Utbah Ibn Ghazwan

In the morning we found the horse quite healthy with no sign of ill effects. My sister then said: ‘Yaa akhi, I have heard my father saying: Poison does not harm (food) if it is placed on fire and cooked well.’

We then took some of the grain, placed it in a pot and put it on a fire. After a short while my sister called out: ‘Come and see how it has become red and the husks have begun to separate leaving white grains.’

We placed the white grains in a large bowl and Utbah said to us: ‘Mention the name of Allah on it and eat it.’ We ate and found it exceedingly delicious and good. We learnt after that the grain was called rice.”

The army of Utbah then went on to the fortified city of al-Ubullah on the banks of the River Euphrates. The Persians used al-Ubullah as a massive arms depot. There were several fortresses in the city from which towers sprang. These were used as observatio n posts to detect any hostile movements outside the city.

The city appeared to be impregnable. What chance had Utbah of taking it with such a small force armed with only swords and spears? A direct assault was obviously futile and so Utbah had to resort to some stratagem.

Utbah had flags prepared which he had hung on spears. These he gave to the women and ordered them to march behind the army. His instructions to them then were: “When we get near to the city, raise the dust behind us so that the entire atmosphere is filled with it.”

As they neared al-Ubullah, a Persian force came out to confront them, they saw the Muslims boldly advancing, the flags fluttering behind them and the dust which was being churned up and which filled the air around. They thought that the Muslims in front o f the flags were merely the vanguard of the advancing army, a strong and numerous army. They felt they would be no match for such a foe. They lost heart and prepared to evacuate the city. Picking up whatever valuables they could, they rushed to boats anch ored on the river and abandoned their well-fortified city.

Utbah entered al-Ubullah without losing any of his men. From this base he managed to bring surrounding towns and villages under Muslim control. When news spread of Utbah’s successes, and of the richness of the land he had occupied, many people flocked to the region in search of wealth and easy living.

Uqbah noted that many Muslims now inclined towards a soft life and followed the ways and customs of the region and that this weakened their determination to continue struggling.

He wrote to Umar ibn al-Khattab asking for permission to build the garrison town of Basrah. He described the locations he had chosen for the city and Umar gave his assent. Basrah lay between the desert and the ports of the Gulf and from this base expediti ons were launched further east. The positioning of the town was for maximum military effectiveness (not merely to support an army of occupation).

Utbah himself planned the city and built its first great masjid which was a simple enclosure, roofed over at one end and suitable for mass assemblies. From the mosque, Utbah and his men went out on military campaigns. These men eventually settled on the land and built houses.

Utbah himself however did not build a house for himself but continued to live in a tent of cloth. He had seen how preoccupation with worldly possessions had caused many people to forget themselves and their real purpose in life. He had seen how men who no t long ago knew no food better than rice boiled in their husks, getting accustomed to sophisticated Persian patisserie like fasludhanj and lawzinaj made with refined flour, butter, honey and nuts of various kinds to the point where they hankered after the se things.

Utbah was afraid that his din would be affected by his dunya and he was concerned about his hereafter. He called men to the masjid of Basrah and addressed them thus: “O people! The dunya will come to an end and you will be carried from it to an abode whic h will not wane or disappear. Go to it with the best of your deeds. I look back and see myself among the early Muslims with the Messenger of Allah may God bless him and grant him peace. We had no food then apart from the leaves of trees and our lips woul d fester. One day I found a burdah. I tore it in two and shared it with Sad ibn Abi Waqqas. I made an aazar with one half and he did the same with the other half. Here we are today. There is not one of us but he is an amir of one of the garrison towns. I seek Allah’s protection lest I become great in my own estimation and little in the sight of Allah..” With these words Utbah appointed someone else to stand in his place, and bade farewell to the people of Basrah.

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