Skip to content

Abu Bakr – Encounter with the Tribes

Expedition to Syria

Usamah’s expedition to Syria. On assuming the caliphate the first issue that Abu Bakr was called upon to decide was whether the expedition to Syria which the Holy Prophet had directed to be sent under the command of Usamah should proceed to its destination, or should it be abandoned because of the change in circumstances following the death of the Holy Prophet.

The background. The background of the expedition was that in 629 C.E. the Holy Prophet had sent an expedition against the Syrians under Zaid bin Harith. In the confrontation that had taken place at Mutah, Zaid had been martyred. The command was then taken over by Jafar bin Abu Talib. He too met martyrdom. Abdullah bin Rawahah who next took the command was also martyred. At that critical juncture, Khalid bin Walid took the command. By his superb strategy he succeeded in retrieving the position and bringing back the Muslim forces safely to Madina. For this act of heroism, Khalid bin Walid received from the Holy Prophet the title of Saifullah–the Sword of Allah. In 630 C.E. the Holy Prophet himself led an expedition to Tabuk. The Byzantines avoided a confrontation with the Muslim army which returned to Madina without any action. In 632 C.E., on return from the ‘farewell pilgrimage,’ the Holy Prophet ordered a detachment to be sent against the Syrians under the command of Usamah the son of Zaid bin Harith. Some persons objected to the command of Usamah on the ground that he was a mere youth of nineteen. Usamah was very dear to the Holy Prophet. He was the son of Zaid who was an adopted son of the Holy Prophet. The Holy Prophet accordingly loved Usamah as a grandson. When the Holy Prophet entered Makkah after the peace of Hudaibiya, Usamah had the honor of sitting on the camel behind the Holy Prophet. Usamah was very brave, and on the occasion of the battle of Uhud he volunteered to fight when he was only a child. The Holy Prophet wanted the Muslims not to object to the command of Usamah for he was worthy of the command.

When the Holy Prophet fell ill, the detachment of Usamah was encamped at Jorf a few miles from Madina on the road to Syria. On account of the serious illness of the Holy Prophet, Usamah delayed his departure. When the Holy Prophet died, Usamah returned to Madina and sought further orders.

Advisability of undertaking the expedition. Abu Bakr was advised that, as at that critical stage in the history of Islam, most of the tribes had apostatized from Islam and Madina itself was surrounded by hostile tribes, it was not advisable to send the army outside the country. Abu Bakr said that it was the wish of the Holy Prophet that the army should be sent to Syria and this wish of the Master should be fulfilled at all costs. When some of the companions reiterated the danger to which Madina was exposed, Abu Bakr declared in unequivocal terms: “Who am I to withhold the army that the Holy Prophet had ordained to proceed? Come what may: let Madina stand or fall; the Caliphate live or perish, the command of the Holy Prophet shall be carried out.”

The view of Abu Bakr was not based on any obstinacy or foolhardiness. It was based on ideal loyalty to the Holy Prophet envisaging the carrying out of his wish, coupled with the faith that whatever the Holy Prophet had ordered was in the best interests of the community. Against the firmness of the stand of Abu Bakr, the companions of Abu Bakr could offer no argument.

Command of Usamah. It was contended before Abu Bakr with considerable vehemence that in case the expedition was necessarily to be dispatched, there should be a change in the command, and some veteran and seasoned General should be appointed as the Commander instead of Usamah. Umar was commissioned by the companions to put up this demand before the Caliph. Abu Bakr listened attentively to what Umar had to say, and then said: “Umar, Usamah was appointed by the Holy Prophet, and you want me to veto the appointment made by the Holy Prophet. Does it lie in your mouth to take such a recommendation? How can I as the Caliph of the Holy Prophet cancel an order made by the Holy Prophet after due consideration. Go, and tell those who have commissioned you to make this recommendation that this is sheer sacrilege, and as long as Abu Bakr lives he cannot be party to such a sacrilegious act.”

This reply considerably embarrassed Umar. He felt sorry for making the recommendation which evoked bitter comments from the Caliph. He returned to Jorf and told all concerned as to what had transpired between him and the Caliph. He was very bitter with those who had chosen him as their spokesman for making a recommendation to the Caliph to make a change in the command.

Departure of the army. Abu Bakr directed the army to depart on its mission. Abu Bakr went to Jorf to bid farewell to the army and addressed them in the following terms: “See that you avoid treachery. Depart not in any wise from the right. Do not mutilate any one. You should not kill children, women or old men. Do not injure the date palm; do not burn it. Do not cut down any tree wherein there is food for men and beasts. Do not slay the flocks of herds of camels save for needful sustenance. You may eat of the meat that the men of the land may bring to you in their vessels, making mention thereon of the name of Allah. Do not molest the monks in the churches, and leave them to themselves. Now march forward in the name of God. Fulfil the mission entrusted to you. May Allah protect you from sword and pestilence!”

Abu Bakr walked for some distance alone with the army to see it depart. Usamah who was riding on horseback prayed that he should be permitted to dismount, or the Caliph should also ride on a horse. Abu Bakr said: “No. neither should you dismount, nor would I mount a horse. You ride in the service of God, and I shall account to God for these steps that I take in your company.”

The Campaign. The army of Usamah left Jorf towards the close of June 632 C.E. After a ten days march, the Muslim army penetrated into the region of Wadi-al-Qara, and fell on Banu al-Qidzah and other border tribes. Usamah rode on his father’s horse ‘Sabah”. He sought the person who had killed his father at the battle of Mutah, and having recognized him put him to the sword. The Byzantine forces avoided confrontation with the Muslim force, and the border tribes left to themselves were no match for the Muslim forces. They were thoroughly discomfited, and hastened to offer allegiance to the authorities at Madina. The expedition proved to be a great success. It secured the safety of the frontier with the Byzantines and averted the threat of any attack from the Byzantines. The success that attended the Muslim arms made the unruly tribes realize that Islam was not dead with the death of the Holy Prophet, and that the Muslims were strong enough to meet all emergencies. Usamah’s army returned to Madina, in August 632 C.E. laden with considerable booty. On return to Madina, the army of Usamah was given a tumultuous welcome.

Encounter with the tribes

Tribes around Madina. Madina was surrounded by a ring of tribes, whose attitude to Islam was luke warm. These tribes included Bani Asad; Bani Tha’lba; Bani Ghatafan; Banu Marrah Banu Abbas; Banu Dhanayan and others. In the battle of the Trench, these tribes had sided with the Quraish of Makkah and had fought against the Muslims. After the conquest of Makkah, when other tribes in Arabia sent delegations to Madina and accepted Islam, the tribes around Madina also followed suit and offered allegiance to Islam. Their allegiance was based more on diplomacy and expediency than on real faith and conviction of the heart. Islam sat lightly on them. They regarded Islam as a matter of personal allegiance to the Holy Prophet which abated with the death of the Holy Prophet.

Deputation of the tribes. When Usamah’s army left Madina for the Syrian front, the tribes around Madina sent a deputation to wait on Abu Bakr. Their view was that with the passing away of the Holy Prophet their agreement vis a vis Islam had abated, and it was necessary that the authorities at Madina should make a fresh agreement with them. They said that they would remain on friendly terms with the authorities at Madina provided they were relieved of the obligation to pay Zakat. Abu Bakr treated the deputation with due courtesy, and said that he would give his reply after consulting his advisers.

Counsel of the advisers. Abu Bakr consulted his advisers. Almost all the eminent companions around Abu Bakr advised that as the Muslims were hemmed in by danger from all sides, it was expedient that the demand of the tribes should be accepted so that there was no defection from Islam. Even Umar known for his strong attitudes favored the acceptance of the demand of the tribes, in view of the impending danger.

Judgment of Abu Bakr. The question became a matter of great concern for Abu Bakr. He was conscious of the gravity of the situation, and was aware of the danger to which the Muslim community was exposed. Prima facie the advice of Umar and others to accept the demand of the tribes appeared to be sound under the circumstances. Abu Bakr however could not overlook the other side of the picture. Abu Bakr felt that the very basis on which the demand had been raised was open to attack. It was incorrect to hold that Islam was a matter of agreement between the Holy Prophet and the tribes, and that after his passing away this agreement had abated and was open to revision. Islam was an agreement with God, and as God existed, the passing away of the Holy Prophet after the fulfillment of his mission did not in any way affect their allegiance to Islam. Islam meant total faith, and such faith could not be made subject to any conditions.

Zakat. As regards the demand for Zakat, Abu Bakr felt that if he conceded the demand, that might ease the situation temporarily, but that could in turn lead to other demands, and after having accepted one demand it would be difficult to refuse other demands. Islam stood for a central polity, and if any concession was once given in consideration of tribal loyalties, that would be subversive of the solidarity of Islam. Abu Bakr felt that as the successor of the Holy Prophet it was his duty to safeguard Islam, and as such he could not follow a policy of appeasement likely to compromise Islam in any way.

Another consideration that weighed with Abu Bakr was that Zakat was not a levy subject to political considerations; it was an imperative injunction ordained by Islam, and was equated with prayers. Abu Bakr recalled that when the people of Taif had waited on the Holy Prophet and had sought to be relieved of the obligation to offer prayers, the Holy Prophet had refused to accept the demand on the ground that he was not competent to amend the mandate of God. On this analogy, Abu Bakr felt convinced that he was not competent to grant a concession violative of the fundamental principle of Islam. The matter of fact position was that where God and the Holy Prophet left any matter to the discretion of the community, the community could take such action as might be necessary on the basis of expediency, but where the command of Allah or the Holy Prophet was definite and conclusive, it was absolute and mandatory, and it could not be compromised or modified because of any considerations of necessity or expediency. After considering all aspects of the case, Abu Bakr arrived at the conclusion that he had no jurisdiction to grant an exemption from Zakat, and that as the representative of the Holy Prophet it devolved on him to enforce the command of Allah in letter as well as in spirit, and not to sit in judgment over such order, and seek to modify it for one reason or the other. Abu Bakr’s judgment, therefore, was that under the circumstances he had no option but to refuse the demand of the tribes. This conviction fired him with the determination to stand firm, and to refuse to compromise Islam.

Abu Bakr took Umar and other companions into confidence. Umar tried to insist on his previous advice of giving the concession, but as Abu Bakr unfolded his arguments step by step, all the companions came round to the view that truth was what Abu Bakr said.

Reply to the tribes. When on the following day, Abu Bakr met the delegation of the tribes, he explained to them the philosophy underlying Zakat. He brought home to them the point that he had no jurisdiction to grant any concession in respect of a matter which was a mandate of Allah. He explained to them that if they professed Islam, they had to observe all the injunctions of Islam in toto. There was no half way house in Islam, and it was not permissible for them to pick and choose Islam according to their whims and caprices. Islam had either to be rejected or accepted, and there was no room in Islam for any compromise on fundamentals. Abu Bakr argued that Zakat being a fundamental injunction of Islam had to be paid with good grace, and any refusal to pay Zakat implied apostasy.

Addressing the delegates, Abu Bakr declared in unequivocal terms: “Under the circumstances, if with reference to Zakat you withhold even as much as a string to tie a camel, as the Caliph of the Holy Prophet, it will be my duty to fight for it whatever the consequences. I will be prepared to face all risks, but I cannot be a party to the compromising of Islam on any fundamental issue.”

Battle of Zul Qissa

Challenge of the tribes. When Abu Bakr rejected the demand of the tribes to exempt them from the payment of the Zakat, they had no argument to meet the argument of Abu Bakr, but in a state of desperateness they took such refusal as a challenge. Islam sat lightly on them, and tribal feelings were most dominant in them. They accordingly decided that if Islam involved the payment of Zakat to Madina, they would prefer to forego Islam, rather than yield to the dictates of the authorities in Madina. During their stay in Madina the delegates of the tribes saw for themselves that with the departure of the main Muslim army under Usamah for Syria, there was hardly any fighting force with the Muslims in Madina and as such the city was vulnerable. When the delegates returned to their tribes and gave an account of what Abu Bakr had said feelings ran high among the tribesmen. They decided to attack Madina when the main Muslim army was away, and teach the authorities of Madina a lesson. The tribes concentrated their forces at Zul Hissa and Zul Qissa to the north east of Madina on the way to Nejd, and decided to launch the attack against Madina.

Preparations of Abu Bakr. When the delegates of the tribes left Madina in a sullen mood, Abu Bakr discerned that they meant mischief, and that an attack by the tribes was imminent. Abu Bakr lost no time in making arrangements for the defense of Madina. Strong pickets under Khalid, Zubair, Talha, Abdur Rahman b Auf, Abdullah b Masud and Ali were posted at strategic approaches to the city. These pickets were required to remain at their posts, and to make immediate report to the Caliph about the movements of the tribes. All the adult male Muslims were asked to collect in the Prophet’s mosque. Here Abu Bakr apprised them of the impending danger of an attack from the tribes, and asked them to do their duty to Islam. Abu Bakr brought home to them the point that if they staked their everything in the way of God, God would come to their help as He had helped them during the life time of the Holy Prophet. A roster of all Muslim male adults in the city was prepared, and their turns for keeping the vigil during the nights were fixed.

The attack of the tribes. One dark night during the month of July 632 C E. there was brisk movement in the camp of the tribes at Zul Hissa. The Muslim scouts brought the intelligence that the tribes planned to attack Madina that night. Abu Bakr collected all the Muslim male adults in the mosque. After the night prayers these men were required to spread out in groups to keep vigil in the various quarters of the city. At the head of a contingent Abu Bakr took position at a strategic point in the direction of Zul Hissa from where the attack was expected. The tribes launched the attack at midnight. They had hoped that they would take the city by surprise, and that as there was no fighting force in Madina, they would meet no resistance, and it would be an easy walk-over for them. As the tribal force advanced in the darkness of the night fully assured of their victory, the contingent of Abu Bakr leapt on the advancing horde, and took them by surprise. Many tribesmen fell victims to the swords of the Muslims; the rest fled in utter confusion.

The counter attack of the Muslims. The Muslims gave chase to the enemy and advanced to Zul Hissa. Here the retreating tribesmen were joined by their reserves. In the battle at Zul Hissa the Muslims were outnumbered but they fought with grim determination. As a stratagem the tribesmen threw inflated water skins in the path of the Muslim army. That frightened the camels on which the Muslims were riding, and the camels did not rest till they reached Madina. The tribes felt jubilant at what they regarded as the repulse of the Muslims. The tribes thinking that all was over with the Muslims retired to their camps at Zul Hissa and Zul Qissa.

The battle of Zul Qissa. Back in Madina, Abu Bakr rallied the Muslim forces, and mustering the available reserves decided to fall on the enemy. In the late hours of the night, the Muslim forces rushed out of the city, and led a violent attack against the enemy at Zul Hissa. The tribal forces were taken unawares and they retreated to Zul Qissa. The Muslims pursued them to Zul Qissa. There was an action at Zul Qissa but the tribal force could not withstand the fury of the attack of the Muslims. Many tribesmen were cut to pieces. Those who survived fled in confusion. Before the day dawned the Muslims had won a victory and they were the masters of Zul Qissa. Abu Bakr decided to canton his forces at Zul Qissa, and make it a base for further campaigns against the apostate tribes. Abu Bakr left a detachment at Zul Qissa under the command of Nauman bin Muqran and himself returned to Madina with considerable booty captured at the battle of Zul Qissa.

Consequences of the battle of Zul Qissa. The victory of Zul Qissa was the first significant event of the caliphate of Abu Bakr. When Abu Bakr returned to Madina from Zul Qissa he was acclaimed as a hero, a worthy successor of the Holy Prophet. In the midst of most adverse circumstances he remained firm and never lost faith. By his superb leadership he had averted the threat to the city of Madina. By refusing to compromise on principles in spite of heavy odds, he established that he was made of stuff that characterize heroes. In its significance, the battle of Zul Qissa has been compared by some historians with the battle of Badr. The battle of Badr was the first battle after the Hijrat; the battle of Zul Qissa was the first battle after the death of the Holy Prophet. ln the battle of Badr the Muslims were outnumbered by the Quraish, and still they won a victory because of the superb leadership of the Holy Prophet. In the battle of Zul Qissa the Muslims were outnumbered by the tribal forces but they won a victory because of the superb leadership of Abu Bakr. If the Muslims had lost the battle of Badr, Islam was apt to be extinguished. If the battle of Zul Qissa had been lost, there was the danger of Islam losing its hold. Just as the battle of Badr set the stage for the advancement of the Muslims, thus did the battle of Zul Qissa set the pace for the overthrow of forces hostile to Islam.

Another important consequence of the battle of Zul Qissa was that it crystallized the issues. Heretofore there were tribes which favored Islam, but still wavered in their allegiance to Madina. Again there were tribes which preferred to sit on the fence and watch developments. After the battle of Zul Qissa such suspense came to an end. Many tribes sent their delegations to Madina, offered allegiance to the authorities in Madina and paid Zakat. The tribes that did not favor Islam openly apostatized. Henceforward the issue was not between Muslims and Muslims; the issue was between the ,Muslims and the apostates. The battle of Zul Qissa indeed set the stage for the apostasy campaigns.

Battle of Abraq

Concentration of the tribes at Abraq. After their defeat at Zul Qissa the tribes retreated to Abraq. Heretofore the tribes maintained some semblance of allegiance to Islam, and had not made common cause with the tribes who had apostatized from Islam. After their defeat at Zul Qissa these tribes repudiated Islam, and joined the ranks of the apostates. At Abraq there was consequently a great concentration of the apostate tribes, and they were fully poised for attacking the Muslims. These apostate tribes turned viciously in the first instance upon such of their members who still owed allegiance to Islam. Being outnumbered such Muslims were slaughtered mercilessly. Some were put to the sword, some were burnt alive, some were thrown from the cliffs, and some were subjected to tortures of other kinds. When Abu Bakr came to know of these atrocities perpetrated against the Muslims he vowed vengeance, but in view of the large strength of the apostate tribes he had to perforce delay action till the return of Usamah’s army.

Battle of Abraq. On the return of Usamah’s army from Syria, Abu Bakr decided to lead an expedition against the apostate tribes concentrated at Abraq. Abu Bakr was advised that instead of leading the expedition to Abraq personally he should entrust the command to some one else. His companions said: “O Caliph of the Holy Prophet, do not endanger yourself by loading the army in person. If God forbid any harm comes to you that will work to the advantage of the apostates. Appoint some one else to command the Muslim forces, for even if such a commander is martyred he could be replaced.” Abu Bakr thanked his advisers for their solicitude about him, but he did not accept their proposal He said: “If the Holy Prophet himself led campaigns, it is but meet that as his representative I should also go forth in battle to fight in the name of Allah. “

The Muslim army under Abu Bakr marched from Madina to Zul Qissa, and from there advanced to the district of Abraq. When the Muslims reached Abraq, they found the hostile tribes already formed in battle array in the plain outside their settlement of Rabza. It was a hot August day, and after prayers, Abu Bakr launched the attack. The attack was withheld by the enemy. Then the enemy charged. The enemy contingents led by Haris, Auf, and Huteeyah penetrated into the ranks of the Muslims. The Muslim army fell back and the enemy contingents rushed forward impetuously. Then the Muslims counter charged, and the advance contingents of the enemy were cut to pieces The enemy leaders Haris and Auf were killed, while Huteeyah who was also a well known poet was captured alive.

With the fall of the leaders the enemy forces were demora1ised. Soon the field came to be covered with the dead bodies of the enemy in large numbers. Ultimately the courage of the tribes gave away under the increased pressure of the Muslims, and they found safely in flight. The Muslims thereby won a significant victory.

Consequences of the battle of Abraq. The victory for the Muslims in the battle of Abraq was an important event of the caliphate of Abu Bakr. The campaign had a very salutary effect. lt showed that the Muslims were strong enough for the offensive. It also brought home to the Muslims and the non-Muslims alike that Abu Bakr was not a mere ruler; he was a military General as well. The region of Abraq commanded a strategic position which was vital for the safety of Madina. Abu Bakr annexed the district of Abraq to Madina. The vanquished tribes were expelled from the district, and their lands were confiscated and turned into a pasture ground for the state animals. It was the first state pasture in the history of Islam.






Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: