In 641, Ayadh bin Ghanam died. In this year, too, died Bilal the Muazzin and Khalid’s defeated foe, Heraclius, Emperor of Rome. The following year it was Khalid’s turn to go.
Some time in 642 (21 Hijri), at the age of 58, Khalid was taken ill. We do not know the nature of his illness, but it was a prolonged one and took the strength out of him. As with all vigorous, active men upon whom an inactive retirement is suddenly thrust, Khalid’s health and physique had declined rapidly. This last illness proved too much for him; and Khalid’s sick bed became his death bed. He lay in bed, impatient and rebellious against a fate which had robbed him of a glorious, violent death in battle. Knowing that he had not long to live, it irked him to await death in bed.
A few days before his end, an old friend called to see him and sat at his bedside. Khalid raised the cover from his right leg and said to his visitor, “Do you see a space of the span of a hand on my leg which is not covered by some scar of the wound of a sword or an arrow or a lance?”
The friend examined Khalid’s leg and confessed that he did not. Khalid raised the cover from his left leg and repeated his question. Again the friend agreed that between the wounds farthest apart the space was less than a hand’s span.
Khalid raised his right arm and then his left, for a similar examination and with a similar result. Next he bared his great chest, now devoid of most of its mighty sinews, and here again the friend was met with a sight which made him wonder how a man wounded in so many places could survive The friend again admitted that he could not see the space of one hand span of unmarked skin.
Khalid had made his point. “Do you not see?” he asked impatiently. “I have sought martyrdom in a hundred battles. Why could I not have died in battle?”
“You could not die in battle”, replied the friend.
“You must understand, O Khalid,” the friend explained, “that when the Messenger of Allah, on whom be the blessings of Allah and peace, named you Sword of Allah, he predetermined that you would not fall in battle. If you had been killed by an unbeliever it would have meant that Allah’s sword had been broken by an enemy of Allah; and that could never be.”
Khalid remained silent, and a few minutes later the friend took his leave. Khalid’s head could see the logic of what his visitor had said, but his heart still yearned for a glorious death in combat. Why, oh why could he not have died a martyr in the way of Allah!
On the day of his death, Khalid’s possessions consisted of nothing more than his armour and weapons, his horse and one slave-the faithful Hamam. On his last day of life he lay alone in bed with Hamam sitting in patient sorrow beside his illustrious master. As the shadows gathered, Khalid put all the torment of his soul into one last, anguished sentence: “I die even as a camel dies. I die in bed, in shame. The eyes of cowards do not close even in sleep.”
Thus died Khalid, son of Al Waleed, the Sword of Allah. May Allah be pleased with him!
The news of Khalid’s death broke like a storm over Madinah. The women took to the streets, led by the women of the Bani Makhzum, wailing and beating their breasts. Umar had heard the sad news and now heard the sounds of wailing. He was deeply angered. On his very first day as Caliph, he had given orders that here would be no wailing for departed Muslims. And there was logic in Umar’s point of view. Why should we weep for those who have gone to paradise? the blissful abode promised by Allah to the Faithful! Umar had enforced the order, at times using his whip.
Umar now heard sounds of wailing. He stood up from the floor of his room, took his whip and made for the door. He would not permit disobedience of his orders; the wailing must be stopped at once! He got to the door, but there he paused. For a few silent moments the Caliph stood in the doorway, lost in thought. This was, after all, no ordinary death; this was the passing away of Khalid bin Al Waleed. Then he heard the sounds of mourning from the next house-his own daughter, Hafsa, widow of the Holy Prophet, was weeping for the departed warrior.
Umar turned back. He hung up his whip and sat down again. In this one case he would make an exception. “Let the women of the Bani Makhzum say what they will about Abu Sulaiman, for they do not lie”, said the Caliph. “Over the likes of Abu Sulaiman weep those who weep.”
In Emessa, to the right of the Hama Road, stretches a large, well-tended garden which has lawns studded with ornamental trees and flower beds and is traversed by footpaths. At the top end of the garden stands the Mosque of Khalid bin Al Waleed. It is an imposing mosque, with two tall minarets rising from its north-western and north-eastern corners. The inside of the mosque is spacious, about 50 yards square, its floor covered with carpets and the ceiling upheld by four massive columns. Each of the four corners of the ceiling is formed as a dome, but the highest dome is in the centre, at a considerable height, and from this dome several chandeliers are suspended by long metal chains. In the north-west corner of the mosque stands Khalid’s shrine-the last resting place of Abu Sulaiman.
The visitor walks up the garden, crosses the courtyard of the mosque, takes off his shoes and enters the portals. As he enters, he sees to his right the shrine of Khalid. The actual grave is enveloped by an attractive domed marble structure which gives the impression of a little mosque within the larger one. The visitor, if so inclined, says a prayer and then loses himself in contemplation of the only man who ever carried the title of the Sword of Allah.
And if the visitor knows something about Khalid and his military achievements, he lets his imagination wander and pictures of an attack by Khalid flicker through his mind. He sees a long, dark line of horsemen emerge from behind a rise in the ground and charge galloping at a body of Roman troops. The cloaks of the warriors fly behind them and the hooves of their horses pound the earth pitilessly. Some carry lances; others brandish swords; and the Romans standing in the path of the charge tremble at the sight of the oncoming terror, for they are standing in the way of the Mobile Guard, whom none may resist and survive to tell the tale. The line of charging horsemen is not straight, for it is impossible to keep it straight at such a mad, reckless pace. Every man strives to get ahead of his comrades and be the first to clash with the infidel; strives to get ahead of all but the Leader, for no one may, or possibly could, overtake the Leader.
The Leader gallops ahead of the Muslims. A large, broad-shouldered, powerfully-built man, he is mounted on a magnificent Arab stallion and rides it as if he were part of the horse. The loose end of his turban and his cloak flutter behind him and his large, full beard is pressed against his chest by the wind. His fierce eyes shine with excitement-with the promise of battle and blood and glory- the glory of victory or martyrdom. His coat of mail and the iron tip of his long lance glint in the clear sunlight, and the earth trembles under the thundering hooves of his fiery charger. Perhaps beside him rides a slim young warrior, naked above the waist.
The visitor sees all this with the eyes of his mind. And with the ears of his mind he hears, just before the Mobile Guard hurls itself at the Romans in a shattering clash of steel and sinew, the roar of Allah-o-Akbar as it issues from the throats of the Faithful and rends the air. And rising out of this roar, he hears the piercing cry of the Leader:
I am the noble warrior;
I am the Sword of Allah
Khalid bin Al Waleed!