The Great Muslim Military Leaders: Amr ibn al-As, the Conqueror of Egypt

Sherief1969 / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Allah tempered the faith of His Messenger and his Companions in trials. Leaving Mecca to escape the persecution of the polytheists, the Prophet returned there with his companions twenty years after the true faith had been revealed to him in order to finally establish it here. Now Muslims were strong enough to carry the Light of Allah not only to their fellow tribesmen, but also to neighboring countries and far beyond their borders. This mission was carried out by the great Muslim military leaders.

One of these commanders was the conqueror of Egypt Amr ibn al-As. Amr ibn al-As was born in Mecca in 583. He belonged to an influential family of Quraysh and before the adoption of Islam was an ardent persecutor of Muslims. He had this peculiar trait in him, the wont to resort to cunning when achieving his ends. For instance, when he was sent to Ethiopia to force the return of the Muslims who had fled there in 815 from persecution, Amr ibn al-As did not proceed head-on, realizing only too well that the Ethiopian king was supporting Muslims. Instead, he spread the rumor that everyone in Mecca had allegedly converted to Islam and that they could safely return there. The trick worked. And although many Muslims, having learned about the deception, stopped halfway, 33 men still returned to Mecca to the Prophet.

Amr ibn al-As used a similar trick later, in a battle on the side of the Syrian governor Muawiyah against the last Rightly Guided Caliph Ali. Seeing that the forces of Caliph Ali were overpowering the Syrians, Amr ibn al-As ordered to attach the scrolls of the Quran to the spearheads and lift them up. Ali stopped the offensive and did not finish off the Syrians, for which he was later reproached by his followers. The surviving Muawiyah managed to seize the throne shortly thereafter.

As a persecutor of Muslims, Amr ibn al-As participated in all the major battles between the Quraysh and Muslims (such as the Battle of Badr, the Battle of the Trench, etc.). However, after the signing of the Hudaybiyyah peace treaty in 628, Amr ibn al-As saw the strength of Muslims, believed in Allah and converted to Islam. In the Battle of Mecca he was already one of the commanders of the Prophet’s troops. It was Amr ibn al-As whom the Prophet instructed to destroy the idol of the ancient Arab deity Suwa immediately after the capture of Mecca.

After the establishment of Muslim power in the Arabian Peninsula, Amr ibn al-As ardently advocated an offensive against Byzantium. Under the first Rightly Guided Caliph Abu Bakr, Amr ibn al-As commanded the troops that took the Byzantine provinces of Syria and Palestine. The next Rightly Guided Caliph Umar gave him permission to begin the capture of Egypt. Together with the Prophet’s cousin al-Zubayr, Amr ibn al-As broke the resistance of the Byzantine governor of Egypt and in 661 laid the foundation for a new Muslim Egypt.

Under Caliph Umar, Amr ibn ha-As was the governor of Egypt. Under the Rightly Guided Caliph Uthman who succeeded Umar, Amr was accused of tax abuse and removed from office.

In the civil war between the Syrian governor Muawiyah and the last, fourth Rightly Guided Caliph Ali Amr ibn al-As sided with Muawiyah. After the famous Siffin battle, which Amr stopped by attaching scrolls of the Quran to the spearheads, Amr participated in the arbitration, at which it was decided that both Muawiyah and Ali should abandon their claims, and the ummah should elect a new caliph. However, Amr strongly opposed the abdication of Muawiyah and thus the war had to continue.

The supporters of the deposition of both Ali and Muawiyah, the Kharijis, decided to end the conflict by killing all its main participants – Ali, Muawiyah, Amr. However, only Ali was killed. Muawiyah remained unscathed, and instead of Amr, his servant was killed.

After Ali died and Muawiyah came to power, he appointed Amr governor of Egypt. However, very soon Amr ibn al-As fell ill and died in 664, bitterly regretting before his death how he treated the Caliph Ali.

In Egypt, Amr ibn al-As is revered as the founder of the Muslim state. In the place where his tent stood, a mosque was erected in 662, which stands to this day.