He was thin and wiry with so little flesh on his bones that it was painful to look at him. Yet in single-handed combat he defeated and killed many opponents and in the thick of battle he was an outstanding fighter against the disbelievers. He was so courageous and daring that `Umar once wrote to his governors throughout the Islamic state that they should not appoint him to lead any army out of fear that he would have them all killed by his daring exploits. This man was Al-Bara’ ibn Malik Al-Ansari, the brother of Anas ibn Malik, the personal aide of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).
If the tales of Al-Bara’s heroism were to be told in detail, pages and pages could be written. But let one example suffice.
This particular story begins only hours after the death of the noble Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), when many Arab tribes took to leaving the religion of God in large numbers, just as they had entered it in large numbers. Within a short space of time only the people of Makkah, Madinah, Ta’if and scattered communities here and there, whose commitment to Islam was unwavering, remained within the religion.
Abu Bakr As-Siddiq, the successor to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), stood firm against this blind and destructive movement. From the Muhajirun (Immigrants) and Ansar (Helpers), he mobilized eleven armies, each under a separate commander, and dispatched them to various parts of the Arab Peninsula. Their purpose was to make the apostates return to the path of guidance and truth and to confront the leaders of the rebellion.
The strongest group of apostates and the greatest in number were the Banu Hanifah, among whom Musaylamah the Imposter arose, claiming that he was a prophet. Musaylamah managed to mobilize forty thousand of the best fighters among his people. Most of these, however, followed him for the sake of tribal loyalty and not because they believed in him. One of them, in fact, said, “I testify that Musaylamah is an imposter and that Muhammad is true, but the imposter of Rabi`ah (Musaylamah) is dearer to us than the true man of Mudar (Muhammad).”
Musaylamah routed the first army sent against him under the leadership of `Ikrimah ibn Abi Jahl. Abu Bakr dispatched another army against Musaylamah led by Khalid ibn Al-Walid. This army included the cream of the Companions from both the Ansar and the Muhajirun. In the front ranks of this army was Al-Bara’ ibn Malik and a group of the most valiant Muslims.
The two armies met in the territory of the Banu Hanifah at Yamamah in Najd. Before long, the scale of battle tilted in favor of Musaylamah and his men. The Muslim armies began to retreat from their positions. Musaylamah’s forces even stormed the tent of Khalid ibn Al-Walid and drove him from his position. They would have killed his wife if one of them had not granted her protection.
At that point, the Muslims realized in what a perilous situation they were. They were also conscious of the fact that if they were annihilated by Musaylamah, Islam would not be able to stand as a religion and Allah, the One God with Whom there is no partner, would not be worshiped in the Arabian Peninsula after that.
Khalid mustered his forces once more and began reorganizing them. He separated the Muhajirun and the Ansar and kept men from different tribes apart. Each was put under the leadership of one of its own members so that the losses of each group in the battle might be known.
The battle raged. There was much destruction and death. The Muslims had not experienced anything like this in all the wars they had fought before. Musaylamah’s men remained firm amidst the tumult, as firm as immovable mountains although many of them had fallen.
The Muslims displayed tremendous feats of heroism. Thabit ibn Qays, the standard bearer of the Ansar, dug a pit and planted himself in it and fought until he was killed. The pit he dug turned out to be his grave. Zayd ibn Al-Khattab, brother of `Umar ibn Al-Khattab, called out to the Muslims, “Men, bite with your teeth, strike the enemy, and press on. By Allah, I shall not speak to you after this until either Musaylamah is defeated or I meet Allah.” He then charged against the enemy and continued fighting until he was killed. Salim, the freed slave of Abu Hudhaifah and standard bearer of the Muhajirun, displayed unexpected valor. His people feared that he would show weakness or be too terrified to fight. To them he said, “If you manage to overtake me, what a miserable bearer of the Qur’an I shall be.” He then valiantly plunged into the enemy ranks and eventually fell as a martyr.
The bravery of all these, however, wanes in front of the heroism of Al-Bara’ ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him and with them all). As the battle grew fiercer and fiercer, Khalid turned to Al-Bara’ and said, “Charge, young man of the Ansar.” Al-Bara’ turned to his men and said, “O Ansar, let not anyone of you think of returning to Madinah. There is no Madinah for you after this day. There is only Allah, then Paradise.”
He and the Ansar then launched their attack against the disbelievers, breaking their ranks and dealing telling blows against them until eventually they began to withdraw. They sought refuge in a garden, which later became known in history as The Garden of Death because of the many killed there on that day. The garden was surrounded by high walls. Musaylamah and thousands of his men entered and closed the gates behind them and fortified themselves.
From their new positions they began to rain down arrows on the Muslims.
The valiant Al-Bara’ went forward and addressed his company: “Put me on a shield. Raise the shield on spears and hurl me into the garden near the gate. Either I will die a martyr or I will open the gate for you.”
The thin and wiry Al-Bara’ was soon sitting on a shield. A number of spears raised the shield and he was thrown into the Garden of Death among the multitude of Musaylamah’s men. He descended on them like a thunderbolt and continued to fight them in front of the gate. Many fell to his sword and he himself sustained numerous wounds before he could open the gate.
The Muslims charged into the Garden of Death through the gates and over the walls. Fighting was bitter and at close quarters, and hundreds were killed. Finally the Muslims came upon Musaylamah and he was killed.
Al-Bara’ was taken in a litter to Madinah. Khalid ibn Al-Walid spent a month looking after him and tending his wounds. Eventually his condition improved. Through him the Muslims had gained victory over Musaylamah.
Al-Bara’ continued to long for the martyrdom which had eluded him at the Garden of Death. He went on fighting in battle after battle hoping to attain his aim. This came at the battle for Tustar in Persia.