The Prophet's Sickness and Death
Effects of the "Farewell Pilgrimage"
The "Farewell Pilgrimage" completed, tens of thousands of pilgrims began their return home. Those who came from the desert returned to the desert; those who came from Tihamah returned hence, and those who came from the south, from Yaman, Hadramawt and neighboring territories, did likewise. The Prophet and his immediate companions set out in the direction of Madinah. When they reached it, they settled down confident that peace had covered the entire Peninsula. Henceforth, it was natural that Muhammad became preoccupied with the conditions of those countries under the dominion of Byzantium and Persia, especially al Sham, Egypt, and `Iraq. Now that the people have converted to Islam in such large groups, that their delegations had already declared in Madinah their obedience and committed their peoples to serve under its banner and, finally, now that all the Arabs have united in this "Farewell Pilgrimage," the Arabian Peninsula became secure in its entirety. Indeed, there was no reason for any of the Arab kings and princes to withdraw or to violate loyalty to the Prophet or to his religion. Under no other regime did they enjoy more power and internal autonomy than under that which the unlettered Prophet had instituted. 8adhan, the Persian governor of Yaman, was reinstated in his governorship as soon as he converted to Islam. In recognition of this, Badhan preserved the unity of Arabia and threw off the yoke of the Zoroastrian Persians. Whatever little rumblings took place in the Peninsula never came close to resembling rebellion, and they did not occupy the Prophet or raise in him any apprehension for the future. The dominion of the new religion had firmly spread over all parts of the Peninsula; all faces were turned to the living and eternal God, and all hearts truly believed in the One, the Almighty.
The Prophetic Pretenders
It was natural, therefore, that the pretenders to prophethood who arose at the time were not the object of anxiety or care on Muhammad's part. True, some of the tribes in the outlying distances hastened to listen to any pretender, especially after they had heard of the Prophet of God and of the success of his mission. Obviously, such tribes wished they had the same good fortune as the Prophet's tribe, Quraysh. Precisely because of their distance from Makkah and from the headquarters of the new religion, such tribes did not yet fully absorb the new religion. However, this new religion, this honest and candid call to God, struck its roots firmly everywhere else. To resist it would not be easy. The anecdotes of Muhammad's travails and sacrifices for the sake of his mission had already spread to the horizons, and everyone knew that none but Muhammad ibn `Abdullah was capable of such sacrifice. Every false pretension, however, must sooner or later be exposed; and no pretender to prophethood can meet with any long lasting success. Tulayhah, for instance, the leader of Banu Asad and one of the greatest war heroes, a real lord of the desert, pretended that he, too, was a prophet and an apostle. He claimed that his true prophesying about the exact location of water when his people were lost in the desert, and almost perished from thirst, was the proof of his prophethood. But he remained afraid of contradicting Muhammad or withdrawing his loyalty to him as long as the Prophet lived. He therefore rebelled only after Muhammad's death. It was Ibn al Walid that led the Muslim forces in suppressing the rebellion of Tulayhah. Upon his defeat, Tulayhah once more joined the ranks of Islam and henceforth led, a virtuous life. On the other hand, neither Musaylimah not al Aswad al `Ansi fared any better than Tulaybah as long as the Prophet lived. The former sent to the Prophet-may God's blessing be upon Him-a message saying, "I, too, am a prophet like you. To us belongs half the earth, and to Quraysh belongs the other half, if Quraysh were only just." When Musaylimah's two messengers delivered this message of their master to Muhammad, the Prophet told them that, were it not for the conventional security granted to messengers, he would have ordered them executed. He then asked them to convey to Musaylimah the reply that Muhammad heard his message and realized its lies. The earth belongs to none but God, and God grants it to whomsoever He chooses among His worthy and righteous servants. Peace belongs to the rightguided."
As for al Aswad al 'Ansi, the Governor of Yaman after the death of Badhan, he began to practice magic and to call people to believe in him until he had achieved a measure of strength. Then he marched from the south toward Yaman and expelled Muhammad's governors from the territory. He marched on Najran and killed its governor, the son of Badhan who inherited the office from his father. A1 Aswad then married the widow of the fallen ruler and brought the whole area under his dominion. All this, however, did not worry Muhammad nor did it call, in his judgment, for more than a word to his governors and agents in Yaman to pull al Aswad down. The Muslims of the area fulfilled the command of the Prophet by themselves, turned- the tables on al Aswad and ended his regime. And it was his own wife who put an end to his life in vengeance for the blood of her first husband.
The Prophet's Concern for the Northern Front
Muhammad's care and preoccupation, therefore, were directed toward the north, not toward the south of Arabia. This was especially so following his return from the "Farewell Pilgrimage." In fact, ever since the campaign of Mu'tah, when the Muslims returned without conquest after the clever and strategic withdrawal of Khalid ibn al Walid, Muhammad had been giving to Byzantium a good portion of his thought and careful planning. He was convinced that Muslim power at the northern frontier with al Sham should be firmly established if those who had been evacuated from the Peninsula and who had emigrated to Palestine were not to return and attack again. It was in consequence of this care that Muhammad mobilized a very massive army when he heard that the Byzantines were about to advance on the northern frontier, and he himself led that army all the way to Tabuk. The Byzantines had withdrawn toward the interior upon hearing of the march of that army. This notwithstanding, Muhammad continued to plan for the day when the lords of Christendom who dominated the world through Byzantium might be stirred to attack in resentment against those who had brought Christianity to an end in Najran and other places in Arabia. Consequently, the Muslims did not stay long in Madinah following their return from the farewell Pilgrimage in Makkah. The Prophet had immediately ordered the mobilization of a large army and commanded it to march on al Sham. That is why he sent along with that army a number of the elders of Islam, the earliest Muhajirun, among whom were Abu Bakr and `Umar. That is why he gave the command of the army to Usamah ibn Zayd ibn Harithah.
The Prophet's Counsel to Usamah
Usamah ibn Zayd, the commander of the army, was then a young man hardly twenty years of age. His appointment and precedence over the elders of Islam, the early Muhajirun, and greater companions of the Prophet, would have caused quite a stir among the people had it not been for everybody's genuine faith in the Prophet's judgment and calculation. By appointing him, the Prophet sought to place him in the same command in which his father fell in the campaign of Mu'tah. The Prophet had wanted to give Usamah cause for pride in victory tantamount to a reward for the martyrdom of his father. Moreover, such an appointment was sure to stir within the soul of the youth the greatest resolution, determination, and bravery. It was also meant as an example for the youths of Islam to carry the burden of great responsibility. Muhammad commanded Usamah and his army to enter the approaches of al Balqa' and al Darum in Palestine, in the vicinity of Mu'tah where his father had fallen. He also commanded him to fight the enemy in the early hours of dawn, to fight them fearlessly, and to shower them with fire. He also commanded him to surprise the enemy, never to let the news of his advance reach them beforehand. Once victory was achieved, Usamah was to return home quickly and not to extend his stay in those lands.
The Prophet's Illness
Usamah and his army set up their headquarters at al Jurf, in close proximity to Madinah, and there began their preparation for the long trip to Palestine. While they were getting ready, the Prophet of God fell ill and the seriousness of his-ailment prevented their going forth. One may ask with surprise how the sickness of the Prophet of God could prevent an army from undertaking a campaign which he himself had ordered. One must remember, however, that for that army to go to al Sham, it had to cross wide deserts and empty places, a matter that was not at all easy and would take many long days. It was not easy for the Muslims, considering their great love for the Prophet, to leave Madinah while he suffered from grave illness. Those same men knew that the Prophet never suffered from any serious ailment. Nothing had adversely affected his health throughout this period except a brief lack of appetite in 6 A.H. falsely attributed to Jewish magic, and a little discomfort following his eating a bite of poisoned lamb in 7 A.H. Furthermore, the rhythm of his life and the logic of his teachings always protected him against disease. He always ate little and satisfied himself with the barest and simplest necessities. His clothes and his house were always perfectly clean, for Muhammad not only saw to it that the duties of ablutions were perfectly carried out at all times, but he even used to say: "Were it not for my fear of imposing hardship on my people, I would have made it a duty for them to brush their teeth five times a day." On the other hand, the ritual of prayer and daily exercise which Muhammad observed as well as his sense for economy in the pursuit of pleasure, his refrain from indulgences of all kinds, and his general unconcern for things of this world which always kept him at a distance from them, but in communion with cosmic life and the secrets of existence all these aspects of his character protected him against disease and gave him good health. His strong natural, construction and innate inclination to moral goodness consolidated his immunity against disease.
Now that he had fallen seriously ill, however, it was natural for his friends and companions to become concerned and anxious, fearing that the untold energies he spent during the last twenty years of life may have been begun to take effect upon him. Ever since he had proclaimed his prophethood in Makkah and begun to call men to worship God alone, to abandon the idols of the ancestors, Muhammad had met such great opposition and hardship that his companions had to flee to Abyssinia and he himself to the seclusion of the mountains in the outskirts of Makkah. His flight from Makkah to Madinah, following the covenant of `Aqabah, took place under the most trying and dangerous of conditions. Muhammad did not know what awaited him in Madinah before he arrived there under cover of night. When he did arrive there, he immediately became the object of Jewish plotting and intrigue. After God gave him victory following all these trials and permitted men from all corners to join the new faith, Muhammad's duties multiplied to a tremendous extent. The keeping of the peace, the leadership of the community, the establishment of its institutions, the continuous wars he had to fight, and the attacks he had to repel would have broken the back of the strongest man.
What situation could have been more tragically trying than that in which Muhammad found himself at the Battle of Uhud when the Muslims ran away from their enemy and Muhammad ascended the hill alone pursued by Quraysh's soldiers; when, under a shower of enemy arrows and stones, he fell wounded, with his teeth broken? What position could be more frightening than that in which the Prophet found himself at the Battle of Hunayn when the Muslims fell back at dawn before their attacking enemies when so determined was their retreat that Abu Sufyan could say that "Only the sea could make them turn back again"; when in the midst of this retreating stream of people Muhammad held his ground and called unto the Muslims: "Where to? Where to? Come back! Come back to me!" until they returned and were victorious. Moreover, there was the burden of mission, the tremendous burden of revelation, the self exhausting spiritual effort to keep in communion with the reality of the universe, with the supernal plenum-an effort the Prophet was reported to have described as more horrendous than the destiny of doom which befell Hud and other ancient civilizations. Muhammad's companions were witnesses to all this. They had seen him bear his burdens uprightly and with determination, never faltering. Now that he had fallen ill after such a splendid career, it was natural for them to want to postpone their march to al Sham for a while, until they could reassure themselves of God's disposition.
The Prophet's Visit to the Cemetery
In the meantime, another event took place which added to the companions' anxiety. At the beginning of his illness, Muhammad suffered from sleeplessness. On one night, as the days were long and hot and the nights short and breezy, Muhammad felt like going out of his house for a walk around the city. Only his servant, Abu Muwayhibah, accompanied him on this promenade. But where would he go? He went to Baqi` al Gharqad where all the cemeteries of the Muslims lay on the outskirts of Madinah. According to the reports, he stood between the graves of his fallen companions and addressed them in the following words
"Peace be upon you who are in these graves. Blessed are you in your present state to which you have emerged from the state in which the people live on earth. Subversive attacks are falling one after another like waves of darkness, each worse than the previous one." Abu Muwayhibah related that the Prophet had told him upon arrival at Baqi` al Gharqad : "I have been commanded to pray for those who lie in this terrain. Won't you come with me?" After praying for the dead buried in that cemetery, when it was time to return home, the Prophet approached Abu Muwayhibah and said to him: "0 Abu Muwayhibah, I have been given the keys of this world and eternity in it, and now I am being offered Paradise, and meeting with my God. I am asked to choose between them." Abu Muwayhibah said: "What would I not give for your sake, O Master! Is it not possible to have both? Do take the keys of this world, eternity in it, as well as Paradise." Muhammad answered: "No, by God, 0 Abu Muwayhibah. I have chosen Paradise and meeting with my Lord."
Abu Muwayhibah must have reported what he had seen and heard. The Prophet began to complain from his sickness the morning following the night on which he had visited the cemetery of al Baqi`. It was then that the people became concerned and the army of Usamah did not move. True, the report of Abu Muwayhibah is doubted by many historians who believe that Muhammad's sickness could not have been the only reason that prevented the army from marching to al Sham, that another cause was the disappointment of many, including a number of elderly Muhajirun and Ansar, with respect to the leadership assigned to the army. They based their judgment on facts that are given in the sequel. Although we do not wish here to dispute their judgment concerning the report of Abu Muwayhibah, we do not find reason to justify their denial of the event altogether. Whatever the value of the report, it is not necessary to deny the event of the Prophet's visit to the cemetery of Baqi al Ghatqad, his prayer for its dead, or his realization that the hour of meeting with his Lord was soon to strike. In our age, science does not deny the possibility of communication between spirits. It subsumes such communication under the category of psychic phenomena. There have been many men endowed with strong and sensitive perception who knew that their hour was close, and many witnesses to this effect can be produced. Furthermore, communication between the living and the dead, the connection between the past and the present in a manner not limited by either space or time is today regarded as indubitable fact, although man's nature being what it is, it is not given for us to perceive its forms. There is hence no reason to deny the event of the Prophet's visit to the cemetery of Baqi` as out of place considering Muhammad's spiritual and psychic power of communication with the realms of reality and his awareness of spiritual reality that surpasses that of ordinary men.
Muhammad's Congenial Mood
On the following morning, Muhammad found `A'ishah, his wife, complaining of a headache and holding her head between her hands, murmuring, "0 My head!" Having begun to feel pain, Muhammad answered, "But rather, 0 `A'ishah, my own head!" However, the pain was not strong enough to put him to bed, to stop his daily work, or to prevent him from talking kindly to his wives and joking with them. As `A'ishah continued to complain from her headache, Muhammad said to her: "It wouldn't be too bad after all, 0 `A'ishah, if you were to die before me. For I would then pray for you and attend your funeral." But this only aroused jealousy in the youthful `A'ishah, who answered: "Let that be the good fate of someone else besides me. By God, should that ever happen to me, your other wives would still be there to give you company." The Prophet smiled, but did not follow up the conversation because of an attack of pain. As soon as the pain subsided, he got up and visited with his wives just as he had always done. The pain returned with stronger force, however, so that Muhammad could not bear it any longer. He was in the quarters of Maymunah, his wife, when he found it necessary to call the members of his house and to ask all of them to attend to him in the quarters of `A'ishah. His wives agreed to nurse him there. He moved out of Maymunah's quarters, his head wrapped, leaning on `Ali ibn Abu Talib on one side and on al `Abbas, his uncle, on the other. His legs could hardly carry him. He entered the quarters of `A'ishah and there lay down.
Attacks of Fever
His fever increased in the first days of his sickness so that he felt as if he were on fire. When the attacks of fever subsided, the Prophet walked to the mosque to lead the prayers. He continued to do so for several days but felt too weak to talk to his companions or to listen to them. But he could hear their gossip about his appointment of a very young man to command the elder Muhajirun and Ansar in the coming campaign against al Sham. Despite the gradual deterioration of his health and the aggravation of his pain, he felt it necessary to address the people on that subject.
Sortie to the Mosque
One day he asked his wives and servants to pour on him seven goatskins of water from various wells. The water was brought from different wells as he commanded and poured over him as he sat in a tub belonging to Hafsah. He then put on his clothes, wrapped his head, and went to the mosque. Standing at the pulpit, he praised God, prayed for the martyrs of Uhud, and addressed the congregation in the following words: "0 Men, carry out the expedition under Usamah. Your complaint against his generalship is of the same kind as your complaint against the generalship of his father before him. By God, Usamah is as fit for the generalship as was his father." Muhammad stopped for a while, and there was absolute silence. He then resumed his address, saying: "Has he not made the better choice who, when given the option of taking this world, the other world, or properly acquiescing in whatever is with God, chooses the last alternative?" Muhammad fell silent again, and the people were absolutely motionless. With his deep perception and sensitivity Abu Bakr realized that Muhammad was here referring to himself. His loyalty to the Prophet and profound feeling for his person overwhelmed Abu Bakr, who could not hold back his tears. Deeply moved and crying, he said: "But we would give our own lives and the lives of our children for you, O Muhammad !" Fearing the spread of Abu Bakr's contagious affection among the congregation, Muhammad said softly: "0 Abu Bakr !" He then commanded all the gates of the mosque to be closed except the one which led to the quarters of Abu Bakr. When this was done, he said: "I do not know of anyone whose companionship is preferable to me than yours. Of all the people of the world, I would choose only Abu Bakr as a permanent friend and constant companion. His has been the friendship and fraternity of true faith! And it will last until God brings us together again." Muhammad left the pulpit to return to `A'ishah's quarters. As he did, he turned to the people and said: "0 Muhajirun, be good to al Ansar. The Muslim community increases every day, but the number of al Ansar remains the same. A1 Ansar have been my own people, my trustworthy people among whom I have taken shelter. Be good to the virtuous among them, reward the pious, and forgive the wrongdoers."
Muhammad proceeded to the house of `A'ishah nearly exhausted by the effort he had exerted. When a man is ill, suffering from high fever, to get out of bed and go to the Mosque after having had to cool his body with seven skins of water is hard enough. How much more exacerbating must this brief outing have been for Muhammad when at the same time he had to confront such momentous matters as Usamah's mobilized army and the threatened fate of al Ansar as well as of the Arab ummah, newly cemented together by the religion of Islam? The following day, Muhammad tried to get out of bed and lead the prayers in the Mosque as usual. When he found his effort futile, he ordered that Abu Bakr lead the prayers in his place. `A'ishah was anxious for her husband to lead the prayers himself. She thought that nothing would better allay the fears of the people than for them to see the Prophet resume his daily functions. She therefore apologized for her father, Abu Bakr, saying that his voice was too soft and that he would break down and cry whenever he recited the Qur'an. Realizing his incapacity to rise from bed, the Prophet ordered once again that Abu Bakr lead the prayers. When `A'ishah insisted on her objection, the Prophet shouted in anger: "How obsessive are women! Order Abu Bakr to lead the prayers at once."
On another day, when Abu Bakr was absent, Bilal called the Muslims to prayer and invited `Umar to lead them. As `Umar's loud voice reached the ear of the Prophet next door, he took this as another flouting of his previous command. He said: "Where is Abu Bakr? God and the believers do not agree that Abu Bakr be not the leader." It was this incident that convinced the people that Muhammad has indeed appointed Abu Bakr as his successor, for leadership of the prayers was the foremost sign of succession to the Prophet.
The Prophet's Whisper to Fatimah
After this, the Prophet's sickness and pain increased. His fever was so high that it could be felt by his wives and servants upon touching the blankets which covered him. Fatimah, his daughter, whom he loved deeply as his only surviving offspring, visited him every day. Whenever she entered his room, the Prophet would cry, kiss her, and give her his own chair. One day when she entered the room, he greeted her saying, "Welcome, my daughter." But it was she who kissed him. He asked her to sit by him on his bed and whispered to her twice, first making her cry and then making her laugh. `A'ishah sought to discover what was said; but Fatimah refused to give away what she took to be a secret. It was not until after he died that Fatimah divulged what he had then told her, namely, that he was to die of that same sickness-which caused her to cry-and that she would be the first member of his family to join him after death which made her smile. In order to cool down his fever, Muhammad dipped his hand in a container by his bed, filled every now and then with cold water, and wiped his face. At times, the high fever gave him convulsions. Recovering from one of those attacks, he overheard his daughter, Fatimah, say with deep sorrow: "Oh, the terrible pain my father is suffering!" At this Muhammad said, "Your father will suffer no more pain after this day," meaning that he was to meet his Lord before the day was over.
The Prophet's Wish to Write a Testament
Anxious to lighten his pain, his companions reminded him that he had counseled them not to complain when sick. He apologized to them, saying that his pains surpassed whatever any two of them could bear together. While under a strong attack of fever and surrounded by visitors, he asked that pen and ink and paper be brought. He said he would dictate something for his followers' benefit, assuring them that if they adhered to it, they would never go astray. Some of the people present thought that since the Prophet-may God's peace and blessing be upon him-was severely ill and since the Muslims already had the Qur'an, no further writing was necessary. It is related that that thought belonged to `Umar. The people present disagreed among themselves, some wishing to bring writing materials and take down what the Prophet would dictate, and others thinking that any further writing besides that of the Book of God would be superfluous. Muhammad asked them all to leave, saying, "It does not become you to disagree in my presence." Ibn `Abbas felt concerned that the people would lose something important if they did not hasten to bring the writing materials, whereas `Umar held firmly to his judgment which he based upon God's own estimate of His Holy Book: "In this scripture, We have left out nothing." [Qur'an, 6:38. There can be little doubt that this story is a fabrication of later times, specifically, of the eighth century C.E./second century A.H., when at the height of the hadith movement, controversy arose as to the place of hadith in the framework of Islamic Law and ideas. It is not likely that Muhammad's closest and most trusted companions or the members of his house would have refused to fulfill a wish their Prophet was making on his death bed. Nor is it likely that the Prophet's Sunnah would have constituted a problem at all, or one necessitating such hard contradiction between the written and the oral traditions. -Tr.]
As the news of the deteriorating health of the Prophet spread, Usamah and a number of his aides left their encampment at al Jurf for Madinah seeking reassurance concerning the Prophet's health. Usamah entered the quarters of `A'ishah unable to speak. But when Muhammad saw Usamah, he lifted his hands toward the sky before placing them on Usamah's shoulders, as a sign of prayer for him.
Members of the Prophet's household saw fit at this stage to give him some medicine which Asma', a relative of Maymunah, had learned to prepare during her stay in Abyssinia. Taking advantage of Muhammad's loss of consciousness, they poured the medicine into his mouth. When he came back to himself, he asked who had given him the medicine and why. His uncle, al `Abbas, explained that they had prepared it and given it to him because they feared he had pleurisy. The Prophet said, "That is a disease, which God would not inflict upon me." He then ordered everyone in the house except his uncle, al `Abbas, to taste it. Even Maymunah, who was then fasting, was forced to taste it.
At the beginning of his illness, Muhammad had in his house seven Dinars ; he feared he might die while some money was still in his possession. He therefore commanded his relatives to give the money away to the poor. However, their preoccupation with his sickness and constant attendance upon him, in addition to their concern for his deteriorating health, caused them to forget to execute his order. When he came to himself on Sunday, on the eve of the day of his death, he inquired whether they had fulfilled his order. `A'ishah answered that the money was still in her possession. He asked her to bring it forth to put on the palm of his hand. He then said: "What spectacle is this of Muhammad, if he were to meet God in this condition?" The money was given forthwith to the poor.
Muhammad spent a peaceful night in which his fever seemed to subside. It was as if the medicine which his relatives had prepared for him had somewhat alleviated the disease. In the morning he was even able to go to the mosque although his head was still wrapped and he needed to lean on 'Ali ibn Abu Talib and al Fadl ibn al `Abbas for support. Abu Bakr was leading the prayer at the time of Muhammad's entry into the mosque. As the Muslims saw the Prophet come in, they were so overjoyed at his recovery that they almost allowed their prayer to be interrupted. Abu Bakr raised his voice in the recitation signaling that the prayer must go on and not be interrupted. Muhammad was extremely pleased with what he saw, and Abu Bakr knew well that the people would not have been diverted from prayer by the arrival of any other man. As Muhammad came close to Abu Bakr to join in the prayer, the latter moved himself away from his position of leadership so that the Prophet might take over. Muhammad, however, pushed him back into place saying, "You lead." He sat beside Abu Bakr and prayed in a sitting position. When he finished, he joined the congregation and talked to them with a clear voice audible even outside the mosque. He said: "0 Men, the fire is ready. Subversive attacks are advancing like the waves of darkness. By God, I shall not be held responsible for aught of this. I have never allowed anything but that which the Qur’an has made legitimate, and I have never forbidden aught which the Qur’an has not forbidden. God's curse is upon those who take graves for their mosques." [Here again, there can be little doubt of the spuriousness of this report. It is evidently anachronistic and must have come from a much later time than the Prophet's. Firstly, it is not possible that the Prophet had such a low and pessimistic esteem of his time. At his death the Prophet stood at the height of power, having welded Arabia into one powerful unity, strong enough to venture beyond its borders. No Arab tribe or person was strong enough to wage "subversive attacks" against the Islamic polity. Secondly, no justification could be adduced for the Prophet's public defense of himself because he was under serious attack from no one. No one in his senses could have accused the Prophet of violating the legislation of the Qur'an. Thirdly, no Muslims had at that time built mausoleums for anyone, including the Prophet, and no one had used grave-sites or cemeteries as mosques. The Prophet's condemnation is hence pointless. Granted, then, that this hadith was not the Prophet's but that of later Muslims, it becomes a source of historical information about its time. Only the late Umawi and early `Abbasi times could have presented "subversive attacks" against the regime in power; only then could some caliphs have been indicted for violating the Qur'anic legislation; and only then, if not even much later, did Muslims begin the practice of building mausoleum-mosques mostly under Sufi and Persian inspiration. -Tr.]
Muslim Joy at the Prophet's Apparent Recovery
The Muslims were so overjoyed at the signs of recovery in the health of their Prophet that Usamah ibn Zayd even asked for permission to march on al Sham. Indeed, even Abu Bakr came forward to say: "0 Prophet of God, it is evident that God has granted you His blessing and given you good health just as we all wished and prayed. I had promised the Daughter of Kharijah [meaning his wife] to spend the day with her. May I take leave of you?" The Prophet granted him leave, and Abu Bakr went to al Sunh on the outskirts of Madinah, where his wife resided. `Umar and `Ali returned to their business as usual. The Muslims dispersed in joy and happiness after their days of despondence over the news of Muhammad's illness. Muhammad returned to the quarters of `A'ishah made happy by the happiness of his fellow Muslims who filled the mosque to see him and who anxiously awaited to hear of his news. But he felt quite weak. `A'ishah helped her husband in with a heart full of awe and sympathy, wishing she could offer him her own life and energy to replace his waning strength.
The Interlude of Wakefulness before Death
The Prophet's visit to the mosque turned out to be only an interlude of wakefulness which precedes death. After he returned home, every minute saw further deterioration of his health. There was no doubt that he had only a few hours to live. How did he spend these last few hours of his life? What was his last vision? Did he spend those precious moments reviewing the career he had lived since God had commissioned him to prophethood and appointed him a guide to mankind? Did he recall the hardships he suffered, the joys he experienced, and the spiritual and military victories he achieved? Or did he spend his last moments praying to God and asking for mercy with all his soul and all his mind as he used to do throughout his life? Or was he too weak to review anything and too unconscious even to pray? The reports vary widely. Most reports tell that on that day, i.e., June 8, 632 C.E., one of the hottest days in Arabia, Muhammad asked for a pitcher of cold water in which he dipped his hands and wiped his face. Most reports state that a man from the clan of Abu Bakr entered the quarters of `A'ishah carrying a toothbrush in his hand. Muhammad looked at him in a way expressive of his desire to obtain the toothbrush. `A'ishah took the toothbrush from her relative and worked it out until it became pliable and handed it over to Muhammad who used it to brush his teeth.
"Rather, God on High and Paradise"
The same reports also tell that as the agonies of death became stronger, the Prophet turned to God in prayer saying: "0, God, help me overcome the agonies of death." `A'ishah reported that his head was in her lap during the last hour. She said, "The Prophet's head was getting heavier in my lap. I looked at his face and found that his eyes had become fixed. I heard him murmur, 'Rather, God on High and Paradise.' I said to him, 'By Him who sent you as a Prophet to teach the truth, you have been given the choice and you chose well.' The Prophet of God expired while his head was on my side between my lungs and my heart. It was my youth and inexperience that made me let him die in my lap. I then placed his head on the pillow and rose to bemoan my fate and to join the other women in our bereavement and sorrow."
Did Muhammad truly die? That is the question over which the Arabs differed greatly at the time, indeed so greatly that they almost came to blows. Thanks to God's will and care, the division was quickly stamped out and the religion of the Hanifs, God's true religion, emerged unscathed.