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Abu Bakr

How can you replace a Prophet of God? It was a tall order, but Abu Bakr did a pretty good job in his short time as ruler of the Muslim faith and lands. Let's see how he rose to power and consolidated the future of his religion.

Abu Bakr: Biography

In the Pre-Islamic world, Abu Bakr was born in Mecca in 573. He was a member of the Quraysh tribe who ruled the city before the Prophet Muhammad.

Caravan

A line of camels used to move goods and people across the desert

During his early life, he developed a love for camel caravans and an aptitude for diplomacy, as Mecca was a trade centre. He thus came into contact with different cultures and religions throughout the Arabian Peninsula.

Abu Bakr Camel Caravan StudySmarterFig. 1 - Camel caravan

History of Abu Bakr in Urdu

The name Abu Bakr means 'father of the camel' in Urdu, and it is believed that this nickname was given to him whilst he spent time with the Bedouins indigenous to the area.

Bedouin

Member of a nomadic (travelling) desert tribe

Urdu is a language derived from Indo-European languages rather than Arabian and North African ones.

The other part of his name, 'al-Siddiq', means 'the most truthful'. Muhammad bestowed this name to him for his loyalty and belief in the word of God or 'Allah'.

Abu Bakr and Muhammad

Abu Bakr played a key role in the consolidation of power for the Prophet Muhammad. He held particular importance because he was a member of the Quraysh tribe, which was dominant in Mecca, the spiritual home of Islam.

It is believed that Abu Bakr was the first male follower of Muhammad, who greatly valued him for his loyalty. Having set a precedent for tactical marriages, the Prophet married Abu Bakr's daughter Aishah to gain some leverage in the Quraysh.

This did not stop Muhammad from being exiled to Medina, but his father-in-law followed him. Upon their return, the Prophet fell ill shortly after the pilgrimage. Once more, his right-hand man, the devoted Abu Bakr, was there to lead the prayers.

The First Caliph

With the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 being rather sudden, there had been no plans to unite the religion after he passed.

Caliph

Arabic for 'follower', the name given to the rulers of the Islamic state after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.

The Arabian Peninsula remained a collection of disparate tribes, some of which were loyal to Islam. For the state to be powerful, it needed a single leader, a figurehead to navigate conflicts and unite these different tribes, but how would such a person be chosen?

  • The followers of Muhammad did not know how to select a new leader; they only managed to decide that he should be democratically elected.
  • As Muhammad's reputation became that of the final prophet, the new ruler could not be a saint. Abu Bakr wanted a single ruler to unite the followers.
  • He heard that in Medina, there were plans to elect a separate leader for the city and exclude non-natives from the conversation of governance.
  • Attending a meeting to discuss this, Abu Bakr proclaimed that a single leader for Islam would be better.
  • He suggested Umar as the leader, another of Muhammad's fathers-in-law. However, another candidate Ali, a blood relative of the Prophet, was not at the meeting as he was washing and burying his dead cousin.
  • Ali was adamant that he was the natural successor, as he grew up under the same roof as Muhammad.
  • Umar dodged the responsibility as Abu Bakr was many years his senior, an important factor in Islamic culture. This was another reason why Ali's claim failed.
  • After a tense debate with the council, Abu Bakr accepted the position of the first caliph. The Rashidun Caliphate was born.

Those Muslims who would become known as the Shia sect felt that Ali should have been the natural successor of Muhammad because they were related by blood. They even believed that the Prophet had specifically requested this, though his words remain open for interpretation. However, the majority sect that would become known as Sunnis, did not approve of dynasties. They wanted to pick leaders on merit, overlooking Ali in favour of Abu Bakr.

In her summary of Islam, Carole Hillenbrand reminds us about the first three caliphs, whose legitimacy was the reason for the unrest that struck in 656, when Ali finally ascended to what Shia Muslims believe was his rightful position:

According to most Shia Muslims, the first three caliphs in the Sunni interpretation of history - Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman - were usurpers. It was Ali who inherited the Prophet's knowledge and interpreted it for his fellow Muslims. 1

- Carole Hillenbrand, 'Islam: A New Historical Introduction', (2015)

Abu Bakr: Ridda Wars

As evidenced by the example of Medina, it is clear governing the huge and diverse Arabian Peninsula would be far from easy for a singular leader. This was Abu Bakr's immediate challenge after accepting the rule of the caliphate.

Abu Bakr Medina Saudi Arabia StudySmarterFig. 2 - Modern day Medina in Saudi Arabia

One of the issues with the autonomous tribes is that despite the diplomatic intentions of Abu Bakr, they refused to pay an Islam tax, or 'zakat', intended to help the poor in the caliphate.

Some tribes were keen to renounce Islam after the death of Muhammad, especially if it meant they would not have to pay the zakat. In response, Abu Bakr set about a series of military campaigns to solidify Muslim control - these were called the Ridda Wars or Wars of Apostasy and lasted from 632 to 634.

Abu Bakr's forces were largely successful, largely down to the military genius of Khalid ibn al-Walid.

Abu Bakr knew that he could trust Khalid ibn al-Walid. He had already been rewarded with the 'Sword of Allah' for his exploits for the Prophet Muhammad, so he had a proven track record.

One of the most impressive victories for al-Walid was at the Battle of Yamama in Aqraba (632). Here, he succeeded where two of his predecessors failed. Yamama was of particular concern for Abu Bakr because of the false prophet, who Medinans dubbed 'Musaylima' or 'arch liar'. If he developed a following, he could threaten Abu Bakr's very existence. Despite the murky historical records, it is clear that al-Walid's forces were severely outnumbered. However, the general bode his time and eventually crushed the rebellion, with Musaylima killed in battle.

Over a couple of years, all the campaigns ended in victory for Abu Bakr and Khalid ibn al-Walid. They also sowed the seeds for further progress into the territories of the Byzantine (North African) and Sassanid (Persian) empires.

Abu Bakr Mosque named after Khalid ibn al-Walid Homs Syria StudySmarterA mosque in Homs, Syria named after Khalid ibn al-Walid, Wikimedia Commons

Abu Bakr: Death

As he was setting his sights on creating a Muslim empire spanning Asia and Africa with his trusty comrade al-Walid, Abu Bakr fell ill in August 634. There is no certainty about the cause of this, although two theories prevail. He either caught a cold or suffered food poisoning. Whatever the reason, the result was the same. Stricken on his deathbed, he nominated Umar as his successor - the man who had almost become the first caliph in his stead. He died with all of the Arabian Peninsula belonging to the Rashidun Caliphate.

Abu Bakr Al-Sadd: Achievements

Despite his short tenure. Abu Bakr had an important and long-lasting legacy for the fate of the Rashidun Caliphate. Let's examine the key achievements of his two-year rule.

Hafiz

The name given to Muslims who had remembered parts of the Qu'ran

  1. Abu Bakr united Arabia and solidified the position of caliph for his successor, Umar.
  2. The considerable loss of Hafiz Muslims during the Battle of Yamama made Abu Bakr decide to write the Qu'ran down to ensure that the word of Allah could continue to be spread.
  3. Abu Bakr recognised and made use of military general Khalid ibn al-Walid, who was a huge factor in the expansion of the caliphate and the crushing of dissent.
  4. The clear appointment of a successor meant that the disputes after Muhammad's death did not occur. There was a smooth transition to the rule of Umar.

Abu Bakr - Key takeaways

  • Abu Bakr became the first caliph after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632.
  • There were some Muslims that believed Ali should have been the Muslim ruler because he was a blood relative of Muhammad.
  • With Khalid ibn al-Walid as his military commander, Abu Bakr succeeded in the Ridda Wars in quashing opposition between 632 and 634.
  • By the time of his death, the Arabian Peninsula was united under the Rashidun Caliphate, and the groundwork was in place for further expansion.
  • Abu Bakr appointed Umar his successor on his deathbed, allowing for smooth succession and continued success.

References

  1. Carole Hillenbrand, Islam: A New Historical Introduction (2015), p. 147.

Frequently Asked Questions about Abu Bakr

Abu Bakr was the first caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate that ruled over the Islam word after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.

Abu Bakr was elected as caliph when he attempted to unify the Islamic tribes under one leader in Medina. He chose Umar but Umar, due to his youth, delegated the duty to Abu Bakr.

Abu Bakr was born in Mecca in the Pre-Islamic world in 573.

Abu Bakr originates from Urdu meaning 'father of the camel'.

There are two possible causes of death for Abu Bakr, either he caught a cold or he was poisoned.

Final Abu Bakr Quiz

Question

Where was Abu Bakr born?

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Answer

Mecca

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Question

Why was Abu Bakr's daughter important?

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Answer

She allowed the Prophet Muhammad to marry into the Quraysh tribe.

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Question

Which future caliph said that Abu Bakr should become the first Muslim leader?

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Answer

Umar

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Question

What was Ali doing when the council were discussing the first caliph?

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Answer

Washing and burying the Prophet Muhammad.

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Question

What was 'zakat'?

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Answer

Tax for Muslims

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Question

Who was awarded with the 'Sword of Allah'?

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Answer

Khalid ibn al-Walid

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Question

Who succeeded Abu Bakr?

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Answer

Umar

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Question

How did Abu Bakr react to the death of many Hafiz Muslims?

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Answer

He ordered that the Qu'ran be written down to preserve the word of Allah.

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Question

Which caliphate was Abu Bakr a member of?

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Answer

Rashidun

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Question

Why were some people unhappy about the appointment of Abu Bakr as caliph?

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Answer

He was not related to Muhammad. Shia Muslims believed that Ali was the rightful leader.

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Question

Which word does NOT describe how Abu Bakr gained power?

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Answer

unanimously

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Question

Was Abu Bakr a successful caliph?

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Answer

Considering the short length of his leadership Abu Bakr was an excellent caliph. His greatest achievements were consolidating Muslim power on the Arabian Peninsula, writing down the Qu'ran and ensuring a smooth succession.

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