Abubakrah and his Hadith on Women and Leadership (4): Applying intellect to the facts

By Ibraheem A. Waziri
19th Nov. 2015,


Without using quotes from other sources or the essays 1 & 2 with the above title, posted on KadunaVoice.Com and written by Malam Salihu Baban Takko and Malam Abdullahi Abubakar Lamido respectively, we can easily conclude without disagreement that all of the scholars considered in the essays started their exonerations of Abu Bakrah on the widely accepted Sunni-Salafi presupposition of the universal integrity of all the over 100,000 Sahaba (companions) of the prophet. On another count it is said 124,000 witnessed the farewell sermon during the farewell pilgrimage of the prophet in Mecca in 632 CE (10 AH). In other words this is saying that whenever it is found that a prophet’s companion is involved in any unwholesome behavior; we must find a way of exonerating and extending to them the gracious cover of integrity that will never see them, telling lies in the matters affecting the sociocultural life of the faithful and no matter their outwardly seen, intellectual or other forms of shortcomings.

In Nigeria there are about four categories of Muslims with four different frameworks of viewing the Sahaba. Relying on different but often similar Qur’anic verses and Hadith; they have maintained different attitudes to the Sahaba. The first is the Sunni-Salafi group from whose framework both essay 1 & 2 seem to have drawn inspiration. The second is the Shi’i group.  This group or framework usually consider and vet each companion of the holy prophet on a scale of righteousness according to Islam – as it sees it – before  choosing to extend to them the cover of integrity or not. It is also the major point of divergence between the two groups because interpretations of Qur’anic verses, leading to the ultimate Islamic truth, are mainly validated by the strength and quality of a Hadith with a chain of report linking its content to the prophet.

The third is the Sunni but with Sufi (mysticism) brotherhood affiliation. In recent times this framework is represented by the able, daring and impressive intellectual expeditions of Sheik AbdulJabbar Nasiru Kabara of Kano. He is of Qadiriyya brotherhood but often advance arguments related to the subject of the universal integrity of the Sahaba from the perspectives of the Tijjaniyya brothers. His most recent work is the Arabic title, Muƙad’dimatul azifah. It discussed among other things issues in the subject of our discourse. In the year 2014 he also held numerous audio sessions, readings from his book. The sessions tilted Fiatul Bagiyah, “the rebellious party among the Sahabah”.  They were controversial to the extent that brothers with Sunni-Salafi inclination called for the government to ban his teaching sessions and ultimately the Learning Centre he established. The positions of this group are: (1) Among the Sahabah there are some who are indicted by the Prophet and are not taken seriously on any issue. (2) There are some indicted by their conduct and are not taken seriously on any issue. (3) Context and circumstances determine what should be taken from a Sahabi or not.

The fourth group is Sunni with no affiliation to any Sufi group.  They are also not Sunni-Salafi but having passionate attachment to the rules of Islamic jurisprudence as they influence individuals’ and states policies. They are known as the Kanem-Bornu intellectual establishment. They have been around today’s Northern Nigeria since over 1000 years ago. Their position regarding the Sahabah (which I subscribe to) is best reflected in the book of Islamic jurisprudence by the 10th century, Tunisian scholar, Ibn Abi Zaid Al-Kairawani, Risalah. The group relies on juristic synthesis only and always for informed decision. Luckily for them the synthesis of the jurists has a way of quietly weeding out an unwelcomed Hadith without making much noise about its origin or Rijal (people involved in its chain of narration).  I will explain later why I had to take a shift on the issue of Abu Bakrah and his Hadith within this framework.

Conflict of interest Between Shi’ites and Sunnites on the integrity of Abu Bakrah

Despite the position of the Shi’ites regarding the universal integrity of the Sahabah, in the case of Abu Bakrah they are found to be wholly in agreement with the Sunni-Salafi that he was of sound character. To the Sunnites, the integrity of Abu Bakra can be asserted even while trying to negotiate for a win-win situation, where Umar the Caliph will be said to have erred in his Ijtihad, in punishing him; that he (Abu Bakrah) was truthful in all his claims and life; that he only mistook the wife of Mughirah for another woman. This, of course making Mughirah innocent of the charges pressed against him.

 To the Shi’ites, Abu Bakrah is only right to the extent Mughirah is completely guilty as charged. Umar the Caliph is said to be culpable and compromising in his duty as a Caliph to dispense justice for all without fear or favor. After all Mughirah has been known as his friend! This achieves two things for Shi’ites. The failure of Umar the Caliph to be fair to all,  crashes down the foundation of justice and fairness that is claimed to have marked and pervaded processes and procedures in Sunni theology and jurisprudence. It has also given lie to the claims of Mughirah for being among the last persons to have seen the Holy prophet before his demise. It also means even if that was true, Mughirah may have lied and hidden the fact that the prophet has actually left a will endorsing Ali as his first successor. In the book, Ali: The Best of the Sahabah: Explicit Testimonies of Sahih Sunni Ahadith, first released in 2013 and being a comprehensive and academic rejoinder to Ibn Taimiyyah’s first volume of Minhaj al-Sunnah, Toyib Olawuyi, the cerebral and world acclaimed Nigerian Shi’ite author, fleshed out this angle of thought. To them the more Sunnites extend the cover of integrity to Abu Bakrah, the more they soil the hands of Umar and Mughirah, crashing down the foundation of Sunni theological and epistemological postulations. They use the proverbial argument that “one cannot eat their cake and still have it”. Where there has been a trial and a verdict, some guilt must be established somewhere and supporters splitting into a party for the truth and another for falsehood.

However the position of the Shi’ites regarding Abu Bakrah and despite the strength of their logic in this case takes a dramatic shift when it was found out that Abu Bakrah actually reported the Hadith which gave the religious legitimacy to the Caliphate of Muawiyya after Ali’s death and there was disagreement and fear of looming crises in the Muslim community. Then Hassan the son of Ali ceded the position of the Caliphate to Muawiyya in order to avoid conflict.  In discussing the issue the Shi’i author, SMH Jafri, in his, The Origins and Early Development of Shi`a Islam, dismissively said: “…and a tradition attributed to the Prophet was reported as saying: “This son of mine is a lord (Sayyid), and he will unite two branches of Muslims.”” He also added: “…the Sunnis accepted such explanation as it conformed to their needs for a reconciliation between two opposing groups…”

To the Shiites, it is only here that all the reliance on Sunni Isnad to prove the integrity of Abu Bakrah as a trusted account holder of quality information will be disregarded.

 The Trial of Abu Bakrah and the universal rules of the thumbs

A hadith with an authentic chain is recorded in one the earliest books of Hadith, Almusannaf, by one of the most respected scholars in Sunni tradition who thought among others, Ahmad Ibn Hanbal. With its Isnad (chain) it reads thus:

From Abdarrazaq, From Ma’mar, From Al-Zuhri, From Ibn Musayib:

Three people testified against Al-Mughirah Ibn Shubah for adultery. But Ziyad recoiled. So, ‘Umar punished the three (with lashing), and said to them, “repent, and your (future) testimonies will be accepted.” So, two of the men repented but Abu Bakrah did not repent. Therefore, his testimonies were no longer accepted. Abu Bakrah was a maternal brother of Ziyad. When what happened in the case of Ziyad occurred, Abu Bakrah swore that he would never again speak to Ziyad. As such, he never again spoke to him till his death.

Abubakar Abd al-Razzaq Ibn Hamam al-Sa’nani, Al-Musannaf [annotator: Habib al-Rahman al-A’zami] vol. 7 p.384, #13564

This chain (isnad) is said to be Sahih and that it has been relied upon by Muslim, Tirmidhi and many other compilers who have commented positively on its reliability!

This Hadith in its text (matn) has the potential to dislodge the claim in some quarters that none of the early scholars of Hadith saw the trial of Abu Bakrah as an indictment in his moral integrity and credibility to “testify” on behalf or correctly report the sayings and practice of the holy prophet of Islam. It also goes a long way to portraying that the Sahaba among themselves do not believe in the universal integrity of all of them.

From the text and context of the event as captured in the above Hadith are some basic established truths:

  1. That Abu Bakrah then was not in good terms with Al-Mughirah Ibn Shubah who was the governor of Basra.
  2. That Al-Mughirah is known to have been one of the people who married most among the Sahaba. It is said in his life time he married up to 250-300 women.
  3. The trial confirmed that the woman with whom Abu Bakrah saw Al-Mughirah with was his wife who only looked like the woman that he was accused of committing adultery with.
  4. That Abu Bakra and his friends only rushed to the jury with a case ready to stand as witnesses without having their facts intact which left them at the end slandering an innocent man and a chaste woman.
  5. All the three involved in the case backtracked on their confessions and repented but Abu Bakrah refused.
  6. He only did not refuse but also cut down the ties of relation with his own brother, against the the widely known admonition offthe prophet, and just because the brother did not cooperate with him to indict another Muslim.
  7. In Islam exposing ones sins that are exclusively against God and exposing similar sins of others, has never been categorized as a virtue.
  8. Contrarily, what it virtuous is to hide ones sins and help brothers hide their sins unless if the rights and privileges of other human beings are involved.

Also all the arguments that attempted to differentiate between the case of “incomplete testimony” and that of slander, and the other suggesting that this case did not affect his integrity (adala) which are used to create a safe landing for Abu Bakrah  found exclusiveness only on him (Abu Bakrah) because scholars of Hadith within Sunni-Salafi circle, always fail to site other incidents where those convicted on the case of slander but did not repent turned to be accepted as credible vehicles for transmission of prophetic instructions.

However the insistence on the part of Sunni-Salafi scholars to protect Abu Bakrah which most evidently is based on the presupposition of the universal integrity of the Sahaba – not some newly approved scholastic (Kalam) sophistication, a science otherwise banned by Sunni-Salafi – have opened up the back of Sunnism for attacks from the Shi’ites on a very logical and universal premise.

Why I am here: Some thoughts, some conclusions

I have stated up there that I belong to the category of Muslims in Northern Nigeria who rely mostly on the devices, the mechanics of Islamic jurisprudence to arrive at consensus or positions in Islamic theology or jurisprudence that will guide individuals and shape public policy. This will lead to the question as to why didn’t I discuss the subject away from the person of Abu Bakrah as is done in the tradition of my grandparents since I have confidence in the rule and theory of higher objectives of Islamic law, to always come to the rescue?

This of course is a very valid question. Because taking the whole intellectual history of Islam to consideration. We will see that the Shi’ites who elected to always unveil the Sahaba have not been able to produce better scholarship or more established truth regarding the content, form and the inherent logical flow or veracity of Islamic postulates more than those who did not do so. In my 2010 essay, Ghadir Khum, Shi’ites in Nigeria and the Search for a Reasonable Debating Template, I have attempted bringing that reality out.

I am not much interested in the science of Hadith having found much consolation in the methodologies of Usul Al-fiqh that took care of virtually all our problems, in the sciences of discovering the lawful and the unlawful. This is also why I am not interested in the other Hadith that Babban Takko may want to challenge me to discuss. They do not in any way affect my daily religious duties as much as they do not bring fresh perspectives to other already resolved issues. Besides, the religion or its social space will remain the same without them.

My reason in venturing into this debate and fleshing out the arguments against the authenticity of Abu Bakrah’s hadith is in the fact that, in modern Northern Nigerian Muslim discourses about leadership, this lone hadith remains a recurring decimal and for over a decade now. Despite the use of all other forms of logic, there are others who are determined to reduce the position of women leadership to only a matter of passive choice and when only there is no Muslim man alternative of whatever nature and character.

This I believe is inherently inconsistent with the higher aims and objectives of Islam and its laws. In fact if history, its anthropology and ethnography is of any use, it will be said that Muslims all through have disregarded this Hadith and empowered women to be political leaders more than any other social group. Even in modern times, the countries that produced female presidents are most Muslims in number than Western or Non-Muslim. Ali Mazrui gave us sufficient insight in this regard in his widely shared comparative essay, Islamic and Western Values, where he argued, with  some facts and logic, that the Islamic world has actually excelled the West in women empowerment to distinguish themselves as those with higher aspirations. The West has only excelled the Islamic world in women liberation!

When we say women can be leaders and have the right for political aspiration we are not saying women must be leaders. There are a lot of them out there who have neither the capacity nor interest to be leaders or partake in political processes as major players. What we are saying is whenever there is a woman who is interested in politics she is not encumbered by any Islamic condition to pursue it. The Hadith of Abu Bakrah, quoting the prophet of Islam saying: “A nation that puts its affairs in the hands of a woman will not prosper” is a lone Hadith and the person at the center of the reporting is not considered by an important segment of his contemporaries as a trusted vehicle for the transmission of the most authentic instructions of the Holy Prophet and as such must not be allowed in this age to determine the reality of our Islam.