We now proceed to the examination of instances which are cited to establish that the Companions of the Holy Prophet imposed the penalty of death upon apostates. Before examining those instances we would observe that we are not bound by the action of any companion of the Holy Prophet. We are bound only by the Holy Quran and the practice of the Holy Prophet, peace be on him. Syed Sharif al Jarjani has stated in his Mukhtasar: The word or action of a companion, however reliably stated, is not binding. In Kashful Asrar, which is a commentary on AI-Manar, it is stated at p.99 of Vol. II: We follow the Prophets, peace be on them, as we have been assured through the signs exhibited by them that they have been safeguarded against falsehood and mistake, and we follow them on account of their sinlessness. This quality is not guaranteed in respect of others. Therefore we are not bound to follow any of them. That is why Imam Shafai has said that the word of a companion is not binding. Had it been binding, people would have been called to obey it as they are called to obey the Holy Prophet, peace be on him.
At page 100 of the same book it is recorded: It is related of Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, that he wrote to Shuraih, directing him to decide in accordance with the Holy Quran, and failing that, according to the practice of the Holy Prophet, and in default of that, according to his own judgment. He did not direct him to follow any dictum of Umar himself.
Hazrat Abu Bakr and Apostates
Nevertheless, the cases cited by those who differ with us, do not uphold their thesis. The first case cited is that of the widespread apostacy which followed upon the death of the Holy Prophet, peace be on him. It is argued that Hazrat Abu Bakr’s fighting the apostates is conclusive proof that simple apostacy is punishable with death.
Our naive divines who cite this instance assume that those apostates were “harmless people” whose only fault was that they did not consider themselves bound to pay the zakat to the Khalifa and had given up salat. It is imagined that they had committed no wrong beyond this and that they did not fight the Muslims, nor hurt anyone. It is supposed that they had no quarrel with the Islamic state, that indeed they were obedient to the Khalifa and supported him and were eager to live peacefully, and obediently under the authority of the Islamic state. Had that been so, then it would be doubtful whether they were apostates at all. But the case was not as our divines imagine. Those apostates had repudiated their allegiance to the Islamic state and had taken up arms against it. Those of them who continued to adhere to Islam were killed, and forces were got ready to wage war with the Islamic state. In fact, they advanced upon Medina and laid siege to it in their effort to destroy the Muslims altogether. Therefore, Abu Bakr took up the sword against them and defeated and subdued them. This lends no support to the thesis that the punishment of simple apostacy is death. If the apostates had no rebellious designs, then why is it that leading Refugees and Helpers urged Hazrat Abu Bakr that he should detain the force which was ready to march north under the command of Usamah bin Zaid, as the security of Medina was threatened by the apostates? Also, why had Usamah begged Hazrat Umar , may Allah be pleased with him, to go to Hazrat Abu Bakr and to persuade him to permit Usamah to return to Medina? The reason given by Usamah for his request was that the force under his command contained all the leading Muslims and he had serious apprehensions that the Khalifa and the wives of the Holy Prophet and the Muslims in Medina might find their security in danger from the apostates.
Tabari has recorded: Abs and Zeeban were the tribes Who were the first to attack Medina and Hazrat Abu Bakr fought them before the return of Usamah (Tabari, V 01. IV, p.1873).
Ibn Khalladun has recorded: Abs and Zeeban were the first to attack Hazrat Abu Bakr and the others collected together at Zil Qassah (Ibn Khalladun, Vol. II, p.65).
Khamees has recorded: Kharajah bin Hasan, who was one of the apostates, advanced upon Medina with some mounted men of his tribe so as to deliver his attack unexpectedly before the Muslims emerged from Medina to oppose him. Thus he attacked Abu Bakr and those Muslims who had been left in Medina and took them unawares (Khamees, Vol.II, p.237).
Some of the apostates sent delegations to Medina begging the Khalifa to release them from the obligation to pay the zakat and to observe salat. When Hazrat Abu Bakr rejected their request categorically , they went back to prepare their people for an attack on Medina. After they left, Hazrat Abu Bakr called the Muslims of Medina together and addressed them as follows: The whole country has reverted to disbelief. Their delegation has observed the smallness of your numbers in Medina. You do not know whether they might attack you by night or by day. Their vanguard is only at the distance of one stage from Medina. They had desired that we should accept their proposals and make an agreement with them, but we have rejected their request. So, make ready to defend yourselves against their attack. Within three days they attacked Medina at night, having left some forces at Zil Hussay as their support (Tabari, Vol. IV, p.1875).
Thus it is clear that the apostates were the first to advance against the Muslims of Medina and they conceived that they would occupy Medina as the number of Muslims in it was small and they were weak. But God Almighty, according to His promise, supported the Khalifa and frustrated the designs of his enemies.
The apostates had not only made preparations to advance upon Medina, they had, immediately after the death of the Holy Prophet, slaughtered the sincere Muslims among them who persisted in their adherence to Islam. Ibn Khalladun has said that on receiving the intimation of the death of the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, Banu Zeeban and Abs attacked those among themselves who were Muslims and the same was done by the other tribes who had become apostates (Ibn Khalladun, Vol. II, p.66).
Tabari has said: As soon as intimation was received of the death of the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, Banu Zeeban and Abs attacked those who still adhered to Islam and slaughtered them in diverse manners and so did the other tribes around them (Tabari, Vol. IV, p.1817).
Thus it is clear that those tribes had rebelled openly against the authority of the Islamic state, they slaughtered the Muslims and were determined to wipe them out and to destroy the Islamic state and Islam itself. The advocates of the penalty of death for simple apostacy can derive no support from such instances. Their recourse to these instances shows that they can find nothing relevant in support of their thesis.
There were two considerations that held back the greater part of the apostates from advancing upon Medina. One was that Hazrat Abu Bakr and his companions had, with great courage and bravery, repelled those who had attacked Medina and this discouraged the rest. Secondly, the departure of the force under the command of Usamah for the north created an impression among the disaffected Arab tribes that the Muslims were very strong in Medina inasmuch as, despite the revolt of the tribes, they had been able to dispatch a large army to the north.
The author of Tarikhal Kamil has observed: The dispatch of the army under the command of Usamah was an event which proved of the greatest benefit for the Muslims, inasmuch as the apostate tribes imagined that if the Muslims had not been in a position of great strength, they would not have dispatched the army to the north in the situation with which they were faced. Under this impression, they held back from putting their evil designs into effect (Tarikhal Kamil, V 01. II, p.139).
This also shows that all the apostate tribes had designs against Medina but they held back under the impression that the dispatch of the army under Usamah was an indication of the strong position of the Muslims in Medina. A study of the situation with which Hazrat Abu Bakr was confronted at the time makes it clear that the Arab tribes had not only repudiated Islam, but they had all rebelled against the Islamic state and they were determined to wipe out the Muslims altogether. Their design was frustrated only by the timely and courageous action of Hazrat Abu Bakr. Had he not moved quickly against the first batch of rebels, who were advancing upon Medina, the position of the apostate tribes would have grown stronger, they would have slaughtered all the Muslims in their respective localities and would then have attacked Medina. It was, therefore, necessary that the Muslims should have acted quickly to break up their ranks and to put out the fire that was spreading in all directions and spelt danger to the very existence of the Muslims. Had Hazrat Abu Bakr not used force against the apostate tribes, there would have survived no Muslim and no Islam. As Aini has observed: Hazrat Abu Bakr fought those who had refused to pay the zakat because they had taken up the sword and had started hostilities against the Muslims (Aini, Vol. XI, p.236). This shows clearly that the apostates were the aggressors. They not only refused to pay the zakat, but took up the sward against the Muslims and thus commenced hostilities.