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1. BEFORE AND AFTER CONVERSION TO ISLAM
1.1 Pre-Islamic Period
Date of birth
The exact date of birth of Abu Bakr is not known. According to traditions he was younger than the Holy Prophet of Islam by two years and a few months. As the Holy Prophet was born in 571 CE, we can safely hold that Abu Bakr was born at Makkah some time in the year 573 C.E.
Abu Bakr’s father was Othman surnamed Abu Qahafa, and his mother was Salma surnamed Umm-ul-Khair. They belonged to the Bani Taim branch of the Quraish.
The genealogy of Abu Bakr joined with that of the Holy Prophet, eight generations back in their common ancestor Murrah.
The Holy Prophet was the son of Abdullah, who was the son of Abdul Muttalib, who was the son of Hashim, who was the son of Abd Manaf, who was the son of Qussayi, who was the son of Kulab, who was the son of Murrah.
Abu Bakr was the son of Othman, who was the son of ‘Amar, who was the son of ‘Amr, who was the son of Ka’ab, who was the son of Sa’ad, who was the son of Taim, who was the son of Murrah.
The original name of Abu Bakr was Abdul Ka’aba-the servant of Kaaba. Some children were born to his parents before him, but they did not survive. When he was born, he was taken to the Ka’aba, dedicated to the gods of Ka’aba, and named Abdul Ka’aba.
Abu Bakr’s family enjoyed affluence, and he was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. No detailed accounts are available about the life of Abu Bakr during the period of childhood. Like other Arab children, he spent early years in the open air of the desert. He grew as a typical son of the soil. The leanness and barrenness of the land around him was reflected in his physique. He was lean and thin with a slender constitution, but was otherwise very hardy and had a strong mind. He had the tenacity and the strength of the rocks around him. Like the golden sand of the desert, his face glowed with a white and red complexion. By all standards he was beautiful, and for his beauty he earned the surname of ‘Atiq’.
Having been bred up in the early years in the midst of the Bedouins who called themselves ‘Ahl-i-Ba’eer’- the people of the camel, he developed particular fondness for camels. In the early years he played with the young ones of the camels, and his love for the camels earned him the surname of “Abu Bakr-the father of the foal of the camel.”
Abu Bakr’s encounter with the idols of the Ka’aba
A story is preserved that once when Abu Bakr was a child, his father took him to the Ka’aba, and asked him to pray before the idols. His father went away to attend to some other business, and Abu Bakr was left alone with the idols. Addressing an idol, Abu Bakr said, “O my God, I am in need of beautiful clothes, bestow them on me.” The idol remained indifferent. Then Abu Bakr addressing another idol said, “O God, give me some delicious food. I am so hungry.” The idol remained cold to the prayer. That exhausted the patience of young Abu Bakr. He lifted a stone, and addressing an idol said, “Here I am aiming a stone; if you are a God protect yourself.” Abu Bakr hurled the stone at the idol, which broke into pieces. Abu Bakr left the Ka’aba. Thereafter Abu Bakr never prayed to the idols in the Ka’aba. This Abraham style of encounter with the idols made Abu Bakr a Muslim at heart long before his formal profession of Islam.
The monk Bahira
Jalal-ud-Din Syuti has preserved an account that when at the age of twelve, the Holy Prophet accompanied his Uncle Abu Talib along with a trade caravan, Abu Bakr was also with the caravan. The Holy Prophet reclined under a lote tree.
The monk Bahira asked Abu Bakr as to who was the person who was reclining under the lote tree. Abu Bakr told the monk that he was Muhammad the son Abdullah.
Thereupon the monk said, “Then, by Allah he is the prophet for none has taken shelter under this tree since the time of Jesus, the son of Mary.” The war of Fijar.
During the eighties of the sixth century, there was the war of Fijar between the Hawazin and the Quraish. We know that the Holy Prophet participated in this war, and his role lay in picking up the stray arrows thrown by the enemy, and handing to his Uncle Abu Talib. The sources are silent about the participation of Abu Bakr. We can, however, safely presume that Abu Bakr would have also participated in this war and played some peripheral role. Hilf-ul-Fudul.
After the war of Fijar, the “Hif-ul-Fudul” was set up at Makkah. Its avowed object was to help all wronged persons I the redressing of their wrongs. The Holy Prophet often said that he was proud of the oath that he had taken about the fulfillment of the objectives of the “Hilf-ul-Fudul.”
The sources make no reference to Abu Bakr in this respect. The organization was set up at the house of Abdullah b Jad’aan who belonged to the same clan of the Quraish as Abu Bakr, we have thus reason to presume that Abu Bakr was also a member of the league and subscribed to its objective. Disciplined life. Though bred and brought up in an aristocratic family in the midst of an idolatrous society, conspicuous for indulgence in wine, women, and gambling.
Abu Bakr resisted these temptations and led a disciplined life avoiding the frolics, frivolities, and dissipations that characterized the life of the contemporary youth of Makkah. Once Abu Bakr was asked whether he ever drank wine during the days of ignorance. He replied, “God forbid, I never touched wine even in the days of ignorance.” He was asked, “why“, and he said, “I sought to preserve my reputation and retain my decorum, and verily he who drinks wine destroys his reputation and his decorum.” This shows that Abu Bakr enjoyed a good reputation and was known for his decorum.
As in the case of other Arab children, he did not receive any formal education. He was, however, a keen observer and observed things around him with a keen sense of perception. Even at an early age, he developed an eloquent way of expression. He even composed verses. He used to attend the annual fair at ‘Ukaz, and participate in poetical symposia. He had a very good memory, and could recite verses after he had heard them only once.
At the age of eighteen, Abu Bakr went into trade and adopted the profession of a cloth merchant which was the family’s business. Makkah was a commercial center at the crossing of the caravan routes from Yemen to Syria and Iraq to Abyssinia, and the Quraish of Makkah sponsored trade caravans to Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Abyssinia.
Abu Bakr traveled extensively with such caravans. Business trips took him to Yemen, Syria, and elsewhere. These travels brought him wealth, added to his experience, and broadened his outlook. He was honest, hardworking, steadfast. generous, hospitable, and diligent. These qualities paid rich dividends. His business flourished and he rose in the scale of social importance. He came to be recognized as one of the richest merchants of Mecca.
While still a young man, Abu Bakr came to be recognized as the chief of the Bani Taim section in spite of the fact that his father was alive. Abu Bakr was assigned the office of awarding blood money in cases of murder. His office was something like the office of an Honorary Magistrate. His judgments and awards were always fair and just which satisfied the parties.
His marriages and children.
Abu Bakr’s first wife was Qutaila. She belonged to the Bani Amar. She was the mother of Asma and Abdullah. Some time later, Abu Bakr married another wife Umm Ruman. She was a widow and belonged to the Bani Kinana section. She was the mother of Abdur Rahman and Ayesha.
Character of Abu Bakr.
In spite of being a rich man, Abu Bakr was of a meditative cast of mind. As a trader he did not indulge in trade tricks. He stood for fair deals, and above board transactions. He came to enjoy reputation for honesty, and integrity. He had a wide circle of friends, and commanded considerable influence in the contemporary society of Makkah. He had a flair for social work. He delighted in attending to the sick, and looking after the poor. He gave rich bounties to the poor, and felt pleasure in helping those in distress.
Abu Bakr was expert in genealogical lore. He knew intimately who was who in Makkah, and what was his ancestry. He carried in his head minutes” details about the genealogies of various families in Makkah He raised genealogy to the dignity of a science Abu Bakr had all the elements that make a historian or a scientist.
Abu Bakr and the Holy Prophet
When Muhammad (peace be on him) married Khadija and shifted to her house, he became a neighbor of Abu Bakr who lived in the same locality. That was the quarter of Makkan aristocracy. Like the house of Khadija, the house of Abu Bakr was double storied and palatial in structure.
As neighbors Muhammad (peace be on him), and Abu Bakr came in contact with each other, and were mutually attracted. Both of them were of the same age. Both of them were traders and good managers. Both of them were kind hearted and tender hearted gentlemen who felt for others. Both of them were men of strong and sterling character. They were men of strong convictions, and when they came to hold a particular view they knew no wavering. They never minced matters and always called a spade a spade. Both of them were critical of the evils that honeycombed the idolatrous society of Makkah. They had an identity of views on various matters. They felt themselves to be kindred spirits, and that set the base for life-long attachment between the two men who were destined to make history.
1.2 Conversion to Islam
Birth of Islam
One day in the year 610 C.E. when Muhammad (peace be on him) was praying in the cave of Hira outside Makkah, the angel Gabriel appeared to him, and conveyed to him the tidings that Allah had chosen him as His Messenger, and he was to convey to the people the message of Islam. That was a novel sensation.
As the Holy Prophet came home, he felt agitated. Khadija comforted him, and was the first person to be converted to Islam. Khadija consulted her cousin Waraqa who was proficient in religious lore. He gave Khadija the glad tidings that her husband was the Prophet of God, about whose advent there were references in the scriptures of the Jews and the Christians. After Khadija, Ali, then a young boy living with the Holy Prophet, accepted Islam. Thereafter Zaid b Harith a slave whom the Holy Prophet had adopted as his son became a Muslim.
Abu Bakr’s conversion to Islam
When the Holy Prophet gave the call of Islam, Abu Bakr was out of Makkah. He had gone on a business trip to Yemen. When Abu Bakr returned to Makkah, he was informed by some of his friends that in his absence Muhammad (peace be on him) had declared himself as the Messenger of God, and proclaimed a new religion. On hearing this, Abu Bakr lost no time in calling on the Holy Prophet.
The Holy Prophet told Abu Bakr full details of his experience in the cave of Hira, the visitation of the angel Gabriel, and the command of Allah to call the people to Him. On hearing the account, Abu Bakr felt inspired. He felt convinced that what the Holy Prophet had said was the truth. Overwhelmed with emotion, and elated with joy at the discovery of the truth, Abu Bakr said, “I believe in you and your mission from the depths of my heart. I testify and confirm that what you say is the truth. Call me to your religion, for verily you are the Prophet of God and that is a great honor.”
The Holy Prophet stretched his hand, and Abu Bakr grasped it reverently as a mark of faith and allegiance. He declared with great solemnity, “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is His prophet and messenger.” This declaration forged new bonds between the Holy Prophet and Abu Bakr. Heretofore only three family members of the Holy Prophet, namely Khadija, Ali, and Zaid bin Harith had accepted Islam. Abu Bakr was the first person outside the family of the Holy Prophet to become a Muslim.
Significance of the conversion of Abu Bakr. In the annals of Islam, the conversion of Abu Bakr was an event of great significance. Abu Bakr was a rich merchant, and his business depended on the goodwill of the people around him. He knew that his conversion to the new faith would make him unpopular with people around him, and that would adversely affect his business. He was well aware that by such conversion he would be inviting the wrath and hostility of the Quraish. But his mind was made up. He felt convinced that Muhammad (peace be on him) had discovered the truth, and was required of him was to support the cause of the truth, whatever the cost.
Prior to his conversion, Abu Bakr asked no questions; he did not enter into any argument, he laid down no conditions; and he wanted no assurances. He did not hesitate even for a moment; no doubts assailed him; and there was no wavering in his mind. His declaration of faith in Islam was spontaneous as if he had been waiting for such a declaration all his life.
Years later, the Holy Prophet recalling the conversion of Abu Bakr said, “Whenever I offered Islam to any one, he always showed some reluctance and hesitation and tried to enter into an argument. Abu Bakr was the only person who accepted Islam without any reluctance or hesitation, and without any argument.”
Reasons for the ready acceptance of Islam by Abu Bakr. Apart from Abu Bakr, Khadija was the other person who had accepted Islam readily and without any hesitation. In the case of Khadija we know that she had already a premonition that Muhammad (peace be on him) was destined to be a prophet. Indeed she had been prompted to marry Muhammad (peace be on him) because she had an inner conviction that a great destiny awaited Muhammad.
It appears that Abu Bakr had a similar inner conviction that a great destiny awaited Muhammad (peace be on him). There is a story that when Muhammad at the age of twelve accompanied his uncle Abu Talib along with a trade caravan to Syria, and the monk Bahira on seeing Muhammad (peace be on him) had foretold prophethood for him, Abu Bakr was also with the caravan, and since that day Abu Bakr had harbored the conviction that Muhammad (peace be on him) was going to be a prophet. Abu Bakr traveled extensively, and in the course of such travels he had the occasion to learn from the Jewish rabbis and the Christian monks that the advent of a prophet was expected. This implies that Abu Bakr was already expecting the advent of a prophet, and when Muhammad (peace be on him) proclaimed his prophethood, and by first hand knowledge, Abu Bakr knew of the stainless character of Muhammad (peace be on him), he felt certain that Muhammad (peace be on him) was the prophet whose advent was expected, and as such there was no hesitation on his part in accepting the new faith.
As-Suyati’s account of the premonition of Abu Bakr about the advent of the Holy Prophet. In As-Suyuti’s book History of the Caliphs, there is an account which corroborates the conclusion that Abu Bakr had a premonition about the advent of the Prophet. It is related that before Muhammad (peace be on him) had declared his mission, Abu Bakr had visited Waraqa bin Naufal, who was expert in Scriptures, and Waraqa had told Abu Bakr of the advent of the Prophet. According to As-Suyuti, Abu Bakr is reported to have declared: “I had a premonition about the advent of the Prophet. Therefore when the Apostle of God was sent, I believed in him. and testified to him.”
According to Al Bayhaqi as quoted by As-Suyuti, Abu Bakr accepted Islam readily because he had been accustomed to behold the proofs of the prophetic mission. Al Bayhaqi also states on the authority of Aba Maysarah, the freed man of Abbas an uncle of the Holy Prophet, that when before the call, the Holy Prophet went forth, he used to hear some invisible person calling him, “O Muhammad.” The Holy Prophet used to tell of these voices to Abu Bakr who was his intimate friend.
Impact of Islam on Abu Bakr
Islam changed the course of the life of Abu Bakr. Before conversion he was known as Abdul Ka’aba. The name was indicative of paganism, and after conversion the Holy Prophet changed his name to Abdullah. The change in name marked a change in the purpose of life for Abu Bakr. He was no longer the servant of the Ka’aba; henceforward he was to be the servant of Allah.
Change in family relationship
Islam brought a change in the family relationship of Abu Bakr. His wife Qutaila did not accept Islam and he divorced her. His other wife Umm Ruman became a Muslim at his instance. All his children except Abdur Rahman accepted Islam, and Abu Bakr separated from his son Abdur Rahman.
Abu Bakr’s services to Islam
Abu Bakr was a man of shrewd judgment. He was highly intelligent and was endowed with the sense to discern the truth. When Abu Bakr accepted the new faith without any hesitation that was indicative of the fact that Islam was the truth. The conversion of Abu Bakr in fact set the pace for the extension of Islam. Abu Bakr commended considerable social influence, and he pressed such influence into service for promoting Islam. He made no secret of his conversion to Islam. Indeed he felt proud and honored that he had been blessed with Islam. In fact he became the messenger of the Messenger of God. He persuaded his intimate friends to accept Islam. He presented Islam to others in such a way that many of his friends opted for Islam.
Abu Bakr’s missionary efforts.
Those who accepted Islam at the instance of Abu Bakr were:
1. Othman bin Affan
2. Zubair bin Awam
3. Talhah bin Ubaidullah
4. Abdur Rahman b ‘Auf
5. Sa’ad b Abi Waqas
6. Umar b Masoan
7. Abu Ubaidah b. Al-Jarrah
8. Abdullah b. Abdul Asad
9. Abu Salma
10. Khalid b Saeed
11. Abu Hudhaifah.
All of them were men of status and high social standing and they proved to be great assets for Islam.
Before conversion to Islam, Abu Bakr used to meet Muhammad (peace be on him) occasionally. After becoming a Muslim, Abu Bakr made it a point to spend most of his time every day in the company of the Holy Prophet. Conversion to Islam made a phenomenal change in the life of Abu Bakr. He was little more than thirty seven years at the time of conversion to Islam. He lived thereafter for twenty six years, and during all these years, Islam was for him the end all and be all of existence.
Significance of the conversion of Abu Bakr
According to Gibbon (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire)- “the moderation, and the veracity of Abu Bakr confirmed thc new religion, and furnished an example for invitation. “Muir has observed (Life of Muhammad): “Abu Bakr’s judgment was sound and impartial; his conversation agreeable and his demeanor affable and much sought after by the Quraish and he was popular throughout the city…. The faith of Abu Bakr was the greatest guarantee of the sincerity of Muhammad in the beginning of his career, and indeed, in a modified sense, throughout his life. To have such a person as a staunch adherent of his claim, was for Muhammad a most important step.”