When it comes to discussing the most brilliant war general in history, especially in the Middle Ages, there is no doubt that the title goes to Khalid ibn al Walid. He was an amazing mastermind tactician, a master strategist, and an astonishing military leader who was never defeated in battle out of 100+ battles. He was highly revered due to his impressive martial abilities and superior military prowess.
Khalid’s strategies were so effective that they allowed him to defeat enemies with superior numbers and resources. The tactical brilliance of this blessed man allowed him to outmaneuver any army he faced, regardless of their size or strength.
In addition to his tactical prowess, Khalid ibn al Walid was also an extremely successful leader; his charisma and ability to inspire loyalty among his troops made him an invaluable asset on the battlefield. He was able to rally his forces together to create a unified front and ultimately achieve victory against even the most difficult odds, as we shall see in the following sections.
Enough of flattery, for now, let’s dig deeper into the legend himself.
Widely regarded as one of the most consequential Muslim military leaders of all time, Khalid ibn al Walid earned the title Saifullah (“Sayf-Allah”; aka The Sword of God) for his tactical superiority and military genius; the blessed Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, bestowed that dear title upon him on his return to Madinah right after appointing him to the commander of the Muslim army.
Born in 592 CE (there is a debate about whether it was 592, 583, or 585 CE) in the horsemen/cavalry tribe of Quraysh, from the Banu Makhzum clan, Khalid and Umar, son of Al-Khattab were cousins from his mother’s side. His father was al-Walid ibn al-Mughira, an arbitrator of local disputes in Mecca in the Hejaz. Khalid was able to draw the arrow while mounted on the move with accuracy, was a strong grappler in his younger days, and had competent skills in cavalry and archery.
Khalid was a leader who initiated tactical moves in every battle and expedition and led his troops from the front. His name instilled fear in the hearts of every Pagan and Roman.
Early Military Career
Khalid’s tribe, Al-Makhzoum, had the brigade of the army and the command of the cavalry, representing the military power of the Quraish tribe. He was initially an enemy of Muhammad (PBUH) and inflicted a blowing defeat on the Muslims at the Battle of Uhud, but later converted (in the year 8 AH) after the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah was signed between the Muslims and the Meccans in 628 CE. Khalid joined Muhammad (PBUH) in the conquest of Mecca in (December) 629 CE (or January 630 CE).
Khalid is also credited with introducing the use of the camel in warfare, which allowed the Muslims to gain an advantage over the Byzantines. After his conversion to Islam, he was known as “Abu Suliman”. At the age of twenty-four, Khalid was sent as an envoy to the tribe of Al-Mustaliq. He was thirty-nine in the battle of Uhud, where he commanded the right flank of the Muslim army and was able to repel the attack of the Meccan cavalry.
Khalid’s participation in the battle of Badr is unknown, but he was against the Muslims in the battle of Uhud. However, he later joined the Islamic army and fought in many battles to the farthest east and west. He fought against the biggest two empires of that period, the Byzantine (Romans) and Persian (Iran) empires.
Khalid had an impressive mastery of military tactics. He was able to surprise his opponents and capitalize on his enemies’ weaknesses by taking advantage of the terrain and the weather. He was a master of psychological warfare, often striking fear in the hearts of his opponents and demoralizing them, which in turn led to their surrender and submission. He was also a master of deception, using ruses to confuse and mislead his enemy. In addition to these tactics, Khalid was also an expert in the use of light cavalry, which he used to devastating effect in several battles.
Khalid ibn al-Walid is remembered as one of the most successful commanders in history, who was able to capture some of the most powerful empires of the time. His tactics and strategies have been studied and admired by military leaders and strategists throughout the centuries.
Khalid ibn al-Walid was known for writing poetry as well as for his wit and humor. He was also a renowned scholar and wrote several books on military strategy. He was also known for his generosity, and would often give away his own wealth to help the needy. He is also credited with introducing the concept of flanking and psychological warfare to military tactics. He was a firm believer in the power of prayer and often credited his many victories to the power of Allah. His heart was tenderer than most military leaders; he was known for his fairness, as he always sought to give his enemies a chance to surrender before engaging in battle; he was also known to have never broken an agreement or treaty.
- Once again, the tactical genius of this man is legendary at the very least; one of his most famous battlefield feats is the tale of his victory during the Battle of Yarmouk in 636 CE. The Byzantine army was vastly outnumbered, but Khalid seized the opportunity to use psychological warfare to his advantage. He sent out small groups of men to attack the Byzantines from different directions, giving the impression of a large army. The trick worked, and the Byzantines were tricked into believing they were outnumbered and decided to retreat.
- Renowned for his bravery and willingness to lead his troops into battle, on another occasion during the Battle of Yarmouk, the Muslim army was outnumbered and facing certain defeat. Khalid, however, chose to lead a small group of 700 men into battle. Despite the odds, Khalid was able to lead his troops to victory. His courage and tactical genius allowed him to overcome the odds and secure a decisive victory over the Byzantine forces.
- Furthermore, the Battle of Mu’tah in 629 CE (possibly Khalid’s very first battle under the banner of Islam) was one of Khalid ibn al-Walid’s most daring feats. He was leading a small force of 3,000 Muslim soldiers against a massive army of 200,000 Roman troops. Early on, Muslim commanders and troops were being killed one after the other (including Zayd ibn Harithah, may he rest in peace); Khalid decided to act quickly. He immediately launched a lightning strike against the Byzantine flanks to disrupt their charge and momentarily drain their momentum. He then ordered his archers to position themselves on high ground to stop the Byzantines from advancing any further; fortunately, the strategy proved to be very effective as the Byzantines halted their advance, retreated, and camped outside of the archers’ range for the rest of the night. Knowing that he had merely bought his army some time and that the enemy forces would soon resume their attack once more, Khalid divided his army into small groups and placed them at different points; he then ordered them to arrive at the Muslim camp at different times during the day to create the illusion that more and more Muslim troops were reinforcing the camp. The Byzantines panicked, packed their tents, and retreated. Khalid’s brilliant use of psychological warfare, once again, secured a worthy victory for the Muslim army despite such absurd odds.
- Another one of Khalid ibn al-Walid’s greatest accomplishments was his victory during the Siege of Damascus. During the Byzantine-Sassanid Wars. Khalid was sent by the Caliph Umar to Syria to help the Byzantine Empire against the Sassanid Empire. He led the Muslim army in several battles against the Sassanid Empire and was able to defeat them in several key engagements. The Muslims were able to capture several important cities, including Damascus and Jerusalem. At the time, Damascus was under the control of the Byzantine Empire and the Muslims were determined to take it back; Khalid led a small force of 3,000 men and surrounded the city. He then implemented a strategy of cutting off the city’s water supply and blocking the roads leading into and out of the city. After a month of siege, the Byzantine forces surrendered and Khalid was victorious. Khalid ibn al-Walid’s victories in the Byzantine-Sassanid Wars opened the way for the Muslim conquest of Syria and paved the way for further Islamic expansion into the Byzantine Empire. His strategic acumen and military skills were instrumental in these early Islamic conquests and helped to establish the Muslims as a major power in the region.
- Another beautiful anecdote about Khalid ibn al-Walid is the story of the Battle of Hunayn in 630 CE. Aside from his ability to adapt his tactics to different types of terrain, Khalid was also known for his ability to improvise and adapt on the battlefield; he was able to change the course of the battle by quickly identifying and exploiting weaknesses in the Meccan army’s formation. The Muslim army led by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was outnumbered by the Meccan army. The Muslims were initially caught off guard and began to retreat, causing panic among the soldiers. Khalid ibn al-Walid, who was a recent convert to Islam and still not fully trusted by the other Muslims, saw the panic and confusion among the troops. He quickly rallied a group of soldiers and led them in a counterattack against the Meccans. His bold move turned the tide of the battle and the Meccans were defeated. This victory at Hunayn was a crucial turning point in the early Islamic conquests, as it solidified the Muslims’ control over the Arabian Peninsula. It also served as a demonstration of Khalid ibn al-Walid’s military acumen, as he was able to turn a losing battle into a decisive victory.
- The Battle of Muzayyah was fought in 629 CE against the Christian Arab tribe of Banu Fazara, who were known for their hostility towards the Muslims. The Muslim army was, as usual, led by Khalid ibn al-Walid. The Muslims had been trying to negotiate with the tribe for some time, but the negotiations had failed and the Banu Fazara had refused to accept to abandon polytheism and accept Islam. So, Khalid ibn al-Walid was sent to deal with the situation; he decided to launch a surprise attack on the tribe. He led his army on a night march, and they arrived at the Banu Fazara’s camp just before dawn. The Muslims launched a sudden attack, catching the Banu Fazara by surprise. The tribe’s warriors were still groggy with sleep and could not put up much resistance. The Muslims were able to capture the camp and take many prisoners. This battle was a significant victory for the Muslims, as it demonstrated their ability to launch surprise attacks and defeat their enemies. It also served as a warning to other tribes who were hostile to the Muslims, showing that they could not escape the reach and might of the Muslim army. Furthermore, this was the first time that the Muslims had engaged in a battle against the Byzantine Empire and emerged victorious.
- Another astonishing anecdote about Khalid ibn al-Walid’s military ventures is the story of the Ridda Wars. The Ridda Wars were a series of conflicts that occurred after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in 632 CE. The Arab tribes that had recently converted to Islam began to rebel against the new Muslim leadership, and many of them refused to pay taxes or swear allegiance to the new caliph, Abu Bakr. Khalid ibn al-Walid was appointed as the commander-in-chief of the Muslim army by Abu Bakr, and he was tasked with putting down the rebellions and reuniting the Arab tribes under the leadership of the Caliphate. Khalid ibn al-Walid was able to defeat the rebel tribes one by one, using his military acumen and tactical skills. He divided his army into smaller units and was able to strike quickly and decisively against the rebels. He was able to defeat the rebel tribes of Yamama and Bahrain, and he was able to capture the capital of the rebel leader Musaylimah. He also led the Islamic army to defeat the tribe of Banu Hanifa which was a powerful tribe that was at the forefront of the rebellion. The Ridda Wars were a critical period in early Islamic history, as they solidified the authority of the Caliphate and prevented the fragmentation of the Muslim community. Khalid ibn al-Walid played a key role in this process, and his victories during the Ridda Wars helped to establish the Caliphate as the dominant power in the Arabian Peninsula.
- One of my favorite quotes from that era is when Khalid wrote a letter to the Persian governor of Mesopotamia right before he initiated a full-scale invasion; in that letter, he wrote: “Submit to Islam and be safe. Or agree to the payment of the Jizya, and you and your people will be under our protection, else you will have only yourself to blame for the consequences, for I bring the men who desire death as ardently as you desire life.”
Those were just a few examples of this military genius’s brilliance. One could fill an entire book with his many accomplishments. However, one particularly interesting event that occurred before a battle is described in great detail in one of Ibn Kathir’s books. I have provided a summary for your enjoyment:
During the Battle of Yarmouk, Roman commander Jarajah (Georgios) approached Khalid ibn al-Walid and requested to speak with him. Khalid met with him, and the following conversation took place:
Jarajah: “Khalid, I must ask you something. I want you to be truthful and not deceive me. Has Allah given your Prophet a sword from the heavens, which he has given to you, and which you use to defeat anyone you draw it against?”
Khalid: “No, that is not the case.”
Jarajah: “Then why are you called the Sword of Allah?”
Khalid: “Allah sent His Prophet to us, but we initially rejected him. Some of us later believed and followed him, while others denied him. I was among those who rejected him. But eventually, Allah guided us to follow him through our hearts and minds, and we pledged allegiance to him. He said to me, ‘You are a sword from the swords of Allah, drawn against the Mushrikin.’ And with Allah’s help, I am now known as the Sword of Allah, and I am fierce against the Mushrikin.”
Jarajah: “What is it that you call for, Khalid?”
Khalid: “We call for the declaration that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is His servant and messenger, and the acceptance of everything he has brought from Allah.”
Jarajah: “What about those who do not accept this?”
Khalid: “Those who do not accept this must pay Jizyah, and we will protect them. But if they refuse to pay it, we will declare war against them and fight them.”
Jarajah: “What is the status of a person who converts to Islam today?”
Khalid: “We are all equal in the eyes of Allah, regardless of our social status or when we accepted Islam. We are all bound by the same commandments from Allah.”
Jarajah: “Will a new convert receive the same reward as someone like yourself?”
Khalid: “Yes, and even more. “
Jarajah: “But how can they be equal to you, when you were among the first to accept Islam?”
Khalid: “We had no choice but to accept Islam when we did. We were able to see and hear our Prophet, we were able to witness revelations and miracles. But for those who convert today, they have not had the same experience. So, anyone who enters Islam sincerely will be better than us.”
Jarajah: “By Allah, you have spoken the truth, and you have not deceived me.”
Khalid: “I swear by Allah, I have spoken the truth and Allah is my witness.”
The moment Jarajah turned his shield around, signaling his surrender, he turned to Khalid and said, “Teach me Islam.” Khalid, being the compassionate leader he was, took Jarajah under his wing and led him through the process of converting to Islam. He even provided him with a refreshing bath and taught him how to perform the basic prayers. However, the Romans, suspicious of the Muslims’ intentions, launched a surprise attack while Khalid was teaching Jarajah. The Muslims were caught off guard and were pushed back, except for the Muhamiyah regiment led by ‘Ikramah ibn Abi Jahl and Harith ibn Hisham. The Romans were closing in on the Muslim camp when Khalid and Jarajah, now a new Muslim, rode out to face them.
With Khalid’s leadership, the Muslims managed to push the Romans back and even gained the upper hand in the battle. Khalid and Jarajah fought alongside each other from noon until the sun was about to set. Even during the battle, the Muslims found time to perform their Zuhr and Asr prayers. Tragically, Jarajah was mortally wounded and passed away, but not before performing the two rak’ahs of prayer with Khalid.
According to historical records, Jarajah’s name was also recorded as “Jarjir” and “Jarajah” and it is said that he accepted Islam at the hands of Khalid ibn al-Walid and died as a martyr in the Battle of Yarmouk. Despite the different variations of his name, one thing is for sure, Jarajah’s story is a testament to the power of Khalid’s leadership and his ability to convert even the enemy to the religion of Islam.
Khalid ibn al Walid is revered by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, as a brilliant military strategist and commander. He was a faithful and loyal commander who served the blessed Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the two Rashidun caliphs, Abu Bakr al-Siddiq (r. 632–634 CE) and Umar ibn al-Khattaab (r. 634–644 CE). Khalid played a decisive role in the Ridda wars against rebel tribes in Arabia (632–633) and the early Muslim conquests of the Sassanian Empire (633–634 CE) and Byzantine Syria (634–638 CE). He is remembered as one of the greatest conquerors and military commanders in history.
His tactics and strategies have been studied and admired by military leaders and strategists throughout the centuries. He was known for his courage, determination, and tactical genius, as well as his ability to instill fear in the hearts of his enemies; his victory in over 100 battles testified to that. Khalid ibn al Walid will always be remembered for his incredible legacy as one of the greatest conquerors and military commanders in history.
The year 638 CE marked the end of the military career of the legendary war hero; Caliph Umar, may he rest in peace, dismissed him from his post, saying:
“I have not dismissed Khalid because of my anger or personal ill will against him. I have not dismissed Khalid because he was dishonest. I have dismissed him because the people glorified him and were misled. I feared that the people would rely on him. I want the people to know that it is Allah Who does all things; and that there should be no wavering in the faith of the people in Allah by attributing success in any field to any human being.”
Khalid ibn al Walid died in 642 CE in the city of Homs; may he find God’s blessings and mercy in the hereafter.