As we have seen in Part 1, as soon as Abu Bakar assumed the role as the Successor to the Prophet, he received the news about the widespread rebellions throughout Arabia. Faced with widespread rebellions on the one hand, and the Prophet’s command to march to the Syrian border on the other, the majority of the Companions advised him to delay the marching. But Abu Bakar decided to fulfill the Prophet’s command before the latter died.
As we have explained in The Picture Less Painted on Abu Bakar, his decision to go ahead with the Prophet’s command was not simply because he wanted to honor the last wish of the Prophet. It was because he believed it to be the best decision to make. It was a strategic move that eventually worked on the Muslims’ favor. Far from being dogmatic, he was actually making a smart tactical move.
Those who say that Abu Bakar was dogmatic simply do not understand the special quality Abu Bakar has. It is the ability to see beyond what normal people would see.
For instance, after the Prophet narrated his Night Journey from Makkah to Jerusalem and then to Seven Heavens, and back to Makkah, all within the same night (the Night of Isra’ and Mi’raj), the disbelievers were having a field day. The story was too extraordinary to conceive. They mocked the Prophet, but the Companions were losing their wits to counter the mockery thrown to the Prophet. Abu Bakar stood to defend the Prophet. He quickly declared that Muhammad, upon him be peace, spoke the truth.
Abu Jahal, the archenemy of the Prophet, ridiculed Abu Bakar, accusing him of not using his brain. Abu Bakar replied calmly: “You know that Muhammad never lies. What is so difficult to believe about his Night Journey? I believe in him when he says he is visited by the Most Noble Angel (meaning Gabriel), carrying the Message from Allah. I would believe in him even if he brings something more extraordinary than this.”
While others found the story illogical, Abu Bakar pointed out the common knowledge among his people that Muhammad never lied in his entire life. What benefit would it bring to him were he to lie now. For him to lie at that stage would be illogical, because the Makkan leaders were already accused him of madness and worse.
But Abu Bakar did not simply stop with logic. He went for practical or empirical evidence as well. Now, everyone at Makkah knew that Muhammad never went to al Aqsa. They also knew that Abu Bakar had visited this mosque a few months before. So, Abu Bakar asked the Prophet to describe the mosque al Aqsa in front of everyone. And the Prophet was able to answer all questions put to him, giving the impression that he had just been to the mosque. With Abu Bakar’ simple stroke of ingenuity, the Prophet’s reputation was thus restored. It was from this event that Abu Bakar earned the title “as Siddiq,” the Truthful.
On the occasion of the death of the Prophet, the Muslims were grief stricken. Umar for one was already losing his mind, threatening to sever the head of anyone saying the Prophet had died. Abu Bakar remained calm and composed. Instead of getting excited, he went to his beloved Prophet’s apartment to ascertain the news. Seeing that the soul had left the body of his beloved Companion, he went out to the people, forced Umar to keep quiet, and calmly spoke: “O people. Whoever worships Muhammad, knows that Muhammad has died. Whoever worships Allah, He is Ever Living, Eternal.” Then he recited the Quranic verses relevant to the matter. His action had put everyone into perspective.
These two events essentially describe crises. Now, as we know, crisis often clouds one’s mind. When the Prophet spoke about his Night Journey, the crisis of faith was created. Some of the Muslims’ minds were already clouded. No so with Abu Bakar. He was able to perceive the matter with his deep insight and had the presence of mind to ascertain the story by asking for the empirical evidences.
When the Prophet died, the Muslims were thrown into confusion because they loved him too much and could not believe that he was leaving them for good. Umar, noted for his farsightedness, thought that this was the work of the hypocrites, bent on creating mayhem to the believers. Even Umar could not keep his presence of mind in this particular instance. He knew that the Prophet had been gravely ill. He saw the lifeless body of his beloved Prophet. But he chose not to perceive the reality for what it was. Abu Bakar, on the other hand, took the reality for what it was.
Now, it is known that before the Prophet died, all tribes in the Peninsula Arabia paid tribute to Islam. But the Prophet and Abu Bakar knew that the Arabs’ support to Islam was not wholesome. Their acceptance to the leadership in Madinah was lukewarm. Musailamah, who was to become the leading contender during the widespread rebellion after the death of the Prophet, had challenged the Prophet’s leadership even while the Prophet was still alive.
Musailamah had come to Madinah to pay his homage to the Prophet, but he wanted a stake in the Prophethood for himself. When he came back to his hometown, al Yamamah, he wrote to the Prophet: “You are the Prophet, and I am also the Prophet. Let’s split our dominion. To you is the West, and to me is the East.” (West and East refer to the Arabian Peninsula. He suggested the split because the Prophet hailed from the West (Hijaz region) and he from the East (Nejd region)).
The Prophet wrote to him: “The West and the East belong to Allah. He gives to whomever He wills. I am the Messenger of Allah, and you, Musailamah, are the liar.” It was from this letter that Musailamah got the epithet Musailamah al Khazzab (Musailamah the Liar).
Musailamah was not alone in this. Most of the tribes that had paid homage to the Prophet did so only a few months or at most a year or two before the Prophet died. Islam had yet to enter their hearts firmly. They paid homage and declared their conversions only because it is human nature to ally with the powerful authority.
Furthermore, many had envied the success and “popularity” that Muhammad had achieved. They wanted some of the glories for themselves. Thus, when the news of the widespread rebellion reached him, Abu Bakar did not get excited. He was perceptive enough to realize that, while the rebellion was widespread, the rebels were not united. The rebels no doubt were in the majority, but since each was going for their own glory, they did not pose fatal threats to the Islamic State. Some rebels, meanwhile, simply refused to pay the required zakat. Theirs were not armed rebellions.
Seeing what others did not see, Abu Bakar recognized that the perceived threat was more psychological than real. If ever these rebels were to get united, it would have been many months in the making. Dire as the situation was, Abu Bakar believed that the internal threat can wait. Besides, he wanted to score psychological victory against these rebels. If Madinah was courageous enough to send its army to fight against the mighty Romans, then Madinah must have been very strong indeed in the eyes of the rebels. Thus, whatever fanciful thoughts they may have had, they would have to think twice before attacking Madinah.
With that in mind, Abu Bakar told his army to march to where the Prophet had planned. He told them to do their job quickly and came back quickly, because there would be bigger job waiting. He requested Usamah’s permission to leave Umar behind, saying that he needed Umar’s counsel.
Holding on to their leader’s instruction, the army marched to the Roman frontiers quickly, won the war quickly, and came back to Madinah quickly. Meanwhile, in Madinah, led by Ali and Zubayr, the small contingent of Muslim cavalry made surprise attacks during the night to the neighboring rebellious tribes, giving the impression that Madinah was well fortified. This caused the enemies to second guess the real strength of the central authority in Madinah, as well as their own preparation to stage a challenge to the central leadership.
The strategy worked very well. It had delayed any possible attack from the rebels, while affording the army to finish their job and came back on time. Dividing his army into eleven battalions, Abu Bakar sent them to quench the rebellions. Already scoring psychological warfare with their victory against the Romans, the rebels capitulated to the Central Authority in a relatively short time, although they were in the majority.
Having quenched the rebellions at home, Abu Bakar went to the offensive with the Persian and the Roman empires. Thus, in the short span of two years and three months, Abu Bakar not only managed to quench the rebellions within the country, but he also inflicted severe damage to the Persian and Roman empires. When he died, the Islamic State was no more under threat. Instead, the new power of Islamic State had become a serious threat to the Persian and Roman empires, the two superpowers at that time.
The above is hardly the picture of a dogmatic leader, if we care to analyze properly. It was the spirit of practicality, assisted by careful and farsighted planning, that colored the leadership of Abu Bakar, the Successor of the Prophet. It was the very essence of the spirit of Hijrah. It was not for sport that the Prophet had chosen Abu Bakar to be his “hijrah companion.” Besides, the Prophet would not have signaled Abu Bakar to be his successor if he did not believe in Abu Bakar’s competence as well as his deep understanding of Islam.
As for Umar, no one with the right frame of mind would say that he was a dogmatic leader. He had instituted many practical “reforms” during his reign. Many of these were not merely administrative by nature.
For instance, it was because of his suggestion that the Quran is compiled into a book form. He also outlawed the mut’ah marriage (temporary marriage, that is, with a specified time period, such as for one day, one week, one month or any period. After the stipulated period, the couple would be automatically divorced).
The Prophet had expressed his wish for this form of marriage to be abolished after the Battle of Khaybar, but he did not outlaw it during his lifetime. When Umar outlawed it, he received some opposition from the Companions, including, it is alleged, from the celebrated Ibnu Abbas himself. But the majority of the Companions sided with Umar and it is unanimously accepted as illegal among the Sunnis. The Shias, however, until this very day, do not make it illegal, since they claim that it was Umar, not the Prophet himself, who made it illegal.
The Prophet knew that this temporary marriage would be abused. He allowed it in the beginning for practical reason. By Umar’s time, it was already abused by some. It may still have some practical uses, but the harm from the practice far outweighs its benefit, pretty much like liquor, which has some benefits, but was outlawed because it is too harmful.
This shows that the spirit of Islam, as exemplified by Hijrah, is practicality, which must be governed by the principle. It is not pragmatism, which is governed by “anything goes so long as it achieves the end.”
Also for practical purpose, Umar even went to the extent of suspending hudud law on stealing (hudud are specified penalties for certain crimes such as stealing, murder, and fornication. In the case of stealing, the penalty is cutting off the hand). When the Arabian Peninsula was hit by severe drought, he was worried that people would steal because of hunger. Thus, he suspended the hudud law on stealing until the drought was over. He exemplifies practicality over dogmatism.
The eras of Uthman, Ali, and to a large extent, the Umayyid and early Abbasid caliphates, were largely colored by the spirit of practicality over dogmatism. Dogmatism came much later in the history of Islam. This is a big subject. Suffice to say that when dogmatism took over practicality, the Muslims grew weaker until they became servants rather than masters of the world.
It is heartening to see that since Islam is essentially a practical, instead of a dogmatic, way of life, efforts to revive the spirit of practicality have been going for at least one and a half century. It is interesting also to note that some go as far as embracing pragmatism instead of practicality, which is foreign in Islam. But we shall reserve this topic for later entry.