When the Muslims finally migrated to Madinah and formed an Islamic state, it was a new experience for the group. However, they quickly adapted with Allah’s help. Soon, they had formed an Islamic State, ruling by Allah’s law with the Prophet (PBUH) as the leader. The leader took on a dual role. He was the religious authority of his time, as well as the overall leader of the state. Hence, he also served in a political role. Later on, the caliphs would take up this role, including Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and Ali.
Abu Bakr’s Election as Caliph
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) did not provide any specific guidelines about his successor as the leader toward the end of his life. He did, however, appoint Abu Bakr as the leader of the prayer occasionally. Still, the Muslims were unsure of what path to take to determine the successor. Eventually, they decided that they would do it through consensus, i.e., Ijma, among the companions of the Prophet (PBUH).
The companions of the Prophet (PBUH) were participating in the last rites after he passed away. During this, Umar (RA) received news about a meeting between the Ansar. They had collected together and were deciding who would succeed the Prophet (PBUH). Realizing that this was about the future of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr (RA), Umar (RA), and Abu Ubaidah (RA) went to their location. In the meantime, the Ansar were about to announce one of their leaders as the first caliph.
Abu Bakr (RA) then delivered a speech on this occasion. He convinced the Ansar that the first leader should be from the Quraish, who were the earliest Muslims to accept Islam. Eventually, the Ansar agreed. However, they initially proposed to have one leader from the Ansar and the Muhajireen. However, everyone understood the problems that would come with such a proposal. Hence, they soon shelved it.
After this, Abu Bakr suggested that one of Umar (RA) or Abu Ubaidah (RA) take up leadership. However, they countered by saying that it should be him. They reminded the people about the Prophet (PBUH) appointing him as the Imam of the prayer in his absence. It was a sound proposal, and the two men pled allegiance. After a few moments of consideration, the Ansar also agreed, and everyone joined together, accepting Abu Bakr as the first caliph.
Abu Bakr’s First Address
I have been given the authority over you, and I am not the best of you. If I do well, help me; 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 God wills; and the strong amongst you shall be weak with me until I have wrested from him the rights of others, if God wills. Obey me so long as I obey God and His Messenger. But if I disobey God and His Messenger, you owe me no obedience. Arise for your prayer, God have mercy upon you.(Al-Bidaayah wan-Nihaayah 6:305, 306)
Abu Bakr Faces a Challenge: The Apostasy Wars
One of the biggest challenges that Caliph Abu Bakr faced was right at the start of his tenure. Many of the tribes that had accepted Islam did so only recently. Hence, they weren’t entirely in tune with the new system. Some of those in the north also noticed how the Muslim army struggled in the Battle of Mutah. Therefore, they decided to take advantage and go on the offensive against the Muslims.
Abu Bakr swiftly dealt with the tribes in the north. He sent an army that easily defeated the tribes that were trying to take advantage. However, in the meantime, some of those near Madinah who were new to Islam also developed reservations. They began to make the outrageous claim that their loyalty was only to the Prophet (PBUH), not to the state. As a result, they refused to pay the Zakat and attacked the state. Abu Bakr defeated them quickly.
A group of false prophets also began to rise up during this time. These were Tulayha, Sajjah, and Musailma. They claimed prophethood and tried to gain the same status as the Prophet (PBUH). They wanted to get the benefits that they thought accompanied prophethood. Abu Bakr sent an army led by Khalid ibn Waleed, which quickly subdued Tulayha’s army. He, however, fled the scene. It was with the others that Abu Bakr faced the biggest challenge.
The Battle of Yamama
Musailma was the biggest challenge among the false prophets. He was an evil, cunning man, and he married Sajjah and joined her forces with his. However, later on, she would abandon him. Still, Musailma posed a significant threat. The Muslim armies were still dealing with the rebels in various parts of Madinah. Therefore, Abu Bakr sent Ikrimah ibn Abu Jahl to hold off Musailma’s men, telling him not to launch an attack for the time being.
Ikrimah, however, wasn’t patient after reaching the location. He was desperate to teach Musailma a lesson and wanted to do it as soon as he could. So, he decided to attack the army. Abu Bakr told him about reinforcements coming his way, but he didn’t wait. As a result, he lost the battle. Abu Bakr was disappointed with him and sent Khalid ibn Waleed to the locality to destroy Musailma’s army.
Khalid eventually arrived and began launch attack after attack on the opponents. A decisive battle took place between the two sides, and the Muslims made many gains. There was much loss of life, and Musailma’s army began to retreat. With the blood flowing, they took refuge in a garden and barricaded themselves. They wanted to regroup and then fight back against the Muslims after that.
One of the Muslim warriors, however, had other ideas. He quietly climbed the wall and got onto the other side. Then, he opened the door. The Muslim army stormed in and launched a final blow on the opposition. Unable to provide a lot of resistance, the army perished. However, the Muslims also suffered considerable losses. Approximately 70 Quran memorizers and reciters died during this battle. This would signal the start of the compilation of the Holy Quran.
The Last of the Apostates
After defeating the apostates in the North, Abu Bakr directed his focus on the false prophets. While this took some time and effort, the Muslim army eventually achieved its goal and successfully cleared the area of the offending forces. However, they faced a new challenge after this point, in the region near Persia.
Here, some of the tribes had apostatized and turned against the Muslims. However, it wasn’t only that. They had also joined forces with the Persians, one of the mighty forces in the region at the time. Abu Bakr dispatched Muslim armies to fight these forces. Consequently, the likes of Ikrimah ibn Abu Jahl demolished the apostates and ended the resistance.
The Compilation of the Quran
Umar was very concerned once he got to know about the casualties at Yamama. Others may not have paid much attention, but he realized that a lot of Quran memorizers passed away. With no book-form version of the Quran, this was quite dangerous for the Muslims. Hence, he realized that the Muslims must make a compilation of the Quran. For that, he spoke to Abu Bakr and discussed his concerns.
Abu Bakr was taken aback by what Umar was saying. Since the Prophet (PBUH) didn’t ask for anything of this sort during his life, he was wary of getting involved in something like this. However, Umar persistently discussed the matter with him. Hence, eventually, he began to understand the importance of this proposal. He realized that the Muslims must form a compilation of the Quran.
Zaid ibn Thabit was one of the most well-known scribes of the Quran. Hence, Abu Bakr discussed compiling the Quran with him. Zaid was taken aback, much like Abu Bakr earlier himself. He stated that it would be easier for him to shift a mountain than do this. The Muslims hadn’t made any similar compilation of the Quran previously.
Zaid began to take part in the massive mission. He gathered all of the available materials, including leaves, etc., where the Muslims had previously recorded the Quran. He contacted the Huffaz, but he was very careful. Before accepting any submission, he would cross-check with multiple Quran reciters. He would make sure that all the verses were utterly authentic. It was only after that that he compiled the Quran into one volume. Once this huge task was over, he handed the volume to Abu Bakr. Thus, the massive undertaking was now complete.
Abu Bakr’s Conquests
The period of Abu Bakr’s caliphate saw a number of areas come under Muslim leadership. These included significant clashes with the two superpowers of their time, i.e., the Byzantine and the Persian Empires.
As we mentioned earlier, the apostates and rebels found support among the Persians as they looked to defy and fight the Muslims. Hence, they were an aggressive force, behaving like the enemy. Tensions increased in the aftermath of these events, and Abu Bakr eventually decided it was time for a confrontation.
He sent Khalid ibn Waleed with a Muslim army of 18,000 fighters to face a sizeable Persian force in the area of Lower Iraq. The Muslims had standard operating procedures that they followed in such situations. They first asked the opposition to accept Islam, i.e., lay down their weapons. Alternatively, they could pay the Jizya, accepting Muslim rulership over their land. If they disagreed with these options, then they must fight instead.
The Persians were not interested in what the Muslims had to offer. Therefore, they took to battle in the Battle of Chains. Despite being strong, the Persian army was not very mobile. Khalid focused on this apparent weakness to devise a strategy, and it worked. The opponents were defeated with relative ease, and Khalid advanced further into the region.
The Muslim army, as commanded by Abu Bakr, moved deeper into Persian lands. That is until they came to the land of Al-Hirah. The Muslims conquered this land, signaling the conquest of Iraq. This was the final battle in this area for now as the Persians signed a peace treaty, agreeing to pay the Jizya. In return, they had religion and civil freedom.
In the meantime, some of the Arab Christians decided to try and take advantage of the situation. The Muslims, however, defeated them. Hence, they captured large parts of the region we now know as Iraq.
The Muslims’ conflict with the Romans or Byzantines began toward the end of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)’s tenure. When he once sent a diplomat with a message for the Romans, they were not interested. Instead, some of the Romans’ allies killed the messenger. Killing someone sent with a message was an act of war.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) had sent an army during his lifetime, but they fell to defeat in the Battle of Mutah. Then again, he appointed Usama ibn Zayd as the leader to go and fight the Romans but died before the battle took place. Usama’s raids encountered success. Later after Abu Bakr became caliph and the Muslims successfully dealt with the Persians, the attention turned toward the enemy in the region of Damascus.
Abu Bakr divided his army into four corps, anticipating that the Muslims would encounter resistance in various areas. He gave the commanders strict instructions, telling them not to be harsh and consult with the higher-ups regarding all matters. Furthermore, he told them to be just and avoid tyranny, urging the Muslims to fight without fleeing.
The Muslim army moved forward on various fronts, planning a multi-pronged attack. In the meantime, the Byzantines began to form their defenses. Therefore, Abu Bakr decided to send Khalid, who was still in Iraq, to join the forces and take charge. He entered Syria in a manner that the Romans weren’t expecting. Thus, the Muslims caught them by surprise and exposed them to an attack.
Much of the action took place at Ajnadayn. This was the place where Allah helped Khalid and the Muslims to comprehensively defeat the Romans. In some areas, the people made peace treaties, whereas other areas were conquered. During Umar’s reign, the Muslims would go on to form one of the largest empires ever.
Abu Bakr’s Death
Caliph Abu Bakr’s reign lasted for around 2.5 years. He mostly had to focus on dealing with outside forces of disbelievers and apostates during this time. Hence, he didn’t have much time to devote to administration.
Abu Bakr eventually fell sick and couldn’t recover. He had developed a prolonged fever, which ultimately led to his death. However, before passing away, he thought about the future of the Islamic state. Deciding to avoid any arguments after he passed away, he nominated Umar ibn al-Khattab to be his successor.
Abu Bakr’s Achievements as Caliph
The first caliph primarily had to focus on conflicts in the region. The way he responded to them and dealt with them provided the framework for what would become a vast Islamic state in the region. When Abu Bakr became the caliph, the state mostly consisted of the parts of the Arabian peninsula. This included areas such as Makkah, Madinah, Taif, Yemen, Bahrain, etc. Abu Bakr’s administration ensured that these areas became established parts of the state and functioned appropriately.
Abu Bakr didn’t make many radical changes from the time of the Prophet (PBUH). He realized that with Muhammad (PBUH) being a superb administrator, his decisions were all excellent. However, he avoided making large decisions single-handedly. Hence, he set up the Shura, an advisory council consisting of some of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)’s closest companions. These were the senior companions who would assist him with decision-making.
The caliph of the Islamic State took on many roles. Not only was he the overall leader of the state, but he was also the primary commander of the Muslim forces. Besides that, he was also the Imam who would lead the daily prayers. Furthermore, he also headed the judiciary. He also played a crucial role on this front, appointing honest judges who would be fair and just in all their judgments. This is a vital component of any just system.
Caliph Abu Bakr was also methodical in the formation of the army. While armies were primarily set up when they were needed in the past, that wasn’t the case anymore. The army was a regular fixture of the state, ready for battle. Abu Bakr also divided the army so that they could take care of multiple frontiers.
Abu Bakr’s Character
The first caliph was a highly respected person by all Muslims. He was one of the people closest to the Prophet (PBUH) and even accompanied him on the migration to Madinah. He is one of the few companions Allah mentions in the Quran in the narration of the incident that took place during the migration.
If you do not aid him [i.e., the Prophet (ﷺ)] – Allah has already aided him when those who disbelieved had driven him out [of Makkah] as one of two,1 when they were in the cave and he [i.e., Muḥammad (ﷺ)] said to his companion, “Do not grieve; indeed Allah is with us.”(Quran 9:40)
A companion of the Prophet (PBUH) narrated the following Hadith about the qualities of Abu Bakr.
The Prophet (ﷺ) delivered a sermon and said, “Allah gave a choice to one of (His) slaves either to choose this world or what is with Him in the Hereafter. He chose the latter.” Abu Bakr wept. I said to myself, “Why is this Sheikh weeping, if Allah gave choice to one (of His) slaves either to choose this world or what is with Him in the Here after and he chose the latter?” And that slave was Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) himself. Abu Bakr knew more than us. The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “O Abu Bakr! Don’t weep. The Prophet (ﷺ) added: Abu- Bakr has favored me much with his property and company. If I were to take a Khalil from mankind I would certainly have taken Abu Bakr but the Islamic brotherhood and friendship is sufficient. Close all the gates in the mosque except that of Abu Bakr.(Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 1, Book 8, Hadith 455)
Abu Bakr, as the first caliph, played a significant role in the Islamic state. When people were distraught over the loss of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), he was the level-headed one who calmed everyone’s emotions. He recited the following verse from the Holy Quran in this regard.
Muḥammad is not but a messenger. [Other] messengers have passed on before him. So if he was to die or be killed, would you turn back on your heels [to unbelief]? And he who turns back on his heels will never harm Allah at all; but Allah will reward the grateful.(Quran 3:144)
After taking over, Abu Bakr faced insurgencies from various parts of Arabia. However, he dealt with them diligently and authoritatively. This ensured that the Muslim state didn’t wilt despite the death of the Prophet (PBUH). Instead, the message of Islam only spread further as the landmass of the Islamic state reached borders that it hadn’t approached previously.
Abu Bakr is also credited with being the leader who authorized the compilation of the Holy Quran. This was one of Allah’s ways of ensuring that His word remained in its original form without any modifications. Furthermore, it helped to assist the spread of Islam. Islam went to new areas, and eventually, as we will find out in the stories of the other caliphs, the copies of the Quran ensured that people recited the Quran in its pristine form.
Therefore, Abu Bakr was faced with threats that could have proved catastrophic for the Muslim ummah. However, Allah guided him to make the right decisions that would prove beneficial for the Muslims. As a result, the Islamic state flourished and thrived. Additionally, the word of Allah spread to various parts of the world.