“If I were to take a friend other than my Lord, I would take Abu Bakr as a friend.”
– Propohet Muhammad (salAllahu Alaihi waSallam)
Election to the Caliphate
The Prophet’s closest Companion, Abu Bakr, was not present when the Holy Prophet (peace be on him) breathed his last in the apartment of his beloved wife of later years, Aisha, Abu Bakr’s daughter. When he came to know of the Prophet’s passing, Abu Bakr hurried to the house of sorrow.
“How blessed was your life and how beatific is your death,” he whispered as he kissed the cheek of his beloved friend and master who now was no more.
When Abu Bakr came out of the Prophet’s apartment and broke the news, disbelief and dismay gripped the community of Muslims in Medina. Muhammad (peace be on him) had been the leader, the guide and the bearer of Divine revelation through whom they had been brought from idolatry and barbarism into the way of God. How could he die? Even Umar, one of the bravest and strongest of the Prophet’s Companions, lost his composure and drew his sword and threatened to kill anyone who said that the Prophet was dead. Abu Bakr gently pushed him aside, ascended the steps of the lectern in the mosque and addressed the people, saying,
“O people, verily whoever worshipped Muhammad, behold! Muhammad is indeed dead. But whoever worships God, behold! God is alive and will never die.”
And then he concluded with a verse from the Qur’an:
“And Muhammad is but a Messenger. Many Messengers have gone before him; if then he dies or is killed, will you turn back upon your heels?” (3:144)
On hearing these words, the people were consoled. Despondency gave place to confidence and tranquility. This critical moment had passed. But the Muslim community was now faced with an extremely serious problem: that of choosing a leader. After some discussion among the Companions of the Prophet who had assembled in order to select a leader, it became apparent that no one was better suited for this responsibility than Abu Bakr. A portion of the speech the First Caliph gave after his election has already been quoted in the introduction.
Abu Bakr’s Life
Abu Bakr (‘The Owner of Camels’) was not his real name. He acquired this name later in life because of his great interest in raising camels. His real name was Abdul Ka’aba (‘Slave of Ka’aba’), which Muhammad (peace be on him) later changed to Abdullah (‘Slave of God’). The Prophet also gave him the title of ‘Siddiq’ – ‘The Testifier to the Truth.’
Abu Bakr was a fairly wealthy merchant, and before he embraced Islam, was a respected citizen of Mecca. He was three years younger than Muhammad (peace be on him) and some natural affinity drew them together from earliest child hood. He remained the closest Companion of the Prophet all through the Prophet’s life. When Muhammad first invited his closest friends and relatives to Islam, Abu Bakr was among the earliest to accept it. He also persuaded Uthman and Bilal to accept Islam. In the early days of the Prophet’s mission, when the handful of Muslims were subjected to relentless persecution and torture, Abu Bakr bore his full share of hardship. Finally when God’s permission came to emigrate from Mecca, he was the one chosen by the Prophet to accompany him on the dangerous journey to Medina. In the numerous battles which took place during the life of the Prophet, Abu Bakr was always by his side. Once, he brought all his belongings to the Prophet, who was raising money for the defense of Medina. The Prophet asked “Abu Bakr, what did you leave for your family?” The reply came: “God and His Prophet.”
Even before Islam, Abu Bakr was known to be a man of upright character and amiable and compassionate nature. All through his life he was sensitive to human suffering and kind to the poor and helpless. Even though he was wealthy, he lived very simply and spent his money for charity, for freeing slaves and for the cause of Islam. He often spent part of the night in supplication and prayer. He shared with his family a cheerful and affectionate home life.
Such, then, was the man upon whom the burden of leadership fell at the most sensitive period in the history of the Muslims.
As the news of the Prophet’s death spread, a number of tribes rebelled and refused to pay Zakat (poor-due), saying that this was due only to the Prophet (peace be on him). At the same time a number of impostors claimed that the prophethood had passed to them after Muhammad and they raised the standard of revolt. To add to all this, two powerful empires, the Eastern Roman and the Persian, also threatened the new-born Islamic state at Medina.
Under these circumstances, many Companions of the Prophet, including Umar, advised Abu Bakr to make concessions to the Zakat evaders, at least for a time. The new Caliph disagreed. He insisted that the Divine Law cannot be divided, that there is no distinction between the obligations of Zakat and Salat (prayer), and that any compromise with the injunctions of God would eventually erode the foundations of Islam. Umar and others were quick to realize their error of judgment. The revolting tribes attacked Medina but the Muslims were prepared. Abu Bakr himself led the charge, forcing them to retreat. He then made a relentless war on the false claimants to prophethood, most of whom submitted and again professed lslam.
The threat from the Roman Empire had actually arisen earlier, during the Prophet’s lifetime. The Prophet had organized an army under the command of Usama, the son of a freed slave. The army had not gone far when the Prophet had fallen ill so they stopped. After the death of the Prophet the question was raised whether the army should be sent again or should remain for the defence of Medina. Again Abu Bakr showed a firm determination. He said, “I shall send Usama’s army on its way as ordered by the Prophet, even if I am left alone.”
The final instructions he gave to Usama prescribed a code of conduct in war which remains unsurpassed to this day. Part of his instructions to the Muslim army were:
“Do not be deserters, nor be guilty of disobedience. Do not kill an old man, a woman or a child. Do not injure date palms and do not cut down fruit trees. Do not slaughter any sheep or cows or camels except for food. You will encounter persons who spend their lives in monasteries. Leave them alone and do not molest them.”
Khalid bin Waleed had been chosen by the Prophet (peace be on him) on several occasions to lead Muslim armies. A man of supreme courage and a born leader, his military genius came to full flower during the Caliphate of Abu Bakr. Throughout Abu Bakr’s reign Khalid led his troops from one victory to another against the attacking Romans.
Another contribution of Abu Bakr to the cause of Islam was the collection and compilation of the verses of the Qur’an.
Abu Bakr died on 21 Jamadi-al Akhir, 13 A.H. (23 August 634 A.C.), at the age of sixty-three, and was buried by the side of the Holy Prophet (peace be on him). His caliphate had been of a mere twenty-seven months duration. In this brief span, however, Abu Bakr had managed, by the Grace of God, to strengthen and consolidate his community and the state, and to secure the Muslims against the perils which had threatened their existence.