Passing away of the Holy Prophet. After Abu Bakr had left for Al-Sukh, the condition of the Holy Prophet grew worse, and within a few hours he passed away.
When the sad news of the death of the Holy Prophet was conveyed to Abu Bakr at Al-Sukh, he burst into sobs. Without the Holy Prophet, there appeared to be no charm of life for Abu Bakr. Everything around him appeared to be dark. The passing away of the Holy Prophet was a great tragedy, and the grief of Abu Bakr was too poignant to be told in words. But then Abu Bakr felt that that was not the occasion to give way to personal grief, in spite of the stupendousness of the shock. The death of the Holy Prophet was verily the end of an epoch, but that was not the end of his mission. His mission had to be carried forward.
Abu Bakr in Madina. Abu Bakr wiped his tears and hastened to Madina. Entering the apartment where the dead body of the Holy Prophet lay, Abu Bakr removed the sheet that covered the face of the Holy Prophet. Abu Bakr felt the pulse and then touched the body of the Holy Prophet. There was no sign of life, and the soul had departed from the body. In spite of the paleness of death the face of the Holy Prophet shone with divine radiance. Bending low, Abu Bakr kissed the auspicious forehead of the Master, and choking with grief said: “Master, sacred you were in life, and sacred you are in death. Since you have tasted of death ordained by God, henceforth you will be immune from its clutches. Your abode will now be in the Paradise close to Allah. From Allah you came, and to Allah you have returned “
The faithful were assembled in the mosque. They sat in groups here and there. There was an air of uneasiness in the atmosphere. There was a whispering that the Holy Prophet of Islam was dead. There were suppressed sobs and sighs. Many persons were weeping. What would happen to the Muslims when the great Prophet was to be no more in their midst was the thought that disturbed every body.
All eyes were turned to the quarter of Ayesha. The faithful had the fond hope that the door of the chamber would open any moment, and the Holy Prophet would emerge therefrom with his face radiating divine light.
In the courtyard of the mosque, Umar moved among people and said: “Who says that the Holy Prophet is dead? I testify that he is alive, and has gone to Allah like Moses, and would return to us after some time.”
Abu Bakr’s address to the Muslims. The door of the chamber of Ayesha opened, and a thin frail old man walking stoopingly moved towards the courtyard of the mosque. He was dressed in a long loose toga with a shawl spread over his shoulders. His complexion was fair; his beard was dyed red; and he had the look of a patriarch. He was Abu Bakr.
As he stood among the people, his furrowed face and tear stained eyes betrayed the grief within him. In measured words he said: “Listen to me, ye people. Those of you who worshipped Muhammad know that he is dead like any other mortal. But those of you who worship the God of Muhammad (SAW) know that He is alive and would live for ever.”
A hushed silence fell on the assembly. They were stunned and bewildered with the poignancy of grief. Abu Bakr wiped the tears from his eyes, and turning to the people recited the following verses from the Quran: “Muhammad is but a messenger, Messengers of God have passed away before him; What, if he dies or is killed? Will you turn back upon your heels? And whosoever turns back upon his heels will by no means do harm to Allah, and Allah will reward the thankful.”
Abu Bakr added. “Verily Muhammad the great Prophet of Allah was a mortal. Having fulfilled his mission he has gone back to his Master. From God he came, and to God he has returned.”
Effect of Abu Bakr’s address. The effect of Abu Bakr’s address was electrical in character. It appeared as though the people did not know that the verses of the Holy Quran had come down until Abu Bakr; had recited them that day. Umar said: “By God when I heard Abu Bakr recite these words I was dumb-founded so that my legs would not bear me, and I fell to the ground knowing that the Holy Prophet was indeed dead.”
Crisis in the affairs of the Muslims. The death of the Holy Prophet led to an immediate crisis in the affairs of the Muslims over the question as to who was to be the leader of the Muslims after the Holy Prophet.
While the dead body of the Holy Prophet of Islam was being prepared for burial the Ansar of Madina assembled at their meeting place ‘Saqeefa Bani Sa’dah’ to discuss the question of succession to the Holy Prophet. The Holy Prophet was the last of the prophets, and there was to be no prophet after him. He was also the leader of the Muslims, and it was therefore necessary that after him there should be some one who should be the head of the Muslim community.
The Ansars. At the meeting of the Ansars at Saqeefa Bani Sa’idah’, Sa’d bin Ubadah, a leader of the Ansars made a passionate plea that the successor to the Holy Prophet for managing the temporal affairs of the Muslims should be chosen from the Ansars. He argued that as they were the people who had protected Islam and offered a home for the Holy Prophet and his companions when they were persecuted by their own people, the Ansars had right to the leadership of the Muslims. It was through the efforts of the Ansars that Islam had grown and spread; their city was capital of the Muslim state, and it was but meet that an Ansar should be the head of the State after the Holy Prophet. When Sa’d concluded his speech, he was applauded by the Ansars. The arguments advanced by him appealed to them, and it appeared that they were poised to choose him as their leader in succession to the Holy Prophet.
Reaction of the emigrants. When the meeting was being held at Saqeefa Bani Sa’idah it was reported to the emigrants assembled in the Prophet’s mosque that the Ansars had assembled to choose a successor to the Holy Prophet. It was a critical situation. The burial of the Holy Prophet was a matter that needed priority, but the question of choosing a successor to the Holy Prophet was a question of life and death for the Muslim community, and if any wrong decision was taken at that stage, the future of Islam itself was likely to be jeopardized. Abu Bakr, Umar and Abu Ubaidah accordingly decided among themselves to proceed to Saqeefa Bani Sa’idah’ to negotiate the matter with the Ansars before it was too late.
Abu Bakr’s appeal to the Ansar. When Abu Bakr, Umar and Abu Ubaidah reached Saqeefa Bani Sa’idah the Ansars were on the verge of electing Sa’id bin Ubadah, the Ansar leader, as the successor to the Holy Prophet. Abu Bakr took the stage and brought home to the people assembled, the gravity of the problem. He pointed out that the matter did not concern the citizens of Madina alone; it was a matter of concern for all the Arabs who had become Muslims. All the Arab tribes were not likely to accept the leadership of the Ansars, particularly when there were differences among the two principal tribes of the Ansars themselves. Abu Bakr pointed out that under the circumstances the Quraish who were the custodians of the Kaaba could alone provide the leadership for the Muslim community. Addressing his appeal to the Ansar he said: “O Ansar, none can deny the superiority of your position in religion or the greatness of your eminence in Islam. You were chosen by Allah as the helpers of His religion and His Apostle. To you the Prophet was sent on his emigration from Makkah and from you come the majority of his companions and his wives. Indeed in position you are next only to the earliest companions. Therefore it would be fair if we take the Amirat and you accept the ministry. You should not be obstinate in your stand. We assure you that we will do nothing without consulting you.”
The Debate. After the address of Abu Bakr, Habab bin Mandhar an Ansar leader rose to say that the Amirat was the right of the Ansars and they could not forego their right. He added that the utmost concession that they could make in favor of the emigrants was that they could have two Amirs, one from the Ansars and the other from the emigrants,
Umar said that Islam stood for unity-one God, one Prophet, and one Quran. It followed as a necessary corollary that the Muslim community should have one Amir. lf the proposal of having two Amirs was once accepted, other people would later lay claim to the election of an Amir from them. Such multiple Amirat would lead to the disintegration of the Islamic polity. Umar emphasized that in the interest of the solidarity of Islam they could not have more than one Amir, and it was imperative that such Amir should be from the Quraish, the tribe of the Holy Prophet.
There was some exchange of hot words between Habab and Umar. Then Abu Ubaida appealed to the Ansars saying: “O Ansars you were the first to help Islam: do not now be the first to take steps towards the disintegration of Islam.”
That appeared to have some effect on the Ansars, and they seemed to hesitate to press their demand. Thereupon Abu Bakr took the stage again and said: “God is our witness that we are not pressing the claim of the Quraish because of any selfish interest. The proposal is based solely on the interest and solidarity of Islam. To give you a proof positive of our sincerity I declare before you that I do not covet the office. Here are Umar and Abu Ubaida. You may choose any one out of these two.” That softened the attitude of the Ansars. Zaid bin Thabit an eminent Ansar leader rose to say: “In fact the Holy Prophet was among the Quraish. There is considerable force in the proposal that after him his successor should also be selected from among the Quraish. God chose the ‘Ansars’ as helpers, and it is but meet that they should continue to play thc role of helpers.” Supporting him another Ansar leader Bashir bin Sa’d said: “O Ansars, if we have secured a position of superiority in holy wars against the polytheists and gained precedence in the matter of religion it was with the object of pleasing our Allah and obeying the Holy Prophet. It is not proper for us to make this a ground for self-aggrandizement. We should leave our reward to Allah. We must realize that the Holy Prophet came from the Quraish, and that the Quraish have the strongest claim for his succession. We should not quarrel with the Quraish on this issue.”
That turned the tables, and the Ansars now appeared to be inclined to choose the leader from among the Quraish. Taking advantage of this situation, Abu Bakr repeated his proposal that they might choose any one out of Umar, or Abu Ubaida.
Election of Abu Bakr. At the offer of Abu Bakr, Umar rose quickly to say: “O Abu Bakr, how can I or Abu Ubaida be preferred to you? You are undoubtedly the most excellent of the Muslims. You were the ‘Second of the Two’ in the Cave. You were appointed as ‘Amir-ul-Haj’. During his illness the Holy Prophet appointed you as the Imam to lead the prayers. Of all the companions you were the closest and the dearest to the Holy Prophet. As such you are dear to us. Stretch your hand so that we may offer our allegiance to you.”
Umar made Abu Bakr stand, and then touched his hand reverently in token of allegiance. Abu Ubaida was the next to pay allegiance. Thereafter all the Ansars assembled there offered their allegiance to Abu Bakr turn by turn. Only Sa’d bin Ubadah did not offer allegiance. Thus Abu Bakr was elected as the successor to the Holy Prophet on the very day of the death of Holy Prophet, the 8th of June 83 2 C.E.
Assembly of the people. On the day following the meeting at Saqeefa Bani Salida, all the Muslims of Madina assembled in the Prophet’s mosque for Zuhr prayer, and for offering allegiance to Abu Bakr as the Caliph. The Holy Prophet had come from God, and to God he had returned. What could not be cured had to be endured, and for sheer survival the Muslim community had to perforce express faith in some leader who could lead them, and follow in the footsteps of the Holy Prophet All were agreed that such leader could be no one other than Abu Bakr, the bosom companion of the Holy Prophet, the “second of the two” according to the Holy Quran, and the man whom the Holy Prophet had himself appointed as the Imam to lead the prayers.
Introductory address of Umar. Umar addressed the faithful gathered in the mosque in the following terms: “I expected that the Holy Prophet would outlive us all, but it was the will of God that after having fulfilled his mission he should return to God. Verily, the Prophet came from God, and to God he has returned. He has left with us the Holy Quran from which we can always receive guidance. And we have in our midst, Abu Bakr, Companion of the Prophet, and the “Second of the two in the Cave”, who is undoubtedly the worthiest among us to conduct our affairs. To strengthen his hands and to maintain the integrity of the Muslim community, it is necessary that we should repose our confidence in him and offer him our allegiance. Now come and offer bait (allegiance) to him.”
Ceremony of bait. Having made this appeal, Umar requested Abu Bakr to take his seat on the pulpit. Abu Bakr took his seat on the pulpit, a step below that which used to be occupied by the Holy Prophet. This gesture was expressive of the fact that the leadership of the Holy Prophet was to continue, and the new leader was not to be the successor of the Prophet, he was to be his deputy only. Abu Bakr stretched his hand, and the Muslims assembled in the mosque filed past the pulpit touching the stretched hand of Abu Bakr reverently as a mark of allegiance. It was a solemn ceremony, each Muslim acknowledged the leadership of Abu Bakr.
Inaugural address. When all the Muslims, gathered in the mosque, had offered their allegiance to Abu Bakr, Abu Bakr rose to address them. After praising Allah and offering his tribute to the Holy Prophet of Islam, Abu Bakr addressed the congregation in the following terms: “O people, I swear by Allah that I never coveted the caliphate either by day or by night, nor had I any inclination towards it. I never prayed to God openly or in secrecy to confer the office on me. I merely accepted this office lest some mischief might arise at this critical juncture in the history of the Muslims and thereby adversely affect the interests of Islam. In fact a big task has been assigned to me which is beyond my power to fulfil except with the help of the Almighty Allah and your whole hearted cooperation. I wished to see the strongest of men in my place this day. Now, it is beyond doubt that I have been elected your Amir, although I am not better than you. Help me, if I am in the right; set me right if I am in the wrong. Truth is a trust; falsehood is a treason. The weak among you will be strong with me till, God willing, his rights have been vindicated; and the strong among you shall be weak with me till, if the Lord wills, I have taken what is due from him. Obey me as long as I obey Allah and His Prophet, when I disobey Him and His Prophet, then obey me not. And now rise for prayers; may God have mercy on you.”
Abu Bakr and the Caliphate. The caliphate issue. Immediately on the death of the Holy Prophet, the caliphate issue came to pose a great threat to the solidarity of the Muslim community. The Ansars insisted that in view of their services of Islam, the office should go to them. The Holy Prophet was a Quraish, and according to the Arab custom, Quraish insisted that the office should go to them. The Ansars by way of compromise proposed that they might have two leaders, one from the Ansars and one from the Quraish. The proposal militated against the solidarity of the Muslim community, and was not agreed to by the Quraish. The issue did not concern the Quraish and the Ansars alone; it pertained to the entire Muslim community. If the Caliph was chosen from the Quraish, the tribe to which the Holy Prophet belonged, the other tribes could accept him, but if the Caliph was chosen from among the Ansars, the other tribes were likely to demand that they should also have their own Caliphs. This would have led to the disintegration of the Muslim community. The Quraish wanted the Caliph to be chosen from among them, not because they coveted power, but because they wanted to maintain the integrity and unity of the Muslim community.
Election of Abu Bakr as the Caliph. It was with considerable difficulty and after a good deal of discussion and even exchange of hot words that Abu Bakr ultimately succeeded in persuading the Ansars to let the Quraish have the office of the Caliph. Abu Bakr did not covet the office for himself. He wanted that any one out of Umar or Abu Ubaida should be elected. Umar and Abu Ubaida insisted that Abu Bakr should have the office. Abu Bakr realized that if he hesitated, the Ansars might change their mind. Abu Bakr accordingly let the people offer him allegiance. The entire process of election was spontaneous. There was nothing preplanned about it. The things moved in the course they did as ordained by destiny.
Abu Bakr’s concept of the Caliphate. In the inaugural address which Abu Bakr delivered at the time of the assumption of power, he declared his concept of the caliphate in unequivocal terms. He held: Help me, if I am in the right; set me right, if I am in the wrong; The weak among you shall be strong with me till God willing his rights have been vindicated, and the strong among you shall be weak with me till, if the Lord wills, I have taken what is due from him. Obey me as long as I obey Allah and His Prophet, when I disobey Him and His Prophet, obey me not.
Sectarian differences. Unfortunately, the caliphate issue led to sectarian differences. Accounts that have come down to us in this respect are conflicting as well as confusing, and it is difficult for a student of history to assess the correct position. According to one account, Ail offered allegiance to Abu Bakr along with other Muslims. According to another account, Ali did not offer allegiance, and opposed the caliphate of Abu Bakr. In this he was supported by the Hashemites. It is alleged that Umar threatened to suppress this opposition with force. According to another account, Ali offered allegiance to Abu Bakr six months later, after the death of Fatima. Whatever the case, so much at least is undeniable that Abu Bakr’s allegiance was duly taken by Ali some time during the caliphate of Abu Bakr. Ali was actively associated with the administration during the caliphate of Abu Bakr. When Abu Bakr died, Ali in his oration dilated at length on the superb qualities of Abu Bakr, and expressed full faith in his leadership. Ali married the widow of Abu Bakr, Asma, and looked after Abu Bakr’s son Muhammad as his own son. This shows that the differences, if any at all, between Abu Bakr and Ali were duly reconciled during the lifetime of the Caliph Abu Bakr.
Nature of the issue. After Ali had taken the oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr the controversy about the caliphate issue should have come to an end, and it should not have been made a religious issue. The Holy Prophet was a spiritual as well as a temporal leader. After his death, revelations ceased, and the new leaders of the Muslim community were to be temporal leaders only. The election of such leaders could be nothing but a political issue, and it was not correct to make it a religious issue. On the occasion of the farewell pilgrimage, Allah declared that He had completed the religion for the Muslims. If the caliphate were to be a religious issue, Allah or the Holy Prophet would have given instructions on the point. The very fact that the Holy Quran as well as the Sunnah are silent in the matter of caliphate shows that the matter is explicitly political and not religious in character.
Right of Ali. Some sections hold that in becoming the Caliph, Abu Bakr usurped the rights of Ali, and he was therefore a usurper. On the face of the fact that Ali did offer allegiance to Abu Bakr, though after some time, this argument loses its force. Abu Bakr’s avowed policy was to follow in the footsteps of the Holy Prophet and to do things as the Holy Prophet would have done if he were alive. Abu Bakr was very meticulous in carrying out all the commands of the Holy Prophet, in letter as well as in spirit. When all persons around Abu Bakr Holy Prophet him not to dispatch Usamah’s expedition to Syria as Madina itself was threatened with danger, Abu Bakr overruled the objection on the ground that the order of the Holy Prophet had to be carried into effect. When he was asked to appoint someone else as the Commander instead of Usamah, he held that he could not reverse an appointment made by the Holy Prophet. It is well-known that Abu Bakr did not covet the office for himself. This is established by the fact that at the time of his death, he refunded all remuneration that he had drawn from the public treasury as Caliph. Under the circumstances, if there had been any indication that the Holy Prophet wanted Ali to be the Caliph, Abu Bakr would have been the last man to stand in the way of Ali.
Choice of the leader. It is well known that the Holy Prophet left no instructions about his successor. Islam is from God, and in whatever way the history of Islam has shaped itself is the unfolding of the Will of God. We cannot, therefore, say that if the Holy Prophet did not nominate a successor, it was an omission or an accident. We must hold that such omission to nominate a successor was deliberate, and in accordance with the Will of God. The intention obviously was that the matter being political in nature, the community should in the matter stand on its legs, and choose the leader for itself.
Claim of Ali. Ali’s claim was not based on seniority or merit; it was based on inheritance. The Holy Prophet declared in unequivocal terms that in the case of prophets, there was nothing to be inherited. The Holy Prophet did beget some sons but they did not survive. It appears that there was a set purpose behind that. The Holy Prophet was the last of the prophets, and it was accordingly the Will of God that with his death, there was the end of the prophethood, and there was nothing to be inherited. The caliphate could not be claimed on the basis of inheritance, it was a political office, and the community was free to choose, whomsoever they liked. If for some reason, Ali was not chosen, this could not be made a ground for religious grievance.
Judgment on the caliphate of Abu Bakr. In passing any judgment on the caliphate of Abu Bakr, two points deserve particular consideration. The first point is that we have definite indications that the Holy Prophet wanted Abu Bakr to succeed him. The second point is that the caliphate of Abu Bakr must be judged on the basis of its results. With regard to the first point, the Holy Prophet appointed Abu Bakr as the Imam, and that vested Abu Bakr with the mantle of the leadership of the Muslim community. The Holy Prophet declared that he was under obligation to no one other than Abu Bakr. The Holy Prophet also declared that all doors opening in the mosque should be closed except the door of the quarter of Abu Bakr.
As regards the second point it has to be borne in mind that when Abu Bakr was elected as the Caliph, Islam was confined to Makkah, Madina, and Taif only, and in the rest of Arabia the tribes had risen against Islam. When barely two years later, Abu Bakr died, the whole of Arabia was in the fold of Islam and even Iraq and Syria had come under the domination of Islam. The irresistible conclusion is that such a man could not be a usurper.
The verdict of history is that Abu Bakr successfully and faithfully carried out the mission of the Holy Prophet, and his policy aimed at securing the integrity and unity of the Muslim community, paid rich dividends. Nothing succeeds like success, and in view of the outstanding success of the caliphate of Abu Bakr, it should not be made the subject of any sectarian prejudices.