HISTORICALLY SPEAKING: Decisive Victories in Islam
The art of war is filled with timeless principles that have applied throughout history and continue even today. The intriguing account of the Battle of Nehawand foretells the brilliance of strategy and patience for the seemingly inferior Arab army who decisively defeated the Iranians in the seventh century.
Surprise and deception are principles of war. If applied secretly and judiciously before and during battle, success can be achieved by a smaller army with a low cost of casualties.
Nooman Bin Muqran led the Arabs in the battle of Nehawand against Commander Khaizran in 641. Nehawand was the strong hold of the Iranian King Yezdegird.
The Iranian army consisted of over 125,000 soldiers, and high confidence on the part of the Iranians convinced them of a swift win. But although the Arab army was only about 30,000 strong, the troops were brave, dedicated Muslims. Their morale was high. They had won many battles against their adversaries.
Never mind the lopsidedness of the two opposing army’s numbers, the Arab Commander, Nooman Bin Muqran used the principle of surprise and deception and won what has been called the “Victory of Victories”.
The Iranian army decided to lure the Arabs away from the open into a very strongly fortified defensive position, then cause great casualties, entangle the troops, and create easy targets for archers and lancers to finish them off. The Iranian defense, though formidable, was also passive and lacked aggressiveness. Thus, they left the initiative with the Arabs.
The Arab advance commenced with a guard force in front for quickly dealing with opposition en route. The route was most hilly and difficult and could have been checked and delayed for days by even a small enemy force. But for miles Iranian troops were not seen or met. Army commanders had sketchy information about the enemy strength and deployment. The people of villages and towns could only inform that a big army was present in the vicinity of Nehawand. To counter the lack of information, the Arab commanders Tulaiha and Amr Ibn Madi Kerib sent long range patrols in disguise to obtain additional information.
Armed with new intelligence Nooman Bin Muqran assembled a bold and inspiring team of commanders including Abdullah Ibn Khalif Umar Ibn Khattab. Tullaiha (the false prophet of Bini Asad-who later embraced Islam and fought with valor at Qadisiya), Amr Ibn Madi Kerib, the great wrestler with powerful strength, Qaqaa ibn Umar, a master of tactics who disguised a few hundred camels in long black veils to frighten the enemy elephants and horses in the battle of Qadisiya.
After the battle ensued, Qaqaa’s attacking force started to withdraw, as though to appear in disorder, prompting the enemy army to follow. This brilliant maneuver led the Iranian army to open ground surrounded by hills on two sides where the counter attack forces were hidden. The most powerful element of surprise was unleashed on the enemy Iranians, sandwiching them and killing a great number in a masterfully tactical maneuver.
The Commander in Chief of the Arab army, Nooman bin Muqran led an onslaught personally, fighting all who faced him. However, his horse fell to the blood soaked ground, causing fatal head injuries to its rider. However, the battle flag of the commander never fell; his brother Naeem bin Muqran immediately took hold of it. Before Nooman bin Muqran breathed his last breath, he was given the news of the victory. However, his martyrdom was kept secret for some time.
Upon hearing the news of the battle win and Nooman bin Muqran’s martyrdom, the reply of the Commander of the Faithful, Caliph Umar Ibn Khattab, was, “We come from God and to God we return,” as he bitterly wept.
Upon the orders of Caliph Umar Ibn Khattab, the new Commander in Chief, Naeem Ibn Muqran, chased the retiring Iranian King Yezdegird and the remaining enemy wherever they had fled. This led to the capture of many important towns and the Muslim rule of Iran.
Although victories in such decisive and brilliant battles were won over 1350 years ago, and despite the fact that weapons have changed a lot, the art of war remains the same, the principles of war remain the same and the phases of war remain the same.
Despite numerically larger numbers, the Iranians left the initiative of the battles to the Arabs and failed to perceive that the smaller army could adopt superior tactics and capitalize on an offensive, aggressive position. This thinking led to their demise. Soldiers who are better trained, dedicated and inspired with the spirit of sacrifice led by bold commanders, will always be successful, even if they are numerically inferior to their adversaries.
-Compiled by Yasmin A. Atheem from “The Battle of Nehawand: the Victory of Victories,” Defence Journal.
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