Rashidun army: Wikis


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Rashidun Army
Participant in Wars of the Rashidun Caliphate
Muslim conquests
Active 632 - 661 AD
Ideology Jihad
Leaders Caliph (Amir al-Mu'minin, The Commander of the Faithful )
Headquarters Madinah, Kufa
Area of
Middle East, North Africa, Caucasus, Transoxiana, Anatolia, Bactria, Persia, Balochistan, Mediterranean, Iberian peninsula.
Part of Rashidun Caliphate
Opponents Arabs, Sassanid Persian Empire, Byzantine Roman Empire, Ghassanids, Lakhmids, Berbers, Khazar Khanate, Visigothic Kingdom, and others

The Rashidun Caliphate Army or Rashidun army was the primary military body of the Rashidun Caliphate's armed forces during the Muslim conquests of the 7th century, serving alongside the Rashidun Navy. The Rashidun army maintained a high level of discipline, strategic prowess, and organization.

In its time, the Rashidun army was one of the most powerful and effective military forces in the world. The size of the Rashidun army was initially 13,000 troops in 632, but as the Caliphate expanded, the army gradually grew to 100,000 troops by 657. The two most successful generals of the Rashidun army were Khalid ibn al-Walid, who conquered Persian Mesopotamia and conquered Roman Syria, and 'Amr ibn al-'As, who conquered Roman Egypt.



Only Muslims were allowed to join the Rashidun army as a regular troops, the army during the Ridda wars in the reign of Caliph Abu Bakr, mainly consisted of the corps from Madinah, Mecca and Taif, later on during the conquest of Iraq in 633 many bedouin corps recruited in the forces as a regular troops. During the Islamic conquest of Sassanid Persian Empire (633-656), some 12,000 elite Persian troops converted to Islam and served later on during the wholescale invasion of the empire. During the Muslim conquest Roman Syria (633-638) some 4,000 Greek Byzantine soldiers under their commander Joachim (later Abdullah Joachim) converted to Islam and served as regular troops in the conquest of both Anatolia and Egypt. During the conquest of Egypt (641-644), the Coptic converts to Islam were recruited and eased the conquest. During the conquest of North Africa, Berber converts to Islam were recruited as regular troops, who later made the bulk of Rashidun army and later Ummayad's army in Africa.



Rashidun army relied heavily on their infantry. Mubarizun, were the recognized part of the Muslim army, composed of the champions. Their role was to undermine the enemy morale by slaying their champions. Then infantry would make repeated charges and withdrawals known as karr wa farr, using spears and swords combined with arrow volleys to weaken the enemies and wear them out. However, the main energy had still to be conserved for a counter attack supported by cavalry that would charge that would make flanking or encircling movements. Defensively the Muslim spearman with their two and a half meter long spears would close ranks, forming a close formation (Tabi'a), a protective wall for archers to continue their fire. This close formation stood its ground remarkably in the first four days of defence in the Battle of Yarmouk.[1]


The Rashidun cavalry was a one of the most successful light cavalry. It was armed with lances, up to five and a half meter long, and swords. Both short Arabian swords and Sassanid long swords were used by the horsemen. Often they were armed with both of them at a time. The cavalry used to be a reserve, with the main role to attack the enemy once they were weakend by the repeated charges of the infantry. They would then make flanking or encircling movements against the enemy army, either from the flanks or straight from the center. The cavalry probably used to attack in a wedge-shaped formation. Some of the best examples of the use of the cavalry force were commanded by Khalid ibn Walid in the Battle of Walaja against the Sassanid Persians and in the Battle of Yarmouk against the Byzantines. In both cases the cavalry regimets were initially stationed behind the flanks and center.


Reconstructing the military equipment of early Muslim armies is problematic. Compared with Roman armies—or, indeed, later medieval Muslim armies—the range of visual representation is very small, often imprecise and difficult to date. Physically very little material evidence has survived and again, much of it is difficult to date.[2] Most of the Pre-Islamic Arabian military equipments came from Syria, Iraq, Armenia and Yeman. A great deal more would then have been captured during the early conquest.


The helmets included gilded helmets similar to that of silver helmets of the Sassanid Empire. Both pointed and rounded helmets were used. The later referred as ‘’Baidah’’ (egg) was of standard two-piece early Byzantine type and the former was of segmented central Asian type called ‘’Tarikah’’. Mail was commonly used to protect the face, neck and cheek either as an aventail from the helmet or as a mail coif like it was used in Romano-Byzantine armies since 5th century. The face was often used to be half covered with a tail of a turban, that also served as a protection against the strong desert winds.


Hardened leather scale or lamellar armour was locally being produced in Yeman, Iraq and along the Persian gulf coast. The mail armors was more preferable and became more common later during the conquest of neighbouring empires and were captured as a booty. It was known as Dir, and was opened part-way down the chest. To avoid rusting it was polished and stored in a mixture of dust, oil and camel dung.[3] Infantry soldiers were more heavily armored then the horsemen. There are also references to the practice of wearing two coats of mail (dir’ayn), the second being shorter or even made of fabric or leather.


Large wooden or wickerwork shields were in use, but most shields were of leather. For this purpose camel's or cow's hide was used and it would be anointed, a practice since ancient Hebrew times.[4] During the invasion of Levant, Byzantine Elephant hide shields were also extensively used, and were probably captured in booty.


Long-shafted spears were locally made with the reeds of the Persian gulf coast. Infantry spears were two and a half meter long and that of cavalry were up to five and a half meters long.


The sword was the most prestigious weapon of the Early Muslims. It was usually a short infantry weapon, similar to the gladius. High quality swords were being made in Yeman from Indian wootz steel.[5] There are also sometimes references to Indian swords. Inferior swords were being made throughout Arabia. Both short Arab swords and Sassanid long swords were being used. Often horsemen and infantry soldiers are described to have two swords, both a Sassanid long sword and an Arabian short sword. All swords hanged in a baldric. Another personal weapon was the dagger in the a last line of defence.


Bows were locally made in various parts of Arabia, the most typical were the hijazi bows. It could be one piece of wood or two pieces joined together back to back. It used to be about two meter long when unbraced, similar to the English longbow. The maximum useful range of the traditional Arabian bow used to be about 150 meters. Early Muslim archers were infantry archers who proved to be very effective against the cavalry.

Siege weaponry

Catapults were used extensively in siege operations. Under Caliph Umar siege towers, called Dababah were also employed. These wooden towers moved on wheels and had several stories. They were driven up to the foot of the besieged fortification and then the walls were pierced with a battering ram. Archers guarded the ram and the soldiers who moved it. [6]

A Muslim elite soldier equipted for infantry warfare. Wearing an Iron-bronze helmet, as armor he is wearing a chain mail hauberk, and leather armor. His sword is carried in a baldric.

Organization of army as a state department

Caliph Umar was the first Muslim ruler to organize the army as a state department. This reform was introduced in 637 A.D. A beginning was made with the Quraish and the Ansars and the system was gradually extended to the whole of Arabia and to Muslims of conquered lands. A register of all adults who could be called to war was prepared, and a scale of salaries was fixed. All men registered were liable to military service. They were divided into two categories, namely:

  1. Those who formed the regular standing army; and
  2. Those that lived in their homes, but were liable to be called to the colors whenever needed.

The pay was paid in the beginning of the month of Muharram. The allowances were paid during the harvesting season. The armies of the Caliphs were mostly paid in cash salaries. In contrast to many post-Roman polities in Europe, grants of land, or of rights to collect taxes directly from the payers, were of only minor importance. A major consequence of this was that the army directly depended on the state for its subsistence which, in turn, meant that the military had to control the state apparatus.[7] Promotions in the army were made on the strength of the length of service or exceptional merit. Officership was an appointment and not a rank. Officers were appointed to command for the battle or the campaign; and once the operation was concluded, they could well find themselves in the ranks again.

Leave of absence was given to army men at regular intervals. The troops stationed at far off places were given leave after four months. Each army corps was accompanied by an officer of the treasury, an accountant, a qadi, and a number of interpreters besides a number of physicians and surgeons. Expeditions were undertaken according to seasons. Expeditions in cold countries were undertaken during the summer, and in hot countries in winter. In spring the troops were generally sent to lands which had a salubrious climate and a good pasturage. According to instructions every soldier was required to keep with him several things of personal need. These included among other things needles, cotton, twine, scissors, and a feeding-bag. Special instructions issued by caliph Umar laying stress on the teaching of three things to the soldiers, namely: horse riding; archery; and swimming.

Rashidun Caliphate Army Strength

Year Strength
632 13,000
633 18,000
634 41,000
635 37,000
636 70,000
640 74,000
648 80,000
652 120,000
657 100,000
661 80,000


When the army was on the march, it always halted on Fridays. When on march, the day's march was never allowed to be so long as to tire out the troops. The stages were selected with reference to the availability of water and other provisions. One remarkable feature of the movement of this army was that it was independent of lines of communication. Behind it stretched no line of supply, since it had no logistical base. This army could not be cut off from its supplies, for it had no supply depots, Under the Army Department, there was a separate Commissariat Department. All the food stores were collected at one place and trotted along with the army. It needed no roads for its movement, for it had no wagons and everything was carried on camels. Thus this army could go anywhere and traverse any terrain so long as there was a path over which men and animals could move. This ease of movement gave the Muslims a tremendous edge on the Romans and Persians in mobility and speed. When on march, this army moved like a caravan and gave the impression of an undrilled horde; from the point of view of military security it was virtually invulnerable. The advance was led by an advance guard consisting of a regiment or more. Then came the main body of the army, and this was followed by the women and children and the baggage loaded on camels. At the end of the column moved the rear guard. On long marches the horses were led; but if there was any danger of enemy interference on the march, the horses were mounted, and the cavalry thus formed would act either as the advance guard or the rearguard or move wide on a flank, depending on the direction from which the greatest danger threatened. In case of need, the entire army could vanish in an hour or so and be safe at a distance beyond terrain which no other large army could traverse.
When on march the army was divided into:

  • Muqaddimah (مقدمة) or The vanguard
  • Qalb (قلب) or The center
  • Al-khalf (الخلف) or The rear
  • Al-mou'akhira (المؤخرة) or The rearguard

During march most of the men mounted camels, the rest on horses, this made their movement fast as compared to their enemies the Persians and the Romans.

Divisions in battle

The army was organized on the decimal system.[8]

On the battlefield the army was divided into sections. These sections were:

  1. Qalb (قلب) or The center
  2. Maimanah (ميمنه) or The right wing
  3. Maisarah (ميسرة) or The left wing

Each section was under a command of a commander and was at a distance of about 150 meter from each other. Every tribal unit had its leader called Arifs. In such units There were commanders of 10, 100 and 1,000 men, the latter corresponding to regiments. The grouping of regiments to form larger forces was flexible, varying with the situation. Arifs were grouped and each group was under a Commander called Amir-ul-Ashar and Amir-ul-Ashars were under the command of a section commander, who were under the command of the commander in chief, Amir-ul-jaish.

Other components of the army were:

  1. Rijal (الرجال) or the Infantry
  2. Forsan (فرسان) or the cavalry
  3. Ramat (الرامي) or the Archers
  4. Talaiah (طليعة) or patrols to keep watch over the movements of the enemy
  5. Rukban (ركبان) or the Camel corps
  6. Nahab al-Muon (نهب المؤن) or Foraging parties

Intelligence and espionage

It was one of the most highly developed department of the army which proved helping in most of the campaigns. The espionage (جاسوسية) and intelligence services were first organised by a brilliant Muslim general Khalid ibn Walid during his campaign to Iraq[9]. Later when he was transferred to Syrian front he organized the espionage department there as well;[10] later it became an essential part of the army and became a separate department. who procured intelligence about the movements and activities of the enemy, this unit comprises the local inhabitants of the conquered land, it was very well organized and liberal pays were given to the spies for their work. Reporters were attached to every unit, and they kept the caliph fully informed about everything pertaining to the army.


Military centers known as junds (جند) were first established by Caliph Umar, For the purpose of army administration. These centers were set up at Madinah, Kufa, Basra, Mosul, Fustat, Damascus, Jordan and Palestine. At these centers barracks were built for the residence of troops. Big stables were constructed where four thousand horses fully equipped were kept ready for service at short notice at every Military Center. Reinforcements were sent to the troops from these junds. All records pertaining to the army were kept at military centers. Food stores of the commissariat were kept at these places and from there sent to other places. In addition to military centers, cantonments were established in big towns and places of strategic importance. Much thought was given to climate and sanitation in the lay out of cantonments and the construction of barracks. Special provisions were made for roads and streets in cantonments, and Caliph Umar issued instructions prescribing the width of roads and streets.


The basic strategy of early Muslim armies setting out to conquer foreign land was to exploit every possible drawback of the enemy army in order to achieve victory with minimum losses as the Rashidun army, quality-wise and strength-wise, was sub-standard the Sassanid Persian army and Byzantine army. Khalid ibn Walid, the first Muslim general of Rashidun Caliphate to make conquest in foreign land, during his campaign against the Sassanid Persian Empire (Iraq 633 - 634) and Byzantine Empire (Syria 634 - 638) developed brilliant tactics that he used effectively against both the Sassanid army and Byzantine army. The main drawback of the armies of Sassanid Persian Empire and Eastern Roman Empire was their lack of mobility.[11] Khalid ibn Walid decided to use the mobility of his own army to exploit the lack thereof in the Sassanid army and Byzantine army. Later the same strategy was adopted by all other Muslim generals throughout the period of military expansion. Though only part of Rashidun army was actual cavalry, the entire army was camel mounted for movement. Khalid ibn Walid and then later Muslim generals were also able to make use of the fine fighting quality of the Muslim soldiers, a bulk of whom were bedouin and excellent in swordsmanship.

The Muslims' light cavalry during the later years of Islamic conquest of Levant became the most powerful section of army. The best use of this lightly armed fast moving cavalry was revealed at the Battle of Yarmouk (636 A.D) in which Khalid ibn Walid, knowing the importance and ability of his cavalry, used them to turn the tables at every critical instance of the battle with their ability to engage and disengage and turn back and attack again from the flank or rear. A strong cavalry regiment was formed by Khalid ibn Walid which included the veterans of the campaign of Iraq and Syria. Early Muslim historians have given it the name mutaharrik tulaiha( متحرك طليعة ), or the mobile guard. This was used as an advance guard and a strong striking force to route the opposing armies with its greater mobility that gave it an upper hand when maneuvering against any Byzantine army. With this mobile striking force, the conquest of Syria was made easy.[12]

Another remarkable strategy developed by Khalid and later followed by others generals, was not moving far from the desert so long as there were opposing forces within striking distance of its rear. The idea was to fight the battles close to the desert, with safe escape routes open in case of defeat.[13] The desert was not only a heaven of security into which the Sassanid army and Byzantine army would not venture, but also a region of free, fast movement in which their camel mounted troops could move easily and rapidly to any objective that they chose. Following this same strategy during the conquest of Iraq and Syria, Khalid ibn Walid did not engage his army deep into Iraq and Syria until the opposing army had lost its ability to threaten his routes to the desert. Another possible advantage of always keeping a desert at the rear, was easy communication and reenforcement.

Once the Byzantines were weakened and the Sassanids effectively destroyed, the later Rashidun generals were free to use any strategy and tactics to overpower the opposing forces but they mainly stuck to the using the mobility of their troops to prevent the concentration of enemy troops in large numbers.[14]

The caliph Abu Bakr would give his generals their mission, the geographical area in which that mission would be carried out, and the resources that could be made available for that purpose. He would then leave it to his generals to accomplish their mission in whatever manner they chose. caliph Umar however in later part of his caliphate used to direct his generals as to where they would stay and when to move to the next target and who would command the left and right wing of the army in the particular battle. This made conquest comparatively slower but provided for well organized campaigns. Caliph Uthman used the same method as of Abu Bakr. He would give missions to his generals and then leave it to them on how they would accomplish it. Caliph Ali also followed the same method.

Conduct and ethics

The basic principle in the Qur'an for fighting is that other communities should be treated as one's own. Fighting is justified for legitimate self-defense, to aid other Muslims and after a violation in the terms of a treaty, but should be stopped if these circumstances cease to exist.[15][16][17][18] During his life, Muhammad gave various injunctions to his forces and adopted practices toward the conduct of war. The most important of these were summarized by Muhammad's companion, Abu Bakr, in the form of ten rules for the Rashidun army:[19]

Stop, O people, that I may give you ten rules for your guidance in the battlefield. Do not commit treachery or deviate from the right path. You must not mutilate dead bodies. Neither kill a child, nor a woman, nor an aged man. Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire, especially those which are fruitful. Slay not any of the enemy's flock, save for your food. You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them alone.

These injunctions were honored by the second caliph, Umar, during whose reign (634–644) important Muslim conquests took place.[20] In addition, during the Battle of Siffin, the caliph Ali stated that Islam does not permit Muslims to stop the supply of water to their enemy.[21] In addition to the Rashidun Caliphs, hadiths attributed to Muhammad himself suggest that he stated the following regarding the Muslim conquest of Egypt:[22]

"You are going to enter Egypt a land where qirat (a money unit) is used. Be extremely good to them as they have with us close ties and marriage relationships."
"When you enter Egypt after my death, recruit many soldiers from among the Egyptians because they are the best soldiers on earth, as they and their wives are permanently on duty until the Day of Resurrection."
"Be good to the Copts of Egypt; you shall take them over, but they shall be your instrument and help."
"Be Righteous to Allah about the Copts."

Generals of Rashidun Caliphate

See also


  1. ^ Military History Online
  2. ^ The Armies of the Caliphs: Military and Society in the Early Islamic State. Contributors: Hugh Kennedy - author. Publisher: Routledge. Place of Publication: London. Publication Year: 2001. Page Number:168
  3. ^ Yarmouk 636, Conquest of Syria by David Nicolle
  4. ^ title
  5. ^ Augus Mcbride
  6. ^ title
  7. ^ The Armies of the Caliphs: Military and Society in the Early Islamic State. Contributors: Hugh Kennedy - author. Publisher: Routledge. Place of Publication: London. Publication Year: 2001. Page Number:59
  8. ^ Tabari: Vol. 3, p. 8
  9. ^ Ibn Kathir, Al-Bidayah wan-Nihayah, Dar Abi Hayyan, Cairo, 1st ed. 1416/1996, Vol. 6 P. 425.
  10. ^ al-Waqdi Fatuh-al-sham page 61
  11. ^ A. I. Akram (1970). The Sword of Allah: Khalid bin al-Waleed, His Life and Campaigns. National Publishing House, Rawalpindi. ISBN 0-7101-0104-X.
  12. ^ Annals of the Early Caliphate By William Muir
  13. ^ Tabari: Vol: 2, page no: 560.
  14. ^ A. I. Akram (1970). The Sword of Allah: Khalid bin al-Waleed, His Life and Campaigns. National Publishing House, Rawalpindi. ISBN 0-7101-0104-X.
  15. ^ Patricia Crone, Encyclopedia of the Qur'an, War article, p.456. Brill Publishers
  16. ^ Micheline R. Ishay, The History of Human Rights: From Ancient Times to the Globalization Era, University of California Press, p.45
  17. ^ Sohail H. Hashmi, David Miller, Boundaries and Justice: diverse ethical perspectives, Princeton University Press, p.197
  18. ^ Douglas M. Johnston, Faith-Based Diplomacy: Trumping Realpolitik, Oxford University Press, p.48
  19. ^ Aboul-Enein and Zuhur, p. 22
  20. ^ Nadvi(2000), pg. 519
  21. ^ Encyclopaedia of Islam (2005), p.204
  22. ^ El Daly, Okasha (2004), Egyptology: The Missing Millennium : Ancient Egypt in Medieval Arabic Writings, Routledge, p. 18, ISBN 1844720632  


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