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Abu Bakr—A Study in Contrast

Right after Abu Bakr’s election, very serious problems developed. Muhammad Rashid Feroze writes :

The first setback to Abu Bakr was the great opposition of a large number of the Companions, led by ‘Umar to sending the Muslim army under the command of Usama b. Zayd to the territory of Qada’a. They opposed Usama’s command of the army because he was not yet eighteen years of age.

They chose ‘Umar b. Al-Khattab as their representative. He was asked to suggest to Abu Bakr that either the army should not be sent, or Usama be dismissed. They wanted to appoint a commander with experience of active service on the battlefield.
Caliph Abu Bakr thought about the objections of these Companions for a long while that day. He then recalled the time when the Prophet, upon whom be peace, came to the mosque with his head wrapped up and said, “O People, let the army of Usama go.”

The Prophet repeated these words three times and continued: “You condemn his command now, you were also critical of his father’s command. By Allah, he was qualified for command! By Allah, his son is one of the most capable men after him!”
When Abu Bakr recalled this hadith [saying of the Prophet, upon whom be peace], he decided to send the army of Usama, because this was the order of the Prophet of Allah, upon whom be peace, even though it might lead to the loss of his own life.
Meanwhile, ‘Umar arrived and asked Abu Bakr not to send the army. Abu Bakr replied: “By Him in whose hands is the life of Abu Bakr, if I would have thought that wild beasts would attack me, I would dispatch the army of Usama as ordered by the Prophet, upon whom be peace. Even if nobody remained in the city except myself, I would send this army.”

When ‘Umar saw that Abu Bakr was determined to dispatch the army, he asked him to dismiss Usama and give the command to one of the well-known heroes of Islam, such as Sa’d b. Abi Waqqas or Khalid b. Walid. But Abu Bakr firmly rejected this proposal. The army led by Usama had a great impact at that time, for most of the tribes had given up Islam after the death of the Prophet, upon whom be peace, and they had refused to pay zakah [welfare money for the poor]. They thought that Islam would come to an end after the Prophet’s death. The purpose of dispatching the army commanded by Usama was to create fear in the hearts of the tribes who had given up Islam. The tribes said among themselves: “If the Muslims had no power, they would not have sent this army.”

This was an example of the wisdom and genius of Abu Bakr at a crucial juncture in the history of Islam.

Later on, Abu Bakr made further preparations for Jihad against those who had given up Allah’s faith and launched a full-fledged war against them. They included almost all the tribes of Arabia, except the Quraysh and Thaqif. Abu Bakr was faced with eleven sources of turmoil and anarchy and wanted to nip the evil in the bud. He assembled the leaders of the Muslim community and appointed them to quell the rebellion against Islam in eleven different areas as follows:

  • Khalid b. Walid was sent to Talha al-Asadi, with instructions to go, after dealing with Talha, to Malik b. Nuwaira.
  • Ikrama b. Abi Jahl was sent to fight Musailma al-Kazzab, who had claimed to be a prophet after giving up Islam.
  • Al-Muhajir b. Abi Umayya was sent to deal with al-Ansi al-Kazzab, and to fight Kinda in Hadramawt.
  • Khalid b. Sa’id was sent to Syria to quell the rebellion of the leaders of that area.
  • Amr b. al-‘As was sent to Qada’a and Wadi’a.
  • Hudhayfa b. Hisn was sent to subdue the people of Daba.
  • Arfaja b. Harthama was sent to Mahra.
  • Shurahbil b. Hasana was sent to help Ikrama b. Abi Jahl, and thence to Qada’a.
  • Ma’n b. Hajiz was sent to Bani Sulaym and the people of Hawazin.
  • Suwayd b. Muqrin was sent to Tahama in the Yemen.
  • Al-Ala b. Hadrami was sent to Bahrai

The names of the leaders of the eleven armies dispatched by Abu Bakr to suppress the rebellion of the tribes gives an idea of the great efforts made by him. It was necessary to prepare these armies for the march throughout the country to announce that Islam was strong and alive. These armies achieved victories after very tough battles in which a large number of the Companions fell as martyrs, including memorizers of the Qur’an. All this sacrifice was made to strengthen Islam and to keep the banner of the faith flying.

Abu Bakr made these great efforts without counting the odds or fearing difficulties involved in running his mission. He wanted to fight the world that had turned its back on Islam and to bring it to the right path.4

Thus we see that Islam was in clear jeopardy, yet the Almighty Allah saved the Muslims, because they were obedient to His commands.

The claim that ‘Ali did not fight Abu Bakr for the khalifah for the sake of Islam is an absurd one. What would have happened if, in the third year of prophethood, when the command of Allah was given to the Prophet, to invite his relatives and kin to Islam, the Prophet, upon whom be peace, had wavered. “Well, we are very few now and we might all be killed if we make our mission public. Therefore, to protect Islam I shall remain quiet!” This kind of approach toward events clearly excludes the hand of Allah in man’s affairs and views life as an interaction of material forces, which of course is an idea that no Muslim would subscribe to.

Thus, in short, if ‘Ali was given any hint by the Prophet, upon whom be peace, to be his successor, he would have done everything to assure his succession. We can safely conclude that ‘Ali was by no means commanded by the Prophet to be the khalifah, neither privately nor publicly. This leaves the election of Abu Bakr as sound and legitimate.5

In my research for this work I came across an amazing statement made by the Shia scholar Tabatabai. This statement is an appropriate end for this section. Tabatabai wrote :

Obviously, according to religious principles, one must force him who has deviated from the truth to follow the truth; one must not abandon the truth for the sake of one who has abandoned it. When the first Caliph [Abu Bakr] was informed that some Muslim tribes had refused to pay religious tax, he ordered war and said, “If they do not give me the tithes which they gave to the Prophet, I shall fight against them.” Evidently by saying this he meant, most of all, that truth and justice must prevail at all costs. Surely the problem of the legitimate caliphate was more important and significant than tithes, and Shi’ism believes that the same principle applied by the first Caliph to this matter should have been applied by the whole early community to the problem of succession to the holy (sic) Prophet.6

Needless to say, who would have been more qualified than ‘Ali, as the Shias believe, to carry this responsibility on behalf of the early community?

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4 Muhammad Rashid Feroze, Abu Bakr: The First Caliph (Leichester, England: The Islamic Foundation, 1976), pp. 31–33.

5 The only other possibility would be that ‘Ali knew the truth about his khilafah but knowingly disobeyed, which would mean betrayal of Allah and His Messenger. (We seek Allah’s refuge for even mentioning any such possibility.) This would imply that ‘Ali was either a coward or he was insincere. Both possibilities we are forced to reject a priori.

6 Tabatabai, pp. 183–184.