Abu Bakr: a taxing companionJuly 3, 2012
Muhammad had a knack for recruiting the wealthiest people to Islam before bothering with the poor. Like the first person to convert to Islam (Khadija) the second person, Abu Bakr, was also very wealthy. Abu Bakr was a rich cloth merchant (an early fashion designer, if you will) whose business trips took him as far as Syria and Yemen.
But once he fell under the spell of Khadija and Muhammad, Abu Bakr became transformed into a jihadist Daddy Warbucks—the businessman who helped ensure the Prophet had the money he needed to raise an army to fight the infidel. Abu Bakr endeared himself to Muhammad by forfeiting all of his household wealth to fund the war effort. At one point, Abu Bakr slapped a Jewish rabbi in the face who questioned the Koranic verse 57:11 that suggested Allah needed a loan. Some have explained that the true reason behind the altercation was that Abu Bakr approached the rabbi to obtain a loan on Muhammad’s behalf, and the rabbi refused.
Despite Muhammad’s love for Abu Bakr, the #1 companion faced difficulties too. The most notable opposition came from Fatima, the daughter of Muhammad, and her husband Ali. When Muhammad died, Abu Bakr seemed eager to retain Muhammad’s estate to propagate Islam, and fought off the attempts of Fatima to claim personal inheritance from her father’s ownership of an orchard at Fedak.
In so doing, Abu Bakr basically imposed a 100 percent estate tax on the deceased Muhammad’s wealth and appropriated it for the needs of the burgeoning caliphate. The money grab/inheritance dispute between Abu Bakr on one side and Fatima Ali on the other would result in the Sunni-Shia split that has roiled the Islamic world ever since.
Even after he was named the first caliph after Muhammad’s death, Abu Bakr continued earning income from selling clothes. Noting the unseemliness of this behavior, Muhammad’s #2 companion, Umar, arranged a salary for Abu Bakr. But Abu Bakr generally seemed more concerned about the treasury of Islam, the bayt al-mal, than with his own portfolio. He made his mark on the early caliphate by pledging to fight those who refused to pay zakat, rejecting the leniency his advisers urged.
One author has written that under the circumstances of zakat non-payment, “It is not strange… that Abu Bakr and his government should have undertaken the killing of innocent Muslims and the destruction of their sanctity and the enslavement of their women and progeny.” No, not strange at all! Given Abu Bakr’s background of spending his whole adult life and net worth to help obtain early victories for Islam, it is little wonder he undertook a campaign to kill tax debtors who he felt were shortchanging the cause.