The Sword of Allah - Khalid Bin Waleed (Ral)

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Chapter 11: The Gathering Storm

 Part II: The Campaign of the Apostasy


Page: 5

A few more days passed. Reports from the countryside became more alarming. Then one day Usama, who feared for Madinah and for Islam no less than the others, spoke to Umar. "Go to the Caliph", he said. "Ask him to permit the army to remain at Madinah. All the leaders of the community are with me. If we go, none will be left to prevent the infidels from tearing Madinah to pieces."

Umar agreed to speak to the Caliph. As he was leaving the camp, he was met by a group of leaders who made the same suggestion and added: "If he does not agree to our remaining in Madinah and we have to go, ask him at least to place an older man than Usama in command of the army." 1 Umar agreed to put this across also.

In Madinah Abu Bakr sat on the floor of his house, getting used to the tremendous burden which the assumption of the caliphate in these stormy days had placed upon his shoulders. The strain would have shattered his nerves but for his limitless faith. Umar entered. Umar was calm and confident, for he was used to speaking to Abu Bakr as a strong, vigorous man would address a mild and submissive, albeit beloved comrade.

Abu Bakr waited until Umar had delivered the message and also expressed his own opinion regarding the proposed change of command. Then he leapt to his feet and shouted at Umar, "O Son of Al Khattab! It was the Messenger of Allah who appointed Usama as the commander. And you want me to remove him from command." 2

Umar hastily backed out of Abu Bakr's house. He returned to the camp where the elders waited to see what news he would bring. Umar abused them roundly! 3

On June 24, 632 (the 1st of Rabi-ul-Akhir, 11 Hijri), the Army of Usama broke camp and moved out. Abu Bakr walked some distance beside the mounted Usama and refused to let the young commander dismount from his horse. "Every step that a Muslim warrior takes in the way of Allah", he explained to Usama, "earns him the merit of 700 good deeds and the forgiveness of 700 sins." 4

Abu Bakr asked if he could retain Umar with him as adviser, to which Usama readily agreed. Then he gave his parting instructions to the Army Commander: "Carry out your task. Start the operation with raids against the Quza'a. Let nothing deter you from accomplishing the mission given you by the Messenger of Allah." 5 And the Army of Usama marched away.

The despatch of the Army of Usama was a mistake in the circumstances which had arisen since the Prophet's death.6 Some Muslim writers have stated that it was a wise move on the part of Abu Bakr, as it gave a show of strength to the rebels and thus deterred them from greater violence. Actually, this was not the case. Although Usama carried out his mission with efficiency and speed, his operation had no bearing whatever on the major actions of the apostasy which were fought in North-Central Arabia. The despatch of the Army of Usama was an act of faith displaying complete submission to the will of the departed Prophet, but as a manoeuvre of military and political strategy, it was anything but sound. This is also proven by the fact that all the Muslim leaders were opposed to the move-leaders who produced, in this and the following decades, some of the finest generals of history.

Abu Bakr was moved to this decision by nothing other than his desire to carry out the last military wish of the Prophet. It was not lack of strategical judgement which led him to send of the Army of Usama, for Abu Bakr had ample military ability, as he was to prove soon after in his direction and conduct of the war against the apostates and the invasions of Iraq and Syria.

The Army of Usama was gone. Reports of ever-spreading revolt and of the concentration of hostile tribes became more serious day by day. The apprehensions of the Muslims increased. In contrast, the apostates rejoiced at the news of Abu Bakr's assumption of the caliphate and the departure of the army. With Abu Bakr at the helm of Muslim affairs, they thought, their objective of crushing the new Muslim State would be more easily achieved. The rebels were relieved that they did not have to deal with the fiery Umar or the peerless Ali. They would only have to deal with a nice old man!

But the Muslims were in for some pleasant surprises and the apostates for some rude shocks at the hands of 'the nice old, man'-such shocks that one rebel chieftain, fleeing from the columns of Abu Bakr, would cry in terror: "Woe to the Arabs from the son of Abu Quhafa!" 7

1. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 462.
2. Ibid: Vol. 2, P. 462.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid: Vol. 2, p. 463.
6. Only a purely material perspective could regard this as a mistake, and even then this statement is difficult to defend categorically. It could easily be argued that the astonishing victories against the apostates, Persians and Romans during Abu Bakr's short caliphate were partly from the blessing of this decision to continue a matter begun by the Prophet (SAWS), one of the first major decisions made by Abu Bakr as caliph.
7. Balazuri: p. 104.