After assuming the Caliphate the first issue that Abu Bakr was called upon to decide was whether the expedition to Syria which the Holy Prophet had directed to be sent under the command of Usamah should proceed to its destination, or should the expedition in view of the change in circumstances be abandoned.
The background of the expedition was that in 639 A D. the Holy Prophet had sent an expedition against the Syrians under Zaid bin Harith. In the confrontation that had taken place at Mutah, Zaid had been martyred. The command had thereafter been taken over by Jafar bin Abu Talib and he had also been martyred. Abdullah bin Rawaha who had next taken the command had also been martyred.
At that critical stage, Khalid bin Walid had taken over the command By his skillful tactics and superb strategy he had succeeded in retrieving the position and bringing back the Muslim forces safely to Madina. For this act of heroism, Khalid bin Walid had received from the Holy Prophet the title of 'Saifullah'-the Sword of Allah.
In 632 A.D. on return from the `Farewell Pilgrimage', the Holy Prophet ordered a detachment to be sent against the Syrians under the command of Usamah the son of Zaid bin Harith. Some persons objected to the command of Usamah, a mere youth of twenty when other veteran commanders were available. The Holy Prophet overruled the objection, and declared that Usamah was worthy of the command.
When the Holy Prophet fell ill the detachment of Usamah was camped at Jorf a few miles from Madina on the road to Syria. On account of the serious illness of the Holy Prophet, Usamah delayed his departure. When the Holy Prophet died, Usamah returned to Madina, and sought further orders from the new Caliph.
Most of the Companions were of the view that at that critical stage in the history of Islam when most of the tribes had apostatized from Islam, and Madina itself was surrounded by hostile tribes it was dangerous to send the army outside the country. They were further of the view that if the expedition was necessarily to be undertaken, there should be a change in the command and some veteran soldier should be appointed as the commander instead of Usamah. The companions chose Umar as their spokesman to represent their view point before Abu Bakr.
Umar saw Abu Bakr, and represented the case with considerable vehemence. As regards the issue whether the expedition should or should not be undertaken Abu Bakr said that as the Holy Prophet had insisted on sending the expedition, it would be a breach of faith on his part to reverse the orders of the Holy Prophet. Umar tried to argue that if the army was sent, the city of Madina would be exposed to attack by the enemy, and the Caliphate itself would be in danger. To this Abu Bakr replied:
"Who am I to withhold the army that the Holy Prophet had ordained to proceed? Come what may, let Madina stand or fall, the Caliphate live or perish, the command of the Holy Prophet shall be carried out."
As regards the issue about the change of command Abu Bakr said:
"This objection had been raised before the Holy Prophet as well and he had rejected the objection. How can I as the successor of the Holy Prophet accept an objection which the Holy Prophet had in his wisdom rejected?"
"O the Caliph of the Holy Prophet, you are wiser than us all. You are right. May God bless you and your decisions".
Thereafter Umar explained to the companions the decisions of Abu Bakr, and the justification therefore.
The army under Usamah was accordingly directed to proceed to its appointed task. On the eve of the departure of the army, Abu Bakr addressed the soldiers and gave them instructions regarding their conduct and responsibilities. Umar was also included among the soldiers in the army of Usamah. Turning to Usamah, Abu Bakr said:
"I beg one favor of you. Do not take Umar with you. Leave him here to help me."
The army of Usamah marched from Jorf to Syria. Umar was left at Madina to serve as an Adviser to Abu Bakr.
Madina was surrounded by a ring of tribes whose attitude to Islam was unfavorable if not hostile. The Bani Asad had their concentration at Sumairah, the first stage on the way to Mecca. The Bani Ghatafan had their concentration in the south of Madina. The Banu Tha'lba, the Banu Harrach and the Banu Abas had their stronghold at Abraq. The Banu Dhunayn had their headquarter at Dhul Qissa the first stage on the route from Madina to Nejd.
When Usamah's army left Madina for the Syrian front, the tribes around Madina sent a deputation to wait on Abu Bakr. The tribes were prepared to own Islam, but they refused to pay Zakat. Abu Bakr consulted the companions. Almost all of them advised that as the Muslims were hemmed in by danger from all sides, allegiance of such tribes to Islam should be accepted by foregoing the claim to Zakat, so that there should be no further secession from the fold of Islam.
According to Suyuti's History of the Caliphs, Abu Bakr Ahmad bin Ibrahim al-lsmail, a scholar of the Shaafii school has preserved an account of what happened in the words of Umar himself. The account reads:
"When the Apostle of God died, some of the Arabs fell from the faith and they said 'we will perform the prayers, but we will not pay the poor rate'. I went to Abu Bakr and said 'O Vicegerent of the Apostle of God conciliate the people and be indulgent to them for they are not on a level with brute beasts'. Abu Bakr, replied 'I hoped for your help, and you have come withholding your aid. You were stern in the time of ignorance. Why have you become dissipated and dispirited in Islam? How can I conciliate with them by ignoring the injunctions of Islam? If God and the Holy Prophet had left the matter to the discretion of the community, I could have accepted your advice and allowed concession in the matter of poor rate on the basis of expediency. But where the orders of the Holy Prophet and Allah are conclusive and definite, how can I or you modify such orders, in spite of the gravity of the situation. Alas the Holy Prophet is dead, and divine inspiration is no longer available to us. As the representative of the Holy Prophet it devolves on me to enforce the order passed by the Holy Prophet, and not to modify or amend such order. "Thereupon I realized how correct was Abu Bakr. I congratulated him on his resolve and assured him of my full support".
When the delegation of the tribes waited on Abu Bakr, Abu Bakr explained to the delegates that if they professed Islam, they had to observe all the injunctions of Islam in to. There was no half-way house in Islam, and it was not permissible for them to pick and choose according to their whims in the matter of religion. Islam had either to be accepted or rejected, and there was no room in Islam for any compromise on fundamentals. Zakat being a fundamental injunction of Islam had to be made, and any refusal to pay Zakat implied apostasy. Addressing the delegates, Abu Bakr declared in unequivocal terms:
"Under the circumstances, if with reference to Zakat you withhold even as much as a string to tie a camel, as a Caliph of the Holy Prophet, it will be my duty to fight for it whatever the consequences."
Umar sat by the side of Abu Bakr as the delegates met the Caliph. Thus rebuffed the recalcitrant tribes decided to accept the challenge. As the main Muslim army under Usamah was out of the country, the tribes felt that Madina was vulnerable and would easily fall to any attack. The tribes held a council of war among themselves and decided to attack Madina. One night the tribes marched to Madina and opened the attack.
Abu Bakr and Umar were alive to the gravity of the situation. They took precautionary measures and every able bodied male adult in Madina was called upon to come forward for the defense of the city. With all the forces that could be mustered the Muslims marched to face the invaders. The invaders threw inflated water skins in the path of the Muslim army. That frightened the camels on which the Muslims were riding, and the camels ran towards Madina. The tribes felt jubilant at the retreat of the Muslims.
Abu Bakr and Umar rallied the Muslim forces. In the late hours of the night, the Muslim forces marched out of the city and led a violent attack. The tribal forces were taken unawares and were cut to pieces. Those who survived fled in confusion. Before the day dawned the Muslims had won the victory and the threat to Madina was over.
Khalid bin Walid who was a cousin of the mother of Umar was the hero of the apostasy wars conducted during the caliphate of Abu Bakr. While Umar appreciated Khalid's skill as a General he was critical of Khalid's moral conduct.
Having defeated Taleaha at the battle of Buzakha, and reduced the tribes in the north Khalid bin Walid decided to march against the Bani Tamim who lived on a plateau bordering on the Persian Gulf. The Bani Tamim had accepted Islam during the life time of the Holy Prophet. After the death of the Holy Prophet when the wave of apostasy spread over the Arabian peninsula, the Bani Tamim were also affected. The tribe came to be divided into two sections. One section remained faithful to Islam while the other section apostatized.
When Khalid gave his army the order to march to Bataha the headquarter of the Bani Tamim a section of the army objected to the order on the ground that the Caliph had not sanctioned any action against the Bani Tamim. The objection was overruled by Khalid.
The orders of Abu Bakr were that if any tribe professed faith in Islam, no action was to be taken against it. If a tribe did not profess faith in Islam, it was to be invited to accept Islam, and operations were to be undertaken against it only in the event of refusal. The strategy laid down was that if on reaching a settlement the residents pronounced Adhan, it was to be understood that the people were Muslims. In the absence of such response it was to be presumed that the people were hostile to Islam.
Before the Muslim army reached Bataha, delegation from Bani Tamim waited on Khalid. They brought with them the necessary amount of the tax payable to the Muslims. Khalid took the amount, but continued his advance to Bataha. When the forces of Khalid reached Bataha there were no forces of the Bani Tamim to oppose the Muslims. The position was confused. Malik the chief of Bani Tamim neither came forward to offer his submission, nor did he come forward to oppose the Muslims.
Khalid directed his soldiers to forage in the neighborhood. Malik and his wife Laila were taken captive and brought before Khalid. Malik's wife Laila was known far and wide for her breath-taking beauty. Her long glossy hair flowed up to her knees. She had gorgeous legs and she carried herself with peculiar grace and charm. In Khalid's camp Malik was killed and Khalid married Laila.
This led to considerable scandal. In some quarters it was held that Malik was indeed a Muslim and that he had been killed because Khalid coveted his beautiful wife Laila. Some of the Ansars in the army of Khalid led by Abu Qatadah withdrew from the army of Khalid. Abu Qatadah along with Mutamim the brother of the late Malik set out for Madina to lodge a complaint against Khalid. Mutamim was a distinguished poet, and he composed a heart rending elegy mourning the death of his brother. The elegy became very popular in Madina, and those who listened to it felt sympathy for Malik.
Khalid was summoned to Madina and put to explanation. Khalid's defense was that if according to the Holy Prophet he was the 'Sword of Allah' how could such sword fall against the neck of a Muslim? Umar was highly critical of the conduct of Khalid and held that he was guilty of murdering a Muslim to marry his beautiful wife. As the false prophet Musailma had defeated the Muslims twice, and Khalid's services were required to defeat Musailma, Abu Bakr took a lenient view, and decided that blood money should be paid out of the Baitul Mal to the heirs of Malik. Umar did not feel happy over the decision.
Khalid fought against Musailma in what came to be known as the battle of Yamama. It was a great trial of strength and though the Muslims won a victory, this was achieved at a heavy cost. Over 14,000 followers of Musailma died in the battle. Twelve hundred Muslims fell as martyrs in the battle and though the number was very much less than the number of dead of Banu Hanifa, the tribe of Musailma, yet the Muslim loss was quite heavy. Among the martyrs was Zaid the brother of Umar. Umar felt much grieved at the death of his brother. He used to say "Whenever the breeze blows from Yamama it brings to me the fragrance of Zaid".
Terms with the Banu Hanifa were negotiated by Khalid with Maja'a. Maja'a had a beautiful daughter and one of the terms stipulated by Khalid was that Maja'a should marry his daughter to him. Maja'a hesitated but Khalid forced him to marry his daughter to him the same day that the treaty was signed. Umar was critical of the conduct of Khalid, and complained to Abu Bakr. Abu Bakr wrote a letter to Khalid reprimanding him in the following terms:
"O son of the mother of Khalid. What has gone wrong with you? You are out to wed women when the land around your camp is still drenched with the blood of over a thousand martyrs."
In Iraq, in the battle of Daumatul Jandal fought in 633 AD, Khalid married the beautiful daughter of the chief Judi bin Rabee'a. Umar spoke critically of this marriage to Abu Bakr. Abu Bakr disposed of the matter with the remarks:
"Khalid has a soft corner in his heart for beautiful women. He is the victor, and he may well have Bint Judi as his prize, if that is his pleasure."
At the battle of Muzayyah in Iraq fought under the command of Khalid two Muslims, Abdullah and Labid were killed. Khalid was criticized for killing two Muslims. Umar was very bitter and pressed for action against Khalid, Abu Bakr again took a lenient view. He held that such things were likely to occur when Muslims chose to live in the midst of non-Muslims against whom military operations were undertaken. Abu Bakr paid blood money out of the Baitul Mal to the heirs of the two persons who had been killed.
During the Caliphate of the Abu Bakr, Umar was the principal Adviser of the Caliph.
A story is on record showing the great esteem and regard that Abu Bakr had for Umar and his opinion.
It is related that once Ayanayah bin Hassan and Aqrah bin Habas two tribal chiefs waited on Abu Bakr, and requested that an estate be awarded to them. They suggested that close to their settlement there was a rock waste land which produced nothing, and that that wasteland might be gifted to them so that by their efforts they might make it productive.
Abu Bakr consulted the people around him. They suggested that it was a good proposition for thereby the wasteland would become productive. Abu Bakr accordingly agreed to award the land in question to them. A document was drawn up. Umar was not present and Abu Bakr advised the grantees to get it witnessed by Umar.
The grantees thought that such witnessing by Umar was merely formal and that there would be no difficulty in obtaining his signature, on the document. The grantees went to Umar and requested him to affix his signatures to the document as it had been approved by Abu Bakr.
After reading the document, Umar returned it to the grantees saying that he could not be a party to the deed.
The grantees in a fit of anger went to Abu Bakr and reported what Umar had said.
Abu Bakr remained quiet. Thereupon the grantees turning to the Caliph said "Are you the Caliph, or is Umar the Caliph?"
Abu Bakr said "You may very well take Umar to be the Caliph".
Then Umar came to the Caliph. Abu Bakr enquired what was the reason for his refusal to sign the document.
Umar asked "Is the land which you have gifted your property or is it a trust with you on behalf of the Muslim community".
Abu Bakr said "It is not my personal property; as such it should be a trust on behalf of the Muslim community".
Umar said "If that is the position, how can you extinguish the trust by gifting it to A or B. They may take it on lease subject to terms, but it must remain the State property. "
Turning to the applicants, Abu Bakr said "Umar has spoken the truth. I cannot deviate from the law."
Turning to Umar, Abu Bakr said "I had already requested you to take over the office of the Caliph, but you thrust the burden on my shoulders. I may not be with you for long and ultimately this responsibility will have to be shouldered by you."
Between the Holy Prophet and Abu Bakr, the latter was "The Second of the Two". A similar equation obtained between Abu Bakr and Umar. When Abu Bakr became the Caliph, Umar was decidedly the 'Second of the Two'. The attachment and friendship between the two was of an exceptional character. Each preferred the other to himself. After the death of the Holy Prophet, Abu Bakr wanted Umar to be the Caliph, and Umar took steps to have Abu Bakr elected as the Caliph. The Holy Prophet often came to the mosque flanked by Abu Bakr on one side, and Umar on the other.
Umar and Abu Bakr vied with each other in doing good. In this connection some stories have come down to us which highlight the equation between Abu Bakr and Umar.
In 633 AD. the Holy Prophet decided to lead an expedition, to Tabuk on the Syrian border. In order to finance the expedition, the Holy Prophet invited contributions and donations from his followers. Umar had then considerable money with him. He thought that that was the occasion when he might excel Abu Bakr in the doing of good. Umar went home and brought his donation. The Holy Prophet enquired of Umar as to what he had left behind for himself and his family. Umar stated that he had donated one half of his wealth in the name of Allah and had left one half for himself and his family. Then Abu Bakr came with his donation and the Holy Prophet put him the same question as to how much he had left for himself and his family.
Abu Bakr said that he had donated all that he had in the name of Allah, and that he had left Allah and His Prophet for himself and his family. This episode has formed the theme of one of the poems of Iqbal. The poem provides;
"For the moth the lamp and for the nightingale the flower;
For Sidiq, God and His Prophet alone suffice."
On that account Umar realized that it was difficult to excel Abu Bakr in the doing of good.
Abu Yala records from Ibn Masud that he said "I was in the mosque praying when there entered the Apostle of God and with him were Abu Bakr and Umar. He found me praying and said 'Ask and it shall be granted unto thee'. Then he said 'Whosoever wishes to read the Quran in a fresh and joyous manner let him read it with the reading of Ibn Masud' . Then I returned to my house and Abu Bakr came to me and gave me the good tidings regarding what the Holy Prophet had said. Then came Haarat Umar and he found Abu Bakr going forth having already been before him, and he said 'Verily Abu Bakr is the foremost in good'."
Even when Umar was not the Caliph, it was his practice to move about in Madina and help persons in distress.
In one of the suburbs of Madina there lived a blind old women who had no one to help her. Umar used to go in disguise to the house of the old woman, but was always surprised to find that some one else had anticipated him, and supplied the wants of the old lady.
Umar felt much distressed that in this noble task of helping a lady in distress his efforts were always frustrated by some other person. Umar felt curious as to who that person could be who beat him in the field of social service.
One day, Umar went to the house of the old woman earlier than usual and hid himself to watch as to who was the person who attended to the wants of the old woman.
Umar did not have to wait long for soon a man arrived who attended to the needs of the old woman, and this man was none other than the Caliph Abu Bakr.
Umar felt relieved that if in the matter of social service he had been beaten by any one, such person was the Caliph Abu Bakr who was decidedly superior to him.