Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA – Founder of The City of Basrah -Iraq.
Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA (عُتبة بن غَزْوان) was a well-known companion of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA was the seventh person to convert to Islam and participated in the hijrah to Abyssinia, but returned to stay with Muhammad in Mecca before making the second hijrah to Medina. He fought at the battle of Badr (624), the battle of Uhud (625), the Battle of the Trench (627) and many others, including the battles of Yamamah.
Family lineage of Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA b. Jabir b. Wahb b. Nusyab b. Malik b. al-Harith b. Maazin b. Mansur b. Ikrima. His Father Ghazwan b. Jabir, and his sibling Fakhitah bint Ghazwan, Basra bint Ghazwan. Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA was born in Makkah. Demised in 17 AH/639 CE in Basra, nowadays Iraq. Great Muslim military commander under Caliphate Saidina Umar Al Khattab RA. Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA is the founder of city Basra, he continued to live in a tent so as to strengthen his faith and not be seduced by soft living. The brotherhood was made between him and Abu Dujana RA.
|Illustration Only: A Governer who choose to stay in tent.|
During the Caliphate of Umar Al Khattab RA (r. 634–644), Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA commanded a force of 2,000 men in a campaign against Ablah which lasted from June through September 635. Once Ablah was occupied, Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA sent a force across the Tigris River which occupied the district of Furat, Baghdad Furat, followed by Meisan and Abarqubaz. Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA was soon appointed governor of Basra (Iraq) by the Caliphate Rashidin Saidina Umar Ibn Al Khattab RA. In 639 Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA left for the Hijaz to perform hajj and to request Caliphate Saidina Umar Ibn al Khattab RA to relieve him of his office as governor. Caliphate Umar Ibn Al Khattab RA refused, but while returning to Basra, Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA fell from his camel and died. He was succeeded by al-Mughirah ibn Shubah RA as governor.
How Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA first selected to the commander of Muslim army to capture Ablah and later appointed to the 1st Governor of Basra in Iraq;
Saidina Umar ibn al-Khattab RA, the head of the rapidly expanding Muslim State went to bed early just after the Salat al-Isha. He wanted to have a rest and feel refreshed for his nightly tour of inspection of the capital city which he often did incognito. Before he could all asleep however, the post from the outlying regions of the State arrived informing him that the Persian forces confronting the Muslims were proving especially difficult to subdue. They were able to send in reinforcements and supplies from many places to relieve their armies on the point of defeat. The letter urged Saidina Umar Ibn Al Khattab RA to send reinforcements and in particular it said: “The city of al- Ablah must be considered one of the most important sources providing men and material to the Persian forces under attack.” Saidina Umar Al Khattab RA decided then to dispatch an army to take the city of al-Ubullah and cut off its line of supplies to the Persian armies. His main problem was that he had so few men left with him in the city. That was because young men, men of maturity and even old men had gone out on campaigns far and wide in the path of Allah SWT, fi sabilillah.
|Illustration Only: The Persian Fortress of Ablah – captured
the Muslim Army under the command of
Saidina Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA.
In these circumstances Saidina Umar Ibn Al Khattab RA determined to follow the strategy which he knew and which was well-tried that is, to mobilize a small force and place it under the leadership of a strong and able commander. Saidina Umar Ibn Al Khattab RA considered, one after another the names of the individuals who were still with him, to see who the most suitable commander was. Finally, he exclaimed himself: “I have found him. Yes I have found him.” Saidina Umar Ibn Al Khattab RA then went back to bed: The person he had in mind was a well-known mujahid who had fought at Badr, Uhud, al-Khandaq and other battles. He had also fought in the terrible battles of Yamamah and emerged unscathed. He was in fact one of the first to accept Islam. He went on the first hijrah to Abyssinia but had returned to stay with Rasulullah SAW in Makkah. He then went on hijrah to Madinah. This tall and imposing companion of Rasulullah SAW was known for his exceptional skill in the use of spears and arrows.
When morning came, Saidina Umar Ibn Al Khattab RA called his attendants and said: “Call Utbah ibn Ghazwan for me,” Saidina Umar Ibn Al Khattab RA managed to put together an army of just over three hundred men and he appointed Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA as their commander with the promise that he would send reinforcements to him as soon as possible. When the army was assembled in ranks ready to depart, Umar al-Faruq stood before them bidding them farewell and giving instructions to his commander, Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA. He said: “Utbah, I am sending you to the land of al-Ubullah. It is one of the major fortresses of the enemy and I pray that Allah SWT helps you to take it. When you reach the city, invite its inhabitants to the worship of Allah SWT. If they respond to you, accept them (as Muslims). If they refuse, then take from them the Jiziyah. If they refuse to pay the Jiziyah then fight them… And fear Allah, O! Utbah, in the discharge of your duties. Beware of letting yourself become too haughty or arrogant for this will corrupt your hereafter. Know that you were a companion of the Messenger of Allah, May Allah bless him and grant him peace. Allah honored you through him after your being insignificant. He strengthened you through him after you were weak. You have become a commander with authority and a leader who must be obeyed. What a great blessing if this does not make you vain and deceive you and lead you to Jahannam. May God protect you and me from it.”
With this chastening advice and prayer, Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA and his army set off. Several women were in the army including his wife and the wives and sisters of other men. Eventually they reached a place called Qasbaa not very far from al- Ablah. It was called Qasbaa because of the abundance of reed-like stalks which grew there. At that point the army was absolutely famished. They had nothing to eat. When hunger gripped them, Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA ordered some of his men to go and search the land for something to eat. One of the men told the story of their search of food:
“While we were searching for something to eat, we entered a thicket and, lo and behold there were two large baskets. In one there were dates and in the other small white grains covered with a yellow husk. We dragged the baskets with the grain and said: “This is poison which the enemy has prepared for you. Don’t go near it all.” We went for the dates and began eating from it. While we were busy eating the dates, a horse which had broken loose from its tether went up to the basket of grain and began eating from it. By Allah, we seriously thought of slaughtering it before it should die (from the alleged poison) and benefit from its meat. However, its owner came up to us and said: “Leave it. I shall look after it for the night and if I feel that it is going to die, I will slaughter it.”
|The Companion of Rasulullah SAW|
In the morning we found the horse quite healthy with no sign of ill effects. My sister then said: ‘Yaa akhi, I have heard my father saying: Poison does not harm (food) if it is placed on fire and cooked well.’ We then took some of the grain, placed it in a pot and put it on a fire. After a short while my sister called out: ‘Come and see how it has become red and the husks have begun to separate leaving white grains.’ We placed the white grains in a large bowl and Utbah said to us: ‘Mention the name of Allah on it and eat it.’ We ate and found it exceedingly delicious and good. We learnt after that the grain was called rice.”
The army of Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA then went on to the fortified city of al- Ablah on the banks of the River Euphrates. The Persians used al-Ubullah as a massive arms depot. There were several fortresses in the city from which towers sprang. These were used as observation posts to detect any hostile movements outside the city. The city appeared to be impregnable. What chance had Utbah of taking it with such a small force armed with only swords and spears? A direct assault was obviously futile and so Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA had to resort to some stratagem. Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA had flags prepared which he had hung on spears. These he gave to the women and ordered them to march behind the army. Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA instructions to them then were: “When we get near to the city, raise the dust behind us so that the entire atmosphere is filled with it.”
|Illustration Only: People migrating to the greener
pasture of Basra. City founded by Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA
As they neared al-Ablah a Persian force came out to confront them, they saw the Muslims boldly advancing, the flags fluttering behind them and the dust which was being churned up and which filled the air around. They thought that the Muslims in front of the flags were merely the vanguard of the advancing army, a strong and numerous armies. They felt they would be no match for such a foe. They lost heart and prepared to evacuate the city. Picking up whatever valuables they could, they rushed to boats anchored on the river and abandoned their well-fortified city. Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA entered al-Ablah without losing any of his men. From this base he managed to bring surrounding towns and villages under Muslim control. When news spread of Utbah’s successes, and of the richness of the land he had occupied, many people flocked to the region in search of wealth and easy living.
Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA noted that many Muslims now inclined towards a comfort life and followed the ways and customs of the region and that this weakened their determination to continue struggling. Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA wrote to Saidina Umar ibn al-Khattab RA asking for permission to build the garrison town of Basrah. Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA described the locations he had chosen for the city and Saidina Umar Ibn Al Khattab RA gave his assent. Basrah lay between the desert and the ports of the Gulf and from this base expeditions were launched further east. The positioning of the town was for maximum military effectiveness (not merely to support an army of occupation).
Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA himself planned the city and built its first great masjid which was a simple enclosure, roofed over at one end and suitable for mass assemblies. From the mosque, Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA and his men went out on military campaigns. These men eventually settled on the land and built houses. Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA however did not build a house for himself but continued to live in a tent of cloth. Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA had seen how preoccupation with worldly possessions had caused many people to forget themselves and their real purpose in life. Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA had seen how men who not long ago knew no food better than rice boiled in their husks, getting accustomed to sophisticated Persian patisserie like fasludhanj and lawzinaj made with refined flour, butter, honey and nuts of various kinds to the point where they hankered after these things.
Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA was afraid that his din would be affected by his Dunya and he was concerned about his hereafter. Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA called men to the masjid of Basrah and addressed them thus: “O people! The Dunya will come to an end and you will be carried from it to an abode which will not wane or disappear. Go to it with the best of your deeds. I look back and see myself among the early Muslims with Rasulullah SAW. We had no food then apart from the leaves of trees and our lips would fester. One day I found a burdah. I tore it in two and shared it with Sad ibn Abi Waqqas RA. I made an aazar with one half and Sad ibn Abi Waqqas RA did the same with the other half. Here we are today. There is not one of us but he is an Amir of one of the garrison towns. I seek Allah’s protection lest I become great in my own estimation and little in the sight of Allah..” With these words Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA appointed someone else to stand in his place, and bade farewell to the people of Basrah.
It was the season of pilgrimage and Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA left to perform the Hajj. Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA then travelled to Madinah and there he asked Caliphate Umar Ibn Al Khattab RA to relieve him of the responsibility of governing the city. Caliphate Umar Ibn Al Khattab RA refused. Caliphate Umar Ibn Al Khattab RA could not easily dispense with a governor of the quality of Utbah and said to him: “You place your trusts and your responsibilities on my neck and then you abandon me to myself. No, by Allah, I shall never relieve you.” So Caliphate Umar Ibn Al Khattab RA prevailed upon him and commanded him to return to Basrah, Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA knew that he had to obey the Amir al-Muminin but he did so with a heavy heart. Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA mounted his camel and on his way he prayed
“O Lord, do not send me back to Basrah. O Lord, do not send me back to Basrah.” Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA had not gone far from Madinah when his camel stumbled. Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA fell and the injuries he sustained proved to be fatal.
We hear much about them, right? We learn from it in world history, nationally history and history subjects like that.
But today, I will tell you about the conqueror and founder of a city that bore lineages and scholars of Islam at their bests, a city that bore the likes of Ahmad Ibn Hanbal and Al Hassan Al Basri, the city of Basra in Iraq.
Did you know that the founder, the one who built the city of Basrah was actually a Sahabi, one of the best Muslim generals of Khair ul Qurun, ‘Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA.
During the Caliphate of ‘Umar Ibn Al Khattab RA on the 14th Hijrah, in obedience to the command of the Amir-ul-Muminin, he built a beautiful new city, Basra, on the banks of the river of Dajlah.
‘Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA, a tall and well-built, with radiant face and attractive personality, polished with good manners, abstinence and such a pious man, was among the greatest Mujahidin that Islam ever had.
Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA played a very active role in all the battles that Rasulullah SAW took part. Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA was the commander that Saidina Umar Ibn Al Khattab RA chose when Iranian forces from the city of Uballah were troubling the Muslims.
Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA was the Mujahid that was chosen upon thorough study as ‘Umar Ibn Al Khattab RA said: “This is a Mujahid who has played a very prominent role in the battles of Badr, Uhud, and Khandaq and in many others. His arrows and sword have never missed their aim. And he has also had the honor of migrating twice – to Ethiopia and to Al-Madinah. And he was among those first fortunate Muslims who accepted Islam.”
Eventually, after Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA was sent to Ablah together with 319 Mujahidin, they were given victory by Allah Azza WA Jall. They conquered cities and towns in Uballah, but this thought had troubled Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA as the overwhelming victory had deluded the Muslims of being lazy and they had begun to enjoy a layback life of idleness, ease and in comfort zone. The culture, habits and customs of the conquered people had started to influence the Muslims
|Illustration Only: The Kind Hearted and Pious Utbah Ibn Ghazwan.|
At this, he wrote a letter to the Caliph Umar Ibn Al Khattab RA requesting his permission to found a new city; he also pinpointed the site he had selected. Saidina Umar Ibn Al Khattab RA granted permission and the name proposed for the new city was Basra.
‘Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA drew up the plan for the new city. First a huge masjid was constructed. It became the center for all the work being carried out for the emergence of Islam as a great world power. Caravans used to be organized and sent from here for the purpose of Jihad. The Mujahidin built houses here for themselves, but their commander, Ibn Ghazwan, did not. After the construction of the city, Caliph ‘Umar Ibn Al Khattab RA appointed ‘Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA the first governor of Basra.
Indeed Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA was not only a successful general but also a simple and humble man who was known as a reformer as well. He realized that the Muslims who had settled in Basra had begun to care too deeply for things of this world. When Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA realized that the spiritual values of Islam were being endangered by the life of this world he gathered the people in the masjid and addressed them:
“O People! The life of this world is going to end. You will be transferred from here to a house, which will be yours forever. You will take with you only your good deeds. People, I have had the distinction of being among the first to accept Islam. At that time we used to eat the leaves of trees to survive and sometimes our mouths used to be full of sores and wounds because of this. Our poverty was such that often we had difficulty finding clothes to cover our bodies. One day I found a sheet, which I cut up into two. One I used to cover myself and the other I have to Sa’ad Ibn Abu Waqqas RA to use as a loin cloth. Today all of us are governors of some province or the other. I ask for Allah protection from the condition where I may think myself to be very great now, but in the sight of Allah I shall be considered very low.”
Then he appointed one among those present as his deputy and saying goodbye to them and left for Al-Madinah. When he went to the presence of Caliph ‘Umar Ibn Al Khattab RA, he handed in his resignation, Caliph Umar Ibn Al Khattab RA refused and ordered him to return to Basra.
On his way back, he kept praying: “O Allah please don’t take me back! O Allah please don’t take me back!”
Allah Azza WA Jall accepted his supplication and after a traveling a little distance from Al Madinah, his camel stumbled and ‘Utbah Ibn Ghazwan fell and died instantly and went on to meet his Creator the year 639.
And so we are reminded of this ayah:
“Come back to your Lord-well-pleased (yourself) and will pleasing (unto Him)!”
Also there is this amazing highlight on their way to Uballah that happened, their first ever encounter with rice,
The First Companion Who eat Rice.
Rice is our staple diet for many in South Asia and South East Asia. Rice is taken for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Rice is not the main form of meal for those in Europe so with the Arabs. Thus rice reminds me of about the first time Muslim Arab eats and taste rice. It is the Muslim Army under the commands of Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA taste and eats the rice for the first time among them- The Arab.
This story about the Muslim Army during the time Caliphate of ‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattab RA, there was an uprising coming from the Iranian forces that troubled the Muslim Ummah, so Saidina Umar Ibn Al Khattab RA sent 319 Mujahidin under the command of ‘Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA to capture Ablah.
On their journey, after passing over difficult terrain, they stumbled upon a very green and fertile spot near Uballah and encamped there. They didn’t have anything and when their hunger became unbearable, ‘Ibn Ghazwan sent some of his companions to look for something to eat.
One of them narrated:
“As we were walking along searching for something eatable, we entered a small grove. There we saw two earthen pots. One was filled with dates and the other one had small yellow grains in it. We picked up both of the pots and carried them to our Commander. One of our companions glanced at it and said they should be very careful, for it might be poisoned.
We all turned towards the dates and started eating them, one of the horses, meanwhile, broke his tether and went straight to the pot with grains, put his mouth in and started to eat them, and we waited if there would be any effect on the house and if it is poisoned we shall kill the horse as it might go on suffering. So we kept watch at night and when the morning came we saw that nothing had happened to the horse and it was fine!”
So, one of the wives of the Mujahidin said:
“I have heard my father saying that if poison is cooked, then the effect of the poison is neutralized.”
She then picked some grains and started to cook it, and then she pointed out that the husk was coming off from the grains, and white grains were appearing. To be able to check out the taste, it was placed on a bowl and was given to the general, he then said to try them, taking the name of Allah (Bismillah), and when he had tasted them, he found them to be delicious.
Later, we learnt that these grains were called rice and were the favorite food of the Far East.“
Note: This was the first ever encounter of these people with rice, like anyone of us, when it will be our first time to encounter something we would always be skeptical about it, but the thing to consider here is that the Sahabah RA were always careful before indulging into something, unlike most of us now, when it’s new, we always want to try it not minding what it can cause us.
Also, a point raised was that it’s clear how the leader, the Amir was the one who tasted and tried the food rather than making his people taste it, unlike how we do these days, we ask others to taste it for us, but during the Sahabah RA, their leaders were more concerned on how their people would be rather than for themselves.
And we pray that we may learn from the actions and good deeds of these great people and in return we may think before we take actions.
Such a pious man was he, and we pray that we get inspired and motivated from his story and learn more about these great people of Islam.
Selected Hadiths Attributed and Narrated by Utbah Ibn Ghazwan RA.
Found In: Sunan Ibn Majah Chapter No: 19, the Chapters on Pawning
Hadith no: 2445
Narrated: Salim bin Hayyan
I heard Abu Hurairah say: “I grew up an orphan, and I emigrated as a poor man, and I was hired by the daughter of Ghazwan in return for food and a turn riding the camel. I would gather firewood for them when they stopped to camp and urge their camels along for them by singing when they rode. Praise is to Allah (SWT) who has caused His religion to prevail and has made Abu Hurairah an Imam.” Sahih
Found In: At-Tabarani said in Mu’jamul Kabir (10/267): Tawassul
O Slaves of Allah!
إذا انفلتت دابة أحدكم بأرض فلاة فليناد يا عباد الله احبسوا علي ، فإن لله في الأرض حاضراً سيحبسه عليكم
When one loses his means of transport in a (deserted) land, he should call: “O slaves of Allah! Help me recover (my transport)” for there are many of Allah’s attendants on this earth. They will help you recover it.
At-Tabarani said in Mu’jamul Kabir (10/267):
What At-Tabrani transmitted in his Mu’jamul Kabir (17/117) through the route of Abdur Rahman Ibn Sharik whos said his father related from Abu Abdullah Ibn Isa from Yazid Ibn Ali from Utbah Ibn Ghazwan from the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم that he said:
‘When one of you loses something or desires assistance while in a land where no person of assistance (is available) he should say “O slaves of Allah! Assist me; help me” for indeed Allah has many slaves who we do not see’ [At-Tabarani added:] and this has been acted upon.
I say: The chain contains Daif (weakness) and inqita’.
Al-Hafiz Al-Haythami said in Al-Majma’uz Zawaid (10/132): ‘At-Tabrani narrated it and its narrators have been declared reliable although there is weakness in some of them; except that, Zayd Ibn Ali did not meet Utbah’. 
Al-Hafiz (Ibn Hajar) restricted (his comments) on it defects to (pointing out) the inqita’ (and not mentioning the weakness of the narrators) in Takhrij Al-Adhkar saying ‘At-Tabrani transmitted it with a munqati’ (discontinued) chain from Utbah Ibn Ghazwan, as a marfu’ (traceable i.e. to the Prophetصلى الله عليه وسلم) narration’