By Harun Gultekin
Arabia…. a desert as huge as almost three thousand square kilometers. A desert, but one from which humanity souls have been revivified repeatedly over the course of history, from Adam to Abraham, and to Muhammad (peace be upon them all).
As recounted in the Qur’an, Abraham left his wife Hagar and son Ishmael in the valley of Mecca on God’s command.
And when Abraham said: My Lord! Make safe this territory, and preserve me and my sons from serving idols. (Ibrahim 14:35)
There was the Ka`bah there, but it had been destroyed in time. When Ishmael was young, Abraham re-constructed the Ka`bah together with him. Because of the sanctity of the Ka’bah, people began to settle around it, and this is how Makkah appeared as a town and a center of pilgrimage and trade connecting merchants on caravans from Syria and Jordan, all the way to Abyssinia (Ethiopia). Organized in tribes, Makkah suffered from racial fanaticism and feudal warfare for centuries, leaving women without a value as they could not take part in wars.
In a larger context, the Byzantium and Persian Empires were in constant conflict and intermittently fought for over sixty years, which exhausted their respective peoples. There was a desperate need for a message that prioritized peace over war, a message that celebrated freedoms and rights for everyone regardless of color, race, or gender. And came the Prophet (peace be upon him) from Makkah, who taught and promised all of these. He was not alone in his mission, and his closest Companion was Abu Bakr.
Also called As-Siddiq (the Upright, in Arabic), Abu Bakr was approximately two years younger than the Prophet. Before embracing Islam, he was known as `Abdu Al-Ka`bah (the servant of Ka`bah), then the Prophet changed his name to `Abdullah (the servant of God).
Ibn Al-Athir narrates that among the youth, frolics, dissipations and frivolities were very common behaviors, but Abu Bakr was completely different. He had a very disciplined life. Once he was asked if he had drunk wine in his days of ignorance. He said he had never touched the wine because he had wanted to keep his reputation and respectability. This shows that he enjoyed a good reputation and respectability even before Islam. (Ibn Al-Athir)
He did not receive a formal education as many other Arab men, but he was a keen observer; he was continually observing what was going on around him. He had a very good memory. He could recite verses if he heard them only once. He attended poetical events. (Ibn Al-Athir)
Abu Bakr traveled to different countries including Abyssinia, Yemen, and Syria. These business trips brought him wealth, experience and broadened his outlook on life. He became one of the richest businessmen of Makkah. Accordingly, his social importance increased among people. He was hardworking, generous, friendly, truthful, committed. He had a lot of influence among his friends and acquaintances.
As a trader, he was always fair, he never deceived people. He would visit the sick; he gave alms to the poor. (At-Tabari)
One day the Prophet asked his people: ”Is there anyone here who visited a sick one today?” Abu Bakr said: ‘I did’. ”Is there anyone who fasted today?” Abu Bakr said: ‘I did’. “Is there anyone who participated in a funeral?” Abu Bakr said: ‘I did’. “Is there anyone who assisted someone who was poor?” Abu Bakr said: ‘I did’. Then the Prophet said: “Whoever does these four deeds in one day is counted among the people of heaven”.
While Abu Bakr was still young, he volunteered for an office which decided the blood money for the killed or injured. It was like a judge or magistrate’s office. He always satisfied both sides with his fair decisions. (At-Tabari)
When God’s message was revealed to Muhammad, the first man to believe in him was Abu Bakr. On the day that he stated his belief, he gave his decision quickly and without hesitation showing he had complete trust in Muhammad. The Prophet admired his acceptance of Islam with the words: “Except Abu Bakr, everyone I have invited to Islam has experienced some period of hesitation. But Abu Bakr accepted my invitation without any hesitation”. (Al-Bukhari) In fact, Abu Bakr had always doubted the validity of idolatry and had no enthusiasm for worshiping idols.
When Islam began to spread in Makkah, Makkah polytheists inflicted torture and intimidation on the believers, forcing many of them to immigrate to Abyssinia. Yet, Abu Bakr did not leave. He preferred to stay with the Prophet to support him in his time of need. And he was going to be the company to the Prophet in the Hijrah (his historic journey from Makkah to Madinah) which would transform the course of history forever.
Later when the battles of Badr and Uhud took place between Muslims and the Arab pagans, Abu Bakr, along with a few other companions, was entrusted with the Prophet’s safety. When Makkah was at last subdued in 630 AD, all the tribes of Arabia were convinced that Muhammad was a messenger sent to them by God. They stopped resisting and sent delegates to Madinah proclaiming their allegiance to him.
While he was busy receiving delegates, he entrusted Abu Bakr to preside over the pilgrims. This incident proved of vital importance later when a caliph was chosen after the death of the Prophet. (Ibn Kathir)
To be continued…