Abu Bakr al-Siddiq (d. 13H)


History sometimes produces men like snow-clad mountains. When it is warm, the ice melts. Such was Abu Bakr. He wept so often that one would imagine he was an effeminate weeper. But anyone who thought in those terms was misled by the snow that covered the mountain. There was a pile of solid rock beneath that withstood massive storm that left the peaceniks shaking in fear.


When the Prophet said that there were eight gates to Paradise, Abu Bakr asked, “Will there be anyone invited entry from every of its gate?” “Yes,” he got the answer, “and it is hoped that you will be one of them.” That testimony is worthier which comes from a non-partisan. John Dewy wrote about Abu Bakr: “A man whose faith was as strong as a mountain.” A mountain of faith he was. The Prophet said, “There was none whom I invited to Islam but he hesitated and wavered, except Abu Bakr. He did not hesitate for a moment.”

Indeed, his inner conviction was of a far greater intensity than what was apparent at ordinary times. And he was made for extraordinary times. Within 24 hours of acceptance of Islam, this first adult free Muslim had convinced six of his friends and brought them to the Prophet for declaration of submission. And no ordinary persons were they. As the caravan of faith advanced, they proved to be of such outstanding order as to remain unwaveringly submitted until death. They were among the ten later named by the Prophet as the “Al-`Ashara al-Mubashsharah”(the Ten given glad tiding [of  Paradise]): `Uthman ibn `Affan, Zubayr ibn al-`Awwam, Talha ibn `Ubaydullah, Sa`d ibn abiWaqqas, Abu `Ubaydah ibn al-Jarrah and `Abd al Rahman ibn `Awf.  (Five of these were in the Shura panel that `Umar had set up to select a Khalifah after him).

The depth and intensity of Abu Bakr’s faith could be considered the other side of the coin of his personality: a part of him. For example, a man is not a man if he does not get angry when struck. The trait to react, retaliate, is part of a man’s personality. Abu Bakr could not be thought of but as a mountain against every tide of unbelief. Storms came and went but the mountain remained: “When everyone told me,” said the Prophet, ‘I do not believe,’ Abu Bakr said, ‘I believe.’”

At Makkah, when the Prophet’s journey to the heavens was greeted with nods of indifference, winks of denial and guffaws of ridicule, an event when some Muslims thought it was the occasion to say goodbye to the new faith, Abu Bakr said, “Why should I not believe in his journey to the heavens when I believe in an angel’s frequent journeys down to earth?” Straightforward logic, but which is delivered by minds of those who have a straight mind.

When everyone disagreed with him over Usama’s army consisting of the most able men of Madinah starting off towards Syrian lands, immediately after the Prophet’s death, while the fire of apostasy lit over half of the Peninsula, and the repudiators of Zakah taunting the authority at Madinah from another half, were threatening to tear down the tiny Islamic state if it dared to impose its authority, it was Abu Bakr who stood alone, against all advice, against all odds, to insist that the army will definitely march out – because none other than the Prophet had readied it – and that the Islamic tenets will be defended even if it ended in dogs tearing his corpse. So he said. When everyone disagreed, down to the last man, Abu Bakr started to mount his horse saying, “Then I go alone.” He was begged retreat by `Umar for less emotional discussions. But Abu Bakr was in no heightened emotional state. He maintained his position, “Should Islam extinguish while Abu Bakr is alive?” He was dead cool. “No, by Allah,” he added, I shall wage war against those Muslims who differentiate between Salah and Zakah, offering one and refusing another.” And he added, “If they gave a camel and a rope at the time of the Prophet, I shall not accept a camel without the rope after him.” What would those who draw great comfort from targeting criticism against mild believers of our own age (e.g. Sayyid Qutub), say about the first fundamentalist successor of the Prophet?

History sometimes produces men like snow-clad mountains. When it is warm, the ice melts. Such was Abu Bakr. He wept so often that one would imagine he was an effeminate weeper. But anyone who thought in those terms was misled by the snow that covered the mountain. There was a pile of solid rock beneath that withstood massive storm that left the peaceniks shaking in fear. The Prophet said, “If Abu Bakr’s faith is weighed against the faith of the rest of the Ummah, it would overweigh the rest.” He was asked, “Who among men is most beloved to you?” He responded, “Abu Bakr.”

Actual name `Abdullah, son of Quhafa, titled al-Siddiq (the Truthful) and al-`Ateeq(the freed of the Fire), Abu Bakr was born in Makkah, some three years after the Prophet, to die some three years after him. He was a merchant and a man of good repute and connections with goodly people. Altogether, he married four women. First was Qutaylah who gave him two children, `Abdullah and Asma’. He had divorced her before Islam and so her fate is not known. His second wife was Umm Ruman. Her husband had migrated to Makkah in pre-Islamic times and had entered into alliance with Abu Bakr. When he died, Abu Bakr married his widow. Was Abu Bakr chivalrous too? She gave birth to `A’isha and `Abd al-Rahman. Umm Ruman was an early convert to Islam. She died some five years after Hijrah. His third wife, Asma’, was an early Muslim who had migrated to Abyssiniyyah along with her husband, Ja`far ibn abi Talib. Ja`far fell martyr at Mutah in 5H, and Abu Bakr promptly married her. She gave him a son named Muhammad. His fourth wife was Habibah who gave him Umm Kulthum. She was the daughter of Kharijah ibn Zayd. Abu Bakr had been his guest immediately after arriving at Madinah at the termination of the Hijrah journey. Do we see a second example of chivalry? Surely, there must have been a noble reason for divorcing his wife in the pre-Islamic days.

He was an expert at the much respected, but tough, science of genealogy. Those who prided in their forefathers, respected him who knew exactly how they were connected to the ancients in an extricate maze of the genealogical tree. It was he, naturally, who guided the Prophet to various tribes around Makkan highlands, informing him how the tribe and its leaders were connected with other tribes, the position each held, the importance that each was bestowed by others, the strong and weak points of each, and the kinds of allegiance, oaths and promises that bound one to others. The Prophet, seeking allies for his mission, could prepare the contents of his talks in the light of this information to get the best appeal.

Generous before Islam, Abu Bakr became more so after Islam, freeing a number of slaves undergoing torture: Bilal, `Aamir ibn Fuhayrah, Umm Umays, Zinneerah, Nahdiyyah, her daughter, and a young female slave of the Banu Mu’ammil clan, to earn his father’s rebuke: “What’s the point in setting free the weak ones, who are not likely to be of any use to you?” Abu Bakr’s reply was simple and straightforward too: “I do it for the sake of God.” We do not know how much he spent on freeing slaves, but a man of 40,000 Dirhams was left with 5,000 at the time of his emigration. He bought Bilal for 40 pieces of silver. After the deal was done, he was told, “We would have sold him for one silver piece, (if you had not raised the price).” Abu Bakr answered, “I would have bought him for a higher price (if that had been the condition).” His generous grants continued at Madinah; he regularly funded Mistah ibn Athathah even after he was involved in the slander of his daughter, `A’isha.

Early in Islam at Makkah, Abu Bakr urged the Prophet that the time had come to invite the Quraysh openly. Along with a few other Muslims, they began to explain Islam to the people in the Holy Haram. As feared, the Makkans pounced upon them. `Utbah ibn Rabi`ah beat Abu Bakr with his shoes so severely that they thought he was dead. His swollen face was unrecognizable and his tribesmen (the BanuTameem) vowed that if he died, they would kill `Utbah. Carried home, when he came to his own, the first thing he asked – to the disappointment of his mother – was, “How is the Prophet,” and would accept no medication or food until they supported him right up to the Prophet’s house to be sure he was alright. Though the Prophet had also been beaten and rescued by his own tribe Banu Hashim, he was, to Abu Bakr’s relief, in a better state.

Protected by his uncle, Abu Talib, and quietly but powerfully backed by his wife Khadijah, the Prophet could in the beginning face off the opposition; but by the seventh year, both these pillars fell to the call of death within a week. Thereafter, the emboldened Quraysh left no method untried to block the mission’s progress. With the severity of persecution increasing, and two batches having already left for Abyssiniyyah (today’s Ethiopia), Abu Bakr too decided to leave for any place of refuge. However, circumstantial details lead us to believe that there could have been more than one reason. He had not been up to Bark al Ghimad, a place five days journey from Makkah, but encountered Ibn al Dughna, a powerful man of the Qara tribe. Upon learning that his people had thrown him out and that he had decided to go about in the land worshiping none but his Lord, Ibn al Dughna remarked, ‘A man of your sort should not leave and should not be expelled.’ He offered his protection and said, ‘Get back to your place and worship your Lord in the manner you see fit.’ Ibn al Dughna, in fact, decided to travel back with him to repeat his words of protection in front of the Quraysh. The possibility exists that the Prophet (saws) had known of Ibn al Dughna’s regard for Abu Bakr and had sent the latter across to Bark al Ghimad to gain the former’s sympathy and protection. A study of the Hijrah route, and the tribal situation around, could have been yet another reason.

In any case, forced to accept the protection, the Quraysh imposed the condition that Abu Bakr was not to Pray or recite the Qur’an in public so as not to irk them or influence their women and children. Ibn al Dughna placed these conditions on Abu Bakr who agreed. But, subsequently, Abu Bakr constructed a little niche for worship in the front yard of his house where he recited the Qur’an and Prayed much. That attracted pagan women and children what with Abu Bakr’s crying and sobbing during the recitation, and what with the Qur’anic recitation accompanied with love, regard and a profound understanding! That alarmed the Quraysh who would not give liberty to their women – in the Western style – to listen to anything that did not have machoplyp approval. They reminded Ibn al Dughna of their conditions pointing out that his client had half-kept, half-broken his promise by constructing a mosque in his yard. Ibn Dughna spoke to Abu Bakr who promptly returned his protection to face whatever would come. W. Montgomery Watt was known for cracking jokes while writing on Islam and Muslims. He wrote about Abu Bakr’s emigration:

“He remained in Mecca when many Muslims emigrated to Abyssinia. This is an obscure affair. It has been suggested that the emigrants objected to the policy of the group among the Muslims led by Abå Bakr.”  (The Encyclopedia of Islam, Brill edition, art. Abu Bakr).

During those chaotic years at Makkah, when on several occasions it seemed like it was all lost… when only tragedies seem to be unfolding, and, but for the heavenly promises, the Islamic cause seemed to be all but lost, the Prophet struck a strange alliance. He sought `A’isha’s hand. Except for a report that says that the Prophet was shown an illustration of `A’isha in a casket, neatly placed in silk, by Jibril and told, “This is your wife,” reason goes against the marriage with a six-year old still clutching a doll, at a time when his companion of the last 25 years, the only true wife he would ever have, was dead, leaving four daughters to manage as best as he could. Although it was well-understood that being that young, the alliance was of no practical use, Abu Bakr immediately agreed to the proposal. How much is there unknown to us but known to the two, is difficult to guess. But surely, strange are the ways of Prophets and Siddiqun.

Sometime later, when it became clear that the Prophet would be ordered to migrate and, perhaps, having realized that it will be a route other than the common highway, Abu Bakr had got ready two camels well fed for months so as to last through the arduous terrain. The day came, and the Prophet visited Abu Bakr at an odd time and informed him of the migration and that he was allowed company. That was the only time `A’isha saw tears of joy in her father’s eyes. Abu Bakr demonstrated that if you intend well, Allah rewards with the opportunity and the ability to perform a deed. Indeed more. His whole household was to get involved in the journey that turned a new page in the history of humankind. As they started off, they hid themselves in a cave some five kilometers outside Makkah, staying put for three nights. Abu Bakr’s young sharp son, `Abdullah, slept with them, leaving them before dawn to mingle with the Quraysh and bring back news by the evening. `Amir ibn Fuhayra, Abu Bakr’s freed slave, tended his flock near about, watching movements, and feeding them with milk and meat by night. On the third evening, Abu Bakr’s daughter, Asma’, brought the famous lunch packet, which, having forgotten a rope, (how poetically natural of a maiden!), she had to tie to the luggage by tearing one half of her girdle, to earn the nick-name Dhat al-Nitaqayn (“she of the two girdles).” `Abdullah ibn Urqud, the hired trusted pagan guide, took them through an unknown route, occasionally crossing the highway, but otherwise remaining within the treacherous mountains and dry deserts.

At the cave, they were almost discovered. In the words of Abu Bakr, if one of the pagans had simply looked down, he could have spotted them. But Allah blinded them. When Abu Bakr said, “We are discovered,” the Prophet asked, “What do you think of the two whose third is Allah?” A later revelation echoed these historical words:

“If you do not help him, then surely, Allah helped him when the unbelievers drove him out, the second of the two, when they were in the cave, when he was saying to his companion, `Despair not. Allah is with us.’” [At-Tauba: 40]

Abu Bakr remained the faithful scout that he had, perhaps, planned to be, serving someone who had always disapproved of service to his person. But Abu Bakr was something more. He invented ways to serve. The Prophet asked him why he placed himself while they trod on to Madinah, in front sometimes, while, at others, at the rear? “That is because, may my parents be sacrificed for you,” answered Abu Bakr, “when I fear that you could be attacked from the front, I place myself there, and when I feel you could be attacked from the rear, I place myself there.” And attacked they were. A man called Suraqah had been chasing them for a 100 camels that the Quraysh had promised him who brought the Prophet dead or alive. After a chase that couldn’t have been easy, when he sighted the Prophet, Suraqah’s joy turned into a grimace when his horse sank to its feet. Thrice, and Suraqah knew what he had only heard: Prophets perform miracles. He gave a promise, took a promise, and went back home with no regrets. He returned in peace for the promise that he would not reveal their whereabouts.

“Here is your man, O Madinans,” shouted a Jew who sighted the little caravan approaching the town. The Madinans raced out to welcome the party that had taken fifteen days to arrive instead of the usual ten. But they were unable to recognize who was who until Abu Bakr held a cloth over the Prophet to protect him from the sun. While the Prophet stayed with Abu Ayyub Ansari, Abu Bakr stayed with Kharijah ibn Zayd al-Ansari.  (This is the one whose daughter he later married). Shortly thereafter, his son `Abdullah arrived with `A’isha and Asma’. But he, Bilal, many others, and even `A’isha who was nursing them, fell quite seriously ill until they got acclimatized to the Madinan climate. Laws of nature do not differentiate – by Allah’s will – between a Siddique and non-Siddique.

(To be continued)

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