14.1 The farewell pilgrimage

In March 632 Muhammad set out to make the hajj. Ibn-Ishâq describes the details of the rite, supposing that at this time Muhammad determined all the details of the ritual which Muslims were thenceforth to follow. What is of interest, although its authenticity is questionable, is the farewell speech of Muhammad:

Men, listen to my words. I do not know if I will meet you here again after this year.

Men, your blood and your property are sacred until you meet your Lord, as this day and this month are sacred. You will meet your Lord and he will ask you about your deeds, as I have told you.

Anyone who holds anything in trust should return it to the one who left it with him. All usury is abolished, but you a right to keep the capital of your wealth. Do no wrong and you will not be wronged... Blood shed in the pagan era is not to be avenged... Satan despairs of ever being worshiped in this land, but he would be happy if he could get you to do any lesser evil; so beware of him in your religion.

Men, postponing the sacred month to adjust the calendar is more disbelief, leading astray those who disbelieve... Time has gone around the same way since God created the heavens and the earth. He has made twelve months..

You have rights over your wives, and they have rights over you. You have the right that no one, to your dislike, should sleep with them on your bed, and that they should not flirt in public. If they do God allows you to stop sleeping with them and to beat them, but not very hard. If they stop their misbehaviour, they can have their due allowance of food and clothing. Command them kindly because they are prisoners with you without any authority over themselves. You have taken them in trust from God and by his words have a right to sex with them.

Men, understand the words I have spoken. If you hold to my legacy you will never go astray. It is a plain matter, in the book of God and the Sunna of his Prophet.

Men, listen to my words and understand. Be very conscious that every Muslim is a brother to every other Muslim. Muslims are brothers, and it is lawful to take from a brother only what he gives you willingly; so do not wrong yourselves. God, have I not told you?

14.2 The extent of Muhammad’s power

At this time the whole of the Hijâz region seems to have been firmly under Muhammad’s control. As more and more tribes acknowledged his authority, the word umma, (“community” or “nation”) drops out of usage in the Qur’ân and treaty documents of the period, and the term jamâ`a (“collection”, “assembly”, or “totality”) or hizb Allâh (“party of God”) comes into use. In later centuries each tribe was eager to show that it supported Muhammad from an early time, and stories were manufactured of delegations which came to him and professed submission. Some of the stories, although exaggerated, have a basis of truth. Groups of Arabs from outlying regions of the peninsula certainly must have come to Muhammad, but more often represented themselves alone or just a small faction among their people, eager to utilize an alliance with a new and powerful movement to further their own ambitions. In the south and east of the peninsula Muslims were still just a minority of the population. In the north, on the Syrian border, the Arab tribe of Ghassân remained firmly Christian and allied with the Byzantines. The same for the Bakr ibn-Wâ’il and Taghlib tribes.

Muhammad had shown his ambition to expand towards the north ever since he sent a force to Dűmat al-Jandal in August-September 626. Further raids, especially against Mu’ta and Tabűk were in the same direction. The political and commercial prospects of the north were in a state of rapid change. Three years after the beginning of Muhammad’s public preaching in 610, Chosroes II of Persia overran Syria-Palestine. In 616 he took Egypt. From 622 Heraclius led the Byzantine resistance, leading a raid into the heart of Persia in December 627. In February 628 the Persian nobles deposed and assassinated Chosroes and made peace with Heraclius. The Persians evacuated the Byzantine territories by 629 and in 630 Heraclius restored the relic of the Holy Cross to Jerusalem. While a weakened Persia appeared ready prey to Arab raids, Byzantine power looked stronger than ever. Its real weakness appeared only after Muhammad’s death when the Arab armies challenged it.

The original economic stimulus for the unification of Arabia, at least on the trade route from Yemen to Syria, was jolted by the military turns of fortune of Persian ascendancy and then Byzantine victory. The war no doubt disrupted the Syrian market and caused a stagnation of the trade going through Arabia. Muhammad’s unification of the Hijâz and the route to the north capitalized on the momentum of earlier trade prosperity, but by the end of his life the Arabs had become accustomed to an economy of booty. This booty was obtained at the expense of enemies within Arabia, but once Islam prevailed in Arabia booty had to be sought outside. The chaos in the Byzantine territories from the war with Persia was an invitation to raids for booty. The prospectus of booty was too strong to allow a trading economy with the north immediately to emerge. Only when the Arabs had pillaged Persia and the Byzantine Middle East and the capital of the Muslim empire was established in Damascus could a trading economy be revived, this time no longer through Arabia, but along the ancient silk route from Asia through Persia and Iraq and on to Syria and Europe. Arabia was then allowed to stagnate commercially but retain its religious prominence.

14.3 Muhammad’s final illness and death

Ibn-Ishâq gives several slightly different accounts of each incident concerning the death of Muhammad. Here are the principal events:

The Messenger of God began to suffer from the illness which took him to the honour and mercy that God intended for him at the beginning of April 632.

Abű-Muwayhiba, one of his clients, said, “The Messenger of God sent me in the dead of night to go with him to the cemetery and pray God to forgive the dead their sins. We went and as he stood among them he said, ‘Peace be upon you, people of the graves. You are in a better state than ours, where rebellions come one after another like the minutes of a dark night, each one worse than the one before.’ Then he said to me, ‘I have been given the choice between the keys of the world’s treasures with a long life here and then Paradise or meeting my Lord and Paradise right away.’ I told him to take the former, but he said he had chosen to go right away. Then he prayed God to forgive those buried in the cemetery and went away. His final illness then began.”

`Â’isha said, “The Messenger of God returned from the cemetery and found me with a headache and I was saying “Oh my head’” He said, “Rather, oh my head’ Would you mind dying before me so that I could wrap you, pray over you and bury you?’ I answered, ‘I think that after you finished doing that you would go back to my apartment and spend the night there with one of your wives.’ He smiled, and his headache became worse as he went the rounds of his wives. While in Mayműna’s apartment he had to stop. He called his wives and asked permission to be nursed in my house, and they agreed.” (2:642-3)

In the meantime an expedition was being prepared under the command of `Urwa ibn-az-Zubayr, and people began to grumble over his leadership and refuse to join. Muhammad had to get up and go to the mosque and order the men to obey `Urwa. The expedition went a day’s journey and then waited to see what would happen to Muhammad.

The Messenger of God went back to his apartment and his pain became so severe that he fainted. His wives.. and some wives of the Muslims.. and his uncle al-`Abbâs gathered and decided to pour medicine in his mouth. Al-`Abbâs said, “Let me do it.” But they did it. When the Messenger of God woke up he asked, “Who did this to me?” They said, “Your uncle.” He replied, “This medicine was brought by women from that country,” pointing to Ethiopia. “Why did you do that?” Al-`Abbâs answered, “We feared that you would get pleurisy.” He replied, “God would not afflict me with that disease. Now everyone in this apartment except al-`Abbâs must be given a dose of this medicine. Mayműna was forced to take it, even though she was fasting, because of his oath to punish them this way for what they did to him. (2:601)

When the Messenger of God was very ill he told the people to order Abű-Bakr to lead the men in salât. `Â’isha told him that Abű-Bakr was a delicate man with a weak voice who wept much when he recited the Qur’ân. But he repeated the order and she repeated her objection. He then said, “You are like Joseph’s companions. Tell him to lead the men in salât.” `Â’isha said this to spare Abű-Bakr the job, since she knew that no one would be satisfied with a substitute for the Messenger of God and would blame him for everything that went wrong. (2:652)

But the mighty `Umar had already begun the prayers. There was general embarrassment when the message came from Muhammad that Abű-Bakr was to lead the prayers, but `Umar graciously stepped aside. Ibn-Ishâq is at pains to show that harmony prevailed among the chief companions, but he gives clues of a power struggle under the surface.

When Monday came the Messenger of God went out for the morning salât with his head wrapped. Abű-Bakr was leading the alât, and when the Messenger of God came out the men were distracted. Abű-Bakr knew that it must be because the Messenger of God had come; so he withdrew from his place. But the Messenger of God pushed him in the back and said, “Lead the men in salât.” He did his salât sitting at Abű-Bakr’s right side. After the salât he spoke to the men in a loud voice that could be heard outside the mosque, “Men, the fire is lighted, and rebellions come like the minutes of a dark night. By God, you cannot blame me for anything. I allowed and forbade only what the Qur’ân allows and forbids.” (2:603-4)

That day `Alî came out of the Messenger of God’s house and the men asked him how he was. `Alî answered, “Thanks be to God he is better.” Al-`Abbâs then took his hand and said, “`Alî, in three days time you will be a slave. I swear by God that I recognized death in his face.. Let us go to him. If authority is to be with us we shall know. If it is to be with others we will demand that he tell the men to treat us well.” `Alî answered, “By God, if he does not give it to us, no one will give it to us after him.” The Messenger of God died in the heat of noon that day (8 June 632)...

`Â’isha said, “The Messenger of God died in my bosom during my turn. I did no one injustice regarding him. It was because of my stupidity and youth that he died in my arms. I then placed his head on a pillow and began beating my breast and slapping my face with the women.”

When the Messenger of God died `Umar stood up and said, “Some of the hypocrites maintain that the Messenger of God died. He did not die, but went to his Lord as Moses did and hid from his people forty days and then returned to them after it was said that he had died. By God, the Messenger of God will return as Moses returned and cut off the arms and legs of those who maintain that he has died.”

When Abű-Bakr heard the news he came to the mosque as `Umar was speaking. He paid no attention but entered `Â’isha’s apartment where the Messenger of God was lying on one side covered by a Yamanî cloth. He uncovered his face and kissed him saying, “You are as dear as my father and my mother. You have tasted the death that God decreed for you. After this death will not reach you any more..” Then he covered his face again and went out to find `Umar still speaking to the men. He told him, “Gently, `Umar, be quiet.” But `Umar refused to stop talking.

When Abű-Bakr saw this he turned to the men and when they heard his words they came to him and left `Umar. After praising God, he said, “Men, if you worship Muhammad, Muhammad is dead. But if you worship God, God is living and does not die.” And he recited the Qur’ân verse (3:144): “Muhammad is only a messenger following upon other messengers. If he dies or is killed would you turn your heels? Anyone who turns his heels does not hurt God at all, but God will reward the thankful.” By God, it seemed as if the men never knew that this verse was revealed until Abű-Bakr recited it that day. The people took it from him and it was constantly in their mouths. `Umar said, “By God, when I heard Abű-Bakr recite this verse I was astounded and fell on the ground, unable to stand on my feet, and I realized that the Messenger of God had really died.” (2:654-6)

14.4 The question of succession

When the Messenger of God was taken, a section of the Ansâr held a meeting of their own led by Sa`d ibn-`Ubâda in the hall of the Sâ`ida clan. `Alî, az-Zubayr ibn-al-`Awwâm and Talha ibn-`Ubaydallâh gathered separately in the apartment of Fâtima. The remaining Emigrants, together with Usayd ibn-Hudayr, met under the leadership of Abű-Bakr in the quarters of the `Abdalash’hal clan.

Someone came to Abű-Bakr and `Umar and told them that a group of the Ansâr had gathered to support Sa`d ibn-`Ubâda in the hall of the Sâ`ida clan. “If you want to have authority over the men, then take it before their cause gains ground.” Meanwhile the Messenger of God was still in his apartment not yet ready for burial and his people had locked the door of his house.

`Umar said to Abű-Bakr, “Let us go and see what our Ansâr brothers are doing.” (2:656-7) `Umar relates, we went off to meet them when two good men of theirs met us and told us what they had decided upon. They asked us where we were going, and we said, “to our Ansâr brothers.” They said, “Don’t bother going near them. Make your own decision.” I said, “By God, let us go to them. So we went to the Sâ`ida hall and in their midst was a man wrapped in cloth. I said, “Who is that?” They said, “Sa`d ibn-`Ubâda; he is ill.” When we sat down, their speaker pronounced the shahâda and praised God, then said, “We are God’s Helpers and the fighting force of Islam. You Emigrants are part of us and some of you have settled among us.”

I said they were trying to cut us off from our origin and grab power from us. When the man finished I wanted to deliver a speech I had prepared and liked, but first wanted Abű-Bakr to hear it, although I tried to conceal from him some of its sharpness. He told me to take it easy, and I did not want to annoy him; so he spoke. He had more knowledge and dignity than I had and, by God, he did not leave out anything I wanted to say and he said it better in his own way.

He told them, “All the good you mentioned about yourselves is deserved. But the Arabs will only recognize the authority of this clan of Quraysh, since their genealogy and home is considered supreme. I propose to you these two men; pledge allegiance to either of them,” and he held my hand and that of Abű-`Ubayda ibn-al-Jarrâh who was sitting between us. This was the only thing he said that displeased me, since, by God, I would rather have my head cut off, if that were not sin, than rule over a people that included Abű-Bakr.

One of the Ansâr said, “.. Let us have one ruler and you, Quraysh people, another.” The men began shouting and a fight seemed likely when I told Abű-Bakr to stretch out his hand. He did, and I pledged allegiance to him. Then the Emigrants did likewise, and the Ansâr followed. (2:658-60)

The next day Abű-Bakr took his seat on the minbar and `Umar stood and spoke before him. He praised God, then said, “Men,.. I thought that the Messenger of God would rule over us and be the last of us to die, but God has left you his Book which contains the guidance of God and of his Messenger. If you hold onto it God will guide you as he guided you. God has given authority to the best of you, the companion of the Messenger of God;.. so rise and pledge allegiance to him.” The people then pledged allegiance to Abű-Bakr..

Abű-Bakr then praised God and said, “Men, I have been placed over you, but I am not the best of you. If I do well, help me; if I do evil, correct me. Truth consists in loyalty and falsehood in treachery. The weak man among you will be strong in my estimation until I restore his rights, if God wills. The strong man among you will be weak in my estimation until I remove his right from him, if God wills. If any withdraw from jihâd for the sake of God, God will disgrace them. If sexual transgressions ever spread among the people, God will bring disaster on them. Obey me as long as I obey God and his Messenger. If I disobey God and his Messenger then you owe me no obedience. Rise to do your salât, and may God show you mercy. (2:660-1)

14.5 The burial

After allegiance had been pledged to Abű-Bakr the men prepared the Messenger of God for burial on Tuesday... When they wanted to wash him there was a dispute. Should they strip him of his clothes as is ordinarily done for the dead, or wash him with his clothes on. While they were disputing God put them to sleep, so that every man’s chin was on his chest. Then an unknown voice came from the direction of the apartment saying, “Wash the Prophet with his clothes on.” So they washed him with his tunic on, pouring water over the tunic and rubbing him with their hands over the tunic. (Tabari: `Â’isha used to say, “Had I known at the beginning of my affair what I knew at the end, none but his wives would have washed him.”) When the Messenger of God was washed he was wrapped in three cloths.. one over the other...

When the Messenger of God was readied for burial he was place on a bed in his apartment. The Muslims, however, disputed where he should be buried. Some said “in the mosque”, others said “with his companions”. Abű-Bakr said, “I heard the Messenger of God say, “Wherever a Prophet is taken, there he should be buried.” So the bed on which he died was taken up and a grave dug beneath it. Then the people came, one group after another, to visit and do salât for him, first the men, then the women, then the children, (Tabari: then the slaves). No one acted as imâm in the salât over the Messenger of God. He was buried in the middle of the night before Wednesday. (2:662-4)

`Â’isha said that the last instruction of the Messenger of God was that two religions should not co-exist in the Arabian peninsula. She also used to say that when the Messenger of God died the Arabs apostatized, Judaism and Christianity raised their heads and hypocrisy appeared. The Muslims became like sheep exposed to rain on a winter night, because they had lost their Prophet, until God united them under Abű-Bakr. (2:665)

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