Important Figures: Abu Bakr

Abu Bakr in Arabic

One of the most well-known figures of Islam is Abu Bakr. Many Muslims up to the current day will name their children after this man, who was a very close companion of the Prophet Muhammad and after his death became the first caliph, according to Sunnis. Abu Bakr was also the father of Ayesha, one of the Prophet’s wives. My focus in this post, the first in a series on important figures in Islam, will be the life of this man who has influenced Islamic tradition immensely.

While he is widely known by his nickname, Abu Bakr (the father of camel’s foal because of his love for the animal), he was born Abdul Kaba ibn Abi Quhafa. Like the Prophet Muhammad he was a merchant. From an early age, Abu Bakr earned the respect of his fellow tribesman, as he became the chief of his tribe even when his father was alive.

Abu Bakr was also a close friend of the Prophet. He was the first male adult to become Muslim after the Prophet Muhammad received his first revelation in 610 C.E. The Prophet then changed Abu Bakr’s name from Abdul Kaba (the servant of the Kaba) to Abdullah (the servant of Allah) and also gave Abu Bakr another title, As-Siddiq (The Truthful), that has remained with him until the present day.

In Islamic sources, Abu Bakr is described as being one of the most loyal supporters of the Prophet Muhammad. One example was after the Night Journey, in Arabic isra wa miraj. The Meccans were ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad for saying that he had journeyed from Mecca to Jerusalem overnight. When asked by the Meccans if he believed the Prophet’s account, Abu Bakr responded:

“If he said so, He has said the truth”… “I believe him when he says he receives revelation from the Creator of the skies and Heaven, I believe him in saying that he hears the great Angel Jibril (Gabriel) who comes down through the seven skies giving the message to him, would it be hard to believe that he crossed those miles in such a time.”

Moreover, during the hijra from Mecca to Medina, Abu Bakr was the Prophet’s companion. Since the Meccans were following the Prophet Muhammad, he and Abu Bakr had to hide in a cave. The following verse in the Qur’an describes this episode and most scholars assert that the companion mentioned in the verse is Abu Bakr.

If ye help not (your Leader) (it is no matter): for Allah did indeed help him; when the unbelievers drove him out: he had no more than one companion: they two were in the cave, and he said to his companion “Have no Fear, for Allah is with us”: then Allah sent down His peace upon him, and strengthened him with forces which ye saw not, and humbled to the depths the word of the Unbelievers. But the word of Allah is exalted to the heights: for Allah is Exalted in might, Wise. (Chapter 9, verse 40)

Abu Bakr’s dedication to Islam is often referenced by Muslims. He is reported to have bought and then freed slaves who had become Muslims. It has also been said that he gave all his wealth to the new Muslim community. Additionally, he played an important role after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. Before becoming the first caliph, Abu Bakr is the one who informed the Muslims of the death of the Prophet and brought some calm. He said,

If anyone amongst you used to worship Muhammad, then Muhammad has passed away, but if you used to worship Allah, then Allah is Alive and shall never die. Allah said, “And Muhammad is but a messenger; the messengers have come before him; if then he dies or is killed will you turn back upon your heels? And whoever turns back upon his heels, he will by no means do harm to Allah in the least and Allah will reward the grateful.” (Qur’an, Chapter 3, verse 144)

The initial fracture among the Muslims leading to the Sunni/Shia divide was around who would lead the Muslims after the Prophet’s death. According to Sunnis, Abu Bakr was chosen to be the first caliph of the four Rightly Guided Caliphs because he was a close companion and the Prophet had trusted him immensely, even designating him to lead the prayers at the end of his life when he was too ill. Abu Bakr served from 632 to 634 when he died of natural causes. During his tenure, he led battles against defecting tribes in Arabia called the Ridda Wars (the Wars of Apostasy) and campaigns against the Sassanid Empire and the Byzantine Empire. During his short caliphate, Abu Bakr was able to bring some stability to the Muslim community after the loss of the Prophet.

Abu Bakr is remembered and revered for his dedication to Islam and the strength of his conviction.

Have you heard of Abu Bakr? What is your impression of him? Why do you think he is relevant today? Do you think he influences people today? Please share your comments below.

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