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Usama b. Zayd

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Usama b. Zayd
Personal Information
Teknonym Abu Yazid and Abu Kharaja
Lineage Banu Kalb Quda'a
Well-Known Relatives Zayd b. Haritha (father), Umm Ayman (mother)
Birth Around 4 years after Bi'that/Around 613
Place of Birth Mecca
Muhajir/Ansar Muhajir
Place(s) of Residence Mecca, Medina
Death/Martyrdom 52/672
Religious Information
Presence at Ghazwas Battle of Hunayn
Migration to Medina
Notable Roles The head of Army

Usāma b. Zayd (Arabic:اُسامَة بن زَید) was a companion of the Prophet (s) who was present in a number of ghazwas and sariyyas.

His father was a freed slave of the Prophet (s), Zayd b. Haritha, who was also amongst the first people to accept Islam and it was because of this that both Zayd and his son, Usama, were called the 'Freed' of the Prophet (s). Towards the end of his blessed life, the Prophet (s) appointed Usama, who was too young at the time, as the commander of the Islamic forces that was ordered to march towards Syria and encounter the Roman forces. Senior companions, such as Abu Bakr and 'Umar b. al-Khattab were also placed under his command.

During the era of Imam Ali's (a) government, Usama was amongst a group of senior companions who refused to pay the oath of allegiance to Imam Ali (a). However, according to a few narrations, he later changed his opinion and accepted the government of the Imam (a).


He was a descendant from the Banu Kalb Quda'a tribe. His father, Zayd b. Haritha, who was a freed slave of the Prophet (s), was amongst the first Muslims; because of that, both he and his father are known as mawali (freed slaves) of the Prophet (s). His mother, Umm Ayman, was also a bondwoman who was freed by the Prophet (s).

As at the time of the demise of the Prophet(s) Usama was 19 years old which indicates that he probably was born around the fourth year after Bi'that (613 CE). His kunyas were Abu Yazid and Abu Kharija. Some have said that Abu Yazid was a possible misspelling of Abu Zayd.

During the lifetime of the Prophet (s)

Usama, his father and mother were part of the group that took part in the migration to Medina. It is narrated that he was amongst a group of people who were not allowed to partake in the Battle of Badr or, as more narrations show, the Battle of Uhud by the Prophet (s) because of his young age. However, he participated in sariyya of Bashir b. Sa'd to Fadak in Sha'ban of 7/628 and in the sariyya led by Ghalib b. 'Abd Allah al-Laythi in the Safar of 8/629. He was also among those people who did not abandon the Prophet (s) in the strait of Hunayn.

In some of the narrations of Hadith of Ifk, the story of allegation on Aisha, it is said that the Prophet (s) in connection with this accusation sought the counsel of both Ali (a) and Usama, and Usama in contrast to Imam Ali (a), gave a positive response and mentioned her in good terms. However, as this narration itself shows that this incident occurred after the Battle of Banu l-Mustaliq in Ramadan of 5/627, and it was very unlikely that the Prophet (s) would seek consultation with an extremely young Usama about such an important issue.

Appointment as the Commander of the Army

Towards the end of 11/633, in the month of Safar, the Prophet (s) commanded the Muslims to get ready and prepare for battle with the Romans. It was for this battle that the Prophet (s) appointed Usama as the commander of the army in order to lead the jihad, just as he (s) previously did with his father for the Battle of Muta, where he achieved martyrdom. The Muslims hastened to the camp that Usama had set up at a place close to Medina called Jawf. However, some of the more senior companions were not happy and showed their unhappiness at the appointment of such a young man as the commander of such an important army. Their reluctance to join and to send forces led the Prophet (s) to ascent the pulpit during his illness and emphasis on this issue. According to the narration of al-Waqidi, after the passing of ten days of Jumada I, Usama, accompanied by a group of companions such as 'Umar b. al-Khattab, went to Medina and went to visit the Prophet (s) during his illness, they then returned to the camp and called upon all to join in the jihad.

It has been narrated that his mother Umm Ayman sent a messenger to him to inform him about the eventual demise of the Prophet (s) and it is because of this that he returned to Medina. It is also known that during this time Abu Bakr was in a place called Sunh together with his wife. However, it has also been narrated that the wife of Usama sent someone to inform him of the inevitable passing of the Prophet (s) and he hesitated until the death of the Prophet (s). Eventually he made his way to Medina and participated in the burial ceremony of the Prophet (s).

The Prophet's (s) love for Usama

Numerous narrations exist that show the great affection and love that the Prophet (s) had for Usama. In this regard it has been narrated that during the conquest of Mecca, Usama accompanied the Prophet (s) into the Ka'ba. Some hadith collections also contain a chapter called "Manaqib Usama". What has been noticed is that unfortunately these narrations have been placed as a comparison to those narrations which show the immense love and affection that the Prophet (s) had for his Ahl al-Bayt (a) i.e. Ali (a), Fatima (a) and their children. In this regard Abu Na'im al-Isfahani has quoted and used the narrations that show the affection of the Prophet (s) towards Usama and other companions, in order to lessen the validity of the narrations quoted by the Shi'a in showing the love and affection of the Prophet (s) towards his Ahl al-Bayt (a).

Narrating from the Prophet (s)

Usama was amongst the narrators of the prophetic traditions and would also narrate traditions from his father Zayd. Some of Tabi'un such as Abu 'Uthman Nahdi, 'Urwa b. Zubayr and others from amongst them used to acquire and narrate traditions from him.

A book named "Musnad of Usama" is mentioned in hadith references. This musnad was written by Muhammad b. Abd Allah al-Baghawi, a sunni scholar of 3/9century, and Ibn Nadim has mentioned this book in his al-Fihrist.

Usama during the Era of the Three Caliphs

During the reign of the First Caliph

When Abu Bakr became the caliph he dispatched Usama for the very task that he was assigned by the Prophet (s). The only request that he made from Usama was to excuse 'Umar so that he could assist the caliph and according to this very tradition, he accompanied and dispatched Usama whilst being on foot. Usama launched an attack in the al-Balqa region of Syria; raided the area of Ubni and achieved victory. According to some reports, he also managed to kill the killer of his father; he then returned to Medina after 40 or 60 days. The news of his victory brought delight and happiness to the people of Medina, who had been apprehensive and fearful from some Arab tribes who had apostatized. After that, when Abu Bakr left Medina to take part in the Battle of Dhu l-Qissa to fight those who had apostatized, Usama was placed as his deputy.

In a not so famous narration, Usama is said to have taken part in the crushing of Musaylama al-Kadhdhab by the Army of Khalid b. Walid. He was apparently the commander of the armies left flank.

What can be understood from some sources is that Usama initially did not completely accept the caliphate of Abu Bakr. This can be clearly seen in the response that Usama gave to a letter that was said to be written by Abu Bakr, after acquiring the caliphate, from Medina to him. However, by paying attention to the contents of that letter that were shaped in a kind of debate that revolved the issue of Saqifa and the actions of Usama in assisting in caliphate, it can be concluded that that letter was possibly forged. In addition, it has been narrated from Usama himself that after the demise of the Prophet (s), he was awaiting orders from Abu Bakr.

During the Reign of the Second Caliph

Information regarding Usama during the era of 'Umar is very limited. The only thing that can be understood from the narrations is that 'Umar use to give him a greater portion of the stipends then even his own son 'Abd Allah and said he did so because of the affection that the Prophet (s) had for Usama.

During the Reign of the Third Caliph

During the caliphate of 'Uthman b. 'Affan, Usama was amongst a group of companions who were gifted pieces of land. When the Muslims began to become agitated with Uthman and his governors, he was tasked to go to Basra and gather information about the issues and problems.

It is said that when the anger of the Muslims towards 'Uthman became severe, Usama sought the permission of Imam Ali (a) to leave Medina so that he would not be instigated in 'Uthman's murder, as he predicted that he would be killed.

During the Government of Imam Ali (a)

When Imam Ali (a) became the caliph, Usama was amongst a group of companions which included Sa'd b. Abi Waqqas, 'Abd Allah b. 'Umar, Muhammad b. Muslama and others who abstained from giving the oath of allegiance to the Imam (a). Imam Ali (a) mentioned this act of abstention of Usama in one of his sermons, and even thou 'Ammar b. Yasir insisted that the Imam get their oath of allegiance, the Imam (a) left them to be.

Refraining from Participating in the Battle of Jamal

According to historical reports, when Imam Ali (a) departed for the Battle of Jamal, Usama refused to join his ranks as he had made a promise not to strike a person who pronounces the testimony of "There is no god except Allah". It has also been mentioned that he warned Imam (a) not to be hasty in beginning a battle. Considering the above, Usama still showed himself to be one of the friends and followers of Imam Ali (a) and only refrained from participating in battles.

The influence of Usama in the era after Imam Ali (a) until his death is not very clear, the only records that are available are one or two debates that he had with Mu'awiya.


Here is a difference of opinion on the exact date of Usama's death. Some believe it to be towards the end of Mu'awiya's caliphate (58/677 or 59/678). However, if it is said that he was 60 years old when he passed away and that he was born in approximately the fourth year of the prophetic mission, his death would be closer to 52/672. Ibn 'Abd al-Barr believes that 54/674 is the more appropriate date of his death.

It has been narrated from Imam al-Baqir (a) that Imam al-Hasan (a) shrouded Usama.

Theological Discussion

The Army of Usama

Main article: Army of Usama

The army of Usama was first attributed and discussed in theological sources. The point of discussion in this specific subject revolves around the presence of Abu Bakr, 'Umar and other senior companions in an army that was, by order of the Prophet (s), commanded by Usama and whose quick deployment was extremely stressed upon. It is because of this that varying theological groups within this discussion made mention of Usama. Jahiz, for example, who was a Mu'tazili scholar, used this commandership to prove his superiority and distinction, especially in his sympathetic attitude towards the caliphs after the Prophet (s) was stressed upon. Additionally, in the discussion of the leadership of an inferior in the presence a superior, they point to the leadership of Usama and the subject of his army.

However, the Imamiyya theologians did not take this act of noncompliance of Abu Bakr lightly. They opened up a new topic on this matter and was even a subject of a research paper written by a 11th/17th century Shi'a scholar named [[Muhammad b. Hasan Shirawani[[ titled "The Army of Usama."

Abstaining from Giving the Oath of Allegiance to Imam Ali (a)

Some have said concerning the abstention of Usama and other companions in giving the oath of allegiance to Imam Ali (a) and failing to participate in the battles of that era, that they were countered amongst a specific group of companions. Ahl al-Hadith praise Usama and those companions who chose to stay away from dissension and strife. However, the Imamiyya and some Mu'tazili scholars severely criticize this behavior of Usama and the other companions. With the presence of all this, in some of the hadith sources it has been narrated from the Imams (a) that Usama eventually changed his view and therefore he should only mentioned with goodness. It can also be seen in these very same sources that Imam Ali (a) accepted his excuse for not joining him in battle and instructed his governor of Medina to allocate a stipend for him.

Usama and Imam al-Husayn (a)

When Usama fell ill, Imam al-Husayn (a) went to visit him. Usama said: 'O my grief!' Imam (a) asked him the reason of his grief. Usama said he was worried about a debt of sixty thousand dirhams that he had. Imam (a) said: 'I will pay off your debt,' which he did before the demise of Usama.

Usama in Shi'a Biographical Works

Even if Usama initially did not give the oath of allegiance to Imam Ali (a), however the changing of his mind is evidence enough to consider him trustworthy from the viewpoint of Shi'a biographical scholars.

Ibn Dawud after criticizing praises him and mentions that Imam al-Baqir (a) said:" Indeed Usama returned to Imam Ali (a), therefore do not mention him except with goodness."

Al-Kashshi narrates that Usama b. Zayd returned to Imam Ali (a).

Al-'Allama al-Hilli writes in Khulasa al-Aqwal: "Usama returned to Imam Ali (a) and it was forbidden to speak of him except with goodness; however it is said that the hadiths that are narrated from him are weak. According to me it is better to be impartial about the narrations from Usama."

Shushtari in Qamus al-rijal considers him to be trustworthy and writes: "Narrations exist that show that Usama returned to Imam Ali (a) and that he should not be mentioned except with goodness; this is sufficient to indicate that he had a good ending."