The Islamic Openings
THE OPENING OF ALEXANDRIA
`Amr ibn AI-'As Advances to Alexandria
'Amr ordered his army to march towards Alexandria. Thus they would pass by Niqius, a city on the branch of the Nile called Rashid. It had enjoyed fame since the time of the Pharaohs for its strategic importance.
'Amr determined to proceed with the army via the western branch of the Nile or the desert to prevent the troops from facing any obstacle that would hinder their progress. Besides, the eastern bank of the Nile was full of canals in the delta.
Meanwhile the Byzantine general, Theodore, had put the army that was in Niqius under the command of Domentianus, who had a large fleet of ships arranged to defend this city.
When the Muslims drew near, this commander fled in fear by boat to Alexandria. It was said that he was feeble and cowardly. When the guards realized that their commander Domentianus had betrayed them, the soldiers of Niqius dropped their weapons and rushed into the river terrified, aiming to reach the boats. None of them thought of anything but to save his own soul and flee to his home. At that time, the Muslims had no choice but to attack them, killing and injuring. They thus succeeded in entering Niqius smoothly without strong confrontation. 'Amr stayed in Niqius for some days.
Before resuming the march to Alexandria, `Amr sent a company led by Shuraik ibn Sumai to pursue the Byzantines. 'Amr then proceeded with his troops till they reached Dilinjat, from which he moved with his army northward to Damanhour. He encountered the Byzantines in Sultais, which was six miles south of Damanhour. The Muslims attacked the Byzantines severely, and they fought till the enemy fled, allowing `Amr to get hold of Damanhour easily.
Again the two armies encountered each other in a severe battle that lasted for not less than ten days in Kariun. 'Abdullah ibn 'Amr ibn Al-'As was in the van of the army, carrying their standard, and was badly injured.
Kariun was the last in a chain of forts that lay between Babylon and Alexandria. Although the Byzantines had fortified it, it was less in might and arms than the two forts of Babylon and Niqius, but in spite of this, the battle against it was one of the hardest that the Muslims had. This was due to the reinforcements that reached the Byzantines from Constantinople, which were led by Theodore himself.
Then, 'Amr led the Muslims, in the Prayer of Fear. Fortunately, the Muslims were victorious, and `Amr seized the city and fort and expelled the Byzantines from Kariun after a great number of Muslims and Byzantines were killed.
The Way to Alexandria
After they had seized Kariun, the way to Alexandria became easy, so 'Amr ordered his troops to have some rest to relieve the toil that they had suffered from in the Battle of Kariun.
Later, they resumed the march to Alexandria, advancing from the southeast. The city had fifty thousand soldiers and its walls were fortified. The Byzantines also had a large fleet of ships, but the Muslims had not a single one. In addition, they lacked the powerful weapons needed to wreck the fortified wall of Alexandria. The Egyptian Copts helped the Muslims to get aid, but they did not join them in fighting the Byzantines.
The fighting broke out between the Muslims and the Byzantines and the Muslims stormed into the fort of Alexandria. Thus the severe fighting moved into the fort itself. However, the Byzantines struggled with all their might till they forced the Muslims out of the fort.
`Amr Captured by the Byzantines
No Muslims remained inside the fort except four men who became separated in the fort and were locked inside. One of them was `Amr ibn Al-'As and another was Muslimah ibn Mukhlid. The Byzantines hemmed them in and prevented them from following the rest, but they were ignorant of their names or rank among the Muslims.
When `Amr -who was known for his cunning -and his companions realized this, they sought refuge in a vault in the baths of the fort. They entered it and locked themselves in. One of the Byzantines was ordered to speak to them in Arabic, so he said, "You have become our captives in our hands, so surrender and do not imperil your lives." When `Amr and his group refused, the Byzantine said, "Your colleagues have captured some of us, so we will make an agreement with you to let you go in exchange for our men and we will not kill you."
'Amr refused this demand as well and with such stubbornness that the Byzantine said, "Do you accept a decisive solution?"
They asked, "What is it?"
"A duel between one of our men and one of yours. If our man defeats yours, you will be our captives and will deliver yourselves. If your man defeats ours, we will give you your freedom and let you go to your colleagues."
The two parties accepted this and made an agreement.
The next day, a Byzantine man who was known to be tough and strong advanced saying, "Let one of you confront our man."
'Amr wanted to go, but Muslimah ibn Mukhlid refused saying, "You're the general and the army's basis is bound to you, and their hearts cling to you and are assured by your safety. If you're slain, it'll be a disaster for all of us. Stay where you are and I'll take your place, Allah willing."
`Amr said, "Go ahead, for perhaps Allah will grant you victory."
Muslimah fought fiercely with the Byzantine for an hour, then Allah granted him victory and the Byzantine was killed. 'Amr and his group exclaimed, "Allahu Akbar!"
The Byzantines fulfilled their promise and opened the gates for them, still ignorant of their identities. If they had known that among their captives was `Amr, the commander of the opposing army, they would certainly have acted differently. Later, when they were told of that fact, they regretted after it was too late and blamed themselves for their reaction. Thus, Alexandria was opened by the hands of `Amr ibn Al-'As.
Mu'awiyah, the Bearer of Good News
`Amr ibn Al-'As, the one who liberated Egypt from the Byzantines, sent Mu'awiyah ibn Khadij to 'Umar ibn Al-Khattab with the good news of the great triumph and blessed opening.
Mu'awiyah said to 'Amr, "Abu `Abdullah, won't you send a written message with me?"
`Amr answered, "What is the importance of a letter? Aren't you, an Arab man, able to deliver the message, especially that you were present and witnessed events?"
Mu'awiyah ibn Khadij reached Madinah at noon. He dismounted his camel by the door of the mosque. While he was sitting, a maid came out of the house of the Commander of the Faithful, 'Umar, and saw him pale and weary after a long journey.
She approached and asked, "Who are you?"
"I am Mu'awiyah ibn Khadij, the messenger of `Amr ibn Al-'As to 'Umar, the Commander of the Faithful."
She left him, then came back walking hurriedly so that he heard the rustle of her dress on her legs. She approached him and said, "Stand up and answer the Commander of the Faithful, for he has called for you."
Mu'awiyah followed her. When he entered, he found 'Umar putting on his garment with one hand and fastening his clothes with the other. He asked Mu'awiyah, "What's the news?"
He replied, "Commander of the Faithful, Allah has granted us the opening of Alexandria."
'Umar went with Mu'awiyah to the mosque and said to the muezzin, "Call the people to gather to prayers."
The Muslims gathered, then 'Umar said to Mu'awiyah, "Stand and inform your fellows." Mu'awiyah stood and informed them about the opening of Alexandria.
'Umar then performed the prayers, went into his house, directed himself towards the Qiblah, prayed to Allah and supplicated to Him. He then sat down and asked the maid if there was any food. She brought some bread and oil.
'Umar said, "Eat."
Mu'awiyah ate small quantities because he was shy and embarrassed. 'Umar said, "The traveler likes food. If I could eat, I would have eaten with you."
Mu'awiyah ate, still embarrassed. Then 'Umar called for his maid and asked if there were any dates. She brought a plate of dates, and 'Umar told Mu'awiyah to eat. Again he did so shyly.
'Umar asked him, "What did you say, Mu'awiyah, when you came to the mosque?"
"I thought that the Commander of the Faithful was taking a nap."
"What a bad guess and saying. If I slept during the day I would harm my subjects and if I slept during the night I would harm myself. How can I sleep then, Mu'awiyah, for these two reasons?"
`Amr Thinks of Taking Alexandria as His Capital
`Amr wanted to have Alexandria as the seat of government, but 'Umar did not consent to this and wrote to him, "Do not let the Muslims be in a place that separates them from me by a sea or a river."
`Amr asked his companions, "Where shall we reside?"
They replied, "Let us return to Fustat."
So they returned to Fustat (within present day Cairo). He then wrote to 'Umar, "I have opened a city, which I cannot describe except by saying that I captured four thousand baths and forty thousand Jews who pay jizyah."
'Amr ibn Al-'As sent the Companion Al-Miqdad ibn Al-Aswad in a company to fight Al-Hamuk, one of the uncles of Al-Muqauqis, who had mobilized troops in Dumiyat to fight the Muslims.
The two armies clashed and the son of Al-Hamuk was killed.
Al-Hamuk asked for the advice of his council. One of them suggested making an agreement with the Muslims. Al-Hamuk was angry with him, rejected his advice and killed him, it was said. Al-Hamuk had an impious and disloyal son called Shata who lived in a house near the walls of the city. He went out at night and directed the Muslims to the weak spots of the city, and thus the Muslims seized it.
Al-Hamuk was ready to fight, but he did not realize the situation until the Muslims were on the walls crying, "Allahu Akbar!" When his son Shata saw the Muslims on the walls of Dumiyat, he and some of his fellows joined them. Realizing the betrayal of his own son, Al-Hamuk was shocked and too feeble to confront him, so he asked for reconciliation from Miqdad, and the Muslims seized Dumiyat. Miqdad was left in charge of it and sent the good news to 'Amr.
Shata, after embracing Islam, went to Burulis, Dumirah and Ashmun, where he mustered the people and brought them as reinforcements to the Muslims. He marched with them to open Tunis and fought hard till he was killed as a martyr. His body was carried to and buried outside Dumiyat.