Islamic History: Brave Hearts
Dhiraar bin Al Azwar: The Half Naked Champion

It was during the Battle of Ajnadein, that took place North of the Dead Sea, between the Muslims and the Romans.

Khalid bin Al Waleed was appointed commander of the Muslim army. The Roman army was under the command of a man named Wardan.

As part of his preparations for battle, which in fact did not take place until some days later, Khalid decided to send a brave scout to carry out a close reconnaissance of the Roman camp. Dhiraar volunteered for the job and was sent forward accordingly. The youth stripped to the waist and rode up to a little hillock not far from the centre of the Roman camp. Here he was seen, and a body of 30 Romans rode out to catch him. As they approached, Dhiraar began to canter back to the Muslim camp; and when they drew nearer, Dhiraar increased his pace. His purpose was to draw these Romans away from their camp, so that others should not be able to come to their assistance. When he had reached a spot between the two armies, Dhiraar turned on his pursuers and attacked the one nearest him with his lance. After bringing him down, Dhiraar assaulted a second and a third and a fourth and so he continued, throughout the combat manoeuvring his horse in such a way that he should not have to tackle more than one man at a time. Against some he used his sword also; and it is believed that he killed 19 of the Romans before the remainder turned and galloped back to their camp. That night the Roman camp was full of stories of the dreaded Naked Champion.

On his return Dhiraar was greeted with joy by the Muslims; but Khalid looked at him sternly and rebuked him for engaging in combat when the task given to him was reconnaissance. To this Dhiraar replied that he was conscious of the possible disapproval of his commander, and that but for this he would have pursued the fleeing Romans to kill every one of them!

Wardan now ordered a line of archers and slingers to be positioned ahead of the Roman front within range of the Muslim army. As this line formed up, Muadh the commander of the Muslim centre, began to order his men to attack, but was stopped by Khalid who stood nearby. "Not till I give the order" said Khalid. "And not till the sun has passed its zenith."

Muadh had wished to attack because the Roman archers, with their better bows, outranged the Muslim bows and to the slingers the Muslims had no effective counter. The only way to deal with the situation would be to get closer to the Romans-to come to grips. But Khalid did not wish to risk a reverse by launching a premature attack against the well-formed legions of the Romans. Thus a couple of hours before noon, the battle began with the action of the Roman archers and slingers.

This phase of the battle went against the Muslims, several of whom were killed while many were wounded. This suited the Romans very well; and for some time the missiles continued to fly from their bows and slings. The Muslims, unable to do anything to offset this Roman advantage, became impatient to attack with sword and lance, but still Khalid restrained them. Finally the impetuous Dhiraar came to Khalid and said, "Why are we waiting when Allah, the Most High, is on our side? By Allah, our enemies will think that we are afraid of them. Order the attack, and we shall attack with you." Khalid decided to let individual champions go into combat against Roman champions.

In this duelling the Muslims would have the advantage, and it would be useful to eliminate as many of the Roman officers as possible, as this would in turn reduce the effectiveness of the Roman army. "You may attack, Dhiraar", he said. And the delighted Dhiraar urged his horse forward.

Because of the Roman archers, Dhiraar kept on his coat of mail and helmet, and in his hand carried a shield made of elephant hide, which had once belonged to a Roman. Having gone halfway to the Roman line, he stopped and raising his head, gave his personal battle cry:

I am the death of the Pale Ones;
I am the killer of the Romans;
I am a scourge sent upon you;
I am Dhiraar bin Al Azwar! 2


As a few of the Roman champions advanced to answer his challenge, Dhiraar quickly disrobed; and the Romans knew him at once as the Naked Champion. In the next few minutes, Dhiraar killed several Romans, including two generals, one of whom was the governor of Amman and the other the governor of Tiberius.

While this duelling was still in progress-and it was now past midday-Khalid ordered a general attack; and the entire Muslim front moved forward and hurled itself at the Roman army. The main battle was now on with sword and shield.

This was a frontal struggle with no fine manoeuvre and neither side attempting to outflank the other. It was a hard slogging match at close quarters, and continued for some hours. Then in the late afternoon both sides, now very tired, broke contact and fell back to their original lines. No more could be done on this day.


The losses of the Romans were staggering. Wardan was shocked to learn that thousands of his soldiers lay dead on the battlefield, while very few Muslims had been accounted for. He called a council of war, at which he expressed his misgivings about the outcome of the battle, but his generals swore that they would fight to the last. Wardan asked for ideas; and of the various suggestions made, the one that appealed to him most was a plot to kill the Muslim commander. According to this plan, Wardan would personally go forward in the morning, offer peace and ask for Khalid to come forth and discuss the terms with him. When Khalid had approached near enough Wardan would engage him in combat; then, on his signal, 10 men, suitably concealed nearby, would rush up and cut the Muslim commander to pieces. It was as simple as that. Wardan was a brave general and agreed to the plan. The men would be positioned during the night, and would be carefully briefed for their role.

The Roman commander then sent a Christian Arab named David, who was a member of his staff, with instructions to proceed to the Muslim army and seek Khalid. He was to say to the Muslim commander that sufficient blood had been shed; that there should be no more fighting; that they should make peace; and that Khalid should meet Wardan early next morning between the two armies to discuss terms of peace. Both generals would appear alone.

David was horrified to hear these instructions, as they appeared to be against the orders of Heraclius to fight the Muslims and throw them back into the desert. He therefore refused to carry out this mission. Wardan then told him the entire plan of the plot in order to convince him that he intended no disobedience of the instructions of the Emperor. And this, as we shall see, was a mistake.

The sun had not yet set when David walked up to the Muslim army, which was still arrayed in battle order, and asked to see Khalid on a matter of peace proposed by Wardan. As soon as Khalid was informed, he came out to David and stood glaring at him.

The sight of Khalid with his 6 feet and more of bone and muscle could have an unnerving effect on any man at whom Khalid glared. His hard, weather-beaten, battle-scarred face and his piercing eyes gave the impression of pitilessness to those whom Khalid regarded as enemies. The effect on poor David was devastating. Wilting under the gaze of the Sword of Allah, he blurted out: "I am not a man of war! I am only an emissary!"

Khalid drew closer. "Speak!" he ordered. "If you are truthful you will survive. If you lie you shall perish."

The Christian Arab spoke: "Wardan is pained by all this unnecessary bloodshed and wishes to avoid it. He is prepared to sign a pact with you and spare those who still live. There should be no more fighting until the talks are completed. He proposes that you and he meet alone between the two armies in the morning and discuss terms of peace."

"If what your master intends is deceit," replied Khalid, "then by Allah, we ourselves are the root of trickery and there is none like us in stratagem, and guile. If he has a secret plot, it will only hasten his own end and the annihilation of the rest of you. If on the other hand he is truthful, then we shall not make peace except on the payment of the Jizya. As for any offer of wealth, we shall soon take it from you anyway." 1

Khalid's words, uttered with unshakeable conviction, had a profound effect on David. Saying that he would go and convey Khalid's message to Wardan, he turned and began to walk away while Khalid stood staring after him and sensing that all was not as it seemed. David had not gone far before it suddenly struck him that Khalid was right; that victory would go to the Muslims and the Romans would perish no matter what tricks they tried. He decided to save himself and his family by confessing the truth. Consequently he retraced his steps and once again stood before Khalid, to whom he revealed the entire Roman plot, including the place at which the 10 Romans would lie concealed - below a hillock a little to the right of the Roman centre. Khalid promised to spare David and his family on condition that he did not tell Wardan that the Muslims now knew of his plot. To this, David agreed.

On his return to the Roman Army, David informed Wardan of the initial talks he had had with Khalid and Khalid's agreement to the rendezvous as planned; but said nothing of the second conversation he had with the Muslim. Wardan was delighted.

At first Khalid thought of going to the hillock alone and killing all 10 Romans himself. His adventurous soul thrilled at the prospect of a glorious fight. But when he discussed the matter with Abu Ubaidah, the latter dissuaded him and suggested that he should detail 10 valiant fighters instead. To this Khalid agreed. The 10 men he chose included Dhiraar, who was appointed leader of the party. He instructed Dhiraar to be prepared to next morning to dash out from the front rank of the Muslims and intercept and kill the 10 Romans when they appeared. But Dhiraar was no less adventurous in spirit that Khalid and insisted that he and his men be allowed to use the hours of darkness to find the Romans in their place of concealment and kill then in their lair. Knowing Dhiraar as he did, Khalid acceded to his request. Shortly before midnight Dhiraar and his nine comrades set off from the camp.

Soon after sunrise, Wardan came forward in full imperial regalia, wearing bejewelled armour with a bejewelled sword hanging at his side. Khalid walked up from the Muslim centre and stood in front of Wardan. The two armies were already arrayed in battle order as on the previous day.

Wardan started negotiations with an attempt to browbeat the Muslim. He expressed his low opinion of the Arabians; how wretched were the conditions in which they lived, and how miserably starved they were in their homeland. Khalid's response was sharp and aggressive. "O Christian dog!" he snapped. "This is your last chance to accept Islam or pay the Jizya." 1 At this, Wardan, without drawing his sword, sprang at Khalid and held him, at the same time shouting for the 10 Romans to come to his aid.

From behind the hillock he saw, out of the corner of his eye, 10 Romans, emerge and race towards him. Khalid also saw then and was horrified, for he was expecting to see Muslims emerge from behind the hillock. He has made no other arrangement for his own protection, and he wondered with a sense of deep sorrow, if Dhiraar had at last met his match. As the group of Romans got nearer, however, Wardan noticed that the leader of these 'Romans' was naked to the waist; and then the terrible truth dawned upon him.

During the night Dhiraar and his nine comrades had got to the hillock, killed all 10 Romans noiselessly, and then, such was Dhiraar's impish sense of humour, put on the garments and armour of the Romans. Later, however, Dhiraar discarded the garments and reverted to his normal fighting dress! As the first light of dawn appeared, these 10 Muslims said the prayer of the Morning and then awaited the call of the Roman commander.

Wardan left Khalid and stepped back, looking on helplessly as the 10 Muslims surrounded the pair. Dhiraar now advanced with drawn sword. At this Wardan implored Khalid, "I beseech you, in the name of whatever you worship, to kill me yourself; do not net this devil come near me"

In reply Khalid nodded to Dhiraar, and Dhiraar's sword flashed in the sun and severed Wardan's head.

Then Khalid ordered a general attack: the centre, the wings and the flank guards swept forward and assaulted the Romans, who were now under the command of Qubuqlar.

As the two armies met, another phase of violent hand-to-hand fighting began. Soon the fighting became vicious, with no quarter given or taken. But at the end the Roman army had been torn to pieces.


On August 20, 634 (the 20th of Jamadi-ul-Akhir, 13 Hijri), Khalid launched the Muslim army into the siege of Damascus. With an estimateed Muslim strength of about 20,000 men. Khalid besieged the city .

On September 9, 634 (the 10th of Rajab, 13 Hijri), a messenger came galloping into Khalid's camp to inform him that a large Roman army of undetermined strength was advancing rapidly from Emessa, and in a day or so would make contact with the blocking force deployed at Bait Lihya. Khalid was not surprised to hear this, for he had guessed that Heraclius would do everything in his power to relieve Damascus; and it was for this reason that Khalid had placed the blocking force on the main route by which a relief column could approach the city.

He immediately organised a mounted force of 5,000 men and placed it under Dhiraar. He instructed Dhiraar to proceed with all speed to the area of Bait Lihya, take command of the regiment already deployed there and deal with the relief column approaching from Emessa. He cautioned Dhiraar against being rash and instructed him to seek reinforcements before committing his force to battle in case the enemy strength proved too large. Such words of caution, however, were wasted on Dhiraar; if there was one quality which he did not possess it was caution. With Raafe as his second-in-command, Dhiraar rode away from Damascus and picking up the blocking force, moved forward to a low ridge a little short of Saniyyat-ul-Uqab (the Pass of the Eagle) and deployed his force in ambush.

Next morning the Roman army appeared in sight. The Muslims waited. As the head of the Roman column got close to the ambush, Dhiraar ordered the attack. His men rose from their places of concealment, and led by their half-naked commander, rushed at the Romans. But the Romans were prepared for such a contingency. They deployed so quickly in battle formation that the action became a frontal engagement, with the Muslims attacking and the Romans standing firm in defence on higher ground in front of the Pass of the Eagle. The Muslims now realised the full strength of the enemy, which amounted to twice their own. But this did not matter to Dhiraar. Assaulting furiously in front of his men, he got far ahead of his comrades and before long was completely surrounded by the Romans. His enemies recognised him as the Naked Champion; and decided to take him alive and show him as a prize to their Emperor. Dhiraar was wounded by an arrow in the right arm but continued to fight as the Romans closed in. At last, however, after he had suffered several wounds, he was overpowered by the Romans, who then sent him to the rear.

The loss of Dhiraar had a depressing effect on the Muslims, but Raafe was a worthy successor to the dashing Dhiraar. Taking command, he launched several attacks to get through to Dhiraar and rescue him; but his efforts proved fruitless, and the action turned into a stalemate. Raafe realised that there was nothing that he could do to break the Roman force deployed in front of him; and in the afternoon he sent a message to Khalid telling him about the engagement, about the enemy strength and about the loss of Dhiraar-probably still alive as a prisoner.

Is this the end of our brave warroir? Read on....