The First of the Four: Caliph Abu Bakr al-Siddiq (Part-3)

caliphs

In a matter of a few months, Abu Bakr (ra) was able to cleanse the lands of Arabia of the corrupt elements, and restore the rest to the path of Islam. With his brilliant strokes, personal piety and firm faith, he saved not only the day for Islam but won millions back to Islam.

A short while later, Abu Bakr organized eleven battalions to head towards various parts of the land, leaving no area escape attention. They were headed by: (1) Khalid ibn Walid (towards Tulayah, and, when finished with him, towards Malik ibn Nuwayrah in Butaah), (2) `Ikrimah ibn abiJahal (the arch infidel Abu Jahal’s son to the arch infidel, Musaylimah the Liar), (3) Al-Muhajir ibn Abu Umayyah to the forces of Ansi and others and then proceed to Kindah in Hadrmwat, (4) Khalid ibn Sa`id (to the Syrian Highlands), (5) `Amr ibn al-`Aas (towards Quda`ah and Wadi`ah), (6) Hudhayfah ibn Muhsin (to the people of Dabbaa’), (7) Arafjah ibn Haythanah (to Maharah), (8) Shurahbil ibn Hasanah (to follow `Ikrimah ibn abiJahal, and then to Khuza`ah lands), (9) Ma`an ibn Hajiz (to BanuSulaym and their allies from among the Hawazin), (10) Suwayd ibn Muqrin (to Tihamah) and (11) `Alaa’ ibn Hadrami (towards Bahrayn [today’s eastern province of Saudi Arabia]).

Abu Bakr left no room for doubt that he had declared war on Arabia. He sent his troops with the instruction to accept the Islam of anyone who declared his Islam, but the rest, put them to the sword. If any of the apostates repented, his repentance was to be accepted, and his tenure in Islam was to be made easy, but if he refused, he was to be done away with mercilessly, and his women and children taken slaves.

`Adiyy ibn Hatim had been sent in an advance party. He was able to win back two major tribes before Khalid ibn Waleed could strike. When he arrived, a fierce battle took place which the apostates lost ultimately. `Uyayna ibn Hisn was there with his 700 men. But when, upon repeated request, Tulayha could not summon down Jibril, and the battle seemed to be lost, `Uyayna cried out to his men, bitterly, “Leave the battlefield, O men. This is a liar.” Tulayha fled to Syria on a horse along with his wife advising anyone he came across to do the same. There he learnt of Asad and Ghatafan returning to Islam, so he too renounced his Prophethood and re-entered into Islam. It was at the end of Abu Bakr’s caliphate, some two years later, that Tulayha intending an `Umrah passed by Madinah. Abu Bakr was informed, but he refused any action on grounds that he was now a Muslim. Sajah too had fled to Syria. She is said to have embraced Islam during the reign of Mu`awiyyah, some four decades after Abu Bakr.

Having dispatched his several forces marching out in several directions, placing Khalid ibn al-Waleed as the overall commander, Abu Bakr kept himself – almost hour by hour – abreast of their movements, actions and results of their assaults. His deep knowledge of the Arabian tribes spread all over the Peninsula, and his network of news-carriers which carried back and forth messages at a pretty fast pace, set him at an advantageous position. He commandeered them with great skill. But that was not all the action from Abu Bakr. Yemen being a large province, he wrote to the Muslims there, situated as minorities dominated by the men of Musaylimah, Aswal al-Anasi, the hypocrite Qays, and others, to form groups within the tribes and wait for the opportune moment. When it arrived, they were to gather together under one of the several leaders nominated by Abu Bakr and wage battles against the rest. That, of course, led to an identity crisis among the apostates and hypocrites, (while the Muslims knew each other well), and a confused situation arose in which it was unclear who was on whose side and who could or could not be trusted. By placing Fayroze as the Governor of San`a, he won the loyalty of all the Muslims of Persian origin, who were not too few. They, in turn, having had married Arab women, became the cause of division among the locals, thus weakening their resolve to follow those of their rulers who were trying to break loose of Madinan rule.

The detailed story of how the apostates were overcome, belongs to the pages of history. A brief list of tribes that fought against the Madinan authority gives us the creeps today: Asad, Ghatafan, `Abs, Dhibyan, Bakr, BanuHaneefa, BanuSaleem, Quda`ah, BanuAnas, Muzhijj, BanuHarith, Hamdan, Fuzara, Tameem, Bajeelah, the people of: Najran, Hadrmawt, Tihamah, Bahrayn, Umman, Mahra, Zubayd, Awad, Masliyah, San`aa, Kinda, and others.

In brief, in a matter of a few months Abu Bakr was able to cleanse the lands of Arabia of the corrupt elements, and restore the rest to the path of Islam. With his brilliant strokes, personal piety and firm faith, he saved not only the day for Islam but won millions back to Islam. After the apostasy trial was overcome, the whole of Arabia was divided on new lines, not tribal, but geographical. A man was judged for what he was rather than what his tribe was. All were united under the banner of Islam, and piety was the password.Had not Abu Bakr achieved that, a couple of years later `Umar would not have been able to send the erstwhile apostates, as soldiers of Islam, voluntarily raised from all over the distant lands, and direct them to destroy the ungodly rules of Rome and Persia, to give millions of souls in foreign countries a chance at slavery to God, in place of slavery to man.

If the Prophet had the credit of winning over the entire Peninsula within an incredible decade, Abu Bakr holds the credit for restoring order when the situation was becoming so dark that the on-lookers thought that it was the evening of Islam. Yet, it was none but Allah who had kept the promise preserved in the Qur’an, which explains the miraculous restoration: “It was He who sent His Envoy with guidance and the religion of Truth in order to make it overcome all other religions, even if the pagans disapprove of it.” 

But Abu Bakr did not seek a vacation thereafter. He remained vigilant, worked hard, slept little, kept watch on his Governors, and paraded the streets at night so that others could sleep in peace. He took from the Treasury just what was enough for him to survive. According to some reports, even that he returned from his private wealth to the Treasury at the time of his death. (`Umar remarked that he had made it tough for those who would take up the reins after him). He wore coarse cloth and sweets were not an item on his dinner table. During his caliphate somebody said some pretty harsh things about Abu Bakr. Abu Barzah said, “Should I not behead this man?” Abu Bakr answered, “That is not allowed for anyone after the Prophet.” If his halter fell down, he would make the animal kneel to pick it up. He was told, “Had you asked us, we would have picked it up for you.” He answered, “My beloved prohibited that we ask the people anything.”

The steel in him showed itself every now and then. When the Ghatafan, Asad and other tribes that had once turned apostates, came to him seeking peace after their false prophet, Tulayha, fled to Syria leaving them to face the consequences of his misadventure, the otherwise soft Abu Bakr was tough as steel. He told them that they shall have no peace except on conditions that they relinquish to the state all their arms and horses, pay the blood-money for every Muslim that had fallen to their swords, return all the booty they had taken from the Muslims, bear witness that their fallen were in Hell and that the Muslims that fell against them were in Paradise, and, the most difficult condition, live like Bedouins in the lands (not settling down anywhere) until he, Abu Bakr, felt that they were true in their repentance and worthy of pardon. The other alternative was, he told them, the sword. No Sayyid Qutub, (a brilliant and renowned exegete of the Qur’an declared a radical and extremist, because he censored the East and the West for their Jahiliyy ways), would ever be born to adopt the uncompromising attitude that Abu Bakr adopted when it came to fundamentals of Islam. Otherwise, Abu Bakr remained the humble servant of Allah, milking the goat of a widow he used to milk before assuming caliphate, visiting Umm Ayman, another widow, simply because the Prophet used to visit her.

Whoever thought that apostasy was an accidental phenomenon that had brought the best of Abu Bakr out, was in for a surprise. Abu Bakr had new plans for the planet.

No sooner had the fire of apostasy turned into ashes that, upon request, he allowed Muthanna ibn Haritha (a man of Iraqi origin) who was through with his Bahrayn assignments (having taken the town of Qateef) to proceed with incursions into Iraq. Next, as soon as Khalid sent him the news of his triumph against Musaylimah, the Liar (the mad man who led his 10,000 followers in the orchard to death, and hundreds of Muslims to martyrdom), he sent him the following message: “March on to Iraq (then under Persian control, and about 1000 km from the starting point, Yamamah), offer the Iraqis Islam. If they refuse: neither embrace Islam, nor submit to pay Jizyah, fight them accepting no third alternative. (That is, peace was ruled out). But, to start with, deal with them softly and try to win their hearts.” He instructed him to take along none of the former apostates: only those were to go who had stayed true through and through, however few. Further, among them too only those would go, who chose to go; those who did not, could return with no blame on them. This showed not only that the man at Madinah had more steel in him than previously thought, but also that he was following a Divine Plan: booty, or resources of the lands were not on the cards. Had he material objects before him, he would not have taken measures to cut down the numbers to so few as the huge Persian armies could cut down like carrots in no time. He was with the Prophet when they were going round among the tribes begging their support. He had heard from one of the tribal chiefs that he was not ready to support someone, supporting whom would evoke the ire of the Romans and Persians. But here was the same Abu Bakr, without the first of the two, taking on Persia! It is useless looking in historical channels for a second man of such courage, and such merciful ambitions. He was dead sure of his men too. He was dead sure that they will overcome. And, he was dead sure that when that happens, the conquered will embrace Islam.

While he instructed Khalid to attack Iraq from a coastal town called al-Ubullah (perhaps Umm al-Qasr of today) at an extreme south-eastern flank, he ordered another commander, `Iyad ibn Ghanam to proceed from the edges of Hijaz to Iraqi borders and make incursions into its western flank. The two armies of Khalid and `Iyad were to meet at Heerah (about 5 km away from Kufa, a town which did not exist then). Previous to any major encounter, Khalid sent to Hurmuz, the regional Persian Commander, a tough message: “Come into the fold of Islam or pay Jizyah. Or, meet those in the battle who love to die as much as you love to live.” If such were the sentiments of the Muslim army, Hurmuz could only lose his life and the Persians suffer defeat after defeat: Dhat al-Salasil (200 camels were required to load the booty), Mazhar, al-Waljah, Ilyas, al-Heerah, al-Anbar, `Ayn al-Tamar, al-Aseed, al-Maseekh, al-Furadh, `Udwatu al-Surah al-`Ula, all bore witness to the valor of the Muslim. After the victory at Furadh, (a town on the borders of Iraq and Shaam), where Khalid faced a combined army of Persians, Romans and Arabs, Abu Bakr’s relentless drive against Kufr brought the following message to Khalid: “Proceed now to Syrian territories.”

Muthanna remained behind and faced off Kisra’s army at `Udwatul al-Sura al-`Ula, defeated it, and the Persians retreated to their regional capital Mada’in. Muthanna wrote to Abu Bakr about his victory and requested that he be allowed to penetrate right into Mada’in. But… he needed to take in the former apostates. With delay in reply, Muthanna himself traveled to Madinah. He met with Abu Bakr while he was in the last lap of his life. But he was still all-steel. He listened to Muthanna with full attention and then ordered `Umar to help him with manpower in order to push the tyrant ruling class of Persia out of Mada’in, giving the locals a chance at liberty, equality, peace and prosperity. He instructed `Umar: “I might die this day or night. Therefore, seek volunteers for Muthanna’s expedition before nightfall.” That was Abu Bakr!

Having given a wake-up call, accompanied by some foreboding of what could be expected to come, to the centuries-old Persian Empire, Abu Bakr had decided to take on the equally old, equally formidable, equally entrenched, and equally fearful Roman Empire. Already, towns at the southern edges of Syrian confederate and Dumatu al-Jandal had been run over by the Muslims. These early shots delivered by Usama and Khalid woke them up faster than the Persians. This, indeed, is an enigma. Why did Abu Bakr open a new front? He had already instilled fear into the hearts of the Persians and had gone deep into their territories. Further Muslim penetration into Iraq would have, with reinforcements already awaiting orders to march, also helped them close in on the Romans. The Romans would then be trapped from two of the three land areas, facing an arch of crisis from the south and west of their prize lands in Syria. So, why was Abu Bakr opening a new front against the Romans instead of continuing to assault the already scared Persians who seemed to have lost their wits and quite a few generals too?

We do not have any explanation from Muslim scholars. They have been busy since last 200 years studying history of the West, with no lessons to draw, since it has been the history of violence, occupation, rape, murder, mass destruction, and now secret prisons of torture. But some guesswork leads us to believe that Abu Bakr was aiming at an arch of faith around the two empires; giving their people equal chance at re-establishing their relations with God. Further, by seizing control of some of the land of the Persians, and then some of the lands of the Romans, would enlarge the area under Muslim control shaping it into a bigger arch, rather than an odd shaped empire creating logistic problems. Moreover, both the southern sectors of the Persian and Roman empires had large Arab populations, who were, as more or less autonomous areas, had not been not too heavily influenced by the perverting cultures of either, but indeed with a grudge against them, especially for the Romans, for not treating them fairly, but instead with disdain. They could far more easily be convinced of Islam being of clear vision, straight logic and quick at adopting ways that sounded reasonable. In simpler words, these half-Christian, half-pagan Arabs of the border areas of the two empires were expected to succumb to the charm of Islam faster than their occupiers.

(To be continued)