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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.[1] 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).[2] His mother, Umm Ayman, was also a bondwoman who was freed by the Prophet (s).[3]

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).[4] His teknonyms were Abu Yazid and Abu Kharija. Some have said that Abu Yazid was a possible misspelling of Abu Zayd.[5]

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.[6] It is narrated that he was amongst a group of people who were not allowed to partake in the Battle of Badr[7] or, as more narrations show, the Battle of Uhud[8] 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[9] and in the sariyya led by Ghalib b. Abd Allah al-Laythi in Safar of 8/629.[10] He was also among those people who did not abandon the Prophet (s) in the strait of Hunayn.[11]

In some of the narrations of Event 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.[12] However, as this narration itself shows that this incident occurred after the Battle of Banu l-Mustaliq in Ramadan of 5/627,[13] 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

One of the major events in Usama's life was the fact that he was appointed by the Prophet (s) after the Farewell Pilgrimage as the commander of the Muslim army to confront the Romans in Balqa' in Jordan. The army consisted of both the Emigrants and the Helpers, including some of the prominent companions of the Prophet (s). Usama was appointed as the commander when he was a twenty-year old youth. Al-Waqidi affirms that "there remained none of the early Emigrants except that he was summoned to this battle." According to historical sources, among those who were required to join this army were such figures as Abu Bakr, Umar b. al-Khattab, Abd al-Rahman b. 'Awf, Abu 'Ubayda al-Jarrah, and Sa'd b. Abi Waqqas.

Usama camped in Juruf, an area near Medina waiting for the troops to join him, but some of the companions disagreed with his commandership and expressed their discontentment with the fact that such a young person was chosen as their commander.

The Prophet (s) commanded this military expedition in his illness at the end of his life, but the disobedience of some of the companions and the consequential delay in the commencement of the expedition (fourteen days, according to al-Waqidi) made him go to his pulpit with difficulty and rebuke the disobeyers. It seems that the reason behind the disobedience was the Prophet's (s) illness and the likelihood of his demise. It is reported that Usama's mother asked the Prophet (s) to postpone the expedition until he recovers from his illness, but the Prophet (s) did not accept her request.

Despite the emphases of the Prophet (s), a number of the companions refused to join the army until the Prophet (s) passed away, and the army of Usama began its expedition after Abu Bakr was chosen as the first caliph.

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.[14] Some hadith collections also contain a chapter called "Manaqib Usama".[15] 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.[16]

Narrating from the Prophet (s)

Usama was amongst the narrators of the prophetic traditions and would also narrate traditions from his father Zayd.[17] 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.[18]

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.[19]

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.[20] 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.[21] 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.[22]

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 wing.[23]

What can be inferred 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.[24] 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.[25]

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 used 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.[26]

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.[27] 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.[28]

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.[29]

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).[30] Imam Ali (a) mentioned this act of abstention of Usama in one of his sermons,[31] and even though 'Ammar b. Yasir insisted that the Imam get their oath of allegiance, the Imam (a) left them to be.[32]

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".[33] It has also been mentioned that he warned Imam (a) not to be hasty in beginning a battle.[34] 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.[35]

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.


There 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).[36] However, if it is said that he was 60 years old when he passed away[37] and that he was born in approximately the fourth year of the prophetic mission, his death would be closer to 51/671. 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.[38]

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,[39] especially in his sympathetic attitude towards the caliphs after the Prophet (s) was stressed upon.[40] 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.[41]

However, the Imamiyya theologians did not take this act of noncompliance of Abu Bakr lightly.[42] 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."[43]

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.[44] Ahl al-Hadith praise Usama and those companions who chose to stay away from dissension and strife.[45] However, the Imamiyya and some Mu'tazili scholars severely criticize this behavior of Usama and the other companions.[46] 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.[47]

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.[48]

Usama in Shi'a Biographical Works

Even if Usama initially did not give the oath of allegiance to Imam Ali (a), 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."[49]

Al-'Allama al-Hilli writes in Khulasat 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."[50]

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."[51]


  1. Ibn Qutayba, al-Maʿārif, p. 144; Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, al-Istīʿāb, vol. 1, p. 75; Ibn Ḥazm, Jumhurat ansāb al-ʿarab, p. 459.
  2. See: Ibn Ḥabīb, al-Muḥabbar, p. 128; Ṭabarī, Tārīkh al-umam wa l-mulūk, vol. 3, p. 169.
  3. Ibn Saʿd, al-Ṭabaqāt al-kubrā, vol. 4, p. 61.
  4. Wāqidī, al-Maghāzī, vol. 3, p. 1125.
  5. Bukhārī, al-Tārīkh al-kabīr, vol. 2, p. 20; Balādhurī, Ansāb al-ashrāf, vol. 5, p. 77.
  6. Ibn Saʿd, al-Ṭabaqāt al-kubrā, vol. 1, p. 238.
  7. Balādhurī, Ansāb al-ashrāf, vol. 1, p. 88.
  8. Wāqidī, al-Maghāzī, vol. 1, p. 216; Balādhurī, Ansāb al-ashrāf, vol. 1, p. 316.
  9. Wāqidī, al-Maghāzī, vol. 2, p. 723.
  10. Ibn Saʿd, al-Ṭabaqāt al-kubrā, vol. 2, p. 126.
  11. Ṭabarī, Tārīkh al-umam wa l-mulūk, vol. 3, p. 74; Ibn Saʿd, al-Ṭabaqāt al-kubrā, vol. 2, p. 151.
  12. Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, vol. 3, p. 146-147; Ṭabarī, Tārīkh al-umam wa l-mulūk, vol. 2, p. 615; Wāqidī, al-Maghāzī, vol. 2, p. 43.
  13. Wāqidī, al-Maghāzī, vol. 1, p. 404.
  14. Ibn Saʿd, al-Ṭabaqāt al-kubrā, vol. 4, p. 64; Wāqidī, al-Maghāzī, vol. 2, p. 824.
  15. Tirmidhī, Sunan, vol. 5, p. 677-678; Ibn Abī Shayba, al-Muṣannaf, vol. 12, p. 138.
  16. Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, al-Istīʿāb, vol. 1, p. 75; Ṭabarānī, al-Muʿjam al-kabīr, vol. 1, p. 121.
  17. Ibn Abī ʿĀṣim, al-Āḥād wa l-mathānī, vol. 1, p. 199-201.
  18. Dhahabī, Siyar aʿlām al-nubalāʾ, vol. 2, p. 497-507; Mizzī, Tahdhīb al-akmāl, vol. 2, p. 338-340.
  19. Ṭabarānī, al-Muʿjam al-kabīr, vol. 1, p. 122; Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal, Musnad, vol. 5, p. 199.
  20. Ṭabarī, Tārīkh al-umam wa l-mulūk, vol. 3, p. 223; Wāqidī, al-Maghāzī, vol. 3, p. 1121-1125; Yaʿqūbī, Tārīkh al-Yaʿqūbī, vol. 2, p. 127.
  21. Ṭabarī, Tārīkh al-umam wa l-mulūk, vol. 3, p. 227; Ibn Saʿd, al-Ṭabaqāt al-kubrā, vol. 1, p. 191; Yaʿqūbī, Tārīkh al-Yaʿqūbī, vol. 2, p. 127
  22. Ṭabarī, Tārīkh al-umam wa l-mulūk, vol. 3, p. 241-247.
  23. Ibn Aʿtham, al-Futūḥ, vol. 1, p. 31-32.
  24. Ibn Ṭāwūs, al-Yaqīb fī amarat Amīr al-Muʾminīn, p. 95.
  25. Zahrī, al-Maghāzī l-nabawīyya, p. 174.
  26. Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, al-Istīʿāb, vol. 2, p. 182; Balādhurī, Futūḥ al-buldān, vol. 3, p. 551.
  27. Balādhurī, Ansāb al-ashrāf, vol. 2, p. 335.
  28. Ṭabarī, Tārīkh al-umam wa l-mulūk, vol. 4, p. 341.
  29. Balādhurī, Ansāb al-ashrāf, vol. 5, p. 77; Ibn Aʿtham, al-Futūḥ, vol. 2, p. 227.
  30. Ṭabarī, Tārīkh al-umam wa l-mulūk, vol. 4, p. 431; Masʿūdī, Murūj al-dhahab, vol. 3, p. 204.
  31. Mufīd, al-Irshād, vol. 1, p. 243-244.
  32. Ibn Aʿtham, al-Futūḥ, vol. 2, p. 256.
  33. Balādhurī, Ansāb al-ashrāf, vol. 2, p. 208; Mufīd, al-Jamal, p. 95-96.
  34. Mufīd, al-Jamal, p. 240.
  35. Balādhurī, Ansāb al-ashrāf, vol. 2, p. 208; Mufīd, al-Jamal, p. 95.
  36. Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, al-Istīʿāb, vol. 1, p. 75-77; Ibn Saʿd, al-Ṭabaqāt al-kubrā, vol. 4, p. 72.
  37. Ḥākim al-Niyshābūrī, al-Mustadrak ʿalā l-ṣaḥīḥayn, vol. 3, p. 596.
  38. Ṭūsī, Ikhtīyār maʿrifat al-rijāl, vol. 1, p. 164.
  39. Jāḥīẓ, al-ʿUthmānīyya, p. 146-147.
  40. Jāḥīẓ, al-ʿUthmānīyya, p. 167-168.
  41. Nāshī Akbar, Maṣāʾil al-imāma, p. 51.
  42. Sayyid Murtaḍā, al-Shāfī fī l-imāma, vol. 4, p. 144.
  43. Āqā Buzurg Tihrānī, al-Dharīʿa, vol. 5, p. 304.
  44. Nawbakhtī, Firaq al-Shīʿa, p. 5.
  45. Khayyāṭ, al-Intiṣār, p. 143.
  46. Mufīd, al-Jamal, p. 51, 94, 97.
  47. Barqī, Rijāl, p. 50-51.
  48. Ibn Shahrāshūb, Manāqib Āl Abī Ṭālib, vol. 4, p. 65.
  49. Ibn Dāwūd al-Ḥillī, Rijāl, p. 50-51.
  50. Ḥillī, Khulāṣat al-aqwāl, p. 73.
  51. Shūshtarī, Qāmūs al-rijāl, vol. 1, p. 720.


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