The First of the Four: Caliph Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq (Part 2)


The second installment of a new series on the lives of the first four Rightly Guided Caliphs of Islam. The first part of this series was published in the April 2015 issue of Young Muslim Digest.

The second of the two, almost always remained the second of the two at Madinah. If one was looking for Abu Bakr, he could as well locate the Prophet. He was there in every battle with him. He was there with him in the little hut constructed for him at Badr, and when the Prophet’s desperate supplication became noticeably long, he said, “Enough, O Messenger of Allah, Allah will keep His promise.” Down in the battlefield, he remained close to the Prophet’s side to defend any attack on him. When his son, `Abd al-Rahman, a courageous young man challenged the Muslims in a dual, Abu Bakr decided to take him on, but the Prophet prevented him. Later he remarked to his son that had he come in his range he would have surely killed him. When it came to dealing with the prisoners, he showed his softer side by recommending that they be spared their lives. `Umar, who had by then become the third of the three, had recommended what the Divine wish had been: do away with them all. At Uhud Abu Bakr was there with the Prophet at the top of the hill of refuge, as also by his side in the Hunayn battle, (along with the third of the three). The campaigns called Hamra’ al-Asad, Banu Nadir, BanuMustaliq, BanuQurayzah, Khayber and others all saw him giving company. He was asked to lead the onslaught on BanuFuzarah, while in that of Dhat al-Salasil, he and `Umar both were placed under the much younger `Amr ibn al-`As, who was hardly 20 then. Surely, the Prophet had trained his followers to remain true whether as leaders or as followers.

Abu Bakr was the second of the two at Hudaybiyyah. When the Prophet struck the famous Treaty, on what everyone thought, humiliating terms, everyone was upset but Abu Bakr.

“Is he not a true Prophet?” `Umar asked in anger and frustration. “Of course,” answered Abu Bakr. “Are we not on the Truth, and our enemy on falsehood?” persisted `Umar. “Of course,” Abu Bakr replied. “Then, why should we take it lying low in an affair involving our religion?” asked `Umar. Abu Bark replied, “Man. He is a Messenger of Allah. He will not disobey Him. He is his Helper. Therefore, hold fast unto him for, by Allah, he is upon the Truth.”

Only twice did `Umar proved truer than Abu Bakr. He advised the Prophet to slaughter the pagans taken prisoners at Badr. The revelation went in his favor. The Prophet and Abu Bakr were in tears, and the former said, “Allah’s punishment was as close as that tree, for us having decided to spare the lives of the prisoners.” The second occasion was when `Umar suggested after thousands got killed during the “riddah war” that the Qur’anic revelations be collected together before the rest of the memorizers are also picked up by death. Abu Bakr hesitated to do “something the Prophet had not done.” But `Umar persisted. Even Zayd ibn Thabit, when asked to do the job remarked in astonishment, “How can you do what the Prophet did not do?” [The Qur’anic revelations were already there from the time of the Prophet, inscribed on a variety of writing material. Zayd’s job was to re-write from the same from the memory of two Companions of the Prophet and perhaps collate it with the written material].

The Tabuk expedition once again revealed a hidden part of Abu Bakr. He was a generous man alright, but to what extent? The Prophet appealed for funds: it was peak summer time, a few dry years had already been, and economic activity was low. Having brought half his wealth, that was one time `Umar thought he could outdo Abu Bakr. But when the Prophet asked Abu Bakr what he had brought, the reply came, “I have (emptied the house) leaving behind Allah’s and His Messenger’s names.” `Umar promised himself that he shall never again attempt to outdo the second of the two. Yet another hidden part of Abu Bakr’s character remained hidden throughout his life: interpretation of dreams. `A’isha dreamt that three moons had fallen into her house. When the Prophet was buried in her house, he told `A’isha, “That was your (first) moon.” And, true enough, he himself and `Umar proved to be the second and third moons to be buried in her house.

Tabuk expedition was followed by the conquest of Makkah. When Abu Sufyan arrived at Madinah, seeking to renew the treaty after the Makkans broke it by helping their ally Banu Bakr in their slaughter of Khuza`ah, an ally of the Prophet, he found Abu Bakr an angry man. He told him point blank: “By Allah! If I find a little ant fighting against you, I shall help it.” Abu Sufyan had no audience. The Prophet had already decided to march against Makkah. Victory followed and the next year, 9H, Abu Bakr was deputed by the Prophet to lead in Hajj: to set right the Pilgrimage rituals before the Prophet would come down the next year, and an indication of who would lead the Muslims after his death. He had given other indications too. When a woman asked him who they were to refer to if he was dead, the Prophet answered, “If you do not find me, go to Abu Bakr.” He ordered before his death that doors of all houses opening into the courtyard of his mosque were to be closed except that of Abu Bakr. Indeed, history has recorded one of the strangest of episodes. Some harsh words were exchanged between Abu Bakr and `Umar. Abu Bakr felt sorry and followed `Umar to his house. But `Umar, too angry, closed the door in his face. Abu Bakr repaired to the Prophet’s assembly and narrated the story. He was very upset. Abu Bakr knelt before him and said, “Messenger of Allah, it was my mistake.” But the Messenger’s face had turned crimson in anger. He said, “Will you not spare me Abu Bakr? When people said, “You have lied,” he said, “You have spoken the truth.”

The Prophet’s quick demise was quite unexpected. He had fallen ill, nothing strange in the cold climate of Madinah. When it prolonged and he grew pretty weak, he appointed Abu Bakr to lead in the Prayers. At the hour of his death, Abu Bakr was with his wife Habibah among the Banu Kharijah quarters in a place called Sunh, north-east of Madinah, a km and a half away, perhaps because a little earlier, the Prophet’s recovery had brought sighs of relief to all around him. `Umar was one of those who could not come about to believing that the Prophet was dead. He unsheathed his sword promising to strike anyone who said he was dead. He thought he would come back. When Abu Bakr arrived, he went straight to the dead body, uncovered the face, kissed it and said, “How beautiful, dead and alive!” Then he entered the mosque to encounter `Umar. He told him, “Take it easy.” (What a thing to say in a situation when the least affected by the death was too stunned to know where he stood!). Then he climbed the pulpit and said, “People, whoever worshipped Muhammad should know that he is dead, while whoever worshipped Allah, should know that He is Alive. He does not die.” `Umar collapsed.

To the senior Companions the Ummah came before the burial of the Prophet. The Ansar gathered in the courtyard of BanuSaa`idah to ponder over the suggestion that they may choose one of theirs to succeed the Prophet as the head of the State. Being in majority, it was natural for them to think that the new leader should be from among them. But Abu Bakr knew the Arabs better than they. Earlier, the Prophet had known the Arabs better than they. He had remarked, “The Arabs will never accept a leader other than one of the Quraysh.” Abu Bakr followed them along with `Umar and reminded them of the statement. `Umar saw that the full impact of the Prophet’s words was not being appreciated. There were talks of two-party system: a term for the Muhajiroon and a term for the Ansar. He saw the danger that further discussions promised. He got up and made the irrefutable statement: “None of us will dare lead a people among whom is Abu Bakr.” Everyone agreed. Then he turned to Abu Bakr and said, “Stretch your hand.” When he did, he bore allegiance to his leadership. The rest rushed on without any demur, rather, quite gladly.

The affair was then taken to the mosque and the oath of loyalty extended to the senior Companions there. There was none who would disagree and there was none who did not present himself. `Ali, the Prophet’s son-in-law and cousin was an exception. But he was tending his wife, the Prophet’s grief-stricken daughter, Fatimah. He swore allegiance later. When somebody addressed Abu Bakr as the Khalifatullah, he retorted: “I am not Allah’s Khalifah. I am Khalifah (follower) of the Messenger of Allah.” His first sermon will remain in the history pages until history lasts. No ruler ever uttered such words after being elected to rule: “People! I have been appointed to lead you although I am not the best of you. If I do well, help me; if not, straighten me up. The weak among you is strong for me until I have rendered his rights to him; and the strong among you is weak for me until I have relinquished from him the rights of others on him.” On another occasion he said, “I never aspired to take on the leadership. I accepted it only because I feared strife and discord. I have been charged with a tremendous task which I will never be able to fulfill unless Allah helps me on; although I wish a stronger person (meaning `Umar) could take over.”

The Prophet’s death brought out the steel hidden within Abu Bakr. No leader in history has faced the kind of daunting tasks Abu Bakr faced; and no leader solved them as quickly and efficiently as he did In `A’isha’s words, “Had the troubles that descended upon Abu Bakr, descended upon a mountain, it would have cracked.” The great majority of the Arabian Peninsula had embraced Islam just a year or so earlier. For many, it was more of a political submission to the Prophet, which did not contradict their religious submission to him. The religious submission remained, but the political submission was for his times. A second class (lovers of the glorious Jahiliyy period) thought the other way round. Religious submission was due only to the Prophet. After his death, they were not obliged to remain true to Islam. A third class assumed that Islam was the name of rituals; therefore, payment of Zakah was not a religious obligation. These were in great numbers. A fourth class was of those who were never true Muslims. If they had submitted politically or religiously, it was by the force of circumstances. With changed circumstances, the time had come for them to express their true inner feelings. A fifth category was of those apostates who fell victim to the influence of left-over Jews, Christians, Magians, Zoarastrians and others. A sixth class was composed of those who followed a few opportunistic false prophets that were waiting for a catastrophe to befall Madinah. The Prophet’s death was one, and a good one. A seventh and eighth setback came from within the sparse Muslim community at Madinah. They were against Usama’s army marching out to Syria under those dangerous circumstances. They were also opposed to any action against the six classes of apostates mentioned above. Abu Bakr was in the minority in his policy of confrontation against all those who had rebelled against the state as well as sending out Usama’s army. The minority party facing the six classes of opposition consisted of as many people as one, and that one was Abu Bakr.

The Prophet had felt the threat from the Romans in the north. A couple of days before his death he was getting an army ready to face them off in their lands, rather than wait for them to advance. Usama ibn Zayd was to be the commander. Abu Bakr and `Umar had also been named as members of the army. Volunteers were reporting at the encampment at Jurf – a place outside Madinah – while logistic preparations were going on, when the Prophet fell ill and the marchers hung around in wait. At the Prophet’s death, When Abu Bakr assumed the reins Usama sent `Umar as his representative to Abu Bakr seeking his permission for him and the the army to return to Madinah. With no city safe except perhaps Madinah and Makkah, because of the in-coming reports of apostasy and rebellion against the Madinan authority, the Companions were unanimous that Zayd’s army – consisting of the best and most of Madinan men – should not leave. It would play a crucial role if the apostates attacked Madinah. But Abu Bakr was resolved on the army marching out. The only concession he made was that in view of the unanimous opposition, he held a meeting of the Muhajiroon and Ansar followed by a second one, but the matter could not be resolved. Abu Bakr could not win anyone to his cause. At last, he told them point blank that there was going to be no change in his resolve, even if it was certain that wild animals would drag their bodies in Madinah (after the apostates had killed them all). He also disagreed that in view of Usama’s youth (he was perhaps in the final days of his teens), he be replaced by one of the senior Companions. He said he was not going to depose someone appointed by the Prophet. The only change that he thought fit was to request Usamah to leave behind `Umar, to which of course Usama readily agreed.

Following the Prophetic practice, he went to the army to say farewell; and following the Prophetic habit, walked by Usama’s horse, giving him the final instructions while Usama remained mounted. On that occasion, he also addressed the army saying: “People, listen: Never be treacherous (to anyone), nor in matters involving the booty, nor yet be deceptive (in any way). Do not mutilate, do not cut down a fruit-bearing tree, and do not disturb those in monasteries who have dedicated their lives to worship. Go on now, to the places designated for you by the Prophet and turn not back without accomplishing what he wished you to accomplish.”

It was a brilliant move in the heavens and a brilliant move on the land. When Usama’s army, though modest it was, appeared at the Syrian borders of the Roman empire, they could not believe their eyes. To be there to face the Roman might even as the Prophet’s body was not yet cold, spoke of their strength, resolve and confidence. The Christian Arabs of the area were no less impressed and became easy fodder for Usama’s army when they attacked them in Quda`ah and Aabil area. The Muslim army was rewarded with great amount of booty, loaded with which, and having planted awe in the hearts of the enemy, they returned to Madinah in forty days time. The victorious return not only drove fear into the hearts of the Romans – who were earlier planning to invade Muslim lands – but it also planted fear into the hearts of the apostates spread all over the Peninsula, at a time when, in actual fact, the state at Madinah hardly had a tenth of comparable material and manpower to defend itself from an attack by either. Following the Prophetic Sunnah had fetched tremendous results.

Meanwhile, Musaylimah, the Liar (in the Yemen), Tulayha ibn Khuwaylad, who was originally a soothsayer, but also a poet, an eloquent speaker, and courageous (all the qualities Arabs admired, and hence of great influence in Tayy, Asad, Ghatafan and Fuzarah); and Sajah the Christian pious woman who aspired to be a Prophetess (for her piety) and who ultimately declared herself one, were gathering strength. Taking cue from them, `Uyayna ibn Hussayn, chief of the Ghatafan and BanuAsad (of the central area and Najad) declared that after the Prophet’s death the two tribes will not accept any Prophet but one from among themselves and so decided to follow Tulayha. Initially, Tulayha (as well as a few others) sent delegations to Abu Bakr announcing that he would not pay any Zakah. Abu Bakr declared that he would fight them. The Companions thought that that was not the time to fight and so they be given a free rein for a while. But Abu Bakr remarked, “Will the religion of Allah suffer damage while I am alive?” When `Umar also asked him to go a bit slow, he taunted him: “Were you strong in pre-Islamic days to have become a coward now?” That was perhaps the last time `Umar would disagree with him. The delegates had closely observed Madinah. Its weakness was apparent to them. But somebody else had looked into their eyes and seen what could be expected of them. After they had left, having experienced an uncompromising attitude, Abu Bakr spoke to the Madinans: “The delegates have perceived weakness in us, and I believe the apostates will attack us sooner than we expect them to destroy the Khilafah lock, stock and barrel.”

He took the following steps: The Madinans were to spend their nights in the Prophet’s mosque, to be readily available at any given moment; women and children were moved to safe areas of the town; (this was the time the wisdom of the Prophet was realized who had expelled two of the three tribes of the Jews of Madinah, while a third had to be obliterated for its treachery); groups of guards were placed at various entry points of the city and a battle-hardened person was placed over every group: `Ali, Talha, Zubayr, Ibn Mas`ud and others of that caliber. With his updated knowledge which informed him that some of the surrounding tribes (Aslam, Ghifar, Muzaynah, Ashja`, Juhaynah and others) had not turned apostates, he sent word for reinforcement to Madinah. In hours Madinan streets and lanes were filled with soldiers and their camels and horses, Juhayna alone contributing 400 soldiers. Incredibly aware that even among the apostate tribes there were people who had remained true to Islam, although concealing their faith, Abu Bakr got in touch with them to assure them of his succor. Those days he wrote a moving letter to the Makkans: “Will you be the last to enter into Islam and the first to leave?” Makkans anyway, had never thought of treason. He who was an expert at the genealogical and political connections of the tribes, also wrote to the Governors of those tribes that had not abandoned Islam to immediately start wars against adjacent apostate tribes. It was another brilliant move. The engagement of distant tribes in local battles prevented them from sending forces against Madinah.

True to Abu Bakr’s sight penetrating into the eyes of the delegates, it was not three days but apostate tribes close to Madinah began an assault on the city. An advance party marched on Madinah with more resourceful reinforcements stationed a few miles at the rear. When Abu Bakr was informed of the approaching forces, he gathered all those in the Grand Mosque and led them out. The advance party had not expected a larger party than theirs to emerge out of Madinah. Moreover, they were facing men who had fought at Badr and Uhud. Soon they were routed. Muslim forces chased them right up to the places where their rearguards were stationed. But traps were laid for their camels there, and catastrophe would have befallen if they had not extricated themselves somehow. Having escaped without any loss of life, the Muslim army thought it best to return to Madinah. The apostates saw weakness in the escape and decided to launch another assault on Madinah, strengthened by reinforcements that arrived from Tulayha. But they were no match to Abu Bakr’s courage and brilliance. He assembled an army at night and marching out of Madinah by the same night struck terror into the hearts of Tulayha’s followers at DhiHussa by attacking them before dawn. The enemy had not expected the Muslims to escape back to Madinah by the evening, and attack them before dawn the next day. They fled leaving behind their dead, riding beasts, animals, and other booty, before dawn could break, carrying with them as their own booty Abu Bakr’s dread, while Abu Bakr chased them out until DhuQussah. They had carried with them a message. BanuTameem, BanuTayy and others read the message written on their faces and quietly sent their Zakah to the man of steel they had thought a mere womanish weeper (as some Orientalists have insinuated) while in the company of the Prophet. How little they had understood the full implications of Allah’s words: “The second of the two?”

Abu Bakr’s faith began to pay back. In the course of a few days, around a dozen tribes followed suit and expressed their submission and loyalty by sending their Zakah to Madinah. While this was going on, Usama returned. The goodly amount of booty that he had brought was distributed among all. Then, appointing Usama as his deputy at Madinah, Abu Bakr marched out with a small contingent, (although the Muslims pleaded that he should not be risking the life of the Ummah which seemed to be hanging by his life). He ignored the advice and went as far as Dhu Qussah to chase the apostate tribes out into the fields and mountains, some of whom went and joined their CEO, Tulayha, who had by then advanced into the lands of the Banu Asad.


(To be continued)