Chapter 5: An Analysis Of Sunnis’ Arguments For Abu Bakr’s Caliphate

Ahl al-Sunna have presented some arguments to prove the caliphate of Abu Bakr. In this chapter, these arguments are analysed.

A. Consensus

Ijma‘ (consensus) is one the reasons mentioned for the legitimacy of Abu Bakr’s caliphate. However, it is not mentioned clearly if it refers to the consensus of all Muslims, or that of the inhabitants of Medina, or that of the qualified people (ahl al-hall wa al-‘aqd) and so forth. Besides, there are some serious questions concerning this claim.

1. Did Consensus Take Place?

The viewpoint of ‘Umar b. al-Khattab, the Second Caliph, is against such claimed consensus:

قال عمر: كَانَتْ بَيْعَةُ أَبِي بَكْرٍ فَلْتَةً ... وَلَكِنَّ اللَّهَ وَقَى شَرَّهَا.

‘Umar said: paying allegiance to Abu Bakr was a prompt sudden act … but Allah prevented its evil results.1

In his tafsir, al-Qurtubi, a great Sunni scholar, implicitly rejecting the consensus of all Muslims, holds that paying allegiance of one person is enough in realizing Ijma‘ and the reason is ‘Umar’s allegiance to Abu Bakr:

فإن عقدها واحد من أهل الحلّ والعقد فذلك ثابت ... ودليلنا: أنّ عمر -رض - عقد البيعة لأبي بكر ولم ينكر أحد من الصحابة ذلك.

If caliphate is proved by one of the qualified people then it is established … The reason is that ‘Umar [alone] paid allegiance to Abu Bakr and no companion denied that.2

Is it possible to have consensus with one person’s allegiance?!

2. Did All The Companions In Medina Pay Allegiance To Abu Bakr?

According to some, all the Companions living in Medina paid allegiance to Abu Bakr and this shows the legitimacy of his caliphate. However, this claim is rejected by the fact that according to the Sunnis’ authentic sources, many Companions refused to pay him allegiance. Sahih al-Bukhari quotes ‘Umar b. al-Khattab as saying:

أَنَّ الأَنْصَارَ خَالَفُونَا وَاجْتَمَعُوا بِأَسْرِهِمْ فِي سَقِيفَةِ بَنِي سَاعِدَةَ، وَخَالَفَ عَنَّا عَلِيٌّ وَالزُّبَيْرُ وَمَنْ مَعَهُمَا ... .

All the Ansar (helpers, Medinan Companions of the Prophet (S)) opposed us and gathered in Saqifa Bani Sa‘ida. Also, Ali, Zubayr and their followers opposed us.3

Regarding this, ibn Taymiyya, writes:

وكان أكثر بني عبد مناف ـ من بني أمية وبني هاشم وغيرهم لهم ميل قوي إلى عليّ بن أبي طالب يختارون ولايته.

Most of Banu ‘Abd Manaf, including Banu Umayya, Banu Hashim and others, had a great tendency towards Ali ibn Abi Talib and chose his Wilayah.4

Ibn al-Athir al-Jazari explains that:

فقالت الأنصار أو بعض الأنصار: لا نبايع إلاّ عليّاً.

All Ansar or some of them said: “We do not pay allegiance except to Ali.”5

Again, according to al-Bukhari, Fatimah, who lived for 6 months after the demise of the Prophet (S), did not talk and pay allegiance to Abu Bakr during this period. Ali also did not pay allegiance to him in the same span of time:

عن عائشة:... وَعَاشَتْ ]فَاطِمَةُ[ بَعْدَ النَّبِيِّ صلی الله علیه واله وسلم سِتَّةَ أَشْهُر... وَلَمْ يَكُنْ علي يُبَايِعُ تِلْكَ الأَشْهُرَ.

‘A’ishah narrates: … Fatimah liver for 6 months after the Prophet (S) … and Ali did not pay allegiance during these months.6

It is interesting to know that ibn al-Hazm al-Andulusi believes that every consensus without the consent and presence of Ali ibn Abi Talib is cursed:

قال ابن حزم: ولعنة اللّه على كلّ إجماع يخرج عنه على بن أبى طالب ومن بحضرته من الصحابة.

Ibn Hazm said: Allah’s curse be upon any consensus in which Ali ibn Abi Talib and his companions are absent.7

3. Was There Any Democracy In Choosing Abu Bakr? Was There Any Force?

Some people claim that Abu Bakr was chosen out of democracy since it was the view of people who freely and without being forced, chose him as their caliph. This claim, however, is contradicted by various narrations in the Sunnis' most authentic sources. Al-Bukhari quotes ‘A’ishah as saying:

خَوَّفَ عُمَرُ النَّاسَ

‘Umar used to threaten the people.8

In his history book, al-Tabari declares that one of the reasons which helped Abu Bakr reach caliphate was the presence of Aslam tribe who forced people to pay allegiance to him and suppressed those who disagreed:

وعن عمر بن خطاب: ما هو إلاّ أن رأيت أسلم، فأيقنت بالنصر.

‘Umar b. al-Khattab says: “As soon as I saw Aslam tribe, I was convinced of victory.”9

B. Narrations

Some Sunni scholars have resorted to some weak narrations to prove the caliphate of Abu Bakr. However, this claim is against the Sunnis’ belief that the Prophet (S) did not choose any successor. Also it is in contradiction with the narrations stating that no one was chosen by the Prophet (S). One narration in Sahih al-Bukhari reads:

قال عُمَر: إِنْ أَسْتَخْلِفْ فَقَدْ اسْتَخْلَفَ مَنْ هُوَ خَيْرٌ مِنِّي أَبُو بَكْرٍ وَإِنْ أَتْرُكْ فَقَدْ تَرَكَ مَنْ هُوَ خَيْرٌ مِنِّي رَسُولُ اللَّهِ.

‘Umar said: If I choose a successor, it is what was done by a person who was better than me i.e. Abu Bakr and if I do not choose any successor, it is what was done by a person who was better than me i.e. the Prophet (S).10

Al-Taftazani, a great Sunni scholar of theology writes:

والنص منتف في حق أبي بكر.

There is no [Prophetic] narration about the caliphate of Abu Bakr.11

Therefore, to claim that some narrations prove his caliphate is baseless.

Does Abu Bakr’s Congregational Prayer, Instead Of The Prophet (S) Prove His Caliphate?

To prove Abu Bakr’s caliphate, some Sunni scholars have referred to some narrations according to which, the Prophet (S) sent Abu Bakr to lead the congregational prayer on his behalf. According to them, this shows that he (S) trusted Abu Bakr for leading the Muslim nation. However, these narrations are not acceptable for various reasons:

A. Congregational Prayer With 2 Imams (Leader In Prayer)?!

An obvious problem in such narrations is that they portray a form of congregational prayer which is invalid according to all Sunni schools:

فَكَانَ أبو بَكْرٍ يُصَلِّي قَائِمًا وكان رسول اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه واله وسلم يُصَلِّي قَاعِدًا يَقْتَدِي أبو بَكْرٍ بِصَلَاةِ رسول اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه واله وسلم وَالنَّاسُ مُقْتَدُونَ بِصَلَاةِ أبي بَكْرٍ رضي الله عنه.

Abu Bakr said his prayer while standing and the Prophet (S) said his prayer while sitting. Abu Bakr followed the prayer led by the Prophet (S) and people followed the prayer led by Abu Bakr.12

Clearly, a congregational prayer is led by only one imam and the above-mentioned way is invalid.

B. Was Abu Bakr The Imam Of The Prayer Or Just A Mukabbir95

According to one narration in Sahih al-Bukhari, Abu Bakr did not lead the congregational prayer; rather, he was just a mukabbir:

وَأَبُو بَكْر يُسْمِعُ النَّاسَ التَّكْبِيرَ.

Abu Bakr acted as a mukabbir.13

C. Is Leading A Prayer A Sign For Caliphate?!

According to various narrations in Sunni sources, different people were appointed by the Prophet (S) in different occasions to lead the prayer. If leading a prayer is a criterion for deserving caliphate, these people too must have been chosen as caliphs:

اسْتَخْلَفَ ابْنَ أُمِّ مَكْتُومٍ يَؤُمُّ النَّاسَ وَهُوَ أَعْمَى.

The Prophet (S) chose ibn Umm Maktum, who was blind, to act as his deputy in leading the prayer.14

النبي صَلَّى خَلْفَ عبد الرحمن بن عَوْفٍ.

The Prophet (S) followed the prayer led by ‘Abd al-Rahman b. ‘Awf.15

Thus, either leading a prayer has nothing to do with caliphate or ibn Umm Maktum and ‘Abd al-Rahman b. ‘Awf must have been chosen as caliphs by the same token.

D. Leading The Congregational Prayer Does Not Prove Even Justice

According to Sunni sources, leading the prayer does not require that the imam is just and righteous. So how can one claim that leading a prayer is a sign for caliphate?

قال النبي: من أصل الدين الصلاة خلف كل بر وفاجر.

The Prophet (S) said: “A principle of religion is to follow an imam in your prayer, whether he is a righteous person or a sinful one.”16

So according to this narration, to lead a prayer does not prove liability for caliphate.

  • 1. Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 8, p. 1690, hadith no. 6830.
  • 2. Tafsir al-Qurtubi, vol. 1, p. 269.
  • 3. Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 8, p. 1690, hadith no. 6830.
  • 4. Ibn Taymiyya, Minhaj al-Sunna, vol. 7, p. 47.
  • 5. Ibn al-Athir, al-Kamil, vol. 2, p. 189; also see. Tarikh al-Tabari, vol. 2, p. 443.
  • 6. Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 5, p. 82, hadiths nos. 4240 & 4241.
  • 7. Ibn al-Hazm, al-Muhalla, vol. 9, p. 345.
  • 8. Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 4, p. 195, hadith no. 3669.
  • 9. Tarikh al-Tabari, vol. 2, p. 458.
  • 10. Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 8, p. 126, hadith no. 7218.
  • 11. Al-Taftazani, Sharh al-Maqasid, vol. 5, p. 255.
  • 12. Sahih al-Bukhari, vo. 1, p. 174, hadith no. 713.
  • 13. Sahih al-Bukhari, vo. 1, p. 174, hadith no. 712.
  • 14. Abu Dawud Sajistani, al-Sunan, vol. 1, p. 143, hadith no. 595.
  • 15. Ibn Abi Shayba, al-Musannaf, vol. 2, p. 119, hadith no. 7170.
  • 16. Al-Darqutni, al-Sunan, vol. 2, p. 44, hadith no. 1747.