Scholars disagree on who the first companion was to embrace Islam after Khadija (ra), whether it was Ali, Abu Bakr or Zayd ibn Haritha(ra). They resolve the problem by saying Ali (ra) was the first of the youth, Abu Bakr (ra) was the first man and Zayd (ra) was the first slave.
The Story of Abu Bakr's Conversion
Abu Bakr (ra) approached the Prophet (saw) after hearing rumours about his call and asked him about the new message he claimed to have received.
In some narrations in the books of seera, Abu Bakr saw a dream that was explained later by a Jewish scholar of the coming Prophet in Mecca. When the Prophet received the revelation, Abu Bakr was on a trade journey. Once he entered Mecca, the people of Mecca told him:
ّيا أبا بكر، يَتِيمُ أَبِي طَالِب يَزْعُمُ أنَّهُ نَبِي.
"O Abu Bakr, the orphan of Abi Talib (Prophet Muhammad) claims he is a Prophet." (Halabi, as-Seera al-Halabiyah, Vol. 1, pp. 391-392, Ibn al-Athir, al-Mukhtar, p. 11)
Abu Bakr (ra) went home and then to the Messenger (saw) to ascertain the news he heard. The Messenger (saw) confirmed he had received revelation which he explained to Abu Bakr and advised him to accept. The Messenger (saw) then recited some verse of the Qur'an and Abu Bakr subsequently accepted Islam.
"One day, Abu Bakr left home to meet Rasulullah.
When he met Rasulullah he said, "Oh Abul Qasim! Why is it you are no longer present in the gatherings of your people? Why do they accuse you of speaking ill of their forefathers?"
Rasulullaah said, "I am the Messenger of Allah and am calling you towards Allah."
As soon as Rasulullaah had completed, Abu Bakr accepted Islam." (Al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, Vol. 3, p. 29)
Ibn Ishaq also narrated Abu Bakr (ra) came and asked him:
أَحَقٌ مَا تَقُولُ قُرَيْشٌ يا مُحَمَد مِنْ تَرْكِكَ آلِهَتَنا، وتَسْفِيهِكَ عُقُولَنَا وتَكْفِيرَكَ آبَاءَنَا؟
ُفَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم: يَا أَبَا بَكْر إِنْي رَسُولُ اللهِ ونَبِيِهِ، بَعَثَنِي لِأُبَلِغَ رِسَالتِهِ وَأَدْعُوكَ إَلَى اللهِ بالحَقِ، فو اللهِ إنه لَلحَقِ أدعوكَ، إِلى اللهِ يا أبا بَكْر، وَحْدَهُ لَا شَرِيكَ لَهُ، وَلا يُعْبَدُ غَيْرَه ...
فَأَسْلَمَ وكَفَرَ بالأصْنَامِ، وخَلَعَ الأنْدَادَ، وأقَرَّ بِحَقِ الإسْلامِ، ورَجَعَ أَبُو بَكْرٍ وهُوَ مُؤْمِن مُصًدِق
"Is what the people say true, O Muhammad, that you left our gods, underestimated our mind and considered our fathers as infidels?
The Messenger (saw) replied, 'O Abu Bakr, I am the Messenger and the Messenger of Allah. He sent me to convey His Message and to call you to Allah with the truth.
By Allah, I invite you to the Truth O Abu Bakr. Allah (is the One) with no deities beside Him; no one is worthy of worship except Him.' …
He then became a Muslim and rejected the idols and the so-called likes (of Allah). He testified the truth of Islam and returned (to the people) a firm believer and faithful." (Ibn Ishaq, as-Seera wa al-Maghazi, Vol. 1, p. 139)
Abu Bakr could not have believed in him before his call to the Quraysh leaders because he converted following hearing rumours of the Messenger's (saw) address to them.
A similar pattern can be discerned with all the evidences narrated about the conversions of the companions.
Some may cite the Messenger (saw) as saying the following, which would suggest he approached Abu Bakr and not the other way round:
مَا دَعَوْتُ أَحَدًا إِلَى الإِسْلاَمِ إِلاَّ كَانَتْ لَهُ عَنْهُ كَبْوَةٌ وَتَرَدُّدٌ وَنَظَرٌ، إِلاَّ أَبَا بَكْرٍ
"I did not give dawa to anyone except he would hesitate and delay (his conversion) except Abu Bakr." (Ibn Ishaq, as-Seera wa al-Maghzi, Vol. 1, p. 139)
In response, the hadith does not say the Messenger (saw) proactively approached Abu Bakr, rather Abu Bakr did not hesitate accepting Islam. As soon as he was made aware of the message, he accepted it, because as a close friend of the Messenger (ra) he trusted him, knew of his honesty and that he was not a liar. (Tafseer ibn Kathir)
Abu Bakr (ra) heard rumours about Muhammad claiming to be a prophet so asked him about this. The Messenger (saw) explained Allah had ordained him as a messenger and presented the revelation to him and Abu Bakr (ra) after pondering his claims embraced Islam without hesitation.
Ibn Ishaq, as-Seera wa al-Maghazi
Halabi, as-Sirra al-Halabiyah
Ibn al-Athir, al-Mukhtar
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