`AMR IBN AL -`Aas
Liberator of Egypt from Rome!
There were three from the Quraish who used to trouble the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) with the fierceness of their resistance to his call and their torture of his Companions.
The Messenger called them and pleaded to his glorious Lord to inflict them with His punishment, and while he was calling and inviting, he received the revelation of these noble verses: "The matter is not in your hands, whether GOD turns to them or chastises them, for surely they are evil doers" (3:128).
The Messenger's understanding of the verse was that he was to stop calling Allah to punish them and to leave their affair to Allah alone. Either they would continue their wrongdoing and His punishment would be inflicted upon them, or He would accept their repentance.
They repented, so His mercy reached them. `Amr Ibn Al-'Aas was one of these three. Allah had chosen for them the path of repentance and mercy, so He guidedthem to Islam. He transformed `Amr Ibn Al-'Aas into a Muslim fighter andinto one of the brave leaders of Islam.
In spite of some of `Amr's positions, his point of view of which we cannot be convinced, he played a role as a glorious Companion; he sacrificed and gave generously; he was a defender and combatant, and our eyes and our hearts shall continue to open on his countenance, especially here in Egypt. Those who see in Islam a glorious valuable religion and see in its Messenger a mercifulgift and a blessed gift.
Those who see the truthful Messenger who called to Allah according to clear vision and inspired life abundantly with its sensible conduct, forthrightness and devout piety. Those who carry this faith shall continue with enhanced allegiance to look to the man whom fate made the cause - for whatever reason - for the introduction of Islam to Egypt and the guidance of Egypt to Islam. So, blessed is the gift and blessed is the gift giver.
That is he, `Amr Ibn Al-'Aas. The historians were accustomed to describing `Amr as the conqueror of Egypt. However, I see in this description an underestimation and an overestimation. Perhaps a more truthful description of `Amr wouldbe that which we call him, "Liberator of Egypt". For Islam did not conquerthe country with the modern understanding of conquering, but it liberatedit from the hegemony of two imperial powers, two modes of worship of twocountries, and the worst punishment, the imperial power of Persia and theimperial power of Rome.
Egypt, in particular, on the day the advanced guard of Islam appeared,had been plundered by the Romans, and its inhabitants were resisting withoutresult. When the shouts of believing armies reverberated over the frontiersof their country, "Allah akbaar! (Allah is the Greatest)" they hastened alltogether, in a glorious crowd, toward the coming dawn and embraced it, findingin it liberation from Caesar and from Rome.
So, `Amr and his men did not conquer Egypt but opened the way for Egyptto attach its destiny to the truth, tie its fate to justice, and find itself and its reality in the light of the words of Allah and the principles ofIslam. He was careful to separate the inhabitants of Egypt and its Coptsaway from the army and keep the fighting restricted between himself and theRomans who occupied the land and robbed the wealth of its people.
On account of that, we find him talking to the Christian leaders of that day and their high priest. He said to them, "Indeed Allah sent Muhammad with the truth and ordered him to teach it. The Prophet carried out his mission, and he died after leaving us on that path, the clear straight path. Among the things he ordered us to do was to be responsible to the people, so we call you to Islam. Whoever responds is of us. He has what we have and hehas the same rights and obligations as we do. And whoever does not respondto Islam, we enforce on him the payment of jizyah and we offer to him defense and protection. Our Prophet informed us that Egypt would open for us andadvised us to be good to its people, saying, Egypt will be opened to youafter me, so you are advised to treat its Copts well, for indeed, they havea covenant of protection and kinship relations,' so if you answer to whatwe call you to, you will have protection and security."
No sooner had `Amr finished his words, than some of the priests and rabbis shouted, saying, "Indeed the kinship of which your Prophet advised you is a remote kinship relationship, the like of which cannot be reached except by the prophets." This was a good start for the hoped for understanding between `Amr and the Copts of Egypt, in spite of what the Roman leader had tried todo to frustrate it.
Amr Ibn Al-'Aas was not among the earliest ones to embrace Islam. He embraced Islam with Khaalid Ibn Al-Waliid, just shortly before the Conquest of Makkah. It is surprising that his Islam began at the hands of An-Najaashiy in Abyssinia, and that is because An Nagaashiy knew `Amr and respected him because of his several visits to Abyssinia and abundant gifts which he used to carry to AnNajaashiy.
In his final visit to that country, mention was made of the Prophet who was calling to monotheism and to the nobility of morals in the Arabian Peninsula. The Abyssinian ruler asked `Amr, `How could you not believe in him and follow him, when he is truly a Messenger from Allah?" Amr then asked An- Najaashiy, "Is he thus?" An Najaashiy answered, "Yes, so obey me, O `Amr, and follow him, for indeed, by Allah, he is on the path of truth and he will surpass those who stood against him!"
`Amr traveled, taking the sea route, immediately returning to his country and turning his face in the direction of Al-Madiinah to surrender to Allah, Lord of the Worlds.
On the road leading to Al-Madiinah, he met Khaalid Ibn Al Wallid comingfrom Makkah, going also to the Messenger to swear allegiance to Islam. Nosooner did the Messenger see the two of them coming than his face beamedwith joy and he said to his Companions, "Makkah has gifted you with its mostnoble leaders." Khaliid approached and swore allegiance. Then `Amr approachedand said, "Indeed, I swear allegiance to you provided that you ask Allahto forgive me my previous sins." So the Messenger answered him saying, "O`Amr, swear allegiance, for indeed Islam disregards whatever preceded it."
`Amr swore allegiance and placed his wits and bravery at the service of his new religion. When the Messenger passed on to Allah, Most Exalted, `Amr was appointed ruler over Oman and during the caliphate of `Umar he performed his famous deeds in the Syrian wars and then in the liberation of Egyptfrom the rule of Rome.
Oh, if only Amr Ibn Al-'Aas could have resisted the love of commandingand rule in his soul, then he would have greatly overcome some of the positions which this love entangled him in. Yet, `Amr's love for the authority ofruling, to a certain extent, was a direct expression of his nature, whichwas filled with talent. Moreover, his external appearance, his way of walkingand conversing, indicated that he was created for commanding to the extentthat it has been related that the Commander of the Faithful Umar Ibn Al-Khattaabsaw `Amr once approaching, so he smiled at the way he was walking and said,"It should not be for Abu `Abd Allah to walk on the earth except as a commander."
The truth also is that Abu `Abd Allah did not forget the right. Even when dangerous events overwhelmed the Muslims, `Amr dealt with these events in a commanding manner, as one who possesses intelligence, wits, and a capability which made him self-confident and proud of his excellence.
Moreover, he possessed such a portion of honesty that it made Umar lbnAl-Khattaab - even though he was strict in choosing his governor - chooseAmr as governor over Palestine and Jordan, then over Egypt, throughout thelife of `Umar. This even though the Commander of the Faithful knew that `Amrhad exceeded a certain limit in the opulence of his life style, while theCommander of the Faithful demanded from his governors to set an example bystaying always at the level or at least close to the general level of thepeople.
Even though the caliph knewabout the abundance of `Amr's wealth, he did not remove him but sent Muhammad Ibn Maslamah to him and ordered `Amr to splitwith him, all of his wealth and possessions.
So, he left him one half of it and carried the other half to the treasury in Al-Madiinah. However, if the Commander of the Faithful had known that`Amr's love for wealth would lead him to carelessness in his responibility,it is conceivable that his reasonable conscience would not have allowed himto stay in power for even one moment.
`Amr (May Allah be pleased with him) was sharp-witted with strong intuitive understanding and deep vision, so much so that whenever the Commander ofthe Faithful saw a person incapable of artifice, he clapped his palms inastonishment and said, "Glory be to Allah Indeed, the Creator of this andthe Creator of `Amr lbn Al-Aas is one God."
`Amr was also very daring and unhesitant. He used to combine his daringwith his wits in some instances so that he would be thought to be cowardlyor hesitant. However, it was the capacity to trick which `Amr perfected with great skill to get himself out of a destructive crisis.
The Commander of the Faithful Umar knew these talents of his and appreciated their true value. For that reason, when he sent him to Syria, before hisgoing to Egypt, it was said to the Commander of the Faithful, "At the headof the armies of Rome in Syria is Artubun; a shrewd and brave leader anda prince." `Umar's response was, "We have hurled at Artubun of Rome Artubunof the Arabs, so let us see how the matter unfolds."
Matters unfolded in a massive victory for the Artubun of the Arabs, their dangerous, sly old fox, `Amr Ibn Al-'Aas over the Artubun of Rome, who left his army to defeat and fled to Egypt. `Amr would catch him shortly thereafter to raise the standard of Islam above its secure lands.
What are the situations in which the intelligence and wits of `Amr excelled? We do not count among them his position with Abu Muusaa Al-Ash'ariy in the incident of arbitration when the two of them agreed to depose `Aliy andMu'aawiyah to refer the matter back to consultation between the Muslims.Abu Muusaa implemented the agreement and `Amr relented from carrying outhis part of the agreement.
If we want to witness a picture of his wits and the skill of his intuitive insight, we find it in his position with respect to the commander of theCitadel of Babylon (near present day Cairo) during his war with Rome in Egypt,and, in another historical narration, in the battle we shall mention whichtook place in Yarmuuk with Artubun of Rome.
When Artubun and the commander invited `Amr to talk, they gave an orderto some of their men to throw a rock at him immediately upon his departurefrom the Citadel and to prepare everything so that the killing of `Amr wouldbe an inevitable matter.
`Amr met the commander, not suspecting anything from him, and their meeting ended. While `Amr was on his way out of the Citadel, he glimpsed over the walls something suspicious that aroused in bun a strong sense of danger, andimmediately he behaved in an outstanding manner. He returned back to thecommander of the Citadel, in safe, secure, slow steps, with confident, happyfeelings, as if nothing had scared him at all or had aroused his suspicion. He met the commander and said to him, "An idea came across my mind I wanted you to know. I have with me, where my companions are camped, a group from among the first Companions of the Messenger to enter into Islam. The Commander of the Faithful would not decide anything without consulting them and would not send an army unless he put them at the head of its fighters and soldiers. I will bring them to you so that they hear from you that which I heard,so they will become as clear in the matter as I am."
The Roman commander realized that `Amr, by his naiveté, had granted him the opportunity of a lifetime. Therefore, he thought, Let us agree with him, and when he returns with this number of Muslim commanders and the best of their men and their leaders, we will deliver the coup de grace and finish off all of them at once, instead of finishing off Amr alone.
Secretly he gave his order to put off the plan that was devised to assassinate `Amr, and he saw `Amr off cordially and shook his hand with enthusiasm and fervor. `Amr smiled the most intelligent of Arab smiles as he was leaving the Citadel.
In the morning Amr returned to the Citadel at the head of an army, mounted on his horse that whinnied in a loud burst of laughter, behaving proudlyand haughtily and making fun. Yes, for it, too, knew a lot of things aboutthe shrewdness of its owner.
In A.H. 43, death caught up with `Amr Ibn Al-'Aas in Egypt, where he was ruling. He recaptured his life in the moments of departure, saying, "In the first part of my life I was a disbeliever, and I was one of the fiercestpeople against the Messenger of Allah, so if I had died on that day, thefire would have been my fate. Then, I swore allegiance to the Messenger ofAllah, and there was no person more dear to me than he and more gloriousin my eyes than he. If I wanted to describe him, I could not, because I wasnot able to fill my eyes with him on account of being in awe of him. If Ihad died back then, I would have wished to be of the inhabitants of Paradise.Then after that I was tested with command and with material things. I donot know if they were for me or against me."
Then he raised his sight to the sky in awe, calling upon his Lord, theMerciful, the Magnificent, saying, "O Allah, I am not innocent, so forgiveme. I am not mighty, so help me. And if Your mercy does not come to me, Iwill surely be of those destroyed."
And he continued in his yearning and his prayers until his spirit ascended to Allah and his last words were, "There is no god but Allah."
Under the ground of Egypt, which `Amr acquainted with the path of Islam, where his corpse was finally placed, and above its hard earth, his seatis still standing throughout the centuries. Here he used to teach, judge,and rule, beneath the ceiling of his ancient mosque, the Mosque of `Amr,the first mosque in Egypt, in which the name of Allah, the One and Only ismentioned and declared between its walls and from its pulpit, the wordsof Allah and the principles of Islam.