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History of Abu Bakr, the First Muslim Caliph

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Abu Bakr was born c. 573 in the city of Mecca to Abu Quhafa and Umm Khayr. Belonging to the tribe of Banu Tay, the clan of the Quraysh. Abu Bakr was a senior companion (Sahabah) and the father-in-law of the prophet, Muhammad (SAW). He ruled over the Rashidun Caliphate from 632-634 CE when he became the first Muslim Caliph following Prophet Muhammad‘s death. As Caliph, Abu Bakr succeeded in the political and administrative functions previously exercised by the Prophet, since the religious function and authority of prophethood ended with the Prophet’s death. He was called Al-Siddiq (The Truthful) by the prophet, Muhammad after he believed him in the event of Isra and Mi’raj when other people didn’t, and Ali confirmed that title several times and was known by that title among later generations of Muslims. He was also sometimes called Ibn Abi Quhafa meaning the ‘son of Abu Quhafa‘.

Abu Bakr‘s real name is uncertain with Abd Allah, Abd al-Ka’ba and Atiq cited by the early sources. Abu Bakr’s full name is Abdullah ibn Abi Quhafa ibn Amir ibn Amr ibn Ka’b ibn Sa’d ibn Taym. But he was much commonly known by the kunya (teknonym) Abū Bakr, meaning “Father of Young Camels“. He reportedly received the title due to his caring and love for camels in childhood.

His father Abu Quhafa was a prominent merchant of the Banu Taym clan of the Quraysh. He initially opposed the prophet Muhammad (SAW) until the Islamic conquest of Mecca in c. 630 when he embraced Islam. Abu Bakr‘s mother Umm Khayr also hailed from the Banu Taym and converted to Islam in c. 614.

Like other children of the rich Meccan merchant families, Abu Bakr was literate and never developed a fondness for poetry. He had great knowledge of the genealogy of the Arab tribes, their stories and their politics. Regardless, it recorded that prior to converting to Islam, Abu Bakr practiced as a hanif and never worshipped idols. He also avoided alcohol. During the Age of Ignorance, Abu Bakr was appointed as a representative of the people of Quraysh for cases of ransom and penalty. Since Abu Bakr was the most knowledgeable of family history of Arabs, he was called ‘Scholar of Quraysh‘. At the age of thirty eight, Abu Bakr became a chief of the Banu Taym.

Abu Bakr conversion to Islam initially remained a secret. After he announced his faith, he delivered a speech at the Kaaba. This was the first public address inviting people to offer allegiance to prophet Muhammad (SAW) was delivered by Abu Bakr. In a fit of fury, the young men of the Quraysh tribe rushed at Abu Bakr and beat him till he lost consciousness. Four members of the Banu Taym wrapped Abu Bakr in a mantle and took him to his house. Umm Khayr saw her son and washed his face. Following this incident, Umm Khayr converted to Islam.

His preaching brought many people to Islam as he persuaded his intimate friends to convert. Many Sahabis, prominently including UthmanZubayrTalhaSa’d ibn Abi WaqqasAbu UbaydaAbd al-Rahman ibn AwfAbu Hudhaifah ibn al-Mughirah and many others converted to Islam by the invitations of Abu Bakr. Abu Bakr‘s acceptance proved to be a milestone in prophet Muhammad’s mission. As slavery was common in Mecca, many slaves accepted Islam. When an ordinary free man accepted Islam, despite opposition, he would enjoy the protection of his tribe. For slaves, however, there was no such protection and they commonly experienced persecution. Abu Bakr felt compassion for slaves, so he purchased eight slaves, four men and four women, and then freed them, paying 40,000 dinar for their freedom. The slaves were Bilal ibn RabahAbu FukayhaAmmar ibn Yasir, LubaynahAl-NahdiahHarithah bint al-Muammil and Umm Ubays. Most of the slaves liberated by Abu Bakr were either women or old and frail men. Almost all of Abu Bakr’s family converted to Islam except his father Abu Quhafa, his son Abdul-Rahman, and his wife Qutaylah.

Abu Bakr‘s daughter Aisha was betrothed to prophet Muhammad; however, it was decided that the actual marriage ceremony would be held later. In 621, Abu Bakr was the first person to believe in yhr prophet’s Isra and Mi’raj (Night Journey). Prophet Muhammad bestowed the honorific epithet Siddiq (lit. ’Truthful, Upright or Righteous’) upon the former.

During the Age of Ignorance, he was a monotheist and condemned idol-worshipping. Being a wealthy trader, Abu Bakr used to free slaves. Following his conversion to Islam in 610, Abu Bakr served as a close aide to Prophet Muhammad, who bestowed on him the title al-Siddiq (‘the Truthful’). The former took part in almost all battles under the prophet. He extensively contributed his wealth in support of the propagation of Islam and also accompanied the prophet, Muhammad, on his migration to Medina. By the invitations of Abu Bakr, many prominent Sahabis became Muslims. He remained the closest advisor to the prophet, being present in almost all his military conflicts. In the absence of the prophet Muhammad (SAW), Abu Bakr led the prayers and expeditions.

After the death of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in 632, Abu Bakr succeeded the leadership of the Muslim community as the caliph. His election was opposed by a large number of rebellious tribal leaders, who had apostatized from Islam. Abu Bakr’s commanders kept the rebels in check and subsequently defeated them in the Ridda Wars, as a result of which he was able to consolidate and expand the rule of the nascent caliphate over entire Arabia. Abu Bakr ordered the initial incursions into the neighbouring Byzantium and Sasanian Empire, initiating the Muslim conquests of Levant and Persia respectively. Apart from politics, Abu Bakr is also credited for the compilation of the Quran, of which he had a personal caliphal codex. Abu Bakr nominated his principal adviser Umar (r. 634–644) as his successor before dying in August 634. Along with the prophet Muhammad, Abu Bakr is buried in the Green Dome at the Al-Masjid an-Nabawi in Medina, the second holiest site in Islam.

Al Masjid an Nabawi Saudi Arabia Al Haram Medina Madinah
Al Masjid an Nabawi Saudi Arabia Al Haram Medina Madinah… Photo credit; istockphoto.com

Though the period of his caliphate was short, it included successful invasions of the two most powerful empires of the time, a remarkable achievement in its own right. He set in motion a historical trajectory that in a few decades would lead to one of the largest empires in history. His victory over the local rebel Arab forces is a significant part of Islamic history. Abu Bakr is widely honored among Muslims.

His Migration to Medina

The Mount Thawr in Mecca, where Abu Bakr and Muhammad refuged for three days
The Mount Thawr in Mecca, where Abu Bakr and Muhammad refuged for three days. Photo credit; wikipedia

In 622, the newly-converted Muslims of Medina invited prophet Muhammad to emigrate to their city. He subsequently accepted the request and the migration began in batches. In July 622, Muhammad secretly fled from Mecca along with Abu Bakr and both sought refuge in the Mount Thawr.

During this time, Abu Bakr‘s son Abd Allah supplied resources and also informed them about the conspiracies of the polytheists. Ali was the last to remain in Mecca, entrusted with responsibility for settling any loans the Muslims had taken out, and famously slept in the bed of prophet Muhammad when the Quraysh, led by Ikrima, attempted to murder prophet Muhammad as he slept. Meanwhile, Abu Bakr accompanied Muhammad to Medina. Due to the danger posed by the Quraysh, they did not take the road, but moved in the opposite direction, taking refuge in a cave in Jabal Thawr, some five miles south of Mecca. Abdullah ibn Abi Bakr, the son of Abu Bakr, would listen to the plans and discussions of the Quraysh, and at night he would carry the news to the fugitives in the cave. Asma bint Abi Bakr, the daughter of Abu Bakr, brought them meals every day. Aamir, a servant of Abu Bakr, would bring a flock of goats to the mouth of the cave every night, where they were milked. The Quraysh sent search parties in all directions. One party came close to the entrance to the cave, but was unable to see them. Due to this, Quran verse 9:40 was revealed. Aisha, Abu Saʽid al-Khudri and Abdullah ibn Abbas in interpreting this verse said that Abu Bakr was the companion who stayed with prophet Muhammad in the cave. Aisha was a wife of Muhammad. After arriving in Medina, prophet Muhammad instituted brotherhood between the Ansar (lit. ’Helpers’), the natives of Medina, and the Muhajirun (lit. ’Emigrants’), the natives of Mecca who migrated to Medina. Consequently, Abu Bakr was paired to Kharija ibn Zayd, a chieftain of the Banu Khazraj. The 9th-century historian al-Baladhuri (d. 892) reports that Abu Bakr paid the price for buying a land, on which the Prophet’s Mosque was built. Early in 623, Abu Bakr‘s daughter Aisha, who was already married to prophet Muhammad, was sent on to the prophet’s house after a simple marriage ceremony, further strengthening relations between Abu Bakr and prophet Muhammad. In March 624, Abu Bakr guarded prophet Muhammad in the Battle of Badr. Following the Muslim victory, prophet Muhammad accepted Abu Bakr‘s suggestion to ransom the captives

Battles

Battle of Badr

In Sunni accounts, during one such attack, two discs from Abu Bakr’s shield penetrated into Muhammad’s cheeks. Abu Bakr went forward with the intention of extracting these discs but Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah requested he leave the matter to him, losing his two incisors during the process. In these stories subsequently Abu Bakr, along with other companions, led Muhammad to a place of safety.

Battle of Uhud

In 625, he participated in the Battle of Uhud, in which the majority of the Muslims were routed and he himself was wounded.[38] Before the battle had begun, his son Abdul-Rahman, at that time still non-Muslim and fighting on the side of the Quraysh, came forward and threw down a challenge for a duel. Abu Bakr accepted the challenge but was stopped by Muhammad.[39] Later, Abdul-Rahman approached his father and said to him “You were exposed to me as a target, but I turned away from you and did not kill you.” To this Abu Bakr replied “However, if you had been exposed to me as a target I would not have turned away from you.”[40] In the second phase of the battle, Khalid ibn al-Walid’s cavalry attacked the Muslims from behind, changing a Muslim victory to defeat.[41][42] Many fled from the battlefield, including Abu Bakr. However, he was “the first to return”

Battle of the Trench

In 627 he participated in the Battle of the Trench and also in the Invasion of Banu Qurayza.[36] In the Battle of the Trench, Muhammad divided the ditch into a number of sectors and a contingent was posted to guard each sector. One of these contingents was under the command of Abu Bakr. The enemy made frequent assaults in an attempt to cross the ditch, all of which were repulsed. To commemorate this event a mosque, later known as ‘Masjid-i-Siddiq’,[44] was constructed at the site where Abu Bakr had repulsed the charges of the enemy.

Battle of Khaybar

Abu Bakr took part in the Battle of Khaybar. Khaybar had eight fortresses, the strongest and most well-guarded of which was called Al-Qamus. Muhammad sent Abu Bakr with a group of warriors to attempt to take it, but they were unable to do so. Muhammad also sent Umar with a group of warriors, but Umar could not conquer Al-Qamus either.[45][46][47][48] Some other Muslims also attempted to capture the fort, but they were unsuccessful as well.[49] Finally, Muhammad sent Ali, who defeated the enemy leader, Marhab.

In 629 Muhammad sent ‘Amr ibn al-‘As to Zaat-ul-Sallasal, followed by Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah in response to a call for reinforcements. Abu Bakr and Umar commanded an army under al-Jarrah, and they attacked and defeated the enemy.

Battles of Hunayn and Ta’if

In 630, the Muslim army was ambushed by archers from the local tribes as it passed through the valley of Hunayn, some eleven miles northeast of Mecca. Taken unaware, the advance guard of the Muslim army fled in panic. There was considerable confusion, and the camels, horses and men ran into one another in an attempt to seek cover. Muhammad, however, stood firm. Only nine companions remained around him, including Abu Bakr. Under Muhammad’s instruction, his uncle Abbas shouted at the top of his voice, “O Muslims, come to the Prophet of Allah”. The call was heard by the Muslim soldiers and they gathered beside Muhammad. When the Muslims had gathered in sufficient number, Muhammad ordered a charge against the enemy. In the hand-to-hand fight that followed the tribes were routed and they fled to Autas. Abu Bakr was commissioned by Muhammad to lead the attack against Ta’if. The tribes shut themselves in the fort and refused to come out in the open. The Muslims employed catapults, but without tangible result. The Muslims attempted to use a testudo formation, in which a group of soldiers shielded by a cover of cowhide advanced to set fire to the gate. However, the enemy threw red hot scraps of iron on the testudo, rendering it ineffective. The siege dragged on for two weeks, and still there was no sign of weakness in the fort. Muhammad held a council of war. Abu Bakr advised that the siege might be raised and that God make arrangements for the fall of the fort. The advice was accepted, and in February 630, the siege of Ta’if was raised and the Muslim army returned to Mecca. A few days later Malik bin Auf, the commander, came to Mecca and became a Muslim.

Abu Bakr led one military expedition, the Expedition of Abu Bakr As-Siddiq,[53] which took place in Najd, in July 628 (third month 7AH in the Islamic calendar).[53] Abu Bakr led a large[vague] company in Nejd on the order of Muhammad. Many were killed and taken prisoner.[54] The Sunni Hadith collection Sunan Abu Dawud mentions the event

Election

Modern-view of Saqifah where Abu Bakr was elected. Photo credit; wikipedia

After the death of Prophet Muhammad in June 632, a gathering of the Ansar (lit. ’Helpers’), the natives of Medina, took place in the Saida clan’s courtyard. They made an abortive attempt to elect the caliph amongst themselves, with the common choice being Sa’d ibn Ubada. The Ansar might have intentionally excluded the Muhajirun (lit. ’Emigrants’), the natives of Mecca who migrated to Medina. Upon learning of this meeting, Abu Bakr hastened to the gathering, along with two other prominent Muhajirun, Abu Ubayda ibn al-Jarrah and Umar ibn al-Khattab. The former addressed the assembled men, warning that an attempt to elect a leader outside of prophet Muhammad’s own tribe, the Quraysh, would result in dissension, as only they can command the necessary respect among the community. He presented Abu Ubayda and Umar as two potential candidates for the caliphate. Habab ibn Mundhir suggested that the Ansar and the Muhajirun choose a leader each from among themselves, who would then rule jointly. Ensued by this proposal, a heated argument began amongst the two groups. In a decisive move, Umar took Abu Bakr’s hand and swore his allegiance to the latter, an example eventually followed by the gathered men. This may indicate that the choice of Abu Bakr may not have been unanimous, with emotions running high as a result of the disagreement. The orientalist William Muir gives the following observation of the situation as “The sovereignty of Islam demanded an undivided Caliphate; and Arabia would acknowledge no master but from amongst Koreish”. Abu Bakr‘s first address as caliph I have been given the authority over you, and I am not the best of you. If I do well, help me; and if I do wrong, set me right. Sincere regard for truth is loyalty and disregard for truth is treachery. The weak amongst you shall be strong with me until I have secured his rights, if God wills; and the strong amongst you shall be weak with me until I have wrested from him the rights of others, if God wills. Obey me so long as I obey God and His Messenger. But if I disobey God and His Messenger, you owe me no obedience. Arise for your prayer, God have mercy upon you. — The address was delivered at The Prophet’s Mosque Abu Bakr was almost universally accepted as head of the Muslim community, under the title of caliph, as a result of Saqifah, though he did face contention because of the rushed nature of the event. Ali and his supporters initially refused to acknowledge Abu Bakr’s authority, claiming that Muhammad had earlier designated him as the successor.Among Shia Muslims, it is also argued that Ali had previously been appointed as Muhammad’s heir, with the election being seen as in contravention to the latter’s wishes. Abu Bakr later sent Umar to ask allegiance from Fatimah, which resulted in an altercation that may have involved violence. However, after six months the group made peace with Abu Bakr and Ali pledged him his allegiance. After Ali pledged his allegiance, Ali used to help Abu Bakr on government and religious matters.

Battles against Tulayha

Few days after Abu Bakr’s election, in July 632, Tulayha ibn Khuwaylid, from the Banu Asad tribe, was preparing to launch an attack on Medina. Abu Bakr raised an army primarily from the Banu Hashim. He appointed Ali ibn Abi Talib, Talha ibn Ubayd Allah and Zubayr ibn al-Awwam, each as commander of one-third of the newly organized force. Tulayha’s forces was defeated and driven to Zhu Hussa. Though, few months after, Tulayha again launched an attack on the Muslim forces. Abu Bakr appointed Khalid ibn al-Walid as the main commander. Khalid had an army of 6,000 men whereas Tulayha had an army of 30,000 men. However, Tulayha’s forces were crushed by Khalid ibn al-Walid and his forces. After the battle, Tulayha accepted Islam and asked forgiveness from Abu Bakr. Though, Abu Bakr forgave Tulayha, he refused to allow Tulayha to participate in wars on the Muslim side since Tulayha killed a Sahabi called Akasha ibn Mihsan in the battle.

Battle of Yamama

Musaylimah, from the Banu Hanifa tribe, was one of the biggest enemies of Abu Bakr. He is denounced in Islamic history as “false prophet”. Musaylimah, along with his wife Sajah from Banu Taghlib and Banu Tamim, claimed prophethood and gathered an army of 40,000 people to attack against Abu Bakr. Abu Bakr appointed Khalid ibn al-Walid as the primary commander and appointed Ikrimah and Shurahbil as the commander of the corps. In the battle, Musaylimah’s forces were crushed by Khalid and his forces. However, Musaylimah’s forces killed about 360 huffaz (memorizers of the Quran) were killed. Wahshi ibn Harb killed Musaylimah in the battle. After the battle, Musaylimah’s wife Sajah became a devout Muslim.

Preservation of the Quran

Preservation of the Quran
photo credit; istockphoto.com

Abu Bakr was instrumental in preserving the Quran in written form. After the Battle of Yamama in 632, numerous memorizers of the Quran had been killed. Umar fearing that the Quran may become lost or corrupted, Umar requested that Abu Bakr authorise the compilation and preservation of the scriptures in written format. The caliph was initially hesitant, being quoted as saying, “How can we do that which the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless and keep him, did not himself do?” He eventually relented, however, and appointed Zayd ibn Thabit, who had previously served as one of the scribes of Muhammad, for the task of gathering the scattered verses. The fragments were recovered from every quarter, including from the ribs of palm branches, scraps of leather, stone tablets and “from the hearts of men”. The collected work was transcribed onto sheets and compiled in the sequence that had been instructed by Muhammad, as opposed to the order in which they had been revealed.[90] The complete work was then verified through comparison with Quran memorisers.[91][92] The finished codex, termed the Mus’haf, was presented to Abu Bakr, who prior to his death, bequeathed it to his successor Umar.[93] Upon Umar’s own death, the Mus’haf was left to his daughter Hafsa, who had been one of the wives of Muhammad. It was this volume, borrowed from Hafsa, which formed the basis of Uthman’s legendary prototype, which became the definitive text of the Quran. All later editions are derived from this original.

Family

Abu Bakr had four wives. His first wife Qutaylah bint Abd al-Uzza bore him a daughter Asma and a son Abdullah. Though Asma and Abdullah became Muslims, their mother Qutaylah didn’t become a Muslim and Abu Bakr divorced her. Abu Bakr‘s second wife was Zaynab bint Amir, who bore him Abdul-Rahman and Aisha. Zaynab and her daughter Aisha converted to Islam whereas Abdul-Rahman didn’t convert until the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah in 628 CE. Abu Bakr‘s third wife was Asma bint Umais, who bore Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr. Before her marriage with Abu Bakr, Asma was a wife of Jafar ibn Abi Talib, and after Abu Bakr‘s death, Asma married Ali ibn Abi Talib. Abu Bakr’s fourth wife was Habibah bint Kharijah. She bore Umm Kulthum, who was born after Abu Bakr’s death. Abu Bakr’s descendants are called Siddiquis. The Sufi Naqshbandi spiritual order is believed to be originating from Abu Bakr.

Death

tomn of abu bakr
The tomb of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and early Muslim leaders, Abu Bakar and Umar on June 24, 2019 in Madinah, Saudi Arabia. His grave was designed in oriental style. Photo credit; shutterstock.com

Abu Bakr died of natural causes in 634, having nominated Umar, his most able supporter, as his successor. During the reign of the Umayyad caliph al-Walid I, Al-Masjid an-Nabawi was expanded to include the site of Abu Bakr‘s tomb. The Green Dome above the tomb was built by the Mamluk sultan Al Mansur Qalawun in the 13th century, although the green color was added in the 16th century, under the reign of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. Among tombs adjacent to that of Abu Bakr, are of Muhammad, Umar, and an empty one reserved for Isa.

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