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Chapter 31: The Unkind Cut
   
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Chapter 31: The Unkind Cut

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"Praise be to Allah who decreed death upon Abu Bakr, who was more beloved to me than Umar. Praise be to Allah who gave authority to Umar, who was less beloved to me than Abu Bakr, and compelled me to love him."
[Khalid ibn al-Walid, upon breaking the news of Abu Bakr's death to his army.]

"You have done deeds which no-one has done, but people do nothing, for Allah is the Doer."
[Arabian poet, quoted by Umar to Khalid]1

In Madinah, as the old Caliph lay dying, the sent for writing materials and wrote an order: After him Umar would be the Caliph and the Believers would swear allegiance to him. This was the last order of Abu Bakr.

On August 22, 634 (22nd Jamadi-ul-Akhir, 13 Hijri), Abu Bakr died and Umar became Caliph. On the same day the new Caliph issued his first order: Khalid was dismissed from the command of the Muslim army in Syria! He wrote to Abu Ubaidah as follows:

In the name of Allah the Beneficent, the Merciful.

I urge upon you the fear of Allah who lives eternally while everything else perishes; who has guided us away from wrongdoing and taken us out of darkness into light.

I appoint you commander of the army of Khalid bin Al Waleed. So take charge as is your duty.

Send not the Muslims to their destruction for the sake of plunder; and place not the Muslims in a camp without reconnoitring it and knowing what is there.

Send not expeditions except in properly organised units. And beware of taking any steps which may lead to the annihilation of the Muslims.

Allah has tried me with you and tried you with me. Guard against the temptations of this world lest they destroy you as they have destroyed others before you; and you have seen how they felt. 2

The letter was given to a messenger with instructions to proceed to Syria and hand it personally to Abu Ubaidah.

The next day Umar led the congregational prayer in the mosque of the Prophet. When the prayer was over, he addressed the congregation-the first public address of his caliphate. He started by praising Allah and invoking His blessings on the Prophet; then he continued: "Lo! The Arab is like a camel which follows its master and waits for him wherever it is made to sit. And by the Lord of the Kabah, I shall carry you on the right path."

In the rest of his sermon he emphasised various virtues and duties enjoined upon Muslims, and pledged to do his best to further the interests of Islam. Coming to the end of his sermon, he informed the congregation that he had removed Khalid from the command of the army in Syria and appointed Abu Ubaidah in his place.

This announcement was received by the Muslims in hushed silence. Everyone knew that in the heart of Umar there was little love for Khalid, but none had expected Umar to act so harshly against the Sword of Allah, and in such haste, especially after the great victories which Khalid had won for Islam during the last three years. However, Umar was a much feared, albeit respected man, and few would dare to cross him. Moreover, as Caliph he had the authority to appoint and dismiss commanders as he chose, and his decision had to be accepted and obeyed. All remained silent, with a silence more eloquent than words.

1. Ibn Kathir, Al-Bidayah wan-Nihayah, Dar Abi Hayyan, Cairo, 1st ed. 1416/1996, Vol. 7 P. 19.
2. Tabari: Vol. 2, p. 622.

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