Companions of ‘Ali Series: Muhammad b. Abi Bakr, the Governor of Egypt

Locked door of Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr’s purported gravesite in al-Fusṭāṭ. (Photo Credit: Shabbir Agha Abbas, 2019)

As the 19th of Ramaḍān has once again come, the night on which ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib (d. 40/661) was fatally struck, it would be of benefit to share some details about his close companions, and in this particular case Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr (d. 38/658). 

Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr, as his name identifies, was the orphaned son of the first caliph, but grew up in the house of ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib as his mother, Asmāʾ bt. ʿUmays, later married him. Asmāʾ was originally the wife of Jaʿfar [al-Ṭayyār] b. Abī Ṭālib (d. 8/629), and accompanied him during the immigration to Abyssinia, she became widowed as Jaʿfar was martyred during the Battle of Mu’ta. From her marriage to Ja’far, she gave birth to ʿAbd Allāh b. Jaʿfar b. Abī Ṭālib (d. 80/699) who is known for marrying Zaynab bt. ʿAlī (d. 62/682).

Nevertheless, after the death of Jaʿfar, she married Abū Bakr [b. Abī Quḥāfa] (d. 13/634), but still remained close to the Banū Hāshim, acting as a confidante of Fāṭimat al-Zahrā (d. 11/632), and furthermore attending to her funerary rites. 

Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr was born shortly before the Prophet’s last Ḥajj (10/631), and as an infant and young toddler he experienced the caliphate of his father, Abū Bakr. After the first caliph’s death, ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib married his mother Asmāʾ in respect to her association with Fāṭimah as well as Jaʿfar. Thus, as Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr was a mere toddler when his father died, Imām ʿAlī raised him as his own son alongside al-Ḥasan (d. 50/670) and al-Ḥusayn (d. 61/680); therefore he knew no father other than ʿAlī.

Growing up in the house of Imām ʿAlī, he developed a particularly fierce loyalty towards him and the cause of the Ahl al-Bayt. He is known to have led the Shurṭat al-Khamīs, the elite guard of six thousand companions who pledged their lives to ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib. As the commander of the infantry during the Battle of the Camel, he played an important role against the forces of his half-sister, ʿĀʾisha bt. Abī Bakr ( d. 58/678), and after her defeat, he was tasked by the Imām  to escort her back to the Ḥijāz.  

As the rebel Muʿāwīyah b. Abī Sufyān (d. 60/680) and his agents fomented chaos in Egypt [and other territories], ʿAlī as caliph, sent Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr to take control. The Egyptians had a positive history with Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr, as it was he whom they conveyed their displeasure concerning the third caliph ʿUthmān b. ʿAffān’s (d. 36/656) [supposed] misgovernance; it was Muḥammad’s potential governorship that they initially supported. Muʿāwīyah, in response to Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr’s appointment, sent his Syrian army to Egypt under the command of his [false] governor, ʿAmr b. al-ʿĀṣ (d. 43/664), in order to prevent him from establishing charge. ʿAmr b. al-ʿĀṣ and his troops defeated Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr’s vastly outnumbered forces after a fierce battle, in a place Ṭabarī cites as al-Musannāt.

Roadside view of Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr’s purported gravesite in al-Fusṭāṭ. (Photo Credit: Shabbir Agha Abbas, 2019)

The Umayyads had convinced a large segment of Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr’s Egyptian army to desert him and join their ranks, chief of them being a Muʿāwiyah b. Ḥudayj al-Sakūnī (d. 67/686). This segment, now part of the Umayyad forces under the command of the deserter, Muʿāwiyah b. Ḥudayj al-Sakūnī, tailed the retreating Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr, and captured him. Knowing that ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib, loved Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr as his own son, they displayed their enmity towards the Imām as well as their newfound loyalty to the Umayyad cause by not only brutally executing Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr, but they then stuffed his body in the carcass of a donkey and then set it alight. This event had a terrorizing effect on not only the supporters of ʿAlī, but it is said that ʿĀʾisha was so disturbed by the news that she never again touched roasted meat. 

*According to Ibn al-Athīr, in his al-Usd al-ghābah [fi ma‘rifat al-ṣaḥābah], there are conflicting reports as to who is credited for his execution. Some credit Muʿāwiyah b. Ḥudayj al-Sakūnī for executing Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr, whereas other reports credit ʿAmr b. al-ʿĀṣ himself of committing the heinous deed.

Imam ʿAlī wept for him, and remembered him in the best of ways, by declaring that not only was Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr a righteous servant but that he considered him as his own [righteous] son. (كان محمد لله عبداً صالحاً ولنا ولداً باراً)

Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr is the maternal great grandfather of Imām Ja’far al-Ṣādiq (d. 148/765). The descendants of Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr remained close to the Ahl al-Bayt, maintaining the ties of loyalty. Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr’s most notable offspring was Qāsim b. Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr (d. 108/727), who was one of the seven fuqahā’ of Madīnah and a close companion of the fourth and fifth Imāms, his daughter Umm Farwah marrying the latter, becoming the mother of the sixth Imām. 

Standing outside Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr’s purported gravesite in al-Fusṭāṭ, after speaking to locals. (Photo Credit: Shabbir Agha Abbas, 2019)

It should be noted that a gravesite purported to be that of Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr, as pictured, is found in al-Fusṭāṭ, the original capital of Muslim-ruled Egypt. According to the Egyptian Ministry of Awqāf, because of a lack of structural integrity, the maqām of Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr has been locked from the outside, so visitors are discouraged to venture there; however locals report that the site was closed as it came under attack by Salafists. Nevertheless, the site is not impossible to visit externally.

Published by ahlulbaytblog

Islamic Scholar

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