Ali During the Reign of Caliph Abu Bakr
by S. Abul Hasan Nadwi
Excerpted from “The Life of Caliph Ali” by Abul Hasan Nadwi
The Decisive Hour
The death of the Prophet was a decisive as well as a dangerous juncture for the life and death of Islam. Islam was, at best, like a small island surrounded by the sea of paganism, polytheistic beliefs, unruly traditions of the Arabian nomads and despotic kingdoms. Arabs had only recently accepted Islam but they had no experience of a corporate social order or leading a disciplined life.
All the great religions of the world, which had in their own time prevailed over vast spaces and claimed allegiance of great many peoples and nations, had already so deviated from their original teachings or fallen prey to internal schisms and intrigues or external encroachments that they had become almost lifeless. The only reason why these religions had lost their vital spark was that those who had been charged with the responsibility of guiding their co-religionists, after the death of the founders of those religions, lacked any deep perception of the teachings and objectives of their religions, or were short of sincerity and steadfastness so essential for the immediate successors of prophets and architects of great religions. They were also deficient in zeal and carefulness and anxiety required for preserving the purity of their faiths at a crucial stage. Often they were worldly-minded or had a craving for fame and honour. The result was that these religions were assimilated by philosophies and cults that had been designed to destroy them. It also happened sometimes that a religion became resigned to the current of the time in order to serve the interests of potentates but the result was that it became a tool of exploitation, gained a little advantage but lost heavily. Brahminism, Buddhism and Zoroastrianism had to undergo such transformations in their initial stages. Judaism was no exception to this misfortune and the Christianity was caught by a dangerous manipulation soon after Jesus Christ.
Let us first see what happened to Judaism and Christianity, both of which were based on revelation and Islam recognises their followers as ‘people of the Book.’ Contamination of Judaism in its earliest period has been thus described in the Jewish Encyclopaedia; “The thunderings of the Prophets against idolatry show, however, that the cults of the deities were deeply rooted in the heart of the Israeli people, and they do not appear to have been thoroughly suppressed until the return from the Babylonian exile . . . Through mysticism and magic many polytheistic customs again found their way among the people, and the Talmud confirms the fact that idolatrous worship is seductive.
Christianity had fallen a prey, in its very infancy, to the misguided fervour of its overzealous evangelists, polytheism of the Romans and unwarranted interpretations of its tenets by ignorant church fathers. The monotheistic creed preached by Jesus Christ had been overcast by the gloomy clouds of deviations for which St. Paul (c. 10-65) was primarily responsible, for he had usurped the authority of expounding the Christian creed as head of the church. A number of Christian scholars have since reached the conclusion that the present Christian creed of Trinitarianism implying incarnation and anthropomorphism, taken over from Buddhism, was introduced into Christianity not by the apostles of Jesus Christ but by St. Paul. These heterodox beliefs have been preserved as the official creed of the Orthodox Church during the last nineteen hundred years.
Ancient Hinduism or Brahminism had changed its course in the very beginning of its journey : shorn of its simplicity and spiritual link with the Lord and Master of the world, it had developed a passion for idolatry and multiplicity of deities so earnestly that their number is reported to have reached 330 million.
Buddhism fared no better than Hinduism: the mutilated form of later Buddhism had hardly preserved anything of Gautama Buddha’s original teachings. It also became so intensely idolatrous in its creed and practice that there remained almost nothing to distinguish it from Hinduism except the names of idols and deities. Their fervour for idolatry, escalated to the extent that but, the word for idol in Persian and Urdu, came to be derived from Buddha itself.
Zoroastrianism, too, met the same fate as maintained by the authors of the Religions of the World. They say : “Zoroaster had hardly passed from the scene before a reaction in the nature of a counter-reformation restored the old gods with their ancient cults. They were welcomed with enthusiasm by persons who had long found satisfaction in them. The magi[an] priests, who spearheaded the restoration, celebrated their return to the ancient alters. Zoroaster’s faith, which had bravely set forth as monotheism, now found itself submerged in a reinstated polytheism.”
Succession to the Prophet – Demands and Conditions
The death of the holy Prophet was as inevitable as the difficulties that the incident was likely to bring about. This was the way of God which never changes.
(That had been) the dispensation of Allah with those who have passed away, and thou shall not find any change in the dispensation of Allah. [Qur’an 33:62]
The only way to survive in such a difficult situation was to elect such a successor of the Prophet who had been gifted by God with the qualities and capacity to reject all aberrations and deviations and was able to keep Islam strictly on the path chalked out by the Prophet. Such a man had to have the following qualities:
(1) He must have enjoyed full confidence of the Prophet ever since his acceptance of Islam; the Prophet must have evoked his sincerity and entrusted to him the responsibility of acting on his behalf, particularly in matters relating to religion, and taken him in confidence in delicate affairs and on perilous occasions.
(2) He had to be a man of such indomitable courage and conviction that at a time when the entire fabric of faith was in danger, when other lifelong companions of the Prophet had become dejected, he should have stuck to his guns. His determination to face the most adverse circumstances should have been reminiscent of the fortitude of the prophets of old, who never compromised on any matter pertaining to faith and creed.
(3) He should have had a deep comprehension of the religious truth and imbibed its spirit to the extent that he was never unmindful of the example set by the Prophet in times of war and peace, fear and calm, unity and breach and poverty and affluence.
(4) Pristine purity and integrity of his faith should have been a thing more cherished and precious to him than the honour of his own person or family and he should have always been prepared to make the greatest sacrifice for it, unshaken by any fear or favour.
(5) He should have made it the aim and purpose of his life to accomplish and make perfect the teachings of the Prophet without deflecting a hair’s-breadth from them.
(6) He should have been unmindful of riches and fame and personal conveniences like the Prophet. His character should have been so spotless that he should have never conceived of taking any personal advantage of his position as a ruler nor allowed his family marking a complete break from the traditions of royalty in the neighbouring countries.
Abu Bakr – An Ideal Successor
Abu Bakr had all the above mentioned qualities. His life during the time of the Prophet and during the period of his caliphate demonstrates his steadfastness. There is absolutely nothing – not even one incident – to cast any doubt about his character and demeanour.
The following incidents [will] demonstrate that Abu Bakr had all the qualities mentioned above.
(1) To what extent the Prophet placed reliance on Abu Bakr is revealed by the fact that he had selected Abu Bakr to accompany him in the most dangerous journey of migration from Makkah to Medina. It was the time when the Prophet’s enemies were waiting in ambush for him. No man endowed with reason could trust and share his secret with anyone in whom he did not have an implicit faith on such an occasion. The Prophet knew that any false step would mean a disaster and that those pursuing him would not leave any stone unturned to capture or kill him. A close confidant willing to lay down his life for his master would have alone been trusted to accompany anyone in such a hazardous journey.
Abu Bakr’s companionship on the journey undertaken by the Prophet for migration has been immortalized in the Qur’an as ‘second of the two.’
When those who disbelieved banished him, the second of the two; when the two were in a cave, and when he said to his companion, “do not grieve, verily Allah is with us.“ [Qur’an 9:40]
This is an honour solitary and unrivalled, that Abu Bakr enjoys among the Prophet’s companions. So far as the question of appointing anyone as a deputy to superintend the religious service is concerned, fasting and payment of the poor-due need no representative since these can be performed by every man individually; a deputy is required to lead the prayers and to act as a director during the Hajj. Abu Bakr was the only companion who acted as the Prophet’s viceregent for these two religious services during the lifetime of the Prophet.
Abu Bakr thus enjoys the unique distinction of being appointed by the Prophet to lead the prayers. ‘Ubaydullah b. ‘Abdullah relates; “I called upon ‘Aisha and said: ‘Is it possible that you tell me about the illness and death, of the Prophet of God (peace be upon him) in some detail.’ She replied, ‘Of course. When the Prophet’s illness became severe, he enquired whether the people had performed the prayer. We said, “No, they are waiting for you.” The Prophet asked [for water to be brought to him] in a basin. It was brought and he sat down and took a bath. He fell unconscious as he tried to get up. On regaining consciousness after a short while he again asked if the people had performed the prayer. We said, “No, they have not and are waiting for you.” The Prophet again asked to bring water in a basin. It was brought as desired by him. He tried to lift the basin, and fell unconscious. He regained consciousness before long and again asked if the people had performed prayers. He was again told that they had not, and were awaiting his arrival. Thereafter he lost consciousness and on regaining it after a short while he again repeated his question. We gave the same reply while people were sitting in the mosque expecting the Prophet to lead the isha prayer. The Prophet sent for Abu Bakr to lead the congregation. When the message reached Abu Bakr, he asked Umar to superintend the prayer since he was very tender-hearted. But Umar refused saying that he [Abu Bakr] was more suitable for the task. Thus Abu Bakr acted as the imam during that period. When the Prophet felt somewhat better and the effects of illness decreased, he went out supported by two men, one of whom was ‘Abbas. It was the time for zuhr prayer. Abu Bakr was about to lead the prayer but he hesitated when he saw the Prophet coming to the .mosque. The Prophet signalled him to get ahead and lead the prayer. He asked those supporting him to let him be seated by the side of Abu Bakr. The Prophet thus led the prayer in a sitting posture while Abu Bakr stood leading others. Ubaydullah further says that after he listened this account from ‘Aisha he went to ‘Abdullah b. ‘Abbas and asked him whether he should relate what he knew about the death of Prophet. ‘Abdullah b. ‘Abbas gave his consent and he rehearsed the report. ‘Abdullah b. ‘Abbas endorsed it and asked, “Did ‘Aisha tell you the name of the person who supported the Prophet along with ‘Abbas in going to the mosque?” ‘Ubaydullah said,’ No,’ and then ‘Abdullah informed him : ‘He was ‘Ali’.” [Sahih Bukhari, Muslim]
There is another report also related by Abu Musa who says, “When the Prophet became seriously ill he ordered the people to tell Abu Bakr to lead the prayers. ‘Aisha said entreatingly, ‘O Prophet of Allah, Abu Bakr is very tender-hearted. He will not be able to lead the prayer in place of you.’ The Prophet repeated his order saying,
‘Tell Abu Bakr to lead the prayer. Women speak in the same way as they did to Joseph.”
The Prophet deputed Abu Bakr to direct the Hajj ceremonies in his place. It involved a great responsibility and meant a compliment to him. Hajj was made incumbent in 9 A. H. and the Prophet sent Abu Bakr in command of the Hajj in that very year to enable the Muslims to perform the pilgrimage while the polytheists were at their pilgrim stations. The number of Muslims performing Hajj with Abu Bakr was three hundred.
(2) The inflexible determination and tenacity of Abu Bakr was revealed in the hour of greatest trial of the Muslims. The death of the Prophet had stunned the Muslims. Some of .them even refused to accept that the Prophet could ever die. A man like ‘Umar, known for his sagacity and stout heart, declared that the Prophet had not died. He asserted in the mosque before the people who had gathered there, ‘The Prophet will not depart until all the disaffected have perished.’ At this critical hour Muslims needed a man of iron-will. As soon as Abu Baker came to know what had happened, he came from his house and dismounted from his horse at the door of the mosque as ‘Umar was speaking to the people. He paid no attention to anyone and went in straight to ‘Aisha’s home where the Prophet was lying covered by a mantle. He uncovered the face of the Prophet and kissed him, saying, ‘May my father and mother be a ransom for you. You have tasted the death which God had decreed: a second death will never overtake you. Then he replaced the mantle on the Prophet’s face and went out. ‘Umar was still speaking and he said, ‘Gently, ‘Umar, be quiet.’ But ‘Umar refused and went on talking, and when Abu Bakr saw that ‘Umar would not be silent he went forward to the people who, when they heard him speaking, came to him leaving ‘Umar. Giving thanks and praises to God he said, ‘O men, if anyone worships Muhammad, let him know that Muhammad is dead; if anyone worships God, then God is alive, immortal.’ Then he recited the Quranic verse:
Muhammad is naught save an Apostle. Apostles have passed away before him. Can it be that were he to die or be killed, you would turn back on your heels ? He who turns back does no harm to God and God will richly recompense the grateful. [Qur’an 3:144]
Those who were present on the occasion testified: ‘By God, it was as though the people did not know that this verse had come down until Abu Bakr recited it that day.’ ‘Umar said, ‘When I heard Abu Bakr reciting this verse, I was astounded and knew that the Prophet was indeed dead.’
(3) How deep was his understanding of Islam, and how zealous he was to adhere to the path shown by the Prophet, is disclosed by his remark when he came to know that several Arab tribes had refused to pay the poor-due and questioned its validity. His meaningful utterance reveals his emotions and state of mind, and helps to determine his place among the most earnest followers of Islam. Abu Bakr had asserted: ‘Revelation has been discontinued, the Shari’ah has been completed: will the religion be curtailed while I am alive. Those who had refused to pay the poor-due claimed that they were Muslims and acknowledged other injunctions of Islam. This had made several eminent companions uncertain about the lawfulness of waging war against them. But Abu Bakr was resolute and absolutely clear in his mind; he never vacillated in his stand. It is related that he said, “I will fight these tribes even if they refuse to give a halter. Poor-due is a levy on wealth and, by God, I will fight him who differentiates between the prayer and poor-due.”
There can be no denying the fact that refusal to pay the poor-due at that stage would have opened the way to deviation from the teachings of the Prophet and encouraged rebellion and anarchy. Had Abu Bakr been complaisant or lukewarm in suppressing the unruly tribes, aberrations would have started cropping up and nobody would have been able to curb them subsequently. Objections would have been raised about the congregational and Friday prayers being held in the mosques, the month of Ramadan being earmarked for fasting and the rituals performed during the Hajj or similar other matters. The Prophet’s successors or the caliphs and the institution of jurisconsults keeping a watch over the Shari’ah, Islamic injunctions and its limits would have been rendered ineffectual. Islam would have scattered like the pearls of a broken necklace immediately after the Prophet’s death. The stern attitude adopted by Abu Bakr, avoiding the least acquiescence and indecision, therefore, seems to have been inspired by God. It incidently, evinces the truth of Islam and that it is still present in its original shape to this day.
(4) It is thus a historical fact that the role of Caliph Abu Bakr in the suppression of apostasy and the conspiracy to break up Islam in its very beginning, was indicative of the character of the prophets of God – none of whom had ever compromised with ungodliness in his own time. This was the characteristic required of a successor to the Prophet which was displayed in full measure by Abu Bakr during the period of his caliphate. Indeed, he deserves thanks and invocation of all Muslims from the first day to the last.
(5) Yet another decision taken by Caliph Abu Bakr reveals his acumen in the matters relating to the likes and dislikes of the Prophet, the underlying reasons therefor and his sincerity to implement them meticulously in accordance with the wishes of the Prophet. Shortly before his death the Prophet had decided to despatch an expedition to Syria under Usama. The army had actually left Medina and bivouacked at Juraf, at a little distance from Medina when the Prophet breathed his last. Abu Bakr insisted on its departure to give effect to his master’s last wishes although [since] Medina [was] hemmed in on all sides in those days, anyone would have hardly dared taking this action. There was the danger of apostates attacking Medina or other unruly tribes taking advantage of the chaotic conditions prevailing around the capital of infant Islamic State.
Abu Huraira has correctly estimated the far-reaching effect of the decision taken by Abu Bakr. Abul ‘Araj relates from Abu Huraira : “I swear to God save whom no deity is there that God would not have been worshipped, if Abu Bakr had not ascended the caliphate.’ Abu Huraira repeated it thrice over and then related the incident of sending the expedition under Usama. He said, ‘Abu Bakr despatched the army under Usama, saying, 1 will riot allow the army to return already sent by the Prophet : I will not fold the flag unfurled by the Prophet !’ The result was that when Usama passed the tribes which were disposed to rebellion and apostasy, they said to one another; ‘Had these prople not been strong enough, they would not have ventured on this expedition. Let them go and face the Romans.’ Thus the army went forth, fought the Romans and returned after defeating the enemy. Thus the tribes prone to defection were reassured and continued to remain votaries of Islam.”
Those who turned apostate, repudiating Islam completely and those who gave up Islamic way of worship like prayers etc., and reverted to paganism have been placed by Khattabi in the first category of turncoats. Those who made a distinction between the prayers and the poor-due and denied the obligatory nature of the latter, were listed by Khattabi in the second category. Caliph Abu Bakr decided to fight both these groups on the ground that they were all guilty of apostasy. The latter group had rejected a duty made obligatory by Islam which amounted to its repudiation. This was the reason why Abu Bakr had declared that he would fight those who drew a distinction between the prayers and the poor-due which was a levy on wealth. There was also a third group which had refused to pay the poor-due to the Caliph. They desired either to utilize it themselves or spend it within their own tribe under their own supervision, This group also included certain persons who were agreeable to pay the poor-due, but their chieftains had forbidden them to do so. Abu Bakr’s reason for waging war against them was that they were rebels who had to be given battle according to the Quranic injunction and consensus of the Muslims. Allah had ordained,
“And if one party of them does wrong to the other, then fight the party which does wrong till it reverts to the commandment of Allah.” [Qur’an 49:9]
Caliph Abu Bakr reduced all the insurgent tribes to order. Thereafter, he turned to the suppression of imposters, who had laid a claim to prophethood. Great battles were fought with them and they were finally defeated. The great imposter Musailama was killed. Had this menace been allowed to survive, Islam would have been wiped out. Abu Bakr eradicated the bane of apostasy, crushed those who had denied to pay the poor-due and sent out eleven armies under different commanders who beat down the rebels of Sajah, Bani Tamim and al-Fujat with the result that the people of Bahrain) Mahra and Yemen were received back in Islam, The number of rebels and apostates who were sent to their doom in Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula is estimated to be fifty thousand. Ibn Kathir has correctly stated that: “Abu Bakr brought the fugitives of Islam back to its fold and truth was re-establised in its original shape. Complete uniformity was brought in the Arabian Peninsula and no difference remained between those living far or near.”
Muhammad b. Is’haq, who has been cited by lbn Kathir, says: “When Allah’s Apostle died, apostasy broke out, Christianity and Judaism held up their heads, hypocrisy cropped up and Muslims became like shrunken goats and sheep in a rainy and cold night, for the Messenger of Allah had bid farewell to this world. And this state of affairs continued until Allah unified them under the leadership of Abu Bakr.
“Abu Bakr despatched Khalid b. Walid to Iraq who conquered a greater part of it. He also won the battles of al-Anbar and Dumat al-Jandal. In several other battles Islam emerged victorious.”
Thus the work of pacification of the Peninsula was completed by Abu Bakr. It gave Islam a foothold in the country of its origin which had to remain, for all times to come, its source and criterion. Islam’s tide of conquest engulfed Iraq and Syria and the Muslims directed their efforts to bring in as much part of the globe as possible under Islam. They captured one country after another around Arabia and the process continued under Caliph ‘Umar and Caliph ‘Uthman. When Caliph Abu Bakr breathed his last, Damascus had already fallen to the arms of Islam and the campaign culminating in the decisive battle of Yarmuk was almost in its last stages. Of a fact, all the subsequent conquests whether they were made during the caliphate of ‘Umar and ‘Uthman or in the Umayyad period owe their origin to the efforts made by Caliph Abu Bakr during his lifetime. It was because of him that Islam reached the distant corners of the world.
(6) The two incidents related here are enough to demonstrate the frugal life of Abu Bakr, his disdain for the worldly comfort and extreme cautiousness in taking any advantage as the ruler of a mighty empire.
Once the wife of Abu Bakr expressed the desire to have some sweet dish, but Abu Bakr dismissed her saying that he did not possess the money to satisfy her desire. His wife suggested that she could save something from the daily expenses to purchase the material for preparing a sweet dish. Abu Bakr agreed and she made the savings over a period. When she gave that amount to Abu Bakr for purchasing the required material he deposited it in the public treasury, saying, “Experience shows that we can do with a smaller amount than what I have been taking as a stipend.” He also directed to reduce his stipend by the amount daily saved by his wife. He also made good the loss public treasury had suffered earlier by the excess amount of stipend from his private property.
When Caliph Abu Bakr was about to die, he said to his daughter : “O A’isha, the camel of which we used to drink milk and the cup in which we kept sauce and the mantle we wore are the things we used when we were the guardians of Muslims. After I am dead, send them to Umar.” His wish was complied with and the articles in question were sent to Umar who thereupon exclaimed, “Abu Bakr, may Allah bless you. You have placed your successors in a difficult position.”
In the ages past, the temporal and spiritual leaderships were the preserve of particular families. When Islam made its advent, the world was being crushed by these hereditary leaderships. Those who wielded the sceptre acted as autocrats although they had inherited the authority from their fathers, or in accordance with the will of outgoing kings, or usurped authority through machinations or superior prowess. Public good or interest of the people never had any say in the selection of the potentate. The entire income of the country was treated as personal property of the rulers whose ingenuity was always on the lookout for increasing their incomes, accumulating vast treasures and making their lives as pleasurable as possible. It was not [uncommon] that the kings displayed ostentatious magnificence and pageantry that defied one’s imagination, and is now known only to those who have studied history. These rulers alienated from the common man by impassable barriers, were regarded as descendants of celestial beings.
The masses were, on the other hand, extremely poor and in great distress. The ever-increasing taxes, burdensome levies) conscriptions and forced labour had crushed the common man beyond description and they were forced to live like the beasts of burden.
There was also another dominion. It was the spiritual empire. Its sovereignty was vested in a particular family or its chosen individuals. Spiritual leadership was the domain of these people who were revered as demigods. Inherited by the son from his father and thus continuing from generation to generation, it had its own economic benefits. Those who were possessed of ecclesiastical authority manipulated it for satisfying their carnal desires. Treated as the intermediary between God and His creation, they had the power to make lawful what was unlawful and vice versa. They promulgated religious laws at their sweet will. The Qur’an has in its own inimitable manner given a vivid description of these people which cannot be improved upon by any one.
“O you who believe : surely many of the priests and monks (of the people of the book) devour the substance of men in falsehood and hinder (people) from the way of Allah.” [Qur’an 9:34]
Among the Christians these priests were known by the name of ‘clergy.’ A Syrian Christian scholar has defined the word as follows:
“This name was given by the Christians to the persons ordained, or set apart, for the service of religion. Their name signifies ‘a share’ or ‘inheritance’ almost in the same sense as Pentateuch assigns priestly rights to the ‘sons of Levi’. . . Among the ancient Egyptians and Hebrews a class was ordained for performing religious rites. The Christian church had, from the very beginning, ministers who formulated its policies. If the church was affluent and prosperous, the clergymen took full advantage of it. They were not merely priests and spiritual guides, but were also treated as the source of wisdom and knowledge. Under the Roman Empire they were exempt from all taxes. They were also not required to do any social service. They had, in a way, a dominion over the people, within their own sphere and even outside it.'” [P.Bustani, Da’iratul Ma’arif
[The] Zoroastrianism of Iran was not different from Christianity. A particular clan was marked out for priesthood. During the past ages, the function was allocated to a tribe of Media and under Zoroastrianism, the clan of ‘al-Moghan held the charge of spiritual leadership.
The priestly clan was regarded as the viceregent of God on earth, created to administer the kingdom of God. It was the prerogative of a particular clan to give birth to the holy men who were regarded as sharers of divinity and inherited the charge of oratories or fire-temples.
[The] Brahmins in India had the monopoly of everything sacred and spiritual. The religious law allocated them the highest place in society which could never be attained by anyone not belonging to that caste. “A Brahmin who remembers the Rig Veda,” says the Manu Shostra, “is absolutely sinless, even if he debases all three worlds.” Neither could any tax be imposed on a Brahmin, nor could he be executed for any crime. All religious rites were to be performed by the Brahmin alone. Islam abolished both these hereditary dominions which had been an instrument of tyranny and misery of the people of which the history of countries like Rome, Iran and India are replete with examples. Islam entrusted the responsibility of electing the Caliph to the Muslims – particularly those who were judicious and well-informed among them, and prescribed the method of mutual consultation for it. This was the reason why the holy Prophet had not expressly indicated who will be the head of the Muslim commonwealth after him. Had it been necessary or a part of his religious duty, the Prophet would have certainly done so. Had not Allah ordained the Prophet?
“O Messenger: Make known that which hath been revealed unto thee from thy Lord, for if thou do it not, thou will not have conveyed His Message. Allah will protect thee from mankind. Lo ! Allah guideth not the disbelieving folk.” [Qur’an 5:67]
At another place the divine revelation had clearly stated:
That was Allah’s way with those who passed away of old – and the commandment of Allah is certain destiny – who delivered the messages of Allah and feared Him, and feared none save Allah. Allah keepeth good account. [Qur’an 33:38,39]
Ubaydullah b. ‘Abdullah b. ‘Utba narrated that Ibn ‘Abbas said: ‘When Allah’s Apostle was on his death-bed and there were certain persons in his house, the Prophet said: Come near, I will write for you something after which you will not go astray
. Some of them said, ‘Allah’s Apostle is seriously ill and you have the Qur’an. Allah’s Book is sufficient for us.’ So the people in the house differed and started disputing. When their differences increased and discussion became louder, Allah’s Apostle said, ‘Go Away.’
The Prophet remained alive for three days after this incident, but he did not ask for the writing material nor specified who would be his successor. He did in fact express a number of his last wishes but never mentioned the topic of his viceregency.
Of the directions he gave during this period one was: ‘(Offer) prayers and be considerate to those placed in your charge (i. e. slaves and bondswomen).’ ‘Ali also relates, ‘The Prophet had given instructions in regard to prayer and poor-due and mildness to those placed under one’s charge.’
‘A’isha and Ibn ‘Abbas narrate: ‘When the time for departure of Allah’s Apostle arrived, he started covering his face with a black blanket and remained so for a while. Then he uncovered his face and said, ‘Allah’s curse be on the Jews and Christians for they took the graves of their prophets as places of worship.’ The Prophet thus warned and forbade his followers to act like them.
In regard to the incident relating to the Prophet’s desire to bring some writing material to him, ‘Abbas Mahmud al-‘Aqqad writes:
“The allegation that ‘Umar came in the way of Prophet’s dictating a testament and nomination of ‘Ali as the Caliph is extremely contemptible and baseless. Such an imputation on the character of any distinguished person amounts to his insult, much less a man like ‘Umar. In fact the Prophet did not ask for paper to make a testament for nominating ‘Ali or anybody else as a Caliph, for it was not at all necessary to make a testament for the purpose. One word, a mere gesture, as he made for Abu Bakr to lead the prayer, was enough for it. Everybody understood what the Prophet wanted of Abu Bakr.
‘The Prophet remained alive for three days after asking for paper, but he did not demand it again. Nobody could dare interpose himself between ‘Ali and the Prophet. Fatima, the wife of ‘Ali was present with the Prophet until he breathed his last. If the Prophet had so wished, he would have sent for ‘Ali and nominated him as his successor.
Apart from the Prophet’s reticence, which was not because of any compulsion or pressure, his usual practice was to deny positions of authority to the members of his family and he did not even consider the common rules of inheritance proper for the Apostle Of God. Now, if one were to see it in the light of his practice and reticence on this occasion, he would find that nobody interposed himself nor the Prophet ever had any intention of nominating ‘Ali as his Caliph.
AI-‘Aqqad has also discussed the question of transmission of caliphate through inheritance. He has rightly observed that: “Had it (inheritance) been one of the commandments of God, then it was queer that the Prophet left this world without any male successor,” and the Qur’an to take its final shape without saying anything about the caliphate being transferred to a member of the Prophet’s household. And, had it been the Will of God or a religious necessity, it would have certainly taken effect as a thing determined made against what had been destined would have been in vain in the same way as all the labours made against laws of nature end up in a fiasco.
Therefore, there is no explicit direction, no circumstantial indication, nor any Providential will to support those who assert transference of caliphate though inheritance and hold it to be confined to Hashimites.
Oath of Allegiance to Abu Bakr
The Muslims of Medina, both [the] Ansar and Muhajirin, were sapient [discerning] and influential and their decision would have been accepted by all in the Arabian Peninsula and outside it. But they stood at the crossroads when the Prophet bid farewell to the world. They had either to make a concerted effort for spreading the message of Islam, and for it to unanimously elect a leader who was respected by all for his moral virtues. Such a leader had to be very close to the Prophet during his lifetime, enjoyed his confidence and also been entrusted with responsibilities on crucial occasions. Alternatively, if Muslims were not united and lacked unanimity of thought and action, Islam was likely to break up in numerous factions like other religions which had splitted on the issue of leadership.
Actually, the situation was even more complicated because the divisive forces instantly surfaced in Medina, the hometown of Bani-Qahtan whose two tribes, the Aus and Khazraj, had welcomed the Prophet in their town, provided asylum to the persecuted Muslims and treated them as their brothers with an exemplary magnanimity and self-sacrificing zeal that had been praised by God:
“Those who entered the city and faith before them, love those who flee unto them for refuge.”
Medina had been the hometown of these people where they had been living for centuries before the immigrants had come to settle there. Therefore, it was not at all astonishing if they considered one of them to be entitled to succeed the Prophet as the leader of the community. Such a claim was rather justified in the obtaining circumstances and polity [realm] of Arabin city states. ‘Umar lost no time in grasping the complexity of the situation and the psychological reasons behind it. He visualised through his God-gifted intelligence and foresight, as he had on several occasions earlier, the grave danger that lay ahead. He knew that any delay on the part of those who were responsible for maintaining unity and consensus among Muslims could be disastrous.
He, therefore, did not procrastinate in the election of the Caliph. He made haste because certain Ansars of Medina had mooted the question of having the Caliph from their own ranks. They were not entirely unjustified in their proposal since they were the original inhabitants of the city, but their two powerful clans, the Aus and Khazraj, had been at loggerheads for a long time in the recent past. ‘Umar also knew that the people of Arabia would be agreeable to accept the leadership of guraish only because they had held that position in the past. He, therefore, induced the Muslims to pledge fealty to Abu Bakr at Thaqifa Bani Sa’eda so that no internal dissensions might crop up among the Muslims. It was the time when the Prophet had just died and his burial had yet to take place and unanimity among Muslims was still intact. If a leader of Muslims was elected at the moment, he would naturally superintend the last rites of the Prophet as their leader.
The next day, people swore allegiance to Abu Bakr in the Mosque of the Prophet. Abu Bakr said after praising the Lord, “Lo : I have been charged with the responsibility of acting as your chief. I am not the best among you; if I do well, support me; if I make any mistake, counsel me. To tell the truth is faithful allegiance; to conceal it is treason. Those who are weak among you are strong in my sight until I restore their rights to them; and the strong are weak in my sight until I make them restore the rights of others. Of a fact, the people who give up striving in the way of God are abased; the people who allow lewdness to flourish among them are made to suffer hardships by Allah. As I obey Allah, obey me; if I neglect Allah and His Apostle, I have no more right to your obedience. Now come and perform the prayers. May Allah have mercy on you.”
The election of Caliph Abu Bakr was not fortuitous, nor was it the result of any collusion that one may claim that there was some secret understanding between certain persons which came to fruition. It had been ordained by God, the Most Wise, since He had decided in His Mercy that Islam shall live and prosper. The election of the first Caliph was also in accordance with the usage of the Arabs who decided all matters of significance through an unfettered discussion and consultation and elected a chieftain who was ripe in age, mature in Judgement, sincere and accomplished in leading the people in war and peace. This had been their practice since ages past.
An eminent Muslim penman, Justice Amir ‘Ali, who happened to be a Shia, has described the practice of the Arabs in this regard. He says :
“Among the Arabs, the chieftaincy of a tribe is not hereditary, but elective; the principle of universal suffrage is recognised in its extremest form, and all the members of a tribe have a voice in the election of their chief. The election is made on the basis of seniority among the surviving male members of the deceased chieftain’s family. This old tribal custom was followed in the choice of a successor to the Prophet, for the urgency of the times admitted of no delay. Abu Bakr, who by virtue of his age and the position he had held at Mecca occupied a high place in the estimation of the Arabs, was hastily elected to the office of Khalifa (Caliph) or vicegerent of the Prophet. He was recognised as a man of wisdom and moderation, and his election was accepted with their usual devotion to the faith by ‘Ali and chief members of Mohammad’s family.”
The Muslims, especially the Arabs, were really spared of hereditary autocracy by the election of Caliph Abu Bakr. [A] Dynastic form of government is based on [an] ancestral relationship in which race and blood assume undue importance and more often than not a particular person or his family comes to be sanctified as exalted and holy. Had anyone belonging to Bani Hashim been elected as the first Caliph, for which they were “undoubtedly fully qualified, their religious and spiritual authority would have combined with their temporal ascendancy, and Islam would have developed a form of priesthood akin to the clerical system of the Christians. This would have surely given birth to an organised church and priestly order with all the attendant evils of this system in Christianity, Zoroastrianinsm and Brahminism. Religious, spiritual and political leadership in Islam would have combined with an autocratic form of government in which all the powers would have converged in a particular family, allowing it full scope for exploitation of the people. The coming generations would have regarded them as their rulers possessing supernatural powers. Entitled to receive tithes and tributes from their followers, they would have lived a life of ease and pleasure. But this would have been contrary to the spirit and objective of the teachings of the Prophet who had forbidden Banu Hashim to receive the poor-due. The purpose behind this directive was that the Prophet never wanted his progeny to become bloodsuckers, living on the earnings of others. Abu Huraira relates, “Once Hasan b. ‘Ali had taken a date received by way of charity. As soon as the Prophet saw it, he made Hasan vomit it, saying, ‘Do you not know that we never take anything of charity?‘ ” Another lengthy report handed down from ‘Abdul Muttalib b. Rabi’a b. al-Harith contains the words, “Charity is like dirt of [in the] hands of the people which is not permissible to the Prophet and his progeny.”
[The] Prophet’s household and the progeny of Hashim have been spared the ignominy thus described by the Qur’an : “O you who believe! Surely many of the priests and monks devour the substance of men in falsehood.” [Qur’an 9:34]Contrarily, the Prophet always used to encourage his near relations to face tribulation and danger. ‘Ali has also referred to this practice of the Prophet in one of his letters to Mu’awiyah in which he wrote : “When the fire of battle was hottest and the people seemed [to lose] hope, the Prophet used to ask the members of his family to go ahead and save others from the enemy’s swords and lances. It was thus that ‘Ubayda b. Harith was killed in Badr, Hamza in Uhad and Ja’afar in Muta.
And, if the two leaderships (the spiritual and temporal) had been conferred upon Bani Hashim by way of inheritance, it would have remained with them perpetually. Certain Quraishites had then candidly observed that had [the] Bani Hashim been made rulers over you, statecraft would have become their exclusive preserve and no other clan of the Quraish would ever have become rulers.
All those who have studied the history of [the] reformatory and revivalist movements would be conversant with the endeavours initiated for a religious renaissance which ended up with the advancement of any particular family, carving out a personal kingdom, or enabling any particular family to attain political influence. That is why those who are endowed with insight and comprehension of religious spirit, are always sceptical of these movements as they are never sure about their ultimate outcome. It would be relevant to recall here the conversation between Heraclius and Abu Sufian after the Prophet sent a letter to the former inviting him to Islam. It shows the reaction of Heraclius and what he wanted to know about the Prophet in order to form an estimate of him and his mission. He asked Abu Sufian: ‘Had there been any king in his family?’ When Abu Sufian replied in negative, Heraclius remarked: ‘Had it been so. I would have surmised that he was trying to recover his lost kingdom.’ It is apparent that God had in His Wisdom already destined that nobody from the Prophet’s family or one of the Hashamites should immediately succeed him as his Caliph. The question asked by Heraclius shows his knowledge of history. He wanted to ascertain if the man claiming prophethood was interested in establishing a hereditary kingdom. But, if a hereditary kingdom had actually come to be established in spite of it through a near relation of the Prophet succeeding him, the verdict of history would have nevertheless been that the prophetic mission of the Apostle of God was meant to vest his descendants with the mantle of kingship, power and glory rather than for preaching the message of God. It was an affair preordained by God that Abu Bakr of the clan of Bani Taym should be elected as the vicegerent of the holy Prophet. Abu Bakr was succeeded by ‘Umar of Bani ‘Adi. ‘Uthman belonging to Banu Umayyah took over from ‘Umar and then ‘Ali b. Abi Talib, the worthiest man in his clan, in fact, among the companions of the Prophet then alive, was chosen to take up the responsibility. The line of succession had by then removed all chances of any misunderstanding that the temporal authority and command belonged to the household of the Prophet. The sequence of succession left no occasion for anyone to make an allegation about graft or jobbery against the Prophet’s family.
Steadfastness of Abu Bakr
All the biographers of the Prophet and scholars of Traditions are agreed that the Prophet had said, “We prophets do not bequeath anything to anyone; whatever we leave goes to charity.”
Ahmad, the compiler of [the] Musnad, an authoritative work on Traditions, relates from Abu Huraira that Allah’s Apostle said, “My descendants shall not apportion dinar and dirham amongst them. Whatever I shall leave, apart from the maintenance of my wives and their agent, shall go to charities.
Bukhari, Muslim and Abu Dawud have recorded the above report of Abu Huraira which has been handed down by Malik b. Anas. Bukari relates from ‘Urwah who heard it from ‘A’isha: “When the Prophet died and his wives expressed the desire to ask ‘Uthman to approach Abu Bakr for giving them their share of Prophet’s inheritance, ‘A’isha intervened to say: ‘Did you not listen the Prophet saying that we do not bequeath any property! Whatever we leave goes to charities.’
A similar report finds a place in the Sahih of Muslim. The approach of the Prophet in the matter of inheritance was not only befitting of a messenger of God but also in keeping with his demeanour. Whenever there was any occasion of danger or it became necessary to bear some loss, the Prophet asked the members of his own household or one belonging to Bani Hashim to step forward, but where any advantage was to be had, he asked them to fall behind. In the battle of Badr, as stated earlier, he sent forward Hamza, ‘Ali and Abu ‘Ubayda to face the three veteran warriors of the enemy. A major source of income for the Muslim community, since the time of the Prophet to this day, is zakat or the poor-due, but the Prophet made it unlawful for his own progeny and the descendants of Banu Hashim to derive any benefit from it. On the occasion of farewell pilgrimage, the Prophet abolished interest bearing loans and announced simultaneously,: “The first of our usury I abolish is that of my own uncle ‘Abbas b. ‘Abdul Muttalib.” On the same occasion he annulled the claims of blood-vengeance and the first claim on blood he proclaimed to have been remitted was that of Ibn Rabi’a b. al-Harith, b. ‘Abdul Muttalib, his own nephew. The proclamation made by him was:
“The usury of the day of Ignorance is abolished, and the first of our usury I abolish is that of my own uncle, ‘Abbas b. ‘Abdul Muttalib, and all of it is abolished. And claims of blood-vengeance belonging to the pre- Islamic days have been waived. The first claim on blood I give up is that of Ibn Rabi’a b. Al-Harith.” Soon after Abu Bakr took over as Caliph, he had to face a difficult problem – a delicate issue for him since it involved a perplexing question of emotional nature. It was a question relating to Shari’ah, but had a political aspect also. It was also a sensitive matter and required to be dealt with in accordance with the pronouncement and practice of his departed master, the Messenger of God.
Bukhari has narrated this incident on the authority of A’isha:
“Fatima and ‘Abbas called upon Abu Bakr and demanded the legacy of Allah’s Prophet. Both asked for the land in Fidak as well as the Prophet’s share (of booty) in Khaybar. Abu Bakr said to them, ‘I have heard the Prophet saying, “We do not bequeath any property to anyone; whatever we leave is to be deemed as charities.” Therefore, I will allow only maintenance to the descendants of the Prophet. According to another report Abu Bakr replied : “I have heard that the prophets do not have legatees [heirs] but I will meet such of their expenses as were defrayed by the Prophet.””
There are other reports also which corroborate the determination of Abu Bakr never to deviate, [not] even slightly, from the practice of the Prophet and follow only what he knew to be the Prophet’s will. Fatima, however, continued to insist on her right of inheritance either because she was not aware of the Prophet’s will or she considered the Caliph competent to meet her wishes. Be that as it may, both held [steadfastly] to their views.
Ahmad ibn Hanbal relates Fatima as saying to Abu Bakr: ‘You know better what you had heard from the Prophet.’
Fatima remained alive for six months after the death of the Prophet. She held herself aloof from Abu Bakr which shows that her grievance also persisted. Such complaints and misunderstandings are, however, not uncommon among near relations. Often one becomes very touchy about minor matters, particularly if one considers oneself to be right. But the differences between Fatima and Abu Bakr never developed into animosity. Fatima’s resentment was marked by a restraint which speaks of her civility and cordiality which were the essential features of her character. ‘Amir narrates that when Fatima became seriously ill, Abu Bakr paid a visit to her and asked for the permission to see her. ‘Ali said to Fatima, “Abu Bakr is standing at the door and wants to come in. If you have no objection allow him to see you.” Fatima asked, “Would you like me to permit him?” ‘Ali replied in affir- mative and she gave her consent. Abu Bakr went in and offered his apologies and Fatima was no more displeased with him. We bring the discussion on this issue to an end with the observations of ‘Abbas Mahmad al-‘Aqqad who writes in the Al-‘Abqariyat al-Islamiyah that “it is not at all reasonable to doubt the fidelity of Abu Bakr to the Prophet simply because he did not allow Fatima to inherit the legacy of the Prophet. If this was his attitude in the case of Fatima, he had also disallowed inheritance to his own daughter A’isha, since there could be no legatees to a Prophet under the Islamic law. In fact, Abu Bakr never wanted to refuse inheritance to the legatees of the Prophet, one of whom was his own beloved daughter A’isha, but he did not want to deviate from the will of the Prophet and the religious injunctions. To uphold religion was in his view more important than to save any family from the financial loss.
Abu Bakr had no other choice save what he decided in the matter of Prophet’s inheritance. He knew that the prophets do not have legatees as the Prophet had himself told him. When Abu Bakr was about to die, he instructed A’isha to forego everything he had given her in favour of the Muslims, although she was entitled to possess them as a legacy and gift from her father.
I cannot proceed further without saying something more about Fatima, the daughter of Allah’s Apostle.
Fatima Zahra was the youngest and most beloved child of her father. Waqidi relates on the authority of Abu J’afar al- Baqir that ‘Abbas said, “‘Fatima was born when K’aba was being reconstructed and the Prophet was thirty-five years of age.” Mada’ini also corroborates this statement but another report says that Fatima was born a year and few days before the prophethood of her father. She was married to ‘Ali in the beginning of Muharram 2 A. H.
A Shi’ite scholar Shaikh Abu J’afar al-Tusi has provided incontrovertible evidence that Abu Bakr had taken up the responsibility of purchasing the articles given to Fatima as her dowry. Similarly A’isha and Umm Salma had lent assistance to ‘Ali in cleaning and preparing his house for the marriage. Fatima was the only daughter of the Prophet who had children and hence her descendants came to be regarded as the progeny of the Prophet. At the time of her marriage, she was fifteen and a half years of age. Tabrani narrates from A’isha that next to the Prophet she had found Fatima as the most pious. ‘Abdur Razzaq relates from Ibn Juraih that Fatima was the youngest daughter of the Prophet as well as dearest to him. Abu ‘Umar says that among the daughters of the Prophet, Zaynab was the eldest, Ruqaiya was the next, then Umm Kulthum and the youngest was Fatima.
Abdur Rahman b. Abi Nuaym relates on the authority of Abu Sa’id al-Khudri that the Prophet once said: ‘Fatima is the leader of women in Paradise.’ All the six authentic collections of hadith record the saying of the Prophet who once said in a sermon delivered from the pulpit of the Mosque : ”
Fatima is a part of my body. Whatever annoys her, irks me too. Whoever disturbs her, causes trouble to me also
A’isha states, “Once I saw Fatima coming. The way she was walking, exactly resembled that of Allah’s Apostle. So long as Fatima was alive, Ali did not take any other lady into marriage.” ‘Uqba b. Yaraym relates from Abu Th’alaba al-Khashni,: “Whenever the Prophet returned from a journey or an expedition, he first went to the Mosque where he offered two raka’ts of prayer, thereafter he went to see Fatima. After that he met his wives.” ‘A’isha b. Talha narrates on the authority of A’isha who once said, “I have not seen anyone bearing a greater resemblance to the Prophet in speaking than Fatima.” Fatima was always extremely mindful of the likes and dislikes of the Prophet and considered nothing [any] more important than to win her father’s pleasure. On the other hand, many incidents are on record to show the intensity of Prophet’s love for his daughter.
Abdullah b. ‘Umar says : ‘Whenever the Prophet went out on a journey he had the last word with Fatima and whenever he returned home, he first saw Fatima.’ When the Prophet returned from the expedition of Tabuk he learnt that Fatima had purchased a ‘headscarf and dyed it in saffron, hnng a curtain on her door and perhaps spread a mat in her house. As the Prophet saw these articles, he returned and sat down in the mosque. Fatima sent for Bilal and asked him to find out why the Prophet had gone back from her door. Bilal went to the Prophet and asked him the reason for coming back. The Prophet told him about the things he had seen and then Bilal communicated it to Fatima who at once removed the objectionable things. She also changed her dress and put on the old and patched clothing. Then Bilal again went to the Prophet and informed him of it. The Prophet went to Fatima and said to her, “My father be your ransom, keep on in this manner.”
Ibn ‘Umar relates, “‘Once Allah’s Apostle went to the house of Fatima but did not enter the house. He returned from the doorsteps. Fatima told ‘Ali about it, who went to the Prophet and enquired the reason for not going inside his house. The Prophet replied, ‘I have seen a curtain hanging on the door. What have we to do with the world (meaning decoration).’ ‘Ali narrated the reply given by the Prophet to Fatima who said, ‘Let me know his wish and I would comply.’ ‘Ali again went to the Prophet and asked him what he wanted. The Prophet thereupon told him to send the curtain to a certain person who needed it.”
Thauban, a slave of the Prophet, narrates : ‘Whenever the Prophet went away on a journey, the last thing he did was to visit Fatima. Similarly, on return he first met Fatima. Once when he returned from an expedition, he saw a curtain hanging on the door of Fatima’s house. He also saw Hassan and Hussain wearing silver bracelets. The Prophet stayed and did not enter the house. Fatima at once perceived the reason and she got the curtain and the bracelets taken off. The children went weepingly to the Prophet who took the bracelets and said to Tauban, ‘Take these to such and such person.’ Then pointing towards Hasan and Hussain he continued: ‘
These are the members of my household. I do not want them to enjoy the life of this world. O Thauban, bring a necklace of date leaves for Fatima and also two bracelets of ivory.’
The deep and abiding love of Fatima for the Prophet is believable since he was her father besides being the Apostle of God and the most admired of all the persons. Her utterance after the death of the Prophet was more mournful than a long elegy. After the burial of the Prophet was over, she said, “O Anas ! How did they throw dust on the Prophet?”
Fatima died six months after the Prophet had breathed his last. The Prophet had assured her that she would be the first to meet him after leaving this fleeting world. He had also once told her : ”
Are you not pleased that you will be the head of all the women in paradise ?
Imam Malik reports from Jafar Sadiq (who heard it from Zainul Abidin) that Fatima died in the evening between maghrib and ‘isha prayers. Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, Zubayr and ‘Abdur Rahman b. ‘Auf came to ‘All on hearing the news. ‘Ali asked Abu Bakr to lead the funeral prayers. Abu Bakr objected to lead the prayers in his presence, but Ali insisted and he yielded to his desire. She was buried in the same night. Ibn S’ad confirms this report in the Tabaqat. He says that Mutrif b. “Abdullah al- Yasari told him on the authority of Abdul ‘Ala and Ibrahim that Abu Bakr led the funeral prayer of Fatima with four takbirs. ‘Abdur Razzaq cites Ibn Juraih who said : ‘Fatima was the youngest daughter of the Prophet and also dearest to him.’ Abu Umar says that the four daughters of the Prophet were Zaynab, Ruqaiya, Umm Kulthum and Fatima.” As Waqidi reports, she died on the 3rd of Ramadan, 11 A. H / 22 November, 633 A. D. and she was buried the same night. She gave birth to Hasan, Hussain, Muhsin, Umm Kulthum and Zaynab. May God be pleased with her.
Ali’s Oath of Allegiance to Abu Bakr
Reports differ about the timing of ‘Ali’s oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr. Hafiz Abu Bakr al-Baihaqi relates on the authority of Abu Sa’eed al-Khudri: ‘Abu Bakr ascended the pulpit and cast a glance on the people. He did not find ‘Ali among them. So he sent for ‘Ali and said, “O brother and son-in-law of the Prophet, would you like that the unity among Muslims should be torn to pieces ?” ‘Ali replied, “I have no grudge or complaint, O Caliph, of the Prophet.” He immediately swore allegiance to him. Al-Baihaqi adds that ‘Ali uttered these words or this was their purport.
Ibn Kathir adds : ‘A significant aspect of this affair is that ‘Ali took the oath of allegiance on the very first day or the day following the death of the Prophet. This is correct in point of fact since ‘Ali never gave up Abu Bakr’s companionship nor he absented himself in any congregational prayer.
It is commonly believed that ‘Ali did not initially take the oath of fealty to Abu Bakr in deference to the wishes and sentiments of Fatima. He took the oath publicly six months later when Fatima had died. Ibn Kathir and other historians are of the view that the subsequent oath of allegiance by ‘Ali was in confirmation of the first one. A number of reports to this effect are on record in the six authentic compilations of the Traditions [Hadiths] and other books.