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The 7th-Century Battle of Yarmouk

Lawrence Bush
August 14, 2017

The six-day Battle of Yarmouk, between the Byzantine Army and the Muslim Arab forces of the Rashidun Caliphate, got underway along the borders of contemporary Syria-Jordan and Syria-Israel on this date in 636 CE. It was a triumphant battle for the Muslims, the crest of the first wave of Muslim conquests that swept the Middle East and parts of North Africa following the death of Muhammed in 632. “Along with the Battle of Qadisiyah, which was fought in November of the same year and essentially destroyed the Sasanian Persian Empire, Yarmouk established the Arab/Islamic caliphate and thus helped change the course of history in a major way,” writes DWD at the website And That’s the Way It Was. And according to Origins of the Islamic State (1916) and translations of medieval Arab sources, Jews in the region sided with the Muslims: “The Jews rose and said, ‘We swear by the Torah, no governor of Heraclius [the Byzantine emperor] shall enter the city of Hims unless we are first vanquished and exhausted!’ Saving this, they closed the gates of the city and guarded them. The inhabitants of the other cities -- Christian and Jew -- that had capitulated to the Moslems, did the same, saying, ‘If Heraclius and his followers win over the Moslems we would return to our previous condition, otherwise we shall retain our present state so long as numbers are with the Moslems.’ When by Allah’s help the ‘unbelievers’ were defeated and the Moslems won, they opened the gates of their cities, went out with the singers and music players who began to play, and paid the kharaj” [a tax on non-Muslims].

“In the course of six days, a vastly outnumbered Arab army succeeded in annihilating a significantly larger Byzantine force. This defeat led to the permanent loss of not only Syria and Palestine, but also of Egypt and large portions of Mesopotamia. . . . The decisive moment came on August 20, when according to legend, a sandstorm developed and blew into the Byzantine army, allowing the Arabs to charge the Byzantine line en-masse. The Byzantines, cut off from their main axis of retreat, were systematically massacred.”--History Cooperative

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.