After their prayers were over, the Saracens began their assault.
Continuing Muslims Conquer Syria,
our selection from History of the Saracens by Simon Ockley published in 1718. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. The selection is presented in twelve easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Muslims Conquer Syria
Omar, in a short letter, expressed his satisfaction, and gave the Saracens thanks for their perseverance and diligence, commanding Abu Obeidah to continue where he was till further orders.
As Omar had mentioned nothing concerning the spoil, Abu Obeidah regarded it as left to his own discretion and divided it without waiting for fresh instructions. To a horseman he gave thrice as much as to a footman, and made a further difference between those horses which were of the right Arabian breed (which they looked upon to be far the best) and those that were not, allowing twice as much to the former as to the latter. And when they were not satisfied with this distribution, Abu Obeidah told them that the prophet had done the same after the battle of Khaibar; which, upon appeal made to Omar, was by him confirmed. Zobeir had at the battle of Yermouk two horses, which he used to ride by turns. He received five lots, three for himself and two for his horses. If any slaves had run away from their masters before the battle, and were afterward retaken, they were restored to their masters, who nevertheless received an equal share of the spoil with the rest.
The Saracens having rested a month at Damascus, and refreshed themselves, Abu Obeidah sent to Omar to know whether he should go to Caesarea or Jerusalem. Ali being present when Omar was deliberating, said, to Jerusalem first, adding that he had heard the prophet say as much. This city they had a great longing after, as being the seat and burying place of a great many of the ancient prophets, in whom they reckoned none to have so deep an interest as themselves. Abu Obeidah having received orders to besiege it, sent Yezid Ebn Abu Sofian thither first with five thousand men; and for five days together sent after him considerable numbers of men under his most experienced and trustworthy officers.
The Ierosolymites * expressed no signs of fear, nor would they vouchsafe so much as to send out a messenger to parley; but, planting their engines upon the walls, made preparation for a vigorous defense. Yezid at last went near the walls with an interpreter, to know their minds, and to propose the usual terms. When these were rejected, the Saracens would willingly have assaulted the town forthwith, had not Yezid told them that the general had not commanded them to make any assault, but only to sit down before the city; and thereupon sent to Abu Obeidah, who forthwith gave them order to fight.
[* Jerusalem’s inhabitants.]
The next morning the generals having said the morning prayer, each at the head of his respective division, they all, as it were with one consent, quoted this versicle out of the Koran, as being very apposite and pertinent to their present purpose: “O people! enter ye into the holy land which God hath decreed for you,” being the twenty-fourth verse of the fifth chapter of the Koran, where the impostor introduces Moses speaking to the children of Israel, and which words the Saracens dexterously interpreted as belonging no less to themselves than to their predecessors, the Israelites. Nor have our own parts of the world been altogether destitute of such able expositors, who apply to themselves, without limitation or exception, whatever in Scripture is graciously expressed in favor of the people of God; while whatever is said of the wicked and ungodly, and of all the terrors and judgments denounced against them, they bestow with a liberal hand upon their neighbors.
After their prayers were over, the Saracens began their assault. The Ierosolymites never flinched, but sent them showers of arrows from the walls, and maintained the fight with undaunted courage till the evening.
Thus they continued fighting ten days, and on the eleventh Abu Obeidah came up with the remainder of the army. He had not been there long before he sent the besieged the following letter:
In the name of the most merciful God.
“From Abu Obeidah Ebn Aljerahh, to the chief commanders of the people of Ælia and the inhabitants thereof, health and happiness to everyone that follows the right way and believes in God and the apostle. We require of you to testify that there is but one God, and Mohammad is his apostle, and that there shall be a day of judgment, when God shall raise the dead out of their sepulchres; and when you have borne witness to this, it is unlawful for us either to shed your blood or meddle with your sustenance or children. If you refuse this, consent to pay tribute and be under us forthwith; otherwise I shall bring men against you who love death better than you do the drinking of wine, or eating hogs’ flesh: nor will I ever stir from you, if it please God, till I have destroyed those that fight for you and made slaves of your children.”
The eating swine’s flesh and drinking wine are both forbidden in the Koran, which occasioned that reflection of Abu Obeidah upon the practice of the Christians.
The besieged, not a whit daunted, held out four whole months entire, during all which time not one day passed without fighting; and it being winter time, the Saracens suffered a great deal of hardships through the extremity of the weather. At last, when the besieged had well considered the obstinacy of the Saracens; who, they had good reason to believe, would never raise the siege till they had taken the city, whatever time it took up or whatever pains it might cost them,
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