Question: It is alleged that during the Caliphate of Sayyidina Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhu, Khalid ibn al Walid radiya Llahu ‘anhu, the Sahabi military commander, killed Malik ibn Nuwayrah, and married his widow on the very eve of his murder, without even waiting for her ‘iddah to expire. What is the truth of this allegation?
Answer: The incident of Malik ibn Nuwayrah is one of those cases which are frequently cited by Shia propagandists whose first step in the direction of convincing and converting the Ahlus Sunnah almost invariably assumes the form of an attempt to prove how innately corrupt and evil the Sahabah were (na’udhu billah).
These are historical issues, and must be treated as such. This means that in judging their historicity one should firstly include all the evidence which exists around the issue, both general and specific, and secondly, be objective enough to look critically at the authenticity of one’s material. Seeking to brand persons, and more especially the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum, as corrupt and irreligious on grounds of only one side of the available evidence, and stubbornly refusing to critically scrutinise the historical material upon the basis of which a claim of this serious nature is made, can only point to the fact that the accusers have an agenda — an agenda which they are committed to promote and uphold, no matter to what extent truth and honesty might be compromised in the process.
It is indeed a sad indictment of the objectivity of the Shia propagandists that they refuse point blank to take into consideration, when discussing the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum, the wealth of ayat in the Qur’an which announce the merits of the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum. Similarly, they refuse to pay any attention to the numerous ahadith, both general and specific, in which Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam himself extolls the virtues of his companions. Thirdly, they cannot bear to even cast a glance at the services rendered to the cause of Islam by any particular Sahabi. To them the vaguest notion of a black spot on the character of a companion of Rasulullah and a champion of Islam — even if amounts to nothing more an unsubstantiated, or even forged, report in a book on history — is enough to render null and void decades of dedicated service to the cause of Islam, despite the fact that his service had been rewarded with approval by Allah and His Rasul salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.
Let us turn now to the actual issue. We will discuss it under two headings:
Shortly after the demise of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam a number of tribes in the Arabian peninsula turned away from Islam. With many of them apostasy was expressed in the form of a refusal to pay the zakat. From Madinah Sayyidina Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhu dispatched a number of punitive expeditions. Khalid ibn al Walid radiya Llahu ‘anhu was placed in command of one such expedition.
After his victory against some of the apostate tribes, Khalid set out for Banu Sulaim, another of the apostate tribes. On his way towards Banu Sulaim he passed through the lands of Banu Tamim. Malik ibn Nuwayrah was a member of this tribe, and he had been appointed zakat – collector of Banu Tamim by Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. Reports had been circulating that Malik too, was withholding the zakat.1 There were even more disturbing reports about him having started to speak ill about Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and referring to him in derogatory terms.2
Sayyidina Khalid radiya Llahu ‘anhu had orders from Sayyidina Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhu to inspect the practices of the people of the various locations he passed by in order to find out whether they were Muslims or whether they too, had forsaken Islam. If they heard the adhan and saw the people performing salah they could conclude that they were Muslims, and if they did not see them upholding the salah that would be an indication that they were not Muslim.3 In the case of Banu Tamim, Sayyidina Khalid’s spies differed: some claimed that they did not make salah, while others claimed that they did.4
According to one report, their mu’adhin, a person by the name of Abu al Jalal, was absent, which was the reason why no adhan was heard.5 It has even been reported that they encountered armed resistance from Malik and his men at an oasis called al Ba’udah.6 Those who put up the resistance, including Malik, were captured and brought before Sayyidina Khalid radiya Llahu ‘anhu. He decided that they must be put to death. This is how Malik ibn Nuwayrah was killed.
In Sayyidina Khalid’s party was the Sahabi Sayyidina Abu Qatadah radiya Llahu ‘anhu. He was amongst those who claimed that they had seen Malik’s people making salah. He was thus understandably upset at the decision of Sayyidina Khalid radiya Llahu ‘anhu, and returned immediately to Madinah to complain to Sayyidina Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhu. Sayyidina ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu insisted that Khalid be removed from his position as commander on account of his impetuousness. Khalid was summoned back to Madinah and interrogated by the khalifah, who concluded that Khalid’s deed was an error of judgement, for which it was not necessary to dismiss him.7
Sayyidina Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhu was guided in this decision by two things. Firstly, the hadith of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam wherein he described Khalid as “the sword which Allah unsheathed against the unbelievers”.
The second was the fact that a similar occurrence took place in the time of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, also with Khalid ibn al Walid. He was put in command by Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam of an expedition to Banu Jadhimah. When Khalid asked them to accept Islam they responded by saying: “saba’na, saba’na”, a word which literally means “We have become Sabeans”, but which had come to be used in the general sense of changing one’s religion. To Khalid this was not sufficient evidence of their acceptance of Islam, and he gave the order for their execution. When the news of their execution reached Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam he lifted his hands and said: “O Allah, I dissociate myself from what Khalid has done.”8 Although Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam dissociated himself from the haste Khalid made himself guilty of, he did not punish him, since it was an error in judgement on his part. A very regrettable error it was, but it was still an error. It was for this reason that Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam did not hesitate to give Khalid command over other expeditions as well.
Shortly after the Banu Jadhimah incident Rasulullah entrusted him with the mission to destroy the temple of the pagan goddess ‘Uzza at a place called Nakhlah.9 In Jumad al Ula in the year 10 A.H he was sent on a da’wah mission to Banu Harith ibn Ka’b, and they accepted Islam at his hands without a drop of blood being shed.10 It was also to Khalid that Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam entrusted the expedition to Ukaydir ibn ‘Abdul Malik.11
Above all there was the day, at the battle of Mu’tah in the year 8 A.H, when Khalid ibn al Walid radiya Llahu ‘anhu would prove his valour and military genius by saving the day for Islam and the Muslim ummah in its first ever encounter with the Roman Empire. The three generals appointed by Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam all attained martyrdom in succession, and the standard was taken over by the valiant Khalid, who through his sheer genius managed to save the honour of Islam by effecting a tactical withdrawal after what seemed like certain defeat. Rasulullah was informed by Allah of what had happened at Mu’tah, and although his eyes were filled with tears at the martyrdom of his beloved cousin Jafar ibn Abi Talib, his adopted son Zaid ibn Harithah and the poet ‘Abdullah ibn Rawahah radiya Llahu ‘anhum, he saw reason to give the Muslims in Madinah the glad tidings of Khalid’s victory, saying: “then the standard was taken up by a Sword from amongst the Swords of Allah, and upon his hands did Allah grant victory.”12
All of this shows that Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam saw the Banu Jadhimah incident, as regrettable as it was, as a mistake on the part of Khalid. In not punishing Khalid for the execution of Malik ibn Nuwayrah, and not dismissing him from his post as commander, Sayyidina Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhu was thus completely justified. His interrogation of Khalid revealed that Khalid had committed an error of judgement, and the insistence of Sayyidina ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu that Khalid be dismissed was met by a resolute answer form Sayyidina Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhu: “I will not sheath the sword that was drawn by Allah.”13 Like Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam did in the case of Banu Jadhimah, Sayyidina Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhu paid out blood money to Malik’s brother Mutammim, and ordered the release of all captives taken by Khalid.13
With the passage of time the incident of Malik ibn Nuwayrah became the object of the attention of certain unscrupulous transmitters of history. An obnoxious tail was soon introduced into the story in the form of Malik’s wife, who is named as Umm Tamim bint Minhal. Khalid, it was said, was so enamoured of the beautiful Umm Tamim that he saw fit to slaughter Malik and his entire tribe in order to possess her, and barely was the slaughter over when he took her as his own wife.
In an allegation as serious as this, one would have expected the party leveling the accusation to produce reliable evidence to support their claim. However, all that is ever produced is fragments of statements by historians. The accusers consistently fail to realise that a quotation is of no value for as long as it cannot be authenticated. While they display great vigour in leveling the accusation and stating their references, complete with volume and page numbers, they conveniently and consistently forget to authenticate those “facts”. The great imam ‘Abdullah ibn al Mubarak stated a most profound truth when he said:
Isnad (stating the chain of narration) is part of din. Were it not for isnad, anyone could have said just what he wished.14
A study of the texts wherein reference is made to the story of Malik ibn Nuwayrah reveals that not a single one of them is reported with an uninterrupted chain of narration that consists of reliable authorities. We may confidently say that we have looked at almost all the available material on the issue of Malik ibn Nuwayrah, and we have found that they may be classified into two types:
The former type includes material narrated via authentic as well as unauthentic chains of narration. As for the latter type (the reports which make mention of Malik’s wife), they have been handed down exclusively through highly unreliable chains of narration. They all suffer from two deficiencies: untrustworthy or unknown narrators, and suspicious interruptions in the chain of narration. We might, for example, look at the reports about Malik’s wife mentioned in sources like al Tabari’s Tarikh and Ibn Hajar’s al Isabah:
(1) Khalid married Umm Tamim the daughter of Minhal, and left her till her period of waiting ended.15
This report appears in a long narrative documented by al Tabari on the authority of the following chain of narration:
Al Tabari — (narrates from) — al Sari ibn Yahya — (who narrates from) — Shu’ayb ibn Ibrahim — (who narrates from) — Saif ibn ‘Umar — (who narrates from) — Sahl (ibn Yusuf) — (who narrates from) — Qasim (ibn Muhammad) and ‘Amr ibn Shu’ayb, who say…
This isnad is extremely defective, on several counts. Firstly, it runs through the historian Saif ibn ‘Umar al Tamimi, whose extreme unreliability is a matter of consensus among the rijal critics. Ibn Hibban has summed up their opinions of him in the words: “He narrates forged material from reliable narrators. They (the critics) say he used to forge hadith.” He adds that Saif was suspected of zandaqah (sacrilege).16 Of recent there has been much protest by Shia authors about reliance upon Saif’s narrations about ‘Abdullah ibn Sabaʼ, (despite the fact that Saif is not the only historian who mentions Ibn Sabaʼ and his role). However, it seems when the very same Saif narrates historical material in which the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum are maligned, a blind eye must be turned to his proven mendacity.
The second problem is with the person who narrates from Saif, namely Shu’ayb ibn Ibrahim. This person, we are told by Ibn Hajar in Lisan al Mizan, was virtually unknown. He quotes Ibn ‘Adi who says: “He is not known. He narrates ahadith and historical reports which are uncorroborated to a certain extent, and in which there is an element of prejudice against the Salaf (early Muslims). ”17 Is it in any way acceptable to use information that was handed down by a non-entity such as this to malign a man who was named “the Sword of Allah” by Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam , and who is one of those of whom it was stated in the Qur’an:
لَا یَسْتَوِیْ مِنْكُمْ مَّنْ اَنْفَقَ مِنْ قَبْلِ الْفَتْحِ وَ قٰتَلَؕ اُولٓئِكَ اَعْظَمُ دَرَجَةً مِّنَ الَّذِیْنَ اَنْفَقُوْا مِنْ ۢ بَعْدُ وَ قٰتَلُوْاؕ وَكُلًّا وَّعَدَ اللّٰهُ الْحُسْنٰیؕ وَ اللّٰهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُوْنَ خَبِیْرٌ
Those of you who spent (their wealth) before the conquest (of Makkah) are not equal (to the rest). They are greater in status than those who spent thereafter and fought. And all of them have been promised good by Allah. (al Hadid: 10)
Khalid ibn al Walid radiya Llahu ‘anhu became Muslim before the conquest of Makkah.
The third point of criticism against this isnad is the person who appears as Saif’s direct source: Sahl ibn Yusuf al Ansari. This person, like Shu’ayb ibn Ibrahim, is unknown.18 The same may therefore be said of him as a narrator, and of the nature of his narration in maligning the character of a Sahabi who sacrificed so much for Islam, as was said of Shu’aybs narration.
Finally, even if we were to assume, for argument’s sake, that this isnad is free from all defects right up to Sahl ibn Yusuf, there remains one crucial problem. The persons who allegedly narrate the story appear here as Qasim ibn Muhammad and ‘Amr ibn Shu’ayb. Neither of these two figures were even born at the time when the incident of Malik ibn Nuwayrah occurred. Whichever way one looks at it, this report simply does not conform to the two most basic conditions for authenticity: reliability of the narrator, and an uninterrupted chain of narration.
Let us now look at another narration in Tarikh at-Tabari:
(2) ‘Umar told Khalid: “You enemy of Allah! You killed a Muslim man and thereafter took his wife. By Allah, I will stone you.”19
The chain of narration on the authority of which this report reached al Tabari is as follows:
Al Tabari — (narrates from) — (Muhammad) ibn Humaid (al Razi )— (who narrates from) — Salamah (ibn al Fadl al Razi) — (who narrates from) — Muhammad ibn Ishaq — (who narrates from)— Talhah ibn ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abdul Rahman ibn Abi Bakr — who says that it used to be Abu Bakr al Siddiq’s instruction to his armies…
This isnad too, is defective and unreliable. It is unreliable on account of Muhammad ibn Ishaq, who was a much more truthful historian than Saif ibn ‘Umar, but who used to commit tadlis. Tadlis is when a narrator intentionally omits the name of his direct source and ascribes his information to a source higher up in the chain of narration. Ibn Hibban states about him: “The problem with Ibn Ishaq is that he used to omit the names of unreliable narrators, as a result of which unreliable material crept into his narrations. However, if he makes it clear that he has actually heard from the person whom he states as his source, then his narration is authentic.”20 When we look at the way in which Ibn Ishaq has narrated this incident from Talhah ibn ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abdul Rahman ibn Abi Bakr, we find that he has not explicitly stated that he heard this information from him. He uses the ambiguous term ‘an, which was a common device used by narrators committing tadlis. Ibn Ishaq, we are told by Ibn Hajar, was well-known for committing tadlis by omitting the names of unreliable and unknown persons, and even from narrators who are regarded as unreliable for more serious reasons.21
Besides Ibn Ishaq himself, it must also be taken into consideration that Muhammad ibn Humaid al Razi, who appears in the isnad as al Tabari’s direct source, has come under severe criticism from the muhaddithin. Many of them have clearly labelled him as an outright liar. He has also been proven to be dishonest in his claim to narrating the Maghazi of Ibn Ishaq from Salamah ibn Fadl. Some of the muhaddithin who at one stage entertained a good opinion of him had to change their opinions when it became clear that the man was a shameless forger. One critic expresses his opinion as follows: “I have never seen a natural liar, except for two persons: Sulaiman al Shadhakuni and Muhammad ibn Humaid. He used to memorise all of his ahadith, and his hadith used to grow longer every day.”22
Besides the above, it must not be forgotten that the final source for this narration was not even born when Sayyidina ‘Umar radiya Llahu ‘anhu allegedly spoke these words to Sayyidina Khalid radiya Llahu ‘anhu. These were events that supposedly took place in the time of Sayyidina Abu Bakr radiya Llahu ‘anhu, but the one who tells us about it is his great grandson — three generations later. Like the previous report, this one too, suffers from a huge gap in the chain of narration.
Shia authors have the habit of supplying incidents like this with multiple references. In order to fully convince the uninformed Sunni reader, they will quote not only al Tabari as the source for the incident, but also Ibn Kathir’s al Bidayah wa al Nihayah, Ibn al Athir’s al Kamil, etc. They conveniently forget that Ibn Kathir and Ibn al Athir, and like them, most later historians, draw directly from al Tabari, and have stated as much in their respective introductions. It is thus of no benefit to quote them as separate references, since all they do is quote al Tabari. As for al Tabari himself, he has never claimed all the material in his huge work to be the truth. On the contrary, he states very clearly in his introduction:
Whatever is to be found in this book of mine as quoted from some past source, which the reader finds unacceptable or the hearer deems repugnant for the reason that he does not see any authenticity in it or does not find real meaning in it, let it be known that we are not responsible for it. The one responsible for it would be one of those who transmitted it down to us. We for our part have only reproduced what has been transmitted to us.
A third report mentioning the wife of Malik ibn Nuwayrah, which is widely quoted by those wishing to add a tragically romantic flavour to their basic aim of harming the reputation of Sayyidina Khalid radiya Llahu ‘anhu, is the following:
(3) Khalid saw the wife of Malik ibn Nuwayrah. She was very beautiful. Thereupon Malik told his wife: “You have killed me,” meaning that she will be the cause of his death. And so it happened.23
This twist to the story is usually quoted with Ibn Hajar’s work al Isabah as reference. Closer inspection however of that work reveals that Ibn Hajar quoted it from a source called al Dalaʼil by one Thabit ibn Qasim. Despite a lengthy search for information about this author or his book, we were unable to unearth a single fact about him in any of the biographical dictionaries available to us. Neither the classical works (such as the biographical works of al Bukhari, Ibn Abi Hatim, Ibn Hibban and al Khatib al Baghdadi) nor the works of later scholars (such as al Dhahabi and Ibn Hajar) provide any clue as to who Thabit ibn Qasim was, when his book al Dala’il was composed, and what it contains. Even a contemporary work like al A’lam of al Zirikli contains no information whatsoever about a person called Thabit ibn Qasim. Therefore we may say with a great degree of confidence that this report, as tragic and romantic as it may be, amounts to nothing more than a fable spurned by the fertile imagination of some unscrupulous person. A fable such as this would only be used against a Sahabi like Sayyidina Khalid ibn al Walid radiya Llahu ‘anhu by a person whose hatred of the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum has blinded him against all truth and reason.
It is extremely unfortunate that the vicious and unscrupulous propaganda of the Shia missionaries has succeeded in turning the sentiments of many a Muslim against this great son of Islam and the pride of its military commanders. Having swallowed the story about the wife of Malik ibn Nuwayrah hook, line and sinker, they now cannot bear to think of Khalid ibn al Walid except in the vilest of terms. They find themselves unable to associate his name except with the concocted legend of the wife of Malik ibn Nuwayrah. All his services rendered to Islam, and even the title of “Saifullah” given to him by Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam are simply ignored, and on the basis of nothing but a fable. It is heart rending to see the brazenness with which Shia authors like Muhammad Tijani Samawi in his book Then I was Guided challenge the title of “Saifullah” (Sword of Allah) bestowed upon Sayyidina Khalid radiya Llahu ‘anhu by none other than Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and to see them labelling him “the crippled sword of the devil.”24 Such, unfortunately, is the destiny of those whose faith is founded upon fables and legends.
There is another point which definitely merits mention in this regard. The Imami (Ithna ‘Ashari) Shia, for all their political rhetoric, have never in the history of Islam been known for positive political or military action.25 It is for this reason that the Shia, unlike the Ahlus Sunnah, do not have military leaders like Sayyidina Khalid radiya Llahu ‘anhu of whom to be proud, and whose names to invoke as paragons of courage and valour. Thus, when the need arose for a person like Khomeini to speak about Islam’s military successes of yesterday, he could not find anything of that nature within the legacy of his own tradition. It was the history of the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhu — those very same Sahabah whom he and his ilk had been slandering and denouncing as apostates, hypocrites and unbelievers for centuries— to which he was forced to turn. Look at the tongue-in-cheek manner in which he writes in his book Kashf al Asrar:
The rulers of Islam in those days did not sit in their courts upon silk carpets, because the Prophet of Islam forbade its use. The religious spirit was firmly implanted within them, to the extent that it led a great Muslim commander to swallow a quantity of lethal poison in the firm belief that the Rabb of Islam and the Qurʼan will protect him before the enemies of Islam. That is exactly what happened when sixty persons from the Muslim army attacked a Roman army of sixty thousand and gained the upper hand over them. Similarly, a few thousand of them defeated seven hundred thousand Romans, and a small number of Muslims overran the whole land of Iran. All of that was achieved through the power of religion and faith, and not because they thought of religion and its tenets as a shame and a disgrace. What is there in you which resembles that which they had? They believed that death and martyrdom is happiness, and that martyrs enjoy the life of the hereafter by the favour and grace of Allah. It was on account of this that they achieved such astonishing success. The point is that they had a great amount of love for din, belief in the Unseen and partiality towards religiousness. As for ourselves, we are different in all of those things, and thus will we remain…26
These words speak for themselves. They are in no need of commentary of any sort. However, there is maybe just one thing upon which light needs to shed, and that is the identity of the “great Muslim commander who swallowed a quantity of lethal poison in the firm belief that the Rabb of Islam and the Qurʼan will protect him before the enemies of Islam”. That leader was none other than the Sword of Allah, Sayyidina Khalid ibn al Walid radiya Llahu ‘anhu. The incident is documented by al Dhahabi in his work Siyar A’lam al Nubala from two separate sources, both of which we reproduce here:
Maybe we can now understand why Khomeini thought it prudent not to mention the name of that “great Islamic leader.” But if one such as he could see and admit (albeit grudgingly) that men like Khalid ibn al Walid “had a great amount of love for din, belief in the Unseen and partiality towards religiousness” and that “we ourselves are different in all of those things, and thus will we remain” (in other words that we can never compare ourselves to men like Khalid ibn al Walid) then why is it that some Shia neophytes, who regard themselves as followers of Khomeini, cannot bear to spare even a single good thought for the “great Islamic leader” Khalid ibn al Walid, and continue to spread calumnious falsehoods about him? Why does revolutionary Iran, which regards itself as the manifestation of Khomeiniʼs political philosophy, flood the Muslim world with literature in which Sayyidina Khalid ibn al Walid radiya Llahu ‘anhu is acrimoniously denounced as “the crippled sword of the devil”? Is it in order to achieve the sanctimonious goal of Muslim unity, or simply to score a point for Shi’ism against the Ahlus Sunnah?
We will leave the reader to ponder over these questions.