Liberator of Egypt from Rome!
There were three from the Quraish who used to trouble the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) with the fierceness of their resistance to his call and their torture of his Companions.
The Messenger called them and pleaded to his glorious Lord to inflict them with His punishment, and while he was calling and inviting, he received the revelation of these noble verses: "The matter is not in your hands, whether GOD turns to them or chastises them, for surely they are evil doers" (3: 128).
The Messenger's understanding of the verse was that he was to stop calling Allah to punish them and to leave their affair to Allah alone. Either they would continue their wrongdoing and His punishment would be inflicted upon them, or He would accept their repentance.
They repented, so His mercy reached them. `Amr Ibn Al-'Aas was one of these three. Allah had chosen for them the path of repentance and mercy, so He guided them to Islam. He transformed `Amr Ibn Al-'Aas into a Muslim fighter and into one of the brave leaders of Islam.
In spite of some of `Amr's positions, his point of view of which we cannot be convinced, he played a role as a glorious Companion; he sacrificed and gave generously; he was a defender and combatant, and our eyes and our hearts shall continue to open on his countenance, especially here in Egypt. Those who see in Islam a glorious valuable religion and see in its Messenger a merciful gift and a blessed gift. Those who see the truthful Messenger who called to Allah according to clear vision and inspired life abundantly with its sensible conduct, forthrightness and devout piety. Those who carry this faith shall continue with enhanced allegiance to look to the man whom fate made the cause - for whatever reason - for the introduction of Islam to Egypt and the guidance of Egypt to Islam. So, blessed is the gift and blessed is the gift giver.
That is he, `Amr Ibn Al-'Aas. The historians were accustomed to describing `Amr as the conqueror of Egypt. However, I see in this description an underestimation and an overestimation. Perhaps a more truthful description of `Amr would be that which we call him, "Liberator of Egypt". For Islam did not conquer the country with the modern understanding of conquering, but it liberated it from the hegemony of two imperial powers, two modes of worship of two countries, and the worst punishment, the imperial power of Persia and the imperial power of Rome.
Egypt, in particular, on the day the advanced guard of Islam appeared, had been plundered by the Romans, and its inhabitants were resisting without result. When the shouts of believing armies reverberated over the frontiers of their country, "Allah akbaar! (Allah is the Greatest)" they hastened all together, in a glorious crowd, toward the coming dawn and embraced it, finding in it liberation from Caesar and from Rome.
So, `Amr and his men did not conquer Egypt but opened the way for Egypt to attach its destiny to the truth, tie its fate to justice, and find itself and its reality in the light of the words of Allah and the principles of Islam. He was careful to separate the inhabitants of Egypt and its Copts away from the army and keep the fighting restricted between himself and the Romans who occupied the land and robbed the wealth of its people.
On account of that, we find him talking to the Christian leaders of that day and their high priest. He said to them, "Indeed Allah sent Muhammad with the truth and ordered him to teach it. The Prophet carried out his mission, and he died after leaving us on that path, the clear straight path. Among the things he ordered us to do was to be responsible to the people, so we call you to Islam. Whoever responds is of us. He has what we have and he has the same rights and obligations as we do. And whoever does not respond to Islam, we enforce on him the payment of jizyah and we offer to him defense and protection. Our Prophet informed us that Egypt would open for us and advised us to be good to its people, saying, Egypt will be opened to you after me, so you are advised to treat its Copts well, for indeed, they have a covenant of protection and kinship relations,' so if you answer to what we call you to, you will have protection and security."
No sooner had `Amr finished his words, than some of the priests and rabbis shouted, saying, "Indeed the kinship of which your Prophet advised you is a remote kinship relationship, the like of which cannot be reached except by the prophets." This was a good start for the hoped for understanding between `Amr and the Copts of Egypt, in spite of what the Roman leader had tried to do to frustrate it.
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Amr Ibn Al-'Aas was not among the earliest ones to embrace Islam. He embraced Islam with Khaalid Ibn Al-Waliid, just shortly before the Conquest of Makkah. It is surprising that his Islam began at the hands of An-Najaashiy in Abyssinia, and that is because An Nagaashiy knew `Amr and respected him because of his several visits to Abyssinia and abundant gifts which he used to carry to An Najaashiy. In his final visit to that country, mention was made of the Prophet who was calling to monotheism and to the nobility of morals in the Arabian Peninsula. The Abyssinian ruler asked `Amr, `How could you not believe in him and follow him, when he is truly a Messenger from Allah?" Amr then asked An-Najaashiy, "Is he thus?" An Najaashiy answered, "Yes, so obey me, O `Amr, and follow him, for indeed, by Allah, he is on the path of truth and he will surpass those who stood against him!"
`Amr traveled, taking the sea route, immediately returning to his country and turning his face in the direction of Al-Madiinah to surrender to Allah, Lord of the Worlds.
On the road leading to Al-Madiinah, he met Khaalid Ibn Al Wallid coming from Makkah, going also to the Messenger to swear allegiance to Islam. No sooner did the Messenger see the two of them coming than his face beamed with joy and he said to his Companions, "Makkah has gifted you with its most noble leaders." Khaliid approached and swore allegiance. Then `Amr approached and said, "Indeed, I swear allegiance to you provided that you ask Allah to forgive me my previous sins." So the Messenger answered him saying, "O `Amr, swear allegiance, for indeed Islam disregards whatever preceded it."
`Amr swore allegiance and placed his wits and bravery at the service of his new religion. When the Messenger passed on to Allah, Most Exalted, `Amr was appointed ruler over Oman and during the caliphate of `Umar he performed his famous deeds in the Syrian wars and then in the liberation of Egypt from the rule of Rome.
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Oh, if only Amr Ibn Al-'Aas could have resisted the love of commanding and rule in his soul, then he would have greatly overcome some of the positions which this love entangled him in. Yet, `Amr's love for the authority of ruling, to a certain extent, was a direct expression of his nature, which was filled with talent. Moreover, his external appearance, his way of walking and conversing, indicated that he was created for commanding to the extent that it has been related that the Commander of the Faithful Umar Ibn Al-Khattaab saw `Amr once approaching, so he smiled at the way he was walking and said, "It should not be for Abu `Abd Allah to walk on the earth except as a commander."
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`Amr (May Allah be pleased with him) was sharp-witted with strong intuitive understanding and deep vision, so much so that whenever the Commander of the Faithful saw a person incapable of artifice, he clapped his palms in astonishment and said, "Glory be to Allah Indeed, the Creator of this and the Creator of `Amr lbn
`Amr was also very daring and unhesitant. He used to combine his daring with his wits in some instances so that he would be thought to be cowardly or hesitant. However, it was the capacity to trick which `Amr perfected with great skill to get himself out of a destructive crisis.
The Commander of the Faithful Umar knew these talents of his and appreciated their true value. For that reason, when he sent him to Syria, before his going to Egypt, it was said to the Commander of the Faithful, "At the head of the armies of Rome in Syria is Artubun; a shrewd and brave leader and a prince." `Umar's response was, "We have hurled at Artubun of Rome Artubun of the Arabs, so let us see how the matter unfolds."
Matters unfolded in a massive victory for the Artubun of the Arabs, their dangerous, sly old fox, `Amr Ibn Al-'Aas over the Artubun of Rome, who left his army to defeat and fled to Egypt. `Amr would catch him shortly thereafter to raise the standard of Islam above its secure lands.
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What are the situations in which the intelligence and wits of `Amr excelled? We do not count among them his position with Abu Muusaa Al-Ash'ariy in the incident of arbitration when the two of them agreed to depose `Aliy and Mu'aawiyah to refer the matter back to consultation between the Muslims. Abu Muusaa implemented the agreement and `Amr relented from carrying out his part of the agreement.
If we want to witness a picture of his wits and the skill of his intuitive insight, we find it in his position with respect to the commander of the Citadel of Babylon (near present day Cairo) during his war with Rome in Egypt, and, in another historical narration, in the battle we shall mention which took place in Yarmuuk with Artubun of Rome.
When Artubun and the commander invited `Amr to talk, they gave an order to some of their men to throw a rock at him immediately upon his departure from the Citadel and to prepare everything so that the killing of `Amr would be an inevitable matter.
`Amr met the commander, not suspecting anything from him, and their meeting ended. While `Amr was on his way out of the Citadel, he glimpsed over the walls something suspicious that aroused in bun a strong sense of danger, and immediately he behaved in an outstanding manner. He returned back to the commander of the Citadel, in safe, secure, slow steps, with confident, happy feelings, as if nothing had scared him at all or had aroused his suspicion. He met the commander and said to him, "An idea came across my mind I wanted you to know. I have with me, where my companions are camped, a group from among the first Companions of the Messenger to enter into Islam. The Commander of the Faithful would not decide anything without consulting them and would not send an army unless he put them at the head of its fighters and soldiers. I will bring them to you so that they hear from you that which I heard, so they will become as clear in the matter as I am."
The Roman commander realized that `Amr, by his naiveté, had granted him the opportunity of a lifetime. Therefore, he thought, Let us agree with him, and when he returns with this number of Muslim commanders and the best of their men and their leaders, we will deliver the coup de grace and finish off all of them at once, instead of finishing off Amr alone.
Secretly he gave his order to put off the plan that was devised to assassinate `Amr, and he saw `Amr off cordially and shook his hand with enthusiasm and fervor. `Amr smiled the most intelligent of Arab smiles as he was leaving the Citadel.
In the morning Amr returned to the Citadel at the head of an army, mounted on his horse that whinnied in a loud burst of laughter, behaving proudly and haughtily and making fun. Yes, for it, too, knew a lot of things about the shrewdness of its owner.
In A.H. 43, death caught up with `Amr Ibn Al-'Aas in Egypt, where he was ruling. He recaptured his life in the moments of departure, saying, "In the first part of my life I was a disbeliever, and I was one of the fiercest people against the Messenger of Allah, so if I had died on that day, the fire would have been my fate. Then, I swore allegiance to the Messenger of Allah, and there was no person more dear to me than he and more glorious in my eyes than he. If I wanted to describe him, I could not, because I was not able to fill my eyes with him on account of being in awe of him. If I had died back then, I would have wished to be of the inhabitants of Paradise. Then after that I was tested with command and with material things. I do not know if they were for me or against me."
Then he raised his sight to the sky in awe, calling upon his Lord, the Merciful, the Magnificent, saying, "O Allah, I am not innocent, so forgive me. I am not mighty, so help me. And if Your mercy does not come to me, I will surely be of those destroyed."
And he continued in his yearning and his prayers until his spirit ascended to Allah and his last words were, "There is no god but Allah."
Under the ground of Egypt, which `Amr acquainted with the path of Islam, where his corpse was finally placed, and above its hard earth, his seat is still standing throughout the centuries. Here he used to teach, judge, and rule, beneath the ceiling of his ancient mosque, the Mosque of `Amr, the first mosque in Egypt, in which the name of Allah, the One and Only is mentioned and declared between its walls and from its pulpit, the words of Allah and the principles of Islam.