Abū Bakr, Allah be well-pleased with him

Muzaffar Iqbal and Naseer Ahmad

Abū Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him, was the first male adult to accept Islam, the father-in-law of the Prophet—upon him blessings and peace—his successor (khalīfat al-Rasūl) and the first of the four rightly guided caliphs (al-khulafāʾ al-rāshidūn). He is the referent of the phrase second of the two (thānī ithnayn) in Q 9:40, when they two were in the cave, when he said unto his companion: Grieve not. Indeed, Allah is with us. Then Allah caused His tranquility to descend upon him and supported him with hosts you cannot see, and made the word of those who disbelieved the nethermost, while Allah's Word it was that became the uppermost. Allah is Mighty, Wise.

His Ancestry, Appellations, and Family

His father, Abū Quḥāfa ʿUthmān b. ʿĀmir b. ʿAmr b. Kaʿb b. Saʿd b. Taym b. Murra b. Kaʿb b. Luʾayy (d. 14/635), and mother, Umm al-Khayr Salmā bint Ṣakhr b. ʿAmr b. Kaʿb (d. before her husband, 13 or 14/634 or 635), were both fifth-generation descendants of Taym b. Murra through whom they were related to the Prophet (al-Kalābādhī, al-Hidāya wal-irshād 1:381; Ibn Saʿd, Ṭabaqāt; Nawawī, Tahdhīb 2:181). Abū Bakr is the only Companion whose genealogical tree includes four successive generations of Companions, including his parents, children, and some of his grandchildren: his mother, one of the early converts, accepted Islam at the hand of the Prophet himself in Makka at the house of al-Arqam b. Abī al-Arqam (d. ca.53/673) (Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, al-Istīʿāb 4:1934 §4141; Ibn al-Athīr, Usd al-ghāba 7:314 §7436; Ibn Ḥajar, al-Iṣāba 8:386 §12010); his father entered Islam on the day of the conquest of Makka (see Conquest) (al-Istīʿāb 3:1036 §1773; Usd al-ghāba 3:575 §3582; al-Iṣāba 4:374 §5458); his son ʿAbd al-Raḥmān and grandson Abū ʿAtīq Muḥammad; his daughter Asmāʾ and her son ʿAbd Allāh; and his daughter ʿĀʾisha, a wife of the Prophet, upon him peace and blessings (Nawawī, Tahdhīb 2:181; al-Ṭabarānī, al-Muʿjam al-kabīr 1:11; al-Suyūṭī, Tārīkh p. 88). Of his other two children, Muḥammad (10-38/631-658) and Umm Kulthūm (born 13/634), the former was born a few months before the death of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, and the latter, a Successor and narrator of Hadith, was born shortly after his own death.

According to Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr (d. 463/1071), he was called ʿAbd al-Kaʿba (“Slave of the Kaʿba”) in the pre-Islamic era (see Jāhiliyya) until the Prophet renamed him ʿAbd Allāh (“Slave of Allah”). He was also called ʿAtīq, meaning either “the Handsome”, because of the comeliness of his face (li-ʿatāqat wajhih) or “the Freedman,” either because of a brother who died before him (and he escaped the death) or, according to his daughter ʿĀʾisha, because the Prophet gave him this name on account of his being “liberated by Allah from Hell-Fire” (ʿatīq Allāh min al-Nār) (Tirmidhī, Manāqib, bāb; Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, al-Istīʿāb 3:963 §1633; Ibn Ḥajar, al-Iṣāba 4:146 §4835; al-Nawawī, Tahdhīb 2:181; al-Suyūṭī, Tārīkh p. 26).

Abū Bakr had an interest in raising camels and this nickname became his most famous "name" (“Bakr” being a young camel). He was also known by two other epithets: “al-Awwā” (meaning “one given to sorrow due to intense compassion”), indicating tenderness of his heart and his compassion for others; and “Ṣāḥib Rasūl Allāh” (“Companion of the Messenger of Allah”), indicating his unique privilege of continuous companionship with the Prophet (Ibn Saʿd, Ṭabaqāt 3:127 §46; Ibn al-Athīr, Usd al-ghāba 3:310 §3066; more on this below). He was a close friend of the Prophet in Makka before the prophetic mission began, and entered Islam as soon as he was invited. The Prophet said, “Everyone I called to Islam hesitated, deliberated, and delayed [acceptance], except for Abū Bakr b. Abī Quḥāfa; when I invited him, he neither hesitated nor delayed” (Ibn Hishām, Sīra, dhikr man aslama min al-ṣaḥāba bi-daʿwat Abī Bakr 1:166; Ibn Kathīr, Bidāya 3:37; al-Suyūṭī, Tārīkh p. 31-32).

His most famous title, however, is “al-Ṣiddīq” (“the one who wholeheartedly confirms the truth”), by which he became known on the morning after the Prophet’s Night Journey and Ascension (see Night Journey and Ascension). The disbelievers came and asked him: “What do you say of your companion, as he claims to have travelled by night to the Sacred House (bayt al-maqdis) [in Jerusalem (q.v.)]?” He replied: “Did he really say that?” They said: “Yes.” Abū Bakr said: “Then verily he spoke the truth. Indeed, I confirm him (la-uṣaddiqah) and believe that he speaks the truth about something more wondrous (abʿad) than this: messages from Heaven, coming to him morning and evening” (Ibn Saʿd, Ṭabaqāt 3:127 §46; Ḥākim, Mustadrak 3:65 §4407; al-Suyūṭī, Tārīkh p. 28). The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, himself refers to him by the sobriquet al-Ṣiddīq in the hadith about Ḥirāʾ, when the mountain started to quake while the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, and Abū Bakr and ʿUthmān, Allah be well-pleased with them both, were standing on it. The Prophet said, “Be still, O Ḥirāʾ, for upon you are none less than a Prophet, a confirmer (ṣiddīq), and a martyr” (Bukhārī, Fī faḍāʾil aṣḥāb al-Nabī, manāqib ʿUthmān b. ʿAffān; Muslim, Fī faḍāʾil al-ṣaḥāba, min faḍāʾil Ṭalḥa wal-Zubayr raḍiya Allāh ʿanhumā).

Abū Bakr’s wives included (i) Qutayla bint ʿAbd al-ʿUzzā, to whom he was married at the time he accepted Islam; she is the mother of his children Asmāʾ and ʿAbd Allāh; (ii) Umm Rūmān Zaynab bint ʿĀmir, the mother of his children ʿĀʾisha and ʿAbd al-Raḥmān; (iii) Ḥabība bint Khārija, whom he married in Madina (see below) and who was the mother of his daughter Umm Kulthūm (born after his death); and (iv) Asmāʾ bint ʿUmays, widow of the Companion Jaʿfar b. Abī Ṭālib, the mother of his son Muḥammad (born on way to the Farewell Pilgrimage with the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace) (see Hajj)  (Ibn Saʿd, Ṭabaqāt 3:126).

His Life before Islam

Abū Bakr was known as a noble and wise man well before his conversion, famous for his knowledge of genealogy (ansāb) and loved and respected by his tribe (see Quraysh) as well as others who came to know him in the course of his travels as a cloth-merchant—travels that, according to his own account, made him one of the richest men of the Quraysh (Ibn Hishām, Sīra, Islām Abī Bakr al-Ṣiddīq, raḍiya Allāh ʿanh wa shaʾnah; Nawawī, Tahdhīb 2:183; al-Suyūṭī, Tārīkh p. 29). His uprightness, compassion for the downtrodden, and high moral character were acknowledged even by the disbelievers, as testified by Ibn al-Dughunna who offered him protection when he left Makka for Abyssinia (see below). He had forsworn alcohol even in the pre-Islamic era (al-Suyūṭī, Tārīkh p. 29), was literate, and—belonging to the clan of Taym b. Murra—had inherited the prestigious office of al-Ashnāq (settling affairs related to bloodwit (qiṣāṣ) (q.v.) and blood money (diya)) (Ibn al-Athīr, Usd al-ghāba 3:310 §3066).

His Conversion and Life in Makka after Islam

Ibn al-Athīr (555-630/1160-1233) writes that, during his travels sometime before the beginning of the Prophetic mission, Abū Bakr met an elderly learned man of the Azd tribe, who informed him that he bore the attributes of one who would help the Prophet whose mission was to commence at the Sacred House (see Kaʿba). Abū Bakr was thus prepared to accept Islam as soon as he heard of it (Usd al-ghāba 3:310 §3066). By scholarly consensus, he was the first person to accept Islam outside the household of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace. However, there is a difference of opinion about whether he was the second person ever to enter Islam. According to one of the earliest reports on the subject, based on a panegyric (qaṣīda) composed by Ḥassān b. Thābit (ca.60bh-63/563-683) and approved by the Prophet, Abū Bakr was the first to accept Islam after Khadīja, the wife of the Prophet, Allah be well-pleased with her (see Family of the Prophet) (Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, al-Istīʿāb 3:964 §1633;  Ibn Saʿd, Ṭabaqāt 3:128 §46). Some reports reserve the privilege of being the second person to enter Islam for ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib, the cousin of the Prophet, Allah be well-pleased with him. The Prophet had brought the ten year old ʿAlī into his own household because of ʿAlī’s father’s financial duress. Ibn Hishām (d. 217/833) relates that the first to accept Islam were Khadīja, then ʿAlī, then the Prophet’s freedman and adopted son Zayd b. Ḥāritha, and then Abū Bakr, Allah be well-pleased with them all (Sīra, dhikr anna ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib raḍiya Allāh ʿanh awwala dhakar aslama 1:163). These varying reports are reconciled by scholars who state that the first person to enter Islam was Khadīja, the first child ʿAlī, the first youth Zayd, and the first male adult Abū Bakr (Ibn Hishām, Sīra, dhikr man aslama min al-ṣaḥāba bi-daʿwat Abī Bakr, 1:166; Ibn Kathīr, Bidāya 3:37; al-Suyūṭī, Tārīkh p. 31-32).

Abū Bakr did not conceal his conversion but actively invited others to also enter Islam. Among the notables of Quraysh who accepted Islam through his calling were ʿUthmān b. ʿAffān, al-Zubayr b. al-ʿAwwām, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. ʿAwf, Saʿd b. Abī Waqqās, and Ṭalḥa b. ʿUbayd Allāh—Allah be well-pleased with them all (Ibn Isḥāq, Sīra p. 121; Ibn Ḥibbān, Sīra 1:68; Ibn Kathīr, Bidāya 3:37; al-Suyūṭī, Tārīkh p. 31-32). He freely spent of his wealth in the cause of Islam, including buying and setting free Muslim slaves from pagan slaveowners who were torturing them. The seven slaves set free by him include Bilāl b. Rabāḥ, ʿĀmir b. Fuhayra (or Fahīra), Umm ʿUbays (or ʿAbīs), Zinnīra (or Zanīra), al-Nahdiyya and her daughter, and a woman from the clan of Banū Muʾammal who was a slave of ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb before his conversion (Ibn Hishām, Sīra, dhikr ʿudwān al-mushrikīn ʿalā-l-mustaḍʿafīn mimman aslama bil-adhā wal-fitna, 1:201-202; and see below the Section  entitled “Verses of the Qurʾān Related to Him”). The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, refers to Abū Bakr’s generosity in a hadith reported by al-Bukhārī (d. 256/870): “The one who has favored me most of all, both with his company and wealth, is Abū Bakr. Were I to take a close intimate (khalīl) other than my Lord, I would have taken Abū Bakr; but [what ties us] is the bond of brotherhood and friendship...” (Bukhārī, Aṣḥāb al-Nabī ṣallā Allāh ʿalayh wa sallam, qawl al-Nabī ṣallā Allāh ʿalayh wa sallam saddū al-abwāb illā bāb Abī Bakr). On another occasion, he told the Companions: “Allah appointed me [as a Prophet] to you [people] but you denied me, while Abū Bakr testified [to my Prophethood] and assisted me with his self and wealth…” (Bukhārī, Aṣḥāb al-Nabī ṣallā Allāh ʿalayh wa sallam, qawl al-Nabī ṣallā Allāh ʿalayh wa sallam law kuntu muttakhidhan khalīlan) (see below for more on these hadiths and others).

Attempted Hijra to Abyssinia

Despite his high social standing, Abū Bakr did not remain immune to the fearful persecution of Muslims in Makka. When the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, advised his Companions to migrate to Abyssinia (see Hijra), Abū Bakr decided to leave. He had reached Birk al-Ghimād, two days’ distance from Makka, when he met Ibn al-Dughunna, who was then an influential leader of the confederation of tribes Banū al-Ḥārith, Banū Khuzayma, and Banū al-Muṣṭaliq (collectively called al-Aḥābīsh for their pact) (Ibn Hishām, Sīra, dukhūl Abī Bakr fī jiwār Ibn Dughunna thumma radduh ʿalayh, 2:16). Ibn al-Dughunna asked him: “Where are you going?” He replied: “My people have injured and expelled me.” He said: “By Allah, a man like you cannot be exiled. You help the poor and the needy, care for [your] blood relations, honor guests, and help the afflicted! Return: you are under my protection.” When they arrived in Makka, Ibn al-Dughunna proclaimed to the Quraysh that he had taken the son of Abū Quḥāfa under his protection, speaking of him in words reminiscent of those used by Khadīja about the Prophet when he returned home anxious after receiving the first revelation: “[Abū Bakr] cares for the needy and the downtrodden; he is an upholder of the forgotten virtues; fulfiller of the rights of blood relations; a generous host; and succor of those who face hardships in the path of truth” (Bukhārī, Kafāla, jiwār Abī Bakr fī ʿahd al-Nabī ṣallā Allāh ʿalayh wa sallam wa ʿaqdih; for the words of Khadīja, see Bukhārī, Badʿ al-waḥy, kayf kāna badʾa-l-waḥy ilā Rasūl Allāh ṣallā Allāh ʿalayh wa sallam).

The Quraysh withheld their cruelty for a time, but when they again saw Abū Bakr worshipping and preaching openly, they asked Ibn al-Dughunna to tell Abū Bakr to worship at least in the seclusion of his home. “When he recites what has come to Muḥammad, he weeps like no other, and this softens the hearts of the meek among us, and of women and slaves, and we fear lest they desert the religion of their forefathers.” Ibn al-Dughunna asked Abū Bakr to either relieve him of his sworn protection or curtail his worship to within the confines of his home, whereupon Abū Bakr said: “I do not need your protection; Allah and His Messenger are enough for me” (Bukhārī, Manāqib al-Anṣār, bāb hijrat al-Nabī wa aṣhābih ilā-l-Madīna; Ibn Isḥāq, al-Sīra, qiṣṣat al-Nabī li-mā ʿaraḍa nafsah ʿalā al-ʿArab, 1:235).

Hijra to Madina

The Hijra of the Prophet to Yathrib, later renamed Madina—marking the advent of the Hijri calendar (see Calendar)—holds special significance in relation to Abū Bakr, Allah be well-pleased with him. The Muslim emigration formally began in the thirteenth year of prophethood, when the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, told the believers: “Allah has made for you brethren and houses in which you will be safe” (Ibn Hishām, Sīra, Nuzūl al-amr li-Rasūl Allāh fī-l-qitāl, 1:278). Referring to a dream he had, he said: “I have been shown the place of your emigration: I saw a well-watered land, rich in date palms, between two tracts of black stones” (Bukhārī, Kafāla, jiwār Abī Bakr fī ʿahd al-Nabī ṣallā Allāh ʿalayh wa-sallam wa ʿaqdih). Makkan Muslims started to emigrate in small groups. The Prophet stayed behind, waiting for the Divine command to leave Makka. When Abū Bakr sought permission to leave, the Prophet told him, “Wait awhile, because I hope that I will also be allowed to migrate.” Abū Bakr started to improve the feed of two camels he had, hoping to migrate with the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace (Bukhārī, Kafāla, jiwār Abī Bakr fī ʿahd al-Nabī ṣallā Allāh ʿalayh wa-sallam wa ʿaqdihi; Ibn Isḥāq, al-Sīra, Hijrat al-Rasūl 1:285, 288).

The Divine command came on a day when the Quraysh met at their usual gathering place (Dār al-Nadwa) and decided to kill the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace. That day, Jibrīl, upon him peace, came to the Prophet and told him not to sleep in his bed that night, meaning that it was to be his last day in Makka. The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, then went to Abū Bakr’s house during midday—a time when the Arabs of Makka normally sought refuge in their homes from the intense heat. As soon as Abū Bakr saw him at the door he knew something important had occurred. “Allah has granted me permission to leave the city and to emigrate,” the Prophet said. “Together with me?” asked Abū Bakr. “Together with you,” replied the Prophet. ʿĀʾisha, who was present on the occasion, would say afterward: “I knew not before that day that one could weep for joy until I saw Abū Bakr weep at those words” (Ibn Hishām, Sīra, Hijrat al-Rasūl, 1:288). By then, no Muslim was left in Makka except Abū Bakr and his family, ʿAlī, and those who had been detained and were being tortured by the pagans.

The two of them set out that night, leaving from the back window of Abū Bakr’s house and followed by his mawlā (client), the shepherd ʿĀmir b. Fuhayra, who drove his sheep after them to cover their tracks. While the polytheists sent out parties of young men to apprehend or murder them for a reward of one hundred camels, they took refuge in a cave on Mount Thawr, not far from the Kaʿba. They remained in that cave (ghār Thawr), an enclosure formed by boulders providentially placed near a cliff at the summit, for three days. Abū Bakr had instructed his son ʿAbd Allāh to mingle with the Quraysh during the day and relate the news at the cave in the evening, his daughter Asmāʾ to join her brother and bring them provisions, and ʿĀmir to graze his flock near the cave for the sheep’s milk and the cover the hoofprints would provide. On the third day, the Prophet and Abū Bakr were nearly discovered by a Quraysh search party. When he saw the party approaching, Abū Bakr exclaimed to the Prophet, “If any of them were to look at his feet, he would discover us!” The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, replied: “What do you think of the two, O Abū Bakr, when Allah is their third?” (Bukhārī, Manāqib, manāqib al-muhājirīn wa faḍlihim; Muslim, Faḍāʾil ṣaḥāba, min faḍāʾil Abī Bakr al-Ṣiddīq).

By exegetical consensus, Q 9:40 directly refers to this event: If you help not [the Prophet], Allah surely helped him when the disbelievers drove him out; [with] the second of the two, when the two were in the cave, and he said to his companion: “Grieve not, for verily, Allah is with us.” And thereupon Allah sent down His tranquility (sakīna) upon him and strengthened him with hosts you did not see, and abased the word of the disbelievers; but the Word of Allah is supremely exalted; for Allah is Almighty, Infinitely Wise (cf. Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī, Samarqandī, Samʿānī, Māwardī, Zamakhsharī, Ibn ʿAṭiyya). All exegetes agree that Abū Bakr is the referent of the phrases the second of the two (thānī ithnayn) and Grieve not! (lā taḥzan), and they consider the phrase then Allah sent down His tranquility upon him (fa-anzala Llāhu sakīnatahu ʿalayhi) to either refer to the Prophet, to Abū Bakr, or to both of them (see below, all references sub Q 9:40).

Al-Māwardī (364-450/974-1058) explains that the phrase Grieve not! could have been revealed with or without Abū Bakr actually experiencing any grief. If he did express grief, the verse is interpreted to mean that the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, uttered these words by way of consolation (tasliya). “[This] grief (ḥuzn), however, was not fear (khawf) [for his own safety against their imminent capture] but sadness of the heart (taʾlam al-qalb), due to his premonition that Islam would weaken after the Prophet” (Nukat). Other exegetes likewise understand the verse to allude to Abū Bakr’s worry for the Prophet and for the fate of Islam after him, citing the words of Abū Bakr: “If I am killed, it will be only the murder of a single person; but if you are killed, it will be the murder of this whole Umma (Community)” (cf. Tafsīrs of Samarqandī, Ibn Abī Zamanīn, Thaʿlabī, Wāḥidī, Samʿānī). Al-Qushayrī adds: “Such grief cannot be alleviated except by the company (maʿiyya) of Allah—indicated by [the Prophetic words], ‘grieve not, for verily Allah is with us’—and such grief cannot be but due to [awareness of] the rights of Allah (li-ḥaqq al-Ḥaqq) [and not for one’s own sake]” (Tafsīr). Al-Wāḥidī (d. 468/1075) says that Verily, Allah is with us means “verily Allah has prevented them from us and He has helped us” (Wajīz).

Debate over the referent of the phrase then Allah sent down His sakīna upon him centers on the term sakīna and the pronoun in the verse (upon him, ʿalayhi). Those who understand sakīna to mean “calmness of heart” argue that the Prophet was in no need of such succor, being exempt from the weaknesses of heart to which other humans are subject (see Infallibility of Prophets)—and therefore that the verse must mean that Allah sent down His sakīna upon Abū Bakr. Supporting this opinion, Ibn Abī Ḥātim (d. 327/939) relates from Ibn ʿAbbās (3bh-68/619-688) that the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, said that Abū Bakr never lost the sakīna sent down upon him (Tafsīr). Ibn ʿAṭiyya (480-546/1087-1151) avers that the Prophet is the referent of the verse, for “sakīna here means that which Allah sends down upon His Prophets: that is, [His] protection of them and those exclusive matters (al-khaṣāʾiṣ) that befit none but them, as in the saying of the Most High [regarding the Ark of the covenant , that] in it is sakīna from your Lord (Q 2:248)” (Muḥarrar). Ibn al-Jawzī (510-597/ca.1116-1201) summarizes the exegetical reflections on the term sakīna, noting that it has variously been taken to mean Mercy (al-raḥma) (by Ibn ʿAbbās), dignity (waqār) (Qatāda), and tranquility and assurance (al-sukūn wal-ṭumaʾnīna) (Ibn Qutayba, and supported by Ibn al-Jawzī himself). The pronoun ending (ʿalayhi, upon him) was taken by early authorities (ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib, Ibn ʿAbbās, and Ḥabīb b. Abī Thābit) to refer to Abū Bakr, for the Prophet could not need tranquility; to the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace (Muqātil); and to both of them—ʿalayhi being taken as a contraction of ʿalayhimā (“them both”)—and the mention of one being sufficient; Ibn al-Jawzī cites the example of Q 9:42 in support of this view (Ibn al-Anbārī) (Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād).

The unique honor granted Abū Bakr in spending three days alone with the Prophet in the cave under threat to their lives became a topos of intimacy and friendship that continues to reverberate in the tropology of Islamic thought and civilization. In the poetic imagination and popular folk literature, Abū Bakr is described as ṣāḥib al-ghār (yār-i ghār in Persian, Turkish, and Urdu: “the Companion of the Cave”).

When ʿAbd Allāh and Asmāʾ arrived on the fourth night, they left the cave and descended the slope. ʿĀmir had brought with him ʿAbd Allāh b. Arqaṭ (or Urayqiṭ), the Bedouin (not yet Muslim) to whom Abū Bakr had entrusted the two camels prepared for the journey (Ibn Hishām, Sīra 1:290). Asmāʾ had brought provisions for the journey but had forgotten to bring rope to secure them. She took off her fabric sash and tore it into two lengths, using one to tie the provisions to her father’s saddle and keeping the other for herself, thus earning the title “She of Two Sashes” (dhāt al-niṭāqayn) (Ibn Hishām, Sīra, Hijrat al-Rasūl, 1:290; Ibn Saʿd, Ṭabaqāt 1:177).

When they were ready to depart, Abū Bakr offered the better of the two camels to the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, who said: “I will not ride a camel that is not my own.” “But she is yours, O Messenger of Allah, may my father and mother be your ransom.” “No,” said the Prophet, “but what price did you pay for her?” The Prophet accepted the camel for the price Abū Bakr paid, and the camel, named Qaṣwāʾ, remained his favorite mount throughout his life; he later rode her for the Farewell Pilgrimage (q.v.) (see Animals).

The riders travelled through the night. Their desert guide took them away from Makka through the southern route along the shore of the Red Sea before doubling back after they crossed the desert road below ʿUsfān. On Monday, 12 Rabīʿ I 1/24 September 622, they arrived in Qubāʾ, the nearest settled locality to Yathrib (Ibn Hishām, Sīra, Hijrat al-Rasūl, 1:293-294; Ibn Saʿd, Ṭabaqāt 3:173-174). According to his daughter Asmāʾ, Abū Bakr had five or six thousand dirhams with him when they arrived (Ibn Hishām, Sīra, Hijrat al-Rasūl, 1:291).

His Life in Madina

Abū Bakr, Allah be well-pleased with him, stayed in Qubāʾ for three days during which he was constantly with the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace. He was present when the Prophet laid the foundation of the first mosque to be built in Islam and he departed with him from Qubāʾ. As soon as they arrived in Yathrib, which was renamed Madinat al-Nabī (“the City of the Prophet”), the Prophet bought land from two orphans and asked Abū Bakr to pay for it; this was to become the site of the Prophet’s Mosque (Masjid al-Nabī) (Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ al-bārī 7:246; Ibn Saʿd, Ṭabaqāt 1:239).

In Madina, Abū Bakr lodged with Khārija b. Zayd until the arrival of his family from Makka (he later married Khārija’s daughter Ḥabība). Shortly after their arrival in Madina, the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, established fraternal bonds between forty-five or fifty Muhājirūn (“Emigrants”: the Muslims formerly of Makka) and an equal number of Anṣār (“Helpers”: the Muslims of Madina)(Bukhārī, Ikhāʾ al-Nabī bayn al-Muhājirīn wal-Anṣār; Ibn Hishām, Sīra, al-Muʿākhāt bayn al-Muhājirīn wal-Anṣār); Abū Bakr was made ‘brother’ of Khārija, Allah be well-pleased with them both.

Abū Bakr was fifty-three years old when he migrated to Madina. He had already become father-in-law to the Prophet in Makka, when he contracted the marriage of his daughter ʿĀʾisha after the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, twice dreamt her to be his wife (Bukhārī, Nikāḥ, al-naẓar ilā-l-marʾa qabl al-tazwīj; Muslim, Faḍāʾil al-ṣaḥāba, fī faḍl ʿĀʾisha). He remained close to the Prophet until he died, upon him blessings and peace—a period of nearly ten years, during which Abū Bakr participated in all major battles, expeditions, and events of the nascent Muslim polity. During the Battle of Badr (2/624), he guarded the palm shelter (ʿarīsh) from where the Prophet commanded; at Uḥud  the next year, he was one of the few Companions who remained beside the Prophet when the tide of the battle turned against the Muslims. Ibn al-Athīr quotes scholars specializing in knowledge of the Prophetic battles (ahl al-siyar) as affirming that Abū Bakr was at every battlefield where the Prophet was present (Usd al-ghāba 3:212).

When ʿĀʾisha, Allah be well-pleased with her, was falsely accused in the Event of Ifk (see Falsehood), the allegations being spread also by Abū Bakr’s beneficiary and impoverished kinsman Misṭaḥ b. Uthātha b. ʿAbbād b. al-Muṭṭalib, Abū Bakr declared: “By Allah, from now on I will not spend anything on him.” ʿĀʾisha was later to recount, “It was regarding this that Allah—Exalted and Glorious—revealed And let not those of you who are blessed with favor and ease ever become remiss in helping their near of kin, and the needy, and those who have emigrated in the cause of Allah; rather, let them forgive and forbear. Do you not wish that Allah should forgive you? Allah is Ever Forgiving, Most Merciful (Q 24:22)…whereupon Abū Bakr said: ‘By Allah, I wish that Allah pardon me! I shall never stop stipend (nafaqa) [to him].’ So he continued to give him the stipend he had withdrawn” (Bukhārī, Maghāzī, ḥadīth; Muslim, Tawba, fī ḥadīth al-ifk wa-qubūl tawbat al-qādhif).

Abū Bakr was appointed the Hajj leader for the year 9/631 by the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, and was instructed to announce to the multitude of pilgrims that no polytheist would thenceforth be permitted to perform Hajj and no naked person permitted to circumambulate the Kaʿba, as had been common in the idolatrous rite (Bukhārī, Maghāzī, ḥajj Abī Bakr bil-nās fī sana tisʿ). The next year, Abū Bakr accompanied the Prophet on the Farewell Pilgrimage.

His Role in the Events Surrounding the Demise of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace

During the last days of his life, the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, ordered that an expedition be sent against the Syro-Palestinian territories of Balqāʾ and al-Dārūm under the command of the young Usāma b. Zayd. These Arab tribes had sided with the Byzantines in the Battle of Muʾta (8/629), during which the prominent Companions Jaʿfar b. Abī Ṭālib and Usāma’s own father Zayd b. Ḥāritha were martyred (Bukhārī, Maghāzī, baʿth al-Nabī ṣallā Allāh ʿalayh wa sallam Usāma; Ibn Hishām, Sīra, Dhikr jumlat al-sarāyā wal-buʿūth, 2:403). As preparations for this expedition were under way, in late Ṣafar or early Rabīʿ I 11/May or June 632, the Prophet led prayer at the mosque and then ascended the pulpit, invoked blessings on the martyrs of Uḥud, and addressed the Companions: “There is a slave among the Slaves of Allah to whom Allah has offered a choice between this world and that which is with Him—and the slave has chosen that which is with Allah.” Upon hearing this, Abū Bakr wept, for he understood the Prophet to indicate his death was imminent. The Prophet saw that he had understood, and, telling him not to weep, said further: “O people, the most beneficent of men unto me in his companionship and in that which his hand bestowed is Abū Bakr; and were I to choose from all mankind an intimate friend (khalīl), it would be Abū Bakr; but companionship and the brotherhood of faith is ours until Allah unite us in His Presence. Behold these doors [that open onto the Mosque]—let them be walled up, save only the door of Abū Bakr” (Bukhārī, Manāqib, suddū-l-abwāb illā bāb Abī Bakr; Ibn Hishām, Sīra, Tamrīḍ Rasūl Allāh fī bayt ʿĀʾisha, khuṭba lil-Nabī wa tafḍīluh Abā Bakr, 2:409). Over the next few days the Prophet’s illness intensified, and, with the permission of his other wives, he moved to the house of ʿĀʾisha, where he was to reside until his death (Ibn Hishām, Sīra, Ibtidāʾ shakwā Rasūl Allāh 2:404; Ibn Saʿd, Ṭabaqāt 2:232; ʿAbd al-Razzāq, Muṣannaf 5:429; Ibn al-Āthīr, Kāmil 2:318).

By scholarly consensus, during the last days of his illness, the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, appointed Abū Bakr to lead prayer in his stead (Bukhārī, Adhān, man asmʿa al-nās takbīr al-imām; Ibn Hishām, Sīra, Tamrīḍ Rasūl Allāh fī bayt ʿĀʾisha, 2:411; Ibn Saʿd, Ṭabaqāt 2:217-225; Ṭabarī, Tārīkh 3:197; al-Balādhurī, al-Ansāb 1:554; al-Dhahabī, Siyar, al-Sīra p. 552). Among the relevant narrations is that of ʿĀʾisha, Allah be well-pleased with her:

"When the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and grant him peace, became gravely ill, Bilāl came to him to announce the prayer. He said: ‘Tell Abū Bakr to lead the people in the prayer.’ I said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, Abū Bakr is a soft-hearted man (rajul asīf); were he to stand in your place, he would not be able to make the people hear him. Will you enjoin ʿUmar [instead]?’ He repeated: ‘Tell Abū Bakr to lead the people in the prayer.’ Then I said to Ḥafṣa: ‘Tell him, Abū Bakr is a soft-hearted man; if he stands in his place, he will not be able to make the people hear him. Would you order ʿUmar to lead the prayer [instead]?’ Ḥafṣa likewise encouraged him to do so. The Prophet said: ‘Verily you are as the companions of Yūsuf  (ṣawāḥib Yūsuf). Tell Abū Bakr to lead the people in the prayer.’ Abū Bakr then stood up for the prayer. In the meantime the Messenger of Allah felt better and emerged with the help of two people [holding him] on either side, his legs dragging on the ground till he entered the Mosque. When Abū Bakr heard him coming [while leading prayer], he tried to retreat, but the Messenger of Allah beckoned him to carry on. The Prophet sat on his left side; Abū Bakr prayed while standing; the Messenger of Allah led the prayer while sitting; Abū Bakr was following the Prophet, and the people were following Abū Bakr [in the prayer]” (Bukhārī, Adhān, al-rajul yaʾtamm bil-imām wa yaʾtamm al-nās bil-maʾmūm; cf. Fatḥ al-bārī of Ibn Rajab as well as Fatḥ al-bārī of Ibn Ḥajar for explanation of the simile of the “companions of Yūsuf” as meaning people with ulterior motives—in this case, ʿĀʾisha and Ḥafṣa trying to avoid people seeing Abū Bakr standing in place of the Prophet).

The Prophet felt better on Monday morning, the day he was to meet his Lord. While he was lying with his head upon ʿĀʾisha’s chest, she heard him murmur: “To the supreme communion in Paradise, with those upon whom Allah has showered His favor, the Prophets, the truthful, the martyrs, and the righteous, most excellent for communion are they (Q 4:69), O Allah, to the supreme communion.” These were his last words (Bukhārī, Maghāzī, maraḍ al-Nabī ṣallā Allāh ʿalayh wa sallam wa wafātuh; Ibn Hishām, Sīra, shaʾn ʿAlī wal-ʿAbbās qabl wafātih, 2:413; Ṭabarī, Tārīkh 3:199; al-Dhahabī, Siyar, al-Sīra p. 561).

That morning, Abū Bakr had taken leave from the Prophet to visit his wife Ḥabība in the village of Sunḥ, where she still lived with her parents. When the news reached him, he rushed back on horseback, and, without pausing to speak to anyone in the Mosque, entered the chamber of his daughter. He drew back the cloak with which they had covered the face of the Prophet. He gazed at the face and then kissed him, saying: “May my father and my mother be ransomed for you, you have tasted the death that Allah decreed for you. No death after that shall ever befall you” (Ibn Hishām, Sīra 2:413-414). Then, drawing the cloak over his face, he returned to the Mosque, where ʿUmar was still addressing the assembled throng. “Hear me speak,” he said to ʿUmar, but was paid no attention. Abū Bakr began speaking anyway, and people started to gather around him. After praising Allah, he said: “O people, whoever used to worship Muḥammad, verily Muḥammad is dead; and whoever used to worship Allah, verily, Allah is Ever-Living.” Then he recited Q 3:144, which had been revealed after the Battle of Uḥud (3/625): Muḥammad is but a Messenger, and Messengers have passed away before him. If he dies or is slain, will you then turn upon your heels? Whoever turns back upon his heels will thereby do no harm unto Allah; and Allah will reward the thankful. The recitation struck the hearts of many. ʿUmar was to later say: “When I heard Abū Bakr recite that verse, I was so astounded that I fell to the ground. My legs would no longer carry me, and I realized that the Messenger of Allah had died” (Ibn Hishām, Sīra 2:414). Abū Bakr later intervened in the Companions’ argument over where to bury the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, by recalling that the Prophet had said: “No Prophet dies but is buried wherever he died.” And so his grave was dug in ʿĀʾisha’s chamber (Ibn Hishām, Sīra 2:418).

His Caliphate

(12 Rabīʿ I 11—21 Jumādā II 13/7 June 632—22 August 634)

While the body of the Prophet yet lay in ʿĀʾisha’s chamber (ḥujra) and most of the leading members of the community were still in the Mosque, the Anṣār held a meeting at Saqīfa Banī Sāʿida (a veranda built of palm trunks where they commonly assembled) to debate the future of the Islamic polity. One of the Anṣār brought word of this gathering to Abū Bakr and ʿUmar, may Allah be well-pleased with them both. They immediately went to the gathering of the Anṣār. In a sermon several years later, after returning to Madina from his last pilgrimage (23/644), ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb recounted at length what occurred that day.

Let no one foment mischief by saying that the allegiance pledged to Abū Bakr was an impromptu (falta) affair only later ratified (fa-tammat). It was impromptu, to be sure, but through it Allah protected people from an evil. There is none among you to whom people will surrender obedience like they did to Abū Bakr. (…) [Once we arrived at the Saqīfa] we sat down. We listened to their orator pronouncing the shahāda; he praised Allah as was fitting, and then said: “To proceed: We are Allah’s Helpers (Anṣār) and a fighting force of Islam, and you, O Emigrants (yā maʿshara l-Muhājirīn), are of us, for a group of your people have settled amongst us—but now we see that they want to sever their ties to us and wrest authority from us.”

When their speaker had finished, I wanted to respond, for I had prepared a speech in my mind which greatly pleased me, and I wanted to produce it before Abū Bakr. I was trying to soften its asperity, but Abū Bakr said: “Be gentle (ʿalā rislik), O ʿUmar!” I did not want to disobey him, so he spoke; he was a man with more dignity and knowledge than I and, by Allah, he did not omit a single word which I had thought, prepared, and liked, but he delivered it extemporaneously in the same manner [as mine] or better. He said [to the Anṣār]: “You well deserve all the good that you mentioned, but the Arabs will not recognize anyone’s authority except that of the Quraysh, who are the best among Arabs in lineage and estate (dār). I am pleased for you with either of these two men; pledge to whomever of them you wish.” And he took my hand and that of Abū ʿUbayda b. Jarrāḥ—who was sitting between us—and nothing he said had displeased me more than that. By Allah, I would have rather come forward and have my head struck off, if that were no sin, than rule over people among whom was Abū Bakr. One of the Anṣār said: “I am that comforting support of the Anṣār whose opinion soothes them and whose presence brings joy to them; a fruit-laden palm, which these people prop up. Let us have one ruler and you another, O Quraysh!” A commotion ensued, voices were raised, and I feared discord. I said: “Hold forth your hand, O Abū Bakr.” He did so, and [by clasping it] I pledged allegiance to him. Then the Muhājirūn [assembled there] pledged and then the Anṣār [assembled there] pledged their allegiance. (Ibn Hishām, Sīra, amr Saqīfa Banī Sāʿida 2:415-416; cf. other versions of this account in Ṭabarī, Ṭārīkh; Ibn al-Athīr, Kāmil)

The next day, Abū Bakr, Allah be well-pleased with him, sat at the pulpit in the Prophet’s Mosque and ʿUmar addressed the assembly, reprising his speech of the previous day in which he had denied the death of the Prophet. Calling Abū Bakr “the best of the Companions of the Messenger of Allah, the second of the two when they were both in the cave (Q 9:40),” he bade them pledge their allegiance to Abū Bakr, which the congregation did (see Alliance and Treaty). Abū Bakr then addressed them. After praising and thanking Allah Most High, he inaugurated the ethos of his caliphate:

O people, I have been given authority over you, and I am not the best of you. If I do good, aid me [in it]; and if I do wrong, set me right. Sincere regard for truth is loyalty and disregard for truth is treachery. The weak amongst you shall be strong with me until I have secured his rights, if Allah wills; and the strong amongst you shall be weak with me until I have wrested from him the rights of others, if Allah wills. If a people refrain from fighting in the path of Allah, Allah will smite them with disgrace. Wickedness never spreads among a people but Allah brings calamity upon them all. Obey me so long as I obey Allah and His Messenger, but if I disobey Allah and His Messenger, you owe me no obedience. Arise for your prayer, may Allah have mercy upon you. (Ibn Hishām, Sīra, Khuṭba Abī Bakr  baʿd al-bayʿa, 2:417)

Among the few Companions who delayed their pledge was ʿAlī, Allah be well-pleased with him. Some six months later, after the death of his wife Fāṭima, may Allah be well-pleased with her, he went to Abū Bakr and said, “We know well your eminence and what Allah has bestowed upon you, and we are not jealous of any benefit that He has caused to come unto you—but you confronted us with an accomplished fact (i.e., Abū Bakr being the next leader of the Muslim polity), leaving us no choice [in the matter], and we felt that we had some claim therein due to our nearness of kinship unto the Messenger of Allah.” Abū Bakr’s eyes filled with tears, and he said: “By Him in whose hand is my soul, I had rather that all should be well between me and the kin of the Messenger of Allah than between me and my own kindred.” At noon that day in the Masjid, Abū Bakr publicly exonerated ʿAlī for not yet having recognized him as caliph, whereupon ʿAlī affirmed the right of Abū Bakr and pledged his allegiance to him (narrated by ʿĀʾisha in Bukhārī, Maghāzī, ghazwat Khaybar).

One of the first undertakings of Abū Bakr as Caliph was to send off Usāma’s expedition, which was still encamped outside Madina. Although some senior Companions, nearly all of whom were part of the troops under the young Usāma’s command, advised postponing the campaign because of the restiveness of other Arab tribes after the Prophet’s death, Abū Bakr refused to rescind the Prophet’s plan: “By Him in whose hand is the soul of Abū Bakr, even if I risk being torn apart by predators still will I dispatch Usāma’s army in accordance with the wish of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace.” He himself went to the encampment at al-Jurf to send off the army (Ṭabarī, Tārīkh 3:225-226; al-Dhahabī, Siyar, Siyar al-Khulafāʾ al-Rāshidīn, Abū Bakr al-Ṣiddīq; al-Suyūṭī, Tārīkh p. 60; Ibn al-Athīr, Kāmil 2:335-336).

While the bulk of the Muslim fighting force was away in Syro-Palestine, certain tribes of the Arabian Peninsula withheld payment of the zakat to the central treasury. Abū Bakr decided to wage war against them as well until they again paid the zakat, but some of the Companions wondered about the legitimacy of his decision. ʿUmar asked: “How can you fight against these people, when the Messenger of Allah said, ‘I have been commanded to fight with people [only] until they say “None is worthy of worship but Allah.” Whoever says this secures from me his life and possessions but for his trespassing the law—and his accounts will be with Allah’?” Abū Bakr replied: “By Allah, I will fight those who differentiate between ṣalāt and zakāt, for zakāt is obligatory upon wealth. By Allah, if they refuse to pay me (i.e., under his caliphate) even a goatkid which they would pay at the time of the Messenger of Allah, I will fight them for withholding it.” ʿUmar later said: “By Allah, it was none but Allah who opened Abū Bakr’s heart to it, and I came to realize that his decision was right” (Bukhārī, Zakāt, wujūb al-zakāt; Muslim, Īmān, al-amr bi-qitāl al-nās ḥattā yaqūlū lā ilāha illā Allāh Muḥammad Rasūl Allāh). Differentiating between ṣalāt and zakāt was in this way understood as a form of apostasy, in that it introduced an untenable division into religious obligations.

Two other forms of apostasy prevalent in those early days of the Caliphate were open rebellion against Madina and following upstart claimants to prophecy, two of whom (Musaylima al-Kadhdhāb in Yamāma and al-Aswad al-ʿAnsī in Ṣanʿāʾ) had already appeared during the last days of the Prophet. There now appeared two more: Ṭulayḥa (Ṭalḥa) al-Asadī, among the tribes of Asad and Ghaṭafān, and a woman, Sajāḥ, among Banū Taghlib, who would later wed Musaylima. In Jumāda II, after the Syro-Palestinian campaign had ended, a large army was sent to fight a series of “wars against apostasy” (ḥurūb al-ridda) under the command of Khālid b. al-Walīd (d. 21/642). Abū Bakr enjoined Khālid to fight against anyone who did not affirm the five articles of creed (see Belief) (al-Suyūṭī, Tārīkh p. 61). These campaigns were successfully carried out over the next few months, during which time al-Aswad al-ʿAnsī died, Ṭulayḥa al-Asadī repented and later died a martyr in the Battle of Nahāwand (21/642), and Musaylima the Arch-Liar (al-kadhdhāb) was killed in the fierce Battle of al-Yamāma, in which about seventy Companions were martyred. After Musaylima’s death Sajāḥ repented and accepted Islam (Ibn Kathīr, Bidāya 7:259). In addition, Abū Bakr authorized smaller expeditions to fight against other apostates including those of Baḥrayn, the tribes in ʿAmmān, and the people of al-Najīr (Ṭabarī, Tārīkh 3:225-226; al-Dhahabī, Siyar, Siyar al-Khulafāʾ al-Rāshidīn, Abū Bakr al-Ṣiddīq; al-Suyūṭī, Tārīkh p. 62; Ibn al-Athīr, Kāmil 2:335-336).

The Compilation of the Qurʾān

One of the most important undertakings of Abū Bakr, Allah be well-pleased with him, was the compilation of the written text of the Qurʾān. Zayd b. Thābit (d. 45/665), the Companion delegated the task, recounted later:

Abū Bakr sent for me when [many] Muslims were slain in the Battle of Yamāma. ʿUmar [b. al-Khaṭṭāb] was with him [when I arrived]. Abū Bakr, Allah be pleased with him, said, “ʿUmar came to me and said, ‘Casualties among Qurʾān reciters were heavy during the Battle of Yamāma—and I am afraid that heavier casualties might take place among the reciters in other battles, whereby much of the Qurʾān would be lost. I am of the opinion that you should order the collection of the Qurʾān [in codex form].’ I asked ʿUmar, ‘How dare I do something the Messenger of Allah, upon him blessings and peace, did not do?’ ʿUmar replied, ‘This, by Allah, is a good thing (khayr) [to do].’ And ʿUmar kept urging me until Allah opened my heart to it and I came to view the matter as he did.” Zayd related that Abū Bakr said [to him]: “You are a wise young man and we trust you. You used to transcribe the revelation for the Messenger of Allah, upon him blessings and peace. So go and find [all the fragments of] the Qurʾān and put them together.”

By Allah, had they required me to move a mountain, it could not have been weightier for me than their order to collect the Qurʾān. So I asked, “How dare I do something that the Messenger of Allah, upon him blessings and peace, did not do?” Abū Bakr persisted in his demand until Allah opened my heart to it, as He had done for Abū Bakr and ʿUmar. Thereupon I traced the Qurʾān, collecting it from [where it had been inscribed on] palm branches, flat stones, and the chests of people [who had memorized it], until I found the last two verses of Sūrat al-Tawba—There has come to you a messenger, [one] of yourselves, to whom aught that you are overburdened is grievous, full of concern for you… up to the end of the sura (Q 9:128-129)—in the possession of Abū Khuzayma al-Anṣārī, having found them with no one else. The scrolls (ṣuḥuf) thus gathered remained with Abū Bakr until his death, then with ʿUmar until the end of his life, and then with Ḥafṣa, ʿUmar’s daughter. (Bukhārī, Faḍāʾil al-Qurʾān, jamʿ al-Qurʾān)

Abū Bakr instructed ʿUmar and Zayd, may Allah be well-pleased with them all, “Sit at the entrance of the [Prophet’s] Masjid and if anyone brings to you two a verse from the Book of Allah along with two witnesses, record it” (Abū Dāwūd, jamʿ Abī Bakr al-Ṣiddīq raḍiya Allāh ʿanh al-Qurʾān fī-l-maṣāḥif baʿd Rasūl Allāh ṣallā Allāh ʿalayh wa sallam). Commentaries explain “two witnesses” as meaning “memory [backed by] writ; or two witnesses to testify that the verse was written verbatim in the presence of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace; or two witnesses testifying that it was one of the forms (al-wujūh) in which the Qurʾān was revealed. Their intention was to accept only what had been written in the presence of the Prophet, not [what had been penned] merely from memory” (Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ al-bārī, qawluh bāb jamʿ al-Qurʾān; also see al-Qārī, Mirqāt al-mafātiḥ, faḍāʾil al-Qurʾān; al-Mubārakfūrī, Tuḥfat al-aḥwadhī, bāb wa min Sūrat al-Tawba).

His Death

After his return from leading the Hajj in 12/634 (Ṭabarī, Tārīkh 3:386), Abū Bakr consulted a number of senior Companions, including ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. ʿAwf, ʿUthmān b. ʿAffān, and Saʿd b. Abī Waqqās, about appointing ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb (r. 13-23/634-644) as his successor. He then called ʿUthmān b. ʿAffān to him and dictated his will (waṣiyya) (see Wills, Bequests, Directives, and Divine Stipulations):

In the name of Allah, Most Merciful, Most Gracious. This is the last will (ʿaḥd) of Abū Bakr b. Abū Quḥāfā, [written] shortly before his departure from the world and entrance into the [world of the] Hereafter. This is the time when even a disbeliever accepts faith, even a habitual sinner (al-fājir) [repents and] will have certainty (or: protects himself) (yūqin), and even a habitual liar speaks the truth. I am leaving behind me ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb as my successor for you; listen to him and obey his commands. I have left no stone unturned to serve Allah, His Messenger, His religion; and I have served you to the best of my abilities. I know—and this is my expectation about him—that ʿUmar will command with justice; and if he changes, then to each is what he earns. But I have desired to do good for you. I have no knowledge of the Unseen. And those who do wrong will come to know by what overturning they will be overturned (Q 26:227). May the peace, blessings, and mercy of Allah be upon you.  (al-Suyūṭī, Tārīkh p. 66)

Abū Bakr also told his daughter ʿĀʾisha, Allah be well-pleased with her, “By Allah, my dear daughter, after I die, there is no one I would prefer to be free of worldly needs than you. There is no one it would pain me more to see destitute after I die than you. I gave you some palm-trees which produce twenty awsāq (see Weights and Measures). If you had cut them and taken possession of them, they (their wealth) would have been yours, but today they are the property of [my] heirs, who are your two brothers and two sisters; so divide them according to the Book of Allah.” ʿĀʾisha said, “Father, by Allah, even if these had been more, I would have given them. But there is only [my one sister] Asmāʾ. Who is my other sister?” Abū Bakr said, “The one in the womb of [Ḥabība] bint Khārija. I think it will be a girl” (Mālik, Aqḍiyya, mā lā yajūz min al-naḥl).

ʿĀʾisha, Allah be well-pleased with her, narrates: “At the time of his death, Abū Bakr asked: ‘What day is it?’ They said: ‘Monday.’ He said: ‘If I I die tonight, do not leave my burial until tomorrow, for I would love to reach the Messenger of Allah as soon as possible.’” He was to be buried beside the Prophet (Aḥmad, Musnad Abī Bakr al-Ṣiddīq 1:218 §45).

As the time of his death approached, ʿĀʾisha lamented: “Wealth is of no avail to a man on the day when the death-rattle is in his throat, and his chest is constricted by it.” Abū Bakr uncovered his face and said: “Not so! Say rather: Lo, the agony of death has indeed come with Truth; that is what you were wont to look away from (Q 50:19).” He then instructed ʿĀʾisha to bury him in the two pieces of cloth he was already wearing, after washing them, saying “The living need new clothes more than the dead” (Ibn Saʿd, Ṭabaqāt 2:18; al-Suyūṭī, Tārīkh p. 67). It is said that his last words were the supplication of Prophet Yūsuf, upon him peace: [Lord,] let me die in submission to You (musliman) and join me with the righteous (Q 12:101).

He died that night (Monday, 21 Jumādā II 13/22 August 634), at the age of 63, and was buried, in accordance with his wish, before the break of dawn. ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb led the funeral prayer. His grave was dug so that his head was placed level with the shoulder of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace (Ibn al-Athīr, Kāmil 2:262; al-Suyūṭī, Tārīkh p. 67).

His Character and Personality

In various sources, Abū Bakr is described as tall and thin, with a reddish-fair complexion, a high forehead which often perspired, deep-set eyes, high cheekbones, and a gaunt face. When white hair appeared in his beard, he started to dye it with henna and kutum (a wild grass yielding black dye) (Ibn Saʿd, Ṭabaqāt 3:188; Ṭabarī, Tārīkh 3:424; Ibn al-Athīr, Kāmil 2:263; al-Suyūṭī, Tārīkh p. 30). He was tender-hearted, generous, and kind, with impeccable etiquette (Ibn Saʿd, Ṭabaqāt 3:179; Ṭabarī, Tārīkh 2:317).

When the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, asked for donations to equip the “Army that Endured Great Hardship” (jaysh al-ʿusra) for the battle of Tabūk (9/630), Abū Bakr, Allah be well-pleased with him, came bearing all of his wealth. When the Prophet asked, “What did you leave behind for your family?” He replied, as is well-known, “I left for them Allah and His Messenger” (Tirmidhī, Manāqib, bāb; Abū Dāwūd, Zakāt, fī rukhṣa fī dhālik).

Although rich, he lived an austere life. After his emigration to Madina, he lived with his wife Ḥabība at al-Sunḥ, a small village near Madina, in a simple structure made of dried palm leaves and sticks. He continued to live there for six months after becoming Caliph and either walked or rode his horse to Madina each morning, returning home after the night prayer. He continued to help his neighbors with milking and grazing as he had before becoming Caliph, and continued to trade various goods for his livelihood, often carrying the goods himself to the market.

ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb insisted that he take a stipend from the public treasury to support himself because his life as Caliph was devoted to serving the Muslim community. ʿUmar contacted Abū ʿUbayda, the guardian of the treasury (bayt al-māl, an institution Abū Bakr formally established), and they fixed him a sum approximating the share of one Muhājir: equivalent to half a sheep for one’s daily meals and summer and winter clothing. It is also said that he was granted an additional annual stipend of 2,500, 3,000, or 6,000 dirhams (Ibn Saʿd, Ṭabaqāt 3:184-185; Ṭabarī, Tārīkh 3:432; al-Suyūṭī, Tārīkh p. 30). Shortly before Abū Bakr’s death, he instructed his daughter ʿĀʾisha to return the goat, the camel, and the slave given him by the treasury along with a piece of his land to compensate for the allowance that he had received from the treasury. When ʿUmar received these back, he said, “O Abū Bakr, may Allah shower His Mercy upon you, you have laid a heavy burden upon me [by setting the standard of abstinence very high for subsequent caliphs]!” (Ṭabarī, Tārīkh 3:432-433; al-Suyūṭī, Tārīkh p. 30).

His Eminence and Virtues

Al-Nawawī (631-676/1234-1277) writes that scholars have noted the eminence of Abū Bakr’s knowledge on the basis of his declaration that he would fight anyone who differentiated between ṣalāt and zakāt. Al-Nawawī adds that the other Companions would come to Abū Bakr about issues they could not resolve, and, upon debating and pondering his answer, would confirm it. “It has been reported to us that Ibn ʿUmar was asked who [among the Companions] gave fatwās to the people during the time of the Prophet. He replied, ‘Abū Bakr and ʿUmar, and I know of none other than them’” (Tahdhīb 2:190).

Jubayr b. Muṭʿim (d. 57/676 or 677), who was considered an expert in genealogy, said that Abū Bakr was the most learned in such lore. The dream interpreter Ibn Sīrīn (33-110/653-728) said that after the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, Abū Bakr was the most learned in interpreting dreams and that he would do so during the time of the Prophet, one Companion even being referred to him by the Prophet (see Dreams and their Interpretation). According to Ibn Kathīr, he was one of the best orators (al-Suyūṭī, Tārikh p. 37). Al-Suyūṭī cites as proof of his penetrating insight events of Ḥudaybiya (6/628) in which ʿUmar asked the Prophet certain questions and received identical responses from Abū Bakr (al-Suyūṭī, Tārīkh p. 38). According to al-Nawawī, he was one of the Companions who memorized the entire Qurʾān (Tahdhīb 2:191), but narrated only 142 hadiths of the Prophet. “The reason for this scarcity, despite the seniority of his companionship, is that his death pre-dated the dissemination of hadiths and the efforts by the Followers (tābiʿīn) to hear, gather, and preserve them” (Tahdhīb 2:182). Al-Suyūṭī lists 104 of these hadiths in his Tārīkh (p. 70-78).

Abū Bakr once entered a garden where he saw a small sparrow under a tree. He drew a long breath and said, “What good fortune you have, O bird! You eat from the tree, rest under it, and are free from accountability. I wish Abū Bakr were like you!” (Ibn Abī Shayba, Muṣannaf 7:91 §34432; al-Bayhaqī, Shuʿab 1:485 §787).

Ibn ʿAsākir (d. 570/1175) cites Abū Saʿīd al-Aṣmaʿī (121-216/740-831) as saying that if anyone praised Abū Bakr, he would say: “O Allah, You have the best knowledge of me and I know myself more than they [know me]. O Allah, make me better than their conjectures, forgive me what they do not know, and do not take me to task for what they say” (al-Suyūṭī, Tārikh p. 86).

Despite his knowledge, insight, and great scholarship, he would hesitate to say anything about the Qurʾān. One of his proverbial statements was uttered in response to a question about the phrase wa fākihatan wa abba (Q 80:31): “Which sky would shade me and which earth would contain me, were I to say anything about the Book of Allah without [certain] knowledge?” (Baghawī, Tafsīr).

Verses of the Qurʾān Related to Him

As already mentioned in the Section “His Hijra to Madina”, the exegetes consider Q 9:40 indicative of the high station of Abū Bakr, Allah be well-pleased with him. Al-Qushayrī (376-465/ca.986-ca.1073) says, “The verse is a proof of the Companionship of al-Ṣiddīq, may Allah be well-pleased with him, for Allah Most High has named him [the Prophet’s] Companion. He has counted him as the second: he is the second in faith (īmān), second in the cave, second in the grave (fī-l-qabr ḍajīʿa) (meaning thereby that his grave is next to the Prophet’s), and he will be his companion in Paradise” (Tafsīr). Al-Wāḥidī and al-Rāzī (543-606/1148-1209) both say that the Divine description of Abū Bakr as the Companion of the Messenger in Q 9:40 is indicative of his eminence and excellence. They cite the saying of al-Ḥusayn b. Fuḍīl al-Bajalī: “Anyone who denies the Companionship of ʿUmar, ʿUthmān, or any other Companion is a liar and an innovator; but anyone who denies the Companionship of Abū Bakr is a disbeliever (kāfir), because such a person rejects a proof-text (naṣṣ) of the Qurʾān” (Wajīz and Tafsīr).

Al-Qāḍī Abū Bakr Ibn al-ʿArabī (468-543/1075-1148) writes that Q 9:40 lists merits specific to Abū Bakr alone, including that Allah Most High granted a place in His Book to what was said to Abū Bakr, the Qurʾānic description of whose companionship with the Prophet will be recited until the Day of Resurrection. The Prophet’s question to Abū Bakr in the cave (“What think you of the two, O Abū Bakr, when Allah is their third?”) underscores the great honor accorded him, in that no other human has been described this way. Because of these merits, Ibn al-ʿArabī continues, Abū Bakr was preeminent over all others (Aḥkām, masʾalat qawlihi taʿālā illā tanṣurūhu (Q 9:40) 2:512-514). Hadith commentators further explicate the Prophetic saying, “Allah is the third of them”; Abū al-Ḥasan Ibn Baṭṭāl (d. 449/1057), Ibn Rajab (736-795/ca.1335-1393), and Ibn Ḥajar (d. 852/1449) all point out that it here means that Allah Most High is their Companion, Protector, and Helper, sufficient for them—but that it does not reflect on His knowledge of them, because in that sense Allah is always with every two, as in His Words, Never can there be a secret counsel between three persons without Him being the fourth of them, nor between five without Him being the sixth of them (Q 58:7) (cf. Ibn Baṭṭāl, Sharḥ Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 9:96; Ibn Rajab, Fatḥ al-bārī 3:116; Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ al-bārī 7:259). Furthermore, Ibn Rajab writes, “the general presence of Allah (maʿiyyat ʿāmma) involves His knowledge, power, omnipotence, and recompense, whereas the specific accompaniment (maʿiyyat khāṣṣa) here alluded to involves a goodly expectation (ḥusn al-ẓann) of His pleasure and protection; for this is proximity [of a different kind], not the proximity common to [all] creatures” (Ibn Rajab, Fatḥ al-bārī 3:116). Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1327) notes that certain scholars hold that this accompaniment was granted only to Abū Bakr (Minhāj al-sunna 8:382).

Other exegetes cite several other verses as referring to Abū Bakr, although unlike Q 9:40 these references lack exegetical consensus. Al-Suyūṭī (849-911/1445-ca.1505) devoted a special section in his Tārīkh al-Khulāfāʾ (“History of the Caliphs”) to “Verses Sent Down in Praise, Confirmation, or Attestation of the Virtues of Abū Bakr”:

Abū Bakr bought Bilāl to set him free from his slavery to Umayya b. Khalaf and Ubayy b. Khalaf for a mantle (burda) and ten awāq [of grain] (see Weights and Measures). Allah then revealed Q 92:1-4: By the Night when it is veiled, and the day resplendent, and Him Who created male and female; indeed, your strivings are divergent (referring to the different purposes that motivated Abū Bakr on the one hand and Umayya and Ubayy on the other);

ʿĀmir b. ʿAbd Allāh b. al-Zubayr said: “Abū Bakr used to [buy and] set free the elderly and weak women and slaves of Makka, if they embraced Islam. His father (Abū Quḥāfa) said to him: ‘My dear son, I see that you buy and set free weak women; it would be better if you emancipate strong young men so that they remained with you and defended you against your enemies.’ Abū Bakr responded: ‘Father, I only desire what is with Allah.’ [Ibn al-Zubayr] said, ‘One of my family told me that the verse As for him who gives and fears [Allah]… (Q 92:5) was revealed about [this incident]’”;

ʿUrwa said: “Abū Bakr set free seven [slaves] who were being tortured because of their belief in Allah, and the last five verses of Sūrat al-Layl were revealed about it” (Q 92:17-21: Far removed shall remain he who is truly conscious [of Allah], who spends his possessions [on others] so that he may grow in purity, not in payment for favors received, but only from longing for the Countenance of his Lord Most High—and such, indeed, shall be well-pleased). (Tārīkh p. 41-42)

Other verses listed by al-Suyūṭī include Q 3:159 and Q 66:4, both of which are said to refer to Abū Bakr and ʿUmar; and Q 15:47, concerning Abū Bakr, ʿUmar, and ʿAlī, may Allah be well-pleased with them all. He also lists, citing earlier sources, Q 33:43, Q 46:15-16, and Q 55:46 as verses which confirm attributes of Abū Bakr (Tārīkh p. 41-42). The relationships offered by exegetes between Abū Bakr and these verses, however, are not exclusive for, as Shāh Walī Allāh al-Dihlawī (1114-1176/1702-1763) points out (al-Fawz p. 95), Companions would commonly remark that a certain verse pertained to such and such person or event—meaning that they embody qualities described in the verse, without limiting its general scope.

Hadiths in his Praise

Several hadiths enumerate Abū Bakr’s merits and virtues. One is narrated by Abū Hurayra, Allah be well-pleased with him, who said: “I heard the Messenger of Allah, upon him blessings and peace, say: ‘Whoever spends a pair (zawjayn) (of horses, camels, or anything else, as per scholarly commentaries) in the Path of Allah, [such a person] will be called to from all the gates of Paradise: “O slave of Allah, this is virtuous.” He who is among those who prays will be called from the Gate of Prayer. He who is among the people of jihad will be called from the Gate of Jihad. He who is among those who give charity will be called from the Gate of Charity. He who is among those who fast will be called from the Gate of Fasting, called al-Rayyān.’ Abū Bakr said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, may my father and mother be your ransom, the one who is invited from all the gates will be the most fortunate. Is there any who will be invited from all the gates, O Messenger of Allah?’ [The Prophet] said: ‘Yes, and I hope you will be among those, O Abū Bakr’” (Bukhārī, Ṣawm, al-Rayyān lil-ṣāʾimīn; Muslim, Zakāt, man jamaʿa al-ṣadaqāt wa aʿmāl al-birr).

According to other reports, the Prophet included Abū Bakr among those Companions who confirmed and testified to what he said. “A man was driving an ox loaded with goods. The ox looked toward him and said: ‘I was not created for this, but [to work] the land.’” People exclaimed in surprise and awe: “Hallowed be Allah! Does an ox speak?” The Messenger of Allah said: “I believe it, and so do Abū Bakr and ʿUmar.” In another hadith, the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, said: “A shepherd was tending his flock. A wolf came and carried away one goat. The shepherd pursued [the wolf] and rescued [the goat] from it. The wolf looked toward him and said: “Who will save it on the day when there will be no shepherd except me?” Thereupon people exclaimed in surprise (at the notion of a talking wolf): “Hallowed be Allah!” The Messenger of Allah said: “I believe in it, and so do Abū Bakr and ʿUmar” (Bukhārī, Aṣḥāb al-Nabī, qawl al-Nabī ṣallā Allāh ʿalayh wa sallam, law kuntu muttakhidhan khalīlan; Muslim, Faḍāʾil al-ṣaḥāba, min faḍāʾil Abī Bakr al-Ṣiddīq).


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See also

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