Revisiting Abu Bakr’s Conversation With Umar And The Delegation(s): Ridda Wars

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Kaleef K. Karim

Few days ago I wrote an article on the Ridda wars, in relation to an incident in the life of the first Caliph Abu Bakr Siddiq. We found that a delegation were sent over to Abu Bakr to argue not pay any Zakat. As such the group(s) who did not want to pay Zakat, few days later attacked the Muslim community.

We established from the article, that disbelief in of its self was not the reason why Abu Bakr fought against these Zakat with-holders. The reason they were not considered to be disbelievers, was because, if Abu Bakr did believe such, then why didn’t he amass an army against the tribes straight away? They weren’t disbelievers, since Abu Bakr and all the Muslims still considered them to be Muslims, even though they had a major disagreement on the issue of Zakat. We found from multiple reports, that after arguing not pay Zakat, they decided to attack Madinah, killed Muslims and at the same time aiming to overthrow the government. See the full article here: “Hadith Without Context Is Meaningless: Abu Bakr’s ‘Apostasy’ Wars

I got some feedback/concerns from some brothers why I did not delve and explain the conversation between the delegation, Abu Bakr and Umar more. As such, I promised to write an article to clarify some of the things that I did pay enough attention too in the previous piece.

Note: 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 apostates when they fought and killed Muslims. The second group refers to Musaylima, Tulayha, and Aswad al-Ansi. This present article and the one previously published refer to group one. Group two will be dealt with in a separate article in the near future, God willing.

The conversation between Abu Bakr and Umar needs a closer inspection. As such, this article is aimed at explaining these few Hadith reports and get a better understanding of this historical event:

“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 reports quoted shows that there was a disagreement between the delegation, Abu Bakr, and his close companions. It seems at first, Abu Bakr’s companions may have been sympathetic to them, that they should be exempt to pay Zakat, and they be left alone since they still pray and say the Shadahah. But Abu Bakr at the same time was having none of it. This tax was a right due to the State. And there were clear Divine rulings pertaining to this that it had it be given and hence, Abu Bakr dismissed them:

“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 made the argument whoever did not pay Zakat he would fight them. The fighting here would have been, (A) talk to them to hand over what is due to the government/State, (B) if that didn’t work, the soldiers would have taken what is due by force, (C) if they raised the sword/weapon against the Government’s soldiers, a fight would have ensued and they would have been dealt with.

One must remember, only plan “A” was done in relation to Abu Bakr and the tribes that didn’t want to pay Zakat.
The Muslim State taking the zakat (tax) what was due, this would be similar to how the Police, government(s) in Western world work: they would sent out the Police and move in to confiscate a person’s money or any other things of value, if they owed taxes to the government.

One must remember also that these people were considered to be Muslim. They were not disbelievers as some have assumed. The conversation between the delegation, Abu Bakr, and Umar shows that they were considered to be Muslims. They became “rebels” is when the delegation went back to their tribes, they enticed their people to raise an army against the Muslim leader, Abu Bakr Siddiq:

“…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)

As the above report shows, few days after the delegation came to Abu Bakr, they decided to attack/kill Muslims in Madinah, 1300 years ago. When they attacked the Muslim community and its leader, this is the time they were fought against as rebels. Islamic scholar, Shaykh Yasir Qadhi agrees in his lecture, Titled “Lives of the Khulafaa: Abu Bakr al-Siddiq – Those who Refused to Pay Zakah (Part 6)“, that these people were considered to be Muslim brothers by Abu Bakr, Umar and others.

Chronological order of events:

1. Prophet Muhammed (p) died.
2. Different tribes sent their delegation to Abu Bakr.
3. Delegation(s) argued that they shouldn’t pay any Zakat (tax) since the Prophet (p) had died, they based their false interpretation on a verse from the Quran.
4. Some of Abu Bakr’s closest companions argued for them to be exempt to Zakat since they pray and say the Shahadah.
5. Abu Bakr Siddiq dismissed this and said whoever withholds Zakat, he would fight them.
6. The companions who sided and said to exempt them from Zakat, came to agree with Abu Bakr eventually, that the tax have to be paid.
7. The delegation was dismissed and sent back to their tribes. The individuals sent back enticed their people to fight against Abu Bakr and the Muslims.
8. They raided Madinah in night, attacking Abu Bakr and the Muslims. Some Muslims were killed. They tried to overthrow the Government.
9. Abu Bakr fought back with his people and killed those who were involved.

In Conclusion, these people committed a number of crimes: (1) first crime was them not paying the zakat. (2) They fought against the Muslims. (3) They murdered Muslims, and these crimes combined were liable for the death penalty on the individuals who were involved. In this instance they were fought against as rebels. Hence, the claim being made that they were disbelievers just for refusing to pay Zakat has no basis in regards to this historical incident.

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