The Bizarre Death of Sa’d bin UbadaRA
An eminent companion of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, namely, sayyidina Sa’d b. UbadaRA, chief of the Khazraj clan from among the noble Ansar, considered himself worthier to be the Prophet’s ﷺ first Khalifa or successor. As fate would have it, he was unwell during the incident at the Saqifa of Bani Sa’da, where he was wrapped in blankets reclining on the portico unable to stand. His being ill on that fateful day when sayyidina Abu BakrRA was elected the Khalifa instead of him was obviously no coincidence. As Muslims of Ahlus Sunnati wal-Jama’a we believe that this was part of Allah Most High’s plan to have sayyidina Abu BakrRA elected without much fuss, since virtually all of the companions present there pledged their allegiance to him with the exception of Sa’d b. UbadaRA. In the rush to pay fealty to Abu BakrRA, Sa’d b. UbadaRA, who was lying on the ground, was trampled over and rumored to have been killed during the commotion. But throughout the remainder of his life, Sa’d b. UbadaRA refused to give the Bay’a to the Prophet’s ﷺ Caliph, Abu BakrRA, and then subsequently to the next Caliph, sayyidina Umar b. al-KhattabRA. Incidentally, Sa’dRA was left alone by the Caliphate and allowed to spend the rest of his days in peace. What this shows is that salvation isn’t contingent to pledging allegiance to or recognizing the legitimate Caliph, since Sa’dRA, a believing Companion of the Prophet ﷺ, was granted salvation without having ever pledged allegiance to any of the Prophet’s true successors. We do acknowledge that Sa’d bin UbadaRA was mistaken in his position of refusing to pledge allegiance to the Caliph of his time, but since he did not initiate any rebellion, rather lived peacefully and quietly, having emigrated to the Levant, he was left alone. Hence, if there is an established Caliphate which is legitimate in the Eyes of Allah, but a person remains aloof from it and refuses to pledge allegiance to the Caliph, he is not necessarily condemned so long as he does not rebel or cause trouble. Coercion and totalitarianism are ultimately against the spirit of Islam, which theoretically and at times practically gave individuals a wide berth to remain aloof from the State and distance themselves from the ‘social contract’, something that is virtually impossible in today’s modern nation-states, which ironically claim to be freer and more liberal. The historic ‘Wars of Apostasy’ which the Companions faught under the Caliphate of Abu BakrRA against the rebellious, apostate Bedouin tribes were because the latter were not only in open rebellion against and challenging the writ of the State, but because of their doctrinal apostasy too. Nevertheless, on an individual level, someone who feels he should not pledge the Bay’a to the Caliph or Ruler of his time should be spared, and cannot be coerced, so long as he does not rebel or conspire against the State. The latter, of course, bears no responsibility to such an individual as it does to those who have pledged allegiance to it and are therefore citizens. Yet the basic liberties and rights of an individual Muslim who does not recognize the Caliphate, while residing within its domain, cannot in any way be hindered, as the example of Sa’d b. UbadaRA illustrates. It should also be noted that while Sa’dRA did not recognize the Caliphs of his time, he himself did not initiate a counter-Caliphate by gathering individuals around him and having them pay allegiance to him, as that would certainly constitute rebellion and challenging of the Caliphate’s writ.
Regarding Sa’d b. Ubada’sRA death, Ibn Sirin says:
بَيْنَا سَعْدٌ يَبُولُ قَائِمًا ، إِذِ اتَّكَأَ فَمَاتَ ، قَتَلَتْهُ الْجِنُّ ، فَقَالُوا : نَحْنُ قَتَلْنَا سَيِّدَ الْخَزْرَجِ سَعْدَ بْنَ عُبَادَهْ رَمَيْنَاهُ بِسَهْمَيْنِ فَلَمْ نُخْطِئْ فُؤَادَهْ
Sa’d was urinating while standing when suddenly he fell over and died. The Jinn killed him and said: “We have killed the chief of the Khazraj, Sa’d bin Ubada. We shot him with an arrow that did not miss his heart.” [Mu’jam al-Kabir of Imam al-Tabarani]
A well-know preacher and student of knowledge, Yasir Qadhi, has mentioned this in one of his talks: