To Question the Legitimacy of Naming Abu Bakr al-Siddiq’s Battles as Hurub Al-Ridda – (‘The Wars of Apostasy.’)
The main reasons for the rise of apostasy being utilised as a source to kill those who are perceived of having left Islam, are often argued to have been derived from the circumstances following the death of Prophet Muhammad. When the Prophet died in 11AH/632AD, the new, early administration of the Islamic community faced a very dangerous situation, of some crisis. Widespread disorder arose throughout the Arabian peninsula, with many tribes refusing to pay forth their zakat. However, the tribes defended themselves stating that they had remained as devout believers within Islam, because they claimed that paying zakat was not one of the ‘Five Pillars’ of Islam. They also believed that the zakat was merely a tax to be paid to the government, which is why they refused to do so, as their commitment was to God’s Prophet, as opposed to an elected leader. However, this whole period of battles at that time, as repercussions to this refusal to pay the zakat tax, became known as Al-Ridda : The War of Apostasy.
As Wael Hallaq explains, in the section of ‘Apostasy’ in the Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an, the start of the hostile engagements between tribes shortly after the Prophet Muhammad had died, began :
Upon the Prophet’s death and until the early months of 13/634, Muslim
Armies engaged in a number of battles that came later to be known as
the wars of apostasy (hurub al-ridda).
Hallaq also argues that, apart from within the cities of Medina and Mecca, plus the immediate vicinities surrounding the region, virtually the whole of Arabia tribes rose up in a revolt against Muslim rule. It is very interesting to note, however, that the reasons for explaining this uprising is another area of speculation, where there are certainly ‘two sides to the story.’ It is very apparent that :
Scholars disagree as to the causes of resistance, some arguing that it
was provoked by a rejection of the taxes the Prophet imposed on the
Islamicized tribes together with what that clearly implied in terms of
political domination. Others have seen it as expressing a religious
revolt, challenging the religion of the new state at Medina.
Muhammad Zafrullah Khan, in his work Punishment of Apostasy in Islam, also presents the argument of the actions undertaken by Abu Bakr, are more relevant to acts of a far more serious crime than the act of ‘apostasy’ alone. He suggests that Abu Bakr’s stage of the Al-Ridda battles has – and is – used in defence, by those who believe that the legitimate sentencing for the crime of ‘simple apostasy’ is the death penalty. Khan declares that :
Our naïve divines who cite this instance assume that those apostates
were harmless people, whose only fault was that they did not consider
themselves bound to pay the zakat to the Khalifa and had given up
salat. It is imagined that they had committed no wrong beyond this and
that they did not fight the Muslims, nor hurt anyone. It is supposed that
they had no quarrel with the Islamic state, that indeed they were obedient
to the Khalifa and supported him and were eager to live peacefully, and
obediently under the authority of the Islamic state. Had that been so,
then it would be doubtful whether they were apostates at all. But the
case was not as our divines imagine. Those apostates had repudiated
their allegiance to the Islamic state and had taken up arms against it.
Those of them who continued to adhere to Islam were killed, and forces
were got ready to wage war against the Islamic state.
He continues this position by arguing that the tribes who were accused of being ‘apostates,’ actually invaded upon Medina and took siege of it, with the aim to destroy the Islamic community. It was due to this fact that Abu Bakr as-Siddiq defended the Islamic state with the sword, in order to defeat and subdue the attackers. Thus, Muhammad Zafrullah Khan argues that "This lends no support to the thesis that the punishment of simple apostasy is death." ‘Simple apostasy’ is a passive, internal act for a person to change their faith. The concept of changing one’s faith does not include or involve the violent act of destroying the faithful community they had lived within. This would clearly be the act of other specific crimes which could easily be categorised within the realm of treason, murder, sedition, armed robbery, for example.
Hallaq also postulates a further, fascinating concept, in stating that "a more convincing view, however, is that each of the revolts against the new order had its own causes." He furthers his explanation by suggesting that of the six major areas where the uprising occurred, four of them had religious connotations. Each of these rebellions had been promoted and led by charismatic leaders, who had declared themselves to be either a prophet, a prophetess or a soothsayer. Those guilty of this were Al-Aswad al-‘Ansi in Yemen, Musaylima in Yamama, Tulayba b. Khuwaylid from the tribes of Banu Asad and Banu Ghatafan. The fourth perpetrator was Sajah, from the tribe of Tamim.
Hallaq then argues that the hostile resistance in the other two areas of the six main focus points of the uprisings, had been undertaken in the east and southeast regions of the Arabian peninsula. The specific cause that induced these battles had been the refusal of the tribes there to remain under the dominating authority of Medina, which also included the refusal to pay up the tax fares which had been imposed upon them by the Prophet Muhammad in the year 9AH/630AD.
He also suggests that when reading the work of classical Islamic sources, and also the work of modern scholars, one discovers that they are inclined to promote the understanding that the battles of that time-scale, which were undertaken within the region of Arabia – thus, before the conflict and conquests began in Syria and Hira – as all to be considered falling "into the category of the wars of apostasy." However, Hallaq presents another interpretation of these battles, and the very different reasons and meanings of why they were initiated in the first place. He declares, quite openly, that :
In point of fact, of all the centres of revolt only Najd qualifies, strictly
speaking, for classification as a centre for apostate rebellion. The Banu
Hanifa, led by Musaylima in Yamama, had never been subject to
Medinan domination nor did they sign any treaty either with Muhammad
or with his successor Abu Bakr (11/632-13/634). It was only when the
military commander Khalid b. al-Walid (d.21/642) defeated them in
12/633 that they came, for the first time under Medinan domination.
To highlight his point, he emphasises the position and circumstances that the Banu Hanifa were in, which clarifies the reasons why there was no possibility of any apostasy from Islam that can be attached to their behaviour. He simply concludes here, that :
In other words, they never converted to Islam in the first place so
that they cannot correctly be labelled as apostates.
His further explanation suggests that a very similar situation also existed within ‘Uman, al-Bahrayn, al-Yaman and Hadramawt. In these places Muhammad reached agreements and signed ‘peace-treaties’ with the military leaders, some of which are argued to have been Persian ‘agents,’ who were then overwhelmed and defeated by local tribes. This having been the situation and the events that had occurred, Hallaq continues his position on a clear attempt to clarify and explanation the reasons of these historical events, in as much as:
Thus, the tribes’ resistance to Medina did not presuppose a particular
relationship in which they paid allegiance to the Muslim state. Again,
their uprising does not constitute apostasy, properly speaking.
Having mentioned above the Najd tribes as being the only exception which did involve the act of apostasy during these battles, Hallaq explains the reasons why they can be defined as apostates, whereas – as has just been explained – the other battles did not relate to this factor. He suggests that:
A detailed reference of the period following the Prophet’s death, and the consequences that lead to it, has been presented by M. J. Kister in the article ‘….illa bi-haqqihi…..
The tribes of Najd, on the other hand, where their own masters and signed
treaties with Muhammad, the terms of which required them to adopt Islam
and to pay homage as well as taxes to Medina. Their revolt, thus, constituted
a clear case of apostasy. In the other cases it was not exactly apostasy on the
part of the tribes which prompted the wars but rather the Medinan religious, political and territorial ambitions.
A Study of an Early hadith,’ in Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam. He argues that the tribes who revolted at that time raised the perception that there was a danger for this to be the mere ‘tip of the iceberg,’ which could eventually lead to the very termination of any existence for the Islamic community.
Kister argues that the rebellious tribes took advantage of the fact that the new leadership in Medina was rather weak, hence their choice was to severe all ties with any allegiance with Abu Bakr, once he had become the newly elected Caliph. They based this on the grounds that as the Prophet had died, their agreements made with him, were now groundless and invalid. It is argued that they wished to return to the pre-Islamic tribal status, and re-establish the links with Mecca that had occurred in the time of Jahiliyya, and an important point to raise is that "they were willing to negotiate over agreements with the Medinan leadership which would be based on the principle of non-aggression." [Italics added by author of this research]. Such offers that were provided, included the defense of Medina for a financial reciprocation, which would be offered by the inhabitant tribes, in protection from any attacks from other tribes. This offer was not accepted, as "Abu Bakr refused to negotiate with the chiefs of the tribes and decided to fight the hostile forces in the vicinity of Medina."
The tribes sent out by Abu Bakr managed to beat a number of the tribes, which reduced the pressure of any further attacks against the Islamic community, and also brought back to Medina the control of the area and over all who lived in the region. Having established this control and gaining their loyalty, he then sent out tribal based troops to the northern and eastern borders of the Arab peninsula, which lead to the conquests of the Persian and Byzantine empires.
However, by assessing the documents and data reports from the time of action that lead to ridda by the tribes, Kister argues that this "may help in elucidating certain economic aspects of the revolt." He promotes the idea of analysing the relevant hadith that refer to the ridda, in order to highlight the notions that were upheld by several Muslim scholars, "concerning the conditions imposed on those willing to embrace Islam after the death of the Prophet, the status of the ridda people, and the question whether it was right to make war on them."
It is argued that the tribes involved in the ridda movement were acting against certain political and social aspects that they believed had changed. Also, as M. A. Shaban certifies in his work Islamic History : A New Interpretaiton, it becomes possible to focus more attention on the economic factors which overwhelmed the struggle within the tribes, whether or not they held any allegiance with Medina. There was a presence of great anxiety against the Medina hegemony, which seemed to either interrupt or even remove commercial dealings within inter-tribal relations. This factor of an economic effect of conversion into Islam, can also be traced in the early hadith. The arguments covering the relevant ahadith and Qur’anic verses will be covered further below. Even within the work of Muhammad bin Idris Shafi’i, kitab al-Umm, his book on Islamic jurisprudence, it becomes apparent that several Quraysh merchants were concerned with the negative effect to their trade, due purely to their conversion to Islam. Some merchants travelled their trade to Iraq and Syria and, once having embraced Islam, they confided with the Prophet with their apprehension that their financial income could well be dramatically reduced, due to their departure from the people of ‘unbelief.’ Also they were also concerned that the fact they had now become Muslims could rather displease the leaders of both Iraq and Syria. The Prophet aimed to alleviate their trepidation by reassuring them that any ruling by the Persian and Byzantine leaders was very close to being over.
The Factors of Economic Instability, rather than a Lack of Iman (Faith).
Following the death of the Prophet, which led to an unrest in Mecca, together with the merchants uncertainty for their future and an utter fear that they would now lose all their means of maintaining any sustenance should they retain loyalty to Islam, by keeping their obligations, this "seem to have cast a shadow over the city." Some tribes delayed engaging in a revolt and continued, with much reluctance, to pay their zakat. It is reported that Suhayl b. ‘Amr mounted the minbar and delivered an assertion to the crowd of Quraysh that, due to his own personal wealth he completely supported that they should all pay their agreed obligation of zakat to the governor, and that he would then personally offer a compensation payment to them for all the zakat payments they had made, should the ‘administration’ of Medina ever collapse. It is recorded by al-Baladhuri, in his work Ansab al-ashraf, that the statement Suhayl b. ‘Amr made included ".....wa-ana daminun, in lam yatimma l-amru, an aruddaha ilaykum....." It is also reported that a similar proposition was presented by Al-Jarud, who was the leader of the ‘Abd al-Qays tribe. He put forward the promise that should the members of the tribe continue to pay their zakat, thus remaining faithful to Islam, he would then repay them double the amount of their financial losses, should they incur any loss.
What becomes very apparent in the studies of the recorded speeches that were made by the tribal leaders at that time, with their offerings of financial security to the tribes, and in other documents that are still extant from that period, it is clear that the economic aspect of the episode of events that are often referred to as al-ridda, i.e. the departure from Islam by apostates, is far from the main issue in question. In fact, it can be argued that the faith in Islam of those who refused to pay the zakat, was not in any question at all. It is argued that their faith still remained in God and in Islam, but the financial obligation was considered to be a material deed, and not one that carried any religious relevance with it. Indeed, as Kister points out :
The tribes’ unwillingness to pay the tax, the zakat, is plainly
reflected in the recorded speeches of the tribal leaders and in
the verses of their poets. It is noteworthy indeed that when the
leaders of the rebellious tribes were captured and brought
before Abu Bakr accused of apostasy, they defended themselves
by saying that they had not become unbelievers, but were merely
stingy with their wealth (i.e. they were reluctant to pay the zakat
The main argument that the rebellious tribes gave, was that their desire to secede from Madina, and especially against Abu Bakr, was simply because their allegiance had been solely with the Prophet Muhammad, and upon his death, these agreements had been naturally terminated. They had accepted his authority but it was confined to him alone, therefore there was no understanding or acknowledgement for any commitment to continue with Abu Bakr. This position has been expressed by both Isma’il b. ‘Umar Ibn Kathir, in his work al-Bidaya wa-n-Nihaya fi at-Ta’rikh, and also Muhammad b. Jarir Al-Tabari in his work Ta’rikh ar-Rasul wa-’l-Muluk.
Al-Ahadith and Al-Qur’an on Al-Ridda.
Abdulaziz Sachedina comments on the meaning of Abu Bakr’s War on Ridda and the related hadith from Al-Bukhari, which refers to "Killing Those Who Refuse to Fulfill the Duties Enjoined by God and Considering Them Apostates." Sachedina argues that Abu Bakr rejected the refusal of some Arab tribes to pay the zakat tax that they had previously paid, once having converted to Islam. Their refusal was considered to be an insurrection to wars the Medina government. Sachedina also suggests that the main issue at stake here was the denial to pay the obligatory divinely ordained zakat tax that the first established Islamic government expected, due to the agreed payment of it as part of being a member of the Muslim community. Initially the zakat, based on certain categorised property, could not, in the early stages, be restricted as alms that would be distributed to the poor a members of the Muslim community. It had to be used for military support and other related political purposes.
The zakat then, was used to promote religious and moral values and was to be perceived as a religious duty and an obligatory moral code. The term zakat, when used in the
Qur’an, signifies virtue and righteousness in general, together with the Qur’an emphasising utilisation of zakat for these reasons. It is declared as one of the main factors
in the role of a committed believer in, for example Surah Ar-Rad, 13, verse 22 and Surah Al-Fatir, 35, verse 29. Commentary on the first verse, Surah Ar-Rad, 13:22 suggest that the verse means that "if they committed a sin, they repel it (i.e. its effect) by repentance." Other commentators, including Zamakhshari, suggest that the ‘repelling’ relates to the doing of good deeds in atonement of a previous, potentially unintentionally committed, bad deed and also, that it refers to endeavours by words and/or deeds which will attempt to prevent evil situations. However, Mohammad Asad argues that the majority of the classical exegete commentators hold the opinion that "they repay evil with good" [italics from original]. Al-Hasan al-Basri suggests that "when they are deprived (of anything) they give; and when they are wronged, they forgive."
Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Jarir at-Tabari also suggests that a similar view that "they repel the evil done to them by doing good to those who did it" and "they do not repay evil with evil, but repel it by (doing) good." Mohammad Ali also argues that the verse portrays
the noble doctrine of meeting evil with good, which Christians generally put forward as being taught nowhere but in the Christian religion. The Qur’an not only teaches it but improves upon it, making it practicable, so that its observance in Islam does not interfere with law and order, whereas the Gospel doctrine, owing to impracticability, has not been observed to this day. Evil is a thing which is by all means to be repelled, and hence good for evil is recommended only in cases when evil would be repelled by that good. A society which unconditionally requited evil with good would abolish all safeguards; evil-doers who received
nothing but good for every evil they committed would most assuredly establish a condition of anarchy by their evil deeds. [italics from original]
A comment on the second verse Surah Al-Fatir, 35:29, by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, is that the verse relates to the faithful who take God’s Revelation in the Book close to their heart. They seek to get close to God by undertaking what in mentioned in the verse itself, as pray regularly. In doing this act, they are moved closer to the more practical demonstration of paying some charity to their fellow followers. Thus, the devout believer is not ashamed of the public charity (as the verse mentions the "openly") but also does not do it purely to be publicly acknowledged (as the verse mentions the "secretly"). The act is to do what is necessary to support the community of believers, whether it is publicly discussed or not.
Thus, Sachedina explains that the Arab tribes who converted to Islam during the Prophets life-time were introduced to paying the zakat tax. The amount to be paid was calculated with agreements made with the Prophet. He contemplates that :
it is plausible to maintain, on the basis of early sources, that the
character of zakat in the time of the Prophet was vague; it represented
more a tax demanded by the representative of the Medina polity than
He believes that the Arab tribes accepted the tax had to be paid only for political reasons and had no relation to the religion they followed. The important point he then raises is that "it was for this reason that after the Prophet’s death many Arab tribes refused to continue to pay zakat, as they considered that their agreement with the Medina government had been cancelled with the death of the Prophet."
At this stage of receiving the refusal due to these reasons, Abu Bakr while communicating with relevant tribes focused on the issue that they still had to fulfill the conditions that they had previously promised to agree with, which included paying the zakat. Abu Bakr defended this position, as "there agreement was not with Muhammad, the mortal being, but with God, whom Muhammad represented as his messenger [sic], Abu Bakr being the successor to Muhammad as the leader of Medina."
The tribes also emphasised that they had no obligation to follow Abu Bakr, whom they also perceived to be an incompetent leader. However beyond that, they declared that they also had a legitimate right in the Qur’an, which confirmed that there was no commitment for them to pay any zakat, so their position was wholly valid within Islam. As Kister points out :
They are said to have based themselves on Sura IX, 103 : "….Take
alms of their wealth to purify them and to cleanse them thereby and
pray for them, thy prayers are a comfort for them….." It is the Prophet
who is addressed in this verse and ordered to collect the tax; and it was
the Prophet who was authorised to purify and cleanse them and to pray
for them in return for their payment. Consequently they considered
themselves dispensed from their obligations towards the Prophet, as
his successor had not the ability to grant them the compensation
mentioned in the Qur’an.
Kister suggests that is it is even somewhat doubtful whether the leaders of the rebellious, seceding tribes actually bothered utilising the interpretations of the Qur’anic verses in defending their position, during negotiations with the Muslim leaders. It was suffice for them to state that they believed their allegiance was solely with the Prophet, and upon his death, this terminated the contract agreement and the attached obligations that went with it. Therefore, it is rather noteworthy that the ahadith (Traditions) which focus on the religious aspects of the ‘War of riddah’ can also provide, if sought after, another aspect of the practical reasons which induced such a secession, due to the circumstances that the tribes were confronted with at that time. The ahadith that are used can either support Abu Bakr’s actions, by those who promote the legitimacy of the title Hurub Al-Ridda because ‘apostasy’ was the sole reason for the battles, while other ahadith can support the argument that the tribal rejection of paying zakat was due to an economic contract that had terminated, rather than the tribes removing themselves from Islam.
Tribes that remained within Islam and Tribes that did not.
Some of the late compilations of the ahadith collections and the fiqh (jurisprudence) literature elucidate various aspects that occur as a theme within the traditions. One example would be the commentary of al-Nawawi (d.676AH) upon the hadith collection of Muslim (d.261AH) entitled Sahih, within which there is a specific separation of the act of resistance that occurred in the Arabian peninsula, on three different categories. The first two categories are those who resisted because they are unbelievers. This would include both the followers of false prophets and those who returned to their former pagan beliefs, and those who had never embraced Islam in the first place. The third category are those who did not renounce Islam, maintaining their belief, but they simply refused to pay the zakat. This division has also been presented by A. J., Wensinck, in The Muslim Creed : Its Genesis and Historical Development, declaring that there were :
those who followed religious or political adventurers and therefore
turned their backs on Medina and Islam and those who cut the links
with Medina without associating themselves with any new religious
leader. This latter group did not, in all probability, reject Islam; for
their attachments to religion must have been too insignificant [sic] a
fact. What they rejected was zakat.
Al-Nawawi recorded such division, which also can be traced back to approximately four and half centuries earlier. Another similar division of these seceding groups was also presented by Al-Shafi’i (d.204AH), who drew a definite separation between two main types, there were "those who fell into unbelief like the followers of Musaylima, Tulayha and al-Aswad al-‘Ansi and those who refused to pay zakat, while remaining faithful to Islam."
It is rather significant for this research to note the approach that was given towards these two groups that was provided by Al-Shafi’i in his analysis of whether it was legitimate for Muslims to fight, and even kill, those who are amongst the seceding groups.
Al-Shafi’i rose some doubt as to whether the very term ahl al-ridda (‘people of apostasy’) could be valid enough to apply to both separate categories involved in his division. He evidently concluded by justifying that the label was applicable to both groups, as they were both referred to when using the Arabic word irtadda, which, in common use, relates in meaning, ‘to retreat from former tenets.’ Obviously, this generalised definition would justify it referring to both groups, as one group are categorised as haven ‘fallen into unbelief,’ thus retreating from their religion, while the other group withdrew from paying their zakat.
Within a closer, more detailed, review of the analysis that Al-Shafi’i undertook on the group who denied any right to pay their zakat, he argued that their refusal to pay the zakat was based on their interpretation of the verse 9:103, in the manner mentioned earlier, that it was directed towards the prophet alone.
Al-Shafi’i was clearly concerned over what he perceived to be a misinterpretation of the given verse, expressed as : al-muta’awwilun al-mumtani’un, and sought to support the war by Abu Bakr as being legitimate. He argued that it was within the legal framework to be able to kill members of such groups, and compared the groups of the offenders to be on an equal level with those Muslims who rebel unjustly against a just ruler. This group are referred to as the al-bagun, which is often cited as a crime within hudud, due to such sedition. Al-Shafi’i "ultimately justifies without reserve the war-action taken by Abu Bakr against the group which refused to pay the zakat."
Further detailed assessment of this group, who refused to pay the zakat, can be found in the work of Al-Khattabi (d.384AH), who promoted the debate that they were unjust rebels (wa-ha’ula’i ‘ala l-haqiqati ahlu baghyin). However, they were not actually referred to by this label during the time of the war of Al-ridda, as it first came into use during the reign of ‘Ali as the Caliph. Al-Khattabi presented the case that there were sections within these groups who were prepared to pay the zakat, but were prohibited to do so, by their own leaders. He argued that they were not to be considered as unbelievers (kuffar), but that they shared the broad name of being amongst the ahl al-ridda alongside the genuine unbelievers, only due to the fact that "like them they refused to carry out certain duties and prescriptions of the faith."
In reference to the verse 9:103 Al-Khattabi raises some interesting insights to the circumstances surrounding the events, tied in with the interpretation of the verse’s meaning. It raises the issues that later became a polemic of both religious and political matters, in reference to whether or not it had been an acceptable decision by Abu Bakr to have fought those who had refused to pay their zakat. Al-Khattabi identifies those who gave a piercing criticism upon Abu Bakr’s actions to be explicitly within the Shi’a rawafid movement. The rawafid claim that the tribes who had refused to pay up the zakat had simply based their opinions, by holding a different interpretation of the verse 9:103, i.e. as stated above, that they believed the verse had been revealed to be used solely for the Prophet, who should purify and pray for those who paid the zakat tax. The rawafid concluded from this, that there had been utterly no right for Abu Bakr to have imposed his aggressive response upon the tribes, as they understood such acts as this to be oppressive and unjust.
Another faction of Shi’a also argued that, added to the individual interpretation of the
verse by the tribes, there was also a strong feeling of doubt concerning Abu Bakr, who was suspected as an unworthy leader to be entrusted with the property zakat they would pay. However, Al-Khattabi counters such claims and "marks them as lies and calumnies," as he argues that he agrees the verse was addressed towards the Prophet alone, but that it also carries with it the obligation upon all believers. This means that the verse is the equal duty of every devout Muslim, at all times. Hence, "cleansing and purification will be granted to the believer who hands over the zakat and it is recommended that the imam and the collector of taxes invoke God’s blessing for the payer of the tax." Al-Khattabi added some weight onto his argument by referring to a relevant hadith that brings with it a quote from the Prophet Muhammad, who is recorded to have stated : ‘Prayer and what your right hand possess.’ Kister suggests that this hadith is generally interpreted to represent the promotion of Muslims to undertake the daily prayer and to look after and take care of their relatives and any dependants. However :
al-Khattabi’s interpretation is different; according to him ‘ma malakat
aymanukum,’ ‘what your right hand possess’ refers to property and
possessions and has to be understood as an injunction to pay zakat tax.
According to this interpretation zakat goes together with prayer.
Consequently al-Khattabi deduces that zakat is as obligatory as prayer
and that he who is in charge of prayer is also in charge of the collection
of zakat. This was one of the considerations which induced Abu Bakr
not to permit that prayer be separated from tax and to set out to fight the
group loyal to Islam, but refusing to pay zakat.
The Ahadith Involving ‘Umar Questioning Abu Bakr.
The most commonly understood and accepted reason that defends and supports both Abu Bakr’s pronouncement and the physical act of fighting against those who refused to pay the zakat, seems to be rooted in the interpretation of an expression made by the Prophet Muhammad in reference to the genuine creed of Islam and the conditions related to conversion. The problem that Abu Bakr was aiming to resolve, which was considered to try and overcome the rebellious tribes, and particularly how he acted to do so, is well documented within Al-Bukhari’s collection of ahadith. One hadith (Tradition) specifically shows how there developed a controversial challenge between ‘Umar (d.644), who was to succeed Abu Bakr as the Caliph, along with several other Companions of the Prophet, demanded to hear Abu Bakr’s defendable justification of killing the members of the tribes, who had refused to pay the zakat, but had still publicly announced the Shahadah, thus declaring their faith in Islam. Sachedina argues that:
the importance of this tradition cannot be overstressed, because it has been
cited as documentation by all Muslim jurists when dealing with the legality
of fighting tyrants and apostates. Accordingly its soundness has not been questioned by any scholar.
This hadith is cited in Muhammad Muhsin Khan’s work The Translation of the Meanings of Sahih Al-Bukhari, and reads as :
Narrated by Abu Hurayrah :
When the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) died and Abu Bakr became his successor and some of Arabs reverted to disbelief, ‘Umar said "O Abu Bakr!
How can you fight these people although Allah's Apostle (peace_be_upon_him) said, 'I have been ordered to fight the people till [sic] they say: ‘None has the right to be worshipped but Allah, and whoever said ‘None has the right to be worshipped but Allah,’ Allah will save his property and his life from me unless (he does something for which he receives legal punishment) justly and his account will be with Allah?’ [sic] Abu Bakr said, "By Allah! I will fight whoever differentiates between prayers and Zakat as Zakat is the right to be taken from property (according to Allah's Orders). By Allah! If they refused to pay me
even a kid (ewe-lamb) they used to pay to Allah's Apostle (peace_be_upon_him), I would fight them for withholding it." ‘Umar said, "By Allah : It was nothing,
but I noticed that Allah opened Abu Bakr’s chest towards the decision to fight, therefore I realized that his decision was right."
Muhammad Idris Shafi’i also cites the same hadith in his renowned work on fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), Kitab al-Umm, as:
What right do you have to fight these people, when the Prophet said,
‘I was ordered to fight people until they say "there is no God but Allah."
If they say this, they safeguard themselves and their property from me.’
However, it is important to note here that the hadith is cited in a reduced form, because the version in Al-Bukhari’s collection of ahadith extends at the end, to notify the reader that ‘Umar finally offers his ‘agreement’ with Abu Bakr’s campaign, in the final realisation that it had been God’s message to do so. As ‘Umar explained :
I noticed that Allah opened Abu Bakr’s chest towards the decision
to fight, therefore I realized that his decision was right
It is of interest to note that this emphasis differs somewhat, with the version found in Kitab al-Umm by Shafi’i. It is, perhaps, important to be aware that the versions of the hadith which portray the necessary information that is being required to be passed on, will depend – to a great extent – on the amount that is left to remain, or what is actually extracted. This all depends on the appropriate argument being put forward. Essentially, those in favour of supporting Abu Bakr’s battle against the rebellious tribes, accused of being ‘apostates,’ will cite ‘Umar’s final agreement with this action, but those who aim to portray the objection of the fighting, as stated by ‘Umar and other Companions of the Prophet, will extract this final passage.
Sachedina proceeds to emphasise that this tradition offers the existence of a difference of opinion and some tension that was experienced between some prominent Muslim leaders in trying to resolve the issue of zakat. He suggests that this illustrated the politico-religious agreement between the Prophet and the tribes. One argument is inclined to identify that, according to this hadith (Tradition), ‘Umar leaned towards more agreement with the Arab tribes’ position, as they had not appeared to have renounced the basic tenet of Islamic belief, that of tawhid, the unity of God. Sachedina suggests that this is indicated in ‘Umar’s concern of the guaranteed safeguard of the tribes, as long as they acknowledged this tenet of tawhid. Also, ‘Umar seperated zakat from the al-shahadah (declaring that there is no god but God) "explicitly indicating that zakat was part of an agreement between the Prophet and the tribes which was cancelled by the Prophet’s death."
Sachedina raises the point that judging on ‘Umar’s statement, this implies that he preferred for a remission of the zakat after the Prophet’s death, as this action would not constitute a violation against either God or His Messenger, as for these acts the Qur’an held severe and understandable punishments. Thus, ‘Umar was ascribing to the fact that the tribes had not left their basic religious belief, and were obviously, not threatening the legitimate authority in the Medina polity. However, Abu Bakr held that Islamic public order was not restricted to be within the community, but a complete jurisdiction covering the entire community. He concluded that the tribes were not only disobeying God and his Messenger, but were simultaneously offering a challenge to the authority. As the authority in rule was acknowledged and accepted as the successor of the Prophet’s role, Abu Bakr held that it held the right of maintaining the contracts that had been previously agreed upon. With the manner in which Abu Bakr treated the tribes, Sachedina assesses that it was "a clear instance of a political violation being punished as a violation against Islam as a politico-religious system, without any attempt at separating the two entities."
Sachedina actually makes a connection here with behaviour of Abu Bakr and the Christian approach to what is perceived to be such concepts of heresy and apostasy. He argues that Abu Bakr’s refusal to separate the shahadah (declaration of faith) and the zakat is very similar to the point made by Thomas Aquinas, who justified the use of force against any such heretics or apostates because, as Aquinas stated, they failed "to carry out what they promised and to hold what they once accepted."
Concerning the context and the content of the relevant hadith, as shown above, Sachedina bears in mind the fact that al-Bukhari’s version may well have been potentially edited by the narrator. He suggests that this would be due to the fact that, when time moved on, there was a common tendency in portraying the more prominent early figures of Islamic rulers, clearly including both Abu Bakr and ‘Umar, to almost "idealize" them. Thus, this particular hadith seems to make them both agree with each other on the points that are raised in it. He also argues that it is also quite evident that the content of the hadith does not actually relate to the specific definition of apostasy as the "turning back from Islam." The tribesmen involved, based on ‘Umar’s point of view, had not turned away from the basic level of Islamic tenets and the general belief system. They were, in fact, rebelling against the Islamic polity which provoked Abu Bakr to enhance the reaction of such behaviour as given in the Qur’anic verse of Surah Al-Ma'ida, verse 33-34:
The punishment of those who wage war against God and His Prophet,
and who rampage about the land, pillaging and plundering and spreading corruption wherever they tread, is this: death by hanging, or crucifixion,
or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or, at the very least,
exile from the land. This will be their humiliating punishment in this world;
in the world to come a greater and far more humiliating punishment awaits
them all -
In conclusion on his comments concerning this hadith, Sachedina suggests that it was a conflict of understanding between the Arab tribes and Abu Bakr based on the issue of the obligation of the tribesmen to pay their zakat. The tribesmen felt their tax-paying responsibility had been nullified, once the Prophet had died, whereas Abu Bakr was consistent in reiterating the tribesmen’s utter responsibility and obligation to pay the zakat if they wished to continue being members of the Islamic community. The blatant refusal they gave, lead to the inevitable interpretation that they were threatening the stability and authority of an established Islamic governance and political order. Sachedina’s corollary is that "this was, therefore, not perceived as a question of apostasy at all, but of the obligations of membership in the Islamic community."
A further review of both this ‘Umar-Abu Bakr hadith and the situation at that time, is presented by Wensinck, who describes the position that the Islamic community was placed in, following the death of the Prophet Muhammad :
When the Apostle of Allah has departed this world and Abu Bakr had
been appointed his vicegerent, and some of the Beduins [sic] had forsaken
Islam, ‘Umar ibn Khattab said to Abu Bakr : How is it possible for thee
to make war on these people, since the Apostle of Allah has said : I am
ordered to make war on people til they say : There is no God but
Allah? And whoever says : There is no God but Allah has thereby
rendered inviolable his possessions and his person, apart from the duties
which he has to pay. And it belongs to Allah to call him to account.
Thereupon Abu Bakr answered : By Allah, I shall make war on
whomsoever makes a distinction between the salat and the zakat. For
the zakat is the duty that must be paid from possessions. By Allah, if
they should withhold from me a string which they used to pay to the
Apostle if Allah, I would make war on them on account of their refusal. Thereupon, ‘Umar said : By Allah, only because I saw that Allah had
given Abu Bakr the conviction that he must wage war, did I recognise
that he was right.
As already mentioned, this particular hadith is reported in various versions and has been subjected to thorough analytical assessment by Islamic scholars. One main factor within this report is that it focuses on the single shahadah, and the first part of it only, which declares la ilaha illa llah (There is no god but God). This is significant, as it promotes the desire for a person to declare their genuine faith as a being a true Muslim, by publicly admitting their devotion and commitment to the tawhid (Oneness) of God alone, which is stated by the first part of the shahadah. Thus, this hadith does not mention the second part, which declares an acknowledgement that Muhammad is the true Messenger of God. Therefore, it becomes apparent that as long as a person makes this statement of tawhid, then it is prohibited for any other Muslim to attack the person or damage any of their possessions.
Several other hadith also promote this view, declaring that in stating the first section of the shahada it is suffice enough, in order to prevent people who make this expression to be fought and attacked against by Muslims. One example explains this policy, as :
If one of you draws the spear against a man and the spearhead reaches
already the pit of his throat, he has to withdraw it if the man utters the
shahadah of la ilaha illa llah.
There are other such hadith that support this themes, including one particular hadith where a believer presents a hypothetical scenario to the Prophet Muhammad, and requests what should a believer do in reaction to such a scene, should it exist. The reaction portrayed by the Prophet, as being his advice towards every genuine believer can, undeniably, be argued to be the promotion of utter tolerance by all Muslims, that was personally projected onto believers and unbelievers, by the Prophet.
In one hadith, it ends by citing the Prophet who clearly announces that "I have been merely ordered to make war on people until they say la ilaha illa llah : when they do, their blood and possessions are inviolable by me." As Kister points out from this hadith, another important factor can be seen, which moves even further along the path of tolerance and the highest levels of acceptance that the Prophet’s words project for Muslims to hold with others who proclaim the shahadah. Kister raises the observation that :
It is noteworthy that the phrase of exception illa bi-haqqiha is not
recorded in this version. It is however recorded by al-Tahawi and
by Ibn Majah himself in two other traditions recorded by him.
This shows rather clearly that certain confusion can arise if ahadith have various versions and different interpretations. Some commentators suggest that the version presented here proclaims that the announcement of tawhid (the Oneness of God) alone is enough to prove a person’s genuine conversion to Islam. However, other commentators disagree with this view, as they state that the first part of the shahada implies the acceptance of the second part, which declares that the Prophet Muhammad is God’s Messenger. Kister argues that such commentators believe that:
the hadith in the recorded version is merely an allusion (kinaya) to
the open announcement of conversion to Islam (izhar shi‘ar al-Islam)
and includes in fact the shahada about the prophethood of Muhammad
and the acceptance of the tenets of his faith.
Therefore, there is inconsistency as to what is – and what is not – accepted as a legitimate conversion to Islam, because some other commentators declare even more diverse interpretations of the single shahada. These commentators :
maintained that the utterance of the shahada itself did not indicate
conversion to Islam; it merely indicated a renunciation of the former
belief. It could however, not be concluded that they had embraced
Islam; they might have joined another monotheistic faith which,
though attesting the oneness of God, is yet considered unbelief (kufr).
There is one positive aspect to this interpretation, as it was also accepted that :
As a result it was necessary to suspend fight [sic] against such people
until it was made clear that there was an obligation to make war on
them. It could thus be deduced that this tradition refers to polytheists,
who had to utter the shahada.
If this interpretation is to be accepted as a valid view, then polytheists can obviously not be seen as ‘apostates’ from Islam, as they are outside the Islamic faith in the first place. Therefore, any battle against such people would not have been a battle against Al-ridda – ‘apostasy.’
Legitimate Questions That Need to be Addressed.
Khan presents some relevant points of view and perspectives, that raise questions which need to be addressed. These issues of concern ask; if the apostates had not been active, rebellious renegades, then "why is it that leading Refugees and Helpers urged Hazrat Abu Bakr that he should detain the force which was ready to march north under the command Usamah ibn Zaid as the security of Medina was threatened by the apostates? " Another question Khan raises, is ‘why had Usamah then begged with Hazrat Umar, that Usamah should go and seek aid from Hazrat Abu Bakr, to persuade him to allow permission that Usamah could return to Medina?’ The reasons offered by Usamah for such a request was that the army under his command included many prominent Muslims, so he was reluctant to then leave Medina, allowing Abu Bakr, as the Caliphate, together with the wives of the Prophet and the Muslim community as a whole, to be placed in a vulnerable position, should the apostates potentially attack during the army’s absence.
Tabari recorded that "Abs [sic] and Zeeban[sic] were the tribes who were the first to attack Medina and Hazrat Abu Bakr fought them before the return of Usamah." Khan also quotes from Ibn Khalladun who also states that "Abs [sic] and Zeeban[sic] were the first to attack Hazrat Abu Bakr and the others collected together at Zil Qassah."
The third source of the work by Khamees is also used, which presents an example of an active apostate, Kharajah bin Hasan, and the level of hostility and aggression that he provided :
Kharajah bin Hasan, who was one of the apostates, advanced upon
Medina with some mounted men of his tribe so as to deliver his attack unexpectedly before the Muslims emerged from Medina to oppose him.
Thus, he attacked Abu Bakr and those Muslims who had been left and
took them unawares.
These points are also raised by Syed Barakat Ahmad in his work ‘Conversion From Islam.’ Abu Bakr al-Siddiqi’s main mission was to pursue the deviants through his
Al-Ridda campaign, to suppress them. The very first task he ordered, following the command of the Prophet before his death, was to send out an army expedition to the Syrian border, which departed two days after the announcement of Abu Bakr as the Caliphate. The expedition was under the command of Usama ibn Zayd ibn Harith, and following the group’s departure, a great deal of the Arab tribes started to leave Medina. Those who remained loyal to the central administration, remained within and around Mecca and Medina. The Muslim agents from the rebellious tribes, whom the Prophet had appointed into that position as guides to their tribes, then fled from them, returning to Medina. "It was a full-fledged revolt."
Abu Bakr saw this as a rebellious manoeuvre and decided to fight them to ‘encourage’ their return. He sent out messengers to the tribes that had remained loyal and summoned for their support to protect the numbers of believers in Islam. While waiting for the supporters to appear, Kharja ibn Hin, led by ‘Unayna ibn Hisn al-Fazari and also by
al-Aqra’ ibn Habis al-Tamimi undertook a surprise attack upon the Muslims. Those under attack dispersed in confusion, but then reassembled and counter-attacked the men under Kharja ibn Hin, and won the battle.
Before a fight that occurred at Dhu ‘l-Qassa, a group of the ‘rebellious’ tribe leaders went to visit Abu Bakr in Medina, to negotiate the issue of their refusal in paying zakat, but Abu Bakr rejected any negotiation. This is assessed by Syed Barakat Ahmad, in his work Conversion from Islam, as :
Abu Bakr refused to parley. Several prominent muhajirun disagreed
with Abu Bakr’s decision to fight the withholders of zakat. The fact
that these tribes were anxious to negotiate indicates that they had not
recanted, and did not want to sever their relations with Medina’s
control over them. The issue was not belief in Allah and His Prophet,
but rather the tax imposed on them (zakat).
Relating to this meeting of the tribal leaders with Abu Bakr, Al-Tabari in his work Ta’rikh al-rusul wa’l-muluk, states that when the delegation the of tribal leaders had left Medina, Abu Bakr called a meeting for the Muslim community there announcing that :
The delegation has observed the smallness of your numbers in Medina.
You do not know if they will attack you by night or by day. Their
vanguard is only one day’s journey from Medina. They wished for us to
accept their proposals, and to make an agreement with them, but we have
rejected their requests. So make ready for their attack. [Within three days
they attacked Medina.]
The conclusion of this situation is made clear by Muhammad Zafrullah Khan who argues that the apostates were the initial attackers against the Muslims within Medina, in the aim that they may then control Medina, and the small number of believers living there. However, they could not overcome the Muslims and lost the battle. Khan believes that the tribes who had apostatised had begun their rampage of violence and aggression, and began this episode as soon as they had discovered the death of the Prophet Muhammad. When the news of his death had met the tribes, it is argued that they immediately began killing members of their tribes who still remained devout and sincere Muslims. This has also been recorded by Ibn Khalladun who argued that the Abs and Zeeban tribes, on hearing such news, started the attacks on believers within their tribes, and the same occurred within other tribes, simultaneously. This same information is also recorded by Tabari, who argued that these two tribes, the Abs and Zeeban, along with several other tribes, massacred those who adhered to Islam and refused to revert to polytheism. Khan argues that, based on this information, the implication would suggest quite strongly that :
Thus, it is clear that those tribes had repelled openly against the
authority of the Islamic state, they slaughtered the Muslims and
were determined to wipe them out and to destroy the Islamic state
and Islam itself. The advocates of the penalty of death for simple
apostasy can derive no support for such instances. Their recourse
to these instances shows that they can find nothing relevant in
support of their thesis. [Italics added in, for emphasis]
He furthers this explanation with two considerations that can offer an understanding of the reasons why the attacks on Medina by the tribes, were unsuccessful. Firstly, the attacks were subdued because of the defense they confronted by Abu Bakr as-Siddiq and the Muslim community as a whole, and this would have discouraged any further attacks.
The second consideration would be based on the movement of the armed forces heading north, under the command of Usama ibn Zayd ibn Harith. This would have created a powerful illusion upon the attacking tribes, who would see that the Muslims were a very formidable and an organised opposition, having defended Medina, while simultaneously, having sent out a large, armed group of men, who were obviously away from Medina when the attacks had taken place.
This point is reiterated in the work Tarikhal Kamil, which states that :
The despatch of the army under the command of Usamah was
an event which proved of the greatest benefit for the Muslims,
inasmuch as the apostate tribes imagined that if the Muslims had
not been in a position of great strength, they would not have
dispatched the army to the north in the situation with which they
were faced. Under this impression, they held back from putting
their evil designs into effect.
Khan concludes that, having assessed the behaviour of the tribes during their confrontation with Abu Bakr and their refusal to pay the zakat, the factors go a little further than this. He argues that what can be seen in the manner in which they dealt with their approach to Islam and the Muslim Community, it "makes it clear that the Arab tribes had not only repudiated Islam, but they had all rebelled against the Islamic state and they were determined to wipe out the Muslims altogether." He continues the support of Abu Bakr’s campaign of Al-Ridda, on the basis that "Had Hazrat Abu Bakr not used force against the apostate tribes, there would have survived no Muslim and no Islam."
As Syed Barakat Ahmad describes, the war of al-ridda caused immense levels of bloodshed and has been explained by a historian, that: "it was inexplicable to the subsequent historians of the Arabian State that after the death of Mahomet so many wars were necessary on Arabian soil; they accounted for this fact by a Ridda." Ahmad then postulates that, as the rebellious tribes were perceived to be part of a religious movement against Islam, the jurists of the following generations :
who failed to find a precedent in the Qur’an or the sunna for capital
punishment in the case of a Muslim accused of Kufr, or waging war
against a Muslim power, accepted this assumption without further
Assessing the legal position of Abu Bakr’s campaign against the Muslim rebels during Al-Ridda, this next citation from Muhammad Idris Shafi’i is appropriate, as it links quite well with the legal definition of apostasy: "Ridda is falling back from a previously adopted religion into disbelief, and refusing to fulfill previously accepted obligations." Concerning the fulfillment of ‘previously accepted obligations,’ Syed Barakat Ahmad argues that this indicates that recantation alone is not enough, because the recantation must also be connected to aggravation in the breach of the agreement that had been undertaken through an oath. He cites from the work of the jurist ‘Abd al-Hamid Hibat Allah Ibn al-Hadid, in his work Sharh Nahj al-Balaghah, who presents another perspective in this theory :
Ibn Abi’l-Hadid, a scholar of a very different school, in his commentary
on the Nahj al-Balaghah, clarifies the entire situation with the following
comment : those tribes which refused to pay the zakat ‘were not recanters,
but were so called by the Companions of the Prophet by way of metaphor.’
Bernard Lewis also portrays the point that the refusal of paying zakat after the death of the Prophet, the whole episode of Al-Ridda "represents a distortion of the real significance of events by the theologically coloured outlook of later historians."
Lewis goes into further analysis of the reasons behind why the tribes refused to accept the zakat as an integral part of the Islamic faith. The tribes understanding was that the contract was made with them and the Prophet, not Allah, therefore on his death, the contract between them had terminated. As Lewis explains :
The refusal of the tribes to recognise the succession of Abu Bakr was
in effect not a relapse by converted Muslims to their previous paganism,
but the simple and automatic termination of a political contract by the
death of one of the parties. The tribes nearest to Medina had in fact been converted and their interests were so closely identified with those of the
Umma that their separate history has not been recorded. For the rest, the
death of Muhammad automatically severed their bonds with Medina, and
the parties resumed their liberty of action. They felt in no way bound by
the election of Abu Bakr in which they had taken no part, and at once
suspended both tribute and treaty relations. In order to re-establish the
hegemony of Medina, Abu Bakr had to make new treaties.
This leads to an interesting comparison that al-Khattabi makes, of how the treatment by Abu Bakr to those who refused to pay zakat at that time, would differ somewhat to the treatment towards those who would refuse to pay zakat now. Al-Khattabi stated that Abu Bakr’s aim and purpose was an attempt to compel the rebellious groups to see their wrong and pay their zakat, as their obligation. However, he also announced that :
The leniency shown towards them took into consideration their
ignorance since they had been in Islam only for a short period.
But a group who would deny zakat nowadays would be considered
as falling into unbelief and apostasy and the apostate would have
to be killed.
Kister further postulates that the discussion and consideration of whether it had been lawful and legitimate for Abu Bakr to have undertaken the al-ridda attacks of both fighting and defence, actually would have evolved some time after the event. He considers that it would have been raised not only to portray the events of Abu Bakr in a very positive manner, but would evaluate the reasons for why Abu Bakr was valid when chosen to fight the challenge that had been presented to him by the rebellious tribes. Such praising for Abu Bakr, in this manner, was far more of being just a historical description of past events, but more so, it was used in the manner of defending the same activities of dealing with any ‘opposition’ of the Islamic authorities. Stating that Abu Bakr’s
Al-Riddah episode had been the implementation of the word of the Qur’an, this seemed an ideal strategic way in :
providing convincing proof that his action was in accordance with the prescriptions and injunctions of the Qur’an and with the sunna of the
Prophet. The precedent of Abu Bakr had to serve as an example for
dealing with similar cases of revolt in the contemporary Muslim Empire.
The Sunni Approach and Shi’a Approach to Assess Abu Bakr’s Policy.
The Sunni approach towards assessing Abu Bakr’s policy is set out by al-Hasan
al-Basri, which was recorded by Abu Sukayn (d.251AH). Al-Hasan al-Basri assesses several events in the history of Islam, and argues that when Abu Bakr undertook the confrontation of al-riddah it became a significant move towards establishing a secure Islamic community. Abu Bakr is argued to have requested from the Prophet’s Companions what form of action he was to take. All the Companions are recorded to have advised Abu Bakr to accept the rebellious tribes commitment to prayer, and acknowledge they would refuse to pay the zakat. Abu Bakr’s reply is that well known expression, when he "insisted and swore that if they withheld even one string which they had been in the habit of paying to the Messenger of Allah, he would fight them."
One very interesting point to be raised here, is that the credit and admiration that is attached to Abu Bakr for having established that paying zakat is an obligation, cannot be found being mentioned upon within Shi’a commentaries of the Qur’an. Within Shi’a belief, it is still held true that the payment of the zakat is a basic and fundamental injunction that applies to every believer. However, the privilege as a right for the cleansing/purification pertaining to the Prophet Muhammad in verse 9:103, was transferred over to be the prerogative of the Imam, within Shi’a belief. This understanding focuses on the community being in need of the imam, in order for them to present him their alms, so they he may reciprocate the alms with purification. However, it is also stated clearly within Shi’a belief, that the imam does not need to receive the community’s money or property. This point is strongly defended by the suggestion that "anyone who claims that the imam is in need of the wealth of the people is a kafir."
Returning to the Sunni perspective which supports the concept that the decision taken by Abu Bakr to fight the ahl al-riddah was correct, and this view is based on the interpretation of the Qur’anic verse 5:54, where the :
Sunni tradition states that the revolt and Abu Bakr’s steps are foretold
in the revelation of the Qur’an (Sura V:54) : ‘O believers, whosoever of
you turns from his religion God will assuredly bring a people He loves
and who love Him’…….The people whom God loves and who love God
refers to Abu Bakr and the men who aided him in the struggle against the
A view supporting this interpretation is expressed in the work of ‘Abd al-Jabbar, who dismisses any legitimacy by the juxtaposed "claim of the zanadiqa, that Abu Bakr was an apostate." Concerning the view held by the Shi’a tradition, when focusing on the verse 5:54, they maintain that the understanding of the verse is that it represents the Caliph ‘Ali, and those who followed him, hence reference to the people who love God and those reciprocated with love from God. Shi’a belief argues that ‘Ali and his adherents were thus, ordered to fight all those who were understood to have broken their vows with the Islamic community. The different groups attacked include those tribes who broke their allegiance (al-nakithin), which would include the tribes Talha and al-Zubayr; those who strayed away from believing in true Faith (al-mariqin, i.e. the khawarij) and those who are seen as being the ‘‘unjust’ (al-qasitin, i.e. Mu‘awiya and those who followed him.)
It has been argued by Kister that the various interpretations of the commentaries undertaken on the Qur’an, by each verse and as a general theme, enables to expound a variety of views concerning the reasons underlying the riddah revolt. The commentaries also present an appraisal of Abu Bakr’s decree for fighting the rebellious tribes and whether this could be defended as legitimate, through relevant areas of Shari’ah, by "emphasising his sound judgement, his courage and devotion to the faith of Islam."
It is a possible conclusion, that the ridda undertaken was a split away from the authority based in Medina, and not from Islam as a religion. This can be seen as the majority of the tribes still worshipped Allah and respected His Messenger, but they simply refused paying money through the tax of zakat. It is argued by a large group of Western scholars, who declare that the tribes being fought by Abu Bakr throughout
Al-Ridda were not a religious movement recanting and repelling Islam but, they argue, the wars were based on a more political agenda. To summarise this position held, in reference to the Prophet as Mahomet, his original name, the scholars argue that the
Al-Ridda battles arose, due to :
The sudden death of Mahomet gave new support to the centrifugal
tendencies. The character of the whole movement, as it forces itself
on the notice of the historian, was of course hidden from contemporaries.
Arabia would have sunk into particularism if the necessity caused
by the secession of al-Ridda had not developed in the State of Medina
an energy which carried all before it. The fight against the Ridda was
not a fight against apostates; the objection was not to Islam per se but
to the tribute which had to be paid to Medina; the fight was for the
political supremacy over Arabia.
As a final summary of the whole events of that time, following the death of the Prophet Muhammad and the battles undertaken by Abu Bakr, the more acceptable reason for the death penalty to have become attached to the act of apostasy – and then having maintained itself with Shari’ah law – seems to have developed, and to have derived from certain weak ahadith, and can certainly not be related to the genuine message within Al-Qur’an. The points to consider on this issue can be unequivocally seen in Hallaq’s synopsis of what are presently perceived to be Al-Ridda – The War of Apostasy, when he argues that :
It is highly probable that the events making up the so-called wars
of apostasy, together with their fundamental impact upon the collective
Muslim psyche, generated a new element in the attitude toward apostasy.
Being largely a reflection of the post-Prophetic experience, hadith – the
reports that are believed to document the words and deeds of the Prophet – stipulate, at variance with the Qur’an, that the apostate should be punished
by death. To be sure, this stipulation reflects a later reality and does not
stand in accord with the deeds of the Prophet. In fact, if we go by what
seems to be reliable information about Muhammad, the Qur’an emerges
as a more accurate representation of his attitude toward apostasy. It is
more likely that Abu Bakr was the first to be involved in putting to death
a number of apostates, an action which was in the course of time perceived
as the practice (sunna) of the Prophet. Later sources sanctioned this penalty
and made a point in mentioning that the other Companions approved of
Abu Bakr’s action.
The essential conclusion offered here, concerns that the reason for the battles entitled as Al-Ridda, should not be focused, so much, on the refusal by the tribes to pay the zakat, but moreso, on the violent manner in which they enforced such a refusal. Although, this argument of repudiation and the renouncement of Islam by the tribes, differs somewhat - and is juxtaposed - to that offered by Abdulaziz Sachedina, they both conclude, at least, that the death penalty for the act of apostasy cannot be based on Al-Ridda as being the reason for defending such an argument. Khan quotes from ‘Amdat-ul-Qari, the work by Al-‘Aini, as a summary of the circumstances that created Al-Ridda, :
As Aini [sic] has observed : ‘Hazrat Abu Bakr fought those who
had refused to pay the zakat because they had taken up the sword
and had started hostilities against Muslims.’ This shows clearly
that the apostates were the aggressors. They not only refused to
pay the zakat, but took up the sword against the Muslims and
thus commenced hostilities.
Khan emphasises that the acts which were implemented, were not that of ‘simple apostasy,’ as there was a rebellious movement that involved the killing and mutilations of Muslims within each tribe, including some of the Muslims being burnt alive. Tabari also makes relevant comments on these conditions and the activities undertaken by the apostate tribes during Al-Ridda. He observes that :
When the Bani Asad, Ghatafan, Hawazan, Bani Sulaim and Bani Tai
were finally vanquished, the Muslim commander, Khalid bin Waleed,
refused to grant them an amnesty till [sic] they would produce before
him those who, after their apostacy, [sic] had burned the Muslims alive,
had mutilated them and had otherwise tortured them.
The actions also involved removing the official ‘functionaries’ placed within each tribe by the Prophet, as the Islamic community ‘representative.’ Some of the apostate tribes, having expelled or killed these people, then attempted to set up their own autonomous governments. Ibn Khalladun wrote that "The Banu Rabia became apostates and appointed Munzar bin Numan as their ruler."
This makes Muhammad Zafrullah Khan assert the unequivocal declaration upon those who argue that the death penalty is a legitimately valid legal sentence for people who undertake simple, passive, private apostasy that :
It is, therefore, utterly untrue that the fighting of the apostates by the
Muslims in the time of Abu Bakr lends any support to the thesis that
simple apostasy is punishable with death in Islam. Those who
make such a claim are either ignorant of the early history of Islam