The sudden death of Muhammad in 632 CE left his state in disarray; he had never specified procedures for designating a successor. How was the Muslim state he had forged to be governed? A debate ensued and its results had far-reaching implications, as related by the respective chroniclers AI-Tabari and Ibn Hisham.
Source: Bernard Lewis, ed., Islam from the Prophet to the Capture of Constantinople, Vol. I (N.Y.: Walker & Co.,1974), pp. 2Ã6.
THE FOUNDING OF THE CALIPHATE (632)
An account of what happened between the Emigrants and the Helpers concerning the leadership, in the porch of the Banu Sa’ida. Hisha-m ibn Muhammad told me on the authority of Ab-u Mikhnaf, who said: ‘Abdalla-h ibn ‘Abd al-Rahma-n ibn Abi-‘Umra, the Helper, told me:
When the Prophet of God, may God bless and save him, died, the Helpers assembled in the porch of the Banu S-a’ida and said, “Let us confer this authority, after Muhammad, upon him be peace, on Sa’d ibn ‘Uba-da.” Sa’d, who was ill, was brought to them, and when they assembled Sa’d said to his son or to one of his nephews, “I cannot, because of my sickness, speak so that all the people can hear my words. Therefore, hear what I say and then repeat it to them so that they may hear it.” Then he spoke and the man memorized his words and raised his voice so that the others could hear.
He said, after praising God and lauding Him, “O company of the Helpers! You have precedence in religion and merit in Islam which no other Arab tribe has. Muhammad, upon him be peace, stayed for more than ten years amid his people, summoning them to worship the Merciful One and to abandon false gods and idols. But among his own people only a few men believed in him, and they were not able to protect the Prophet of God or to glorify his religion nor to defend themselves against the injustice which beset them. God therefore conferred merit on you and brought honor to you and singled you out for grace and vouchsafed to you faith in Him and in His Prophet and protection for Him and His companions and glorification to Him and His religion and holy war against His enemies. It was you who fought hardest against His enemy and weighed more heavily on His enemy than any other, until the Arabs obeyed the command of God willy-nilly and the distant ones gave obedience, humbly and meekly; until Almighty God, through you, made the world submit to His Prophet, and through your swords the Arabs drew near to him. And when God caused him to die, he was content with you and delighted with you. Therefore, keep this authority for yourselves alone, for it is yours against all others.”
They all replied to him, “Your judgment is sound and your words are true. We shall not depart from what you say and we shall confer this authority on you. You satisfy us and you will satisfy the right believer.”
Then they discussed it among themselves and some of them said, “What if the Emigrants of Quraysh refuse, and say: ‘We are the Emigrants and the first Companions of the Prophet of God; we are his clan and his friends. Why therefore do you dispute the succession to his authority with us?'” Some of them said, “If so, we would reply to them, ‘An amir from us and an amir from you! And we shall never be content with less than that.'” Sa’d ibn ‘Uba-da, when he heard this, said, “This is the beginning of weakness.”
News of this reached ‘Umar, and he went to the house of the Prophet, may God bless and save him. He sent to Abu- Bakr, who was in the Prophet’s house with ‘Ali- ibn Abi- Ta-lib, upon him be peace, preparing the body of the Prophet, may God bless and save him, for burial. He sent asking Abu- Bakr to come to him, and Abu- Bakr sent a message in reply saying that he was busy. Then ‘Umar sent saying that something had happened which made his presence necessary, and he went to him and said, “Have you not heard that the Helpers have gathered in the porch of the Banu S-a’ida? They wish to confer this authority on Sa’d ibn ‘Ub-ada, and the best they say is, ‘an amir from among us and an amir from among Quraysh.'” They made haste toward them, and they met Abu- ‘Ubayda ibn al-Jarr-ah. The three of them went on together, and they met ‘Asim ibn ‘Adi- and ‘Uwaym ibn S-a’ida, who both said to them: “Go back, for what you want will not happen.” They said, “We shall not go back,” and they came to the meeting.
‘Umar ibn al-Khatt-ab said: We came to the meeting, and I had prepared a speech which I wished to make to them. We reached them, and I was about to begin my speech when Abu- Bakr said to me, “Gently! Let me speak first, and then afterwards say whatever you wish.” He spoke. ‘Umar said, “He said all I wanted to say, and more.”
‘Abdalla-h ibn ‘Abd al-Rahma-n said: Abu- Bakr began. He praised and lauded God and then he said, “God sent Muhammad as a Prophet to His creatures and as a witness to His community that they might worship God and God alone, at a time when they were worshipping various gods beside Him and believed that they were intercessors for them with God and could be of help to them, though they were only of hewn stone and carved wood. Then he recited to them, ‘And they worship apart from God those who could neither harm them nor help them, and they say these are our intercessors with God’ [Qur’a-n x, 19/18]. And they said, ‘We worship them only so that they may bring us very near to God’ [Qur’-an xxxix, 4/3]. It was a tremendous thing for the Arabs to abandon the religion of their fathers. God distinguished the first Emigrants of his people by allowing them to recognize the truth and believe in him and console him and suffer with him from the harsh persecution of his people when they gave them the lie and all were against them and reviled them. Yet they were not affrighted because their numbers were few and the people stared at them and their tribe was joined against them. They were the first in the land who worshipped God and who believed in God and the Prophet. They are his friends and his clan and the best entitled of all men to this authority after him. Only a wrongdoer would dispute this with them. And as for you, O company of the Helpers, no one can deny your merit in the faith or your great precedence in Islam. God was pleased to make you Helpers to His religion and His Prophet and caused him to migrate to you, and the honor of sheltering his wives and his Companions is still yours, and after the first Emigrants there is no one we hold of equal standing with you. We are the amirs and you are the viziers. We shall not act contrary to your advice and we shall not decide things without you.”
Abu- Bakr said, “Here is ‘Umar and here is Abu- ‘Ubayda. Swear allegiance to whichever of them you choose.” The two of them said, “No, by God, we shall not accept this authority above you, for you are the worthiest of the Emigrants and the second of the two who were in the cave and the deputy [khali-fa] of the Prophet of God in prayer, and prayer is the noblest part of the religion of the Muslims. Who then would be fit to take precedence of you or to accept this authority above you? Stretch out your hand so that we may swear allegiance to you.”
And when they went forward to swear allegiance to him, Bashi-r ibn Sa’d went ahead of them and swore allegiance to himÉand when the tribe of Aws saw what Bashi-r ibn Sa’d had doneÉthey came to him and swore allegiance to him…
Hisha-m said on the authority of Abu- Mikhnaf: ‘Abdalla-h ibn ‘Abd al-Rahma-n said: People came from every side to swear allegiance to Abu- Bakr.
THE ACCESSION SPEECH OF ABU- BAKR (632)
Then Abu- Bakr spoke and praised and lauded God as is fitting, and then he said: O people, I have been appointed to rule over you, though I am not the best among you. If I do well, help me, and if I do ill, correct me. Truth is loyalty and falsehood is treachery; the weak among you is strong in my eyes until I get justice for him, please God, and the strong among you is weak in my eyes until I exact justice from him, please God. If any people holds back from fighting the holy war for God, God strikes them with degradation. If weakness spreads among a people, God brings disaster upon all of them. Obey me as long as I obey God and His Prophet. And if I disobey God and His Prophet, you do not owe me obedience. Come to prayer, and may God have mercy on you.
Please answer the following questions:
- What was the nature of the split between the Helpers and the Emigrants after the Prophet’s death?
- What was Abu-Bakr’s perspective on the difference in prestige and authority between the two?
- In his accession speech, how does Abu-Bakr personally set limits on his own authority as Caliph?