Khalid ibn al-Walid
One of the greatest military leaders to fol¬ low the standard of Islam, Khalid ibn al- Walid was actually a foe of Mohammed at the start of the prophet’s ministry. Born into a noble family in Mecca, Khalid won the Battle of Uhud for the enemies of Mohammed through a series of surprise attacks.
By A.D. 628 or 629, Khalid switched sides and became a fervent believer in Mohammed and the Islamic faith. The reasons for his turn¬ around are unknown; it is possible he was swept up by the outpouring of religious fervor that attended the last three years of Mohammed’s life.
Khalid led an unsuccessful attack on the Byzantine frontier in A.D. 630; upon his return, Mohammed named him “Sword of God” for his steadfastness in the difficult retreat. Khalid entered Mecca in triumph with Mohammed, and in A.D. 631, the prophet sent him to convert other Bedouin tribespeople on the Arabian peninsula.
Mohammed died in June A.D. 632, and a power struggle immediately broke out among rival leaders. Many Arabs choose to follow the “false prophet,” Musailima. The true successor to Mohammed was the caliph king, Abu Bekr. He sent Khalid on a military mission to quell the followers of Musailima.Khalid followed his orders with a vengeance. He directed the Battle of Akraba, where Musailima and most of his followers were killed.
Khalid waged a pitiless campaign that totally overwhelmed the rebel tribes of Asad, Tamin, Ghatafani, and Hanifa. By the middle of A.D.633, the entire Arabian peninsula lay at the feet ofAbu Bekr and the followers of Mohammed.
Khalid paused only briefly before pushing on to the Euphrates River to wage war against Persian forces. To his surprise, and the surprise of scholars today, the Persians gave way rapidly before his assaults. Within one year, he was master of the entire Euphrates area. Khalid had few diversions or amusements; he lived to fight.
Ordered to further his conquests, Khalid pushed northwest to Syria and made rapid headway against the Byzantine armies there. His greatest triumph came in A.D. 634, when he entered the venerable city of Damascus, having spread Islam far more rapidly than anyone expected.
His fortunes changed, how¬ ever, when Abu Bekr died that same year. The new caliph immediately removed Khalid from overall command of the Arab forces. Instead, he was given a subordinate position in the Syrian campaign, in which he captured the city of Homs.
Khalid later served as governor of part of Syria, but never regained his former promi¬ nence. He died in A.D. 642, either in Medina or Homs, and his tomb was conse¬ crated in Homs.