On 30 September 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin requested permission from Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament, to deploy the country’s military in Syria. On the same day, the Federation Council approved the use of Russian military in Syria to fight ISIS. Permission was granted after a unanimous vote, however any combat operations will be limited to using the air force. Russian media reported that Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad had asked for Russia to intervene by providing military assistance.
Whilst Russia has joined the fray in Syria using the excuse of fighting ISIS to gain legitimacy, it is clear from Russia’s first attacks that they have attacked positions of other resistance groups making it clear that they are seeking to put an end to all resistance to Assad as opposed to fighting ISIS.
Before the Sykes Picot Agreement in 1916, an arrangement which divided the Ottoman Empire’s dominions in the Arab world into British and French “zones of influence,” laying the foundation for the region’s modern borders, the land of Syria belonged to the area known in Islam as Bilad as-Shaam (“land of the North”) together with areas we know today as Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine (including the illegitimate state of Israel). Thus, not only does Shaam consist of the Third city of Islam, al-Quds, but also what can be considered as the Fourth city in Islam, Damascus for it was here that the power base of Islam had transferred during the Umayyad caliphate after the period of the Rashidun. It should not be forgotten that thousands of eyes that saw the Messenger of Allāh (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) are buried in Shaam. Homs alone houses the graves of more than 500 companions including Khalid ibnul Waleed RA. It is also the land of righteous people, Awliya and Ulama. Imam An Nawawi, Imam Ibn Taymiyyah, Ibn Kathir and Ibn Al Qayyim are all buried there (may Allāh have mercy on them).
Since that time, few regions in the world have been invaded by outsider nations as this area of Shaam where many soldiers and civilians of various nationalities are buried under the earth. With Russia and other Western states gearing for their latest imperialist follies in Syria, it would be worthwhile reminding ourselves of some vital lessons from history and the importance and virtues of this blessed region. For indeed Bilad as-Shaam became known in history as ‘The Graveyard of Aggressors”.
Graveyard of the Romans
The advent of Islam in this region began during the lifetime of the Messenger of Allāh (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) and it was he who instructed and educated his companions and, by extension, Muslims of all times, the value of this region. One such instruction is noted within the following account:
Zaid ibn Thabit reported: When we were with the Prophet writing down the Qur’an on animal skins, he said, “Blessed be Al-Shaam.” They said, “Messenger of Allāh, why is it blessed?” He replied, “Because the angels of Allāh spread their wings over it.”
During the period of the Caliphate of Abu Bakr (radiy Allāhu ‘anhu) and then succeeded by ‘Umar (radiy Allāhu ‘anhu), the Muslim army was split into four groups: one under ‘Amr in Palestine, one under Shurahbil in Jordan, one under Yazid in the Damascus-Caesarea region and the last one under Abu Ubaidah along with Khalid (radiy Allāhu ‘anhum) at Emesa.
As the Muslim forces were geographically divided, Heraclius sought to exploit this situation and planned to attack. The Muslims discovered Heraclius’ preparations and being alert to the possibility of being caught with separated forces that could be destroyed, Khalid called for a council of war which was led by the then overall Commander of the Muslim army in Shaam, Abu Ubaidah. Khalid advised him to pull the troops back from other areas and concentrate the entire Muslim army in one place which is what Abu Ubaida commanded and as such, the Muslims established their position in the plains of Yarmouk.
On 20th of the Islamic month of Rajab in 15 AH 636, the Battle of Yarmouk broke out between the Muslim Arab army consisting of between 24,000 – 40,000 and the forces of Byzantine Roman Empire consisting of between 150,000 – 400,000, ending six days later in a decisive victory for the Muslims. The battle consisted of a series of seesaw engagements near the Yarmouk River, along what is today the border between Syria and Jordan, south-east of the Sea of Galilee, 65 km from the Golan Heights. It is regarded as one of the most decisive battles in military history, and it marked the first great wave of Muslim conquests, ending the long sway of the then superpowers, the Romans and the Persians. Amongst the forces of the Muslims were hundreds of sahābah and veterans of Badr. Also amongst the Muslims was Abu Sufyan (radiy Allāhu ‘anhu) who fought valiantly in this war where he lost one of his eyes.
The battle of Yarmouk was one of the most disastrous defeats ever suffered by the Roman Empire and it spelled the end of the Roman rule in Shaam where the Muslim army crushed the enemy to powder. Whilst the Muslims were reported to have lost around 4,000, the Romans are reported to have lost up to 120,000 by Tabari’s account and 70,000 by ibn Ishaq.
With the battle of Yarmouk over, the Muslims were able to consolidate their victories which culminated with the opening up and peaceful victory of al-Quds (Jerusalem) with ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (radiy Allāhu ‘anhu) travelling from Madinah to be given the keys to the city.
Graveyard of the Crusaders
From the period above, the area of al-Quds (Jerusalem) remained in the hands of the Muslims until the Crusader invasion in 1099. After almost 100 years of occupation, in the words of Imām al-Dīn al-Khatīb: “Allāh renewed Islām after it had declined and strengthened it after it had grown weak” through Nūr al-Dīn (governor of Aleppo) and then by the man of the hour, perhaps the most celebrated of Muslim soldiers in the history of Islām, Salāh al-Dīn Ayūbi, who threw down the gauntlet to the invading Crusaders.
After a number of battles, the decisive battle once again, as many times previously, took place in the blessed month of Ramadān in the year 1187 at the battle of Hattīn. Leading up to this battle, one of the crusader kings, Renaud treacherously attacked a Muslim caravan during a period of truce. He seized these people, put them to torture, threw them into pits and imprisoned some in dungeons. When the prisoners objected and pointed out that there was a truce between the two peoples, he remonstrated: “Ask your Muhammad to deliver you”. This was the prelude to the famous battle of Hattīn which then followed, which is considered by many to be the key to all the Muslim conquests against the crusaders and represented the period that the crusader tide began to recede which eventually resulted in the liberation of al-Quds on the 27th of Rajab, which was said to have coincided with the Night Journey of the Prophet (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam).
Salāh al-Dīn met the militant crusader forces at a hill top known as the Horns of Hattin in July 1187 with both forces numbering approximately 25,000 men. In the searing summer heat, Salāh al-Dīn launched a surprise attack using an ingenious strategy. Realising the grass was very dry and having already secured the wells close by, Salāh al-Dīn set fire to the ground, causing smoke and panic across the Crusader forces and causing dehydration. Distracted by the billowing smoke, the militant crusader soldiers were no match for the disciplined Muslim forces. By the end of the battle, broken, maimed bodies could be seen everywhere and mingled with the bodies of the crusader soldiers were countless priests, still clutching their crosses and they added to the layer of the graves of the earlier enemies of Islam, the Romans in these plains of Shaam.
Graveyard of the Mongols
Fierce mounted warriors swept out of Mongolia, laying waste to every city that refused to surrender. Genghis Khan called himself “the scourge of God sent to punish humanity for their sins”. Hulagu, the grandson of Genghis Khan continued this destruction and in 1260 (656 AH), they unleashed their fury against Baghdād and breached its walls. They murdered and pillaged for a week – some estimates say that as many as 1,800,000 were killed. The whole Islāmic world trembled in fear of the Mongols. This was such a decisive blow that for the first time since the very early stages of the faith at the time of Badr, there was a real fear that Islām and Muslims could be wiped off the face of the earth.
Amongst all this doom and gloom and when Muslims were in a real position of weakness, fear and apprehension, Allāh raised for the Ummah His servant, Saif al-Dīn Qutuz who was a Mamluk (Mamluks had served as soldier-slaves for the Ayyubid sultans of Cairo). He united the Muslims, prepared them to fight, raised the necessary money and the army was mobilised to engage in the battle to defend Islām, its followers and lands, and to fight the usurping aggressor. Amongst the many renowned scholars who had encouraged the Muslims to unify behind Qutuz and prepare for the battle was the great scholar, al-‘Izz b. ‘Abd al-Salām.
The stage was set for a decisive clash between the Muslims and the Mongols. In the month of Ramadān, on Friday the 25th in 658 A.H was the infamous battle of Ain Jālūt. Among the army of Qutuz was his General, Beybars, who would in time carve his own name into the honorary roll of warriors. By the Grace of Allāh, they achieved their victory. The invaders were defeated and the whole of the world sighed in relief and stood in awe at the remarkable achievement of these noble sons of Islām and with this victory, another layer of graves of enemies was added to the soil of this blessed region of Shaam.
Points to note:
In more recent times in 1799, like the Mongols before him, Napoleon’s Syrian campaign is the first unmitigated disaster in his career when he suffered defeat at the hands of the Ottomans in Acre, thus adding another layer of enemy corpses beneath the grounds of this blessed land.
Before reflecting on the lessons from the above, the Russians should seriously ask themselves whether history is repeating itself. In 1978 Russia (formerly the Soviet Union) entered Afghanistan to help another brutal leader of the time who like Assad, his name also started with the letter ‘A’, Amin in Afghanistan. Thousands of Afghan Muslims joined the Mujahideen who wanted to overthrow of the Amin government much like how the resistance want the overthrow of Assad. The Mujahideen declared a Jihad on Amin and his supporters. This was also extended to the Russians who were now in Afghanistan trying to maintain the power of the Amin government. The Russians claimed that they had been invited in by the Amin government and that they were not invading the country – does this sound familiar? They claimed that their task was to support a legitimate government and that the Mujahdeen were no more than terrorists, just like what we are witnessing today.
In the end, Russian soldiers were no match against the Mujahideen – men fueled by their Eeman, and the Russians left with their tails between their legs and history bears testimony as to how a small pebble in Afghanistan, smashed the giant rock of the Soviet Union bringing its eventual decline. The Russians have also been engaged in war with the Muslims in Chechnya now for many decades and so it would seem that having tasted the military might of the Afghani Muslims and that of the Chechnyan Muslims, they will now taste the might of the Arab Muslims. And although the situation in Shaam today has become a game in the hands of the great powers who are devilishly gambling with the land and lives of the Muslims, history teaches us that this land, perhaps more than any other, has witnessed the traverse of the world’s greatest armies on campaigns of conquest visiting and all eventually running into trouble in their encounters with the Muslims. It seems as if the Glorified and Exalted prepared the people and the land there especially for jihad.
This truly is a place where once stood the great luminaries and giants of Islam and though those giants may not be with us today, we should not forget that the very same angels of Allāh, whose wings rested above this region and that witnessed the earth’s absorption of the many enemies of Allāh, the very same angels’ wings rest high above the fighter jets of the enemies today. Angels who will once more preside over the elimination of the latest aggressors in what is likely to be a long protracted war in this blessed region, ultimately adding another layer of graves of aggressors for this is the sunnah of Allāh and you will never find any change therein.
 A. I Akram – Khalid Bin Al-waleed: Sword of Allāh: –
 Ibn Athir – Al-Kamil