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Abū Bakr

By:
Asma Afsaruddin
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Abū Bakr

The first caliph (khalīfah), or successor to the Prophet Muḥammad, ruled for only two years (632–634), but his tenure as caliph was decisive for the community. Insurrection had broken out in parts of Arabia, led in some cases by pseudo-prophets, such as Musaylimah from the tribe of Banū Ḥanīfah and Tulayhah from the tribe of Banū Asad. These tribes refused to pay allegiance to the new government in Medina, assuming that their fealty to it, conceived in political rather than religious terms, had lapsed with the death of the Prophet. Consequently, they withheld the payment of zakāt, the obligatory alms which is one of the five “pillars” or duties binding upon Muslims. In response to the refusal of the rebellious tribes to pay their zakāt to Medina, Abū Bakr stated, according to tradition, that even if only the hobble of a young camel were withheld in payment of zakāt, he would fight those dissenters. Within a year of the Prophet 's death, the rebellious tribes were defeated under the leadership of Khālid ibn al-Walīd, a famous military commander during and after the Prophet 's time, in a series of battles known in Islamic history as the Wars of Riddah (political rebellion).

As the first of the “Rightly-Guided” caliphs (al-Rāshīdun), Abū Bakr is much lauded for his simple and abstemious lifestyle, his legendary generosity, and unwavering devotion to Muḥammad, whose father-in-law he became when ʿĀʿisha, his daughter, married the Prophet. At first Abū Bakr lived in a modest house in Sunh, a suburb of Medina, but then moved into the town for the sake of convenience. Under Abū Bakr the collection of the Qurʿānic verses is said to have begun, prompted by ʿUmar, who was alarmed by the death of a large number of Qurʿān reciters during the Riddah wars.

Abū Bakr 's official title was Khalīfat Rasūl Allāh (the Successor to the Messenger of God), signifying his status as the only direct successor to the Prophet. Among the honorifics conferred upon him were al-Siddīq, “the Truthful,” and al-ʿAtīq, “the Freedman,” the former because he had readily believed Muḥammad 's account of his nocturnal journey to the Heavens, and the latter because he had been, as Muhammad himself said, freed from hell-fire. Before his conversion, Abū Bakr had been a very wealthy merchant. On becoming Muslim, he is said to have given away most of his wealth, valued at forty thousand dirhams, in charity before the Emigration (Hijrah) to Medina in 622 CE

During his last illness leading to his death in 634, he was nursed by his daughter ʿĀʿisha. As requested by Abū Bakr himself, he was laid to rest in ʿĀʿisha 's apartment close to where the Prophet lay buried. See also ʿĀʿISHA; CALIPH; and RIGHTLY GUIDED CALIPHS.

Bibliography

  • Ibn Saʿd, Muḥammad. Al-Tabaqāt al-kubrā. Edited by Muḥammad ʿAbd al-Qādir ʿAtā. Beirut, 1997.
  • Shaʿbān, Muḥammad ʿAbd al-Ḥayy Muḥammmad. Islamic History: A New Interpretation. Cambridge, U.K., 1971.
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