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The army of Usama bin Zayd

Source: Al-Nass Wal-Ijtihad, Text and Interpretation
By: Allama Abdul Husayn Sharafuddin al-Musawi

The Prophet (S) had cared much for this army. He ordered his companions to get ready and incited them too much to join this army. He himself mobilized them in order to sharpen their determinations and to awaken their ardors. He let no one of the Muhajireen and Ansar, like Abu Bakr, Umar, 35 Abu Ubayda, Sa’d and their likes, unless he mobilized him for the army.36 This was in Safar, the eleventh year of hijra.
The next day the Prophet (S) sent for Usama and said to him: “Go (with the army) to the place where your father has been killed. Let your horses tread on them (the Romans and the people of Sham). I have appointed you as the emir of this army. Attack the people of Ubna37 in the morning. Set fire to them. Hasten to precede the news. If Allah makes you defeat them, do not stay long there. Take some guides with you and send spies and pioneers before you”.
On the twenty-eighth of Safar, the Prophet (S) began to feel ill. He got fever and headache. In the morning of the twenty-ninth he found that his companions (the army) were sluggish. He went to them and urged them to move. He himself gave the banner to Ussama with his honored hand in order to motivate their zeal and to awaken their determination. Then he said: “Move in the name of Allah and for the sake of Allah! Fight those who have disbelieved in Allah!” Usama moved with the army. He gave the banner to Burayda. They camped in al-Jurf and they became sluggish there. They did not leave there in spite of the clear orders they had heard from the Prophet (S) ordering them to hasten like his saying “Attack the people of Ubna in the morning…” and “Hasten to precede the news…” and many other orders that they did not obey.
Some of them rejected the leadership of Usama as they had rejected the leadership of his father before. They criticized him too much and argued too much although they saw that the Prophet (S) himself had appointed him as the leader and had given him the banner of the emirate while he was ill. All that did not prevent them from rejected the leadership of Usama until the Prophet (S) became very angry. He went out wrapped with his plush and his head was bandaged suffering from fever and headache.38 It was Saturday, the tenth of Rabee’ul Awwal, two days before his death (according to the date mentioned by the Sunni).
He ascended the minbar, praised Allah and said (as mentioned by the Sunni and the Shia and by all the historians): “O people, what is this saying, which I have been informed of, said by some of you criticizing my appointing Usama as the emir of the army? As you criticize my appointing Usama as the emir, you have criticized my appointing his father as the emir before. By Allah, he (Usama’s father) was well-qualified for the emirate and his son after him is well-qualified for it too”.
He urged the people to progress as quickly as they could. They began to farewell him and they went to the camping in al-Jurf. His case (illness) became worse. He kept on saying: “Prepare the army of Usama…let the army of Usama move…send the army of Usama…” He repeated that while they were still inactive.
On Sunday, the twelfth of Rabee’ul Awwal, Usama came from his camp to the Prophet (S). The Prophet (S) ordered him by saying: “Move in the morning with the blessing of Allah”. Usama farewelled the Prophet (S) and left to his camp and then he returned with Umar and Abu Ubayda. They came to the Prophet (S) while he was about to die. He died on that same day.
The army came back to Medina. They determined to cancel sending the army this time. They talked with Abu Bakr about that and insisted on him too much in spite of that they had seen the Prophet (S) caring much for this army and insisting on sending it. They decided to cancel sending the army but the Caliph Abu Bakr was determined and he insisted on sending the army. Then Umar came to Abu Bakr requesting him to depose Usama and to appoint another one instead of him.
It was not a long time after the anger of the Prophet (S) when they rejected his appointing Usama as the emir and his going out of his house angrily while he was too ill and his legs were about to fail him and it was not a long time after he had confirmed his orders by swearing, when they decided to turn over everything but the caliph Abu Bakr refused to respond to them to depose Usama and he refused to cancel sending the army. He got up, caught the beard of Umar39 and said: “Your mother may lose you O you Ibn al-Khattab! The Prophet (S) has appointed him and you want me to depose him!”
When they sent the army - and they were about not to do - Usama moved with three thousand warriors, among whom there were one thousand knights.40 Some people, whom the Prophet (S) had ordered to join the army, did not join the army. The Prophet (S) had said: “Prepare the army of Usama! Allah may curse whoever does not join this army!” 41
They lagged behind the army at the first and refused to join it finally in order to firm the bases of their policy and to establish its pillars preferring their benefits to obeying the clear orders of the Prophet (S). They thought that their doing would be better to be carried out and worthier to be cared for because the army would not stop if they lagged behind or if they did not join it whereas the caliphate would be turned away from them to others if they went to the battle before the death of the Prophet (S).
The Prophet (S) wanted the capital to be empty of them so that the situation would be clear and safe for Ameerul Mo'mineen Ali bin Abu Talib (S). If they came back after the covenant of the caliphate would have been determined to Ali, they would have no good chance to dispute or disagree then.
The Prophet (S) had appointed Usama, who was seventeen years old,42 as the emir over them in order to degrade the haughty ones, to control the fancy of others and to be safe in the future from the disputing of the competitors if he had appointed one of them as the emir but they realized what the Prophet (S) had planned to, so they rejected the emirate of Usama and refused to go with him to fight. They did not leave their camping in al-Jurf until the Prophet (S) went to the better world and then they intended to cancel the battle one time and to depose Usama in another time. At last they did not join the army of Usama and at the head of them were Abu Bakr and Umar. 43
These were five things in the matter of the army of Usama, which they (the companions) had not obeyed whereas they (these things) were declared clearly by the prophetic sayings, preferring their fancies and their own ijtihad to the clear traditions of the Prophet (S).
Sheikh Saleem al-Bishri justified the companions doing in some of our arguments (muraja’at). He said: “Yes, the Prophet (S) urged them to hasten with the army of Usama and ordered them many times until he said to Usama: ‘Attack the people of Ubna in the morning…’ and he did not give him time even to the evening and he said to him: ‘Hasten…’ He did not accept from him except hastening but immediately after that the Prophet (S) became so ill until it was feared for him.
Their selves did not allow them to leave him while he was in such a state. They remained in al-Jurf waiting to see how he would become. This was because of their pity for him and their love for him. The aim behind their sluggishness was just waiting for one of two things; either to be delighted if he would restore his health or to win the honor of carrying out his funerals and to establish the affairs of the one, who would rule over them after him. They were excused and would not be blamed for that.
As for rejecting the emirate of Usama before the death of the Prophet (S) in spite of the clear sayings and orders of the Prophet (S), it was just because Usama was too young while they were middle-aged and old men and the souls of the middle-aged and old men would refuse - in their natures - to be led by the young and hate to submit to the orders of the youth so their rejecting his emirate was not a heresy but it was due to the human nature”.
And as for their request to depose Usama after the death of the Prophet (S), some of the ulama justified that in a way that the companions might think it would be permissible if the caliph Abu Bakr would have preferred to depose him due to the general welfare according to their own opinions.
Sheikh Saleem al-Bishri added: “Indeed I do not know any justification that mind may accept concerning their request to depose Usama especially after the Prophet (S) has become so angry when they have rejected his appointing Usama as the emir and he has come out, although he was seriously ill, wrapped with his plush and his head was bandaged because of fever and headache and he has reproached them in his speech from above the minbar. It was one of the famous historical events, that has spread everywhere. Justifying their doing, after all that, is something unknown save by Allah.
As for their intention to cancel sending the army after they have seen the Prophet (S) caring too much to send it and insisting on hastening to send it and his many traditions about this matter, it was because of their precautions that the capital of Islam might be overcome by the polytheists after it would be empty of the forces. After the death of the Prophet (S) hypocrisy appeared, the Jews and the Christians became powerful, many tribes apostatized and other tribes refused to pay the zakat.
The companions asked our master Abu Bakr as-Siddeeq to prevent Usama from moving with the army but he refused and said: “By Allah, if I am snatched away by birds, is better to me than to change anything before carrying out the order of the messenger of Allah (S)”. This is what has been mentioned by our ulama about the situation of Abu Bakr but as for the others, they are excused because they have had no intention save their fearing for Islam.
As for when Abu Bakr, Umar and others had abstained from joining the army of Usama, when it went to fight, it was just to establish the Islamic rule and the Muhammadan state and to save the caliphate, which the religion and its people would not be saved then except with.
We found what you have quoted from ash-Shahristani in his book al-Milal wan-Nihal as mursal and not musnad.44 Al-Halabi and ad-Dahlani said in their Seeras: “No tradition has been narrated about the subject at all”. If you, may Allah assist you, have a tradition narrated by the Sunni, please guide me to it and thanks be to you”.
We said when replying to the sheikh: “You have - may Allah keep you safe - acknowledged that those companions have been sluggish in al-Jurf and then they have not joined the army when moving to fight although they have been ordered by the Prophet (S) to hasten in doing that. You have acknowledged too that they rejected the emirate of Usama in spite of the clear sayings and orders of the Prophet (S).
You have acknowledged that they have requested Abu Bakr to depose Usama after the Prophet (S) has been so angry for that and that he has come out wrapped and bandaged because of illness. And then he has reproached them in his speech he made on the minbar that you have said it was a famous historical event. It was the speech, in which the Prophet (S) had declared that Usama and his father, before him, were well-qualified for the emirate.
You have acknowledged their requesting the caliph to cancel sending the army, which the Prophet (S) has ordered to be sent, although they have seen the Prophet (S) insisting on that and inciting his companions to hasten moving toward Sham and his sayings were too clear and firm.
You have acknowledged that some companions, whom the Prophet (S) has ordered to join the army, had not joined the army.
You have acknowledged all these things, which have been mentioned by all the historians, and you have said they (those companions) were excused for doing that. The conclusion of what you have mentioned as a justification for their doings was that they have just preferred the welfare of Islam as they have thought and not according to the sayings and orders of the Prophet (S). We have not said, in this concern, more than this.
In another word, we want to ask: have they offered their worships according to all of the prophetic traditions or not? You have chosen the first and we have chosen the second. Your acknowledgment, now, that they have not acted in these matters according to the prophetic traditions confirms what we have chosen and whether they were excused or not, certainly has nothing to do with the subject of the research.
Since it has been proved that they have preferred the benefit of Islam, concerning the matter of the army of Usama, by acting according to their own opinions rather than to act according to the Prophet’s orders, then why do you not say that they have preferred, in the matter of the caliphate after the Prophet (S), the benefit of Islam according to their own opinions too rather than to follow the prophetic traditions of al-Ghadeer and their likes?!
You have justified the doing of those companions, who have rejected the emirate of Usama, by saying that they have rejected his emirate because he was too young and they were middle-aged and old men and you have said that the souls of the middle-aged and old men would refuse in their nature to be led by a young man. Then why have you not said the same about those who have not carried out the prophetic traditions of al-Ghadeer that have determined the caliphate of Ali, who was a young man then, over the middle-aged and old men of the companions for they - in the same way - have considered him as too young as they have considered Usama when the Prophet (S) has appointed him a leader over them in that army?
What difference between the emirate of an army and the caliphate is! If their souls - according to their human nature - refused to be led by a young man in an army for a short period of time, they would, no doubt, refuse to be ruled by a young caliph throughout his lifetime and in all the worldly and afterlife affairs!
You have mentioned that “the souls of the middle-aged and old men refuse - according to their human natures - to be led by the young”. It is not probable that you have meant to generalize this criterion because the faithful souls of the sincere old men will never refrain from obeying Allah and His messenger in being led by the young or in anything else. Allah says: “But no! by your Lord! they do not believe (in reality) until they make you a judge of that which has become a matter of disagreement among them, and then do not find any straitness in their hearts as to what you have decided and submit with entire submission;” (Qur’an 4:65) and “… and whatever the Messenger gives you, accept it, and from whatever he forbids you, keep back”; (Qur’an, 59:7) and “And it behooves not a believing man and a believing woman that they should have any choice in their matter when Allah and His Messenger have decided a matter; and whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he surely strays off a manifest straying.” (Qur’an, 33:36).
As for the word of ash-Shahristani concerning those, who had refused to join the army of Usama, it has come in a musnad tradition mentioned by Abu Bakr Ahmad bin Abdul Aziz al-Jawhari in his book Kitab as-Saqeefa. Here I quote the tradition as it has been mentioned: “Ahmad bin Ishaq bin Salih narrated from Ahmad bin Yasaar from Sa’eed bin Katheer al-Ansari from his companions that Abdullah bin Abdurrahman had said: “The Prophet (S), during his illness that led to his death, appointed Usama as the leader of an army, which consisted the most of the Muhajireen and the Ansar, among whom were Abu Bakr, Umar, Abu Ubayda bin al-Jarrah, Abdurrahman bin Owf, Talha and az-Zubayr. He ordered him to attack Mu’ta where his father Zayd had been killed and to invade the valley of Palestine.
Usama lagged and all the army lagged with him. The Prophet’s health changed between a day and another but he still insisted on carrying out the task of the army of Usama until Usama said to him: “O Messenger of Allah, may my father and mother die for you! Would you please allow me to stay some days until Allah restores your health?” The Prophet (S) said to him: “Go and set out with the blessing of Allah!” Usama said: “O Messenger of Allah, if I leave while you are still in this case, I will leave and my heart will be full of pain”. The Prophet (S) said: “Set out with victory and good will!” He said: “O Messenger of Allah, I hate to ask the travelers about you”. The Prophet (S) said: “Do what I have ordered you!”
Then the Prophet (S) fainted and Usama left and got ready to set out. When the Prophet (S) regained his consciousness, he asked about Usama and his army. It was said to him that Usama and his army had been preparing to move. The Prophet (S) said: “Let the army of Usama set out. Allah may curse whoever does not join Usama.” He repeated that many times.
Usama set out with the banner fluttering over his head and the companions around him until he arrived at al-Jurf. He camped there and with him there were Abu Bakr, Umar and most of the Muhajireen and from the Ansar there were Usayd bin Khudhayr, Basheer bin Sa’d and many other notable personalities. Then the messenger of Umm Aymen45 came saying to Usama: “Come back to Medina! The messenger of Allah is dying”. Usama immediately came back to Medina and the banner was with him. He came and fixed the banner at the door of the Prophet’s house where the Prophet (S) had died then”.
This tradition has been mentioned by several historians like Ibn Abul Hadeed al-Mu’tazili in Sharh Nahjul Balagha, vol. 2 p.20, Egypt Edition.
35. The historians agreed upon that Abu Bakr and Umar were in this army and they proved that as an irrefutable fact. Refer to at-Tabaqat by Ibn Sa’d, At-Tabari’s Tareekh, Ibnul Atheer’s Tareekh, as-Seera ad-Dahlaniyya and others. Al-Halabi mentioned in his Seera, vol.3: “When al-Mahdi (the Abbasid caliph) came to Basra, he met Iyas bin Mo’awiya, who was very clever and intelligent. He was a young boy and behind him there were four hundred of ulama and notable men. Al-Mahdi said: “Woe to these beards! Is not there among them a notable man to be at the head other than this boy?” Then al-Mahdi turned toward the boy and said to him: “How old are you, boy?” The boy said: “O Ameerul Mo'mineen, may Allah make you live long! My age is as the age of Usama bin Zayd bin Haritha when the Prophet (S) has appointed him as the leader of an army, in which Abu Bakr and Umar were.” Al-Mahdi said: “Come on! May Allah bless you”. Al-Halabi mentioned that Usama was seventeen years old then.
36. Umar often said to Usama: “The Prophet (S) died and you were the emir over me”. Some historians mentioned this like al-Halabi in his Seera when talking about the army of Usama.
37. It is a village in Syria between Asqalan and ar-Ramla near Mu’ta, where Ja’far bin Abu Talib, Zayd bin Haritha and Abdullah bin Rawaha were martyred.
38. Refer to Ibn Sa’d’s Tabaqat, al-Halabi’s Seera, ad-Dahlani’s Seera and all the books that talked about the army of Usama.
39. Al-Halabi in his Seera, ad-Dahlani in his Seera, Ibn Jareer at-Tabari in his Tareekh, the events of the eleventh year of hijra and other historians.
40. He attacked the people of Ubna, burnt their houses, cut their palm-trees, made the horses tread on their properties, killed many of them and captured the rest. On that day he killed his father’s killer. No one of the Muslims was killed on that day.
41. Ash-Shahristani in his book al-Milal wan-Nihal, the fourth introduction.
42. This was the most certain saying. It was also said that he was 18, 19 or 20 years old but no one had said more than that.
43. He was not in the army of Ibn Zayd (Usama) to be led by Ibn Zayd nor was he afraid on the day of the cave nor hid himself on the day of al-Fareesh nor was he deposed on the day of Bara’a nor was he led behind in a prayer a young man who has not got a root from Taym bin Murra nor from the evil Abdul Lat an imam of guidance who preferred the others to have his disc of bread and so the red disc of the sun was returned white to him Gabriel competed with him under the garment Composed by Ibn Abul Hadeed al-Mu’tazily al-Hanafi (about Imam ‘Ali (as))
44. Mursal is a tradition narrated without a series of narrators or the narrators are unknown or unreliable. Musnad is a tradition narrated by truthful and reliable narrators
45. She was the Prophet’s (S) nursemaid.

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