Participation of the Companions in the Battles

Despite popular misconception, neither Abu Bakr, Umar, nor Uthman participated actively in the main excursions of Islam. Not until the time of Mu’awiyah did the fabrications about their roles in these battles begin to surface in an effort by the Bani Umayyah to attribute the virtues of the Ahlul Bayt to others.

According to Ibn Arafah, “Most of the hadith which have been fabricated and developed in favor of the sahabah, their virtues, bravery, and heroism were fabricated during the time of the Bani Umayyah in order to seek nearness to them, and to defy and humiliate the Bani Hashim.”[22]

Battle of Uhud

On the day of the Battle of Uhud, the Holy Prophet raised his sword and called, “Who can give this sword its right?” Umar said, “I can,” but the Prophet turned away from him, for he knew that Umar would not do that. Zubayr b. Awam said, “I can,” but the Prophet refused him as well. Then Abu Dujanah stood and asked, “What is the right of that sword?” The Prophet replied, “You fight with it until it breaks.” Abu Dujanah swore, “I am the one who will give it its right,” so the Prophet gave his sword to Abu Dujanah.[23]

The Battle of Uhud commenced and in this regard, al-Tabari says:

Ali b. Abi Talib began slaying the leaders of the battalions of the mushrikeen (people who associate others with God) in Uhud who were carrying the banners. Whenever a leader of another battalion would approach the Prophet, he (the Prophet) would look at Ali and say, “Start your strike on him,” so he would strike them and disperse them. Group after group came and Ali b. Abi Talib did the same, until Gabriel came to the Prophet and said, “O Messenger of Allah, this is real solidarity.” The Prophet said, “Yes, because he is part of me, and I am part of him.” Gabriel replied, “And I am from both of you, O Messenger of Allah.”[24]

What happened next in the Battle of Uhud has been recorded for eternity in the Holy Qur’an. Allah says, “Behold, you were climbing up the high ground, without even casting a side glance at anyone, and the Messenger in your rear was calling you back.” (c. 3:153) This verse indicates the opposition that the Holy Prophet had faced in maintaining his forces.

Examining the verse deeper and its tafseer (explanation), it explicitly identifies Abu Bakr, Umar, and the other companions – all of whom fled the scene except for a few who stood with the Holy Prophet – and this included one woman, Naseebah Umme Amarah b. Ka’ab (who fought until she was wounded on her shoulder), a few from the Ansar tribe, and Ali b. Abi Talib and Abu Dujanah from the Quraysh.[25] As Muhammad Hasanain Haykil says, “The main concern of every Muslim on that day was to rescue himself and salvage himself, except for those who had been protected and blessed by Allah, such as Ali b. Abi Talib.”[26]

The Qur’an continues, “It was Shaytan (Satan) who caused them to fail because of some evil that they had done.” (c. 3:153) Most likely, the “evil they had done” was their disobedience to the Holy Prophet, for although the Holy Prophet ordered them to remain in their positions, they ran after the war booty, thus the mushrikeen defeated them.

During his caliphate, Umar recalled that incident when his daughter and a woman came to him, asking for clothing. Umar gave some clothing to the woman but not to his daughter and when asked why he did that, he replied, “The father of that lady stood on the day of Uhud and did not run away, but the father of this one (pointing to his own daughter) ran away on the day of Uhud and did not stand firm.”[27] Abu Bakr too later recounted his flight on that day.[28]

Although most of the companions returned a few hours after the Battle of Uhud, Uthman disappeared for three days.[29] When he returned, the Holy Prophet admonished him by saying, “It took you so long to return! Why three days?”[30]

Battle of Badr

A similar situation arose during the Battle of Badr. On the eve of the battle, Abu Bakr and Umar staunchly refused to fight. They said to the Holy Prophet, “This is Quraysh. The Quraysh are so powerful. The Quraysh never believed when they disbelieved. The Quraysh have never been defeated because they are so powerful, so do not fight them.”

Displeased, the Prophet turned away from them, until Sa’d b. Ma’adh promised the Prophet, “Go and we will fight with you to the last breath.” At that the Prophet became pleased again, and on the morning of the 17th in the month of Ramadhan (2 AH), the Muslims engaged against the mushrikeen in the Battle of Badr.[31] Seventy mushrikeen met their end in the battle, half of them exclusively by the sword of Ali, and the other half with the help of Ali’s sword.[32]

Similarly, Uthman was not present during the Battle of Badr, just as he was not present at the important signing of Bay’at al-Ridhwan; what’s more, he fled from the battles of Uhud and Hunayn. During the Battle of Khandaq, he refused to fight Amr b. Abd al-Wudd al-Aamir. Even after the death of the Prophet, he declined to participate in the battles against those who rejected the caliphate of Abu Bakr. During the time of Umar, he also refused to participate in any form of military service and was known for avoiding battles; his former ally, Abd al-Rahman b. Auf sarcastically chided him with this comment, “I was not the one who was absent from Badr, and I was not the one who ran away on the day of Uhud.”[33]

Battle of Khaybar

The Battle of Khaybar took place during the seventh year of the migration, about 160 km north of Madinah. Due to the terrain, and the mighty fortress that the Jews barricaded themselves in, the first attempt to break through was led by Abu Bakr, who returned defeated. The second attempt, led by Umar, was also unsuccessful. Muslim historians have noted, “They returned not only defeated but exchanging blames of cowardice on each other.”[34]

After the first two failed attempts, the Holy Prophet pledged, “Tomorrow, I will give this banner, the leadership of this battle, to a man who is loved by Allah and His Apostle, and he himself loves Allah and His Apostle. Allah will open the way by his hands. He will go forward and not be defeated or retreat.” When the Prophet spoke these words, Ali was ill. Some of the companions brought him to the Prophet. As Ali leaned on the Holy Prophet, the Prophet prayed for him, placed the banner in his hands and said, “O Allah, may the heat and the cold not affect him anymore.” Ali later stated, “After the prayer of the Prophet, I did not feel any heat or cold.”[35] From there, Ali went and defeated Marhab, the Jewish leader of the enemies in the castle, including Marhab’s two brothers, Harith and Yasir.[36]

Battle of Hunayn

The Prophet had brought 10,000 soldiers with him to recapture Mecca, and only a few days after their conquest of Mecca in the eighth year of the Hijrah, the Battle of Hunayn broke out. Two thousand more people in Mecca accepted Islam and joined the defense force. Therefore, the Prophet’s army of 12,000 met their enemy in the valley of Hunayn between Mecca and the city of Taif.

Like the Battle of Uhud, the Battle of Hunayn is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an, “Assuredly, Allah did help you in many battlefields, and on the day of Hunayn; behold, your great numbers elated you, but they availed you nothing; the land did constrain you, and you turned back fleeing.” (c. 9:25-26) According to the Tafseer of this verse, seeing their large numbers, Abu Bakr exclaimed, “No one will defeat us while we have such a large number.”[37] However, their numbers were meaningless since faith, bravery, sincerity, and willingness was lacking.

Although many companions pledged that they would not flee,[38] despite their vow, some still did leave including Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, Ibn al-Jarah, al-Mugheerah b. Shu’bah, Abu Musa al-Ashari, Ma’adh b. Jabal, Usayd b. Hubayr, Khalid b. al-Waleed, and Sa’d b. Abi al-Waqqas.[39] During the battle, Abu Sufyan, who had just become Muslim two weeks before, said about the Muslims, “I wish their defeat would not stop, and they would keep running away and fleeing until they reach the sea.”[40] At the battle, only four stood with the Holy Prophet: Ali b. Abi Talib, al-Abbas – the uncle of the Prophet, Abu Sufyan b. al-Harith (from the Bani Hashim), and Abdullah b. Masud.[41] The rest of the companions fled the scene.

[22] Ahmad Amin, Fajr al-Islam, p.213
[23] Al-Bayhaqi, Dalail al-Nubuwah, 3:218; Ibn Qutaybah, Al-Marif, p.159
[24] Al-Tabari, 2:197; Ibn al-Atheer, Al-Kamil fil-Tarikh, 2:154
[25] Sahih al-Muslim 5:78; Dalail al-Nubuwah; Al-Bayhaqi, 3:234; Al-Dhahabi, Tarikh al-Islam, p.191
[26] Muhammad Hasanain al-Haykil, Hayatu Muhammad, p. 244
[27] Ibn Abil Hadid, Sharh Nahjul-Balaghah, 15:22
[28] al-Haykil, Hayat Muhammad, p.245
[29] Mafatih al-Ghayb, 9:53; Tafseer al-Fakhr al-Razi, 3:198; Al-Serah al-Halabiyah, 2:227
[30] Ibn al-Atheer, Al-Kamil fil-Tarikh, 2:158; Ibn Katheer, Al-Bidayah wal-Nihayah, 4:32; Tarikh al-Tabari, 2:203
[31] Ibn Katheer, Al-Serah al-Nabawiyah, 2:391-395; Dalail al-Nubuwah, 3:106; Al-Bidayah wal-Nihayah, 3:321
[32] Maghazi al-Waqidi, 1:152; Dalail al-Nubuwah, 3:124
[33] Ibn Shabah, Tarikh al-Madinah al-Munawarah, 3:1033
[34] Al-Haythami, Majma al-Zawaid, 9:124; Sahih al-Bukhari, 4:465, hadith 1155; Muhammad Hasanain Hayqil, Hayat Muhammad, p.312
[35] Al-Dhahabi, Tarikh al-Islam, 2:412
[36] Al-Sirah al-Halabiyah, 3:39; Maghazi al-Waqidi, 2:654; Sirat b. Hisham, 3:349; Tarikh al-Tabari, 2:200
[37] Al-Zamakhshari, Tafseer al-Kashshaf, 2:259; Tarikh Abul Fida, 1:208; Al-Serah al-Halabiyyah, 3:110
[38] Sunan al-Nisai, 3:871, hadith 3877
[39] Maghazi al-Waqidi, 2:904
[40] Maghazi al-Waqidi, 2:904
[41] Tarikh al-Khamis, p.102; Al-Serah al-Halabiyah, 3:109

When Power and Piety Collide by Sayed Moustafa al-Qazwini