Biography of `Amr ibn al-`As

If one were to scan through the annals of history, one would find the life stories of many great personalities. Men who influenced the lives of those around them, creating a new way of thinking and in all formed new ideologies. However, most of their lives have been tainted with stories of their greed, lust and hunger for power. As one continues to search through the books of our past, one would come to realise that the most influential people to have lived, were none other than the beloved companions of Rasulullah salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam. Motivated by none other than Rasulullah salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam himself, their lives tell a tale of honesty, trustworthiness and the ultimate in self-sacrifice. Thus, their noble qualities and outstanding character effectively earned them the title of being the greatest group of people to have ever walked upon the face of the earth, after the ambiya’ `alayhimus salam. This is the biography of one such companion, Sayyiduna Amr ibn al-`As radiya Llahu `anhu.

 

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The biography of `Amr ibn al-`As radiya Llahu `anhu

His full name was `Amr ibn al-`As ibn Wa’il al-Sahmi; his kunyahs are Abu Muhammad and Abu `Abd Allah. Ibn Ishaq[1] and Zubayr ibn Bakkar[2] agreed that he became Muslim while he was with the Negus in Abyssinia, and he migrated to Madinah in Safar 8 AH. Ibn Hajar stated that be became Muslim in 8 AH before the conquest of Makkah, and it was said that it was between Hudaybiyah and Khaybar.[3]

 

His becoming Muslim

`Amr ibn al-`As radiya Llahu `anhu himself told the story of his coming to Islam. He said:

 

When we came away from the Battle of the Trench, I gathered together some men who shared my opinion and would listen to me, and I said: “You know, by Allah, that in my opinion, this affair of Muhammad will go to extraordinary lengths. I am thinking of something, and I would like to know what you think of it.” They said: “What are you thinking of?” I said: “I think that we should go to the Negus and stay with him. If Muhammad conquers our people, we will be with the Negus, and we would prefer to be subject to his authority rather than to Muhammad. On the other hand, if our people prevail, they know us and will treat us well.” They thought that my suggestion was excellent, so I told them to collect something that we could take as a gift to the Negus. Leather was the product of our land that he most valued, so we collected a large quantity and took it to him. “By Allah, while we were with him, `Amr ibn Umayyah al-Damri came to him; he had been sent by the Rasul of Allah `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam to find out about Ja`far and his Sahabah. He had an audience with the Negus. When he came out, I said to my companions that if I were to go to the Negus and ask him to let me have him, he would give him to me. Then we could cut off his head, and if I did that, Quraysh would see that I had served them well by killing Muhammad’s Rasul. So I went in to the Negus and prostrated before him as I usually did. He welcomed me as a friend and asked if I had brought anything from our country. When I told him that I had brought a large quantity of leather, and I produced it, he was greatly pleased and wanted it. I said: “O King, I have just seen a man leave your presence. He is the Rasul of an enemy of ours, so let me have him that I may kill him, for he has killed some of our chiefs and best men.” He was enraged, and reaching out his hand he gave my nose such a blow that I thought he must have broken it. If the ground had opened up, I would have gone into it to escape his anger. Then I said to him: “O King, by Allah, if I had thought that this would be distasteful to you, I would not have asked it.” He said: “Are you asking me to give you the Rasul of a man to whom the great Namus [Jibril `alayh al-Salam] comes as he used to come to Musa `alayh al-Salam – so that you can kill him? I said: “O King is he really like that?” He said: “Woe to you, O `Amr! Obey me and follow him, for by Allah, he is right. He will triumph over his adversaries as Musa triumphed over Pharaoh and his armies.” I said: “Will you accept my oath of allegiance to him in Islam?” He said: “Yes,” and stretched out his hand and I swore my allegiance to him in Islam. Then I went out to my companions; my opinion had changed from what it was before, but I concealed my Islam from them. Then I went out, heading towards the Rasul of Allah `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam so that I might become Muslim, and I met Khalid ibn al-Walid. That was just before the conquest of Makkah, and he was coming from Makkah. I said: “Where are you going, O Abu Sulayman?” He said: “By Allah, the way has become clear. The man is indeed a Rasul, and I am going to become Muslim, by Allah. How much longer should I delay?” I said: “By Allah, I have only come to become Muslim.” So we went to Madinah, to the Rasul of Allah `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam. Khalid ibn al-Walid went ahead of me and became Muslim and gave his oath of allegiance, then I came close and said: “O Rasul of Allah, I will give you my oath of allegiance on the basis that my previous sins will be forgiven and no mention will be made of what went before.” The Rasul of Allah `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam said: “O `Amr, give your oath of allegiance, for Islam erases all that came before it and hijrah erases all that came before it.” So I gave my oath of allegiance and departed.[4]

 

According to another report, he said:

 

…when Allah put Islam in my heart, I came to Rasul `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam and said: “Hold out your right hand so that I might swear allegiance to you.”’ He held out his right hand, but I withdrew my hand.” He said: “What is the matter, O `Amr?” I said: “I want to stipulate a condition.” He said, “What do you want to stipulate?” I said: “That I will be forgiven.” He said: “Do you not know, O `Amr; that Islam destroys whatever came before it, and that hijrah destroys whatever came before it, and that hajj destroys whatever came before it?”[5]

 

`Amr ibn al-`As leads a campaign to Dhat al-Salasil 7 A.H

Rasul `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam prepared an army, led by `Amr ibn al-`As radiya Llahu `anhu, to go to Dhat al-Salasil in order to punish Quda`ah, who had gathered with the aim of advancing on Madinah. They had developed a high level of confidence against the Muslims because of what had happened at Mu’tah, where they had taken part in the battle on the Byzantine side. `Amr ibn al-`As radiya Llahu `anhu went to their land, accompanied by three hundred of the Muhajirin and Ansar.

When he reached the place of the enemy’s gathering, he heard that they had gathered in huge numbers, so he sent word to the Rasul of Allah `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam asking for reinforcements, who arrived under the leadership of Abu `Ubaydah ibn al-Jarrah.[6]

The Muslims fought the disbelievers, and `Amr radiya Llahu `anhu penetrated deep into the land of Quda`ah, whose people scattered and ran away. `Amr succeeded in reinstating the position of Islam on the Syrian border and restoring the allies of the Muslims to the way they had been. Other tribes also entered into an alliance with the Muslims, and many people from the tribes of Banu `Abs, Banu Murrah and Banu Dhubyan became Muslim.

The tribe of Fazarah and its chief `Uyaynah ibn Husn also entered into an alliance with the Muslims, and they were followed by Banu Sulaym, under the leadership of al-Abbas ibn Mirdas and Banu Ashja’. The Muslims became the strongest power in northern Arabia, if not in the entire land.[7]

From this campaign we learn a number of lessons and issues regarding `Amr ibn al-`As, including the following:

a. The sincerity of `Amr ibn al-`As

`Amr radiya Llahu `anhu said:

The Rasul of Allah `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam sent word to me saying: “Put on your garment and take up your weapon, then come to me.” I came to him while he was making wudu’. He looked up at me, and then he looked away and said: “I want to send you as the head of an army. Allah will keep you safe and grant you booty, and I hope that you will acquire some wealth from it.” I said: “O Rasul of Allah, I did not become Muslim for the sake of wealth; I became Muslim out of love for Islam and to be with the Rasul of Allah `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam.” He said: “O `Amr, good (halal) wealth is good for the good man.”[8]

This attitude is indicative of the strong faith and sincerity of `Amr ibn al-`As radiya Llahu `anhu and his desire to be close to the Rasul of Allah `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam. The Rasul of Allah `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam explained that halal wealth is a blessing when it is possessed by a righteous man, because he is seeking the countenance of Allah and will spend it in good ways, such as sponsoring orphans and widows, calling people to Islam, supporting the mujahidin, charitable projects and other good causes, as well as maintaining dignity for himself and his family[9] and helping Muslims.

From this hadith, we may understand that if a person strives to acquire halal wealth, this is something praiseworthy that was encouraged by Rasul `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam.If a man has wealth, and we can manage to guide him and make him righteous, then he may combine halal wealth with righteousness, as in this hadith. This is also something desirable and praiseworthy; it is good for him and for Islam and the Muslims.

 

b. `Amr’s keenness to keep his troops safe

When the Rasul of Allah `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam sent `Amr radiya Llahu `anhu on the campaign to Dhat al-Salasil, it got cold, but `Amr radiya Llahu `anhu told his troops that no one should light a fire. When they came back, they complained about him. He explained:

O Rasul of Allah, they were few in number, and I was afraid that the enemy might realise that they were few in number. I told them not to pursue the enemy lest they be ambushed.

The Rasul of Allah `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam was impressed by that.[10]

 

c. `Amr’s understanding of Islam

`Amr ibn al-`As radiya Llahu `anhu said:

I had a wet dream on a cold night during the campaign to Dhat al-Salasil. I was afraid that I would die if I did ghusl, so I performed tayammum, then I led my companions in praying the Fajr salah. They mentioned that to Rasul `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam and he said: “O `Amr, did you lead your companions in prayer when you were in a state of impurity?” I told him what had prevented me from doing ghusl, and I said: “I heard that Allah says:

وَلاَ تَقْتُلُوْٓا اَنْفُسَكُمْ ؕ   اِنَّ اللهَ کَانَ بِكُمْ رَحِیْمًا

And do not kill yourselves [nor kill one another]. Surely, Allah is Most Merciful to you.[11]

The Rasul of Allah `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam smiled and did not say anything.[12]

 

This ijtihad on the part of `Amr ibn al-`As radiya Llahu `anhu is indicative of his deep understanding of Islam, his mature thinking and his subtle derivation of the ruling from the evidence.[13]

The scholars derived many rulings from this incident, but what is particularly notable[14] is the speed with which `Amr radiya Llahu `anhu established a connection with the Qur’an, to the point that he was able to understand matters through these verses although he had only been a Muslim for four months. This is indicative of his keenness to learn about the religion of Allah

It may be, and this is likely, that `Amr radiya Llahu `anhu had been in touch with the Qur’an before he became Muslim, following whatever verses he could hear. In that case, we have another example of the greatness of this Qur’an, which had a great impact even on the disbelievers and made them, despite their great enmity towards the religion, try to listen to it. We saw that during the Makkah period, and this is supported by what we see here of his knowledge of the Qur’an when he suggested that the Negus ask the Muslims who had immigrated to Abyssinia about their opinion of `Isa `alayh al-Salam.[15]

 

Virtues of ‘Amr

a. The Rasul of Allah `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam testified to his faith

The Rasul of Allah `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam said:

The people have become Muslims, but `Amr ibn al-`As has become a believer.[16]

According to another hadith, the Rasul of Allah `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam said:

The two sons of al-`As are believers: `Amr and Hisham.[17]

`Amr ibn al-`As radiya Llahu `anhu said:

The people in Madinah with Rasul `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam panicked and scattered, but I saw Salim put on a sword and sit in the mosque, and when I saw that I did the same. The Rasul of Allah `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam came out and saw Salim and me, and he said: “O people, your refuge should be with Allah and His Rasul; why did you not do what these two believing men did?”[18]

 

b. The Rasul of Allah `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam gave him precedence over others and testified that he was one of the righteous men of Quraysh

It is narrated that `Amr ibn al-`As radiya Llahu `anhu said:

Since we became Muslim, the Rasul of Allah `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam never regarded anyone as equal to Khalid and me in fighting.[19]

It was narrated that Abu Mulaykah said:

Talhah ibn Ubayd Allah said: “I heard the Rasul of Allah `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam say: “`Amr ibn al-`As is one of the righteous men of Quraysh.”[20]

This is an example of the Rasul’s `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam knowledge of people’s qualities and of how to make the most of those qualities.

 

c. Supplication of the Rasul of Allah `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam for him

It was narrated from Zuhayr ibn Qays al-Balawi that his paternal uncle `Ilqimah ibn Ramthah al-Balawi said:

 

The Rasul of Allah `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam sent `Amr ibn al-`As to Bahrain, and then the Rasul of Allah `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam dozed off. He woke up and said: “May Allah have mercy on `Amr.” We discussed which `Amr it was, and then he dozed off a second time. He woke up and said: “May Allah have mercy on `Amr.” He dozed off a third time, then he woke up and said: “May Allah have mercy on `Amr.” We said: “Which ‘Amr, O Rasul of Allah `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam?” He said: “`Amr ibn al-`As.” We said: “What about him?” He said: “I remembered him because every time I asked people to give in charity, he would bring his charity and be very generous. I would ask him: ‘Where did you get this from, O `Amr?’ and he would say: ‘From Allah.’ `Amr spoke the truth; `Amr has a great deal of good with Allah.”

 

Zuhayr said:

When the fitnah broke out, I said: “I will follow this man, of whom the Rasul of Allah said what he said, and I never left him.”[21]

 

His deeds at the time of Abu Bakr, `Umar and `Uthman

The Rasul of Allah `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam sent `Amr radiya Llahu `anhu to call the two sons of al-Jilindi, Jayfar and `Abbad, to Islam. He called them to Islam, and they believed in Rasul `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam they allowed `Amr radiya Llahu `anhu to collect zakah and judge disputes between their people, and they supported him against those who opposed him.[22]

After the death of the Rasul of Allah `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam Abu Bakr radiya Llahu `anhu sent `Amr ibn al-`As radiya Llahu `anhu with an army to Palestine, after giving him the choice between staying in the post to which the Rasul of Allah `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam had appointed him or choosing something that would be better for him in this world and the hereafter. `Amr ibn al-`As radiya Llahu `anhu wrote to him, saying:

I am one of the arrows of Islam, and after Allah, you are the one to shoot it and collect (the arrows). So choose the strongest, most pious and best of them and use it.[23]

When he came to Madinah, Abu Bakr radiya Llahu `anhu told him to stay outside Madinah and camp until he had urged the people to join him, then he sent him with an army to Syria.[24]

During the Battle of Yarmuk, `Amr radiya Llahu `anhu was in charge of the right flank and his participation had a great impact on the Muslim victory.

After the death of Abu Bakr radiya Llahu `anhu, `Amr radiya Llahu `anhu remained in Syria and played an effective role in the Islamic conquest of Syria. Along with Shurahbil ibn Hasanah radiya Llahu `anhu, he conquered Bis, Tiberias and Ajnadin.[25] He also conquered Gaza, al-Ludd (Lad), Yubna, `Amwas (Emmaus), Bayt Jibrin, Yafa (Jaffa), Rafah and Jerusalem. Not only did `Amr radiya Llahu `anhu conquer Syria; he also conquered famous cities in Egypt. `Umar ibn al-Khattab radiya Llahu `anhu issued instructions to `Amr ibn al-`As radiya Llahu `anhu, after he had finished conquering Syria, to march to Egypt with the troops who were with him. He set out until he reached al-`Arish and conquered it, and he also conquered al-Farma, al-Fustat, the Fortress of Babylon, `Ayn Shams, al-Fayyum, al-Ashmunin, Akhmim, al-Bashrud, Tanis, Dimyat (Damietta), Tuna, Daqhalah, Alexandria and other North African cities such as Barqah, Zuwaylah, and Tripoli.[26]

`Umar radiya Llahu `anhu testified to his leadership qualities by saying:

Abu `Abd Allah (`Amr) should not walk on the earth except as a leader.[27]

At the time of `Uthman radiya Llahu `anhu, he was one of those who were close to the khalifah and one of his consultants. When `Uthman radiya Llahu `anhu was besieged, `Amr ibn al-`As radiya Llahu `anhu left Madinah and headed for Syria, saying:

O people of Madinah, anyone who stays there while this man is killed will be humiliated by Allah. Whoever cannot support him, let him flee.

He left, and his two sons `Abd Allah and Muhammad left with him, after which Hassan ibn Thabit radiya Llahu `anhu and many others followed suit.[28]

When news came of the murder of `Uthman radiya Llahu `anhu and the people’s swearing allegiance to `Ali ibn Abi Talib radiya Llahu `anhu, `Amr ibn al-`As radiya Llahu `anhu said:

May Allah have mercy on `Uthman radiya Llahu `anhu and forgive him.

Salamah ibn Zanba’ al-Judhami said:

O Arabs, there was between you and the fitnah a door, so find another door when that door is broken.

‘Amr radiya Llahu `anhu said:

That is what we want, but nothing can fix the door except a drill, a drill that can ensure justice between the people.

He left on foot, weeping and saying:

O `Uthman, I weep for the death of modesty and religious commitment.

Then he went to Damascus.[29]

This is a true picture of ‘Amr radiya Llahu `anhu, which is in harmony with his character, his biography and his closeness to `Uthman radiya Llahu `anhu.

As for the distorted image that shows him as a man of personal interests and ambitions who ran after worldly gains, this is based on the weak and rejected report of al-Waqidi from Musa ibn Ya`qub.[30] A number of writers and historians were influenced by these weak reports, so they depicted `Amr radiya Llahu `anhu in the worst possible manner, as in the descriptions given by Mahmud Shit Khattab[31] and `Abd al-Khaliq Sayyid Abu Rabiyah.[32]

`Abbas Mahmud al-`Aqqad stubbornly refused to examine the chains of narration; he insulted the intelligence of his readers by presenting an image of Mu`awiyah and `Amr radiya Llahu `anhuma as opportunists who were pursuing personal interests. All historical critics agree that the reports to which he refers in his analysis are false, but that does not mean anything to al-`Aqqad. After narrating weak and strange reports, on which no argument can be based, he said:

Let the historical critics say what they want about whether this conversation took place and whether these words are sound. Regardless of whatever is proven to be sound or otherwise with regard to the chain of narration or the text, what there can be no doubt about, even if all history books got together to prove the opposite, is that the deal between the two men was a deal to share authority and power, and the deal between them was based on the share of authority that each of them would have. Were it not for that, there would have been no deal.[33]

The true character of `Amr ibn al-`As radiya Llahu `anhu is that of a man of principle. He left Madinah when he found himself unable to defend `Uthman radiya Llahu `anhu, for whom he wept bitter tears when he was killed. He was part of the consultative committee at the time of `Uthman radiya Llahu `anhu, even though he was not a governor. He went to join Mu`awiyah radiya Llahu `anhu and cooperated with him to fight the killers of `Uthman radiya Llahu `anhu and seek justice for the martyred khalifah.[34]

The murder of `Uthman radiya Llahu `anhu was sufficient to make him very angry with all those criminals who shed blood. He thought it essential to choose a place other than Madinah as a base for seeking vengeance against those who had the audacity to transgress against the sanctuary of the Rasul of Allah `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam and slay the khalifah before the people’s eyes. What is strange about `Amr radiya Llahu `anhu getting angry for the sake of `Uthman radiya Llahu `anhu? If anyone doubts this matter, then his doubt is based on fabricated reports, which depict `Amr radiya Llahu `anhu as a man whose main concern was authority and power.[35]

 

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[1]Al-Tabarani: al-Mu`jam al-Kabir, 9/53; it was narrated in a mursal report by Ibn Ishaq

[2]Al-Isabah, 3/2; `Abd al-Hamid: Khilafah `Ali, p. 263

[3] Tahdhib al-Tahdhib, 8/56

[4]Sahih al-Sirah al-Nabawiyyah, p. 494; Siyar A`lam al-Nubala’, 3/60; Ibn Hisham: Al-Sirah, 2/276

[5]Muslim: Kitab al-Iman, no. 121

[6]Al-Sirah al-Nabawiyyah al-Sahihah, 2/471; Ibn Hisham: Al-Sirah al-Nabawiyyah, 3/280

[7]  Ibn Shuhbah: as-Sirah an-Nabawiyyah, 2/433; Ibn Hisham: as-Sirah an-Nabawiyyah, 4/280

[8]  Narrated by Ibn Hibban in al-Mawarid, 2277; Sahih as-Sirah, p. 508; classed as sound by al-Albani.

[9]  Al-Humaydi: at-Tarikh al-Islami, 7/133

[10]Siyar A`lam al-Nubala’, 3/66

[11]  Surah al-Nisa’

[12]  op. cit., 3/67. Its chain of narration is sound and was classed as such by Ibn Hibban, no. 202.

[13]  Abu Faris: Ghazwat al-Hudaybiyyah, p. 210

[14]Ma`in al-Sirah, p. 381

[15]  op. cit., p. 38 1; Musnad Ahmad, 11203. The men of its chain of narration are trustworthy.

[16]Silsilat al-Ahadith. al-Sahihah, 11238, no. 155; classed as sound.

[17]Al-Tabaqat, 4/191; Al-Silsilah al-Sahihah, 11240, no. 156.

[18]Musnad Ahmad, 203, with a reliable chain of narration.

[19] Sunan al-Bayhaqi: Bab Islam `Amr ibn al-`As 4/43

[20]Sunan al-Tirmidhi, Kitab al-Manaqib, Bab Manaqib `Amr ibn al-`As, no. 3844

[21]Al-Mu`jam al-Kabir, 18/5; al-Mustadrak, 3/455. classed as sound by al-Hakim. Al-Dhahabi said: Its chain of narration is sound reliable.

[22]Al-Tabaqat, 11262; Ibn Hazm: Jawami` al-Sirah, p. 24, 29

[23]ltmam al-Wafa’ bi Sirat al-Khulafa’, p. 55

[24]  Al-Azdi: Futuh al-Sham, p. 48-51

[25]Tarikh al-Tabari, 3/605; Ibn al-Athir: al-Kamil, 2/498

[26] Siyar A`lam al-Nubala’, 3/70; Al-Qiyad al-`Askariyyah fi `Ahd al-Rasul, p. 634-942

[27]Siyar A`lam al-Nubala’, 3/70

[28] Tarikh al-Tabari, quoted in al-Ghadban: `Amr ibn al-`As, p. 464

[29] Tarikh al-Tabari, quote in `Amr ibn al-`As, p. 464

[30]  al-Ghadban: `Amr ibn al-`As, p. 481

[31]  Mahmud Sit Khattab: Sufara’ al-Nabi `salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam, p. 508

[32]  `Abd aI-Khaliq Sayyid Rabiyah: `Amr ibn al-`As, p. 316

[33]  Al `Aqqad: `Amr ibn al-`As,p. 231, 232

[34]  Al `Aqqad: `Amr ibn al-`As, p.489-490

[35]  op. cit., p. 492