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Khalifa Abu Bakr - Encounter with the Tribes

Encounter with the tribes

Tribes around Madina. Madina was surrounded by a ring of tribes, whose attitude to Islam was luke warm. These tribes included Bani Asad; Bani Tha'lba; Bani Ghatafan; Banu Marrah Banu Abbas; Banu Dhanayan and others. In the battle of the Trench, these tribes had sided with the Quraish of Makkah and had fought against the Muslims. After the conquest of Makkah, when other tribes in Arabia sent delegations to Madina and accepted Islam, the tribes around Madina also followed suit and offered allegiance to Islam. Their allegiance was based more on diplomacy and expediency than on real faith and conviction of the heart. Islam sat lightly on them. They regarded Islam as a matter of personal allegiance to the Holy Prophet which abated with the death of the Holy Prophet.

Deputation of the tribes. When Usamah's army left Madina for the Syrian front, the tribes around Madina sent a deputation to wait on Abu Bakr. Their view was that with the passing away of the Holy Prophet their agreement vis a vis Islam had abated, and it was necessary that the authorities at Madina should make a fresh agreement with them. They said that they would remain on friendly terms with the authorities at Madina provided they were relieved of the obligation to pay Zakat. Abu Bakr treated the deputation with due courtesy, and said that he would give his reply after consulting his advisers.

Counsel of the advisers. Abu Bakr consulted his advisers. Almost all the eminent companions around Abu Bakr advised that as the Muslims were hemmed in by danger from all sides, it was expedient that the demand of the tribes should be accepted so that there was no defection from Islam. Even Umar known for his strong attitudes favored the acceptance of the demand of the tribes, in view of the impending danger.

Judgment of Abu Bakr. The question became a matter of great concern for Abu Bakr. He was conscious of the gravity of the situation, and was aware of the danger to which the Muslim community was exposed. Prima facie the advice of Umar and others to accept the demand of the tribes appeared to be sound under the circumstances. Abu Bakr however could not overlook the other side of the picture. Abu Bakr felt that the very basis on which the demand had been raised was open to attack. It was incorrect to hold that Islam was a matter of agreement between the Holy Prophet and the tribes, and that after his passing away this agreement had abated and was open to revision. Islam was an agreement with God, and as God existed, the passing away of the Holy Prophet after the fulfillment of his mission did not in any way affect their allegiance to Islam. Islam meant total faith, and such faith could not be made subject to any conditions.

Zakat. As regards the demand for Zakat, Abu Bakr felt that if he conceded the demand, that might ease the situation temporarily, but that could in turn lead to other demands, and after having accepted one demand it would be difficult to refuse other demands. Islam stood for a central polity, and if any concession was once given in consideration of tribal loyalties, that would be subversive of the solidarity of Islam. Abu Bakr felt that as the successor of the Holy Prophet it was his duty to safeguard Islam, and as such he could not follow a policy of appeasement likely to compromise Islam in any way.

Another consideration that weighed with Abu Bakr was that Zakat was not a levy subject to political considerations; it was an imperative injunction ordained by Islam, and was equated with prayers. Abu Bakr recalled that when the people of Taif had waited on the Holy Prophet and had sought to be relieved of the obligation to offer prayers, the Holy Prophet had refused to accept the demand on the ground that he was not competent to amend the mandate of God. On this analogy, Abu Bakr felt convinced that he was not competent to grant a concession violative of the fundamental principle of Islam. The matter of fact position was that where God and the Holy Prophet left any matter to the discretion of the community, the community could take such action as might be necessary on the basis of expediency, but where the command of Allah or the Holy Prophet was definite and conclusive, it was absolute and mandatory, and it could not be compromised or modified because of any considerations of necessity or expediency. After considering all aspects of the case, Abu Bakr arrived at the conclusion that he had no jurisdiction to grant an exemption from Zakat, and that as the representative of the Holy Prophet it devolved on him to enforce the command of Allah in letter as well as in spirit, and not to sit in judgment over such order, and seek to modify it for one reason or the other. Abu Bakr's judgment, therefore, was that under the circumstances he had no option but to refuse the demand of the tribes. This conviction fired him with the determination to stand firm, and to refuse to compromise Islam.

Abu Bakr took Umar and other companions into confidence. Umar tried to insist on his previous advice of giving the concession, but as Abu Bakr unfolded his arguments step by step, all the companions came round to the view that truth was what Abu Bakr said.

Reply to the tribes. When on the following day, Abu Bakr met the delegation of the tribes, he explained to them the philosophy underlying Zakat. He brought home to them the point that he had no jurisdiction to grant any concession in respect of a matter which was a mandate of Allah. He explained to them that if they professed Islam, they had to observe all the injunctions of Islam in toto. There was no half way house in Islam, and it was not permissible for them to pick and choose Islam according to their whims and caprices. Islam had either to be rejected or accepted, and there was no room in Islam for any compromise on fundamentals. Abu Bakr argued that Zakat being a fundamental injunction of Islam had to be paid with good grace, and any refusal to pay Zakat implied apostasy.

Addressing the delegates, Abu Bakr declared in unequivocal terms: "Under the circumstances, if with reference to Zakat you withhold even as much as a string to tie a camel, as the Caliph of the Holy Prophet, it will be my duty to fight for it whatever the consequences. I will be prepared to face all risks, but I cannot be a party to the compromising of Islam on any fundamental issue."

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