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.