Amr ibn al-Aas – The First Muslim Leader of Egypt

Amr ibn al-Aas - The First Muslim Leader & Conqueror of Egypt
Amr ibn al-Aas – The First Muslim Leader of Egypt

Amr ibn al-Aas: The Conqueror of Egypt

Amr ibn al-Aas was an Arab general and companion of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad S.A.W. He led the successful Muslim conquest of Egypt in 639-642 CE on behalf of the Rashidun Caliphate, becoming the first Muslim governor of Egypt.

Early Life and Conversion to Islam

Amr ibn al-Aas was born in Mecca around 583 CE into the Banu Sahm clan of the Quraysh tribe. Before his conversion to Islam, he was known in Mecca as a shrewd merchant and talented poet.

In 629 CE, Amr reluctantly converted to Islam after years of resisting Muhammad’s preaching. Some accounts suggest his conversion was pragmatic, aiming to spare his lucrative trading enterprises from plunder by Muslim raiders. Over time, however, Amr became a committed Muslim warrior and leader.

Military Campaigns Under Muhammad and Abu Bakr R.A

After converting to Islam, Amr participated in many early Muslim military campaigns, including the decisive Battle of Tabuk against the Byzantine Empire in 630 CE. He gained a reputation as an expert military strategist and commander.

When the Islamic prophet Muhammad S.A.W Passed away in 632 CE, Amr pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr R.A as the new caliph and military leader of the fledgling Muslim community. Under Abu Bakr R.A., Amr helped lead successful incursions against the Byzantine Empire in Syria and Palestine.

Appointment as Commander of the Egyptian Campaign

When the second caliph Umar R.A came to power in 634 CE, he appointed Amr ibn al-Aas to lead a campaign to conquer the Byzantine province of Egypt. Umar R.A likely chose Amr due to his military brilliance and deep knowledge of Byzantine territories gained from years of trading trips.

At the time, Egypt was the Byzantine Empire’s wealthiest province and a critical grain source. Conquering Egypt would greatly empower the new Muslim state economically and strategically. Amr enthusiastically took up the challenge, gathering an elite force of some 4,000 Arab warriors.

The Arab Invasion and Siege of Babylon Fortress

In December 639 CE, Amr and his army crossed into Egypt, defeating scattered Byzantine forces near the coastal town of El-Arish Egypt. They then advanced down the Nile Delta toward the fortified Byzantine stronghold of Babylon, near modern-day Cairo.

The Arabs laid siege to the fortress city for several months, facing fierce Byzantine resistance. Finally, through shrewd diplomacy, Amr persuaded the Coptic Christian Egyptians living under Byzantine rule to aid his forces. In April 641 CE, the Arabs conquered Babylon after seven months of siege warfare.

Campaign Culminates in Surrender of Alexandria Egypt

With the fall of Babylon/Fustat, Amr now controlled much of the Nile Delta region. However, Alexandria – the capital of Byzantine Egypt – remained unconquered, protected by its massive walls and naval reinforcements from Constantinople.

Over the next year, Amr R.A systematically extended Muslim control southward along the Nile toward Alexandria. Finally, in September 642 CE, Alexandria’s leaders surrendered the city to Amr to avoid further bloodshed. This marked the end of over six centuries of Greco-Roman rule in Egypt.

Amr Consolidates Muslim Rule as Governor of Egypt

With the conquest of Egypt complete, Umar R.A appointed Amr ibn al-Aas R.A as the first Muslim governor of Egypt, responsible for establishing stable rule. Amr centralized the administration at the newly-founded Fustat and skillfully incorporated Egypt’s pre-existing bureaucracy. He also let the Coptic Christian majority retain some autonomy.

As governor until 646 CE, Amr instituted the jizya tax on non-Muslims and permitted religious freedom for monotheists. He initiated public works projects like the famous Mosque of Amr ibn al-Aas R.A, Masjid Amr, which remains Cairo’s oldest mosque. Within his first years of rule, half of Egypt had converted to Islam.

Final Years as Governor of Palestine

In 646 CE, likely fearing Amr had grown too powerful, Umar’s successor Uthman R.A replaced Amr R.A as governor of Egypt. However, Amr remained highly influential, with sources suggesting he played a pivotal role in Uthman’s selection as caliph.

Uthman later appointed Amr as governor of Palestine, where he quelled unrest in Jerusalem until he was deposed again in 654 CE due to political intrigue. Amr then retired to Medina but continued advising Uthman until the caliph’s assassination in 656 CE amid civil wars over succession.

Legacy as Conqueror of Egypt

Despite his final years mired in political conflicts, Amr ibn al-Aas R.A remains best remembered as the brilliant general who commanded the successful Muslim conquest of Roman Egypt. This campaign marked the first major expansion of the Islamic caliphate beyond the Arabian Peninsula.

The conquest also initiated Egypt’s gradual conversion to a predominantly Muslim society, as well as its transition from a Roman province to the center of multiple Islamic dynasties over the ensuing centuries of Arab rule. For these pivotal contributions, Amr earned his lofty reputation as “The Conqueror of Egypt.”


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