Muhammed [al-Asghar] ibn Ali ibn Abi Talib – Kunya Abu Bakr

The final name we will touch upon is Muhammed [al-Asghar] who had the Kunya (honorific tile) of Abu Bakr. This is arguably one of the ones which is the most controversial, given that a Kunya is a honorific title, rather than a mere name. There were also few ‘Abu Bakrs’ during the time of the Prophet ﷺ , though no other known companion with this Kunya.  



Part one: What did Ali ibn Abi Talib name his son?

Part two: Kunya and their adoption and the wider role of the Ummayads

Part three: Summary


Part one: What did Ali ibn Abi Talib name his son? 


One thing which must be made clear is what Ali ibn Abi Talib actually chose for the name of his son. The most common view is that his son was named ‘Muhammed’. 

Ibn al-Sabbagh al-Maliki reported: “…and Muhammad al-Asghar whose secondary name (i.e. Kunya) was Abu Bakr and [another son of Amir al-Mu’mineen] Abdullah. They had been martyred with their brother Hussain in Karbala. Their mother is Laila daughter of Masoudâ (al-Fusul al-Muhimmah, vol. 1 p. 644)

Al-Masudi, a famous historian, has reported that Ali ibn Abi Talib  had: “eleven sons, al-Hassan and al-Hussain their mother was Fatima daughter of Allah’s Apostle peace be upon him and his family” further on he mentioned: “…and Muhammad al-Asghar, his secondary name was Abu Bakr” (al-Tanbih wa-l-Ashraf, p. 258).

This renowned shia scholar, al-Sheikh al-Mufid has said: “Amir al-Mu’mineen may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him had a total of twenty-seven sons and daughters” further on he mentioned:Muhammad al-Asghar, whose secondary name was Abu Bakr, and Ubaidullah, both had been martyred alongside their brother Hussain peace be upon him in Taff, their mother is Laila daughter of Masoud al-Darimiyyah.” (al-Irshad, vol. 1, p. 354).

It is clearly evidence that Ali ibn Abi Talib named his son Muhammad (though some claim Abdullah). The Kunya is not something that was necessarily given by Ali ibn Abi Talib. Many Kunyas are adopted as the child grows up, and given that Muhammed al-Asghar would have been at most a few years old at the time of the death of Ali ibn Abi Talib, it is possible that this was a Kunya that was given to him after.


Part two: Kunya and their adoption and the wider role of the Ummayads

A Kunya is a honorific title given to an individual, at birth, or given to him at any point in his life thereafter. We know for instance, Abu Hurairah is a Kunya given to the famous companion out of his association with cats and love for them. We also know that parents are often given the Kunya of their child, an example being Ali ibn Abi Talib who was given the Kunya ‘Abdul-Hassan’ , as his oldest son was Hassan ibn Ali; honorific titles therefore may be given to an individual as they grow up and even later in their life. Therefore the burden of proof is to establish that Ali ibn Abi Talib definitely gave this Kunya to his son, or that it was the kind of Kunya that no-one else would have given to another.

 It is pertinent to note that Abu Bakr means ‘father of the young camel’ and it is no surprise , particularly in seventh century Arabia, that someone would have an honorific title of this nature. Although many after the death of Abu Bakr – or when he rose to fame- may have named it in honour of him, it may also be possible that the name may have grown in popularity in its own right. We know that when a celebrity or famous figure rises to prominence, or names a child by a certain name, public trend is often influenced by this. Therefore, a name may become more popular in its own right due to this. In this way, in a land and time where the use of camels was very popular, an individual having a honorific title of ‘father of the young camel’ may have become popular in its own right. Therefore, it remains possible that the son of Ali ibn Abi Talib may have been given this Kunya after the death of his father, owing to the rise in popularity of the Kunya, rather than honouring the first Caliph. It is also possible that he may have been given this Kunya out of honour of the first Caliph by another father , given Ali ibn Abi Talib had passed away when he was very young, or by others.

Another potential source of the naming of Muhammed al-Asghar with this honorific title can not be ignored in the form of Ummayad propaganda. As we have mentioned in a previous section, the Ummayads launched a vicious campaign against Ali ibn Abi Talib. This was a period where not only was Ali bin Abi Talib cursed from the pulpits during the Friday prayers, but a time of great enmity towards his descendants. It was during this time when traditions began to become fabricated , attempting to fabricate traditions in honour of the first three Caliphs and extol their virtues, in order to balance the praise and merit Ali ibn Abi Talib had gained, with some traditions fabricated making out that he had praised them. We will elaborate on this in future work, but it is suffice to quote the words of Marwan ibn al-Hakkam, the governor of Medina during the time of M’uawiya:  

“The Prophet (ﷺ) said: The Caliphate of Prophecy will last thirty years; then Allah will give the Kingdom of His Kingdom to anyone He wills.Sa’id told that Safinah said to him: Calculate Abu Bakr’s caliphate as two years, ‘Umar’s as ten, ‘Uthman’s as twelve and ‘Ali so and so. Sa’id said: I said to Safinah: They conceive that ‘Ali was not a caliph. He replied: The buttocks of Marwan told a lie.”

Source: Sunan Abi Dawud 4646 Book 42, Hadith 51 graded Hasan-Saheeh by Al-Albani.

Clearly from the above, one can see the acceptance and glorification of the first three Caliphs, and the prejudice the Ummayads had against Ali ibn Abi Talib. As has been quoted before, consider the actions of the son of Marwan when there was a child given both the name and Kunya of Ali ibn Abi Talib as mentioned in Tarikh at-Tabari:

“It was reported that he was born the night `Ali b. Abi Talib, the Commander of the Faithful, was killed, in Ramadan 40/February 661. He therefore was given both the name and the kunyah of [`Ali b. Abi Talib], that is, Abu al-Hasan. `Abd al-Malik b. Marwan said to him: “By God, I shall not tolerate it that you would use both the name and the kunyah [of `Ali b. Abi Talib].” So he changed his kunyah and made it Abu Muhammad.

Here is what it states in the foot-notes: 

l-Tabari, Ta’rikh, II, 1592. The matter of genealogy and family relations within the Quraysh was of crucial importance in Umayyad propaganda, which is reflected in the stance taken by `Abd al-Malik; see Sharon, “The Umayyads”.

Sharon is a Jewish historian, and not a Shia. He acknowledges from his research on the Ummayads the crucial importance naming had. We can also see Abd al-Malik bin Marwan having hatred towards Ali ibn Abi Talib, to the extent he was willing to even change the Kunya. It is not inconceivable that, given Muhammed al-Asghar grew up under Ummayad rule and fierce anti-Alid propaganda, and given the importance of genealogy and family relations within Ummayad propaganda, that the Kunya Abu Bakr was forced upon him. 


Part three: Summary

Ali ibn Abi Talib named his son Muhammed, and he was known as ‘al-Asghar’ because he was the younger of the two children named ‘Muhammed’. His father passed away when he was young and he may have grown up under a new father, which is another potential source of his honorific title. Particularly given the popularity of the name decades after the death of Abu Bakr (Father of Camels) and the obvious connotation it would have to camels in seventh century Arabia, it may have become a popular honorific out of the link to Camels, and not just out of honouring the Caliph but given he had this Kunya, that may have been the original source of the growth of popularity, just as a celebrity adopting the name can make it generally popular, even if people do not name their child after a celebrity and their children. Furthermore, given Ummayad propaganda at the time, in particular pertaining to names and genealogy, it is also not inconceivable that this Kunya may have been forced upon him. It is worthy to note that the honorific title is also attributed to a son of Hassan ibn Ali, and Hussein ibn Ali, all of whom had children who grew up under harsh Ummayad rule.