The methods of waging war practiced by various nationsJanuary 9, 2020
The origin of war is the desire of certain human beings to take revenge on others. Each (party) is supported by the people sharing in its group feeling.
When they have sufficiently excited each other for the purpose and the two parties confront each other, one seeking revenge and the other trying to defend itself, there is war. It is something natural among human beings.
No nation and no race is free from it because revenge comes from jealousy, hostility, or zeal in behalf of God, or zeal in behalf of royal authority and the effort to found a kingdom.
There are 4 kinds of war:
- War between neighboring tribes and competing families
- War caused by hostility in savage nations living in the desert, such as the Arabs, the Turks, the Turkomans, the Kurds, and similar peoples.
They earn their sustenance with their lances and their livelihood by depriving other people of their possessions. They declare war against those who defend their property against them. They have no further desire for rank and royal authority. Their minds and eyes are set only upon depriving other people of their possessions.614
- Holy war
- Dynastic [civil] war against seceders and those who refuse obedience
The first two are unjust and lawless, the other two are holy and just wars.
War is waged in two ways:
- by advance in closed formation.
- by attack and withdrawal
Advance in Closed Formation
This has been the technique of all the non-Arabs.
Attack and Retreat
This has been used by the Arabs and of the Berbers of the Maghrib.
Fighting in closed formation is more steady and fierce than fighting with the technique of attack and withdrawal. That is because in fighting in closed formation, the lines are orderly and evenly arranged, like arrows or like rows of worshipers at prayer.
People advance in closed lines against the enemy. This makes for greater steadiness in assault and for better use of the proper tactics. It frightens the enemy more.
A closed formation is like a long wall or a well-built castle which no one could hope to move. In the divine revelation, it is said= “God loves those who fight in His behalf in a line, as if they were a strongly constructed building.” 615 They steady each other.
A tradition says= “One believer is to another believer like a building of which every part supports the rest.” 616 This makes it obvious what great wisdom there is in requiring that the linesbe kept steady and in forbidding anyone to fall back during an attack.
Battle lines are intended to preserve order. Those who turn their backs to the enemy bring disorder into the line formation. They are guilty of the crime of causing a rout. They somehow cause the Muslims to be routed and enable the enemy to gain power over them. This is a great sin, because the resulting damage is general and affects Islam, in that it makes a breach in the protecting fence.
Therefore, it is considered one of the great sins.617 All this evidence shows that fighting in close formation is more important (than any other kind) in the opinion of the Lawgiver (Muhammad).
Fighting with the technique of attack and withdrawal is not as fierce or as secure against the possibility of rout, as is fighting in closed formation, unless there is set up a steady line formation to the rear, to which the fighting men may fall back in attack and withdrawal throughout the fighting. Such a line formation would take the place of the closed formation, as we shall mention later on. 618
The ancient dynasties had many soldiers and a vast realm. They subdivided their armies into smaller units. 619 The reason for this was that their soldiers grew exceedingly numerous and were assembled from the most remote regions. This made it unavoidable that some of the soldiers would not know others, when they mingled on the field of battle and engaged the enemy in shooting and close fighting. It was feared lest, on such occasions, they would fall to fighting each other because of the existing confusion and their ignorance of each other. Therefore, they divided the armies into smaller units and put men who knew each other together. They arranged the units in an arrangement resembling the natural one of the four directions (of the compass). The chief of all the armies, either the ruler himself or a general, was in the center. 620 This arrangement was called “the battle order” (ta’biyah). It is mentioned in the history of the Persians, that of the Byzantines, and that of the (Umayyad and ‘Abbasid) dynasties at the beginning of Islam. In front of the ruler stood one army with its own battle lines, it own general and its own flag 621 It was called “the advance guard.” Then, to the right of the 622 place where the ruler was, stood another army. It was called “the right flank.” There was another army to the left, called “the left flank.”
Then, there was another army behind the army, called “the rear guard.” The ruler and his entourage stood at the middle of these four (armies). The place where he was, was called the center. When this ingenious arrangement was completed - covering an area within the field of vision (of a single observer) or extending over a wider area but with at most one or two days’ (journey) between each of the two armies, and utilizing the possibilities suggested by the greater or smaller number of soldiersthen, when the battle order was thus set up, the advance in closed formation could begin. This may be exemplified by the history of the (Muslim) conquests and the history of the (Umayyad and ‘Abbasid) dynasties. There also is the wellknown story mentioned above from the history of ‘Abd-alMalik, of how his armies fell back while he was on the move because (the elements of) the battle order were so widely separated, and how someone was needed to drive them from behind and al-Hajjaj b. Yusuf was appointed for that purpose.623
Much the same sort of arrangement was also to be found among the Spanish Umayyads. It is not known among us now, because we live in a time when dynasties possess small armies which cannot mistake each other on the field of battle. 624 Most of the soldiers of both parties together could nowa-days be assembled in a hamlet or a town. Everyone of them knows his comrade and calls him by his name and surname in the thick of battle. Therefore, this particular battle order can be dispensed with.One of the techniques of the people who use the technique of attack and withdrawal, is to set up, behind their armies, a line formation (barricade) of solid objects and dumb animals to serve as a refuge for the cavalry during attack and withdrawal. It is intended to steady the fighters, so that they will fight more persistently and have a better chance of winning. Those who fight in closed formation do the same, in order to increase their steadfastness and power. The Persians who fought in closed formation used to employ elephants in their wars. They made them carry wooden towers like castles, loaded with combatants, weapons, and flags. They disposed them in successive lines behind them in the thick of battle, as if they were fortresses. This fortified them psychologically and gave them added confidence.
In this connection, one may compare what happened at al-Qadisiyah. On the third day, the Persians pressed the Muslims hard with (the elephants), 625 Eventually, some outstanding Arabs counterattacked, infiltrated among the ele- phants, and struck them on the trunk with their swords. (The elephants) fled and turned back to their stables in al-Mada’in. This paralyzed the Persian camp, and they fled on the fourth day.
The Rum (Byzantines), the Gothic rulers in Spain, and most other non-Arab peoples used to employ thrones for the purpose of steadying the battle lines. A throne would be set up for the ruler in the thick of battle and surrounded by those of the ruler’s servants, entourage, and soldiers who were thought to be willing to die for him. Flags were run up at the corners of the throne. A further wall of sharpshooters and foot soldiers was put around it. The throne thus assumed considerable dimensions. It became, for the fighters, a place to fall back upon and a refuge in attack and withdrawal. This was what the Persians did in the battle of al- Qadisiyah. Rustum sat upon a throne that had been set up for him there. Finally, the Persian lines became disordered, and the Arabs penetrated to (Rustum’s) throne. He abandoned it and went to the Euphrates, where he was killed. The Arabs and most other Bedouin nations that move about and employ the technique of attack and withdrawal, dispose their camels and the pack animals carrying their litters in lines to steady the fighting men. (Such lines) become for them a place to fall back upon. They call it al follows this technique can be observed to be more steady in battle and to be better protected against being surprised and routed. This is a well attested fact, but it has been altogether neglected by the contemporary dynasties. Instead, they dispose the pack animals carrying their baggage and large tents behind them, as a rear guard. These animals cannot take the place of elephants and camels. Therefore, the armies are exposed to the danger of being routed, and they are always ready to flee in combat.
At the beginning of Islam, all battles were fought in closed formation, although the Arabs knew only the technique of attack and withdrawal.
Two things caused them to fight in closed formation:
- Their enemies fought in closed formation.
They were thus forced to fight them in the same way.
- They were willing to die in the holy war, because they wished to prove their endurance and were very firm in their belief
The closed formation is the best for one willing to die.
Marwan b. al-Hakam 627 was the first to abandon the line formation in war. He used the battle order by regiments in fighting the Kharijite ad-Dahhak. After him, al-Khaybari did the same.
AtTabari said in connection with the killing of al-Khaybari= “The Kharijites appointed as their leader Shayban b. ‘Abdal-`Aziz al-Yashkuri, who had the surname of Abu d-Dalfa’. Marwan, thereafter, fought them in regiments andabandoned the line from that day on.”
When the line was discontinued, the practice of fighting in closed formation was forgotten. Then, when luxury penetrated the various dynasties, the use of the (rally) line behind the fighters was forgotten. This was because when they were Bedouins and lived in tents, they had many camels, and the women and children lived in camp with them.
Then they achieved royal luxury and became used to living in palaces and in a sedentary environment and they abandoned the ways of the desert and waste regions. At that time, they forgot the period of camels and litters, and it was difficult for them to use them. When they traveled, they left their women behind.
Royal authority and luxury caused them to use tents both large and small. They restricted themselves to pack animals carrying baggage and tents. They used these things to form their (protective) line in war. It was by no means sufficient. These things, unlike one’s own family and property, do not inspire any willingness to die. 628 People, therefore, have little endurance. The turmoil of the battle frightens them, and their lines crumble.
We have mentioned the strength that a line formation behind the army gives to the fighters who use the technique of attack and withdrawal.
This is why the Maghribi rulers employed groups of European Christians in their army since their compatriots only they know the technique of attack and withdrawal. The position of the ruler is strengthened by establishing a line formation in support of the fighting men ahead of it.
The men in such a line formation must be people who are used to hold firm in closed formation. If not, they will run away like the men who use the technique of attack and withdrawal, and, when they run away, the ruler and the army will be routed.
Therefore, the rulers of the Maghrib had to use soldiers from a nation used to hold firm in closed formation. That nation was the European Christians. The line formation around their (army) is formed by European Christians. The Maghribi rulers do that despite the fact that it means utilizing the aid of unbelievers. They do not think much of it, because the necessity (of using such men) exists, as we have shown.
They fear that their own line formation might run away, and (they know that) the European Christians know only how to hold firm, because it is their custom to fight in closed formation. They are, therefore, more suitable for the purpose than others. However, the Maghribi rulers employ (such European Christians) only in wars against Arab and Berber nations, in order to force them into submission. They do not use them for the holy war, because they are afraid that they might take sides against the Musliras. Such is the situation in the Maghrib at this time. We have shown the reason for it. “God knows everything.” 629 We hear that the fighting (technique) of the contemporary Turkish nations is the shooting of arrows. Their battle order consists of a line formation. They divide their army into three lines, one placed behind the other. They dismount from their horses, empty their quivers on the ground in front of them, and then shoot from a sitting position. Each line protects the one ahead of it against being overrun by the enemy, until victory is assured for one party. This is a very good and remarkable battle order.
In war, the ancients followed the method of digging trenches around their camps when they were about to attack. (They did that) because they were afraid of treacherous night attacks and assaults by night upon the camp, since darkness and wildness multiply fear. Under such conditions, the soldiers might seek refuge in flight and would find in the darkness a psychological protection against the shame of (fleeing).
If all the soldiers were to have the same (idea), the camp would be disorganized, and there would be a rout. Therefore, they were accustomed to dig trenches around the camp, when they encamped. They set up their tents and madetrenches all around them on every side, lest the enemy be able to get through them in a night attack, in which case they would abandon each other.
The dynasties used to have the strength and power to do such things involving large concentrations of manpower, wherever they settled, because civilization was prosperous and royal authority impressive. But when civilization was ruined and (the strong dynasties) were succeeded by weak dynasties with few soldiers and no workers, the thing was altogether forgotten, as if it had never been.
One should think of the admonitions and encouragement that ‘Ali gave his men on the day of Siffin. One will find in them a good deal of military knowledge. No one had better insight into military matters than ‘All. He said in one of his speeches= “Straighten out your lines like a strongly constructed building. 630 “Place the armed men in front, and those who are not armed in the rear. “Bite on your molars. This makes it harder for sword blows to harm the head. “Keep (something) wrapped around [?] the tips of the spears. This preserves the sharpness of points. “Keep the eyes down. This keeps the soul more concentrated and gives greater peace to the heart. “Kill (all) noises. This drives vacillation away more effectively and is more becoming to dignity. “Do not hold your flags inclined and do not remove them. Place them in the hands only of those among you who are brave.
“Call upon truth and endurance for aid, for ‘after endurance there is victory.’ "
Al-Ashtar 631 on that day, to encourage the Azd, said= “Bite on your molars and meet the people (enemy) head on. Be violent like men who, long frustrated from their revenge, are now out to revenge their fathers and their brothers, who are full of wrath against the enemy, and who have prepared themselves for death, so that they shall not be prevented from taking revenge and not be disgraced in this world.” Abu Bakr as-Sayrafi, the poet of the Lamtunah (Almoravids) and the Spaniards, has referred to many such things in a poem in which he praises Tashfin b. ‘Ali b. Yusuf and describes his steadfastness during a battle in which he participated. 632
He refers to his military affairs.in words of admonition and warning that make a great deal of knowledge concerning warfare available to (the reader). He says in (the poem): O you veiled 633 people! Who among you is the high-minded, inspiring ruler? Who is the one whom the enemy surprised in the dark, And everyone dispersed, but he was not discouraged? And the knights came, but fighting with spears kept them From him. The loyalty (of his troops) confounded them, and they turned back. And the gleam of helmets made the night appear Like the morn sparkling over the heads of the soldiers. Where 634 have you taken refuge (now), O Banu Sinhajah? You (who) were the refuge in fear. You have turned away from Tashfin.If he wished, he could punish you. A pupil that no eyelid of yours has ever protected, And a heart that the ribs have betrayed. You are nothing but lions of the thicket, 635 Each one (of you) watching for every (possible) unpleasantness (that might befall).
O Tashfin, make the night an excuse for your soldiers, And irresistible destiny not to be repelled. The following verses of the poem are about warfare: I shall give you the political education that The Persian kings before you were desirous to obtain. Not that I am experienced in it, but it is A memento that spurs on the believers, and is useful. Put on the double coat of mail that A Tubba’ exhorted skillful craftsmen to make, 636 And the fine Indian dagger, because it is More effective against thick armor and pierces it better. Use a number of fast horses (and horsemen) - A strong fortress that cannot be repelled! Dig a trench for yourself when you encamp, Regardless of whether you are in victorious pursuit or being pursued. Do not cross a river. Encamp on its bank. It separates your soldiers from the enemy. Go into battle in the afternoon, Having behind you a mountain pass 637 that is unapproachable. When the soldiers are in straits on a narrow Battlefield, the points of their spears will give them (elbow) room. Attack the enemy right away, do not hesitate A moment, for to show signs of hesitation is disastrous. Take for your patrols men of energy, In whom truthfulness is an unmistakable characteristic. Do not listen to the liar who comes to you with alarming news. A person under the influence of a lie (acts) senselessly 638 whatever he may do.
The statement, “Attack the enemy right away, do not hesitate, etc,” is contrary to the general practice of warfare. ‘Umar said to Abu ‘Ubayd b. Masud ath- Thaqafi, when he entrusted him with the war against Firs and the ‘Iraq= 639 “Listen to the men around Muhammad and let them participate in the command. Do not answer hastily, (answer) only when everything is clear to you. It is war, and only the calm man, who knows when there is an opportunity and when he has to restrain himself, is suited for warfare.” According to another (report), he said to him= “The only thing that prevents me from putting Salit in command is his rashness in war. Rashness in war, unless everything is clear, is disastrous. By God, if it were not for that, I should have made him commander, but only a calm man is suited for warfare.”
This is what ‘Umar said. It is proof that in war it is better to go slow than to be hasty, until the situation in a particular battle is clear. This is the contrary of what as-Sayrafi said, unless he means attacking after. everything is clear. This is a possible explanation. And God knows better. There is no certainty of victory in war, even when the equipment and the numerical (strength) that cause victory (under normal circumstances), exist. Victory and superiority in war come from luck and chance. This is explained by the fact that the causes of superiority are, as a rule, acombination of several factors.
There are external factors, such as the number of soldiers, the perfection and good quality of weapons, the number of brave men, (skillful) arrangement of the line formation, the proper tactics, and similar things.
Then, there are hidden factors. (These hidden factors) may be the result of human ruse and trickery, such as spreading alarming news and rumors to cause defections (in the ranks of the enemy)occupying high points, so that one is able to attack from above, which surprises those below and causes them to abandon each other; hiding in thickets or depressions and concealing oneself from the enemy in rocky terrain, so that the armies (of one’s own side) suddenly appear when (the enemy) is in a precarious situation and he must then flee to safety (instead of defending himself), and similar things. These hidden factors may also be celestial matters, which man has no power to produce for himself. They affect people psychologically, and thus generate fear in (them). They cause confusion in the centers of (armies), and there are routs. Routs very often are the result of hidden causes, because both parties make much use of (the opportunities offered by) them in their desire for victory. One of them must by necessity be successful in their use. Wherefore, Muhammad said: “War is trickery.” 640 An Arab proverb says= “Many a trick is worth more than a tribe.” 640a
Superiority in war is the result of hidden causes, not of external ones. The occurrence of opportunities as the result of hidden causes is what is meant by the word “luck,” as has been established in the proper place.
Considering the fact that superiority may be the result of celestial factors, as we have explained, one understands Muhammad’s statement= “I was helped through the terror (that befell the enemy) for the length of one month’s journey.” 641 (The same fact explains) Muhammad’s victory with small numbers over the polytheists during his lifetime, and the victories of the Muslims during the Muslim conquests after (Muhammad’s death).
God took care of His Prophet. He threw terror into the hearts of the unbelievers. (That terror,) eventually, seized control over their hearts, and they fled. (This, then, was) a miracle wrought by God’s Messenger. Terror in the hearts of their enemies was why there were so many routs during the Muslim conquests, but it was a factor concealed from the eyes.
At-Turtushi 642 mentions that one of the reasons for victory in war is that one side may have a larger number of brave and famous knights than the other. For instance, one side may have ten or twenty famous heroes, and the other only eight or sixteen. The side that has more, even if only one more, will be victorious. He states this very emphatically. He is referring to the external causes we have mentioned before, but he is not right. What is the fact proven to make for superiority is the situation with regard to group feeling. If one side has a (single) group feeling comprising all, while the other side is made up of numerous different groups, and if both sides are approximately the same in numbers, then the side that has a single (comprehensive) group feeling is stronger than, and superior to, the side that is made up of several different groups. These different groups are likely to abandon each other, as is the case with separate individuals who have no group feeling at all, each of the groups being in the same position as an individual. Thus, the side composed of several different groups cannot stand up to the side whose group feeling is one. This should be understood. It should be realized that this is a better explanation than the one attempted by at-Turtushi. At-Turtushi’s (explanation) was suggested by the fact that the importance of group feeling was no longer known in his generation and in the place where he lived. 643 (People in this situation) think of defense, military protection, and the pressing of claims, in terms of individuals and masses of individuals.
They do not consider group feeling or common descent in this connection. We explained this at the beginning of the book.644Moreover, such and similar things, if correct, still belong among the external causes (of victory), such as the existence of an identical number of soldiers on both sides, the proper tactics, the quantity of weapons, and similar things. How could such things guarantee victory, considering that we have just established that none of them is a match for the hidden causes, such as ruse and trickery, or for the celestial factors, such as divine terror and defection? This should be known, and the conditions of the world should be understood. God determines night and day. 645 The idea of victory in war as depending on hidden and unnatural causes (reminds us) of the related situation that exists with regard to fame and renown. Fame and renown are rarely to be found in their proper places anywhere in any class of people, whether they be rulers, scholars, pious men, or the virtuous in general. Many people are famous and renowned, yet do not deserve it. Many are reputed villains, yet they are just the opposite. Many have been passed over by fame, and yet they may deserve it and be more entitled to it (than others). Sometimes, fame and renown are to be found in their proper places and do conform to the actual merit of the person who enjoys them.
This is because fame and renown are the result of historical information. In the process of transmission, the (original) intentions are forgotten, and bias and partisanship affect the information, as do unfounded assumptions as well as ignorance of the conformity of the stories to (actual) conditions, 64 6 resulting from the fact that they have become obscured by falsification and artifice, or from the ignorance of the transmitter.
The information is also affected by the desire to insinuate oneself into the good graces of great men of the world and other persons of high rank through eulogizing and praising (them), embellishing the facts and spreading fame in this manner 64 7
The (human) soul is ardently in love with praise, and people go all out for this world and for the rank or wealth that belong (to this world). As a rule, they have no desire for virtue, and they do not care for those who have it. In view of all this, how could (we expect) there to be any conformity with the truth?
Thus, renown results from hidden causes and does not conform (to reality). Things that result from hidden causes are what we express by the word “luck,” as has been established.