To handle the overwhelming amount, Umar appointed Abu Ubaidah to distribute this among the thousands of people living in the outskirts of Medina. Following Abu Ubaidah’s generous aid and efforts, Umar provided 4,000 dinars as a modest stipend or token of appreciation which, he refused on the grounds that the deed was done for the sake of God.
The great plague
Nine months had passed since the drought and a new problem had started brewing. The plague epidemic broke in Syria and western Iraq; it was most severe in Syria. When the news of plague broke Umar had been on his way for a tour of Syria but, he returned from the Syrian border as advised by his companions. Abu Ubaidah met him there and said:
O’ Umar do you run from the Allah’s will?
Umar was shocked by this and said in sorrow: if only some one else would have said this other than you Abu Ubaidah and then said:
Yes I am running from Allah’s will, but to Allah’s will.
Umar returned from Syria because Muhammad once instructed that one should not enter the place where an epidemic is unless it is absolutely safe. So Abu Ubaidah returned to his army at Emesa. It was then that a plague hit the land of Syria, the like of which people had never experienced before.
It devastated the population. As Caliph Umar wanted to make Abu Ubaidah his successor he didn’t want him to remain there in the epidemic region. Umar dispatched a messenger to Abu Ubaidah with a letter saying:
I am in urgent need of you. If my letter reaches you at night I strongly urge you to leave before dawn. If this letter reaches you during the day, I strongly urge you to leave before evening and hasten to me.
When Abu Ubaydah received Umar’s letter, he said, ‘”I know why Umar needs me. He wants to secure the survival of someone who, however, is not eternal.” So he wrote to Umar:
I know that you need me. But I am in an army of Muslims and I have no desire to save myself from what is afflicting them. I do not want to separate from them until God wills. So, when this letter reaches you, release me from your command and permit me to stay on.
When Caliph Umar read this letter tears filled his eyes and those who were with him asked, “Has Abu Ubaidah died?” he replied “No, but death is near to him.”. Caliph Umar sent another messenger to him saying that if you are not coming back at least move to any highland with a less humid environment and Abu Ubaidah moved to Jabyia.
Another reason why Abu Ubaydah did not leave Syria is because Muhammad once ordered that if a state is being hit by a plague, none from the state should escape and none from outside the state shall enter it(quarantine).
As soon as Abu Ubaidah moved to Jabyia he became afflicted with the plague. As death hung over him, he spoke to his army:
Let me give you some advice, which will cause you to be on the path of goodness always Establish Prayer. Fast the month of Ramadan. Give Sadaqah. Perform the Hajj and Umrah. Remain united and support one another. Be sincere to your commanders and do not conceal anything from them.
Don’t let the world destroy you for even if man were to live a thousand years he would still end up with this state that you see me in. Peace be upon you and the mercy of God.
He then appointed Muadh ibn Jabal as his successor and ordered him to lead people in prayers; after the prayers Muadh went to him and, at that moment, his soul departed.
Muadh got up and said to the people:
O people, you are stricken by the death of a man. By God, I don’t know whether I have seen a man who had a more righteous heart, who was further from all evil and who was more sincere to people than he. Ask God to shower His mercy on him and God will be merciful to you.
He died in 639 C.E. and was buried at Jabiya. It has been narrated that his janaza was led by Muadh bin Jabal.
His appearance was striking, slim and tall and his face was bright and he had a sparse beard. It was pleasing to look at him and refreshing to meet him. He was extremely courteous and humble and quite shy. Yet in a tough situation he would become strikingly serious and alert. He was given the title Amir or Custodian of Muhammad’s community (Ummah). `Abd Allah ibn `Umar once said about him:
Three persons in the tribe of Quraysh were most prominent, had the best character and were the most modest. If they spoke to you, they would not deceive you and if you spoke to them, they would not accuse you of Lying: Abu Bakr as-Siddiq, Uthman ibn Affan and Abu Ubaydah ibn al-Jarrah.
He chose to live a simple way of life, opting for the most modest of garments when compared to some of the other sahaba (companions of Muhammad). When, during the conquest of Jerusalem, Caliph Umar had come to Syria, he was met by Khalid ibn al-Walid and Yazid bin abu Sufyan;
Caliph Umar dismounted from his camel and threw sand at them while admonishing them that “it has not been even a year since you have come out of the hunger and hard life of Arabia and you have forgotten all the simplicity when you saw the glamour of Syria’s Emperors?”
Both men were incidentally wearing better garments then they were previously accustomed; Khalid ibn al-Walid noted that beneath their clothes they were still sufficiently armed, indicating they were still accustomed to the practical ways of hard desert life, bringing some relief to the Caliph. Comparatively,
Abu Ubaidah was also present, but had always maintained his humble dressing and way of life; Umar was pleased to see him, and that very evening, when Umar arrived at his home, he saw that Abu Ubaidah, a man made successful in the art of battle (earning him rights to much booty), had no possessions at home except one bed, a sword and a shield. Umar said to him:
“O’ Abu Ubaidah, you [could/should] have arranged some things of comfort for yourself at home.” Replied Abu Ubaidah “O’ Umar that’s enough for me.”
Christians of the Levant accepted Islam and were greatly inspired by Abu Ubaidah; all members of the two Christian tribes, Banu Tanookh and Banu Saleej, had accepted Islam after the conquest of the city of Qasreen. Moreover, there was much relief given by Abu Ubaidah to the non-Muslims living as his subjects in Syria. He is regarded by Muslims to be one of the ten companions of Muhammad who were promised paradise by God during their lifetime.
Little is known about Abu Ubaidah’s family. He had two wives. From his wife Hind bint Jabar he had his son Yazid and Ubaidah. From his wife Warja he had his son Umair, but all of them died in childhood. It is unknown if he had any daughters, but his male line of descendants is reported to be ended. However, the Al-Jarrah family in present day Jordan and Lebanon claim their descendant from Abu Ubaidah.
Abu Ubaydah ibn al-Jarrah
His appearance was striking. He was slim and tall. His face was bright and he had a sparse beard. It was pleasing to look at him and refreshing to meet him. He was extremely courteous and humble and quite shy. Yet in a tough situation he would become strikingly serious and alert, resembling the flashing blade of a sword in his severity and sharpness.
He was described as the Amin or Custodian of Muhammad’s community. His full name was Aamir ibn Abdullah ibn al-Jarrah. He was known as Abu Ubaydah. Of him Abdullah ibn Umar, one of the companions of the Prophet, said:
“Three persons in the tribe of Quraysh were most prominent, had the best character and were the most modest. If they spoke to you, they would not deceive you and if you spoke to them, they would not accuse you of Lying: Abu Bakr as-Siddiq, Uthman ibn Affan and Abu Ubaydah ibn al-Jarrah.”
Abu Ubaydah was one of the first persons to accept Islam. He became a Muslim one day after Abu Bakr. In fact, it was through Abu Bakr that he became a Muslim. Abu Bakr took him, Abdur Rahman ibn Aut, Uthman ibn Mazun and al-Arqam ibn Abu al Arqam to the Prophet, upon whom be peace, and together they declared their acceptance of the Truth. They were thus the first pillars on which the great edifice of Islam was built.
Abu Ubaydah lived through the harsh experience, which the Muslims went through in Makkah, from beginning to end. With the early Muslims, he endured the insults and the violence, the pain and the sorrow of that experience. In every trial and test he remained firm and constant in his belief in God and His prophet. One of the most harrowing experiences he had to go through however, was at the battle of Badr.
Abu Ubaydah was in the vanguard of the Muslim forces, fighting with might and main and as someone who was not at all afraid of death. The Quraysh cavalry were extremely wary of him and avoided coming face to face with him. One man in particular, however, kept on pursuing Abu Ubaydah wherever he turned and Abu Ubaydah tried his best to keep out of his way and avoid an encounter with him.
The man plunged into the attack. Abu Ubaydah tried desperately to avoid him. Eventually the man succeeded in blocking Abu Ubaydah’s path and stood as a barrier between him and the Quraysh. I hey were now face to face with each other. Abu Ubaydah could not contain himself any longer. He struck one blow to the man’s head. The man fell to the ground and died instantly.
Do not try to guess who this man was It was, as stated earlier, one of the most harrowing experiences that Abu Ubaydah had to go through, how harrowing, it is almost impossible to imagine. The man in Fact was Abdullah ibn al-Jarrah, the father of Abu Ubaydah!
Abu Ubaydah obviously did not want to kill his father but in the actual battle between faith in God and polytheism, the choice open to him was profoundly disturbing but clear. In a way it could be said that he did not kill his father–he only killed the polytheism in the person of his father.
It is concerning this event that God revealed the following verses of the Quran:
“You will not find a people believing in God and the Last Day making friends with those who oppose God and His messenger even if these were their fathers, their sons, their brothers or their clan. God has placed faith in their hearts and strengthened them with a spirit from Him. He will cause them to enter gardens beneath which streams flow that they may dwell therein. God is well pleased with them and they well pleased with Him. They are the party of God. Is not the party of God the successful ones?” (Surah al-Mujactilah 58:22)
The response of Abu Ubaydah at Badr when confronted by his father was not unexpected. He had attained a strength of faith in God, devotion to His religion and a level of concern for the ummah of Muhammad to which many aspired.
It is related by Muhammad ibn Jafar, a Companion of the Prophet, that a Christian delegation came to the Prophet and said, ‘O Abu-l Qasim, send one of your companions with us, one in whom you are well pleased, to judge between us on some questions of property about which we disagree among ourselves. We have a high regard for you Muslim people.”
“Come back to me this evening,” replied the Prophet, “and I will send with you one who is strong and trustworthy.”
Umar ibn al-Khattab heard the Prophet saying this and later said: “I went to the Zuhr (midday) Prayer early hoping to be the one who would fit the description of the Prophet. When the Prophet had finished the Prayer, he began looking to his right and his left and I raised myself so that he could see me. But he continued looking among us until he spotted Abu Ubaydah ibn al-Jarrah. He called him and said, ‘Go with them and judge among them with truth about that which they are in disagreement.” And so Abu Ubaydah got the appointment.”
Abu Ubaydah was not only trustworthy. He displayed a great deal of strength in the discharge of his trust. This strength was shown on several occasions.
One day the Prophet dispatched a group of his Sahabah to meet a Quraysh caravan. He appointed Abu Ubaydah as amir (leader) of the group and gave them a bag of dates and nothing else as provisions. Abu Ubaydah gave to each man under his command only one date every day. He would suck this date just as a child would suck at the breast of its mother. He would then drink some water and this would suffice him for the whole day.
On the day of Uhud when the Muslims were being routed, one of the mushrikeen started to shout, “Show me Muhammad, show me Muhammad.” Abu Ubaydah was one of a group of ten Muslims who had encircled the Prophet to protect him against the spears of the Mushrikeen.
When the battle was over, it was found that one of the Prophet’s molar teeth was broken, his forehead was bashed in and two discs from his shield had penetrated into his cheeks. Abu Bakr went forward with the intention of extracting these discs but Abu Ubaydah said, “Please leave that to me.”
Abu Ubaydah was afraid that he would cause the Prophet pain if he took out the discs with his hand. He bit hard into one of the discs. It was extracted but one of his incisor teeth fell to the ground in the process. With his other incisor, he extracted the other disc but lost that tooth also. Abu Bakr remarked, “Abu Ubaydah is the best of men at breaking incisor teeth!”
Abu Ubaydah continued to be fully involved in all the momentous events during the Prophet’s lifetime. After the beloved Prophet had passed away, the companions gathered to choose a successor at the Saqifah or meeting place of Banu Saaadah. The day is known in history as the Day of Saqifah. On this day, Umar ibn al-Khattab said to Abu Ubaydah, “Stretch forth your hand and I will swear allegiance to you for I heard the Prophet, peace be upon him say, ‘Every ummah has an amin (custodian) and you are the amin of this ummah.’ “
“I would not,” declared Abu Ubaydah, “put myself forward in the presence of a man whom the Prophet, upon whom be peace, commanded to lead us in Prayer and who led us right until the Prophet’s death.” He then gave bayah (the oath of allegiance) to Abu Bakr as-Siddiq. He continued to be a close adviser to Abu Bakr and his strong supporter in the cause of truth and goodness. Then came the caliphate of Umar and Abu Ubaydah also gave him his support and obedience. He did not disobey him in any matter, except one.
The incident happened when Abu Ubaydah was in Syria leading the Muslim forces from one victory to another until the whole of Syria was under Muslim control. The River Euphrates lay to his right and Asia Minor to his left.
It was then that a plague hit the land of Syria, the like of which people had never experienced before. It devastated the population. Umar dispatched a messenger to Abu Ubaydah with a letter saying:
“I am in urgent need of you. If my letter reaches you at night I strongly urge you to leave before dawn. If this letter reaches you during the day, I strongly urge you to leave before evening and hasten to me.
When Abu Ubaydah received Umar’s letter, he said, “I know why the Amir al-Mumineen needs me. He wants to secure the survival of someone who, however, is not eternal.” So he wrote to Umar:
“I know that you need me. But I am in an army of Muslims and I have no desire to save myself from what is afflicting them. I do not want to separate from them until God wills. So, when this letter reaches you, release me from your command and permit me to stay on.”
When Umar read this letter tears filled his eyes and those who were with him asked, “Has Abu Ubaydah died, O Amir al-Mumineen?”
“No,” said he, “But death is near to him.”
Umar’s intuition was not wrong. Before long, Abu Ubaydah became afflicted with the plague. As death hung over him, he spoke to his army:
“Let me give you some advice which will cause you to be on the path of goodness always. “Establish Prayer. Fast the month of Ramadan. Give Sadaqah. Perform the Hajj and Umrah. Remain united and support one another. Be sincere to your commanders and do not conceal anything from them. Don’t let the world destroy you for even if man were to live a thousand years he would still end up with this state that you see me in.
Peace be upon you and the mercy of God.”
Abu Ubaydah then turned to Muadh ibn Jabal and said, “O Muadh, perform the prayer with the people (be their leader).” At this, his pure soul departed. Muadh got up and said:
“O people, you are stricken by the death of a man. By God, I don’t know whether I have seen a man who had a more righteous heart, who was further from all evil and who was more sincere to people than he. Ask God to shower His mercy on him and God will be merciful to you. “