Hadith Without Context Is Meaningless: Abu Bakr’s “Apostasy” Wars

Kaleef K. Karim


1. Introduction
2. Main Causes of The “Apostasy” War
3. Muslims Or “Apostates”
4. Zakat, Tax And Prison
5. Conclusion

1. Introduction

The Ridda wars which was led by the first Caliph Abu Bakr Siddiq against the rebels in Arabia is often misquoted, and not presented in their true historical context.

Most often the following Hadith reports are quoted to prove that the first Caliph Abu Bakr fought these people as a result of them renouncing their former faith, Islam:

“It was narrated that Abu Hurairah said: “When the Messenger of Allah [SAW] died, and Abu Bakr (became Khalifah) after him, and the ‘Arabs reverted to Kufr, ‘Umar said: ‘O Abu Bakr, how can you fight the people when the Messenger of Allah [SAW] said: I have been commanded to fight the people until they say La ilaha illallah, and whoever says La ilaha illallah, his wealth and his life are safe from me, except for a right that is due, and his reckoning will be with Allah, the Mighty and Sublime?’ Abu Bakr said: ‘I will fight whoever separates Salah and Zakah, for Zakah is the compulsory right to be taken from wealth. By Allah, if they withhold from me a young goat that they used to give to the Messenger of Allah [SAW], I will fight them for withholding it.’ ‘Umar said: ‘By Allah, as soon as I saw that Allah has expanded the chest of Abu Bakr to fighting, I knew that it was the truth.'” (Sunan an-Nasa’i volume 5, Book 37, Hadith 3978 (Eng. Ed., Sahih Darussalam))

Narrated Abu Hurairah: said: “When the Messenger of Allah died and Abu Bakr became the Khalifah after him, whoever disbelieved from the Arabs disbelieved, so Umar bin Al-Khattab said to Abu Bakr: ‘How will you fight the people while the Messenger of Allah has said: ‘I have been ordered to fight the people until they say La Ilaha Illallah, and if they say that, then their blood and wealth will be protected from me, except what it makes obligatory upon them, and their reckoning is with Allah?’ So Abu Bakr said: ‘By Allah I will fight whoever differentiates between Salat and Zakat. For indeed, Zakat is the right due upon wealth. And by Allah! If they withhold even (camel) tethers which they used to give to the Messenger of Allah I will fight them for withholding it.’ So Umar bin Al-Khattab said: ‘By Allah! I saw that Allah had opened Abu Bakr’s chest to fighting, so I knew that it was correct.'” (Jami at-Tirmidhi volume 5, Book 38, Hadith 2607 (Eng. Ed. Sahih Darussalam))

The claim is made in regards to the above reports that the person(s) the Caliph Abu Bakr fought against were apostates. Hence, it is assumed, their disbelief in Islam was one of the main causes which made Abu Bakr and other companions fight against these group(s) mentioned in the Hadith reports. Although this claim may have ground reading these reports alone, when we consult the other many historical reports on the same incident we find a very different picture to the one which has been put forward. Furthermore, it is clear reading the above reports that Abu Bakr and other Muslim considered them to Muslim, only issue here was them not paying the Zakat (tax) which was due.

Note: Before going any further I want readers to be aware of what group this article is written about. In the Ridda wars there were two groups of people Abu Bakr Siddiq was fighting against. The first group was Muslim, but withheld Zakat, they later became rebels, they fought and killed Muslims. The second group refers to Musaylima, Tulayha, and Aswad al-Ansi. This present article refers to group one. Group two will be dealt with in a separate article in the near future, God willing.

For a fuller analysis on the above two reports, click here: “Revisiting Abu Bakr’s Conversation With Umar And The Delegation(s): Ridda Wars

The aim and goal of this article is to show the true historical circumstances in regards to the “Apostasy” wars.

In order to understand the particular incident of history, we have to go back to the time when Prophet Muhammed (p) had just died, to start the time, to get a better understanding what had unfolded to get a picture of the Hadith reports quoted.

After Prophet Muhammed’s (p) demise some Muslims had decided that they no longer need to pay Zakat given that this was only paid to the Prophet himself when he was alive. The group which supported this were basing their false interpretation on a verse of the Quran. Some of Abu Bakr’s close companions conceded and told Abu Bakr to leave them alone since they pray and say the Shahadah. Abu Bakr rejected this and send the delegation away:

“Abu Bakr remained in Medina after the death of the Apostle of God and after he sent Usamah at the head of his army to where his father, Zayd B. Harithah, had been killed in Syria. As it was the place which the Apostle of God had ordered him to march, (Abu Bakr) made no innovation [in doing this]. There had come to him delegations of apostate Arabs, who confirmed [the observance of] prayer but held back [payment of] the alms tax [zakat]. But Abu Bakr did not accept this from them and sent them back. He remained [in Medina] until Usama b. Zayd b. Harithah arrived forty days after his marching off (some say after seventy days).” (The History of al-Tabari (Tarikh al-rusul wa’l muluk) – The Conquest of Arabia – translated and annotated by Fred M. Donner (The university of Chicago) [Bibliotheca Persica, edited by Ehsan Yar-shater, State University of New York Press, 1993] volume X (volume 10), page 40)

Abu Bakr further said that whoever withholds Zakat, he would fight them. Classical scholars Badr a-din al-Aini and Imam Abu Hanifa stated in regards to those who do not and withhold zakat, reject paying the Zakat money should not be killed, they are only to be fought physically according to them when they take up arms. And this is exactly what these people did.

2. Main Causes of The “Apostasy” War

When the delegation was sent back without Abu Bakr budging from his position and all the companions siding with him (Abu Bakr), they decided between themselves, since Usama’s army is sent off, the Muslims are few and they took the opportunity to make a sudden attack on the Muslim community. This fact is related to us in a number of reports.

Ibn Khalladun:

Abs [sic] and Zeeban [sic] were the first to attack Hazrat Abu Bakr and others collected together at Zil Qassah.” (Ibn Khalladun, volume 2, page 65) (Punishing Apostasy: The Case of Islam and Shari’a Law Re-considered, [Institute for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, Durhim University, 2003] by Declan Patrick O’Sullivan, volume 1, page 323)


“Kharajah bin Hasan, who was one of the apostates, advanced upon Medina with some mounted men of his tribe so as to deliver his attack unexpectedly before the Muslims emerged from Medina to oppose him. Thus, he attacked Abu Bakr and those Muslims who had been left and took them unawares.” (Khamees, volume 2, page 237) (Punishing Apostasy: The Case of Islam and Shari’a Law Re-considered, [Institute for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, Durhim University, 2003] by Declan Patrick O’Sullivan, volume 1, page 323 – 324)

Badr al-Din al-Aini [1] (1360 – 1453) in his commentary on Sahih al-Bukhari, he writes:

“And as-Siddiq (i.e., Abu Bakr), fought those who refused to pay ‘Zakah’ because THEY HAD TAKEN UP THE SWORD AND STARTED A WAR AGAINST AL-UMMAH (i.e., the Muslim community). … Abu Hanifah took the ground that he who refuses to pay Zakah must neither be killed nor even fought. He must, however, be forced to pay it without the use of the sword, and must only be killed if he rose up to fight. This is exactly what Abu Bakr did with those who refused to pay ‘Zakat’ during his Caliphate. He did not fight them until they rose up to fight him.” (Badr al-Din al-Aini, Umdat al-Qari Sharh al-Bukhari (cairo?), volume 11 and volume 12, page 236) (The Development of Apostasy And Punishment Law In Islam, 11 AH/ 632 Ad – 157 AH/ 774 AD [A Research Thesis Submitted to the faculty of Divinity of Glasgow University In Complete Fulfilment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Submitted on January 2002] by Samuel Hosain, Lamarti page 131 – 132)


“The envoys of the Prophet arrived [in Medina] from Yemen and Yamamah and the territory of Banu Asad, [along with] delegations of those whom the Prophet had corresponded. His business regarding al-Aswad and Musaylimah and Tulayhah had been carried out by means of reports and letters; so they presented their letters to Abu Bakr, and informed him of the news. At this Abu Bakr said to them, ‘You will not leave before messengers come from your commanders and from others, with [news of] more cunning and more [things?] than that which you have described and [reports of] unravelling of affairs.’ It was not long before there came to them from place letters of the Prophet’s commanders, with [news of] THE REBELLION OF SOME [GROUP], LARGE OR SMALL, AND OF THEIR BOLDLY COMMITTING AGGRESSION AGAINST THE MUSLIMS. So Abu Bakr combated them with with that which the Apostle of God had combated them – with envoys; hence he sent their messengers back with his orders, and sent [further] envoys after the [original] messengers. And he awaited the arrival of Usamah [before] clashing with them. THE FIRST WHO CLASHED WERE ABS AND DHUBYAN; THEY HASTENED TO [CLASH WITH] HIM (ABU BAKR), SO THAT HE (ABU BAKR) FOUGHT THEM BEFORE THE RETURN OF USAMAH.” (The History of al-Tabari (Tarikh al-rusul wa’l muluk) – The Conquest of Arabia – translated and annotated by Fred M. Donner (The university of Chicago) [Bibliotheca Persica, edited by Ehsan Yar-shater, State University of New York Press, 1993] volume X (volume 10), page 42 – 43)


“The Apostle of God died, and Asad and Ghatafn and Tayyi gathered around Tulayhah, except for the principal leaders of some groups in the three tribes. Asad gathered at Samira, and Fazarah and those who follow them of Ghatafan to the south of Tibah, and Tayyi on the borders of their territory. Tha’labah b. Sa’d and those who followed them of Murrah and Abs gathered at al-Abraq of al-Rabadhah, and people from the Banu Kinanah crowded around them to the point that the country could not sustain them; so they divided into two groups, one group remaining in al-Abraq while the other went to Dhu al-Qassah. Tulayhah reinforced them with [his brother] Hibal. Hibal was in charge of the people of Dhu al-Qassah from banu Asad and those of Layth and al-Dil and Mudlij who crowded around; and over Murrah in al-Abraq was Awf b. Fulan b. Sinan; and over Tha’labah and Abs was al-Harith b. Fulan, one of the Banu Subay. They has sent delegations that came to Medina and stayed with the chiefs of the people; so (the Medinan chiefs), except for Abbas, put them up and interced for them before Abu Bakr, on condition that (the petitioning tribes) should perform prayer but not pay the alms tax. But God strenghtended Abu Bakr’s resolution in the truth, and he said: ‘If they refuse me [even] a hobble, I shall fight them for it.’ Now, the hobbles of the sadaqah camels were required with the [camels paid as] sadaqah from the people who paid sadaqah; so he refused [their request], WHEREUPON THE DELEGATION OF THOSE APOSTATES WHO WERE NEAR MEDINA RETURNED TO THEIR TRIBES, TELLING THEM HOW FEW THE PEOPLE OF MEDINA WERE AND MAKING THEM COVETOUS OF IT. AFTER ABU BAKR HAD EXPELLED THE DELEGATION, HE PLACED SOME PEOPLE ON THE MOUNTAIN PASSES OF MEDINA – Ali al-Zubayr, Talhah, and Abdallah b. Mas’ud – and enjoined the people of Medina to go to the mosque. And he said to them: ’The land has sunk into disbelief, and THEIR DELEGATION HAS SEEN THAT YOU ARE FEW AND THAT YOU WOULD BE UNAWARE WHETHER YOU WERE APPROACHED BY DAY OR BY NIGHT. The nearest of them is [only] a stage from you. The people were hoping that we would accept them and be reconciled with them but we refused them and dissolved their treaty. So get ready.’ Consequently they (THE ENEMY) MADE PREPARATIONS, AND IT WASN’T THREE [DAYS] BEFORE THEY CAME RAIDING MEDINA BY NIGHT, leaving some of their [number] behind in Dhu Husa to serve as reserved of them. THE MOUNTED RAIDERS REACHED THE MOUNTAIN PASSES BY NIGHT, WHILE THE FIGHTING MEN (ABU BAKR’S COMPANIONS WHO WERE STATIONED THERE) WERE IN THEM; THERE WERE PEOPLE ON FOOT IN FRONT OF THEM, SO THEY ALERTED THEM AND SENT NEWS TO ABU BAKR. Abu Bakr sent back to them that they should hold their positions; so they did so, while [Abu Bakr] came out to them leading the people of the mosque [mounted] on their water-hauling camels. At this the enemy lost their will; so the Muslims pursued them on their camels until they reached Dhu Husaa, whereupon the reserves came out against them with churning skins that they had inflated and on which placed ropes. Then they rolled them with their feet in the faces of the camels, so that each skin rolled in its tether.” (The History of al-Tabari (Tarikh al-rusul wa’l muluk) – The Conquest of Arabia – translated and annotated by Fred M. Donner (The university of Chicago) [Bibliotheca Persica, edited by Ehsan Yar-shater, State University of New York Press, 1993] volume X (volume 10), page 44 – 47)


“Then, when [news of] the death of the Prophet reached them, the Yemen and the countries REBELLED. The horsemen of al-Ansi had been in a commotion in [the country] between Najran and San’a on the side of that sea, not taking refuge with anyone nore anyone taking refuge with them. So Amr B. Ma’dikarib [was] opposite Farwah b. Musayk, and Mu’awiyah b. Anas [was] leading the fugitive soldiers of al-Ansi, wavering. None of the governors of the Prophet returned [to Medina] after the death of the Prophet, except Amr b. Hazm and Khalid b. Sa’id. The rest of the governors TOOK REFUGE among the Muslims. Amr b. Ma’idikarib confronted Khalid b. Sa’id, so he seized as booty from him [Amr’s sword] ‘The Persistent.’ The messengers returned bearing the news, and Jarir b. Abdallah and al-Aqra b. Abdallah and Wabr Yuhannis came back. So until such time as Usama b. Zayd returned from Syria – that was estimated at three months – Abu Bakr waged war against all the apostates [only] by means of envoys and letters, just as the Apostle of God had done, except for the affairs of the people of Dhu Husa and Dhu al-Qassah. Then the first clash upon the return of Usamah was this. So he went out to al-Abraq. He did not face a tribe directly to defeat them; rather, he incited those among them who had not apostatized against the others. So, with a group of the Muhajirun and the Ansar and those who had been aroused among the non-apostates, [Abu Bar] vanquished those [rebels] who were close to them, until he took care of the last of the business of the army without asking the [former] apostates for help [against the remaining rebels].” (The History of al-Tabari (Tarikh al-rusul wa’l muluk) – The Conquest of Arabia – translated and annotated by Fred M. Donner (The university of Chicago) [Bibliotheca Persica, edited by Ehsan Yar-shater, State University of New York Press, 1993] volume X (volume 10), page 159 – 160)


Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuti:

“…The Messenger of Allah, directed Usamah Ibn Zaid, along with seven hundred men, to Syria. When they arrived at Dhu Khushub the Prophet, died, the Arabs around Madinah reneged on their Islam and the companions of the Messenger of Allah, gathered around him and said, ‘Bring these back. Do you direct these against the Byzantines while the Arabs around Madinah have reneged?’ He said, ‘By the One Whom there is no god but Him, even IF DOGS WERE DRAGGING THE WIVES OF THE PROPHET, BY THEIR FEET I WOULD NOT RETURN AN ARMY WHICH THE MESSENGER OF ALLAH HAD SENT OUT, nor undo a standard which he had tied!’ He sent Usamah, and every tribe he would pass by which was wishing to renege would say (to themselves), ‘If these )the people of Madinah) did not have power, the like of these (the army) would not have come out from among, so let us leave them alone until they meet the Byzantines.’ They met them, defeated them, killed them and returned safely, so that they (the tribes) remained firm in Islam.’” (The History of the Khalifahs who took the right way (“al-Khulafa’ ar-Rashidun – Tarikh al-Khulafa of Jalal ad-Din as-Suyuti”) [3rd Revised edition, Translated by Abdassamad Clarke, Taha publishers, 1415/1995], page 60 – 61)


Many Companions wanted Usamah’s army to stay so to combat and defend the Muslim community against those rebels. It is clear the reason why the companions of Prophet Muhammed (p) did not want Usamah’s army to leave was because they feared and knew that the Muslim community would be attacked, and slaughtered by the rebels, as Islamic scholar, Shaykh Muhammad Yusuf Kandhelvi (r.a) shows a number of reports in his book.

Mukhtasar Ibn Asaakir:

“… Abu Hurayra says, ‘I swear by the being besides whom none other is worthy of worship that none would have been worshipping Allaah had Abu Bakr not been appointed as Khalifah.’ He then repeated this a second and a third time. When someone bade him to stop repeating himself, Hadhrat Abu Hurayra added ‘Rasulullaah dispatched an army of seven hundred under the command of Usaamah bin Zaid. However, when they had just reached Dhi Khushub when Rasulullaah passed away and the Arab tribes around Madinah renounced Islaam. It was then that the Sahabah of Rasulullaah came to Hadhrat Abu Bakr and said, ‘O Abu Bakr! Recall the army. How can they be heading to Rome when the Arabs around Madinah are renouncing Islaam?!’
Hadhrat Abu Bakr replied, ‘I swear by the being besides Whom there is none worthy of worship! EVEN THOUGH WILD DOGS SHOULD DRAG THE LEGS OF THE WIVES OF RASULULLAAH (BECAUSE THERE IS NONE IN MADINAH TO DEFEND THEM), I SHALL NEVER RECALL AN ARMY THAT RASULULLAAH had dispatched nor untie a flag that Rasulullaah had tied.’ (Mukhtasar Ibn Asaakir, volume 1, page 118, and Kanzul Ummaal volume 5, page 314) (Lives Of the Sahaba (“Hayatus Sahaba”) by Hasrat Maulana Muhammad Yusuf Kandelvi (1917 – 1965) [Translated by Muftu Afzal Hossen Elias, Published by Zam Zam Publisher, Karachi, Pakistan, second Edition, March 2006] volume 1, page 418 – 423)

Al Bidaaya wan Nihaaya:

“These men (forming the army of Hadhrat Usaam) are the most distinguished of the Muslims and as you see, the Arabs are refusing to follow you. It is therefore not the appropriate time to split up the ranks of the Muslims (by dispatching the army). Hadhrat Abu Bakr responded by saying, ‘ I swear by the Being Who Controls the life of Abu Bakr! I shall ensure that the army of Usaama is sent according to the instruction of Rasulullaah EVEN THOUGH I KNOW THAT WILD ANIMALS WILL (ATTACK ME AS I REMAIN ALL ALONE IN MADINAH AND) STEAL AWAY MY BODY. I SHALL DISPATCH THE ARMY EVEN THOUGH THERE IS NONE LEFT IN ANY OF THE TOWNS BESIDES MYSELF.” (Al Bidaaya wan Nihaaya volume 6, page 304) (The Lives Of the Sahaba (“Hayatus Sahaba”) by Hasrat Maulana Muhammad Yusuf Kandelvi (1917 – 1965) [Translated by Muftu Afzal Hossen Elias, Published by Zam Zam Publisher, Karachi, Pakistan, second Edition, March 2006] volume 1, page 422)


“After Rasulullaah passed away, all the Arab tribes renounced Islaam and hypocrisy reared its ugly head. By Allaah! Such conditions faced my father (Hadhrat Abu Bakr) that would crush a mighty mountain. THE SAHABAH (COMPANIONS) OF RASULULLAAH APPEARED TO BE WET SHEEP ON A RAINY NIGHT IN A FOREST INFESTED WITH WILD ANIMALS. By Allaah! Whenever the Sahabah disputed any matter, my father would eliminate its harm, take control of the reins and pass decisive judgement.” (Narrated by Tabraani, reliable sources confirmed by Haythami volume 9, page 50). (The Lives Of the Sahaba (“Hayatus Sahaba”) by Hasrat Maulana Muhammad Yusuf Kandelvi (1917 – 1965) [Translated by Muftu Afzal Hossen Elias, Published by Zam Zam Publisher, Karachi, Pakistan, second Edition, March 2006] volume 1, page 422)

Maulana Muhammad Yusuf Kandelvi quotes two more reports:

“I swear by the Being who Controls the life of Abu Bakr! Even if I knew wild animals would tear my body (as a result), I would still dispatch the army of Usaama according to the commands of Rasulullaah. I would do so even if I were to be the only person left behind in Madinah.”

“I have dared to do something extremely perilous! I swear by the Being Who controls my life! I prefer having all the Arabs turn against me rather than holding back an army that Rasulullaah had dispatched. O Usaama! Proceed whence you have been commanded to march and then fight in the parts of Palestine and against the people at Mu’ta as Rasulullaah had commanded you. Remember that Allah is enough for those you are leaving behind.” (The Lives Of the Sahaba (“Hayatus Sahaba”) by Hasrat Maulana Muhammad Yusuf Kandelvi (1917 – 1965) [Translated by Muftu Afzal Hossen Elias, Published by Zam Zam Publisher, Karachi, Pakistan, second Edition, March 2006] volume 2, page 389)


Dr. Ali Muhammad Muhammad As-Sallaabee:

Some of the Prophet’s Companions suggested to Abu Bakr that he call off the expedition and keep the men of Usaamah’s army close by in Al-Madeenah. ‘These men make up the majority of Muslims,’ they argued, ‘ for the Arabs, as you can clearly see, have shaken free of you (and are plotting to destroy you and all Muslims). So it is not wise to allow a group of Muslims (who are needed for fighting) to leave you’. The Prophet’s Companions were united on this issue and they had every reason to fear for the safety of Abu Bakr and of the phenomenon; rather, it was a widespread problem that afflicted most areas of the peninsula. Al-Madeenah was under direct threat of an attack, and all available fighters were needed to defend it. Given the bleak situation, it did not make sense to many of the Companions to send out an army to a foreign country when it was needed to defend the homeland.

Yes, everything they said made complete sense, but they were forgetting one important factor: It was the Messenger of Allah who had ordered Usaamah to lead an army to attack the Romans. Had the army been mobilized by any other person, Abu Bakr would certainly have disbanded the army and used its soldiers for his war against the apostates.
But given the situation the reality of the situation, his conscience forbade him from acting contrary to what the Prophet had originally wanted from Usaamah’s army. And so he stood alone, opposite to the rest of the Prophet’s Companions, who unanimously agreed that it was best to use Usaamah’s soldiers not to attack the Romans, but for the upcoming war against the apostates.

From this encampment in Al-Jurf, Usaamah sent Umar Ibn Al-Khattaab on his behalf, asking permission to return with his soldiers to Al-Madeenah. His message to Abu Bakr was as follows: ‘I have with me not only the best of Muslims, but also the majority of all Muslims (since many in the peninsula have apostatized). And I fear for the safety of the Khaleefah of the Messenger of Allah of the inviolable city of the Messenger of Allah, and of all Muslims. I fear that each of the foregoing will be attacked by the polytheists.’
But Abu Bakr insisted that the army continue on its course towards Ash-Sham. Come what may, Abu Bakr insisted, he was not going to swerve away from what had already been planned by the Prophet. The Companions began by politely suggesting that he change his mind, but then they could not convince him to follow their advice. Abu Bakr knew that he was in the right, but he could not simply refuse to listen to Umar and the other Companions; he felt that he had to give them the opportunity to discuss the matter in further detail with him, and so he invited the people of the Muhaajroon and the Ansaar to hold a meeting with him. During the course of that meeting, a long discussion took place between Abu Bakr and other Companions of the Prophet. The most vociferous opponent of Abu Bakr’s planned course of action was Umar Ibn Al-Khattaab, who expressed his fear that the Khaleefah, the city of Al-Madeenah, and all of its inhabitants were in danger of being captured or destroyed by apostate Arabs.
Abu Bakr listened carefully to what everyone had to say. When the meeting was concluded, Abu Bakr decided to give others the opportunity to voice their opinions once more, and so he called for a second meeting that was to take place in the Prophet’s Masjid. In that meeting, he asked the Compnions to forget the idea of cancelling the mission of Usaamah’s army, a mission that was planned and organized by none other than the Prophet himself. Leaving no room for further discussion, he told them that he was going to send out Usaamah’s army, even if doing so meant that the apostate Arabs would seize control of Al-Madeenah. And he stood up and delivered the following sermon to the Prophet’s Companions: By the One Who has the sould of Abu Bakr in His Hand, had I thought that wild predatory animals would make off with me, I would still send out Usaamah’s army in accordance with what the Messenger of Allah commanded Usaamah to do. And even if I were the last person to remain in these cities, I would do the same.’ …” (The Biography Of Abu Bakr As-Siddeeq By Dr. Ali Muhammad Muhammad As-Sallaabee Page 323 – 325)


Dr. Ali Muhammad Muhammad As-Sallaabee continues:

“The various tribes that refused to pay Zakaat sent delegations to Al-Madeenah in order to meet with Abu Bakr and negotiate terms of peace with him. Yes, they wanted to make peace, but they were adamant in their decision to refuse to pay Zakaat. But once they witnessed firsthand Abu Bakr’s uncompromising resolve, they realized that there no longer remained any point to further negotiations, and so they packed up their things and left to Al-Madeenah. Before leaving, however, they arrived at two conclusions concerning their situation. First, since the Islamic ruling regarding the payment of Zakaat was clear, it was pointless to hope that the Khaleefah of the Muslims would compromise and negotiate terms with them, especially considering the fact that all of the Muslims in Al-Madeenah became convinced of the soundness of his firm stance and decided to stand firmly and loyally by his side against all enemies. And second it was very important to take advantage of the weakness – or perceived weakness – of the Muslims, who because of Usaamah’s expedition, were few in number. This meant that they had to attack Al-Madeenah with all of their might, in the hopes of bringing down the caliphate and destroying the religion of Islam.(Tareekh Ad-Da’wah Ilal-Islam, page 289). … “While the apostate delegates were, on the face of it, negotiating terms of peace, Abu Bakr cast penetrating glances at their facial expressions, and what he saw alarmed him. Certain believers are blessed by Allah with the ability of reading the faces of people; this talent is not magical in nature, but instead is derived from a profound faith in Allah, wisdom, and other similar qualities in Abu Bakr, truly blessed in this regard, read these qualities in the faces of the apostates TREACHERY, baseness and wickedness. So as soon as the delegates left, Abu Bakr said to his companions, “Verily, the delegates perceive that you are few in number; therefore, you cannot be certain about whether they will come during the day or during the night (but rather what is certain is that they will surely make an attempt to take Al-Madeenah)… They hoped that we would agree to a truce with them, but we rejected their offer… so be ready and get ready (for war).” (Tareeh at-Tabaree, volume 4, page 64).
The apostates did not wait long before they put their nefarious plans into action. Only three days after the apostate delegates departed from Al-Madeenah, an attempt on Al-Madeenah was made. The attack consisted of fighters from the Asad, Ghatfaan, Abs, Dhibyaan, and Bakr tribes. These tribes sent only some of their fighters; the rest they stationed at a place called Dhee Husaa, where they were to act as reinforcements. The outer guard units of Al-Madeenah learned of the impending attack and sent news to Abu Bakr about the situation. He sent a message back to them, instructing them to remain where they were. Then Abu Bakr and the men who had been with him in the Masjid rode out to the outskirts of Al-Madeenah, in order to fight alongside the outer guard units against the attackers. The enemy had not been expecting much in terms of resistance, and so they were shocked to see many Muslim fighters defending the outskirts of Al-Madeenah.
During the brief fighting that ensued, enemy fighters became scattered and confused, and were forced to retreat. Muslim riders pursued the enemy all the way until Dhee Husaa, but the reinforcements were waiting there, and in order to avert a complete disaster, they set traps for the camels upon which Muslim soldiers were riding. The camels went wild, but not wild enough to throw off their Muslim riders. The camels eventually calmed down, and the Muslims rode them back to Al-Madeenah, without having incurred any fatalities or casualties.”” (The Biography of Abu Bakr As-Siddeeq [Translated by Faisal Shafeeq, Darussalam] by Dr. Ali Muhammad Muhammad As-Sallaabee, page 363 – 367)



When Abu Bakr rejected the demand of the tribes to absolve them of the obligation to pay Zakaah, they took such refusal as a challenge. Islam sat lightly on them, and tribal feelings were most dominant in them. They accordingly decided that if Islam involved the payment of Zakaah to Madeenah, they would prefer to forego Islam, rather than yield to the dictates of the authorities in Madeenah. During their stay in Madeenah, the delegates of the tribes saw for themselves that with the march of the main Muslim army under Usamah to the Levant, there was hardly any fighting force with the Muslims in Madeenah, and as such the city was vulnerable. When the delegates returned to their tribes, and gave an account of what Abu Bakr has said, they incited them to fight him. They decided to attack Madeenah when the main Muslim army was away, and teach the then authorities a lesson. The tribes concentrated their forces at Dhul Hissa and Dhul Qissah to the north east of Madeenah on the way to Najd, and decided to launch the attack against Madeenah. When the delegates of the tribes left Madeenah in a sullen mood, Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him, discerned that they meant mischief, and that an attack by the tribes was immenent. He immediately gave orders to Muslims to make their arrangements for the defense of Madeenah. Strong pickets under Khalid Ibn Al-Waleed, Az-Zubayr, Walhah, Abdur-Rahmaan Ibn Awf, Abdullaah Ibn Mas’ood and Ali Ibn Abu Taalib, may Allah be pleased with them, were posted at strategic approaches to the city. These pickets were required to remain at their posts, and to make immediate report to the Caliph about the movements of the tribes. All the adult male Muslims were asked to assemble in the Prophet’s mosque, where Abu Bakr As-sideeq, may Allah be pleased with him, informed them of the impending danger of an attack from the tribes, and asked them to do their duty to Islam. He brought home to them the point that if they staked their everything in the way of Allah, Allah would come to their help as He had helped them during the lifetime of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. He said to them: ‘THE DELEGATION NOTICED THAT YOUR NUMBER ARE FEW, AND YOU DO NOT KNOW WHETHER THEY WILL ATTACK YOU BY DAY OR AT NIGHT, AND THEY ARE NOT FAR FROM YOU, SO BE ON YOUR GUARD AND MAKE ARRANGEMENTS.’ A roster of all Muslim adults in the city was prepared, and their turns for keeping the vigil during the nights were fixed. After three days, the withholders of Zakaah made brisk movement in the camp of the tribes at Dhul Hissah. The Muslim scouts brought intelligence that the tribes planned to attack Madeenah that night. Abu Bakr collected all the Muslim male adults in the mosque. After Salaatul – Ishaa (night prayer) these men were required to spread out in groups to keep vigil in the various quarters of the city. At the head of a contingent Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him, took position at a strategic point in the direction of Dhul Hissah from where the attack was expected.
THE TRIBES LAUNCHED THE ATTACK AT MIDNIGHT. THEY HAD HOPED THAT THEY WOULD TAKE THE CITY BY SURPRISE; and that as there was no fighting force in Madeenah, they would meet no resistance, and it would be an easy walk-over for them. As the tribal force advanced in the darkness of the night fully assured of their victory, the contingent of Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him, leapt on the advancing horde, and took them unawares. Many tribes fell victims to the swords of the Muslims; the rest fled in utter confusion.’” (Biographies of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs: Prepared from the works of Ibn Katheer, At-Tabari, As-Syooti, and other historians [Prepared and translated by Tamir Abu As-Su’ood Muhammad, Noha Kamal Ed-Din Abu Al-Yazid, Revised and Edited by: M. Ibrahim Kamara, Joanne McEwan, Dar Al-Manarah, First edition, Safar 1422 – May 2001], page 62 – 64)

The Muslims were saved thanks to Abu Bakr’s strategic plan in which he told some of his companions to be on high alert in night and day, to watch out for anyone advancing towards Madinah. Abu Bakr felt something in him that these men (delegations) who came and argued not to pay any Zakat will eventually rebel against him, Abu Bakr’s instincts came true and saved the Muslims.

3. Muslims Or “Apostates”

Another point that needs clarifying, were the delegations who came to Abu Bakr, were they apostates in the true sense, that they renounced their Islamic faith? The answer is no. Although some among them renounced their Islamic faith and apostatized, vast majority of them were still Muslims, the only difference was that they didn’t want to pay Zakat [2] [3].

Professor of Oriental History In the Colonial Institute of Hamburg, C. H. Becker mentions that they were not fought because of Islam but rather them not paying Zakaat and rebelling against the Muslims:

“The movement in Arabia had received through the formation of the State of Medina a new and powerful stimulation. Mahomet’s campaigns, with their rich booty, had allured many afar. He had moreover, as a great diplomatist, strengthened the opposition where he could find no direct acknowledgment. His example alone had also its effect. Should not the prophet of the Banu Hanifa, of the Asad, or of the Tamim be able to do what the Meccan Nabi had done? In this way prophetism gained ground in Arabia, i.e., the tension already existing grew until it neared an outburst. The sudden death of Mahomet gave new support to the centrifugal tendencies. The character of the whole movement, as it forces itself on the notice of the historian, was of course hidden from contemporaries. Arabia would have sunk into particularism if the necessity caused by the secession of the Ahl ar-Ridda had not developed in the State of Medina an energy which carried all before it. THE FIGHT AGAINST THE RIDDA WAS NOT A FIGHT AGAINST APOSTATES; THE OBJECTION WAS NOT TO ISLAM PER SE BUT TO THE TRIBUTE WHICH HAD TO BE PAID TO MEDINA; the fight was for the political supremacy over Arabia; and its natural result was the extension of the dominions of the prophet, not their restoration. With such a distribution of the Arabian element as has been described it was only in the nature of things that the fight must make itself felt moreover beyond the boundaries of Arabia proper. Only a few of the tribes more nearly connected with Medina recognised the supremacy of Abu Bakr, the other all seceding. Before the news of these secessions reached Medina an expedition, which had been prepared by Mahomet before his death, had already departed for the Syrian border to avenge the defeat at Mu’ta. Medina was therefore quite denuded of troops. A FEW FORMER ALLIES WISHED TO UTILISE THIS PRECARIOUS POSITION AND MAKE A SUDDEN ATTACK ON MEDINA; this however was prevented by Abu Bakr with great energy. Fortunately the expedition returned in time to enable him to capture the camp of insurgents after a severe battle at Dhu-l-Kassa (Aug. – Sept. 632). …” (The Rise Of The Saracens And The Foundation Of The Western Empire[The Cambridge Medieval History, NEW YORK: The Macmillan Company, 1913] by C. H. Becker (Professor of Oriental History In the Colonial Institute of Hamburg), volume 2, page 335 – 336)

From the above reports and scholarly quotes we gather that the people Caliph Abu Bakr Siddique fought against them as a result of them fighting, and rebelling against the State. They were not fought against as a result of them leaving Islam, as some have claimed. Rather, the historical reports tell us these individuals, were hostile, fought and killed many Muslims. For some to claim that the individuals were fought against, on the bases of them renouncing their former faith, Islam alone, have failed and at times deliberately ignored the many other reports showing these people were rebels, who actively waged war against Abu Bakr and the Muslims.

4. Zakat, Tax And Prison

It was a righteous and commendable cause for Abu Bakr to take the Zakat which was due to the poor. These with-holders of Zakat basically were stealing from the poor in a sense. This tax was needed to pay for the poor and needy in the society. So for him taking it by force from these people was justified. Even today, in the western world, if you work and fail to pay taxes to the government, deliberately withholding it, you’re guaranteed to get a five star treatment straight to prison.

In America, Patrick J. Belzner, who is also known as Patrick McCloskey, a home builder residing in Selbyville, Delaware, was sentenced to serve 15 years in prison for tax evasion. Some other countries are even harsher, in China they killed tax evaders in 2001: (A New York Times article describes the context and details of one businessman who was executed in China for tax evasion (11 Mar. 2001).

5. Conclusion:

Final thoughts, as we have seen, Abu Bakr and his companions fought against the Zakat with-holders as a result of them picking up the sword, attacking and killing Muslims, in this instance. Hence, the only way for there be peace and order, Abu Bakr fought against these people. Two crimes they committed against the State, one being that they withheld the Zakat, and two, they fought against the government. In this case, these people were active rebels. We also went over them being called a people of apostasy (ahl al-ridda), this was used in a metaphorical sense. We know they were weren’t “apostates” in its literal sense because they still believed in all of Islam’s core tenants, except for Zakat which was based on a false interpretation on their side.

What do we learn this article? A Hadith (or any other scripture) should never be used/quoted unless we know exactly the circumstances surrounding the report i.e., when it was said and to whom, and why. As we have seen, the Hadith at start of this article paints a picture completely different to when we analyse the events surrounding the historical incident in context.


[1] “Hazrat Abu Bakr fought those who had refused to pay the Zakat because they had taken up the sword and had started hostilities against Muslims.” (Al-Aini, Amdat-ul-Qari, volume 11, page 236) (Punishing Apostasy: The Case of Islam and Shari’a Law Re-considered, [Institute for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, Durhim University, 2003] by Declan Patrick O’Sullivan, volume 1, page 333)
[2] Ibn Abi Hadid is described as being a Mutazili/Sunni others say due to his writings he is a Shia undercover pretending to be a Sunni. I really don’t know what way to lean towards. In Sharh Nahj al-Balaghah, Ibn Abi Hadid (1190 – 1258 AD) [2] writes that “apostasy” was used “metaphorically”:
“Why do you say that those whom Abu Bakr fought were apostates? Truly, the apostate is the one who renounced the Islamic faith after he had embraced it. Now, those who refused to pay Zakah did not deny the Islamic faith. But, they were only mistaken in their interpretation (i.e., of the Qur’an). They misinterpreted God’s word (which says): ‘Of their goods take alms, that thou mightest purify and sanctify them. And pray for them, for thy prayers are a source of security for them. They said (to Abu Bakr and the Madinan authority): ‘We can only give our Zakah to him whose prayers are a source of security for us. After the Prophet’s death no one is qualified to do so. Thereforse, our obligation to pay Zakah is now cancelled’. This has nothing to with apostasy. The Companions called ahl ar-riddah (the people of apostasy) only to describe metaphorically the enormity of their saying and interpretation.” (Ibn Abi Hadid, Sharh Nahj al-Balaghah (Cairo 1959 – 1964), Ed. By Muhammad Abu al Fadl. Volume 13, page 187) (The Development of Apostasy And Punishment Law In Islam, 11 AH/ 632 Ad – 157 AH/ 774 AD [A Research Thesis Submitted to the faculty of Divinity of Glasgow University In Complete Fulfilment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Submitted on January 2002] by Samuel Hosain, Lamarti, page 152
[3] Dr. Abdur Rahmaan Ibn Salih al-Mahmood presents different classical scholars and what their views were in regards to the zakah withholders. Those who withheld the zakah (due to stinginess) and did not fight were Muslim. Those who withheld the zakat and fought against the Muslims were considered to be out of the fold of Islam:
“There are two views narrated from Imam Ahmad concerning this matter. Al-Qaadi Abu Ya’laa said concerning the two reports and the two views: ‘There are different reports from Ahmad (may Allah have mercy on him) concerning those who believe that Zakah is obligatory, but refuse to pay and fight for that purpose – are they to be denounced as Kaafir? Al-Maymooni narrated concerning those who withhold the zakah and fight for that purpose – that no one should inherit from them and the funeral prayer should not be offered for them (i.e., they are not Muslim). Whoever withholds it because of stinginess or negligence, but does not fight for not paying it, may be inherited from and the funeral prayer may be offered for him (i.e., he is a Muslim). The apparent meaning of this is that if they fight for the purpose of withholding it, then they become kaafir by doing that, because Abu Bakr stated definitely that those who withheld the Zakah were kaafir, and said, ‘No, not until they bear witness that their slain are in hell.” (Man-Made Laws vs. Shari’ah – Ruling By Laws other than what Allah revealed conditions and Rulings, by Dr. Abdur Rahmaan Ibn Salih al-Mahmood, page 235)

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5 Responses »

  1. This is nothing but a creation of speculation in a matter that was clear

  2. Quran has all life pertaining issues. No need of any other book or any learned person to support Quran. After the death of Prophet Mohammad (S) 200 years later staunch enemies of Islam invented fake stories and fake saying (Hadees) wrote books over books attributed to Prophet (S) and deviated Muslims away from Quran. The Muslims of today out of their foolishness are following those fake books and have abandoned Quran. As a result Muslims all over the world are gone down to gutters..

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