"If the faith of Abu Bakr were to be weighed against the faith of all the people of the earth, his faith would outweigh theirs." [Umar bin Al-Khattab]
"Abu Bakr was the bravest of the people." [Ali ibn Abi Talib]1
The apostasy had become so general that it affected every tribe in Arabia with the exception of the people in Makkah and Madinah and the tribe of Thaqeef at Taif. In some cases the entire tribe apostatised. In other cases part of the tribe apostatised while part continued to follow the true faith; and among those who remained Muslims, many had to pay with their lives for their faith. The flames of disbelief were fanned by two false prophets, Tulaiha bin Khuwailid and Musailima bin Habib, and a false prophetess by the name of Sajah bint Al Harith. Musailima had been an impostor for some time, while Tulaiha made his claim to prophethood during the illness of the Holy Prophet. The most immediate threat to Madinah was posed by Tulaiha and the tribes of West-Central and North-Central Arabia that followed him. These tribes were the Ghatfan, the Tayy, the Hawazin, the Bani Asad and the Bani Sulaim.
The concentrations of apostates nearest Madinah were located in two areas: Abraq, 70 miles north-east of Madinah, and Zhu Qissa, 24 miles east of Madinah.2 (See Map 8 below) These concentrations consisted of the Ghatfan, the Hawazin and the Tayy. A week or two after the departure of the Army of Usama, the apostates at Zhu Qissa sent a delegation to Abu Bakr. "We shall continue the prayers", said the delegates, "but we shall not pay any taxes." Abu Bakr would have none of it. "By Allah", he replied, "if you withhold a single ounce of what is due from you, I shall fight you. I allow you one day in which to give your reply."3
The envoys were taken aback by the determination and confidence of the new Caliph who seemed to be entirely unaware of the weakness of his position. And he had given them one day! The following morning, before the single day's ultimatum had expired, the envoys slipped out of Madinah, which meant a rejection of Abu Bakr's demands. Soon after their departure, Abu Bakr sent his own envoys to all the apostate tribes, calling upon them to remain loyal to Islam and continue to pay their taxes.
But the apostate envoys from Zhu Qissa, before leaving Madinah, had had a good look at the place, and their keen eyes had noticed the absence of warriors. On returning to Zhu Qissa they told their comrades about their conversation with Abu Bakr and the very vulnerable state of Madinah. Meanwhile Tulaiha, who was now at Samira, had reinforced the apostates at Zhu Qissa with a contingent under his brother, Hibal-a wily and resourceful general. When the apostates heard the reports of the envoys, the temptation proved too much for them; they decided to have a crack at Madinah while it was still defenceless. Consequently, the force at Zhu Qissa moved forward from Zhu Hussa4 , from where, after forming a base, part of the force advanced still nearer Madinah and went into camp, preparatory to attacking the town. It was now the third week of July 632 (late Rabi-ul-Akhir, 11 Hijri).
Abu Bakr received intelligence of this move and at once undertook the organisation of the defences of Madinah. The main army was out under Usama, but Madinah was not as defenceless as the rebels had imagined. Quite a few warriors were still there, especially from the clan of Bani Hashim (the Prophet's own clan) who had remained behind to mourn their departed kinsman. From these remnants Abu Bakr scraped together a fighting force. The confidence of Abu Bakr, never shaken, was strengthened by the thought that he had such stalwarts with him as Ali, Zubair bin Al Awam and Talha bin Ubaidullah. Each of these was appointed to command one-third of the newly created force.
For three days nothing happened. The apostates, uncertain of how they should set about their task, remained inactive. Then, on orders from Abu Bakr, the Muslims sallied out of Madinah. They launched a quick attack on the forward camp of the apostates and drove them back. The apostates withdrew to Zhu Hussa. The Muslims informed Abu Bakr of their success, and the Caliph ordered them to stay where they were and await his instructions.
1. Tarikh Al-Khulafaa of As-Suyuti.
2. Abraq is now just a stony plain (the word means a spur or bluff) 5 miles north of Hanakiya. Zhu Qissa does not exist; its location is known only in terms of its distance from Madinah (Ibn Sad: p. 590), and it was on the road to Rabaza, which is 20 miles north-east of Hanakiya. The latter is the old Batn Nakhl.