During the caliphate of Abu Bakr (ra) the Muslims squared off against the Romans in the land of Sham. The first major victory in that area was the capture of Busra, the main trading centre of Syria. One soldier named Dirar ibn al-Azwar (ra) became famous in that battle for taking off his armour and upper garment, earning him the nickname ‘The half-naked warrior’.
After this, they faced a decisive battle against the Romans at Ajnadein. The Romans had gathered a formidable force of 90,000 under the leadership of Wardan. The Muslims assembled their largest army thus far of 32,000 under the leadership of the great Khalid bin Waleed (ra), also known as Saifullah, or the Sword of Allah.
There remained a stand-off for a few days, and Khalid bin Waleed wished to send a spy into the Roman camp. Dirar ibn al-Azwar volunteered, and baring his body he rode out but was intercepted by some Roman soldiers. He turned his horse back and began to gallop. As he rode back, 30 Roman soldiers followed him. Being the adventurous type, he decided to turn his horse to face them and he fought against them, killing 19 of them before they retreated. When he returned, the Muslims cheered him on but Khalid bin Waleed scolded him for being reckless.
Some time later, Khalid bin Waleed decided to square off against the enemy, giving specific orders for them not to attack until he tells them. The Roman bows and slings were far superior to the Muslim army, and the Muslims took heavy losses. The army leaders wished to advance the attack but Khalid stopped them, saying “Not until I give the order.” Again they lost many and the leaders were pushing to fight but Khalid said “Not until I give the order.” Then Khalid allowed a few fighters to go forward and fight in duels, and the Muslims, who were now heated for battle, defeated anyone who dared face them. The Romans became demoralised by this and Khalid ordered a full attack which resulted in massive Roman losses.
That evening, the Roman general, Wardan, gathered his counsellors and decided that they needed to dispose of Khalid bin Waleed himself, so they formulated a plan to lure Khalid out the next morning with the talk of negotiations and then ambush him. They sent a man named David to tell Khalid of this but when they met, David was so amazed by Khalid’s strength and conviction that he informed Khalid of the plot in return of his family’s safety. He informed them that 10 Roman soldiers would be hidden below a hillock, next to where the negotiations between the two generals were supposed to take place.
Khalid initially formulated a plan for some soldiers under the lead of Dirar ibn al-Azwar to intercept the Roman soldiers when they went out to ambush him, but Dirar felt it would be better for them to kill the Romans in the guise of darkness before the morning came. Khalid agreed and Dirar and his 9 men set out shortly after midnight.
The following morning Khalid went out to meet Wardan, who was dressed in bejewelled armour with a bejewelled sword by his side. They spoke for a while and then all of a sudden Wardan grabbed Khalid in a strong hold and called out. From behind the hillock, they saw 10 Roman soldiers emerge and race towards them. Khalid thought that perhaps Dirar’s time had come and he had made no other arrangements for his protection.
As the soldiers surrounded the two men, Khalid noticed that one of them was not wearing any upper garments! It was Dirar and his men who had put on the Roman soldiers’ clothing. Khalid recited the verse “They plan and Allah plans and Allah is the best of planners” and he deposed of Wardan.
Khalid took the opportunity to continue the ruse further and he put on Wardan’s beautiful armour and sword, and walked out of the hillock towards the Roman camp with 10 soldiers dressed in Roman clothing and holding the head of a man. The Romans were thrilled as they thought their leader had decapitated the great Khalid bin Waleed and the Muslims were in complete and utter shock. Then Khalid threw off the armour and called on the Muslims to attack.
Some time later, a letter was received in Medina from Khalid bin Waleed stating that 50,000 Romans had been killed and 450 Muslims martyred in the victory over the superpower of the time.