You are on page 1of 30


Chapter XI

Brothers and Contenders:

ÝUmar and AbÙ Bakr in SunnÐ and ShÐÝite traditions

Beside the traditions that elaborated ÝUmar’s image in relation to that of the Prophet,
described in various chapters so far, our sources provide a large number of traditions
that shaped his image versus that of his predecessor, AbÙ Bakr. This chapter focuses
on describing these traditions that were quite neglected in modern research.
These traditions can be classified in three different categories:
1- Traditions that describe both caliphs as equals having a harmonious relationship.
2- Traditions that describe ÝUmar’s superiority over that of AbÙ Bakr.
3- Traditions that describe AbÙ Bakr’s superiority over that of ÝUmar.
Contrary to the established canonical belief pertaining to the superiority of AbÙ Bakr
over all his successors, it seems that the traditions in the second and the third above
categories reflect an early conflict within Sunni Islam over the topic of the excellence
(afÃaliyya) between the two first successors of MuÎammad. Otherwise, one can
hardly explain the circulation of traditions extolling ÝUmar’s virtues over those of his
predecessor. This conflict may show that even though AbÙ Bakr was the first to lead
the Muslim community after the death of the Prophet, there were those who believed
that ÝUmar would have been a better candidate. Later on a reaction to this belief arose,
resulting in the circulation of traditions that describe AbÙ Bakr as superior to ÝUmar,
and moreover, superior to all the other caliphs of the Muslim community.
As for the traditions reporting the first two caliphs to be equals in the first category
mentioned above, they reflect the end of this conflict and the consensus reached
within Sunni Islam pertaining to the images of these great companions of
MuÎammad. Additionally, it may be that on the background of this consensus was the
virulent early ShiÝite position against both leaders, as shall be described below.
1. Equality and harmony
Many traditions describe the two men as equals, having a harmonious relationship.
They are presented as brothers, the Prophet’s assistants and the harmony between
them as a model to follow.

In a widely circulated tradition we are told that when the Prophet emigrated from
Mecca to Medina, he ordered a bond of brotherhood to be established between the
meccan emigrants, the muhÁjirÙn, and his medinan supporters, the anÒÁr. In addition,
he established the same bond between the muhÁjirÙn themselves. Thus, he ordered
AbÙ Bakr and ÝUmar to bond as brothers.1 A unique tradition reports that the Prophet
summoned his two companions and informed them that he has been ordered by a
divine revelation to bond them as brothers, and consequently they will be brothers in
this life and in Paradise. He bid them to greet each other and to shake hands as
brothers.2 The representation of the bond of brotherhood between the first two caliphs
as ordained by God clearly reflects a reaction to other traditions that describe a
discord between them. It seems that Muslim scholars, who circulated this tradition,
were averse to the superiority issue between the two senior companions, as will be
shown below.
Other traditions describe a different relationship between the pair AbÙ Bakr - ÝUmar
with the Prophet: they are MuÎammad’s assistants in all matters regarding the
leadership of the Muslim community. The Prophet is quoted saying: “I have two
assistants (wazÐrÁn) in Heavens and two on earth; Michael and Gabriel are my
assistants in heavens and AbÙ Bakr and ÝUmar on earth”.3 A different utterance is
attributed to MuÎammad: “These two are my hearing and my sight”,4 meaning that he
cannot do without their assistance. Another tradition has none other than ÝAlÐ assert
than he often heard MuÎammad saying: “I went with AbÙ Bakr and ÝUmar; I came
with AbÙ Bakr and ÝUmar”, pointing up to his need for their presence near him.5 Ibn
ÝUmar reported that the Prophet came to the mosque leaning on his two most trusted
companions, AbÙ Bakr on his right and ÝUmar on his left. He held their hand and said
that this is the way the three of them will raise on the Day of Resurrection.6
The purpose of the traditions describing the assistance given by AbÙ Bakr and ÝUmar
to MuÎammad is twofold: on the one hand they put these two companions on an equal
footing by showing a complete harmony between them and on the other hand they
illustrate their intimacy and their closeness the Prophet.

Ibn SaÝd, ÓabaqÁt, III, 174-175.
Ibn AbÐ ÝÀÒim, Sunna, II, 785-786 (1199).
Ibn al-JaÝd, Musnad, II, 789 (2331); AÎmad, FaÃÁÞil, I, 164 (152).
Ibn QÁniÝ, MuÝjam, II, 100-101.
Ibn AbÐ ÝÀÒim, Sunna, II, 813-814 (1245).
Ibn AbÐ ÝÀÒim, id, II, 941 (1455).

In many traditions, this harmony is revealed as an ideal to follow after the death of the
Prophet. In a widely circulated utterance the latter is made to say: “I know not how
much time I still have to live amongst you, so follow the example (fa-qtadÙ) of those
who will succeed me, AbÙ Bakr and ÝUmar”.7
However, it seems that that this ideal was hard to follow, especially by the Umayyads.
MuÝÁwiya b. AbÐ SufyÁn, the first Umayyad caliph complained that ÍabÐb b. Maslama
al-FihrÐ (d. 42/663), a fierce and God-fearing warrior known as one whose prayers are
answered8, constantly urged him to follow the example of AbÙ Bakr and ÝUmar and
that he dared not refuse his plea.9 On the other hand, the dreaded Umayyad governor
of Iraq al-ÍajjÁj b. YÙsuf (d. 95/714), expressed his anger against the story-tellers (al-
quÒÒÁÒ) who were urging ignorant young men to live by the example of AbÙ Bakr and
ÝUmar. He believed that by doing so, these quÒÒÁÒ were advocating an open revolt
against the reigning caliph ÝAbd al-Malik b. MarwÁn (d. 86/705) because the latter
was unable to rule by the example of the first two caliphs after MuÎammad.10
The shÐÝite reaction to these harmony traditions between the first two caliphs was to
enhance the image of ÝAlÐ b. AbÐ ÓÁlib by bonding him to a figure far superior than
both AbÙ Bakr and ÝUmar. A multitude of traditions relate that the Prophet chose ÝAlÐ
as his brother. Although irrelevant to the issue at hand, these traditions are an integral
part of the virtues (faÃÁÞil) of ÝAlÐ and are quoted in almost every shÐÝite source, from
the earliest.11 Furthermore, they are quoted in sunnÐ sources as well.12
The shÐÝite scholars were aware of the traditions relating about this equality and
harmony. They also paired AbÙ Bakr and ÝUmar but turned the purpose of the equality
between them upside down: as far as they are concerned this equality is evil. Both
companions are derisively nicknamed “the two elders” (al-ShaykhÁn). A leading
shÐÝite scholar, al-Shaykh al-MufÐd (d. 413/1023) states boldly that al-ShaykhÁn are
heretics.13 ShÐÝite scholars claim that AbÙ Bakr and ÝUmar joined for the purpose of
obstructing the Prophet in every one of his endeavors, especially handing over the
succession to ÝAlÐ and his sons after him. AbÙ Bakr and ÝUmar never converted

Ibn AbÐ Shayba, MuÒannaf, VI, 352 (31933); AÎmad, FaÃÁÞil, I, 186-187 (198). And see: Ibn SaÝd,
ÓabaqÁt, II, 334; Ibn AÎmad, Sunna, II, 579 (1366).
See about him: Ibn Íajr, IÒÁba, II, 24-26.
Ibn SaÝd, ÓabaqÁt, al-Ôabaqa al-khÁmisa, II, 191-192 (661).
ÝIÒÁmÐ, MasÁlik, 198. And see: Ibn KathÐr, BidÁya, IX, 103.
See: Sulaym, KitÁb, 207.
Al-NasÁÞÐ (d. 303 AH), the author of one the six canonical compilations of the sunnÐ traditions
devoted a long chapter to the various versions of this tradition: See: NasÁÞÐ, KhaÒÁÞiÒ, 130-139.
BayyÁÃÐ, ÑirÁt, III, 79.

wholeheartedly to Islam and they strived, along with other companions, to assassinate
the Prophet in an attempt to prevent him from handing the succession over to ÝAlÐ.
When they failed, they did their utmost to disinherit ÝAlÐ after the death of
As far as the ShÐÝites are concerned, every tradition praising the pair AbÙ Bakr –
ÝUmar is the sole invention of MuÝÁwiya b. AbÐ SufyÁn. They report that when the
latter ascended to the throne, he ordered scholars devoted to him to circulate as many
traditions as possible in praise of the first two caliphs in order to contest the
legitimacy of the house of ÝAlÐ. The ShÐÝites know of a complete compilation,
prepared on the orders of MuÝÁwiya, which includes numerous traditions extolling the
virtues of the two companions. This compilation was circulated throughout the whole
Muslim world together with an injunction by MuÝÁwiya that it should be read on
every pulpit in every village and mosque and taught by teachers to their young pupils
in every school (kuttÁb, pl. katÁtÐb) in the same manner as the QurÞÁn is taught.
MuÝÁwiya declared that his purpose for doing so was to de-legitimize the Ahl al-Bayt,
the house of ÝAlÐ.15
Besides, The ShÐÝites found the unlimited admiration of the Muslim community for
AbÙ Bakr and ÝUmar very strange indeed. ÝAlÐ is quoted saying that he can hardly
understand how the Muslims could obey these two men unconditionally.16 The
ShÐÝites claim also that the love of the Muslims for AbÙ Bakr and ÝUmar is similar to
the adoration of the calf by the Children of Israel. They portray ÝUmar as the
Samaritan who created the calf for the children of Israel, and led the people astray.17
The ShÐÝites are evoking here their version of the famous gathering at the roofed
pavilion (saqÐfa) of the BanÙ SÁÝida where ÝUmar “coerced” the Muslims to nominate
AbÙ Bakr to the caliphate by giving him the oath of allegiance, thus depriving ÝAlÐ
from his sole privilege to succeed MuÎammad.
From the Sunni point of view, the image projected by many traditions pertaining to
the equality and harmony between AbÙ Bakr and ÝUmar clearly reflect a reaction
against the virulent shÐÝite views on the companions, especially these two.18 In this
context, ÝAlÐ b. AbÐ ÓÁlib is made to say that the Prophet told him secretly that AbÙ

Kohlberg, “ÑaÎÁba”, 160-167.
Sulaym, KitÁb, 204-205.
Sulaym, id, 134-134.
Sulaym, id, 92-93. And see: Rubin, “Ark”, 208-209; Bar-Asher, Scriptures, 115.
For which, see: Kohlberg, “ÑaÎÁba”.

Bakr and ÝUmar will the leaders of the elders of Paradise (sayyidÁ kuhÙl ahl al-
Janna).19 Another utterance of ÝAlÐ states that the two are the most preferred after the
Prophet.20 The fact that these two expressions are attributed to ÝAlÐ indicates clearly
that he is made to concede, by his own words, to the superiority of his predecessors
over himself, contrary to the claims of the ShÐÝites.
Another expression aiming at opposing the shÐÝite views is attributed to Ibn MasÝÙd’s
disciple, the kÙfan MasrÙq b. al-AjdaÝ (d. 63/683): “Loving AbÙ Bakr and ÝUmar and
recognizing their superiority is part of the Sunna”.21 A similar utterance is attributed
to another kÙfan, ÝÀmir al-ShaÝbÐ (d. 103-110/722-729).22 It may be that this was an
attempt by some circles in early KÙfa, known for its strong shÐÝite tendencies, to
circulate such utterances in order to counter the blatant shÐÝite hatred for all the
companions, especially AbÙ Bakr and ÝUmar. The most outspoken expression in this
context is attributed to the Prophet himself: “Loving AbÙ Bakr and ÝUmar is belief
(ÐmÁn) and hating them is heresy (kufr)”.23 Therefore, the shÐÝite views in this respect
are nothing but heresy.
2. The term al-
al-ÝUmarÁn: harmony and discord
In several traditions as well as in poetry AbÙ Bakr and ÝUmar together are usually
known as al-ÝUmarÁn, “the two ÝUmar”. This term is taken to express a harmony and
equality between the two men, and yet, when early scholars attempted to clarify it, it
became evident that al-ÝUmarÁn conveys discord that may point out to a penchant of
ÝUmar over his predecessor.
Poetry is a good starting source where al-ÝUmarÁn expresses harmony. MuÎÁrib b.
DithÁr (d. 116/735), the judge of KÙfa was known for supporting irjÁÞ, the view in
early Islam, which stated that “judgment upon any one is not to be pronounced in the
present life but should be deferred to the Day of Resurrection”.24 Accordingly,
MuÎÁrib believed that the judgment concerning ÝAlÐ and ÝUthmÁn and the result of the
discord between them should be deferred to the life to come.25 The following verses
sum up his views on this matter:

Ibn AbÐ Shayba, MuÒannaf, VI, 352 (31932).
Ibn AbÐ ÝÀÒim, Sunna, II, 816 (1249).
Ibn AÎmad, Sunna, II, 580 (1369).
Ibn AbÐ Shayba, MuÒannaf, VI, 352 (31928).
AÎmad, FaÃÁÞil, I, 339 (487).
See: Lane, Lexicon, s.v. r j Ý
KÁna min al-murjiÞa al-ÙlÁ, he was amongst the early murjiÝa. See: Ibn SaÝd, ÓabaqÁt, VI, 307.

People blame me, out of their ignorance, for deferring judgment concerning AbÙ
Íasan ÝAlÐ.
My deferring the judgment concerning him is right, as compared to al-ÝUmarÁn,
whether he was just or damned.
(YaÝÐbu Ýalayya aqwÁmun safÁhan bi-an urjÐ (li-irjÁÞÐ) AbÁ Íasanin ÝAliyyÁ
Wa-irjÁÞÐ AbÁ Íasanin ÒawÁbun Ýani-l-ÝUmarayni barran aw shaqÐyyÁ)
Upon hearing these verses, the famous shÐÝite poet al-Sayyid al-ÍimyarÐ (d. 173-
178/790-795) cursed MuÎÁrib to hell.26
In these verses, the term al-ÝUmarÁn serves as an ideal of harmony and equality
between the first two caliphs, contrary to the discord between the third and the fourth
caliphs, ÝUthmÁn and ÝAlÐ.
Goldziher quoted these verses in his Muslim Studies in the chapter about irjÁÞ but
seemed to have misread and misunderstood IsfahÁnÐ’s text and the basic meaning of
the verses.27 He believed that al-Sayyid al-ÍimyarÐ himself composed these verses,
and that it was he who believed in deferring the judgment pertaining to ÝAlÐ. Hence,
Goldziher rendered the terms pious (barr) and wretched (shaqÐyy) to be read in the
dual form (barrÁ aw shaqiyÁ) as if meaning AbÙ Bakr and ÝUmar and not as ÎÁl terms
(barran aw shaqÐyyan) meaning ÝAlÐ. This could hardly be so, since al-Sayyid al-
ÍimyarÐ was a passionate Kaysanite ShÐÝite who revered the ShÐÝite Imams28. A
careful reading of MuÎÁrib’s full poem, as quoted by WakÐÝ (d. 306/919), leads to a
better understanding of the írjÁÞ of the kÙfan judge and to the correct meaning of the
verses idealizing al-ÝUmarÁn while deferring the judgment concerning ÝUthmÁn and
ÝAlÐ.29 Similarly, while praising the Umayyad caliph HishÁm b. ÝAbd al-Malik (d.
125/743), the poet al-Farazdaq uses the term al-ÝUmarÁn as a model of harmony:
He brought the Sunna of al-ÝUmarÁn, to heal from the sickness that lies in the
(Fa-jÁÞa bi-sunnati-l-ÝUmarayni fÐhÁ shifÁÞan li-l-ÒudÙri mina-l-siqÁmi)
The Sunna of al-ÝUmarÁn in the above verse is regarded as one code of behavior, as
much as AbÙ Bakr and ÝUmar are regarded as one entity. This is also the opinion of
al-ÓabarÐ (d. 310/923) regarding this term.31

IÒfahÁnÐ, AghÁnÐ, VII, 248.
Goldziher, MSII, 92.
See on him: EI2, s.v. (W. Kadi).
WakÐÝ, QuÃÁt, III, 29-30.
Farazdaq, DÐwÁn, II, 452.
ÓabarÐ, TÁrÐkh, VIII, 361.

Another relevant expression, sÐrat al-ÝUmarayn, the model way of life of the two first
caliphs, is used in the tradition. It is related that when ÝUthmÁn was besieged in his
house, during the battle known as Yawm al-DÁr, the rebels demanded from the caliph
to behave according to sÐrat al-ÝUmarayn. They claimed that if he complies, they will
lift the siege. For them, the code of behavior of AbÙ Bakr and ÝUmar is the highest
ideal and ÝUthmÁn did not live up to it.32
A poet praised the famous judge of Medina, Ibn AbÐ al-ZinÁd (d. 130/748) as
behaving according to sÐrat al-ÝUmarayni, by which he meant his fairness in rendering
However it seems that just using the al-ÝUmarÁn term might point out to an inequality
and a discord between the two men. There were scholars who argued that using the
name of ÝUmar as a source to designate the first two caliphs proves that ÝUmar was
preferred over AbÙ Bakr. This concept is inferred in the clarifications given by a
number of early philologists and scholars to the term al-ÝUmarÁn.
Al-AÒmaÝÐ (d. 213/829) explains that when there are two brothers or two friends and
one of them is more illustrious (ashhar) than the other, both of them will be named
after the better known.34 Ibn al-KalbÐ (d. 204/820) is of the same opinion and gives al-
ÝUmarÁn as an example for this philological occurrence.35 A similar opinion is
expressed by MuÎammad b. ÍabÐb (d. 245/860), who devoted to this topic a special
epistle entitled: “Whenever two names occur, of which one is better known (ashhar),
both will be named after the latter”.36
An interesting debate over this term is supposed to have taken place between two
famous grammarians-philologists, ÝAlÐ b. Hamza al-KisÁÞÐ (d. 189/805) and al-
MufaÃÃal b. MuÎammad al-ÂabbÐ (d. 168/785), in the presence of the Abbasid Caliph
HÁrÙn al-RashÐd (d. 193/809). While al-KisÁÞÐ was tutoring al-RashÐd and his sons, al-
ÂabbÐ was ushered in. He asked the caliph about several topics, including al-ÝUmarÁn.
The caliph, coached by al KisÁÞÐ, answered that the Arabs usually name two things of
the same kind according to the more illustrious (al-ashhar). He then went on

Ibn al-SikkÐt, IÒlÁÎ, II, 402.
Ibn ÝAbd al-Barr, TamhÐd, VII, 203.
AbÙ ÝUbayd, al-GharÐb al-MuÒannaf, II, 415.
AbÙ ÝUbayd, id, 416.
Ibn ÍabÐb, MÁ jÁÞa fÐhi ismÁni, aÎaduhumÁ ashharu min ÒÁÎibihi, fa-summiyÁ bihi, 37-38.

commenting that this was because “ÝUmar’s caliphate was more illustrious, earned
more conquests to Islam and lasted longer than that of his predecessor”.37
All the above mentioned comments reflect a belief that ÝUmar was indeed more
illustrious than AbÙ Bakr, therefore his name served as a source for the term al-
Nevertheless, other scholars were aware that this term may be understood as
preferring ÝUmar to his predecessor. They strived to demonstrate that it is not so. AbÙ
ÝUbayda, MaÝmar b. al-MuthannÁ (d. 210/826) literally argues: “if you are asked
(about the term al-ÝUmarÁn): how come ÝUmar was preferred to AbÙ Bakr even
though the latter was (i.e. ruled) before him and was preferred to him, the answer is
that the Arabs usually begin with the lesser (al-adnÁ).38 In this explanation, contrary
to the above statements, it is clear that ÝUmar is second to AbÙ Bakr. AbÙ ÝUbayd, al-
QÁsim b. SallÁm (d. 224/839) argued that one shouldn’t understand that the term al-
ÝUmarÁn inferred a preference of ÝUmar to AbÙ Bakr, for the latter was superior;
however it is easier to pronounce “al-ÝUmarÁn” than “AbÙ Bakrayn” (the two AbÙ
Bakr).39 That philological explanations such as these were offered may point out to
the possibility that ÝUmar was preferred to AbÙ Bakr.
In order to further refute this concept, scholars like AÎmad b. Íanbal (d. 241/855)
were of the opinion that the term al-ÝUmarÁn did not refer to the first two caliphs but
to the two ÝUmar: Ibn al-KhaÔÔÁb and his offspring Ibn ÝAbd al-ÝAzÐz (d. 101/720).40
However, this opinion was rejected: it was argued that the term al-ÝUmarÁn was in use
long before ÝUmar b. ÝAbd al-ÝAzÐz was born.41
3. The dispute
Yet our sources preserved texts that reflected a profound discord between AbÙ Bakr
and ÝUmar and harsh words that were exchanged between them. A tradition to that
effect is linked to the “circumstances of the revelation” (asbÁb al-nuzÙl) of verses
Q49:1-3. These verses state:
“O believers, advance not [an opinion or a judgment] before God and His
messenger [do]; and fear God. God is All-hearing, All knowing.

ZajjÁjÐ, MajÁlis, 31.
Ibn al-SikkÐt, IÒlÁÎ, II, 402.
AbÙ ÝUbayd, GharÐb, IV, 321.
KhallÁl, Sunna, 313 (390, 391). The famous QurÞÁnic exegesist QatÁda b. DiÝÁma is also attributed
with such a statement. See: Ibn al-SikkÐt, IÒlÁÎ, 402.
Ibn al-SikkÐt, IÒlÁÎ, 402; SuyÙÔÐ, Muzhir, II, 168.

O believers, raise not your voices above the Prophet’s voice, and be not loud in
your speech to him, as you are loud one to another, lest your work fail while you
are not aware.
Surely those who lower their voices in the presence of God’s messenger, those are
they whose hearts God has tested for god-fearing; they shall have forgiveness and a
mighty wage”.42
Ibn AbÐ Mulayka (d. 117/736) reported on the authority of his patron ÝAbd AllÁh b.
al-Zubayr (AbÙ Bakr grandson)43 that when the TamÐm delegation (wafd) came to
pledge allegiance to the Prophet MuÎammad, AbÙ Bakr suggested to appoint al-AqraÝ
b. MaÝbad as the delegation leader. However, ÝUmar proposed to appoint al-AqraÝ b.
ÍÁbis for the job. AbÙ Bakr sneered at him severely: “All you want is to oppose me
and nothing else” (mÁ aradta illÁ khilÁfÐ). ÝUmar denied strongly and the two men
started a heated dispute shouting at each other in the presence of MuÎammad.
Following this, the verses Q49:1-3 were revealed.44 This tradition was circulated in
many versions. In one of them Ibn AbÐ Mulayka, who reported this story, commented:
“These two good men, AbÙ Bakr and ÝUmar, were almost condemned to perdition
(kÁda al-khayyirÁni an yahlikÁ); they raised their voice in the presence of the
This episode reflects most clearly a conflict of pre-eminence between the first two
caliphs as it was perceived by later scholars. AbÙ Bakr, who considered himself the
senior companion of MuÎammad, suspected that ÝUmar was set to undermine his
authority. The latter, by allowing himself to propose a candidate of his own for the
leadership of the TamÐm delegation, considered himself to be on an equal footing
with AbÙ Bakr. The tradition does not report what was the outcome of the rivalry
between the two men and whose candidate the Prophet chooses to appoint. Yet, the
verses that were revealed following this dispute came to scorn both men and to
threaten them with a terrible fate. The link prompted by the scholars between the
verses’ revelation and the AbÙ Bakr-ÝUmar conflict, added to the comment of the like
of Ibn AbÐ Mulayka on the episode are a clear evidence of the apprehension of the
Muslims regarding the superiority conflict between AbÙ Bakr and ÝUmar. The fact

The additions in brackets are mine.
On the relationship between Ibn AbÐ Mulayka and Ibn al-Zubayr, see: ÝAsqalÁnÐ, TahdhÐb, s.v. ÝAbd
AllÁh b. ÝUbayd AllÁh b. AbÐ Mulayka.
BukhÁrÐ, ÑaÎÐÎ, VIII, 415 (4367)/ 64 (MaghÁzÐ): 69, 2; id. IX, 568 (4847)/ 65 (TafsÐr): 2, 1; AbÙ
YaÝlÁ, Musnad, XII, 193-194 (6816).
AÎmad, Musnad, IV, 6.

that this story is quoted in different parts of BukhÁrÐ’s ÑaÎÐÎ, the most prestigious
collection of canonical traditions, may reflect this apprehension more than anything.46
4. ÝUmar’s superiority
Several reports that include the first two successors to MuÎammad show an evident
superiority of ÝUmar to AbÙ Bakr. Moreover, the latter’s image is less than flattering
according to these reports.
The following report was circulated in many versions and has to do with the caliph
AbÙ Bakr allocating estates (iqÔÁÝ) or granting favors to different persons. Several
versions will be described below followed by a discussion pertaining to the images of
the various leaders reflected in these texts. In all of them, ÝUmar’s personal and moral
superiority to AbÙ Bakr stems from his reaction to what he considered as an
unbecoming behavior of his predecessor.
4.1 On the authority of the KÙfan ÝAbÐda al-SalmÁnÐ (d. 72-74/692-694) it is related
that ÝUyayna b. ÍiÒn from the FazÁra tribe and al-AqraÝ b. ÍÁbis from TamÐm
approached AbÙ Bakr complaining that the soil of the lands they dwell in were barren
because it was saturated with salt (sabÎa). Even though, they requested from the
caliph to allocate these lands to them as private estates. They commented that they
will strive to plow and plant them hoping, with God’s help, to make them fertile. AbÙ
Bakr agreed and wrote a deed (kitÁb) confirming his approval. He requested them to
approach ÝUmar, who was not present at that time, and to ask him to bear witness on
the allocation by adding his signature on the document. The two tribal leaders went to
search for ÝUmar and found him smearing tar on a camel of his (as a remedy for
scab).47 They read the allocation deed in his presence, but as soon as he heard its
contents, he took it from their hands, spat on it and erased every word written in it.
This behavior angered them and they scorned him harshly. In return, he cursed them
and said to them that the Prophet MuÎammad used to allure them to embrace Islam
by giving them gifts (kana yataÞallafukumÁ) as Islam was weak at that time. However,
now that Islam became strong they should strive to make a living by hard work.
Disappointed, the two men returned to AbÙ Bakr and said to him with anger: “By
God, we wonder who the caliph is, is it you or ÝUmar”? To which the caliph answered
immediately: “Him, had he so wished” (huwa law kÁna shÁÞa). Soon enough, ÝUmar
approached AbÙ Bakr and the following discussion occurred between the two leaders:

BukhÁrÐ, ÑaÎÐÎ, IX, 565-566 (4845)/ 65 (TafsÐr):49, 1.
Lit. yahnaÞ al-ibl. See: Lane, Lexicon, s.v. h n Þ.

- ÝUmar: Tell me, concerning this land you allocated as an estate to these two men,
is it your private land or it belongs to all the Muslims?
- AbÙ Bakr: It belongs to all the Muslims.
- ÝUmar: What made you prefer these men to all other Muslims?
- AbÙ Bakr: I conferred with the people around me and they advised me to do so.
- ÝUmar: Did you confer also with all the Muslims and received their approbation?
- AbÙ Bakr: I have already told you that you are better suited for this job (i.e. the
caliphate) but you forced me to accept it.48
4.2 On the authority of the Medinan NÁfiÞ (d. 117/736), Ibn ÝUmar’s freedman another
version of this story is transmitted. It seems that AbÙ Bakr allocated an estate (qaÔÐÝa)
to al-AqraÝ b. ÍÁbis and al-ZibriqÁn b. Badr, both from TamÐm and wrote a deed
confirming the allocation. ÝUthmÁn b. ÝAffÁn, advised them to ask ÝUmar to sign also
on the deed commenting that he, ÝUmar, will succeed AbÙ Bakr as caliph. The two
tamÐmis approached ÝUmar requesting his signature on the document as witness.
ÝUmar flatly refused, spat on the document, erased all its contents and scorned the two
men ruthlessly. They returned to AbÙ Bakr and questioned him whether he was the
caliph or ÝUmar. AbÙ Bakr replied: “we confirm (nujÐzu) only what ÝUmar
4.3 The Syrian ÝAbd al-RaÎmÁn b. YazÐd b. JÁbir (d. 153-156/773-776) related that
AbÙ Bakr allocated an estate to ÝUyayna b. ÍiÒn from the FazÁra tribe and wrote a
document confirming the allocation. ÓalÎa b. ÝUbayd AllÁh, AbÙ Bakr kinsman,
predicting that ÝUmar will succeed as caliph, advised ÝUyayna to request ÝUmar’s
signature on the document as a witness. Once again, ÝUmar is reported to have spat on
the deed presented to him and erased all its contents. As ÝUyayna approached AbÙ
Bakr with a request for a new document, the caliph exclaimed: “By God! I will not
confirm anything upon which ÝUmar does not agree”.50
4- ÝAbd AllÁh b. ÝAwn (d. 151/769) from BaÒra reported on the authority of (ÝUmar b.
YaÎyÁ) al-ZurqÐ51 a similar event. This time AbÙ Bakr allocated an estate to his taymÐ
kinsman ÓalÎa b. ÝUbayd AllÁh. He had a deed written confirming the allocation and
asked several companions, ÝUmar included, to sign as witnesses. The latter refused

FasawÐ, MaÝrifa, III, 372-373; KhaÔÐb, JÁmiÝ, II, 305-307.
AÎmad, FaÃÁÞil, I, 292 (383); FasawÐ, MaÝrifa, III, 373.
AbÙ ÝUbayd, AmwÁl, 370 (689).
In the sources quoted below, his name is given either as “al-ZurqД or “a man from the Zurayq tribe”.
His full name as the authority for this specific tradition is given in: MuttaqÐ, Kanz, XII, 546 (35738).
He is known to be an informant of ÝAbd AllÁh b. ÝAwn, see: ÝAsqalÁnÐ, LisÁn, IV, 338.

categorically commenting that ÝUbayd AllÁh should not be privileged amongst others
Muslims. The frustrated ÓalÎa returned to the caliph commenting angrily: “By God, I
know not who the caliph is. Is it you or ÝUmar”? AbÙ Bakr promptly replied: “He
(could have been), but he refused”.52
4.5 The Medinan ÝUrwa b. al-Zubayr (d. 91/101 AH) is supposed to have related an
incident concerning his father, al-Zubayr b. al-ÝAwwÁm. As ÝUrwa was visiting the
caliph MuÝÁwiya b. AbÐ SufyÁn in Damascus, the latter asked him what became with
al-maslÙl (“the concealed one” or “the clandestine one”).53 ÝUrwa replied that it is still
in his possession. MuÝÁwiya commented that he wrote al-maslÙl in his own hand. He
recounted that AbÙ Bakr allocated an estate to al-Zubayr and MuÝÁwiya wrote its deed
himself. As he was writing, ÝUmar happened to pass by. AbÙ Bakr swiftly snatched
the half written deed and concealed it under the cushion upon which he was sitting.
ÝUmar inquired if he was disturbing and when AbÙ Bakr answered positively he left.
Only when he was out of sight AbÙ Bakr gave the concealed document back to
MuÝÁwiya and the latter resumed writing it.54
4.6 Besides allocations of estates, Sayf b. ÝUmar (fl. second/eighth century) recounted
an episode pertaining to financial favors granted by AbÙ Bakr. Al-ZibriqÁn b. Badr
and al-AqraÝ b. ÍÁbis from TamÐm, both already mentioned above, approached AbÙ
Bakr during the ridda wars, as several tribes recanted from Islam after the death of the
Prophet. They requested the caliph to grant them the taxes levied on Bahrain and in
return they pledged that no member the tribe of TamÐm will recant. AbÙ Bakr agreed
to these terms. With ÓalÎÁ b. ÝUbayd AllÁh acting as go-between, he also wrote a
document confirming the grant. He then requested from several companions,
including ÝUmar, to sign as witnesses. When the document was presented to the latter,
he refused to sign and destroyed the document. ÓalÎa returned to AbÙ Bakr and
angrily snapped at him: “Are you the commander (al-amÐr) or is it ÝUmar”? AbÙ Bakr
replied: “ÝUmar is the commander, but I am the one to be obeyed (ghayra anna al-
ÔÁÝata lÐ). ÓalÎa kept silent.55
4.7 The last story deals also with financial benefits or rather a request to “salary
increase”. On the authority of the Medinan NÁfiÝ, Ibn ÝUmar’s freedman, it is related
AbÙ ÝUbayd, id. 370 (688); Ibn AbÐ Shayba, MuÒannaf, VI, 476 (33021).
Al-maslÙl is the term used by MuÝÁwiya. One of the meanings of the root s l l means: to steal
covertly, secretly, clandestinely. See: Lane, Lexicon, s.v. s l l. It seems that MuÝÁwiya is referring to the
deed mentioned in the tradition that was drawn covertly to avoid ÝUmar’s wrath.
FasawÐ, MaÝrifa, III, 373; BayhaqÐ, Sunan, VI, 145.
ÓabarÐ, TÁrÐkh, III, 275. And see:”Al-AqraÝ b. ÍÁbis” EI2 (Kister).

that KhÁlid b. al-WalÐd, YazÐd b. AbÐ SufyÁn and ÝAmr b. al-ÝÀÒ, all three
commanders of the Muslim armies participating in the conquests in Syria, dispatched
a letter to AbÙ Bakr requesting him to increase their stipends. They warned the caliph
that failing to do so will lead them to desert their posts. AbÙ Bakr conferred with
ÝUmar on the subject and the latter was inflexible: they were to receive not one
dirham more! When the caliph asked who will replace them ÝUmar answered that he
will volunteer for the job and ask no remuneration whatsoever. As he was preparing
for his travel to Syria, ÝUthmÁn approached the caliph and counseled him that ÝUmar
presence and advises are a benefit to the Muslims much more than a mere increase of
the allowances. He was of the opinion that AbÙ Bakr should yield to the request of
the three generals, and knowing that ÝUmar will succeed as caliph, he will do
whatever pleases him then. AbÙ Bakr acted according to ÝUthmÁn’s advice. Indeed,
when ÝUmar became caliph, he dispatched a letter to the three generals notifying them
that the increase in their allowances was cancelled out and if they wished to resign
their posts they were free to do so. MuÝÁwiya, who by then had succeeded his brother
YazÐd, and ÝAmr b. al-ÝÀÒ agreed to the reduction while KhÁlid b. al-WalÐd
All the above episodes seem to be different versions of a same frame-story, where
ÝUmar always oppose AbÙ Bakr pertaining to favors granted by the caliph. Only the
people to whom the grants are given vary from one episode to the other. In all these
versions, ÝUmar’s opposition is expressed regardless of the status of the person who
was granted the favor. In ÝUmar’s opinion these favors were forbidden according to
his moral standards.
In the various episodes quoted here, some of the images of the people described as
asking and receiving favors are unreliable, to say the least, while others are flawless.
ÝUyayna b. ÍiÒn from the FazÁra tribe, al-AqraÝ b. ÍÁbis and al-ZibriqÁn b. Badr, both
from TamÐm, requested allocation of estates. All three are described in traditions and
biographies as those who were lured to Islam by bribes that the Prophet used to lavish
on them, earning thus the attribute al-muÞallafa qulÙbuhum.57 ÝUyayna b. ÍiÒn is
pictured in Islamic tradition as a coarse Bedouin and self-confessed munÁfiq, who

AÎmad, FaÃÁÞil, I, 292-293 (384).
Pertaining to the term al-muÞallafa qulÙbuhum mentioned in Q9:60, exegetical traditions name
ÝUyayna and al-AqraÝ among those who were lured to Islam by bribes. ÝAbd al-RazzÁq, TafsÐr, II, 281-
282. See also: Ibn ÝAsÁkir, TÁrÐkh, IX, 192.

freely admitted that his conversion to Islam was a sham.58 The Prophet used to call
him “the fool whose tribe obey him” (al-aÎmaq al-muÔÁÝ fÐ qawmihi),59 and it
therefore comes as no surprise that he was labeled as one of “the fools of the Arabs”
(ÎamqÁ al-Ýarab).60 After the death of MuÎammad he reneged on Islam and led his
tribe to support the false prophet ÓulayÎa al-AsadÐ.61 As for al-AqraÝ b. ÍÁbis, one of
the leaders of TamÐm, he was a judge in the pre-Islamic era, an intriguer who tried to
harm the Prophet.62 Al-ZibriqÁn b. Badr is pictured along similar characteristics.63
When the two leaders of TamÐm approached the caliph with the proposal that he
grants them the taxes of Bahrain in return for the non-participation of their formidable
tribe in the ridda uprising, it seemed to AbÙ Bakr that there is nothing new in this
behavior. He knew that MuÎammad used to “bribe” them for their loyalty to Islam,
and he thought it was best to keep this practice on. But ÝUmar opposed it vehemently
and forced the caliph to reject the proposal he had already accepted. AbÙ Bakr, by
agreeing to the proposal of the two TamÐmites is portrayed as a weak leader who did
not care for the strength of the faith in Islam. Even though he announced that he was
the one to be obeyed, he admitted in fact that it was ÝUmar who decided what was
good for the community.
ÓalÎa b. ÝUbayd AllÁh, who was granted an estate in one episode and acted as go
between for the purpose of granting financial benefits to the two TamÐmite leaders in
another, is a member of the Taym clan of Quraysh, AbÙ Bakr’s clan. Contrary to the
three tribal leaders depicted above, he is one of the first men from his tribe to convert
to Islam, having been won over to the new faith by AbÙ Bakr. Moreover, he is one of
the ten companions who were promised by MuÎammad to enter Paradise (al-Ýashara
al-mubashsharÙn bi-l-Janna).64 And yet, ÓalÎa is known also to be one the most
famous cunning intriguers of Quraysh (min duhÁt Quraysh).65 As such, he did not
refrain from being implicated in dubious dealings as depicted in the episodes above,
despite being a long time revered companion of MuÎammad. ÝUmar’s image as

Ibn Qutayba, ÝUyÙn, III, 73.
DhahabÐ, Siyar, II, 167.
Ibn ÍabÐb, MuÎabbar, 380.
Ibn SaÝd, ÓabaqÁt/al-Ôabaqa al-rÁbiÝa min al-ÒaÎÁba, II, 556-562. See also: Kister, “Ridda verses”.
ÝAsqalÁnÐ, IÒÁba, I, 101-103 (231). And see: ”Al-AqraÝ b. ÍÁbis” EI2 (Kister).
ÝAsqalÁnÐ, id, II 550 (2784).
ÝAsqalÁnÐ, IÒÁba, III, 529 (4270).
Íanbal b. IsÎÁq, Fitan, 215 (17).

opposing ÓalÎa’s endeavors was elaborated on moral grounds, lest it looks like
nepotism, where AbÙ Bakr is lavishing favors on a family member.
As for the case where AbÙ Bakr secretly, almost deviously, allocated an estate to al-
Zubayr, it should be noted that the latter was the Prophet’s cousin, the son of his aunt
Ñafiyya bint ÝAbd al-MuÔÔalib. Al-Zubayr, an early convert to Islam, is also the
stepson of AbÙ Bakr, having married the caliph’s daughter AsmÁÞ (d. 70 AH), a most
revered lady in Islam.66 In the episode mentioned above, it was clear that AbÙ Bakr
was worried of ÝUmar’s reaction if he knew that the caliph was granting a favor to his
stepson. He preferred to conceal the deed of allocation, and only when ÝUmar was out
of sight he conspired with MuÝÁwiya to complete its redaction. This episode
highlights ÝUmar’s integrity and moral superiority to AbÙ Bakr. MuÝÁwiya’s
participation in the deception and his admission later on that he was the one who
wrote that concealed deed reflects poorly on his image. The fact that this episode was
reported on the authority of ÝUrwa, al-Zubayr’s son and AbÙ Bakr grandson, was
probably intended to lend more credibility to the story.
The last story pertaining to the “salary increase” of the three commanding officers of
the Syrian army reflects also ÝUmar’s moral superiority both to AbÙ Bakr, his
predecessor, and ÝUthmÁn, his successor. ÝUmar opposed the generals’ demand to
increase their stipend and rejected their treat to abandon their posts. He was willing to
transfer to Syria and lead the army without asking for remuneration whatsoever. He
was of the opinion that this demand was immoral and should not be met. ÝUthmÁn,
however, was of the opinion that it was a small concession as opposed to the huge
benefit the Muslim community would earn by leaving ÝUmar near the caliph as a most
trusted counselor. The caliph accepted ÝUthmÁn’s advice and yielded. But ÝUmar is no
caliph to trifle with, nor is he a man to forget. When he was made caliph, he cancelled
his predecessor’s decision and restored the situation to its previous condition. We are
made to recognize that ÝUmar integrity and morals are above everything else.
In all the stories reported above ÝUmar’s personal and moral superiority to AbÙ Bakr
is evident. He cancelled his predecessor’s decisions during his lifetime and after his
death. He was of the opinion that these decisions were privileging unlawfully some

She was nicknamed by MuÎammad DhÁt al-niÔÁqayn, she of the two girdles, because she cut her
girdle in two and used it to supply her father and the Prophet with food and water while their were
preparing to go on the hijra trek. See: ÝAsqalÁnÐ, IÒÁba, VIII, 486.

specific people to the detriment of the whole Muslim community. When AbÙ Bakr
was asked time and again who the real caliph is he replied that ÝUmar’s decisions
were the ones that prevailed. This evidently reflects some later scholars’ views that
ÝUmar behaved as the caliph even during his predecessor’s life. Moreover, AbÙ Bakr
acknowledgement that he was compelled to access the throne and that ÝUmar could
have been caliph had he only wished so, strengthen this view. ÝUmar’s moral position
was determined to be an ideal for later Muslim rulers as can be seen by the integration
of some of the above traditions in the chapters dealing Muslim laws pertaining to
allocation of estates.67
Yet, this same ideal did not become a law into itself. It is interesting to note an early
scholar’s attitude towards this issue because it reflects the first two caliphs’ images at
that time. AbÙ ÝUbayd, al-QÁsim b. SallÁm commented that he does not know on what
legal grounds ÝUmar relied when he decisively opposed the allocations of estates
granted by his predecessor. He presumed that ÝUmar simply held a personal view
against this norm at the time of AbÙ Bakr’s caliphate. He argued that when ÝUmar
became caliph he changed his mind and allocated estates to several people. AbÙ
ÝUbayd was of the opinion that a leader might have a certain belief and after a time he
would find that the opposite belief is better and abides by it. AbÙ ÝUbayd found that a
change of opinion as such was common amongst scholars past and present.68 His
deliberation on this topic stemmed from the many traditions he quotes, according to
which the Prophet himself allocated an estate to his cousin al-Zubayr b. al-ÝAwwÁn.69
If it is so, how could ÝUmar oppose AbÙ bakr and blame him for doing what the
Prophet had done before him? AbÙ ÝUbayd mentions relating that the Prophet
allocated an estate to TamÐm al-DÁrÐ, and when ÝUmar became caliph he confirmed
the allocation with the stipulation that the estate would not be sold. Al-Layth b. SaÝd
(d. 175/792) confirmed that this estate was still the property of TamÐm’s descendants
in his days.70 Different traditions that based AbÙ ÝUbayd’s argumentation related that
ÝUmar himself allocated estates to several people in his capacity as caliph.71 In
conclusion, it is to be presumed that AbÙ ÝUbayd did not believe that ÝUmar’s position
on this topic had any moral justification. Had he believed so, he would have admitted

See for instance: AbÙ ÝUbayd, AmwÁl, 370 (688, 689).
AbÙ ÝUbayd, id, 375.
AbÙ ÝUbayd, id, 367-369 (677-687)
AbÙ ÝUbayd, id, 368-369 (683-685). On TamÐm al-DÁrÐ’s estate, see: “TamÐm al-DÁrД, EI2 (Lecker).
AbÙ ÝUbayd, id, 370-371 (690-691).

ÝUmar’s superiority to his predecessor. By this scholar’s times, at the end of the
second and the beginning of the third Hijra century, the consensus pertaining to the
AbÙ Bakr’s superiority to all the caliphs after him was finally crystallized. This
means that for AbÙ ÝUbayd and his generation ÝUmar could have no supremacy over
AbÙ Bakr.
However, ÝUmar superiority is reflected in different manners that those mentioned
above. In a contest of mutual praises the two men supposedly held, JÁbir b. ÝAbd
AllÁh relates that ÝUmar praised his fellow companion saying to him: “you are the
best of people” (khayr al-nÁs) , or, “the best man after the Messenger of God”. AbÙ
Bakr replied: “If that what you say, then I have heard the Prophet saying: the sun did
not rise on a man better than ÝUmar (mÁ ÔalaÝat al-shamsu ÝalÁ khayrin min ÝUmara).72
While ÝUmar praise AbÙ Bakr using his own words, placing him second to the
Prophet, AbÙ Bakr choose MuÎammad’s wording. There is no doubt left who the
better man is: ÝUmar is the best man on the face of the earth. Though this tradition is
quoted in one of the canonical compilations of Islamic traditions,73 still scholars
doubted its authenticity,74 precisely because it reflected an obvious superiority of
ÝUmar to AbÙ Bakr.
5. The ShÐÝite
ShÐÝite tradition: the issue of Fadak
It should come as no surprise that the ShÐÝite scholars were well informed regarding
the pattern according to which, first AbÙ Bakr allocates an estate to someone and
writes a deed confirming this, and then comes ÝUmar, opposes the caliph’s wish and
destroys the deed. This same pattern recurs in a ShÐÝite tradition that describes a
conflict over the ownership of Fadak between MuÎammad’s daughter, FÁÔima, on one
side and AbÙ Bakr and ÝUmar on the other side. Fadak was a village-oasis located
north of Medina, inhabited by the Jews and when MuÎammad raided Khaybar he took
it as his fayÞ (part of the booty).75 There are many traditions in the sources, ShÐÝite and
Sunnite alike, pertaining to the conflict that opposed FÁÔima to MuÎammad’s
successor over this issue. The version relevant to our discussion relates that after the
death of the Prophet FÁÔima claimed that her father allocated to her the oasis of Fadak
as her inheritance. She approached her father’s successor AbÙ Bakr and requested to
be given the estate as her father wished. AbÙ Bakr refused asserting that the Prophet

Ibn AbÐ ÝÀÒim, Sunna, II, 851-852 (1309); BazzÁr, Musnad, I, 159 (81).
TirmidhÐ, Sunan, X, 171 (3767)/42 (manÁqib):2, 4.
Ibn al-JawzÐ, ÝIlal, I, 195. See also: Ibn ÝAdÐ, KÁmil, IV, 1556-1557.
On this issue, see: “Fadak”, EI2 (Veccia Vaglieri).

claimed that all prophets, himself included, do not leave heritance and after they die
all their property is left for alms.76 When FÁÔima realized that the caliph was
unwilling to grant her Fadak as her father willed, she faced him in the mosque
of Medina and held a heated debate with him in front of the MuhÁjirÙn and the AsnÒÁr
assembled there. Even though she summoned several witnesses to sustain her claim,
AbÙ Bakr refused to yield. All the while, ÝUmar was standing beside AbÙ Bakr
supporting him and inciting him not to concede. ÝAlÐ advised his wife that she should
approach AbÙ Bakr without ÝUmar’s presence. ÝAlÐ argued that the former was known
to be soft and lenient while the latter was intransigent and unflinching. And so she
did. She convinced AbÙ Bakr to allocate her Fadak and to write a deed in her name to
confirm the allocation. On her way back home with the deed in her hand, she met
ÝUmar who questioned her about the document. She informed him about the
agreement she reached with the caliph. ÝUmar demanded to see the deed but she
refused to hand it over to him. He kicked her ferociously in her belly and slapped her
so hard that her earring was thrown to the ground, and then he grabbed the deed and
tore it to pieces. As a result of her injuries she aborted the infant she was carrying in
her womb and died barely seventy days later.77
In a detailed version of this story, the ShÐÝite report added that when ÝUmar’s behavior
towards the daughter of the Prophet became known, a huge outcry was heard amongst
the companions of MuÎammad. AbÙ Bakr was filled with anger and cursed ÝUmar
vehemently. ÝUmar claimed that what he did was intended to strengthen AbÙ Bakr’s
authority. He argued that giving FÁÔima the deed was an act of surrender and a caliph
should refrain from doing so. He advised the caliph to abide by God’s
commandments and continue his merciful behavior towards the believers. He claimed
that the whole affair will soon be forgotten. AbÙ Bakr took ÝUmar’s advice and
thanked him for his cleverness, his tenacity and his ability to manage in times of

An interesting Medinan isnÁd of this tradition, quoted in Sunni sources, is relevant to the issue at
hand: ZuhrÐ (d. 135 AH)  MÁlik b. Aws (d. 92 AH)  ÝUmar  AbÙ Bakr  the Prophet. See: Ibn
QÁniÝ, MuÝjam, II, 62. According to this isnÁd, the second caliph quotes his predecessor who quotes
MuÎammad. It seems that this isnÁd was specially fashioned after the Fadak conflict. Yet, this isnÁd is
very problematic as can be proven by the early scholars’ lengthy discussions about it quoted by Ibn
Íajr al-ÝAsqlÁnÐ. See: ÝAsqlÁnÐ, FatÎ, VI, 328-329 in the discussion pertaining to BukhÁrÐ’s tradition 52
(farà al-khums):1, 2.
Al-MufÐd, IkhtiÒÁÒ, 183-185.
Ibn Rustum al-ÓabarÐ, DalÁÞil, 33-40.

As in the SunnÐ traditions, this ShÐÝite tradition also describes the ruthless ÝUmar as
opposed to the lenient AbÙ Bakr. Here also, ÝUmar destroyed a deed even when it was
given to the daughter of MuÎammad, canceling thus a caliphal decision. It seems as if
ÝUmar held the authority to do as he pleases in matters like these. However, while
ÝUmar’s inflexibility and harshness are viewed in the SunnÐ traditions quoted above as
his greatest virtue intended to strengthen Islam, in the ShÐÝite reports these same
characteristics are nothing but a reflection of his cruelty and injustice that branded
him with shame. In the ShÐÝite opinion AbÙ Bakr was far better that ÝUmar and more
understanding.79 He gave FÁÔima Fadak as her father willed, while ÝUmar
dispossessed one of the most revered women of Islam of what rightly belonged to her
and ultimately caused her death.
6. The rehabilitation of AbÙ Bakr’s image
In light of what was perceived as a clear superiority of ÝUmar to AbÙ Bakr as
reflected in the traditions quoted above, and in order to legitimize AbÙ Bakr’s
succession to MuÎammad, scholars circulated, at a later period, traditions
rehabilitating the first caliph’s image to the detriment of that of his successor. In these
traditions the two caliphs were opposed and the supremacy of AbÙ Bakr was
uncontested. It seems that in the collective Muslim mind the fact that AbÙ Bakr
succeeded MuÎammad to lead the community has but one meaning: he is supposed to
be and is in fact the most suited for the job.
Three categories of traditions can be perceived in the sources regarding this issue. In
one, ÝUmar himself declares unequivocally that he will punish whoever dares to claim
that he, ÝUmar, is superior to AbÙ Bakr; the second category includes the different
versions of the tradition pertaining to the episode according to which AbÙ Bakr
officiated as leader of the prayer (imam) during the Prophet’s illness; the third
category comprises traditions having to do with AbÙ Bakr’s appointing ÝUmar as his
successor. All these traditions were circulated, so it seems, to “prove” that AbÙ Bakr
is far more superior ÝUmar.

It should be mentioned here that the ShÐÝite tradition views AbÙ Bakr rather favorably, because he is
the forefather of JaÝfar al-ÑÁdiq, the sixth ImÁm in Twelver ShÐÝism: JaÝfar’s mother, Umm Farwa, is
the daughter of AbÙ Bakr’s grandson al-QÁsim b. MuÎammad. The mother of Umm Farwa is AsmÁÞ
bint ÝAbd al-RaÎmÁn b. AbÙ Bakr, i.e., AbÙ Bakr’s grandaughter. Because of these matrilineal ties to
the first caliph, JaÝfar al-ÑÁdiq used to say that “AbÙ Bakr begot me twice” (waladanÐ marratayn). See:
JazÁÞrÐ, AnwÁr, I, 60. For the nasab of JaÝfar on his mother’s side, see: ÝAsqalÁnÐ, TahdhÐb, s.v. JaÝfar b.
MuÎammad b. ÝAlÐ.

6.1 Punishment for preferring ÝUmar

A short tradition, circulated on the authority of the KÙfan ÝÀmir al-ShaÝbÐ relates that
ÝUmar, in his capacity as caliph wrote to all his governors: “Inflict whipping on
whoever prefers me over AbÙ Bakr in punishment for spreading lies (Îadd al-
muftarÐ); or: “Inflict forty lashes on whoever etc…”80 On the authority of the KÙfan
ÝAbd al-RaÎmÁn b. AbÐ LaylÁ (d. 82/702) it was transmitted that ÝUmar said in a
sermon: “In this Umma the best man after the Prophet is AbÙ Bakr. Whoever claims
differently after hearing my words will be given the punishment inflicted on those
who spread lies”.81 The same Ibn AbÐ LaylÁ also reported that two men held a debate
over the superiority issue: one of them from ÝUÔÁrid, a sub tribe from TamÐm, held the
view that ÝUmar was superior while his opponent, one al-JÁrÙd, favored AbÙ Bakr.
The debate came to the knowledge of ÝUmar. He severely hit the man from ÝUÔÁrid
and said that AbÙ Bakr was the best man after the Prophet. He added that whoever
claims different would be given the punishment inflicted upon those who spread
lies.82 Likewise, the KÙfan IbrÁhÐm al-NakhaÝÐ (d. 90/709) reported that a man
approached ÝUmar and praise him saying that he have not seen a man better that him.
ÝUmar retorted: “have you seen AbÙ Bakr”? The man replied negatively. ÝUmar
snapped at him that if he had replied positively he would have whipped him.83
Similarly, HishÁm b. ÝUrwa (d. 147/765) transmits on the authority of his Father
ÝUrwa b. al-Zubayr a tradition with a mixed KÙfan-Medinan isnÁd. It seems that two
men approached ÝUmar and told him that they saw no caliph better than him. ÝUmar
asked: “how can you say a thing like that when you have seen AbÙ Bakr”?84 Finally it
is reported that as ÝUmar was on his way to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca he heard
a man riding a camel reciting:
Ibn al-KhaÔÔÁb, we never had a leader like you
One who honors the farthest and the closest
After the Prophet [who brought] the Book.
Hearing this, ÝUmar stabbed the man with his stick and said to him: “where is AbÙ

BalÁdhurÐ, AnsÁb, X, 82.
AÎmad, FaÃÁÞil, I, 182 (189).
AÎmad, id, I, 300 (396).
AÎmad, ibid, I, 144 (122).
AÎmad, ibid, I, 144 (121).
ÓabarÐ, TÁrÐkh, IV, 220.

Note should be taken that all these traditions infer an awareness among scholars of a
tendency of certain groups to prefer ÝUmar over his predecessor. Owing to the
overwhelming majority of the KÙfan isnÁds of these traditions which reject ÝUmar’s
superiority, it seems that scholars in KÙfa strived to contain this tendency and to
block it by having ÝUmar himself threatening those who spread the falsehood of his
superiority to his predecessor. This was one of the methods adopted to rehabilitate
AbÙ Bakr image.
6.2 ÝUmar pays tribute to AbÙ Bakr: the Ridda wars
This same method is adopted in a long a detailed unique tradition in which ÝUmar
mentions two virtues of his predecessor that were enough in his opinion to “prove”
AbÙ Bakr’s superiority. This tradition was preserved only in a multi-volume
compilation, JÁmiÝ al-masÁnÐd, by a later scholar, Ibn KathÐr (d. 771/1370), who
quotes from a lost work of AbÙ Bakr al-IsmÁÝÐlÐ (d. 371/982).86 MaymÙn b. MihrÁn
(JazÐra, d. 116/735) relates on the authority of Ibn ÝUmar that AbÙ MÙsÁ al-AshÝarÐ,
ÝUmar’s governor of Iraq, used to start his Friday sermon by praising God and
blessing the Prophet. Immediately after that he would pay tribute to ÝUmar ignoring
totally AbÙ Bakr and not mentioning even his name. A man named Âabba b. MiÎÒan
approached the governor and scorned him because this omission and for not
mentioning that AbÙ Bakr preceded ÝUmar and was superior to him. When Âabba
started harassing AbÙ MÙsÁ about this matter over and again, the latter dispatched a
letter to ÝUmar complaining about the unbecoming behavior of the man. ÝUmar
summoned Âabba to Medina and reprimanded him harshly, accusing him of
provoking disputes within the community. Âabba did not apologize, rather, he calmly
complained about the governor’s omission of AbÙ Bakr in his Friday sermon. ÝUmar,
who did not know about the affair, started crying loudly, apologized sincerely and
begged Âabba for his forgiveness. The man accepted the apology of the caliph and
then ÝUmar exclaimed: “indeed, one day or one night of AbÙ Bakr are far better that
ÝUmar and his whole clan from the day they were born” (la-yawn aw layla min AbÐ
Bakr khayr min ÝUmar wa Ál ÝUmar min ladun wulidÙ). ÝUmar was alluding to a
specific day and a specific night in AbÙ Bakr’s life.

Ibn KathÐr, Musnad al-FÁrÙq, II, 672-673.

As for the night in question, which has already been discussed in modern research,87
ÝUmar related the Prophet’s hijra trek from Mecca to Medina accompanied by AbÙ
Bakr. He pointed out to the great physical and moral support AbÙ Bakr gave the
Prophet that night in the cave (al-ghÁr) when the pursuers from Quraysh almost
reached them. As far as ÝUmar was concerned this specific incident is enough to
“prove” AbÙ Bakr’s superiority to him.
As for the day, ÝUmar recalled the incidents that took place after the Prophet’s death
and the abjuration of several tribes that renounced Islam (ridda). When these tribes
proposed a solution according to which they would perform the prayer but not give
alms, ÝUmar approached AbÙ Bakr and tried to reason with him. He counseled him to
lure the rebels to Islam by bribes and to treat them with clemency (taÞallaf al-nas wa-
rfaq bihim) as if they were savage beasts. AbÙ Bakr snapped harshly at him saying: “I
had hoped for your support but you came to me with your defeatism. (You were) a
tyrant in the JÁhiliyya and (became) a coward in Islam (jabbÁr fÐ al-JÁhiliyya
khawwÁr fÐ al-IslÁm). With what can I hope to lure them? (Shall I resort to) fake
poetry or false magic? Never! The Prophet has passed away and the revelation has
stopped. By God I swear, if they refuse me even one ÝiqÁl88 I shall wage against them
a holy war (la-ujÁhidannahum) as long as I can hold a sword in my arm”. ÝUmar went
on relating that it became soon evident that AbÙ Bakr was sharper and more resolute
than he was. ÝUmar was of the opinion that the policy adopted by the caliph taught a
lesson to the people, which made it easier for him to rule when he succeeded to the
This tradition begins with a conflict between AbÙ MÙsÁ al-AshÝarÐ and Âabba b.
MiÎÒan. While the former ignores AbÙ Bakr completely the latter calls publicly for
the recognition of the first caliph superiority to the second caliph. These men
represent in fact the two factions engaged in the later conflict pertaining to the
afÃaliyya between the first two caliphs. Other versions of this story either omit
mentioning the conflict between AbÙ MÙsÁ and Âabba89 or claim that it was Âabba
himself who preferred ÝUmar over AbÙ Bakr, probably in an attempt to shift the

See: Rubin, “MuÎammad’s hijra”, pp. 46-49.
This term has several meanings: a rope to bind a camel or a poor-rate of a year. For this expression,
see: Lane, Lexicon, s.v. Ý q l.
MuttaqÐ, Kanz, VI, 527 (16838) (quotes from al-IsmÁÝÐlÐ).

blame from a companion as important as AbÙ MÙsÁ.90 Be as it may, all the versions
call ÝUmar himself to serve as the judge between the two factions and he was the one
who used these two episodes from the life of AbÙ Bakr in order to rule that his
predecessor was superior to him. These episodes reflect an image of AbÙ Bakr as an
unflinching ruler who will do whatever a leader had to do to preserve the unity and
the faith of the Muslim community. With the Prophet passed away and the revelation
brought to an end, it was AbÙ Bakr duty to serve as the ruler. This underlines the
concept that that the community was no longer ruled by the divine Grace accorded to
MuÎammad, but by the sole understanding of a human ruler, who may err or not. This
ruler did not pay heed to the counsels of his close advisor to treat the rebels with
kindness and clemency. When he rhetorically asked ÝUmar: “With what can I hope to
lure them? (Shall I resort to) fake poetry or false magic?” AbÙ Bakr was hinting that
he will not abide by the pre-Islamic customs where conflicts could be solved by
resorting to poetry and magic used by the jÁhilÐ kÁhin. He would not consider the
taÞlÐf al-qulÙb to lure the renegades to Islam by bribes. AbÙ Bakr ruled that these
customs were no longer necessary and could not be applied under his rule. The
Muslims had to perform all the commandments without exception. Omitting one
meant discarding them all.91 Therefore it was his duty to curb the renegades and make
them perform all commandments by force.
As for ÝUmar, the ridda episode illustrated his weakness and his lack of leadership.
AbÙ Bakr lashes him verbally [(You were) a tyrant in the JÁhiliyya and (became) a
coward in Islam], calling him a coward and reminding him that before he converted
he used to ill-treat the Prophet and the early Muslims. ÝUmar counseled that the
renegades should be treated gently instead of supporting the caliph’s harsh policy
towards them. ÝUmar’s counsel would have displayed Islam and its ruler as weak and
worn out. ÝUmar’s closing statement leads us to believe that he learned an important
lesson from his predecessor’s leadership, a lesson that served him well when he
became caliph.
This tradition reflects an opposite concept to the one discussed above, according to
which ÝUmar is the real leader far superior morally to AbÙ Bakr. Here the ideal
leader, the one with a vision and a moral standing is AbÙ Bakr. ÝUmar is a mere

BayhaqÐ, DalÁÞil, II, 476-477; SuyÙÔÐ, Durr, III, 241; MuttaqÐ, Kanz, XII, 494 (35615). For a censured
version where AbÙ Bakr doesn’t accuse ÝUmar of being “a tyrant in the JÁhiliyya and a coward in
Islam”, see: DÐnawarÐ, MujÁlasa, V, 380-383 (2238); Ibn ÝAsÁkir, TÁrÐkh, XXX, 79-81.
The KhawÁrij used to praise AbÙ Bakr for this perception. See, Mubarrad, KÁmil, III, 168.

counselor deprived of the vision of a leader. By opposing the two men thus, the
tradition restores the fist caliph’s image to it highest status.
6.3 ÝUmar’s humbleness
Another method of rehabilitating AbÙ Bakr’s image is to have ÝUmar humbling
himself compared to him. Thus, in a tradition circulated on the authority of AbÙ
ÝUmarÁn al-JawnÐ (d. 123-128/741-746) ÝUmar is supposed to have said: “I wish I
were but one hair on AbÙ Bakr’s chest” (laytanÐ, or, wadidtu annÐ shaÝra fÐ Òadr AbÐ
In another unique tradition ÝUmar is made to say that when the Prophet spoke with he
was between them like a Negro (wa kuntu baynahumÁ ka-al-zanjÐ) who understands
nothing. 93
ZanjÐ refers to a dark-skinned person. ÝUmar represents himself as an ignorant
stranger of a different skin color in comparison to the Prophet and AbÙ Bakr. This
tradition is considered falsified probably because it humiliates ÝUmar and because
Islam is not supposed to differ between people of dissimilar races and colors.94
However, the intention of the scholars who circulated it is quite obvious: to enhance
the superiority of AbÙ Bakr to ÝUmar.
6.4 AbÙ Bakr and ÝUmar compete
Several traditions describe accounts where AbÙ Bakr and ÝUmar compete in various
fields. In all the accounts AbÙ Bakr emerges victorious and ÝUmar concedes that his
competitor is superior to hum and claims that he will not compete with him again.
The following tradition was circulated in order to bring to an end, so it seems the
afÃaliyya conflict between the two first caliphs. ÝUmar recalled that the Prophet
MuÎammad ordered the Muslims to give charity and at that time he had some money
to give away. He said to himself that this was an occasion where he could finally
precede AbÙ Bakr in a competition, if ever. He brought half his wealth to the Prophet
and the latter asked him what did he left for his family. ÝUmar stated that he had left
the same amount for them. As opposed to him, AbÙ Bakr brought his whole wealth,
and when the Prophet asked him the same question AbÙ Bakr answered that he left
his family to the care of God and His Prophet. Upon hearing this statement ÝUmar
exclaimed: “By God, I will never compete with you again in any matter” (lÁ

Ibn ÝAbd al-Barr, IstÐÝÁb, III, 1150; Ibn ÝAsÁkir, TÁrÐkh, XXX, 343; BayhaqÐ, MaÎÁsin, I, 32.
Ibn Taymiyya, AÎÁdÐth al-QuÒÒÁÒ, 53 (16).
FatanÐ, Tadhkira, 93.

usÁbiquka ilÁ shayÞin abadan). This widely circulated tradition attributed to ÝUmar is
transmitted both on the authority of Aslam, his freedman,95 and on the authority of his
son ÝAbd AllÁh b. ÝUmar,96 seemingly to validate its reliability.
While ÝUmar donated half his wealth to charity and kept the other half to his family,
AbÙ Bakr donated all his wealth and trusted God and the Prophet to provide for his
family if the need comes. His donation is far superior to that of ÝUmar, and scholars
describe his deed as a unique virtue that nobody shares with him.97
A different version of this tradition focuses not only on the importance of donating to
charity but even more on donating it in secrecy. The famous ascetic al-Íasan al-BaÒrÐ
(d. 110/729) recounts that AbÙ Bakr brought his donation to the Prophet in secrecy
(akhfÁhÁ) and commented that he considered it to be a good deed he owes God in
Paradise (li-LlÁhi ÝindÐ MaÝÁd). ÝUmar on the other hand brought his donation publicly
(aÛharahÁ) for all to see and commented that he considered it to be a good deed that
God owes him in Paradise (lÐ Ýinda-LlÁhi maÝÁd). The Prophet scorned ÝUmar saying:
“Your intent behind the good deed did not match the deed itself,98 the difference
between your donations was like the difference between your comments”.99
Obviously, this version was circulated to extol all these virtues of AbÙ Bakr that
make him so superior to ÝUmar: AbÙ Bakr is unpretentious and his donation is offered
in secrecy while ÝUmar is arrogant and his donation is offered for all to see. AbÙ Bakr
can only hope that his donation may earn him a reward in Paradise while ÝUmar
considers that his donation must surely induce God to reward him in the after-life.
The Prophet’s attitude towards the two men and their offerings is also meaningful: he
scorns ÝUmar for his haughty behavior and for his comment regarding the reward he
expect in Paradise while he clearly prefers AbÙ Bakr’s humble behavior and
unassuming comment.
It is only natural that a different version of the above mentioned episode found its
way to quranic exegesis pertaining to verse Q2:271 that states: “If you publish your

ÝAbd b. Íumayd, Musnad, 33 (14); AbÙ DÁwÙd, Sunan, V, 94-95/3 (ZakÁt), 2, 40; TirmidhÐ, Sunan,
X, 161/42 (ManÁqib), 2, 60; DÁrimÐ, Sunan, I, 420/ 3 (ZakÁt), 26; Ibn AbÐ ÝÀÒim, Sunna, II, 832; AbÙ
NuÝaym, Íilya, I, 32 (the isnÁd here should be corrected from Zayd b. Arkam to Zayd b. Aslam).
BazzÁr, Musnad, I, 263 (159); AbÙ NuÝaym, Íilya, I, 32.
Ibn ShÁhÐn, MadhÁhib, 157-158 (112).
Literally MuÎammad said to ÝUmar:”Youbraced a wrong string for your bow” (watarta qawsaka bi-
ghayri watarin).
AbÙ NuÝaym, Íilya, I, 32; Ibn KhallikÁn, WafayÁt, III, 69. Note should be taken that Ibn ÝAsÁkir
quoted a version of this story that switched between the comments of AbÙ Bakr and ÝUmar, which
missed the point of the whole tradition. It seems that Ibn ÝAsÁkir or one of the copyists of the
manuscript misunderstood the meaning of these comments. See: Ibn ÝAsÁkir, TÁrÐkh, XXX, 66.

freewill offerings, it is excellent; but if you conceal them and give them to the poor
that is better for you and will acquit you of you evil deeds; God is aware of the things
you do”. It seems that this episode symbolizes the wording of this verse. The famous
KÙfan scholar ÝÀmir al-ShaÝbÐ (d. 103-110/722-729) relates that this verse was
revealed pertaining to AbÙ Bakr and ÝUmar. The latter offered to the Prophet half his
wealth for alms (version: for all to see, ÝalÁ ruÞÙsi al-nÁsi) and kept the other half for
his family. AbÙ Bakr offered all his wealth concealing it almost from himself (yakÁdu
an yakhfiyahu min nafsihi). When asked by MuÎammad what did he leave for his
family he replied that he left them to the care of God and his Prophet. Upon hearing
this ÝUmar exclaimed: Every time we strive to compete with you for good deeds you
always precede us”.100
It seems that by linking the story to the verse revelation as asbÁb al-nuzÙl the scholars
who circulated that tradition strived to adorn AbÙ Bakr’s behavior and superiority to
ÝUmar with God’s approbation.
Another tradition of many versions relates a different competition between the two
men. This tradition was circulated mainly to legitimize Ibn MasÝÙd’s version of the
QurÞÁn, which was a much disputed among scholars in early Islam.101 By the way, the
same tradition was used to promote AbÙ Bakr in the competition with ÝUmar. Qays b.
MarwÁn al-JuÝfÐ, who is recognized solely as the authority this tradition,102 relates that
he approached the caliph ÝUmar and told him that there was a man in KÙfa who used
to dictate the text of the QurÞÁn by heart (yumlÐ al-maÒÁÎifa Ýan Ûahri qalbin). ÝUmar
was outraged and asked for the man’s identity. He was answered that it was ÝAbd
AllÁh b. MasÝÙd. ÝUmar calmed down and commented that Ibn MasÝÙd was the only
companion left alive who is suitable to do so. ÝUmar then related that the Prophet
used to spend many nights with AbÙ Bakr consulting him on matters pertaining to the
Muslim community. ÝUmar himself would be present also. One night the three of
them went to the mosque and saw Ibn MasÝÙd praying. MuÎammad listened for some
time while Ibn MasÝÙd read the QurÞÁn. When the prayer ended the Prophet stated that
Ibn MasÝÙd’s reading was identical to the reading with which the QurÞÁn was
revealed. Then Ibn MasÝÙd started imploring God and MuÎammad commented that
everything he wished for will be fulfilled. Later, ÝUmar rushed to Ibn MasÝÙd to bring

Ibn AbÐ ÍÁtim, TafsÐr, II, 536 (2848). For a slightly different version, see: Ibn ÝAsÁkir, TÁrÐkh,
XXX, 64-65 (quoting from AbÙ Bakr AÎmad b. MÙsÁ b. Mardawayhi’s [d. 410/1020] exegesis).
See: Ibn AbÐ ÍÁtim, MaÒÁÎif, 20-24.
See: ÝAsqalÁnÐ, IÒÁba, V, 537.

him the good tidings conveyed in the Prophet’s comment, but he found that AbÙ Bakr
had already preceded him. And ÝUmar affirmed that every time he competed with
AbÙ Bakr for a good deed he found that the latter had preceded him.103
This concept was also expressed in a tradition circulated with an unusual IraqÐ isnÁÃ
where the Prophet transmitted on the authority of ÝUmar the praise of AbÙ Bakr:
MubÁrak b. FaÃÁla (Basran, d. 165/782)  ThÁbit al-BunÁnÐ (Basran, d.127/745) 
Ibn AbÐ LaylÁ (KÙfan, d. 82/702)  ÝAbd al-RaÎmÁn b. AbÐ Bakr  the Prophet
MuÎammad  ÝUmar. The Prophet recounted that ÝUmar revealed to him (ÎaddathanÐ
ÝUmaru) that every time he competed with AbÙ Bakr for a good deed he found that
AbÙ Bakr had already preceded him.104
All these reports reflect the later scholars’ predilection for AbÙ Bakr superiority to
ÝUmar in the afÃaliyya dispute. It is ÝUmar himself who is made to admit in several
occasions that he will not compete with AbÙ Bakr any more because he came to
realize that his predecessor was superior to him. The last report where this admission
is expressed by MuÎammad leaves no doubt as to the outcome of such a competition.
Thus, here also AbÙ Bakr image is rehabilitated.
6.5 AbÙ Bakr’s superiority decreed in Heavens and on earth.
The first two caliphs’ image is confronted again in several versions of a tradition
pertaining to Prophet’s dying wish to appoint AbÙ Bakr to lead the prayer as imÁm as
his substitute because he himself was unable to do so. These versions can be
classified in two categories. According to the first, ÝUmar was chosen to fill in for the
Prophet without the latter’s knowledge; however as soon as this was made known to
MuÎammad, he objected vehemently and demanded resolutely that AbÙ Bakr serves
as imÁm. According to the second category, ÝUmar was proposed for the job but
MuÎammad refused and commanded to appoint AbÙ Bakr for the job.
ÝUbayd AllÁh b. ÝAbd AllÁh b. ÝUtba (d. 99/718) related on the authority of ÝÀÞisha
that when the prophet was on his deathbed in the house of his wife MaymÙna, he
ordered his chamberlain ÝAbd AllÁh b. ZamÝa105 to convene the people for prayer
(since he was unable to do so as he used to). Ibn ZamÝa met ÝUmar and asked him to
lead the prayer. ÝUmar started the rituals, and because he had a loud voice (jahÐr) the
Prophet heard him. He asked if it was ÝUmar indeed who was leading the prayer and

AÎmad, Musnad, I, 26. For other versions, see also: AÎmad, id, I, 38, 445-446, 454.
KhaÔÐb, TÁrÐkh, V, 76-77.
About him, see: ÝAsqalÁnÐ, IÒÁba, IV, 95-96 (4687).

when he was answered in the affirmative, he exclaimed: “God Almighty and the
believers refuse that! Order AbÙ Bakr to lead the prayer” (yaÞbÁ LlÁhu Ýazza wa jalla
dhÁlika wa-l-muÞminuna, murÙ AbÁ Bakrin fa-l-yuÒalli bi-n-nÁsi). ÝÀÞisha objected
that her father was a fragile man (raqÐq) who cannot avoid crying and when he will
start reading the QurÞÁn he will surely weep. Later ÝÀÞisha commented that she
described her father thus because she feared people would regard her father as an evil
oment (yatashÁÞm al-nÁÒ) as he was the first to fill in for the Prophet (and not because
she believed that her father was unfit for the job). The Prophet overrode her and
reiterated his commend. She tried once more to convince him but he was adamant and
said to her viciously: “You are like the women of Joseph” (ÒawÁÎib YÙsuf).106
In this version, the Prophet had no previous knowledge that ÝUmar was filling in for
him as the imÁm of the prayer. ÝUmar did the job because he was asked by Ibn ZamÝa,
MuÎammad’s chamberlain. But as soon as the Prophet heard his loud voice he stated
that neither God nor the believers consented and he demanded to appoint AbÙ Bakr as
imÁm. In other words, according the MuÎammad in his capacity as a prophet, the
status of AbÙ Bakr as his substitute was ordained by God and by the believers. (The
issue of “the women of Joseph” will be discussed below).
A different version is circulated on the authority of Al-QÁsim b. MuÎammad b. AbÐ
Bakr (d. 112/731) who relates an episode transmitted to him by his aunt ÝÀÞisha. Al-
QÁsim107 grew up in the house of his aunt after the murder of his father MuÎammad
b. AbÐ Bakr108 and is considered as a reliable informant on her authority. ÝÀÞisha
recalled that when the Prophet was on his deathbed, he was asked for his permission
to perform the prayer even though he could not attend it. The Prophet agreed and
ordered to appoint AbÙ Bakr to fill in for him as imÁm. A little while later he fainted
and when he regained his senses he asked his wives if his command was carried on.
ÝÀÞisha attempted to change his mind commenting that her father was a delicate man
and that the praying believers might not hear him. She proposed to order ÝUmar to fill
in for the Prophet instead of her father. The Prophet snapped at her: “You all are like
the women of Joseph. Order AbÙ Bakr to lead the prayer! There may be amongst you
people who slander and others who have aspirations of their own, but God rejects this

AÎmad, Musnad, VI, 34. See also: ÝAbd al-RazzÁq, MuÒannaf, V, 432; Ibn SaÝd, ÓabaqÁt, II, 217.
For al-QÁsim, see: ÝAsqalÁnÐ, TahdhÐb, s.v. al-QÁsim b. MuÎammad.
For MuÎammad b. AbÐ Bakr and his murder in Egypt by the Umayyads, see: ÝAsqalÁnÐ, id, s.v.
MuÎammad b. AbÐ Bakr.

and so do the believers” (fa-rubba qÁÞilin wa mutamannin wa yaÞbÁ LlÁhu wa-l-

In this version the Prophet ordered to appoint AbÙ Bakr as imÁm. Contrary to the first
version mentioned above, ÝUmar did not lead the prayer. He was proposed for the job
by ÝÀÞisha and some other unidentified wives of MuÎammad. The Prophet accuses
them for behaving “like the women of Joseph”. We are made to understand that he
knows that some people speak ill of AbÙ Bakr while others wish secretly to have him
replaced by another companion, implying ÝUmar. However it is obvious to
MuÎammad to God and the believers recognize AbÙ Bakr’s superiority.
The scholars who circulated both versions described so far were aware of the
arguments of some circles in early Islam, as described above, for preferring ÝUmar.
With these versions, they provide a decisive answer to these arguments: it is God’s
command and the people wish in whose name the Prophet speaks that AbÙ Bakr be
the chosen one.
6.6 AbÙ Bakr is MuÎammad’s preferred choice
Other version of this story leave the decision to appoint AbÙ Bakr as the imÁm of the
prayer in the hands of the Prophet and God’s preference is not mentioned. Here also,
two categories of versions can be identified. In the first, both ÝÀÞisha and ÍafÒa, the
Prophet’s wives strived to convince the Prophet to appoint ÝUmar; while in the second
category it was ÝAbd AllÁh b. ZamÝa who choose to call on ÝUmar to lead the prayer.
In both categories the Prophet decided to ignore their suggestions and chose AbÙ
In a widely circulated version ÝUrwa b. al-Zubayr (d. 91-101/710-720) relates on the
authority of his maternal aunt ÝÀÞisha that the Prophet ordered to assign AbÙ Bakr as
imÁm. She tried to convince him to choose ÝUmar instead claiming that her father
would cry so much during prayer that the worshippers might no hear him.
MuÎammad did not pay heed to her plea and reiterated his order. ÝÀÞisha approached
ÍafÒa, ÝUmar’s daughter and the Prophet’s wife, and asked her to convince their
husband to agree to her suggestion. ÍafÒa indeed tried but failed. Then the Prophet
threw at both his wives the accusation of behaving like the “women of Joseph” and

Ibn SaÝd, ÓabaqÁt, II, 219; ÓabarÁnÐ, AwÒaÔ, VII, 176 (6325).

did not yield. Upon hearing this, ÍafÒa said to ÝÀÞisha: “I could not gain any good out
of you” (mÁ kuntu li-uÒÐba minki khayran).110
In other versions of this tradition, ÝÀÞisha went on telling that her father indeed started
leading the worshippers in prayer, Later on, the Prophet felt better and went to the
mosque to join the people at prayer. When AbÙ Bakr saw him he started to step down
in order to allow him to lead the worshippers himself. But MuÎammad ordered him to
remain where he was and he sat at his left side. Thus the Prophet was the sitting imÁm
while AbÙ Bakr was the standing one. AbÙ Bakr prayed under the leadership of the
Prophet and the worshippers prayed under that of AbÙ Bakr.111
The purpose of all the versions mentioned above is clearly to focus on the fact that
MuÎammad preferred AbÙ Bakr to ÝUmar and to legitimize the leadership of AbÙ
Bakr as the first successor to the Prophet, meaning: if AbÙ Bakr filled in for
MuÎammad while he was still alive then it stands to reason that he should succeed
him after his death.

MÁlik, MuwaÔÔaÞ, I, 170-171 (83)/9 (qiÒar al-ÒalÁt): 24: 3; AÎmad, FaÃÁÞil, I, 118 (88); BukhÁrÐ,
ÑaÎÐÎ, II, 388 (679)/10 (ÁdhÁn): 46: 2; TirmidhÐ, Sunan, X, 156 (3754)/42 (manÁqib): 58. See also: al-
RabÐÝ, Musnad, 92 (211).
Ibn RÁhawayhi, Munad ÝÀÞisha, II, 110 (580). For a slightly different version with another isnÁd on
the authority of ÝÀÞisha, see: Ibn SaÝd, ÓabaqÁt, III, 179-180; Ibn AbÐ Shayba, MuÒannaf, II, 119 (7160-
7162, 7166).