Attempt to Burn the House of Fatima al-Zahra

The day after the Saqifah, Umar b. al-Khattab, along with a group of individuals came to the house of the daughter of the Holy Prophet. In the house, there was Ali b. Abi Talib, Fatima, and their two sons, Hasan and Husayn, who were still in a state of deep sorrow over the death of the Prophet.

Fatima opened the door and asked Umar, “Did you come here to burn our house?” Umar retorted, “Yes, unless you enter into what the nation entered in [meaning allegiance to Abu Bakr].”[1] Umar then slammed open the door against Fatima at which point she found herself being squeezed between the door and the wall of her house, causing one of her ribs to break. At that time, she was pregnant with the third grandson of the Holy Prophet; however, the force that Umar applied on the door caused her to have a miscarriage, and the baby who had been named Muhsin by the Prophet, was stillborn only a few days after the death of his grandfather.

Many historians have narrated this event with some of them providing details that others omit. Ibn Abd Rabah al-Andalusi says:[2]

Those who refrained from giving the bayah (allegiance) to Abu Bakr were Ali, Abbas (the uncle of the Prophet), Zubayr b. al-Awam (cousin of the Prophet) and Sa’d b. Ibadah. As for Ali and Abbas, they sat in the house of Fatima until Abu Bakr sent Umar to take them out of the house of Fatima, and he (Abu Bakr) said to him (Umar), “If they refuse, then fight them.” Thus, he (Umar) came with a torch of fire to engulf the house on them and upon arriving, he encountered Fatima. She said, “O Ibn al-Khattab, did you come to burn our house?” He said, “Yes, unless you enter into what the ummah entered into.”

Al-Tabari also relates the story; however, he says that Talha, Zubayr, and some men from the Muhajireen were also in the house. He goes on to say that Umar told them, “By Allah, I will burn the house unless you come out for the bayah (allegiance).” Raising his sword, Zubayr came out of the house, but he fell to the ground and was attacked. In the ensuing chaos, his sword was taken away.[3]

Ibn Abil Hadid says:

When Fatima saw what Umar did, she cried and wailed, and many women from Bani Hashim gathered with her. They came to her and she said, “O Abu Bakr, how fast you launched your strike on the family of the Prophet after the death of the Prophet. By Allah, I will never speak to you until I meet Allah!”[4]

The historian, al-Baladri reports:

Abu Bakr sent for Ali, asking him to pay allegiance. He didn’t pay allegiance and thus Umar came with a torch to the house of Ali and Fatima. He came face to face with Fatima and she said to him, “Are you really going to burn the door of the house?” Umar answered, “Yes indeed.”[5]

Other Sunni authors go on to state that had Fatima al-Zahra not opened the door, Umar would have proceeded to burn down the entire house. They say that Umar was shouting from outside the house saying, “Burn the house with the people inside it!”[6] The companions who were around Umar saw him gathering wood and warned him, “Umar, you know that Fatima lives in this house.” Umar answered, “Still, even if she lives here I am going to burn the house!”[7]

Some other narrations have unsubstantially claimed that an opposition group had gathered at the house of Fatima ready to act against Abu Bakr. However, the truth is that some of the previously mentioned prominent Sunni historians do not mention this at all – scholars such as al-Shahristani, al-Baladri, al-Safti, al-Jawhari, Ibn Abd Rabbah al-Andalusi, and Urwat b. Zubayr. Thus, this claim was just an excuse put forth later on in order to justify the actions of Umar and his group.

These prominent Sunni scholars also name the individuals who participated with Umar in the attack on Fatima al-Zahra’s home and they include the following: Ubayd b. Hubayr, Thabit b. Qays, Muhammad b. Muslim, Khalid b. al-Waleed, al-Mugheerah b. Shu’bah, Abu Ubaydah b. al-Jarrah, Sa’d Mawla Abi Udaybah, Ma’adh b. Jabal, Qunfud, Uthman, Abd al-Rahman b. Auf, Ziyad b. Ubayd, Mu’awiyah b. Abu Sufyan, and Amr b. al-Aas.

Many years later at a meeting between Imam Hasan (the first grandson of the Prophet and son of Fatima and Ali) and Mu’awiyah b. Abu Sufyan in the presence of Mugheerah b. Shu’bah, the Imam said to Mugheerah, “You are the one who hit Fatima,[8] the daughter of the Prophet until you made her bleed and she miscarried her baby. You wanted to humiliate the Prophet, and you opposed his teachings and violated the respect of the Prophet. You know that the Prophet said to Fatima al-Zahra, ‘You are the leader of the women of Paradise.’ By Allah, your fate will be the Fire.”[9]

Other Sunni historians who narrate this meeting are Ibn Qutaybah,[10] Ibn Abil Hadid,[11] and al-Mahqari.[12] However, as for Fatima’s unborn son (who was killed during the attack), Ibn Qutaybah says that Muhsin b. Ali perished when he was a baby, but he does not mention how.[13]

Setting aside the events that occurred at the door of Fatima’s home, did Umar have the right to enter her home? According to the Holy Qur’an, no one may enter another person’s house without permission, as Allah orders:

O you who believe! Enter not the houses other than your [own] houses until you have sought familiarity and saluted their inhabitants; this is best for you; haply you may remember. But if you do not find anyone in there, then enter them not until permission is given to you; and if it is said unto you ‘Go you back’ then go back, for it is purer for you; and God knows what all of you do. (c.24:27-28)

Even the Messenger of Allah did not enter the house of his daughter and grandchildren without first asking permission!

It is indeed disheartening that such an event occurred despite Allah’s commandment that the ummah is to treat the family of the Prophet with adoration:

Say: ‘I demand not of you any recompense for it (the toils of the apostleship) save the love of (my) relatives.’ (c.42:23)

[1] Tarikh al-Tabari, 3:198; Tarikh Abul Fida, 1:156
[2] Ibn Abd Rabbah al-Andalusi, Al-Aqd al-Farid, 4:259
[3] Tarikh al-Tabari, 2:198
[4] Ibn Abil Hadid, Sharh Nahjul-Balaghah, 2.:119
[5] Al-Baladri, Ansab al-Ashraf, 1:586
[6] Shahrestani, Al-Milal wal-Nihal, 1:56; Salah al-Din al-Susti; Al-Shafi’i, Manaqib al-Ibadah, 3:407
[7] Ibn Qutaybah, Al-Imamah wal-Siyasah, 1:12; Umar Ridha (Kahhalah), Alam Al-Nisa, 4:14; Abd al-Fattah Abd al-Maqsud; Al-Saqifah wal-Khalifah, 14
[8] When Umar attacked Fatima in her home, others physically accosted her as well.
[9] Al-Tabrasi, Al-Ihtijaj, 1:414
[10] Ibn Qutaybah, Al-Imamah wal-Siyasah, 1:12-13
[11] Ibn Abil Hadid, Sharh Nahjul-Balaghah, 14:192
[12] Al-Mahqari, Waqt Siffeen, 1:63
[13] Ibn Qutaybah, Al-Ma’arif, 1:93

When Power and Piety Collide by Sayed Moustafa al-Qazwini