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Authors: Nayab Naseer

Tags: #history, #islam, #islamic history, #baybars

Stories from Islamic History (6 page)

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Hulagu’s messengers arrived in Cairo sooner
than anticipated. They read out what Hulagu had to say

“God the great has elevated
Genghis Khan and his progeny and given us the realms of the face of
the earth altogether. Everyone who has been recalcitrant in obeying
us has been annihilated along with his women, children, kith and
kin, towns, and servants, as has surely reached the hearing of all.
The reputation of our innumerable army is as well known as the
stories of Rustam and Iskandar. If you are in submission to our
court, send tribute, come yourself, and request an audience;
otherwise be prepared for battle.
"

The council of war was on.

Nasiruddin Qaymari, who had witnessed the
Mongols first hand in Syria spoke out. “In addition to being
Genghis Khan's grandson, Tolu Khan's son, and Mangu Khan's brother,
Hulagu Khan has power and might beyond description. At present he
holds the land from the gates of Egypt to the borders of China in
his mighty grasp, and has been singled out for heavenly assistance.
If we go before him under amnesty, it will not be blameworthy.
However, to drink poison willingly and to go out to greet one's own
death are far from paths of wisdom. A human being is not a grape
vine that doesn't mind having its head cut off.

Hulagu does not keep his word, for with no
warning he killed the Shah of Khwarizm,
Kalifah
Muta'sim,
Husamuddin Akka, and the lord of Arbela after having made promises
to them. If we go to him he will do the same to us."

"At the present time," said Qutuz, "everyone
in Diyar Bekir, Diyar Rabi'a and Greater Syria is filled with
lamentation. The land from Baghdad to Anatolia lies in ruins,
devoid of farmers and seed. If we don't make a pre-emptive strike
and try to repulse the Mongols, soon Egypt will also be
destroyed.

Given the multitudes with which they are
proceeding in our direction, one of three things must be done: we
must make a truce, offer resistance, or go into exile. Exile is
impossible, for there is nowhere we can go other than North Africa,
and a bloodthirsty desert and vast distances lie between us and
there."

"A truce is also imprudent," said Nasiruddin
Qaymari, "for their word is not to be trusted."

The other commanders said, "We do not have
the power to resist either. You must say what you think the best
plan is."

Baybars, who had been attentively listening
all this while, stood up.

"My opinion," said Baybars" is that we should
kill the emissaries and ride as one to attack Ketbuga. Win or die,
in either case we will not be blamed, and we will have people's
gratitude."

A through soldier, Qutuz was of a different
breed – the breed of the early Muslims, and his chief
amir
Baybars al-Banduqdari was even fiercer.

They had decided to receive all fugitives,
the cowardly refugee chieftains included, not due to affection
towards them, but because they needed the soldiers to fill up the
numbers. But they still doubted whether it would be of much
help.

The next morning, Cairo saw dead bodies of
Mongol messengers hanging in four quarters of the city.

Open mouthed, the Syrians and Egyptians alike
realized the Mongols would follow them even to the distant Atlantic
and it was better off to face the inevitable, at least in
manifestly brave company of Qutuz.

The few weak hearted chieftains were allowed
to run off further westward while there was still time.

Amir
Baidar, the leader of the Mongol
advance troop, sent a man to Ketbuga to inform him of the
situation. Ketbuga sent reply, "Stay where you are and wait for
me."

***

 

Qutuz, knowing the important role scholars
play and their influence on the masses, had taken them as advisors,
and asked them to supplicate for victory. The most renowned scholar
who contributed to this cause was the renowned al-Izz bin
Abdus-Salam, may Allah have mercy on him. Qutuz sought a
fatwa
authorizing additional taxes to equip the Muslim army.
This honest scholar of Islam made it clear that the ruler cannot
impose new taxes unless his own wealth, and that of his close-by's
are all spent.

The needed money was obtained without forcing
extra taxes on the people, who, witnessing the complete compliance
and submission of their leaders to the laws of Allah, supported
them wholeheartedly.

***

 

Qutuz and Baybars moved fast, but when they
reached the Egyptian borders, the refugees who had seen the Mongols
before started to tremble with fear and refused to advance. Qutuz
argued, persuaded, stormed and bullied, but to no effect. He then
made a speech:

“Oh
ummah
of Prophet Mohammed, may
Allah bless him, and grant him peace. It has been prophesied a day
will come when nations will call other nations to share them
against you as eaters call each other to eat from the food in front
of them in a large wooden place. Your number will be great, but you
will be rubbish like the rubbish of flood-water. And certainly
Allah will remove from the hearts of your enemies the fear from
you, and Allah will throw love for this world and hate for death in
your hearts. Humiliation will not be removed until you return to
your religion. As for me, I will go and fight the enemy single
handedly, if necessary. If anyone wants to leave, he can go
now.”

With his disciplined Mamluke army Qutuz
marched forward. The Syrians and the other refugees, ashamed,
followed him. Qutuz was soon in crusader land. At Gaza, he made it
clear to them that he could smash them before he met the Mongols.
Realizing the authenticity of this threat and seeing the zeal of
Qutuz’ army, the crusaders found it prudent to stay neutral.

Qutuz advanced to Caesera, and then turned
east through the valley of River Kishon, across the plains of
Megido, over the water shed and entered the valley of Nehr Jalut,
and settled east of Ayn Jalut, the head waters of Nehr Jalut.

Ayn Jalut literally means the “Eye of
Goliath” - it was the very place where David, peace be upon him
defeated Goliath in ancient times.

Before Ketbuga arrived, Qutuz attacked
Amir
Baidar and his Mongol advance regiment and drove him to
the banks of the River Jordan.

Ketbuga his zeal stirred and confident in his
own strength and might flared up like fire. He advanced from his
base in Ba’labbak in Syria along the Jordan valley. But he was
surprised as well, for it was the first time that someone was
coming head on to meet him. It was customary for the enemy postpone
until the last possible moment confrontation with the dreaded
Mongols.

In the narrow valley, hedged in by Mount
Gilboa in the south and Nehr Jalut on the north, the two armies
met.

The Mamlukes under Qutuz were strong,
disciplined, and immune to fear and panic, but they were only
twelve thousand strong. To the overwhelming numerous Mongols,
conquerors of a dozen empires, destroyers of all ancient cities
that came across their path, supremely confident and till now
invincible, they seemed to be a bunch of mad suicides.

 

Since the dawn of history, the Mongols had
been nomads, wandering and grazing their flocks over vast
tablelands of Central Asia. They hated cities and urban
civilization, which manifested itself in the widespread destruction
they brought forth. Ghengis Khan molded them into simple and
self-sufficient soldiers, having no physical barriers and requiring
no administrative tails.

Their strategy was simple. Since no single
route passed through entirely fertile lands that could sustain the
enormous hordes, they spread out and reached their selected
objective in many strong columns over widely separated axis. As the
columns near the enemy, they start pouring arrows from afar using
their long bows, they themselves staying away. With the enemy
completely bewildered and disorganized, they would close in from
all directions and complete the rout.

The key ingredient to the Mongol’s success
was perfect horsemanship – no man who was not born to the saddle
could ride, shoot and control his charging horse all at once.
Intensive training over a few months, or even few years could not
match these Mongols. Only another set of men, born arches and born
horsemen could challenge them, and between the Sea of Japan and the
Austrian borders, no such men could be found.

But Qutuz had such men.

The Mamlukes, like their eastern Mongol
brethren were also born to the saddle and use of bows. But the
Mamluke bow shot a smaller though stronger arrow at short range
than the Mongol bow. This gave the Mongols an edge, but Qutuz and
Baybars were neither foolhardy nor suicidal as Kitbuga thought.

Having decided to battle at Ayn Jalut, in a
narrow defile just wide enough to be held by the small Mamluke
force, Qutuz and Baybars engaged in a long and protracted
deliberation.

Much to the chagrin of the Syrian
amir
s, the timid Syrian and Khwarizm contingents were
marshaled to the front lines. They were flanked on either side by
strong Mamluke infantry detachments. The second line was composed
entirely of Mamluke infantry, deployed in regiments with sufficient
intervals between them. Behind this line was the Baharite cavalry
under Baybars. Qutuz personally took overall command.

The Mongols, when they came were much
superior in numbers, but being crammed into the defile, had little
room for maneuver. Nevertheless, wave after wave of galloping,
shooting horsemen charged the enemy, poured in a shower of arrows,
swerved and rode away before coming into the range of Mamluke
bows.

Ever afraid of the Mongols and helpless
against the onslaught, the frontline wavered, broke and fled
through the gaps left between the Mamluke regiments. Seeing the
enemy falter and run, Ketbuga ordered his whole host to charge the
disorganized enemy. The Mongol charge was a mad, yelling onslaught
– those fleeing suffered heavily.

Qutuz climbed on a rock, threw his helmet
away, and shouted "
Wa Islamah wa Islamah.
" The frustrated
leaders of his army looked towards the voice to see their leader's
flushed face infiltrating Mongol rows, hitting angrily with his
sword and leaving behind dozens of dead corpses. Qutuz's courage
stunned his leaders who promptly followed his footsteps.

 

Ketbuga then had the first and last shock in
his long military career.

 

The cleaver choice of battlefield, a narrow
defile protected by obstacles on either sides – Mt. Gibboa and Nehr
Jalut prevented Ketbuga from adopting the outflanking movement that
could attack from the rear. The presence of the Baysian marshes
nearby made it impossible for Ketbuga to put in a feigned fight –
they had no choice but to rush in all at once.

When the front line wavered and fled, the
Mamluke detachments on either flanks stood firm, and the second
Muslim line, the strong Mamluke infantry withstood and stopped the
Mongol charge. The Mamlukes thus formed a hollow square into which
the whole Mongol cavalry poured in. Caught on three sides and
crammed into very little space, the Mongols could neither move nor
use their weapons effectively, and into this mass of seething
humanity and champing horse flesh, the short Mamluke bows kept up
an incessant rain of arrows.

Qutuz was not only holding the Mongols within
killing range of his short bow, but also completely immobilized the
most mobile troops of Middle Ages.

The tables had been turned on the followers
of Hulagu.

When the retreating Syrians and Khwarizmis
found they were neither being killed nor pursued, they gathered
courage and returned to battle. They formed a line behind the
Mamluke infantry and started dealing with the few Mongol horsemen
who sneaked through the gaps.

After a fearful slaughter, Ketbuga was taken
prisoner and executed. The remaining Mongols turned and fled!

Baybars was a hard-riding, hard-hitting
ruthless cavalry commander, who throughout his life, packed with
dangers, would neither ask nor give any quarter. Throughout the
hard fought battle, he, with his corps of Bahari Mamluke cavalry
waited impatiently.

Now he was let loose.

Baybars first caught the Mongols against the
Baysan marshes, and burned out the thousands who had taken refuge
there. Those who fled further were caught at River Jordan and
slain.

 

But Baybars would not be Baybars if he
stopped there.

Emerging from the valley of Jordan, he
launched one of the longest and hottest pursuits in history. For
over five hundred kilometers he chased, hunted and killed every
Mongol he could find. Relentlessly, he dug these sneaking
murderers, robbers and tax collectors out of villages, groves and
fox-holes.

When the news reached Damascus city and its
surroundings, the inhabitants rejoiced and having regained their
honor and esteem, began to attack the Mongols and their
supporters.

The Mongols realized their state in the
Islamic East was fading. Those who survived lost no time to flee
eastward, and within a matter of weeks, Qutuz and Baybars liberated
all Sham.

Then the Quranic verse “He will replace you
with other people; then they will not be like you” manifested
itself fully. The Mongols were under many Christian generals like
Kitbuga and had many Christian wives. But the Mongol chiefs of
Transoxania converted to Islam, and the Mongols of the “Golden
Horde” ruling Southern Russia became more and more attracted to
Islam and started invading Hulagu’s territories. Soon even Hulagu’s
successors became Muslims, and Babur, the founder of the Mughal
Empire in India, was one of Hulagu’s descendents through Timerlane.
Within the span of a generation, the sons of the deadliest foes of
Islam became its great champions.

THE
ADVENTURES OF IBN BATTUTA
BOOK: Stories from Islamic History
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