ABU BEKR had soon an occasion for showing his resolve to carry out to the utmost the will of Mohammad in things both great and small.
Just before he fell sick, the Prophet had given orders for an expedition to the Syrian border. It was to avenge the disaster which three years before had befallen the Moslem arms on the field of Muta. In that reverse, Zeid ibn Haritha, the bosom friend of Mohammad, who led the army, fell; and so, distinctly to mark the object of the expedition, his son Usama, though still young, was nominated by Mohammad to the command, and bidden to avenge his father's death. The camp, including all available fighting men, had been formed at the Jurf, a little way outside Medina on the Syrian road. During the Prophet's sickness the force remained inactive there, uncertain of the issue. When the fatal event took place, Usama broke up the camp, and carrying back the banner received at the hands of Mohammad, planted it in the court of the great Mosque, close by the door of 'Aisha's apartment.
The day following his inauguration, Abu Bekr took up the banner, and restoring it to Usama, in token that he was still commander, bade the army again assemble and encamp at the Jurf as it had done before; not a man was to be left behind. Obeying his command, the fighting men of Medina and its neighbourhood all flocked to the camp, even 'Omar amongst the number. While yet preparing to depart, the horizon darkened suddenly. Report of the
Prophet's illness, soon followed by tidings of his death, had spread like wildfire over the land. From every side came rumours of disloyalty, and of resolve to cast off the yoke of Islam. The sense of the army, and of Usama himself, was strongly against leaving the City thus defenceless, and the Caliph exposed to risk of sudden danger. 'Omar was deputed to represent all this to Abu Bekr, and also to urge (a request which Mohammad already had refused) that, if the expedition must proceed, a more experienced general should command. To the first request Abu Bekr replied, calm and unmoved:"Were the City swarming round with packs of ravening wolves and I left solitary and alone, the force should go; not a word from my Master's lips shall fall to the ground." At the second demand the Caliph's anger kindled:"The mother be bereft of thee, O son of Al-Khattab!" he said, seizing 'Omar by the beard:"Shall the Prophet of the Lord appoint a man to the command and I, deposing him, appoint another in his place?" So 'Omar returned, with neither object gained.
When all was ready for the march, Abu Bekr repaired to the camp, and accompanied the force a little way on foot. "Be mounted," said Usama to him, "or else I will little way on dismount and walk by thee." "Not so," replied Abu Bekr; "I will not mount; I will walk and soil my feet a little moment in the ways of the Lord. Verily, every step trodden in the ways of the Lord is equal to the merit of manifold good works and wipeth out a multitude of sins." After a while he stopped, and said to Usama:"If it be thy will, give 'Omar leave that he may return for strength and counsel with me to the city." So he gave him leave, and Abu Bekr returned with 'Omar to Medina.
The ostensible object of Usama's expedition was to avenge the death of his father upon the tribe of Ghassan who had slain him upon the field of Muta, and Ibn Sa'd states that he did in fact kill the man who had slain him. On the other hand the tribemen actually attacked were of Koda'a, and the point at which the march culminated was apparently Obna, the ancient Jabneh (Josh. xv. 11), close to the Mediterranean, between Askelon and Jaffa. The time occupied was one month or at most two, and when we deduct the days spent in marching from and back to
Medina, it will appear that this campaign was little more than a freebooters' raid. This is proved by the fact that Usama returned to the Wadi al-Kora without having lost a man.
Meanwhile stirring events had been transpiring at Medina.
The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decline, and Fall [Table of Contents]
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