Medina, the heart of Islam, was gravely threatened by the enemy hordes. The Holy Prophet of Islam appealed for funds in order to finance the defensive campaign for meeting the impending danger, Hazrat Umar being in affluent circumstances at once thought of taking advantage of this golden opportunity and thus surpassed Hazrat Abu Bakr in the service of Islam. He hurried to his home and brought a considerable portion of his wealth. The Prophet was much pleased to see it and asked him, “Have you left anything for your dependants?”
“Half of my wealth I have set aside for my children”, replied Umar.
When Hazrat Abu Bakr brought his share, the same question was posed to him.
He promptly replied, “I have retained only Allah and His Prophet for my dependants.”
Deeply moved by these words, Umar said, “It would never be possible for me to surpass Abu Bakr.”
Hazrat Abu Bakr, the first Caliph of Islam and the most trusted as well as devoted lieutenant of the Prophet, was born in Makkah two and a half years after the year of the Elephant or fifty and a half years before the commencement of Hejira. He was known as Abul Kaab in pre-Islamic days and on conversion to Islam was given the name of Abdulla and the title of Al Siddiq (The truthful) by the Prophet. He belonged to the Quraishite clan of Bani Taim and his geneology joins with that of the Holy Prophet in the 7th generation. He was one of the most respected leaders even before and after embracing Islam. His ancestral occupation was business and occasionally he undertook commercial trips to Syria and Yemen. He visited Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH) even before, and at the time of the revelation he was in Yemen. On his return to Makkah, the leaders of Quraish including Abu Jahl, Ataba and Shoba, ridiculed in his presence the declaration of Prophethood by Muhammad (PBUH). Thereupon Abu Bakr got very much excited and exasperated and hurried to the Prophet’s place and embraced Islam. According to Suyuti, the author of ‘Tarikh ul Khulafa’, the Prophet said, “Whenever I offered Islam to any person, he showed some hesitation before embracing it. But Abu Bakr is an exception as he embraced Islam without the slightest hesitation on his part.”
It is universally admitted fact that among the grown ups, Hazrat Abu Bakr, among the youngsters, Hazrat Ali, and among the women, Hazrat Khadija, were first to embrace Islam. As stated above, Hazrat Abu Bakr, being a wealthy person, placed his entire wealth at the disposal of the Prophet. Besides, he purchased and set free a number of slaves including Hazrat Bilal, who were bitterly persecuted for accepting Islam. He had to endure all sorts of hardships, intimidation and torture in the service of the new faith. Once he was severely beaten till he became unconscious. The courage and determination exhibited by the Holy Prophet and his faithful Companions in face of bitter opposition, will always be a source of inspiration for those who strive for Truth. Hazrat Abu Bakr who had 40,000 dirhams at the time of his conversion, had only 5,000 left at the time of migration. Leaving his wife and children to the care of God, he left Makkah for Medina in the company of the Prophet.
He also fought shoulder to shoulder with the Prophet in defensive battles which the adherents of the new faith fought for their existence. Abdur Rahman bin Abu Bakr, after his conversion to Islam, told his father that in the battle of Badr he got a chance when he could easily strike him down. Abu Bakr promptly replied that he would not have spared him if he had had the opportunity.
Abu Bakr died on August 23, 634 A.C. at the age of 63 and his Caliphate lasted for two years, three months and eleven days. He was buried by the side of the Prophet.
On the death of the holy Prophet, Hazrat Abu Bakr was elected as the first Caliph of Islam After his election, at which people scrambled to offer bait’, the Caliph delivered his memorable speech before the electorate.
Said he: “Brothers, now I am elected your Amir, although I am no better than anyone among you. Help me if I am in the right and set me right if I am in the wrong. Truth is a trust: falsehood is a treason. The weak among you shall be strong with me till (God willing) his right has been vindicated and the strong among you shall be weak with me till (if Lord will) I have taken what is due from him. Obey me as long as I obey Allah and His Prophet. If I disobey Him and His Prophet, obey me not.”
Intrinsically kind-hearted, Abu Bakr stood like a rock against the disruptive forces which raised their head after the death of the Holy Prophet. It seemed then that the entire structure of Islam which had been built by the departed master-mind would crumble down. Abu Bakr, being the faithful Companion of the Prophet, proved to be an exceptionally strong man and stuck to the path shown by his master. During the illness of the Prophet an army of 700 men was mobilised under Usama bin Zaid to avenge the defeat of Muslims at the hands of the Romans. There was a great turmoil in Arabia after the death of the Prophet, and his close associates counselled the new Caliph not to despatch forces outside Medina at such a critical juncture. Hazrat Abu Bakr was adamant on the point and replied that he would be the last person in the world to revise the orders of the Prophet. The charger of the commander Usama appointed by the Prophet was led by the Caliph himself. The army accomplished its object within forty days. The expedition had a salutary effect on the recalcitrant tribesmen who had begun to be sceptical about the inherent potentialities of Islam. The imaginative, timely and dynamic action taken by Abu Bakr, tended to establish Muslim power.
Very soon another crisis confronted Abu Bakr. On the death of the Prophet of Islam, a number of pseudo prophets i.e., imposters raised their heads in various parts of Arabia, outstanding being Aswad Asni, Talha of Bani Asad, Musailma, the liar and Sajah, a woman of Yemen. The Caliph. gave at Zuhl Qassa eleven banners to equal number of commanders and assigned them various sectors. The expedition against Musailma, the liar, was the toughest and Hazrat Khalid bin Walid, after a bloody battle, routed the enemy. Musailma was killed. According to historian Tabari, ”Never did the Muslims fight a more stiff battle.”
Shortly after the election of the new Caliph, a large number of tribesmen pleaded with the notables of Islam in Medina to be exempted from the payment of Zakat. The situation looked so gloomy that even a person of the calibre of Hazrat Umar yielded on the point and counselled Hazrat Abu Bakr, “O Caliph of the Prophet, be friendly to these people and treat them gently.” The Caliph was immensely annoyed at this unexpected exhibition of weakness, and replied indignantly, “You were so harsh during the days of ignorance, but now you have become so weak. The Divine revelations have been completed and our faith has attained perfection. Now, you want it to be mutilated during my lifetime. I swear by Allah that even if a string is withheld from Zakat, I will fight for it with all the resources at my command.”
The Caliph lived up to his convictions and his integrity and strength of character, preserved the basic precepts of Islam at a very critical juncture of her history.
All the punitive expeditions directed against the apostates and rebellious tribesmen successfully terminated by the end of 11 A.H., and the spirit of revolt and dissensions which gripped Arabia was curbed for ever.
Free from the internal upheavals, the Caliph attended to the external dangers which imperilled the very existence of Islam. Kaiser and Kisra, the two most powerful emperors of the world, were lurking for an opportunity to strike at the very root of the new faith. The Persians, who for centuries ruled over Arabia as overlords, could never tolerate that the militant Arabs should unite and form themselves into a formidable force. Hurmuz, the tyrant governed Iraq on behalf of the Kisra. His persecution of the Arabs led to the skirmishes which developed into a full blooded war. Nature willed otherwise; the Persians, who in their arrogance, had underrated the power of Muslims, could not stem the tide of their advance and had to retreat from place to place till Iraq fell into the hands of the Arabs. Muthanna, in the beginning, led the Muslim army against the Persians. He earned many laurels against his enemy. He was later on joined by the invincible Khalid bin Walid, known as the Sword of God. The decisive battle against Hurmuz was won by Muslims in which Hurmuz was killed by Hazrat Khalid and the Persians were routed with heavy losses. A camel load of chains weighing seven and a half maunds was collected from the battlefield, hence it is known as the ‘Battle of Chains.”
Hazrat Khalid bin Walid, who was the Commander of Islamic forces in Iraq, separated the administration of military and civil departments under different heads. Saced bin Noman was appointed chief of the military department, while Suwaid bin Maqran was appointed chief of the civil administration of the conquered area in Iraq. Major portion of Iraq was captured during the Caliphate of Hazrat Abu Bakr and the Persians had had the sad experience of challenging of growing power of Islam. The decisive battle for Iraq was fought between Muslims and Persians during the reign of Hazrat Umar.
Heraclius, the Byzantine Emperor, who ruled over Syria and Palestine, was the greatest and most powerful enemy of Islam. He had been constantly conspiring with the enemies of Islam in an effort to annihilate it. His intrigues and secret machinations brought about several uprisings of non-Muslim tribes in Arabia. He was a constant danger to Islam. In 9 A.H., the Prophet himself had marched against the Romans and the expedition of Usama bin Zaid was also directed against the threatening Romans. Hazrat Abu Bakr despatched the flower of his army to meet the Romans and divided his forces into four armies placed under the command of Abu Ubaidah, Sharjil bin Hasanah, Yazid bin Sufian and Amr bin al-Aas and assigned them different sectors in Syria. The ill-equipped, untrained and numerically inferior army of Islam, was no match for the well equipped, well trained and numerically much superior Roman forces. Khalid was ordered by the Caliph to join the Muslim forces in Syria and his lightning march through a waterless desert added a memorable chapter to the history of military campaigns.
The opposing forces met on the plain of Yarmuk. The formidable Roman forces comprised more than 3-lakh well equipped soldiers, out of which about 80,000 were chained in order to ward off the possibility of retreat.
The Muslim army was composed of hardly 46,000 men in all, which, according to the strategic plan of Hazrat Khalid, was broken up into 40 contingents in order to impress its numerical superiority upon the enemy. This memorable battle ended in the crushing defeat of the Romans who retreated, leaving a large number of dead on the battle-field. This decisive victory sealed the fate of Roman rule in Syria. The battle of Yarmuk, whose initial preparations were started during the Caliphate of Hazrat Abu Bakr was won in the reign of Hazrat Umar.
Hazrat Abu Bakr was the most trusted Companion of the Prophet of Islam. The Prophet said, “I am not aware of a person who can surpass Abu Bakr in beneficence”. When the illness of the Prophet became serious, he bade Abu Bakr to lead the prayers. Accordingly, he led the prayers seventeen times during the lifetime of the Prophet.
The Prophet said: “I have paid back the obligations of all except that of Abu Bakr who will have his reward on the Day of Judgement.”
According to Tirmizi, Hazrat Umar said, “O, You! (Abu Bakr) are the best of men after the Prophet of God.”
According to a statement of Imam Ahmad, Hazrat Ali said, “The best among the members of this Ummat (Muslims) after the Prophet are Abu Bakr and Umar.”
Glowing tributes have been paid to the character and achievements of Hazrat Abu Bakr by the contemporary and later historians. He was one of the mighty pillars of Islam who was instrumental in making the new faith a great force in the world. He was one of the great champions of the Islamic revolution which, in a short span of 30 years, brought about the greatest social, political and economic changes in the history of mankind. He was one of the founders of the true democracy that existed in the world more than 1400 years ago and never thereafter. That was a democracy in which the highest authority of the state (Caliph), who was also the most powerful monarch of his time, roamed about in the streets unguarded and unescorted, ate coarse food and wore tattered clothes. Even an ordinary citizen could approach him at any time of the day and question his actions publicly.
Hazrat Abu Bakr and Hazrat Ali were distinguished for their eloquence among the Muslims. Once he advised Hazrat Khalid bin Walid: “Try to run away from greatness and greatness will follow you. Seek death and life will be conferred on you.”
He had issued instructions to his army which, according to Ibn Athir, formed the moral code that guided the conduct of the soldiers of Islam. This should serve as a model for war-ravaged world. He instructed his forces: “Don’t commit misappropriations; don’t deceive anybody; don’t disobey your chief; don’t mutilate human bodies; don’t kill old men, women or children; don’t cut fruit trees or burn them; don’t slaughter animals except for food; don’t molest Christian priests and don’t forget God for His blessings that you have enjoyed.” It was obligatory on the armed forces to maintain a high standard of morality even during the campaigns and to show due respect to human, animal and plant life. Any deviation from these principles was severely dealt with.
He appointed Hazrat Umar as his Grand Qazi, but people had grown so honest and their social life was so much purged of the immoralities of the pre-Islamic days that no complaint was lodged with the Qazi for one year. Hazrat Ali, Hazrat Usman and Zaid bin Sabit worked as Khatibs.
Hazrat Abu Bakr’s simplicity, honesty and integrity was personified. He sacrificed everything in the service of Islam. He was a prosperous businessman owning more than 40,000 dirhams in cash when he embraced Islam, but he was a pauper when he died as the First Caliph of Islam.
He did not abandon his ancestral occupation when he was elected as Caliph and for about six months carried cloth sheets on his shoulders for selling in the markets of Medina. However, his official duties did not leave him much time for his private work, hence he was advised to accept some maintenance allowance. The Assembly of the Muslims fixed a monthly stipend which enabled him to pass the life of an ordinary citizen. He had to deposit his old clothes for replacement by new ones from the Baitul Mal (Public Treasury).
Before his assumption of the exalted office of Caliph, he used to milk the goats of his locality. Once while passing through a street of Medina, he heard a girl’s remark’s, “Now he has become the Caliph, hence he would not milk our goats.” He replied instantly, “No, my daughter, I shall certainly milk the goats as usual. I hope that by the grace of God, my position will not alter my routine.” He had great affection for children who used to embrace him and call him ‘Baba’ (Father).
An old destitute woman lived on the outskirts of Medina. Hazrat Umar visited her occasionally to handle her household chores. But whenever he went there, he was told that someone else had preceded him in that service. Once he visited her house in the early hours of the morning and hid himself in a corner to watch the mysterious person who arrived at the usual time. He was surprised to see that he was none other than the Caliph himself.
Hazrat Abu Bakr was extremely scrupulous in drawing his stipend from the Baitul Mal. He charged only as much as would suffice for the barest necessities of an ordinary life. One day his wife asked for sweets, but he had no spare funds for that. She saved a few dirhams in a fortnight and gave it to him to get sweets for her. Forthrightly he gave her to understand that her savings had established that he was drawing stipend in excess of their requirements. Hence he refunded the amount to the Baitul Mal and reduced his stipend for the future.
He delighted in doing all his work with his own hands, and never tolerated anyage to share his domestic works. Even if the reins of the camel happened to drop from his hand, he would never ask anyone to hold it for him. He would rather come down and pick it up himself.
Whenever a man praised him in his presence he would say, “O, God! You know me more than myself and I know myself more than these people.Forgive those sins of mine which are not in their knowledge and do not hold me responsible for their praise.”
He was a man of exceptionally simple habits. A richly dressed prince of Yemen, who arrived in Medina found him putting on only two brown sheets of cloth-one wrapped round his waist and the other covered the rest of his body. He was so much touched with the simplicity of the Caliph that he, too, discarded his gorgeous dress. He said, “Under the influence of Islam, I get no pleasure in such artificialities.”
On his death bed he enquired from the person incharge of Baitul Mal about the amount he had drawn from the Baitul Mal as his stipends. He was informed that he had drawn, 6,000 dirhams (roughly 1,500 rupees) during his two and a half years of Caliphate. He instructed that a particular plot of land owned by him should he disposed of and the entire proceeds be refunded to the Baitul Mal. His dying wish was duly complied with. He had been a camel and a piece of cloth worth Re, 1/4/- for his private use, which he ordered to be returned to the new Caliph after his death. When these articles were brought in the presence of Hazrat Umar, the new Caliph, he burst into tears and said, “Abu Bakr, You have made the task of your successor extremely difficult.”
Just on the eve of his death he enquired from his daughter Hazrat Aisha, the number of the pieces of cloth used as a shroud of the Prophet. She replied, “Three”. Thereupon he said that the two sheets which were on his body should be washed and used for the purpose and the third one might be purchased. With tears in her eyes she said that she was not so poor as to ill-afford a shroud for her father. The Caliph replied that the new cloth could be used more profitably for the living than for the dead.
Eloquent tributes have been paid to Caliph Abu Bakr’s qualities of head and heart. Friends and foes alike have universally commended his devotion to the new faith and his simplicity, honesty and integrity of character. Jurji Zaidan, the Egyptian Christian historian writes:
“The age of pious Caliphs is the real golden age of Islam. The Caliphs of this period are known for their temperance, piety and justice. When Hazrat Abu Bakr was converted to Islam, he was in possession of 40,000 dirhams, an enormous fortune at that time, but he spent the whole of it in furthering Islam including that which he earned in trade. When he died he had nothing except a dinar. He would ordinarily walk to his house in Sunh, on the outskirts of Medina and scarcely ever rode his horse. He came to Medina to conduct public prayers and return to Sunh in the evening. Each day he would go to buy and sell and had a small flock which at times he had to pasture himself. Before he became Caliph, he used to milk the sheep of his tribe and when he became Caliph, a slave girl regretted that her sheep would not be milked. But he assured her that he would continue her work of milking the sheep and dignity would cause no change in his conduct. Before his death, he ordered that a small plot of land which belonged to him should be sold and the proceeds returned to the Muslim community as set off for the sums which he had taken from them as an honorarium.”