Friday, March 23, 2012

The Side Less Painted On Abu Bakar

When the name Abu Bakar is mentioned, we generally have the following picture about him: extremely pious, softhearted, given to crying when reciting Quran, generous, dislike confrontation, rather taciturn by nature, and one whose depth of faith is bottomless.  

He was all of that, no doubt.  

Some Western writers add unsavory line to that, namely, blind faith. Abu Bakar is made to look as if he does not have a mind of his own. If the Prophet never does it, then it is an innovation  (bid'ah) to him, and therefore cannot be done.  

He was none of that, of course.  

Generally speaking, when we talk about extreme piety and deep faith, the name Abu Bakar will always come to the fore. But when we talk about farsightedness, astute statesmanship, wisdom, persuasiveness, shrewdness, courage, and valiance, rarely would the name Abu Bakar be mentioned.  

For instance, farsightedness and astute statesmanship are associated with Umar; wisdom and depth of understanding with Ali; intelligence and scholarly with Ibnu Abbas; courage and valiance with Khalid Al Walid; cunning and shrewdness with Amr Al Aas.  

No doubt all those mentioned are worthy of the above attributes, because they were. But that the name Abu Bakar is not associated with those attributes is indeed a travesty to justice.  

A cursory look at him will indicate that he does not only possess superlative "religious" character, but superb "worldly" character as well.  

To begin with, he was a wealthy man, an astute merchant who can generate wealth with relative ease. If he was not intelligent, he would not have succeeded in the business world. But this is often overlooked. 

It was his generosity that is known, as repeatedly mentioned in the incidence of the Campaign of Tabuk. He gave all his wealth to this Campaign. When the Prophet asked what he left for his family, he simply answered: Allah and His Messenger.  

What is rarely explained in the above incidence is that the Prophet would not have allowed anyone else to do the same thing as Abu Bakar had done because of two main reasons. One, the Prophet knew that wealth meant nothing to Abu Bakar. Two, and more importantly, Abu Bakar was a resourceful man, who can recoup what he had spent with relative ease.  

Secondly, Abu Bakar is painted as a softhearted man who will cry when reciting the Quran. No doubt that is true, for the Quran touches him like it touches no one else. But he never lacked the required firmness and decisiveness to be a great leader. Even the decidedly strong headed man like Umar attested to these qualities.  

For instance, when the Prophet died, a group of Helpers (Ansars) were having a meeting at the Hall of Sa'd bin Ubadah, selecting him to be the new leader. Sensing the potential danger, Abu Bakar, Umar and Abu Ubaydah bin Jarrah quickly went there to save the situation.  The trio quickly engaged in a debate with this group of Ansars.  

While the Ansars presented their case, Umar rehearsed the rebuttal in his head which he liked very much. He wanted to be the spokesman for the Migrants (Muhajirin) instead of Abu Bakar, fearing that Abu Bakar would come down too hard on their Ansar brothers. But before Umar managed to say anything, Abu Bakar told him to keep quiet. Instead, Abu Bakar said everything that Umar wanted to say, in a better way in fact.  

This incidence shows that Abu Bakar was not only a superb debater capable of formulating persuasive argument, but he was also decisive, strong hearted and extremely firm. 

As earlier mentioned, Umar was afraid that Abu Bakar might come down too strongly on their opponents. A testimony from a strong headed man like Umar about Abu Bakar's strong character requires no further comment on anyone's part.  

Thirdly, one of the first things that Abu Bakar did upon assuming the caliphate was dispatching Usamah bin Zayd's army to confront the Romans at the frontiers.  Practically all companions opposed that decision, but Abu Bakar did not budge even an inch. 

Common explanation given to the above incidence is Abu Bakar’s fanaticism to the Prophet’s sunnah.  The decision to march was given by the Prophet before he died.  And it was this decision that Abu Bakar followed, although all signs indicated that it was not a wise move.  

But those who attribute Abu Bakar’s decision to his fanaticism to the sunnah of the Prophet is missing the whole point.  It shows how little they know about Abu Bakar as the strategist.  

Let’s give some background to the event for the benefit of those who are less familiar with the incidence.  

Before the Prophet died, he had instructed an army under Usamah bin Zayd to march to the Roman frontiers.  The Romans and their satraps had been terrorizing the Muslims in the frontiers.  They had killed the emissary sent by the Prophet to them.  The Prophet decided that such errant behaviors cannot be tolerated.   The Romans and their satraps at the border must be taught a lesson.  

But as soon as the Prophet died, the majority of the Arab tribes who had only recently become Muslims revolted in rebellion.  They refused to recognize the central authority in Madinah.  

Accessing the situation, the companions thought that it was better to defend Madinah from the internal enemies.  Only three cities were saved from rebellion: Madinah, Makkah and Taif  The Muslims who had remained steadfast in their Islam had become the minority in the Arabia.  The news about the imminent attack on Madinah troubled the fledgling Islamic State who had just lost their leader, Muhammad the Prophet.  

So the companions suggested that the march to the Roman frontiers should be delayed.  But Abu Bakar wanted none of that.  He ordered Usamah’s army consisted of 30,000 companions to proceed. 

But before they marched, they had another second thought.  Without these 30,000 strong soldiers, they thought that Madinah would fall to the rebellious enemies in no time.  None, however, was brave enough to face the new caliph whose mind had been set.  So they appointed Umar to be their spokesman to talk sense with Abu Bakar.  

Before Umar managed to make any headway, Abu Bakar shouted at him: "You too, Umar, of all people?"  

"I am only a messenger to the wish of the people." The much feared Umar replied meekly.  

"The Prophet had made his decision before he died and we had agreed to it.  I am not about to be the one to change it all too soon. The army must march quickly. There is no time to waste."  Said the supposedly softhearted leader firmly.  

Marching to the Roman frontiers they did, leaving a few leading companions who were supposed to march as well to defend the city and to strategize the interim measure.  Among those left behind were Umar, Ali and Al Zubayr.  

Unfortunately, this incidence has earned Abu Bakar the title of being fanatic to the Prophet's sunnah.  His farsightedness and strategic mind are rarely highlighted.  

The fact is that Abu Bakar understood the wisdom and the farsightedness of the Prophet, for he himself was farsighted.  He was well informed about the situation and the danger posed by the rebels.  The majority had turned away from Islam and started to challenge the central authority, but each tribe tried to gain supremacy for themselves.  There was general rebellion, but they were not united.  

By marching to the Roman frontiers without delay, it would not only give the impression that the fledgling Islamic State was strong, but would also make the rebels second guessing as to what was going on.  If Abu Bakar was brazen enough to send an army to face the Romans, then the rebels would have to reassess their position.  Crushing the central authority would not be as easy as they had thought.  

The strategy worked out perfectly.  Whatever plans the rebels may have had on attacking Madinah were delayed.  By the time they increased their readiness, they received the news that Usamah's army had been victorious in their mission. By then, their morale and optimism had been trickled down. They started to fear the central authority under the new caliph. With that, half of the battle had been won.  

As soon as Usamah's army came back to Madinah, Abu Bakar formed eleven battalions and attacked the offending apostates from every direction. One by one the rebel group was crushed.  

This is not the picture of a softhearted leader. Yes, Abu Bakar cried a lot in front of Allah, when he recited Quran. But he had no qualm about telling Umar to keep quiet, or to shout at him when the occasion requires. As we know, Umar feared no one but was feared by everyone.  Well, Abu Bakar did not fear him, you see.  

It is also not a picture of fanaticism to the Prophet's sunnah for the sake of following the sunnah. He followed the Prophet's decision because he understood the wisdom behind it. He was brave enough to take the risk. He was farsighted enough to see that if things are planned and strategized carefully, and implemented decisively, half of the war is won even before the battle begins. 

We can cite more examples, but the above should suffice to correct the picture less painted on the great companion, Abu Bakar As Siddiq.


  1. For unified Ansar the majority, to make way for Muhajirin the minority migrants (to assume and 'monopolise' leadership) is not only unprecedented but also a history never repeats thereafter until today.
    While Auz and Khazraj had long history of tribal wars over quest for dominance, the gathering at Saqifah Bani Saadah appeared to be their last show of interest for power albeit as a unified Ansar. Thereon Ansar seemed to have lost appetite for power instead engrossed living up to their title as helpers playing supporting roles only, much like Khadijah (r.a).
    As I recall, there was never an Ansari or Madani Caliphate

    1. Yes. They were the best of supporters. As far as I can tell, there were only two occasions they appeared to be "complaining." First was after the Battle of Hunayn, when they felt they were being treated unfairly by the Prophet, as they were not given any war booty, but the new converts who used to be the stern enemies of the Prophet were given aplenty. As we know, the Prophet handled the situation superbly.

      The second time was this Saqifah Bani Saadah episode, where Abu Bakar handled the situation brilliantly. In both episodes, the Ansars were not driven by personal interest, but a mistaken judgement of the situation.