11 AH. / 632 AD.
IN after days Abu Bekr was used to look back with just pride upon having despatched Usama's force the universal reclamation notwithstanding. Public opinion was not long in justifying the act. His bold front struck the Bedawin mind with the stability of his rule. If the leaders 632 A.D. at Medina had not been confident in strength at home they would not have sent away their army; and the Arabs reasoning thus, were restrained from much that they might otherwise have done. Still the position was critical, and at times alarming.
It was indeed a thing for the brave old Caliph to be proud of. "The Arabs," we read, "were on all sides rising in rebellion. Apostasy and disaffection raised their heads; Christians and Jews began to stretch out their necks; and the Faithful were as a flock of sheep without a shepherd, their Prophet gone, their numbers few, their foes a multitude." In face of all this Abu Bekr had sent away beyond recall his only force, and left Medina open and apparently defenceless.
There was danger all around, for towards the close of Mohammad's life, three rivals, incited by the success of Mohammad, laid claim to the prophetic office, and had already raised the standard of rebellion. In the south, insurrection was hardly quelled by the death of the "Veiled Prophet" of the Yemen1, when, on tidings of the decease of Mohammad, it burst forth again with redoubled violence. Northwards in the centre of the Peninsula, Museilima had
1 Life of Mohammad, p. 478 f.
1 Life of Mohammad, p. 478 f.
detached the powerful tribes around Al-Yemama from their allegiance. And to the north-east, nearer home, Toleiha the third Pretender, had become openly and dangerously hostile. From every quarter, in rapid succession, came news of spreading disaffection. The Collectors of tithe (an impost hateful to the Bedawin), the Legates and Residents of Mohammad throughout the provinces,all, in fact, who represented the authority of Islam, fled or were expelled. The Faithful wherever found were massacred, some of the confessors suffering a cruel death. Mecca and At-Taif wavered at the first; but in the end, through the strong influence of Koreish, stood firm. They were almost alone. Here and there some few tribes, under loyal, or it might be temporising Chiefs, maintained the semblance of obedience; but they were hardly discernible amidst the seething mass of rebellion. 'Amr, hurrying back from 'Oman (whither he had been sent as an Ambassador by Mohammad at the Farewell Pilgrimage) saw, as he passed, the whole of Central Arabia either in open apostasy or ready to break away on the first demand of tithe; and his report filled the Citizens of Medina with dismay. In truth Islam had never taken firm hold of the distant provinces; and as for the Bedawin, Mohammad himself had frequent cause to chide their fickleness. It was fear of punishment, and lust of plunder under the Prophet's banner, rather than attachment to the Faith, which hitherto had held in check these wild sons of the desert. The restraints and obligations of Islam were ever irksome and distasteful; and now rid of them, they were again returning to their lawless life.
As report after report came in of fresh defection, Abu Bekr could but instruct his scattered officers, wherever they were able, to hold together the loyal few, bravely trusting to tide over the crisis until Usama's force returned. For the immediate defence of Medina he took such measures as were possible. The faithful tribes in the neighbourhood were called in, and pickets posted at the various approaches to the City. The turbulent clans in the near desert were the first to assume a threatening attitude. The Beni 'Abs and Dhubyan massed there in such numbers "that the land was straitened by them," and they parted into two bodies, one to Ar-Rabadha, the other to Dhu'l-Kassa, the first station
from Medina on the road to Nejd. The false prophet Toleiha sent his brother to encourage the insurgents; but they still vacillated between his claims and those of Islam. At last they bethought themselves of a compromise. A deputation offered to hold by Islam and its ritual, if only they were excused the tithe. The strangers bearing this message were welcomed by the chiefs of Medina, but by the Caliph their advances were indignantly rejected. He would relax not a tittle of the legal dues. "If ye withhold but the tether of a tithed camel," said Abu Bekr sharply, "I will fight you for it." With this refusal they retired, and also with the intelligence that the City had but few defenders left. Now was the moment, not for plunder only, but for a decisive blow upon Medina. Abu Bekr foreseeing this redoubled his precautions. He strengthened the pickets, and set over them the only three chief men remaining with him, 'Ali, Talha, and Az-Zubeir. For the people at large he appointed the great Mosque a rendezvous. "The land hath rebelled against us," he said, "and they have spied out our nakedness and the weakness of our defence. Ye know not whether they will come upon you by night or come upon you by day, or which of you may be first attacked. Wherefore be ye vigilant and ready."
And so it came to pass. They tarried but three days, when a surprise was attempted from Dhu'l-Kassa. The outposts were on the alert and kept the assailants at bay, while the main-guard was hurried up on camels from the Mosque. The Bedawin, hardly prepared for so warm a reception, fled back upon their reserves. They were pursued; but the insurgents, blowing out their water-skins, cast them, thus inflated, before the camels of the Muslims, which unused to the stratagem took fright and fled back to the Mosque. None were killed or wounded, but the Rebels were emboldened by the discomfiture. Abu Bekr anticipating renewed attack, called out every man capable of bearing arms, and spent the night in marshalling his force. Next morning while yet dark, he led forth the little band himself in regular array with centre and two wings. The enemy were taken by surprise at early dawn, and as the sun arose were already in full flight. Abu Bekr drove them with
slaughter out of Dhu'l-Kassa and, leaving a portion of his little force as an outpost there, returned to Medina.
The affair was small, but the effect was great. As failure would have been disastrous, perhaps fatal, to Islam, so was victory the turning-point in its favour. The power of the Prophet's Successor to protect the city even without an army was noised abroad. And soon after, the spirits of the Muslims rose as they saw some Chiefs appear bringing in the tithes. The tribes whom these represented were indeed few compared with the apostate hordes but it was an augury of brighter days. The first thus to present their legal offerings to the Caliph were deputations from the Beni Temim and Beni Tai'. Each was ushered into his presence as an Embassy. "Nay," said Abu Bekr, "they are more than that; they are Messengers of glad tidings, true men, and defenders of the Faith." And the people answered:"Even so; now the good things that thou didst promise do appear."
Tradition delights to ascribe with pious gratitude the preservation of Islam to the aged Caliph's faith and fortitude. "On the death of Mohammad" (so runs our record), "it wanted but little and the Faithful had perished utterly. But the Lord strengthened the heart of Abu Bekr, and stablished us thereby in the resolve to give place not for one moment to the Apostates;giving answer to them but in these three words Submission, Exile, or the Sword." It was the simple faith of Abu Bekr which fitted him for the task, and made him carry out the law of his Master to the letter. But for him Islam would have melted away in compromise with the Bedawin tribes, or, likelier still, have perished in the throes of birth.
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