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“Umar” Ramadan Series: Review and Synopsis of Episode 26

Synopsis: The episode starts where the last one left off, with Umar and his son walking back into Medina at night. As they walk, they overheard a mother and her daughter arguing in their house. The mother is ordering her daughter to mix the milk with the water (a form of increasing the amount so as to sell more in the market), but the daughter refuses, asserting that the caliph forbade this practice since it is a form of cheating. The daughter then tells her mother that God sees all and He will reward them if they do not use trickery. Umar tells his son that they will inquire in the morning about the identity of the two individuals. The next morning, Umar and his two sons return to the house and knock on the door. The mother nervously answers and lets them in, but is surprised to see the caliph and nervously asks if everything is ok. Umar asks to speak with her daughter. The mother then brings her out. Umar explains to both of them that he overheard their exchange from the night before (the mother starts panicking, but Umar tells her to calm down but never to repeat such a sin again) and that he proposes that such a righteous woman (the daughter) marry his son if she would be willing. The daughter approves.

The next scene goes to Ctesiphon and Yazdgard III is in his bedchambers with his new wife/concubine (?) and is expressing both his happiness about his newly-acquired position as emperor but also a certain sadness about having now been cut off from the rest of the world. However, he expresses delight at his new-found power and authority and states that he feels invincible and larger-than-life. In Medina, Umar is sitting in his house and two men are brought before him (one plaintiff and one defendant). He opens by praying to God that he will judge justly between them and asks the plaintiff to explain his grievance. The issue is essentially a land dispute. In the end, Umar judges in favor of the man who was wronged (the plaintiff). The next set of people to come into the room are a group of young men and an older individual. The latter explains that they stole one of his camels. Umar asks if this is true and the men reply in the affirmative. Umar asserts that it is then only just to apply the legally-prescribed punishment upon them. However, he first asks what they did with the camel. They say that they slaughtered it, ate from it, and distributed the remainder of the meat. The caliph asks what drove them to do this. They respond: hunger. Umar is shocked and explains that he will certainly not apply any punishments against these people.

A few scenes later, we are back at the siege of Damascus and Khalid ibn al-Walid and one of the other Muslim commanders are discussing strategy. Apparently, the day is one of a major Byzantine festival which involves a lot of drinking and Khalid suggests mounting an assault that night while the soldiers are drunk out of their minds. The next scene shows the Byzantines inside the city drinking and feasting. That night, as the soldiers inside the gates are rather drunk, the Muslims mount their assault by swinging ropes and ladders over the city walls. Khalid is among the first to infiltrate the city and fights the few guards at the eastern gate, Word reaches the city’s governor about this fact and he decides to surrender the city to Abu Ubayda in order to avoid the fate of a conquered people (according to the laws of war, surrendering cities were treated better than conquered ones). The next morning, the Muslims enter the city triumphantly. As Khalid and Abu Ubayda enter the palace in Damascus, they reaffirm the guarantee of safety for the people of Damascus and their property. Abu Sufyan then enters the city and expresses his wonder about the fulfillment of this event…he then expresses his desire to reside in the city. Khalid ibn al-Walid reminds him that the war for Syria is still far from over.

In Medina, Suhyal ibn Amr himself delivers the news to the caliph about the capture of Damascus. Umar expresses great joy and praises God. He then gathers all the prominent Muslims in a council in the mosque at Medina and tells them that, although the victory in Syria was welcome, the situation in Iraq was still dire. Umar explains that the stage is set for a major battle between the Persians and the Muslims in Iraq and, as such, he has ordered Khalid (and his army) as well as al-Qa’qa’ (and his army) to return to Iraq and rejoin al-Muthanna. Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas is to be appointed the supreme commander of Muslim forces in Iraq. The next scene goes to Ctesiphon where we are told that the massive Arab forces assembled (including Muslims from Syria, the Arabian Peninsula, and Medina) have encamped at al-Qadisiya. Yazdgard III expresses his exasperation that no Persian army has yet confronted them. The episode ends with him ordering them to set out to wage war against the Muslims encamped at al-Qadisiyya.

Review: This episode was done wonderfully as well! I was quite pleased that they brought in the story of the girl and her mother, the former whom eventually married the caliph’s son. Interestingly, it is from this couple whom the caliph Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz (d. 720) would be descended (on his maternal side), which makes it even more interesting that this was shown; for those interested, the daughter of the girl shown and Asim ibn Umar was Layla, who would become the mother of Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz. Focusing on this sequence also gave viewers an appreciation of why Umar ibn al-Khattab is renowned for his justice and wisdom, since he did not punish  the mother for her misdeed but, rather, rewarded the daughter for her own righteousness. Another scene I really appreciated was the court-case held in the presence of Umar in which he acquits the young men accused of stealing due to their hunger. I felt that this perfectly conveyed Umar’s commitment to justice and his astuteness in applying the law, considering ALL the specific circumstances involved in the case and not merely the crime and its prescribed punishment. Moreover, I thought they did a great job showing that Umar, although caliph, attended to legal matters himself.

Yazdgard III was represented quite well I thought. I liked how they emphasized his newly-acquired power and the effect that this had upon him. The final scene with him commanding his generals to go to war highlights his new conception of himself and his arrogance about his position as emperor. Again, I really appreciate that they devoted considerable attention to the internal developments within the Persian court, which allows the viewer to appreciate the dynamism and complexity of events. The capture of Damascus was shown really accurately. I was glad that they mentioned/showed that the city was both conquered by force and fell peacefully, but that the Muslims decided to recognize the latter condition even though a conquest-victory (‘anwatan) would have allowed them to seize the possessions and properties of the inhabitants, thereby enriching themselves. This emphasizes the Muslims’ mercy towards the people they conquered, as well as their realism…it wasn’t feasible for them to attract the enmity of a much-larger conquered population at a time when the conquests were still ongoing. Anyways, this historic fact of “the dual conquest” of Damascus is an important one for the later history of the city (Khalid’s forcible entry into the city was used by later generations to justify the full seizure of the Church of St. John which was then transformed into the Umayyad Mosque) and is mentioned in all the historical accounts.

Finally, I was intrigued by the inclusion of the discussion following the fall of Damascus between Khalid ibn al-Walid and Abu Sufyan. Abu Sufyan declares his joy that God’s promise has been fulfilled and the Quraysh have now become “kings” in the lands of Byzantium, where they had once been looked down upon as members of a lesser civilization; Khalid reminds him that they are servants of God and not kings or princes. Abu Sufyan tells him to use whatever word he wishes. The latter also expresses his desire to settle in Syria along with his sons Yazid and Mu’awiyah. Thus, we see the roots of the Umayyad dynasty (which would rule the Islamic world from 661 to 750…and until 1031 in Iberia) being planted in the city of Damascus. It also shows that, from the writers’ perspective, Abu Sufyan, although now a convert, was still very much animated by some of the forces of jahiliyya (tribal pride, love of power/wealth).

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Review:


2 Comments

  1. ballandalus says:

    It should be there shortly. After writing synopsis/reviews for 3 episodes in a row, I ran out of steam haha

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