Monday 15th of August 2022
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The Brigade of Us¡mah

The Brigade of Us¡mah

Zayd ibn °¡rithah was one of the three commanders of the Muslim troops that fought in the Battle of Mu'tah in which the Muslim army was defeated by the Romans and three commanders together with some soldiers were martyred.

A year after that, the Muslim army went forward as far as the land of Tab£k, but no armed conflict took place. As a result of these consequences, the Holy Prophet always worried about a war with the Romans who were aggressive and powerful.

Upon his return from the Farewell Pilgrimage and arrival at Medina, the Holy Prophet ordered an army headed by Us¡mah, son of Zayd ibn °¡rithah, to advance as far as the land of Ubn¡,[1] where his father had been martyred, and to fight the Romans. He then gave the banner to Us¡mah along with orders and instruction. Us¡mah betook himself al-Jurf[2] as headquarter at which troops would gather.[3] Chief personalities of Muh¡jir£n and An¥¡r, including Ab£-Bakr, `Umar, Ab£-`Ubaydah ibn al-Jarr¡¦, Sa`d ibn Ab¢-Waqq¡¥,[4] `Abd al-Ra¦m¡n ibn `Awf, ±al¦ah, al-Zubayr, Usayd ibn °u¤ayr, Bash¢r ibn Sa`d,[5] Sa`¢d ibn Zayd,[6] Qat¡dah ibn al-Nu`m¡n and Salamah ibn Aslam were among these troops.[7]

When the Holy Prophet was dispatching the army, he was in good health. However, the next day, he came down with fever which culminated in his death. On his death-bed, the Holy Prophet was informed that some of the troops did not accept Us¡mah's commandership claiming that he was too young. While he was completely weakened by illness, the Holy Prophet came to the mosque to encourage people to join Us¡mah, saying:

What is that I hear about your objection to Us¡mah's commandership? You are objecting to his commandership in the same way you did to his father. I swear to God, Zayd deserved commandership and so is his son.[8]

In his final days, the Holy Prophet was in a distressing position. Most of the time, he was unconscious. When he regained consciousness, he asked about Us¡mah's army. He was told that the troops were readying themselves to move. The Holy Prophet said,

“Help Us¡mah's army. May God curse those who lag behind this army.”[9]

His ailment lasted for two weeks;[10] yet, this army did not move. This event is a clear indication of the cases of disobedience manifested by some Muslims to the Holy Prophet's distinct orders.

The Prophet's Supreme Objective

Concerning the Holy Prophet's trial to dispatch Us¡mah’s troops, there are important points to consider:

(1) In the mobilization of this army, the leadership was given to a young man who was less than twenty years old to fight against the most powerful army of those days away from the center of the Islamic government.

(2) In this army, senior commanders and grand Companions were put under the command of Us¡mah, the young. They considered themselves prestigious and expected greater ranks in that army.

(3) Although the Holy Prophet knew about his imminent death, as he had referred to this issue in the sermon of Ghad¢r, and that the dark, heavy clouds of disastrous events were hovering over the heads of Muslims, he sent the Muslim army to a far land and asked the grand personalities of Muh¡jir£n and An¥¡r to join it on this mission. Considering the excellent managerial capacities of the Holy Prophet, we can never doubt that he had a great objective in mind to achieve.

Taking these notes into consideration, we can conclude that, in addition to carrying out military actions against the Romans to remove their danger, the Holy Prophet aimed at following two other objectives:

a) By appointing Us¡mah as the head of the army, the Holy Prophet wanted to make Muslims realize that the most important point in management and leadership is the leader's expertise and merits, but not his age. Hence, age has nothing to do with merits and capacities. For this reason, he replied to their objections by saying, “Zayd was a good leader, so is his son.”

Through this formal position, the Holy Prophet confirmed Us¡mah's merits and objected to the proposals of those who wanted to take age and racial issues into consideration. Wasn't this insistence on the Holy Prophet's side done to pave the way for `Al¢'s succession?

b) The Holy Prophet wanted `Al¢'s rivals to be away from Medina at the time of his demise. For this very reason, he ordered the chief personalities of Muh¡jir£n and An¥¡r to join that army and leave Medina. He wanted `Al¢ to have control over things in the absence of his rivals who would not be able to do anything when they would see `Al¢ in power.[11] For this reason, some personalities delayed the movement of the army waiting for the Holy Prophet’s demise.

The Unrecorded Will

On Thursday (four days prior to his demise), the Holy Prophet who was bedridden ordered,

“Bring me paper and pen so that I will write something saving you from going astray forever.”

One of the attendants said, “He is under severe pain; he is hallucinating! We have Qur'¡n; it suffices us.” Disagreement took place among the attendants; some accepted the statement of this person and others wanted to carry out the Holy Prophet's orders. There was now commotion. Then they asked the Holy Prophet, “Should we carry out your intentions?” he replied,

“After what has been done? Leave me alone; my pain is better than what you ascribe to me. Leave me alone.”

Narrators have reported this catastrophic event with little differences; yet, the sequence of the events is the same.[12]

We can now understand what the Holy Prophet had in mind. He wanted to appoint `Al¢ as his successor in a written form so that Muslims would not encounter any hardships after his demise. Some of the attendants had already concluded the matter; therefore, they exerted all possible efforts to prevent the Holy Prophet from writing down that document and from declaring his final will.

Considering this event with much pain, `Abdull¡h ibn `Abb¡s used to say: “How disastrous that Thursday was! The Prophet asked for pen and paper to write something saving Muslims from going astray, but those present ones did not listen.”

This issue is one of the principles of the history of Islam; it was told and retold several times in the past; therefore, we shall not say anything more; rather, we ask the gentle reader to refer to the reference books mentioned in the footnotes.[13]

The Demise of the Great Leader of Islam

After twenty-three years of spreading the Divine Mission, and after tremendous amount of hardships and insurmountable obstacles, the Holy Prophet passed away on Monday the twenty-eighth ¯afar, in the eleventh year of Hegira[14] after fourteen days of ailment.[15] He was buried in his small residing-place next to the mosque that he had established. Later on, when the mosque was rebuilt by some caliphs, his sacred shrine was located in its eastern section.

Several years after Hegira, economic conditions improved for the Holy Prophet and Muslims and the revenues of the treasury became well-managed. Besides, the Holy Prophet's superficial power and spiritual influences increased. Despite all that, the Holy Prophet's life pattern did not change in comparison with his past; he preferred to have a simple life in his residing-place next to the mosque. He neither amassed wealth nor obtained a usual home. The bed where he rested was made of leather with linen made of date-palm leaves.[16] He used to pray on a mat and that was the place he rested. At times, the effect of the straws could be seen on his sacred body.[17] Towards his end, he ordered to distribute among the needy some D¢n¡rs left from the treasury and kept by one of his wives.[18]

He lived a simple life and passed away in a simple residing-place. However, when he passed away, there was left a great religion, there remained a Divine and holy Book and a nation, God-loving and dynamic. There had been established a new civilization in the history of the world.

A Perspective on the New Community of Muslims

Upon his residence in Medina, the Holy Prophet took advantage of a free space and appropriate social conditions to lay the stone for an Islamic society and to overcame, yet gradually, all hindrances and obstacles. He gave the Muslim nation (ummah) an independent religious and political identity and spread the Divine Messages. At the time of his demise, he believed that he had fulfilled his mission and gained bright and brilliant successes. However, there were some issues in the society of those days requiring discussions:

(1) In the light of Islamic instructions, the Holy Prophet could unite the diverse tribes of Arabs who were always at odds with one another with the common bonds of faith, belief and brotherly care. He could make a unified nation out of scattered tribes. With the assistance of such people, he could establish in Medina a Divine government under his own leadership.

In this government, he could find solutions for the unsolved issues through consultation with people. Everybody was free to express his/her ideas and to criticize. For the first time and in the light of Islam, the Arab nation could experience such unity, power and spiritualism. However, the continuation of this success needed a powerful leader to guide people politically and spiritually.

(2) At the time of the Holy Prophet's demise, idolatry was more or less uprooted in the Arabian Peninsula. Although there was no military victory for Islam beyond the borders of the Arabian Peninsula, the Holy Prophet's universal invitation to Islam had reached the ears of the governors of the world’s countries of those days. However, inside the Arabian Peninsula, some of those who had converted to Islam on the final days of the Holy Prophet's life, (especially those who had turned to Islam after the conquest of Mecca and the Battle Tab£k, had only superficially accepted the new faith that had not yet penetrated into their souls. The Holy Prophet never found a chance to send religious missionaries among them for cultural purposes. Most of them had even not seen the Holy Prophet face to face. Only their chiefs had some contact with him. So, with the temporary weakness in the power of Islam, their return to blasphemy was probable. This situation made the continuation of the Islamic leadership even more pertinent so that the cultural work of the Holy Prophet could have continued.

(3) Although the death of `Abdull¡h ibn Ubayy, the head of the Hypocrites, in the ninth year of Hegira caused this dangerous group to lose some of their previous solidarity, they were around and inside Medina. They were always waiting for an opportunity to attack Muslims. In addition to the hypocrites who were considered internal enemies, there were two other external dangers for the newly-established government of Islam: the Iranian empire and the Romans. There were lots of signs for their enmity and negative attitudes towards Islam.

This vicious triangle made the Holy Prophet so concerned that he had to find solutions. This issue too made the presence of a strong leader absolutely necessary.

(4) Prior to the advent of Islam, the social life of the people inside the Arabian Peninsula was heavily reliant on the tribal system, which was based on racial and familial bonds. The social effects of such a system, including the blind tribal prejudices, nonsensical prides, revenge tacking and conflicts, had made life miserable for them.

Through hard working and boundless attempts, the Holy Prophet annihilated such a system and put the common faith for the common blood or the common race, in the light of Islam's unifying instructions and the word of monotheism. In this way, he was to a great extent able to eradicate the tribal system. All this was the result of Islam, the Holy Qur'¡n and the Holy Prophet's Mission.

However, history shows that the cultural remnants of this arrogant and ignorant age still remained in the hearts and souls of these people who manifested their tribal thinking as soon as they found it possible. However, the Holy Prophet, with his skill and vigor, always tried to stop this trend; he did not let it turn into a crisis. This once again showed the vulnerability of Islamic unity in those days. An example of this is the tribal inclinations between two distinguished groups of Muslims in the event of the Saq¢fah immediately after the demise of the Holy Prophet.

These worries clearly depicted the duties of the great leader of Islam in those days and the whole issue was a great test to show who was after the unity of Islam and would sacrifice everything for that unity on the one hand and who would insist on the cultural aspects of the Ignorance Era on the other hand.

(5) After his migration to Medina, the Holy Prophet was both the religious and political leader for Muslims. He undertook these two missions simultaneously so much so that Muslims would listen to his words, perform the congregational prayers, and be so absorbed by his spiritual charisma that they would rub the water of his ritual ablution on their faces, participate in the military campaigns, slay the enemies, ready themselves to martyrdom, be appointed by him as governors of provinces, and carry out negotiations on his behalf with his political opponents. After his demise, it was not enough for his successor to be a political leader; rather, he had to perform the political leadership together with religious leadership so that he would be able to fill the Holy Prophet's empty place on the strength of his thorough awareness of the Islamic knowledge.

[1] A location in Syria between `Asqal¡n and Ramlah, close to Mu'tah. See °alab¢, al-S¢rah al-°alabiyyah 3:227.

[2] A place three miles away from Damascus.

[3] Ibn Sa`d, Al-±abaq¡t al-Kubr¡ 2:190; `Abd al-Q¡dir Badr¡n, Tahdh¢b T¡r¢kh Dimashq 1:121; Zayn¢ Da¦l¡n, 2:138; °alab¢, op cit, pp. 227.

[4] Ibn Sa`d, op cit, pp. 190; °alab¢, al-S¢rah al-°alabiyyah 3:227; Zayn¢ Da¦l¡n, al-S¢rah al-Nabawiyyah wa’l-ªth¡r al-Mu¦ammadiyyah 2:138.

[5] Ibn Ab¢’l-°ad¢d, Shar¦ Nahj al-Bal¡ghah 6:52.

[6] Ibn Sa`d, op cit, pp. 190; `Abd al-Q¡dir Badr¡n, Tahdh¢b T¡r¢kh Dimashq 1:121.

[7] Ibn Sa`d, op cit, pp. 190; al-Miqr¢z¢, Amta` al-Asm¡’ 2:124; Tahdh¢b T¡r¢kh Dimashq 1:121.

[8] Ibn Sa`d, op cit; al-Miqr¢z¢, op cit, 2:124; Zayn¢ Da¦l¡n, op cit; `Abd al-Q¡dir Badr¡n, op cit; °alab¢, op cit, pp. 228; According to ¯a¦¢¦ al-Bukh¡r¢ and ¯a¦¢¦ Muslim, the words of the Prophet were:

If you impugn his commandership, you have already been impugning his father. By Allah I swear, he was very suitable for leadership. He was one of my dearest people. This one is also my dearest one after his father.

See ¯a¦¢¦ al-Bukh¡r¢ 6:326, H. 9; ¯a¦¢¦ Muslim 15:195.

[9] Mu¦ammad ibn `Abd al-Kar¢m al-Shahrist¡ni, pp. 29.

[10] Ibn W¡¤i¦, T¡r¢kh al-Ya`q£b¢ 2:178.

[11] From the improper analysis that Ibn Ab¢’l-°ad¢d puts on this issue, we understand that this Sh¢`ite analysis has always been a controversial issue among historians.

[12] ¯a¦¢¦ al-Bukh¡r¢ 1:120; al-Magh¡z¢, pp. 317-318; ¯a¦¢¦ Muslim 11:89; Al-±abaq¡t al-Kubr¡ 2:242; Ibn Ab¢’l-°ad¢d, Shar¦ Nahj al-Bal¡ghah, quoted from Ab£-Bakr al-Jawhar¢, Kit¡b al-Saq¢fah.

[13] For example, see the following sources: Ibn ±aw£s, al-±ar¡’if f¢ Ma`rifat Madh¡hib al-±aw¡’if 2:431-435; Sharaf al-D¢n al-M£saw¢, al-Na¥¥ wa’l-Ijtih¡d, pp. 162-177; Ja`far Sub¦¡n¢, Fur£gh-e-Abadiyyat 2:493-500; Mus§af¡vi, al-°aq¡'iq f¢ T¡r¢kh al-Isl¡m wa’l-Fitan wa’l-A¦d¡th, pp. 129-135; Y£suf Qulayn¢, pas az ghur£b 1:38-53; Mu¦ammad °asanayn Haykal, °ay¡t al-Nab¢, pp. 501; ¯a¦¢¦ Muslim commentary of al-im¡m al-nawaw¢ 11:84-93.

[14] Mu¦ammad B¡qir al-Majlis¢, Bi¦¡r al-Anw¡r 22:514; the date of the prophet's demise is reported differently in some sources. See op cit, pp. 514-521; Ibn Sa`d, al-±abaq¡t al-Kubr¡, 3:272-274; al-S¢rah al-°alabiyyah, 3:454.

[15] Ibn W¡¤i¦, T¡r¢kh al-Ya`q£b¢, 2:178.

[16] °alab¢, al-S¢rah al-°alabiyyah, 3:454.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibn Sa`d, Al-±abaq¡t al-Kubr¡, 2:237-239.

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