It was 9 a.h., 630 ce when Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was planning the Tabuk expedition. Tabuk is an oasis town, northwestern Saudi Arabia. The expedition was an answer to the Byzantine threats to attack Muslims in the northern border of Arabia.
People brought to the Prophet whatever they could find by way of money and resources to help him with the campaign. And then came forward one of the richest and the noblest among the companions and offered his beloved leader (peace be upon him) all the wealth and property he possessed.
The Prophet asked the man, "what did you leave for your family?" without hesitation, the companion calmly replied, "God and his Prophet are enough for them." (ibn kathir, 264)
The man Abu Bakr As-Siddiq.The birth name of Abu Bakr was Abdul Ka`bah (servant of the ka`bah). When he converted to Islam in 610 ce, he was named Abdullah (servant of allah) by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Abu Bakr was the first among men to accept Islam and the foremost in fidelity to the Prophet.
Abu Bakr was two years younger than the Prophet. He was of a noble family and was known for being most upright and sincere in his dealings. His gentleness, generosity, and gracefulness won him the respect of all.
When the Prophet told him of the revelation and his God-given mission, Abu Bakr did not pose to think twice; right then, he embraced Islam and declared his loyalty to the Prophet, without a fear of any consequences.
Thereafter, nothing could deter him from the path of Islam, and no one was closer to the Messenger of God. Till the end of his life, Abu Bakr was strong in his faith in God and unfaltering in his commitment to the way of the Prophet.
Islam as taught by the Prophet is the total and absolute surrender to the will of God, and Abu Bakr was its best model after the Prophet. As an ordinary man and later as the ruler of Arabia after the Prophet, Abu Bakr was the very embodiment of honesty and selflessness.
Soon after becoming a Muslim, Abu Bakr was spreading the word about Islam, and many of his sincere friends followed his example and took the shahadah, witnessing that there is only one true god and that Muhammad (pbuh) is his Messenger.
Among them were eminent persons who later became the stalwarts of Islam; examples include `Uthman Ibn `Affan, Abdur-Rahman Ibn `Awf, Sa`d Ibn Abi Waqqas, and Abu `Ubaydah Ibn Al-jarrah.
Rich, but no love for money
Abu Bakr was a rich man who kept his money-chest open to serve the cause of Islam. He was the first in human history who bought slaves only to set them free. Friend to the poor and the weak, he had no love for money, position, or power.
There is a story of a poor, blind, old woman living in the outskirts of Madinah. Every morning, `Umar Ibn Al-Khattab, another great companion, used to go to her house to see if she needed anything. But he always found that someone else had come before him and given her all that she needed.
`Umar wanted to find out who this person was, so one morning he went there earlier than he usually did to find that the man who visited the old lady every morning was Abu Bakr.
The Mosque of the Prophet in Madinah (Al-Masjid An-Nabawi) was built on a land bought with Abu Bakr's money.
The Prophet himself was happy to acknowledge that while he could repay debts to others, he had not been able to repay Abu Bakr.
And at the time of the Hijrah, Prophet's journey from Makkah to Madinah, the Prophet chose Abu Bakr to be his sole companion.
The Qur'an relates the unforgettable occasion when the Prophet was in the cave of Thawr with Abu Bakr, on their way to Madinah.
[If you will not aid him, God certainly aided him when those who disbelieved expelled him, he being the second of the two, when they were both in the cave, when he said to his companion: grieve not, surely God is with us. So god sent down his tranquillity upon him and strengthened him with hosts that you did not see, and made lowest the word of those who disbelieved.] (at-tawbah 9:40)
And among the followers of the Prophet, it was Abu Bakr alone who had no questions at all about Al-Israa` and Al-Mi`raj — the Prophet's miraculous night journey and ascension — and the Prophet called him As-Siddiq (the truthful one).
The death of the Prophet
Even in really difficult times, Abu Bake proved himself to quite unique. The death of the Prophet was a terrible shock for the believers; many found it hard to imagine that they had to live on without the Prophet among them.
Huge crowds flocked to the Mosque at Madinah; confusion and disbelief reigned everywhere. Even `Umar would not accept that the Prophet died and drew his sword to kill any one who said that the Prophet was dead.
Then Abu Bakr, with remarkable self-possession and extraordinary leadership, addressed the distraught people with these words,
O people, if any one among you worshipped muhammad, know that Muhammad (pbuh) is dead. But those who worship God, let them know that he lives and will never die.Let all of us recall the words of the Qur'an:
[Muhammad is no more than a Messenger: many were the Messenger who passed away before him. If he died or were slain, will you then turn back on your heels? if any did turn back on their heels, not the least harm will they do to God. But God (on the other hand) will swiftly reward those who (serve him) with gratitude.] (Aal `Imran 3:144)
These words of Abu Bakr struck like thunder, and people awoke to the reality of the Prophet's death (Al-Bukhari). Undoubtedly this was one of those events that proved the mettle of the soon-to-be caliph of Islam.
A reluctant leader
After the death of the Prophet, the first problem facing the Muslim community was to choose a new leader, a problem that required an immediate solution. Because, any delay in this matter would have caused disorder undermining the very fabric of the Ummah (the Muslim community) the Prophet had been building up.
Soon, signs of division appeared between the Muhajirun (the immigrants to Madinah) and the Ansar (the helpers from Madinah). After much deliberation and debate, the Ansar accepted that the Muhajirun had a better claim for the position as the holy Prophet himself was a Muhajir. Then Abu Bakr took the lead and suggested that either `Umar or Abu `Ubaydah should become the caliph.
But both of them as well as the people had no doubt that no one deserved that position more than Abu Bakr; reluctantly, he accepted their request. After taking the oath of loyalty given by the Muslim community, Abu Bakr addressed the Muslim crowds,
O people, i have been elected your leader, although i am not better than any one of 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, God 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, God willing. Listen, you must obey me as long as i obey God and his Messenger. If i disobey God and his Messenger, you are free to disobey me. (Ibn Kathir, 305).
Soon after taking charge, Abu Bakr had a tough time holding together the contentious tribes that had come into Islam. There were persons who wished to return to their old habits of drinking and gambling, and some did not want to pay the obligatory charity (zakah).
A more serious threat was the phenomenon of "false Prophets."The caliph had to confront the apostates who refused to pay Zakah and punish claimants to prophethood.
Advisers suggested a careful and well-considered plan of handling the situation. But Abu Bakr would not listen, for he could not see the rights of the poor being usurped by those who refused to pay zakah which goes directly to the poor. He promptly used force and wiped out the menace.
In 634 ce after an illness of two weeks, Abu Bakr, the first among Al-Khulafaa' Al-Rashidoun (Arabic for "the rightly guided caliphs") passed away. He was 63 years old at the time. He was buried by the side of the holy Prophet.
Before his death Abu Bakr asked his family to sell his land and to pay back in the publick treasury all the money that he got as a salary. He had availed a salary of 6,000 dirhams a year. a plot of land belonging to him was sold after his death to repay all this money to the public treasury.
Abu Bakr never misused his position to favor his children or relatives; he always chose other capable people for public offices; before he died, he chose as his successor a man he believed to be the most competent for the job: `Umar Ibn Al-Khattab. But he did not force his choice upon the people; he made it official only when the people had agreed to it.
The Prophet is reported to have asked his companions one day who of them on that day attended a funeral, paid alms, visited a sick person, visited a graveyard (so as to understand that death is inevitable), and kept a fast. Abu Bakr alone answered in the affirmative to all these questions. The Prophet said that if all the virtues were counted, they would amount to 360. And the Prophet observed that Abu Bakr possessed all of them.