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A Momentous Decision for the Muslim State

 Adil Salahi


Arab  News, June 23, 2003

When Abu Bakr assumed the leadership of the Muslim state after he was elected caliph by the people of Madinah, the major centers of Arabia followed the same lead and pledged loyalty to him. However, many tribes in desert and distant areas rebelled. Some renounced Islam altogether, particularly in areas where some impostors alleged to receive divine revelations. The best known among these were Musaylamah of the Haneefah tribe, who is known among Muslims as the liar, and Sajah, a woman who claimed to be a prophet as well.

The two got married and joined forces. Other tribes staged a more limited rebellion, declaring that they would not be paying zakat to Abu Bakr. Faced with rebellion in several quarters, Abu Bakr made it clear that he would fight them all. This meant that he would have to raise several armies to fight on several fronts at the same time. His decision was received with apprehension by other companions of the Prophet.

Justice Abu Bakr ibn Al-Arabi, who wrote a short book replying to those who made false allegations about the Prophet’s companions, summarizes Abu Bakr’s attitude in this most testing period as follows:

Umar and others said to him: ‘Be patient with those Arabs who declare that they would not be paying zakat to you.’ Abu Bakr replied to them: ‘If they deny me a short rope with which an animal is tied which they used to give in zakat to God’s messenger (peace be upon him), I would still fight them over it. By God, I will fight those who make a distinction between zakat and prayer.’ Some people asked him: ‘With whom will you fight them?’ He said: ‘Alone, if need be. And I will continue to fight them until my neck is separated from my body.’ He appointed his commanders and governors for different areas, following strict criteria and showing a high degree of selectivity. This ranks among the best of his deeds and the greatest service he rendered for the cause of Islam.

All historians agree that Abu Bakr’s decision to fight the rebels, many of whom were clear apostates, was perhaps the most important one he had to take throughout his reign. Yet it was by no means an easy decision. It is sufficient to remember that most of the Prophet’s companions preferred a different course of action to realize how difficult taking such action would have been for any other ruler. Muhibb Al-Deen Al-Khateeb provides the following explanation of the circumstances that led to taking this decision.

When Usamah went ahead with his army, marching toward what is today Jordan, delegations from different tribes began arriving in Madinah, acknowledging the prayer duty and making clear their unwillingness to pay their zakat. Some of them cited in argument the Qur’anic verse which says to the Prophet: “Take a portion of their money as charity, so that you may cleanse and purify them thereby; and pray for them: for your prayers are a source of comfort for them.” (9: 103) They argued that they would not pay zakat except to the one whose prayer is a source of comfort to them. Needless to say, that person is the Prophet. Since he had died, their argument meant that they would never be paying any zakat.

Several of the Prophet’s companions counseled Abu Bakr to take a moderate attitude, trying to accommodate them for a while without requiring them to pay zakat until they had grown stronger in faith when they would be more willing to pay their zakat dues. Abu Bakr would have nothing of this.

Five of the major six anthologies of Hadith report that Umar said to Abu Bakr: “How could you fight these people when the Prophet says: ‘I have been commanded to fight people until they declare that they believe in God’s oneness and in Muhammad as God’s messenger. When they have made that declaration, they protect their bodies and property from me except through what is right.’” Abu Bakr replied: “If they deny me a little goat which they used to give to God’s messenger in zakat, I would fight them over it. Zakat is a duty imposed on people’s property. By God, I will fight anyone who tries to strike a distinction between the prayer duty and zakat.”

Umar comments: “By God, when I felt that God has given Abu Bakr such clarity of vision over this matter, I realized that it is the proper course of action.”

Another report mentioned by Ibn Katheer in his book of history quotes Al-Qassim ibn Muhammad, Abu Bakr’s grandson who is ranked as one of the major seven scholars in Madinah of the tabieen generation. Al-Qassim says: “The three major tribes of Asad, Ghatafan and Tayyi’ grouped around Tulayhah Al-Asadi, who claimed to be a prophet.

They sent delegations to Madinah, and some of the main figures there received them in their homes. Al-Abbas, however, refused to receive them and denied them hospitality. They took them to Abu Bakr to negotiate with him, offering to attend regularly to their prayer duties, without paying their zakat. Abu Bakr was firmly resolved to uphold the truth. It was then that he said: ‘If they would deny me even an animal’s rope I would fight them over it.’”

What Abu Bakr’s attitude meant was that he sent out what we may call today several divisions, each fighting on a separate front, against people who were determined not to yield to the central authority of the Muslim government in Madinah. All of them fought hard battles, but none more so than the ones who fought Musaylamah, the Liar. Eventually, all of them were victorious and the Muslim government was strongly established on firm foundation. Never again did any Arabian tribe try to rebel against Islam, or to change its rulings by force. Arabia remained the stronghold of Islam, to which it resorts whenever weakness creeps into other parts of the Muslim world.

We note in Abu Bakr’s reply to those of the Prophet’s companions who counseled him to adopt a softer attitude that he was willing to fight those rebels alone. He certainly meant that and was willing to fight until death. Needless to say, the Prophet’s companions in Madinah would have never let him down, but his reply shows his determination not to compromise on principles. He placed his trust in God and God gave him the victory he deserved. His short reign, lasting less than two years, was the most significant in consolidating the first Islamic state.



Earth, a planet hungry for peace


The Israeli apartheid (security) wall around Palestinian population centers (Ran Cohen, pmc, 5/24/03).
The Israeli apartheid (security) wall around Palestinian population centers in the West Bank (Ran Cohen, pmc, 5/24/03).



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