Khalid ibn Al-Walid may be one of the most underappreciated figures in Islamic history. As he never served as caliph, his historical importance is often overlooked. But it is quite possible that without the military genius of Khalid ibn Al-Walid, Islam might not have successfully spread beyond Arabia and Mesopotamia. He began his career as a ferocious opponent of the Prophet Muhammad, only to become one of the Prophet’s most fervent supporters in later years. His military campaigns against the Sassanid and Byzantine empires are legendary. After his death, his tomb in the city of Homs became an important local shrine. It is now enclosed in the Masjid Khalid ibn Al-Walid, and though this is not the largest or oldest mosque in the city, it is the most revered.
Khalid ibn Al-Walid was born in 592 AD, about twenty years after the Prophet Muhammad, and throughout much of his childhood he witnessed the unfolding drama and increasing strife between the Muslims and the other Quraysh of Mecca. A respected warrior and leader of the Meccan community, it is likely that he took an active role in the persecution of the Muslims during his twenties. When open war broke out between the Muslims and Meccans in 624, Khalid took an active role, fighting at the battles of Badr, Uhud and the Trench. Later, after the Muslims and other Quraysh had made peace, Khalid ibn Al-Walid converted to Islam. His conversion marked not only an important turning point in his career, but also the beginning of one of the greatest wars of conquest in history.
From 629 until the Prophet’s death, Khalid rose to become one of Muhammad’s most important military commanders. He participated in numerous battles, including the final Muslim conquest of Mecca, and was present at Muhammad’s final sermon on Mount Ararat. After Muhammad died, many of the Arab tribes which had been part of the nascent Muslim federation broke away from Medina in rebellion. Khalid joined himself to Abu Bakr, Muhammad’s successor and the first Rashidun caliph, and distinguished himself not only in crushing the various revolts but also in conquering most of Arabia in the Ridda Wars. By 633 he was renowned as the greatest general in Islam.
The Ridda Wars in Arabia were barely over when Abu Bakr hurled the growing and now highly experienced Muslim army northward. In a whirlwind campaign, Khalid led Abu Bakr’s forces against the Sassanid Empire. Within a year he had conquered Western Persia, including all of the major cities along the Tigris-Euphrates River as far north as Ctesiphon. The next year’s victories were even more astounding. Taking the Byzantines by surprise, Khalid routed or outmaneuvered several Roman armies, and by the time of Abu Bakr’s death in 634 AD he had annexed much of what is now Jordan and southern Syria.
Khalid’s career was briefly checked by the ascension of Umar, the second caliph. The famous general was forced to accept a lesser command, but this did not last for long. Khalid quickly moved his way back up the ranks, and was once again the Muslim army’s most important commander when the decisive meeting took place between the Muslims and the Byzantines. In 636 AD, Khalid devised the strategy which led to the overwhelming defeat of the vastly superior Byzantine army. He continued to serve Umar for two more years, leading numerous campaigns, including the one that captured Jerusalem. He died a few years later, and to this day remains among the most honored military commanders in Muslim, and world, history.
The gravesite of Khalid ibn Al-Walid started as a simple tomb that was later expanded into a full mosque by the Mamluks in the 13th century. This was later replaced by a new mosque, the Masjid Khalid al-Walid, by the Ottomand in the early 1900s. The current mosque, just over a century old, is very different in appearance than most other mosques in the area, as it reflects Ottoman styles of the pre-war period and featured colonial-type European elements. The main distinguishing exterior feature is the cluster of seven somewhat modern-looking silver domes behind two classic Ottoman-style minarets.
The interior of the mosque, lit by many windows, has a light and airy feel to it, almost reminiscent of a baroque-age church sans the gilding and artwork. The mausoleum of Khalid is actually a large walk-in structure with another mini-dome on top. His tombstone is engraved with the names of over fifty battles in which he participated.
The Masjid Khalid ibn Al-Walid occupies part of an open square on the northern outskirts of the old city center of Homs, just over a hundred miles north of Damascus. As of this writing no visitor information was available. Web: Not currently available due to ongoing problems in the region.
Homs boasts a small number of interesting Muslims sites, including the Tomb of Abd Ar-Rahman, the son of Khalid, and the Tomb of Ubaid Allah, the son of Umar, the second caliph. The city’s main mosque is the Masjid Al-Nuri. Not too far outside of the city are several places closely associated with the Crusader period. The first is the Crac des Chevaliers, the great Christian stronghold which fell to the Muslims in 1271 AD. A little further out, closer to the coast, is the Qalat Saladin, the fortress and military base of Saladin.