"No one has been a better companion to me than Abu Bakr," said the holy Prophet in his last sermon. A great reward indeed! Abu Bakr had earned it. All his life he stood by the side of the Prophet. He did not care for his life. He did not care for his riches. He did not care for what others said about him. His only ambition was to serve the Prophet more than anyone else. The cost did not matter. The ambition was fulfilled. And Abu Bakr got his reward in full. The Messenger of Allah was well pleased with him. He gave him the first place among the Companions. Abu Bakr was to be the first man to fill the place of the Prophet. He was also to lie in eternal rest by the prophet's side.
Abu Bakr was two years younger than the Prophet. His parents named him Abdul Kaaba, which means the servant of the Kaaba. When he became a Muslim, the Prophet changed his pagan name to Abdullah. However, in early youth he had adopted the surname of Abu Bakr. He had come to be known by this name among people. Even to this day, the world generally knows him as Abu Bakr.
From early years, Abu Bakr was known for good and upright nature. He was honest and truthful. He came of a noble family. These things won him respect among the people. His goodness also won him the friendship of young Muhammad (Peace be Upon him). The friendship was to prove lifelong and history making.
When he grew up, Abu Bakr became a rich merchant. But he used to be very kind-hearted. When he saw someone in trouble, his heart melted. He did his best to help him. If his money could remove suffering, he did not care home much he had to spend. Once he gave away thirty-five dirhams out of his total fortune of forty thousand. He was so honest in his dealings that people kept their money with him. Above all, Abu Bakr had a sincere heart and a firm will. Nothing could stop him from doing what he thought was the right thing to do.
Service to the Prophet
Abu Bakr was the first adult male to accept Islam. After the first revelation, the holy Prophet told him what had happened at Mount Hira. He told him that Allah had made him His Messenger. Abu Bakr did not stop to think. He at once became a Muslim. Once the holy Prophet himself remarked, "I called people to Islam. Everybody thought over it, at least for a while. But this was not the case with Abu Bakr. The moment I put Islam before him, he accepted it without any hesitation."
Abu Bakr did more than that. As soon as he became a Muslim, he began to preach Islam to others. He had many friends. The friends knew that Abu Bakr was sincere and truthful. They knew he would never support a wrong cause. He called them to Islam and they became Muslims. Among them were men like Uthman, Zubair, Talha, Abdur Rahman bin Auf and Saad bin Waqqas. These men later became the pillars of Islam. The holy Prophet called at Abu Bakr's house every day. The two sat down and thought out ways of spreading Islam. Together they went to people and places and delivered the message of Allah. Wherever the holy Prophet went, Abu Bakr went with him.
Risks His Life
The message of Islam made the people of Mecca very angry. The idols were their gods. The holy Prophet openly mocked at these gods. He declared they could do neither any good nor harm. Among the chiefs of Mecca was one Abu Jahl. He became the greatest enemy of the holy Prophet. He was always on the lookout to hurt him or even kill him, if he could. Abu Bakr kept an eye on this man, lest he should do a grave harm to Islam.
One day the holy Prophet was saying his prayers in the Kaaba. He was totally lost in the thoughts of Allah. Abu Jahl and some other chiefs of Mecca were sitting in the courtyard of the Kaaba. "I must finish with Muhammad today," said Abu Jahl. So saying, he took a long piece of cloth. He put it around the holy Prophet's neck. Then he twisted it hard. He was going to strangle the Messenger of Allah to death. The other chiefs looked on and laughed. Abu Bakr happened to see this from a distance. He at once ran to the help of the Prophet. He pushed Abu Jahl aside and took off the cloth from around the holy Prophet's neck. Thereupon Abu Jahl and other enemies of Islam came down upon Abu Bakr. They beat him very much. Indeed, the beating was so severe that Abu Bakr fell down senseless. He was carried home. He could not regain his senses till after several hours. And when he did come to himself, the first question he asked was "Is the Prophet unhurt?" Abu Bakr did not care for his own suffering. He was glad that he was able to save the Prophet's life. Abu Bakr knew full well that if any harm came to the Prophet, the only hope of mankind would be gone. This made him risk everything he held dear, for the safety of the Prophet and for the spread of his message.
Liberation of Slaves
Abu Bakr's wealth came to the rescue of many helpless Muslim slaves. He bought them from their inhuman masters and set them free. Bilal, was one of those slaves. He was the slave of Omayya bin Khalaf. Omayya was a heartless man. He would strip Bilal of all clothes, make him lie on the burning sand at mid-day and then lash him mercilessly. Despite this torture Bilal would go on saying, "Allah is one! Allah is one!" One day Abu Bakr happened to pass by. He was greatly moved by the sight. "Why are you so cruel to this helpless man?" he asked Omayya. "If you feel for him, why don't you buy him?" retorted Omayya. So Abu Bakr at once bought Bilal at a heavy price and set him free. Bilal afterwards became the well-known "Muazzin" [ one who gives the call for prayer ] at the Prophet's Mosque.
The Title of "Siddiq"
In the tenth year of his mission, the holy Prophet had the Miraj of Ascension. In the morning, after the ascension had taken place, the holy Prophet talked to people about the Miraj. This drew the jeers of his enemies. The talk was going on when Abu Bakr came up.
"Do you know, Abu Bakr, what news your friend has for you in the morning?" said one of the people. "He says he was on the highest heaven last night, having a talk with Allah, the Almighty. Would you believe it?" "I would believe anything that the Messenger of Allah says," replied Abu Bakr.
When the holy Prophet learnt of this, he at once said, "Abu Bakr is the `Siddiq'." `Siddiq' is a person so sincere of heart that doubts never mar his love. Abu Bakr earned this title because his faith was too strong to be shaken by anything.
Migration to Medina
When the Meccans were intent on putting out, once and for all, the light of Islam, Allah commanded the holy Prophet to move to Medina. It was Abu Bakr who made all the arrangements for the historic journey. For three days he and the Prophet lay hidden in the Thaur cave. Abu Bakr's slave tended the flocks of goats near the cave all day and supplied them fresh milk for food. His son, Abdullah, brought news about what the Meccans were doing. The Meccans were searching for the holy Prophet like mad hounds. Once they came right to the mouth of the cave. Abu Bakr grew pale with fright. He feared, not for himself, but for the Prophet. However, the holy Prophet remained perfectly calm. "Do not fear," he said to Abu Bakr, "certainly Allah is with us."
Participation in Battles
Abu Bakr took part in all the battles that the holy Prophet had to fight. At Badr, one of Abu Bakr's sons, who had not yet embraced Islam, was fighting on the side of the Meccan. Afterwards, when he became a Muslim, he one day said, "Father! at Badr you were twice under my sword. But my love for you held back my hand." "Son!" remarked Abu Bakr, "if I had got that chance only once, you would have been no more."
Tabuk was the last expedition of the holy Prophet. He was keen to make it a great success. He asked people to help the expedition with whatever they could. This time Abu Bakr beat all past records. He took all his money and household articles and heaped them at the Prophet's feet.
"Have you left back anything for your wife and children?" asked the holy Prophet. "Allah and His Apostle are enough for them," replied Abu Bakr calmly. Those standing around were stunned. It was impossible to outdo Abu Bakr in the field of service to Islam. The holy Prophet felt much pleased at this answer. He made Abu Bakr the standard-bearer of the expedition.
The holy Prophet occupied a unique place among his people. He was everything to them. The news of the Prophet's death came as a stunning shock to everyone. Abu Bakr entered the mosque, he took his stand in a corner of the courtyard and called out to the people. All eyes were turned towards him. Then he began his famous address:
"O people! If anyone among you worshipped Muhammad, let him know that Muhammad is dead. But those who worship Allah, let him know that He lives and will never die. Let all of us recall the words of the Qur'an. It says, `Muhammad is only a Messenger of Allah. There have been Messengers before him. What then, will you turn back from Islam, if he dies or is killed?"
These words of Abu Bakr worked magic. In no time the confusion was gone. The words of the Qur'an swept of all doubts from people's minds.
Election of Abu Bakr
Abu Bakr became Caliph by the general consent of the people. On the following day, Abu Bakr went to the Prophet's mosque. Here people took the general oath of loyalty. When this was over, Abu Bakr mounted the pulpit as the Caliph of Islam. Then he spoke to the gathering as follows:
"O people, I have been elected your leader, although I am not better than anyone from among you. If I do any good, give me your support. If I go wrong, set me right. Listen, truth is honesty and untruth is dishonesty. The weak among you are powerful in my eyes, as long as I do not get them their due, Allah willing. The powerful among you are weak in my eyes, as long as I do not take away from them what is due to others, Allah willing." "Listen, if people give up striving for the cause of Allah, Allah sends down disgrace on them. If a people become evil doers, Allah sends down calamities on them." "Listen, you must obey me as long as I obey Allah and His Messenger. If I disobey Allah and His Messenger, you are free to disobey me."
Abu Bakr showed by his example that in Islam government means government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Some weeks before his death, the holy Prophet has nominated Usama to lead an expedition against Syria. He was to avenge the death of his father, Zaid, the freed slave of the holy Prophet. Zaid was killed by the Syrians in the battle of Muta. The preparations of the expedition were under way when the holy Prophet fell seriously ill and passed away. That held up Usama's expedition for some weeks. As soon as Abu Bakr became Caliph, the first thing he thought of was the sending out of the expedition. Some of the companions said that he had better drop the idea for the time being. Trouble was brewing all around, they said. But Abu Bakr would not listen to them. "How can I fold up the flag," he asked, "which the holy Prophet himself unfurled? It is simply unthinkable."
Then someone suggested that Usama was too raw - he was below twenty - to lead the expedition. The suggestion made Abu Bakr angry. "What right have I," he demanded, "to dismiss a man appointed by the Messenger of Allah?"
So the expedition left under Usama, about three weeks after the passing away of the holy Prophet. Abu Bakr accompanied Usama some distance out of Medina. The youthful commander was riding a horse, while the Caliph walked by his side. Usama said, "O successor of the holy Prophet, you also get on a horse and allow men to get down." "By Allah," replied Abu Bakr, "I will agree to neither of the two things. What harm is there is there if a little dust falls on my feet, while I go some steps in the way of Allah? For every step one takes in Allah's way, one gets the reward of seven hundred good deeds."
Before the Caliph bade farewell to Usama, he gave him much useful advice. Some of it was:
"Look! Be not dishonest. Do not deceive anyone. Do not hide the booty you get. Do not mutilate anyone. Do not kill the aged, the children and the women. Do not set fire to date palms. Do not cut down fruit trees. Do not slaughter a goat, or a cow, or a camel, except for purposes of food. You will come across people who have give up the world and are sitting in monasteries. Leave them alone."
Usama's expedition proved very successful. He raided the frontier districts of Syria and was back in Medina after forty days.
Abu Bakr had no more than ten thousand troops when he took over as Caliph. With this small force, he had to put down a countrywide revolt. To all appearance the task was hopeless. But Abu Bakr met with amazing success. Much of this success was due to his unshakable faith in Allah. "Islam is the path of truth revealed by Allah," he said, "so Allah must defend it against enemies." It was not so much on troops as on Allah's help that Abu Bakr depended. Results proved that he was right in his faith.
Abu Bakr's Last Illness
On the 7th of Jamadi-ul-Akhir, 13 A.H., Abu Bakr was taken ill. He had sever fever. Everything was done to bring down the fever, but all in vain. It became clear to the aged Caliph that his end was coming.
Welfare of Muslims had always been the first care of Abu Bakr. He would allow nothing that made Islam weak. The thing he feared most was division among Muslims. He remembered what had happened after the death of the Holy Prophet. He wanted to make sure that no differences should divide Muslims after he was no more. Unity was the secret strength. Unity must be had at any price.
As his sickness grew, Abu Bakr gave more and more thought to the matter. Who should be the Caliph after him? After careful thought, he chose to nominate Omar. He put his proposal before the leading Companions. Most of them liked the proposal. When all Companions agreed, Abu Bakr called Othman. He dictated to him Omar's nomination. It was read out to the people. It said:
"This is the will of Abu Bakr, the Caliph of the Holy Prophet. He is making the will when he is about to leave for the next world. This is the time when even a non-believer begins to believe and even a sinner begins to trust in Allah. I appoint Omar bin Khattab as your ruler. In appointing him, I have kept your welfare fully in mind. I hope he will be truthful and just. But if he leaves his path and becomes unjust, I know nothing about the unseen, I have only the well being of Muslims at heart. Everybody is responsible for what he does."
Abu Bakr Passes Away
After an illness of two weeks, Abu Bakr passed away. He was sixty-three at the time. He was buried by the side of the Holy Prophet.
Before his death he said, "Do not use new cloth to cover my dead body. The sheet of cloth I have on will do for me. Wash it clean." "But this is too old and worn, father," said his daughter Aisha. "This old and worn sheet will do for me," he replied. This parting wish was acted upon. The second wish of the dying Caliphs was, "Sell my land and pay back in the public treasury all the money I got as my salary." This was also done. Before he became the Caliph, Abu Bakr was a well-to-day merchant. The affairs of the Caliphate left him no time to look after his own business. The matter was put before the Companions. They allowed the Caliph a salary of six thousand dirhams a year. All this money was paid back to the Bait-ul-Mal (the Public Treasury) after the Caliph's death.
Thus Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, left behind a noble example of selfless service. He lived and worked for Islam to the last breath. And for his tireless labors, he sought no worldly reward.
Abu Bakr was Caliph for only two years, three months and ten days. This was a relatively short period of time in the life of people. But during this short period, Abu Bakr was able to do great things for Islam. These achievements have made his name immortal. They have placed him among the greatest men of all time.
Abu Bakr had several sons and many near relatives. For public offices, he did not choose anyone of them. He rather chose other people who were more fit for public service. He had to nominate his own successor to prevent quarrels. But his choice fell on none of his own relatives. His choice was rather the man whom he honestly believed to be the best among the Companions. All the same, he did not force his choice on people. He put his proposal before the Companions. When they had agreed to it, he put it before the people.
In short, Abu Bakr showed the world what government of the people, for the people, and by the people really meant. Neither the East nor the West had ever known such a form of government before.