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Armies of the Prophet

Posted July 31st, 2012 at 01:11 PM by Salah

Popular history depicts the first Muslim armies 'erupting' from Arabia like some kind of desert-bound barbarian horde. In reality, the Arabs, though newly-united under the banner of Islam, had already been trading and fighting with the great powers of the Middle East for centuries. As a result, Muhammad commanded an army, not of half-naked tribesmen, but of trained and armored warriors whose equipment was modelled on that of Rome and Persia.

The first Muslim cavalry were often ansar or original followers of the Prophet. Arab cavalry had fought as cataphracts at least as early as the 3rd Century CE; wearing varying degrees of mail and leather armor and sometimes also riding armored horses. Loosely speaking, they would have resembled the savaran of contemporary Persia and would have carried a similar arsenal of thrusting spears, medium-length double-edged swords, and perhaps composite bows (which would have been fired from a static position).

The best-armed infantry were mail-clad spearmen who fought in what contemporary European cultures called a 'shieldwall'. These men wore conical helmets and carried round shields of Sassanid style, but also used thrusting swords that were directly mirrored on the Roman gladius.

The bulk of the Prophet's infantry - indeed, of his army in general -were infantry archers. A medieval proverb relates how Muhammad 'used the Arab bow' to win victory in battle. The typical bow carried by one of the Prophet's followers was a simple flatbow made of 'nab wood, and fired crude arrows with stone heads.

Muhammad, like other Arab war-leaders of his age, paid his warriors in booty and in turn expected them to equip themselves from booty. Initially armor, particularly helmets, and horses were a rare luxury for the elite, but encounters with Roman and Persian forces resulted in more lucrative booty. As early as 630, just two years before the Prophet's death, his army had become known as the 'dark army' because of the unusually high proportions of armored men in its ranks.

Raids - termed razzia - and single combats between champions were traditional aspects of Arab combat that were to outlive the Prophet. Clashes between mubarizun champions took place in the middle ground between two hosts, remniscint of the Biblical story of David and Goliath, and gave the Arab poets much to write and sing about.

As in many tribal societies, women played a strong supporting role in the first Muslim armies, bringing relief to the wounded and on rare occasions even joining in the fighting. At the Battle of Yarmuk in 636 Hind, the fifty year-old mother of the future khalif Mu'awiyah took up a spear and led the expulsion of Romans who had penetrated the Arab camp.

By the 7th Century every Arab tribe had its own banner, many of which were carried by warriors on both sides during and shortly after the lifetime of the Prophet. Muhammad himself had both a small white alam also known as the 'Young Eagle', as well as a much larger black raya banner made from Aisha's head-cloth. A reference coming from the Battle of Badr would suggest that some units in Muhammad's army attempted to coordinate the color of their flag with the color of the turbans worn by the soldiers.
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  1. Old Comment
    umaircheema926's Avatar
    the army of HOLY PROPHET PEACE BE UPON HIM was not "dark army". it was most enlightened army of all ages. there was, is and there cant be an army better than that army. Mujahideen fought because there desire was to become martyrs.
    they cant be called dark.they were reformers
    Posted May 19th, 2014 at 01:36 AM by umaircheema926 umaircheema926 is offline
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