Chapter 12: Abu Bakr Strikes
"If the faith of Abu Bakr were to be weighed against the faith of all the people of the earth, his faith would outweigh theirs." [Umar bin Al-Khattab]
"Abu Bakr was the bravest of the people." [Ali ibn Abi Talib]1
The apostasy had become so general that it affected every tribe in Arabia with the exception of the people in Makkah and Madinah and the tribe of Thaqeef at Taif. In some cases the entire tribe apostatised. In other cases part of the tribe apostatised while part continued to follow the true faith; and among those who remained Muslims, many had to pay with their lives for their faith. The flames of disbelief were fanned by two false prophets, Tulaiha bin Khuwailid and Musailima bin Habib, and a false prophetess by the name of Sajah bint Al Harith. Musailima had been an impostor for some time, while Tulaiha made his claim to prophethood during the illness of the Holy Prophet. The most immediate threat to Madinah was posed by Tulaiha and the tribes of West-Central and North-Central Arabia that followed him. These tribes were the Ghatfan, the Tayy, the Hawazin, the Bani Asad and the Bani Sulaim.
The concentrations of apostates nearest Madinah were located in two areas: Abraq, 70 miles north-east of Madinah, and Zhu Qissa, 24 miles east of Madinah. 2 (See Map 8) These concentrations consisted of the Ghatfan, the Hawazin and the Tayy. A week or two after the departure of the Army of Usama, the apostates at Zhu Qissa sent a delegation to Abu Bakr. "We shall continue the prayers", said the delegates, "but we shall not pay any taxes." Abu Bakr would have none of it. "By Allah", he replied, "if you withhold a single ounce of what is due from you, I shall fight you. I allow you one day in which to give your reply." 3
The envoys were taken aback by the determination and confidence of the new Caliph who seemed to be entirely unaware of the weakness of his position. And he had given them one day! The following morning, before the single day's ultimatum had expired, the envoys slipped out of Madinah, which meant a rejection of Abu Bakr's demands. Soon after their departure, Abu Bakr sent his own envoys to all the apostate tribes, calling upon them to remain loyal to Islam and continue to pay their taxes.
But the apostate envoys from Zhu Qissa, before leaving Madinah, had had a good look at the place, and their keen eyes had noticed the absence of warriors. On returning to Zhu Qissa they told their comrades about their conversation with Abu Bakr and the very vulnerable state of Madinah. Meanwhile Tulaiha, who was now at Samira, had reinforced the apostates at Zhu Qissa with a contingent under his brother, Hibal-a wily and resourceful general. When the apostates heard the reports of the envoys, the temptation proved too much for them; they decided to have a crack at Madinah while it was still defenceless. Consequently, the force at Zhu Qissa moved forward from Zhu Hussa 4 , from where, after forming a base, part of the force advanced still nearer Madinah and went into camp, preparatory to attacking the town. It was now the third week of July 632 (late Rabi-ul-Akhir, 11 Hijri).
Abu Bakr received intelligence of this move and at once undertook the organisation of the defences of Madinah. The main army was out under Usama, but Madinah was not as defenceless as the rebels had imagined. Quite a few warriors were still there, especially from the clan of Bani Hashim (the Prophet's own clan) who had remained behind to mourn their departed kinsman. From these remnants Abu Bakr scraped together a fighting force. The confidence of Abu Bakr, never shaken, was strengthened by the thought that he had such stalwarts with him as Ali, Zubair bin Al Awam and Talha bin Ubaidullah. Each of these was appointed to command one?third of the newly created force.
For three days nothing happened. The apostates, uncertain of how they should set about their task, remained inactive. Then, on orders from Abu Bakr, the Muslims sallied out of Madinah. They launched a quick attack on the forward camp of the apostates and drove them back. The apostates withdrew to Zhu Hussa. The Muslims informed Abu Bakr of their success, and the Caliph ordered them to stay where they were and await his instructions.
1. Tarikh Al-Khulafaa of As-Suyuti.
2. Abraq is now just a stony plain (the word means a spur or bluff) 5 miles north of Hanakiya. Zhu Qissa does not exist; its location is known only in terms of its distance from Madinah (Ibn Sad: p. 590), and it was on the road to Rabaza, which is 20 miles north-east of Hanakiya. The latter is the old Batn Nakhl.
3. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 487; Balazuri: p. 103.
4. The location of Zhu Hussa is not known.
The following day Abu Bakr set out from Madinah with a long string of pack camels, for the riding camels had all gone with Usama and these inferior camels were the best that Abu Bakr could muster in the way of transportation. As the convoy got to the abandoned apostate camp, the Muslims who had driven the apostates away mounted these camels and the force advanced towards Zhu Hussa-the apostate base.
Here the enemy waited, and Hibal, the brother of Tulaiha, showed his military cunning. He kept his men behind the crest of a slope, some distance ahead of the base towards which the Muslims were advancing.
The Muslims, mounted on their pack camels, rode up the slope unaware of the enemy who waited just beyond the crest. When the unsuspecting Muslims got near the crest, the apostates stood up and hurled upon the forward slope a countless number of goatskins filled with water. As these goatskins rolled down the crest towards the Muslims, a wild din arose from the apostate ranks as they hammered on drums and screamed at the top of their voices. The pack camels, untrained for battle and not used to sudden loud noises or the sight of unfamiliar objects rolling towards them in large numbers, turned and bolted. The Muslims did their utmost to control their panic-stricken mounts but failed, and very soon the entire Muslim force was home again!
Hibal had reason to feel pleased with himself. He had pulled a fast one on the Muslims and driven them back to Madinah without, so to speak, firing a shot. In view of this clever trick which Hibal pulled off, it is possible that the preceding apostate withdrawal had been a feint, planned by Hibal, to draw the Muslims out of the security of their town towards Zhu Hussa. We do not know. But Hibal now made the mistake of assuming that the Muslims were frightened, and that their hasty move back to Madinah was a sign of weakness. He did not know that the Muslims were mounted on pack camels, and that it was these animals that had panicked and not the men who rode them. The part of his force that had remained at Zhu Qissa was informed of this success and called forward. The same evening the full force of the apostates advanced and re?established the camp near Madinah, from which they had withdrawn only the day before. The spirits of the apostates were high.
The Muslims, on the other hand, were very angry, and every man was determined to set the record straight in a return engagement. Abu Bakr knew that the apostates had returned to their camp near Madinah, and decided to assail them before they could complete their preparations for battle. Under his instructions, the Muslims spent most of the night reorganising their small army and preparing for battle.
During the latter part of the night Abu Bakr led his army out of Madinah and formed up for the assault. He deployed the army with a centre, two wings and a rear guard. Keeping the centre under his direct command, he placed the right wing under Numan, the left wing under Abdullah and the rearguard under Suwaid-all three of whom were sons of Muqaran. Before dawn the army was set in motion towards the enemy camp where the apostates, confident of an easy victory on the morrow, slept soundly.
This time it was Hibal who was surprised. The first glow of dawn had not yet appeared when a furious, screaming mass of Muslims fell upon the camp with drawn swords. The apostates did not stand upon the order of their going. Many were killed, but most of them found safety in flight, and did not stop until they had got to Zhu Qissa, where they paused to rest and reorganise. Their spirits were no longer so high.
This round had been won by Abu Bakr, and his was no empty success. It was a bloody tactical action in which the enemy had been driven back by the sword and not by deception alone. Abu Bakr had decided to catch the enemy unawares and thus get the benefit of surprise to offset his numerical inferiority, and in this he had succeeded. He needed quick tactical victory and he had got it. As a matter of interest it may be noted that this is the first instance in Muslim history of a night attack-a tactical method which did not achieve popularity until the First World War.
Having won this round, Abu Bakr decided to give no respite to his opponents. He would catch them before the effect of the shock wore off and while alarm and confusion kept them disorganised. As the sun rose, he marched to Zhu Qissa.
On arrival at Zhu Qissa, he formed up for battle as he had done the night before, and then launched his attack. The apostates put up a fight, but their morale was low and after some resistance they broke contact and retreated to Abraq where more clansmen of the Ghatfan, the Hawazin and the Tayy were gathered. Abu Bakr, on capturing Zhu Qissa, sent a small force under Talha bin Ubaidullah to pursue the enemy. Talha advanced a short distance and killed some stragglers, but the small size of his force prevented him from doing any great damage to the retreating apostates.
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"No, by Allah!" he replied. "I shall not do that. I shall not trouble others with my burden." 1
And it was under Abu Bakr that the small army marched out to Zhu Qissa, where Numan awaited him. (This Numan was later to achieve everlasting fame as the victor of Nihawand in Persia.) Here Abu Bakr placed Numan and his brothers in command of the wings and the rear guard, as he had done for his night attack, and set out for Abraq. It was now the second week of August (third week of Jamadi-ul-Awwal).
When the Muslims got to Abraq they found that the enemy was already formed up in battle array. Without delay, Abu Bakr deployed his army and attacked the apostates.
The apostate spirits now were not as high as they had been a fortnight before. The defeated elements, which had escaped from Zhu Qissa, had joined the apostates at Abraq, and as is usual in such cases their arrival had had a depressing effect on others. For some time the apostates, who were numerically superior, resisted the Muslim attack, then they broke and fled. Abu Bakr had won another victory.
The remnants of the apostates fleeing from Abraq, and certain other clans from this region, travelled to Buzakha, whither Tulaiha the Impostor had moved from Samira. But other clans living in this area submitted to the columns that Abu Bakr sent out after the capture of Abraq to subdue the countryside. Now more taxes were gathered, to which the repentant clans gladly added gifts that were as gladly accepted.
The following day the Caliph left Abraq for Madinah. On arrival at Madinah he spent a few days in dealing with matters of state; then he moved to Zhu Qissa with the Army of Usama. But it had now ceased to be the Army of Usama, for Usama had completed his work and his army was now the Army of Islam-to be used by the Caliph as required. Usama's tenure of command was over.
At Zhu Qissa, Abu Bakr organised the Army of Islam into several corps to deal with the various enemies who occupied the entire land of Arabia except for the small area in the possession of the Muslims. This was the first time that the Muslim Army was organised into separate corps, each with its own commander, for independent missions under the general strategical guidance of the Caliph. Muslim commanders, until now essentially tacticians, would henceforth enter the higher realms of strategy and master those realms with a sure-footedness and ease that would astonish the world.
At Zhu Qissa, in the fourth week of August 632 (early Jamadi-ul-Akhir, 11 Hijri) Abu Bakr planned the strategy of the Campaign of the Apostasy. The battles which he had fought recently against the apostate concentrations at Zhu Qissa and Abraq were in the nature of immediate preventive action to save Madinah and discourage further offensives by the enemy, thus gaining time for the preparation and launching of his main forces. These actions could be described as spoiling attacks; they had enabled Abu Bakr to secure a base from which he could fight the major campaign that lay ahead.
Abu Bakr had no illusions about the task that faced him. He had to fight not one but several enemies-Tulaiha the Impostor at Buzakha, Malik bin Nuwaira at Butah, Musailima the Liar at Yamamah. He had to deal with widespread apostasy on the eastern and southern coasts of Arabia-in Bahrain, in Oman, in Mahra, in Hadhramaut, in the Yemen. There was apostasy in the region south and east of Makkah, and in Northern Arabia the Quza'a had staged a comeback after the return of the Army of Usama.
The situation of the Muslims can be compared with a small island of belief in an ocean of disbelief, a lamp shining in the darkness which held every manner of danger for the Faithful. Abu Bakr had not only to keep the flame alive, but also to dispel the darkness and crush the forces of evil that gathered threateningly on all sides. In numerical strength the apostates vastly outnumbered the Muslims, though they were not united. Abu Bakr's military strength lay in his having, among the Muslims, the finest fighting men of the time. And he had a tremendous weapon-Khalid bin Al Waleed: the Sword of Allah.
1. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 476.
Abu Bakr planned his strategy accordingly. He formed the army into several corps. The strongest corps, and this was the main punch of the Muslims, was the corps of Khalid. This was used to fight the most powerful of the rebel forces, to crack the toughest nuts. Other corps were given areas of secondary importance in which to bring the less dangerous apostate tribes to their senses, after the main enemy opposition was crushed. Two corps were kept as reserves to reinforce the corps of Khalid or any other corps that might need assistance. The first corps to go into action was that of Khalid, and the timing of the despatch of other corps hinged on the operations of Khalid, who was given the task of fighting the strongest enemy forces one after the other. Abu Bakr's plan was first to clear the area of West Central Arabia (the area nearest Madinah), then tackle Malik bin Nuwaira, and finally concentrate against the most dangerous enemy of the lot-Musailima the Liar. Thus Abu Bakr would achieve concentration of force, by dealing with the main enemy armies separately and in turn, progressing step by step from nearer to farther regions.
The Caliph formed 11 corps, each under its own commander. 1 A standard was given to each corps. The available manpower was distributed among these corps and while some commanders were given immediate missions, others were given missions for which they would be launched later. The commanders were also instructed to pick up brave men on the way as they marched to their objectives. The 11 corps commanders and their assigned objectives were as follows:
1. Khalid: First Tulaiha at Buzakha, then Malik bin Nuwaira, at Butah.
2. Ikrimah bin Abi Jahl: Contact Musailima at Yamamah but not to get involved until more forces were built up.
3. Amr bin Al Aas: The apostate tribes of Quza'a and Wadi'a in the area of Tabuk and Daumat?ul-Jandal.
4. Shurahbil bin Hasanah: Follow Ikrimah and await the Caliph's instructions.
5. Khalid bin Saeed: Certain apostate tribes on the Syrian frontier.
6. Turaifa bin Hajiz: The apostate tribes of Hawazin and Bani Sulaim in the area east of Madinah and Makkah.
7. Ala bin Al Hadhrami: The apostates in Bahrain.
8. Hudhaifa bin Mihsan: The apostates in Oman.
9. Arfaja bin Harsama: The apostates in Mahra.
10. Muhajir bin Abi Umayyah: The apostates in the Yemen, then the Kinda in Hadhramaut.
11. Suwaid bin Muqaran: The apostates in the coastal area north of the Yemen.
As soon as the organisation of the corps was complete, Khalid marched off, to be followed a little later by Ikrimah and Amr bin Al Aas. The other corps were held back by the Caliph and despatched weeks and even months later. Their despatch was conditioned by the progress of Khalid's operations against the hard core of enemy opposition.
Before the various corps left Zhu Qissa, however, envoys were sent by Abu Bakr to all apostate tribes in a final attempt to induce them to see reason. These envoys were given identical instructions: they were to call upon the tribes to return to Islam and render full submission, for those tribes which submitted there would be forgiveness and peace, those tribes that resisted would be fought until no opposition remained and their women and children would be enslaved: before the attack, against any tribe, the Muslim forces would call the Adhan (the Muslim call to prayer), and if the tribe responded with the Adhan it would be assumed that it had submitted.
To the corps commanders, too, the Caliph gave identical general instructions, apart from their specific objectives. These instructions were as follows:
a. Seek the tribes which are your objectives
b. Call the Adhan.
c. If the tribe answers with the Adhan, do not attack. After the Adhan, ask the tribe to confirm its submission, including the payment of taxes. If confirmed, do not attack.
d. Those who submit will not be molested.
e. Those who do not answer with the Adhan, or after the Adhan do not confirm full submission, will be dealt with by fire and sword.
f. All apostates who have killed Muslims will be killed, those who have burnt Muslims alive will be burnt alive. 2
With these instructions Abu Bakr, no longer the meek, submissive Companion, launched the forces of Islam against the apostates.
1. The word 'corps' has been used in a loose sense to indicate an independent tactical command. These corps had no organisational resemblance with the modem army corps of about three divisions.
2. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 482.