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Caliph Abu Bakr as an Administrator1

Khan Yasir Majority of speeches are delivered through tongue, they reach ears and easily fell from there; few speeches are delivered through hearts, they reach hearts and are seldom forgotten by history. One of such memorable speeches was delivered by Abu Bakr (May Allah be pleased with him) after demise of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be to him). The demise of the Prophet had left Muslims flabbergasted and people even of as tough character as that of Umar, were devastated and lost. At that critical juncture Abu Bakr stepped forth and declared, O people! Whoever worships Muhammad should know that Muhammad has died. And whoever worships Allah should know that Allah is immortal. Then, he recited the following verse: Muhammad is no more than a Messenger: many were the Messengers that passed away before Him. If he died or was slain, will ye then turn back on your heels? If any did turn back on his heels, not the least harm will he do to Allah; but Allah (on the other hand) will swiftly reward those who (serve him) with gratitude. Abu Bakr knew the importance of organisation in Islam but he didnt have any lust for power. So he proposed two names from amongst the most capable and pious men for the seat of caliphate. These names were of Umar and Abu Ubaida. However Umar stepped forward and proposed the name of Abu Bakr who was then unanimously elected. And thus, the calm, serene and disciplined personality of Abu Bakr not only managed the crisis immediately after the death of the Prophet but was also destined to manage the affairs of Islam as its first caliph. Abu Bakrs first speech as the caliph is also historic in which he has summarised the principles of the Islamic governance. He said,
I have been given the authority over you, though I am not the best amongst you. If I do well, help me; and if I do wrong, set me right. Sincere regard for truth is loyalty and disregard for truth is treachery. The weak amongst you shall be strong with me until I have secured his rights; and the strong amongst you shall be weak with me until I have wrested from him the rights of others. Obey me so long as I obey God and His Messenger. But if I disobey God and His Messenger, you owe me no obedience.

In yet another speech that he delivered later he is recorded to have said,


I have been appointed as caliph without my willingness, by God I desired that someone else from amongst you would have taken this responsibility. I want to tell you that if you want me to behave exactly like the Prophet then let me clarify that it is impossible. He was a prophet,
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This paper has been published in Radiance Viewsweeklys special issue on Governance in Early Islamic Period dated March 2, 2014. Link: http://radianceweekly.in/portal/issue/governance-in-early-islamic-period/

without any faults and defects. I am an ordinary human being I cannot even claim of being better than you. I am indigent of your cooperation, if you see me doing well, walk along with me; if you see me treading the wrong path, set me right...

The first lesson in administration that these speeches can teach us is that the administrator should be humble. Besides, there are a number of principles of the Islamic governance that we can derive from these speeches. It should be noted that Abu Bakr was the first one after the Prophet to apply these principles in the day-to-day governance and set the precedent for the future Islamic state that would spread across the three continents in less than a decade after him. A few key principles that we can infer from his address are as follows: 1. Citizens have a right to scrutinise their leaders in other words leaders are accountable to the followers for their deeds. 2. Truthfulness is the foundation on which Islamic rule and the relationship between a leader and his people is based. 3. In the Islamic state there is absolute regard for the principles of rule of law and equality before law. 4. As rulers are not infallible like prophets, people have a right to replace them if they are found to be in violation of the law. In other words obedience to the leaders is conditional. Abu Bakr got only an opportunity to rule for two years, three months and ten days and this period too was dedicated to resolution of several security crises. Thus his achievements as an administrator or as the one who laid the foundations of the Islamic caliphate and principles of the same are not duly acknowledged. We shall try, in this brief article, to look at the words and deeds of the first caliph of Islam and evaluate his work as an administrator. We shall also attempt to draw some lessons from his method of governance for the present generation. It should be noted that Abu Bakr inherited a fragmented Arab. Arab was already divided into infinite number of tribal states. The unity that was brought about by the Prophet was in tatters after his demise. The great superpowers of the era i.e. Persia and Rome were already influential in Yemen and Syria respectively. They were sinisterly playing their politics and, according to Egyptian scholar Haykal, had definite stakes in the upheaval and commotion that followed the departure of the Prophet to his heavenly abode. These external challenges that the nascent Islamic republic faced was of two types. First, from those tribes who refused to pay zakat to Medina after Prophet and in short opted out from the authority of the caliphate of Islam. Second, from those who openly rebelled against Islam and with collaboration of other enemies were willing to attack Medina and exterminate Islam itself. Majority of people opined that Medina should avoid meddling with the first kind and should concentrate on the second kind to save energy and resources. The farsighted Abu Bakr thought otherwise. He first sent a huge

army, which was ready to depart since the last days of the Prophet, to Rome. He then refused to show any leniency towards the enemies of the first kind and declared famously, I will even fight for the petty piece of rope that they used to give in the Prophetic times and are refusing to give now. When Umar angrily confronted him that how can Muslims fight against those who believe in the same God and the Prophet, Abu Bakr replied thoughtfully, I will fight with those who distinguish between Salat and Zakat. It was because of this upright stand that unity of the Islamic republic was maintained and on the foundation of this unity the conquests in the period of later caliphs followed. This teaches us the second lesson in administration that the leader must be farsighted, must be able to take hard decisions and must be able to take risks. This also explains that the leader should be ready to be questioned about the rationale of his decisions and must readily explain and satisfy his people. After the rebellions were vanquished another side of the farsightedness of the personality of Abu Bakr comes to the fore. The strict Abu Bakr who showed so much gut while protecting the unity and integrity of the Islamic republic forgave almost all the rebel leaders when they were defeated. This forgiveness gave those leaders an opportunity to rectify their mistake of the past and serve the cause of Islam. These repented leaders proved to be vital assets of Islamic republic in its war with Persian and Roman Empire. This policy of forgiveness after subjugation was an emblem of great statesmanship on the part of Abu Bakr. As is already known, Abu Bakr was an extremely pious and righteous man. He was always in contact with the ordinary people. These contacts were not diminished even after his becoming the most powerful man on the earth. The ruler of the vast Islamic empire was not shy in roaming around the streets and bazaars of Medina without escorts, body guards and other formalities in the name of security. He did not have a sentry on his door. His doors were open for all, all the time. The third lesson that we learn from his administration is that people should have direct access to their leaders and there should be no gap and no barrier between the two. Abu Bakr never missed opportunities to do virtuous services to others. He used to attend funerals. He used to feed hungry people and visit patients. Umar, the second caliph of Islam, narrated that he i.e. Umar used to serve an old blind lady with her daily chores in the darkness of night. One night he sensed that somebody has preceded him and has done all the work. When he sensed the same thing the next night he vowed to discover who that person is. In the night that followed Umar came much early and hid himself waiting for the mysterious person to enter the house. When the man came Umar caught him and found that behind a covered face there was none other than the Caliph Abu Bakr. This highlights not only Abu Bakrs concern and regard for his subjects but also his anxiousness to serve them. The fourth lesson, in short, that we learn from the administration of Abu Bakr is that the leader should, in real sense of the term, be a servant of his followers.

Abu Bakrs government was neither a monarchy nor a dictatorship. It was a government based on consultancy. Power of the governance was not centralised though the caliph was the court of final appeal. Abu Bakr tried to practically engage the brilliant minds of Islam in the tasks of administration through the principle of delegated authority. For e.g. Abu Ubaidah bin Jarrah was given the charge of what could be referred to as ministry of finance in todays parlance. He was responsible for collection of revenues for state such as kharj (land tax), ushr (one-tenth of agricultural revenue), khums (income tax) and jizya (tax taken from unbelievers for their protection). Community welfare, providing equipment for troops, monthly convoys for troops etc were also his responsibility. Likewise Umar bin Khattab was given the charge of ministry of justice. This gives us a few administrative lessons in trusting and engaging brilliant minds in various tasks and delegation of authority for ensuring efficiency. This was just a brief sketch of a great administrators life. A researcher may well dig further and find more pearls of wisdom from this glorious period of Islam. One thing however can be claimed with surety that during the short span of Abu Bakrs regime the spirit of brotherhood, equality and justice dominated the society and todays leaders and policymakers have much to learn from him as Gandhi rightly has pointed out to fellow Congressmen,
I cannot present before you the examples of Shri Ram Chandra and Shri Krishna as they are not personalities recognised by history. I cannot help but present to you names of Abu Bakr and Umar. They were leaders of a vast empire, yet they lived a life of austerity. (in Harijan dated July 27, 1937)