5. Was Abu Bakr Even Qualified To Lead?
Apart from the severe contradictions in the ahadith on Abu Bakr’s alleged leadership of salat during the Prophet’s fatal illness, there is also the question of its factual possibility. It is one thing for something to be possible; it is another for it to have truly occurred. Where it is impossible, then all reports of its occurrence are false by default. However, where it is possible, then additional, consistent and authentic evidence of its actual occurrence must be produced by whoever seeks to rely on that fact. With regards to Abu Bakr’s alleged leadership of the salat, there are only conflicting, irreconcilable “proofs” of it. As such, there actually are none. In this chapter, we seek to explore the possibility of it even ever happening. This way, we bury it for good.
Without a doubt, the very first step in determining the possibility of Abu Bakr’s leadership of the salat is to establish or discredit his qualification for it. Unless it is proved that he was qualified to lead, then every effort to claim that he did is futile. If he was not qualified, apparently his appointment as prayer leader by the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alaihi wa alihi, would have been impossible. However, if he was qualified, it would, in that case, be at least possible. Then, additional, unquestionable evidence would become admissible to establish its factual occurrence.
So, was Abu Bakr qualified to lead the Messenger of Allah in salat? Moreover, was he equally qualified to lead the Sahabah in salat in the Prophet’s mosque?
The answer to the first question is in this verse:
يا أيها الذين آمنوا لا تقدموا بين يدي الله ورسوله واتقوا الله إن الله سميع عليم
O you who believe! Do not lead in front of Allah and His Messenger, and fear Allah. Verily, Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.1
This effectively makes it absolutely haram to lead the Prophet of Allah in anything – including in battles and salat. Imam al-Mubarakfuri (d. 1282 H) also states:
حكى ذلك القاضي عياض قال ولا يصح لأحد أن يؤم جالسا بعده صلى الله عليه وسلم قال وهو مشهور قول مالك وجماعة أصحابه قال وهذا أولى الأقاويل لأنه صلى الله عليه وسلم لا يصح التقدم بين يديه في الصلاة ولا في غيرها ولا لعذر ولا لغيره
That is narrated from Qaḍi ‘Iyaḍ. He said, “It is not correct for anyone to lead in salat in a sitting posture other than him, peace be upon him.” He said, “And this is the famous statement of Malik and the majority of his companions.” He said, “And this is the most correct of the opinions, because it is NOT correct to lead in front of him in salat or in anything else, whether due to an excuse or otherwise.”2
Al-Hafiz (d. 852 H), while relating the submissions of Qaḍi Iyaḍ, reports:
واحتج أيضا بأنه صلى الله عليه وسلم إنما صلى بهم قاعدا لأنه لا يصح التقدم بين يديه لنهى الله عن ذلك
He cited as proof also the fact that he, peace be upon him, led them in salat in a sitting posture, because it is NOT correct to lead in front of him, due to the prohibition of that by Allah.3
In simpler words, it was absolutely impossible that Abu Bakr ever led Muhammad in salat or in any anything else. Allah has totally forbidden that; and so, Abu Bakr was NOT qualified in any way or by any means to lead the Messenger in salat or in any other situation or circumstance. Even Abu Bakr too realized this, as documented by Imam Muslim (d. 261 H):
قال أبو بكر ما كان لابن أبي قحافة أن يصلي بين يدي رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم
Abu Bakr said, “It is NOT for the son of Abu Quhafah (i.e. Abu Bakr) to lead salat in front of the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him.”4
So, all the reports about how the Prophet was led in salat by Abu Bakr or anyone else from this Ummah are fallacious and hold no truth at all. The Book of Allah rejects them, and Abu Bakr too denounced them. There is also an element of high blasphemy in those ahadith. The only way Abu Bakr could have legitimately led the Messenger of Allah in salat was if the latter had lost or forfeited his risalah (messengership) and had become inferior to the former in many areas.
Moreover, we ask our Sunni brothers: who was the ruler of Madinah at that moment when – as your sect claims - Abu Bakr led the Prophet in salat? Was it the Messenger? Or, was it Abu Bakr? This question is crucial in the light of some authentic narrations in your books. For instance, Imam al-Tirmidhi (d. 279 H) records:
حدثنا هناد حدثنا أبومعاوية عن الأعمش عن إسماعيل بن رجاء عن أوس بن ضمعج عن أبي مسعود أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم قال لا يؤم الرجل في سلطانه ولا يجلس على تكرمته إلا بإذنه
Hanad – Abu Mu’awiyah – al-A’mash – Isma’il b. Raja - Aws b. Ḍam’aj – Abu Mas’ud:
The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, said: “No one can lead a man in salat in his place of authority, and no one can sit in his place of honour except with his permission.”5
هذا حديث حسن صحيح
This hadith is hasan sahih6
‘Allamah al-Albani (d. 1420 H) also comments:
Imam al-Nasai (d. 303 H) also documents:
أخبرنا إبراهيم بن محمد التيمي قال حدثنا يحيى بن سعيد عن شعبة عن إسماعيل بن رجاء عن أوس بن ضمعج عن أبي مسعود قال قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم لا يؤم الرجل في سلطانه ولا يجلس على تكرمته إلا بإذنه
Ibrahim b. Muhammad al-Taymi – Yahya b. Sa’id – Shu’bah – Isma’il b. Raja – Aws b. Ḍam’aj – Abu Mas’ud:
The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, said: “No one can lead a man in salat in his place of authority, and no one can sit in his place of honour except with his permission.”8
And ‘Allamah al-Albani declares again:
So, if the Prophet of Allah was really still the amir of the Muslims at that moment, then Abu Bakr was further disqualified from ever leading him in salat ! Whoever insists that Abu Bakr was his Imam is telling us that he (the Messenger) had lost authority over Madinah. Meanwhile, the authority of the Prophet was, and still is, tied to his risalah, among others. As such, if he had lost authority over Madinah, then he must have lost all his divine ranks. The direct implication of this is – the only way Abu Bakr could have been the Prophet’s Imam was if the latter was no longer a messenger of Allah, at the least! Therefore, whoever claims that Abu Bakr led him in salat has thereby rejected his (i.e. the Prophet’s) risalah! There is simply no second way to it.
In other ahadith, the Messenger of Allah mentions some other conditions with farther reaching implications. Imam Muslim records:
وحدثنا أبو بكر بن أبي شيبة وأبو سعيد الأشج كلاهما عن أبي خالد قال أبو بكر حدثنا أبو خالد الأحمر عن الأعمش عن إسماعيل بن رجاء عن أوس بن ضمعج عن أبي مسعود الأنصاري قال قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم يؤم القوم أقرؤهم لكتاب الله فإن كانوا في القراءة سواء فأعلمهم بالسنة فإن كانوا في السنة سواء فأقدمهم هجرة فإن كانوا في الهجرة سواء فأقدمهم سلما ولا يؤمن الرجل الرجل في سلطانه ولا يقعد في بيته على تكرمته إلا بإذنه
Abu Bakr b. Abi Shaybah and Abu Sa’id al-Ashja’ – Abu Khalid: Abu Bakr – Abu Khalid al-Ahmar – al-A’mash – Isma’il b. Raja – Aws b. Ḍam’aj – Abu Mas’ud al-Ansari:
The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, said: “The people should be led in salat by the best reciter of the Book of Allah among them. But, if they are equal in recitation, then the one who is the most knowledgeable among them concerning the Sunnah. If they are equal regarding the Sunnah, then the earliest of them to do the hijrah. If they are equal in the hijrah, then the earliest of them to embrace Islam. No man can lead another in salat in a place where the latter has authority, or sit in his place of honour in his house without his permission.”10
There is need to quickly highlight a point here. Where someone is the ruler or administrator of a place, as long as he is a Muslim, none can lead him in salat in it. He is the automatic Imam, even if he is not the best of them in Qur’anic recitation, or in knowledge of the Sunnah. His political authority overrides all the other set conditions. However, where none in the mosque is the ruler of its area, then the various criteria are examined in the specified order. Imam al-Mubarakfuri (d. 1282 H) confirms:
وفي رواية مسلم لا يؤمن الرجل الرجل في سلطانه ... ولذا كان ابن عمر يصلي خلف الحجاج وصح عن ابن عمر أن إمام المسجد مقدم على غير السلطان
In the report of (Imam) Muslim, it is stated “No man can lead another in salat in a place where the latter has authority.”... This was why Ibn ‘Umar used to offer salat behind al-Hajjaj. It is also authentically narrated that Ibn ‘Umar stated that the Imam of the mosque leads (only) the non-ruler.11
These facts reveal that leadership in salat is no indicator of superiority before Allah at all. Ibn ‘Umar was superior – in the eyes of Sunni Islam – over al-Hajjaj in all ways and by all means. So, even a drunken Sunni governor can validly be the Imam for a saint of Allah. The other criteria in the hadith are of the same effect as well. The best reciter in the Ummah, who is the most qualified to lead the salat after the ruler or governor, may – just like the executive leader - not necessarily be the best of the Muslims, or their most knowledgeable. Something we wonder about though is – how many of the Sunni kings, sultans, emirs, presidents and sheikhs today lead salat in their grand mosques?
Imam Ahmad (d. 241 H) also documents:
حدثنا عبد الله حدثني أبي ثنا محمد بن جعفر ثنا شعبة عن إسماعيل بن رجاء قال سمعت أوس بن ضمعج يقول سمعت أبا مسعود يقول قال لنا رسول الله صلى الله عليه و سلم يؤم القوم أقرؤهم لكتاب الله تعالى وإقدمهم قراءة فان كانت قراءتهم سواء فليؤمهم أقدمهم هجرة فان كانوا في الهجرة سواء فليؤمهم أكبرهم سنا ولا يؤمن الرجل في أهله ولا في سلطانه ولا يجلس على تكرمته في بيته الا ان يأذن له أو بإذنه
‘Abd Allah (b. Ahmad) – my father – Muhammad b. Ja’far – Shu’bah – Isma’il b. Raja – Aws b. Ḍam’aj – Abu Mas’ud:
The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, said to us: “The people should be led in salat by the best reciter of the Book of Allah the Most High among them. But, if their recitations are equal, then the earliest of them in hijrah should lead them in salat. If they are equal in the hijrah, then the oldest of them should lead them in salat. No man can be led in salat among his family members or in a place where he has authority, or none can sit in his place of honour in his house without his permission.”12
Shaykh al-Arnaut comments:
إسناده صحيح على شرط مسلم
Its chain is sahih upon the standard of (Imam) Muslim13
It is undisputed that Abu Bakr was not the ruler over the Messenger of Allah at any point in time. Therefore, he was automatically and absolutely disqualified from ever leading his Prophet in salat. Besides, was Abu Bakr a better reciter of the Qur’an than the Messenger of Allah? Was he more knowledgeable of the Sunnah than the Prophet? Did Abu Bakr do the hijrah before him? Was he older than his Messenger? Did he accept Islam before his Prophet? We ask – on what basis exactly was Abu Bakr ever qualified lead the Master and Best of all creation in salat? Apparently, there is none, and there can never be any! As such, all the Sunni riwayat about how he supposedly was the Imam of the Messenger are only Sunni exaggerations and hallucinations!
Interestingly, Abu Bakr was equally unqualified to lead even the other Sahabah! In order to be qualified, he had to be their best reciter. But, was he? Imam al-Bukhari (d. 256 H) records the answer of ‘Umar:
حدثنا عمرو بن علي حدثنا يحيى حدثنا سفيان عن حبيب عن سعيد بن جبير عن ابن عباس قال قال عمر رضي الله عنه: أقرؤنا أبي وأقضانا علي
‘Amr b. ‘Ali – Yahya – Sufyan – Habib – Sa’id b. Jubayr – Ibn ‘Abbas:
‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, said: “The best reciter among us is Ubayy, and the best judge among us is ‘Ali.”14
‘Allamah al-Albani has equally copied the Prophetic confirmation of this:
عن أنس بن مالك، أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قال :أرحم أمتي بأمتي أبو بكر وأشدهم في دين الله عمر وأصدقهم حياء عثمان وأقضاهم علي بن أبي طالب. وأقرؤهم لكتاب الله أبي بن كعب.
Narrated Anas b. Malik:
The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, said, “The most merciful of my Ummah to my Ummah is Abu Bakr. The most severe of them in the religion of Allah is ‘Umar. The most shy of them is ‘Uthman. And the best judge among them is ‘Ali b. Abi Talib. And the best reciter of the Book of Allah among them is Ubayy b. Ka’b.”15
So, it was not Abu Bakr?! Therefore, it was Ubayy who was qualified for the leadership of the salat and NOT Abu Bakr! With the presence of Ubayy among the Sahabah, Abu Bakr – the first Sunni khalifah – was thereby disqualified from leading either the Prophet or his followers in salat in the grand mosque of Madinah. With this, all the reports about Abu Bakr’s leadership of the salat drown in the Sunni ocean of fabrications. The Messenger of Allah would never place the wrong rod in the right hole – neither by nepotism nor by mistake. The Sunnah is that the best reciter should lead in salat – unless where the ruler is present. Abu Bakr was neither the best reciter nor the ruler. Those facts alone terminate the entire story.
- 1. Qur’an 49:1
- 2. Abu al-‘Ala Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Rahman b. ‘Abd al-Rahim al-Mubarakfuri, Tuhfat al-Ahwazi bi Sharh Jami’ al-Tirmidhi (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah; 1st edition, 1410 H), vol. 2, p. 294
- 3. Shihab al-Din Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari (Beirut: Dar al-Ma’rifah li al-Taba’ah wa al-Nashr; 2nd edition), vol. 2, p. 146
- 4. Abu al-Husayn Muslim b. al-Hajjaj al-Qushayri al-Naysaburi, Sahih Muslim (Beirut: Dar Ihya al-Turath al-‘Arabi) [annotator: Muhammad Fuad ‘Abd al-Baqi], vol. 1, p. 316, # 421 (102)
- 5. Abu ‘Isa Muhammad b. ‘Isa al-Sulami al-Tirmidhi, al-Jami’ al-Sahih Sunan al-Tirmidhi (Beirut: Dar Ihya al-Turath al-‘Arabi) [annotator: Muhammad Nasir al-Din al-Albani], vol. 5, p. 99, # 2772
- 6. Ibid
- 7. Ibid
- 8. Abu ‘Abd al-Rahman Ahmad b. Shu’ayb al-Nasai, al-Mujtaba min al-Sunan (Halab: Maktab al-Matbu’at al-Islamiyyah; 2nd edition, 1406 H) [annotator: Muhammad Nasir al-Din al-Albani], vol. 2, p. 77, # 783
- 9. Ibid
- 10. Abu al-Husayn Muslim b. al-Hajjaj al-Qushayri al-Naysaburi, Sahih Muslim (Beirut: Dar Ihya al-Turath al-‘Arabi) [annotator: Muhammad Fuad ‘Abd al-Baqi], vol. 1, p. 465, # 673 (290)
- 11. Abu al-‘Ala Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Rahman b. ‘Abd al-Rahim al-Mubarakfuri, Tuhfat al-Ahwazi bi Sharh Jami’ al-Tirmidhi (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah; 1st edition, 1410 H), vol. 2, p. 29
- 12. Abu ‘Abd Allah Ahmad b. Hanbal al-Shaybani, Musnad (Cairo: Muasassat Qurtubah) [annotator: Shu’ayb al-Arnaut], vol. 4, p. 121, # 17133
- 13. Ibid
- 14. Abu ‘Abd Allah Muhammad b. Isma’il b. Ibrahim b. Mughirah al-Bukhari al-Ju’fi, al-Jami’ al-Sahih al-Mukhtasar (Beirut: Dar Ibn Kathir; 3rd edition, 1407 H) [annotator: Dr. Mustafa Dib al-Bagha], vol. 4, p. 1628, # 4211
- 15. Muhammad Nasir al-Din al-Albani, Sahih Sunan Ibn Majah (Maktabah al-Ma’arif li al-Nashr wa al-Tawzi’; 1st edition, 1417 H), vol. 1, pp. 67-68, # 125
- 16. Ibid