The Prophet's Burial
Muslim Shock at the News of Death
It was therefore in `A'ishah's quarters, while his head lay in her lap that the Prophet-may God's peace and blessing be upon him chose the company of God on High. When this happened, `A'ishah laid his head down on a pillow and joined the other women of the house who rushed to her upon hearing the news and began to cry in bereavement and sorrow. The Muslims at the mosque were taken by surprise by the sudden noise. In the morning, they had seen the Prophet and were convinced his health was improving so much that Abu Bakr, it will be remembered, sought permission to go and visit his wife at al Sunh.
`Umar Belies the News
Upon hearing the news and hardly believing it, 'Umar returned quickly to the Prophet's quarters. Upon arrival, he went straight to Muhammad's bed, uncovered and looked at his face for a while. He perceived its motionlessness and deathlike appearance as a coma from which he believed Muhammad would soon emerge. A1 Mughirah tried in vain to convince `Umar of the painful fact. `Umar, however, continued to believe firmly that Muhammad did not die. When al Mughirah insisted, `Umar said to him in anger, "You lie." The two went to the mosque together while `Umar was proclaiming at the top of his voice, "Some hypocrites are pretending that the Prophet of God-may God's peace and blessing be upon him-has died. By God I swear that he did not die: that he has gone to join his Lord, just as Moses went before. Moses absented himself from his people fourteen consecutive nights and returned to them after they had declared him dead. By God, the Prophet of God will return just as Moses returned. Any man who dares to perpetrate a false rumor such as Muhammad's death shall have his arms and legs cut off by this hand."
At the mosque, the Muslims heard these proclamations from `Umar-they were shocked and stupefied. If Muhammad truly died, woe unto all those who saw him and heard him, who believed in him and in the God Who sent him a conveyor of true guidance and religion. Their bereavement would be so great that their hearts and minds would break asunder. If, on the other hand, it were true that Muhammad had not died but had gone to join his Lord, as `Umar claimed, that was reason for an even greater shock. The Muslims should then await his return which, like that of Moses, would be all the more reason for wonder. The Muslim crowds sat around `Umar and listened to him, inclined as they were to agree with him that the Prophet of God did not die. At any rate, they could not associate death with the man whom they had beheld in person only a few hours before and whose clear and resonant voice they had heard pray and invoke God's mercy and blessing. Moreover, they could not convince themselves that the friend whom God had chosen for the conveyance of His divine message, to whom all the Arabs had submitted, and to whom Chosroes and Heraclius were also soon to submit, could possibly die. They could not believe that a man could die who had shown such power as had shaken the world for twenty consecutive years and had produced the greatest spiritual storm of history. The women, however, were still beating their faces and crying at Muhammad's house, a sure sign that Muhammad had really died. Yet, here in the mosque, `Umar was still proclaiming that Muhammad had not died; and that he had gone to join his Lord as Moses had done; that those who spoke of Muhammad's death were hypocrites who would suffer the cutting of their arms and necks by Muhammad upon his return. What would the Muslims believe? As they recovered from their severe shock, hope began to stir within them in consequence of `Umar's claim that Muhammad was to return, and soon they almost believed their own wishes. Their wishful thinking had apparently painted for them the sky a beautiful blue.
Enter Abu Bakr
As they wavered between believing `Umar or the indubitable meaning of the women's crying, Abu Bakr heard the news and returned from al Sunh. He looked through the door of the mosque and saw the Muslims being addressed by `Umar, but he did not tarry there. He went straight to the quarters of `A'ishah and asked for permission to enter. He was answered that there was no need that day for. permission. He entered and found the Prophet laid down in a corner and covered with a striped cloth. He approached, uncovered the face and kissed it, saying, "How wholesome you are, whether alive or dead!" He then held the Prophet's head in his hands and looked closely at the face which showed no sign whatever of death's attack. Laying it down again, he said, "What would I not have sacrificed for you! The one death which God has decreed for you, as for any other man, to taste, you have now tasted. Henceforth, no death shall ever befall you." He covered the head with the striped cloth and went straight to the mosque where `Umar was still proclaiming loudly that Muhammad had not died. The crowds made a way for him to the front, and as he came close to `Umar he said to him "Softly, O `Umar ! Keep silent!" But `Umar would not stop talking and continued repeating the same claim. Abu Bakr rose and made a sign to the people that he wished to address them. No one could have dared impose himself upon the congregation in such manner except Abu Bakr, for he was the ever trustworthy friend of the Prophet, whom Muhammad would have chosen from among all men. Hence, it was natural that the people hastened to respond to his call and move away from `Umar.
Muhammad Is Truly Dead
After praising and thanking God, Abu Bakr delivered the following brief address: "O Men, if you have been worshipping Muhammad, then know that Muhammad is dead. But if you have been worshipping God, then know that God is living and never dies." He then recited the Qur'anic verse,
"Muhammad is but a prophet before whom many prophets have come and gone. Should he die or be killed, will you abjure your faith? Know that whoever abjures his faith will cause no harm to God, but God will surely reward those who are grateful to him." [Qur'an, 3:144]
Realizing that the people were withdrawing from him and going to Abu Bakr, `Umar fell silent and listened to Abu Bakr's speech. Upon hearing Abu Bakr recite the Qur'anic verse, `Umar fell to the ground. The certainty that the Prophet of God was truly dead shattered him. Beguiled by `Umar's speech, the people listened to Abu Bakr's statement and to the Qur'anic verse as if it was given to them for the first time. They had forgotten that there was any such revelation. Abu Bakr's stark words dissipated all doubt and uncertainty. His Qur'anic quotation reassured the Muslims that their holding fast to God Who never dies would more than compensate for Muhammad's passing.
Further Thoughts on Muhammad's Death
Did `Umar exaggerate when he convinced himself that Muhammad had not died, when he tried to cause the people to believe likewise? The answer must be in the negative. In like vein, men of science tell us that the sun will continue to rise in the morning until a certain day when it will explode and disappear. Does anyone of us accept such a claim without entertaining a doubt as to its validity and truth? Does not everyone of us ask himself, "How could the sun explode, disappear, and go away, the sun by whose light and warmth everything in the world lives? How could it explode and disappear and the world continue thereafter even for one day?" And yet, was the light of Muhammad any less brilliant than that of the sun or his warmth and power any less strong than those of the sun? The sun is source of much good. But was not Muhammad the source of as much and equal good? The sun stands in communion with all beings. But was not the soul of Muhammad equally in communion with all being? Does not his blessed memory still fill the whole universe with its grace and beauty? No wonder then that `Umar was not convinced that Muhammad could have died, and in truth, in one sense Muhammad did not die and will not die.
Having seen him that morning when he went to the mosque and, like all other Muslims, having thought that the Prophet had recovered his health, Usamah ibn Zayd returned to al Jurf with those of his colleagues who had accompanied him to Madinah in search of reassuring news. He ordered the army to prepare to march to al Sham; but before the army proceeded forth, it heard the news of the Prophet's death. Usamah ordered the army to return to Madinah. He hung his command flag on the door of 'A'ishah's quarters and decided to wait until the Muslims recovered from their shock.
At Banu Sa'idah's Court
In fact, the Muslims were wondering which step to take. After hearing Abu Bakr and knowing for certain that Muhammad had died, they dispersed. Some of the al Ansar gathered around Sa'd ibn `Ubadah in the courtyard of Banu Sa'idah. `Ali ibn Abu Talib, al Zubayr ibn al `Awwam, and Talhah ibn `Ubaydullah gathered in the house of Fatimah; and al Muhajirun, together with the Usayd ibn Hudayr as well as Banu `Abd al Ashhal, gathered around Abu Bakr. Soon a man came to Abu Bakr and `Umar to inform them that al Ansar were gathering around Sa'd ibn `Ubadah. The informant added that the two leaders should go out and reorganize Muslim leadership before the division of the Muslim community got any worse. Since the Prophet of God-may God's peace and blessing be upon him-was still laid out in his house and unburied, it was surely unbecoming that the Muslims begin to divide among themselves. `Umar pleaded with Abu Bakr to go with him immediately to al Ansar and see what they were doing. On the way thither, they were met by two upright and trustworthy Ansar men who, when questioned, remarked that al Ansar were contemplating separatist ideas. When the two Ansar men questioned Abu Bakr and `Umar in turn and learned from them that they were going to al Ansar's gathering, they advised them not to go but to try to settle the Muhajirun's own affairs. `Umar was determined to go and Abu Bakr was not difficult to persuade on this point. They came to the courtyard of Banu Sa'idah and found that al Ansar had gathered around a man wrapped up in a blanket. `Umar ibn al Khattab asked who the man was, and he was told that that was Sa'd ibn `Ubadah suffering from a serious sickness. `Umar and Abu Bakr, joined at this moment by a number of Muhajirun, took their seats in the assembly. Soon, a speaker rose and addressed a1 Ansar in the following words after praising God and thanking Him: "We are al Ansar-ie., the helpers of God and the army of Islam. You, the Muhajirun, are only a brigade in the army. Nonetheless, a group of you have gone to the extreme of seeking to deprive us of our natural leadership and to deny us our rights."
Actually, this complaint had always been on al Ansar's lips, even during the Prophet's lifetime. When `Umar heard it being voiced again, he could hardly restrain himself. Indeed, he was ready to put an end to this situation once and for all by the sword, if needed. Fearing that harsh treatment might aggravate rather than improve matters, Abu Bakr held `Umar back and asked him to act gently. He then turned to al Ansar, saying: "O men, we, the Muhajirun, were the first men to convert to Islam. We enjoy the noblest lineage and descendence. We are the most reputable and the best esteemed as well as the most numerous of any group in Arabia. Furthermore, we are the closest blood relatives of the Prophet. The Qur'an itself has given us preference. For it is God-may He be praised and blessed-Who said, `First and foremost were al Muhajirun, then al Ansar, and then those who have followed these two groups in virtue and righteousness.' [Qur'an, 9:100] We were the first to emigrate for the sake of God, and you are literally `al Ansar', i.e., the helpers. However, you are our brethren in religion, our partners in the fortunes of war, and our helpers against the enemy. All the good that you have claimed is truly yours, for you are the most worthy people of mankind. But the Arabs do not and will not recognize any sovereignty unless it belongs to the tribe of Quraysh. The princes shall be from among us, whereas your group will furnish the viziers." At this, a member of al Ansar became furious and said: "Rather am I, the experienced warrior! On my arm every verdict shall rest. And my verdict is that the people of Quraysh may have their prince as long as we, too, may have our own." Abu Bakr repeated his proposition that the princes of the Muslims must be of the Quraysh whereas their vizers must be of al Ansar. Taking the hand of `Umar ibn al Khattab as well as that of Abu `Ubaydah ibn al Jarrah, who were sitting on either side of him, Abu Bakr said, "Either one of these two men is acceptable to us as leader of the Muslim community. Choose whomsoever you please."
Nomination of Abu Bakr to the Caliphate
At that moment, all the men present began to talk at the same time, and the meeting itself was on the verge of disintegration. With his usual clear and loud voice, `Umar said: "O Abu Bakr, stretch forth your hand and I will give you my oath of fealty. Did not the Prophet himself command you to lead the Muslims in prayer? You, therefore, are his successor. We elect you to this position. In electing you, we are electing the best of all those whom the Prophet of God loved and trusted." `Umar's words touched the hearts of the Muslims present, as they truly expressed the Prophet's will up to and including the last day of his life. On that day they had witnessed his insistence that Abu Bakr lead the prayer even in his presence. Thus, the difference between al Muhajirun and al Ansar was dissolved, and members of both camps came forward to give their oath of fealty.
Abu Bakr's Election
On the following day, as Abu Bakr took his place at the pulpit of the mosque, `Umar ibn al Khattab rose before the congregation and said, after offering due praise to God: "Yesterday, I presented to you a novel idea. I drew it neither from the Book of God, nor from any memory I have of the Prophet of God. It just occurred to me that the Prophet of God would continue to lead us in this world forever and that he would survive us all. But now I know better. God has left us His Holy Book, the Repository of His Prophet's guidance. If we hold closely to it, God will surely guide us to the same felicity to which he guided His Prophet. God has consolidated you together under the leadership of the best man among you, of the companion of the Prophet of God-may God's peace and blessing be upon him-who was blessed by God with the honor of the Prophet's company in the cave when the Makkans were following in close pursuit. Rise and give him your oath of fealty." All the men rose and pledged their loyalty to Abu Bakr. That was the public bay'ah, [In Islamic political theory, "bay'ah" means the investment of the caliph with political authority. It consists of a "private" and "public" investment. The former amounts to nomination of the caliph by a number of supporters; the latter to confirmation of the private bay'ah by the electorate at large. It is only when the two bay'ahs have taken place and have been accepted by the caliph that he is said to have legitimately acceded to the caliphate. -Tr.] following the private bay'ah in the courtyard of Banu Sa'idah.
Inaugural Speech of the First "Rashidun" Caliph
Thereafter, Abu Bakr rose and delivered a speech, which may be regarded as one of the most illustrious embodiments of wisdom and sound judgment. After thanking God and praising Him, Abu Bakr said
"O Men! Here I have been assigned the job of being a ruler over you while I am not the best among you. If I do well in my job, help me. If I do wrong, redress me. Truthfulness is fidelity, and lying is treason. The weak shall be strong in my eyes until I restore to them their lost rights, and the strong shall be weak in my eye until I have restored the rights of the weak from them. No people give up fighting for the cause of God but God inflicts upon them abject subjection; and no people give themselves to lewdness but God envelops them with misery. Obey me as long as I obey God and His Prophet. But if I disobey God's command or His Prophet's, then no obedience is incumbent upon you. Rise to your prayer, that God may bless you."
The Quest for a Burial Site
Throughout the Muslims' disputing of the question of success at the courtyard of Banu Sa'idah and in the mosque, the Prophet's remains were lying on his bed surrounded by his next of kin. After the election of Abu Bakr, the people came to the Prophet's house to prepare for his funeral and burial. There was disagreement as to where the Prophet was to be buried. Some Muhajirun advised that he ought to be buried in Makkah, his native town, in the proximity of his own relatives. Others advised that he ought to be buried in Jerusalem where the Prophets were buried before him. The latter was certainly a baffling view considering that Jerusalem was in the hands of the Byzantines, and the relations between them and the Muslims were most hostile, especially since the Mu'tah and Tabuk campaigns. Indeed, an army which the Prophet himself had mobilized and placed under the leadership of Usamah was supposed to fight them and avenge the Muslim defeat in those campaigns. At any rate, the proposals to bury the remains in Makkah or in Jerusalem were both rejected. The Muslims resolved to bury him in Madinah, the city which gave him shelter and assistance and which was the first one to raise the banner of Islam. Once this decision was made, they proceeded to look for a proper location for burial. Some advocated burial in the mosque where he used to address the people, preach the faith, and lead them in prayer. They thought that the most appropriate place was either the very spot of ground where the pulpit stood or the spot next to it. This opinion, however, did not meet with approval. `A'ishah had related that in his last days, whenever his pain increased, the Prophet used to uncover his face to curse such people as had taken the grave of their prophets as places of worship. Abu Bakr solved the issue when he proclaimed that he had heard the Prophet say that prophets should be buried wherever they die. This opinion carried the day.
Preparing the Body for Burial
Washing the Prophet's body before burial was performed by his next of kin, by `Ali ibn Abu Talib, al `Abbas ibn `Abd al Muttalib and his two sons, al Fadl and Qutham, as well as by Usamah ibn Zayd. Usamah ibn Zayd and Shuqran, the Prophet's client, poured the water while `Ali washed the body, covered as it was by Muhammad's nightgown. It was decided that the Prophet's body should not, under any circumstance whatever, be fully exposed. As they performed their washing, contrary to what is usual in such cases, the body emitted beautiful smells, so that `Ali said continually: "By God, what would I give for you! How sweet you are and how wholesome you are, both alive and dead!" Some western Orientalists sought to explain this fair scent emitted from the body of the Prophet by calling it the result of the perfume which he used so lavishly, remembering that he once declared it one of the good things he truly loved in this world. When the washing was completed, the Prophet's body was wrapped in three shrouds: two made in Suhar and the third in Hibarah in Yaman. When this operation was completed, the body was left where it was and the doors were flung open for the Muslims to enter from the mosque, to take a last look at their Prophet, and to pray for him. [The reader may be thrown off by this usage of "pray upon" instead of the commonplace "pray for." In the Muslim practice nobody "prays for" the Prophet in the sense that one prays for a departed loved one. Prayer upon the Prophet is much more formal and is commanded by the Qur'an (33:56). It is a main part of Muslim worship to use the Qur'anic "pray upon" in invoking God's blessing upon His Prophet. -Tr.] Undoubtedly, they emerged deeply moved and conscious of their terrible bereavement.
The Funeral Prayer
The room was practically full when Abu Bakr and `Umar entered the room and joined the Muslims in a funerary prayer for the Prophet. The prayer was performed without a leader. When it was over, Abu Bakr began to pray aloud, saying: "Peace, mercy, and blessings of God be upon you, O Prophet of God. We witness that the Prophet of God and His apostle conveyed the message entrusted to him by his Lord and that he exerted himself and fought in His cause until God gave victory to His religion. We equally witness that the Prophet of God and His apostle fully performed his promise and that he commanded us to worship none but God alone who has no associates." At the end , of every phrase, the Muslims responded together, "Amen, Amen." When this prayer was complete, the men left and the women and children took turns taking a last look at the Prophet. One and all, every man, woman and child, emerged from that room torn with sorrow and crushed by a sense of bereavement for the loss of the Prophet of God, the Seal of His apostles. They were full of apprehension that some calamity might befall the religion of God in the future.
A Grave Moment of History
No man can today reconstruct this thirteen-centuries-old scene in his imagination without being filled with awe and reverence. The anguishing view of this body laid down in a corner of the room which was to become a grave the following day and which until the day before reverberated with Muhammad's vitality, mercy, and light, filled the hearts of the faithful mourners with apprehension. It could not have been otherwise. For, there lay the man who had called men to truth, to the path of righteousness and had struck for them the highest example of goodness, mercy, courage, chastity, purity, and justice. As the crowds of Muslims passed by his bier despondent, disheartened, and dispirited, every man, woman, and child among them saw in the body that lay motionless before him his own father, brother, friend, trustworthy companion, Prophet, and Apostle of God. To recall that hour is surely to reconstruct a pathetic scene. Even as he writes about it, this author is seized by the grip of its terror and can hardly overcome the consequent anguish.
Confusion of the Men of Little Faith
It was natural for the Muslims to be apprehensive of the future. Indeed, as soon as the news of the Prophet's death spread in Madinah and reached the Arab tribes in the surrounding area, Jews and Christians sprang to their feet, hypocrisy took a new lease on life, and the faith of many weak Arabs fell into confusion. The Makkans sought to abjure Islam, and they did so to the extent of instilling fear in `Attab ibn Asid, their governor appointed by the Prophet to rule them. Suhayl ibn `Amr, following the news of the Prophet's death, stood up in their midst and said: "The Prophet's death shall increase the power of Islam and strengthen it. Whoever attacks us or abjures our cause, we shall strike with the sword. O People of Makkah! you were the last to enter Islam. Do not, therefore, be the first to desert it. Have faith that God will bring you final victory just as the Prophet of God-may God's peace and blessing be upon him-has promised you." Only then did the Makkans change their minds.
The Prophet's Burial
The Arabs knew two ways of digging graves. The Makkans made their graves flat at the bottom while the Madinese made them curved. Abu `Ubaydah ibn al Jarrah was the gravedigger for the Makkans, and Abu Talhah Zayd ibn Sahl was gravedigger for the Madinese. The Prophet's relatives could not choose between them. The Prophet's uncle, al 'Abbas, sent two men to call the two gravediggers for a consultation. Only one was found and could respond to the call, and that was Abu Talhah, the Madinese. He therefore was commissioned to dig a grave for the Prophet of God as he knew best. When evening came and the Muslims had taken leave of the body of their Prophet, Muhammad's relatives prepared for the burial. They waited until a quarter or a third of the night had passed before proceeding with the burial. In the grave, they spread out a red mantle that once belonged to the Prophet, and the men who had washed the body lowered it to its last repose. They built over it a bridge with bricks and then covered the grave with sand. `A'ishah said: "We did not learn of the burial of the Prophet of God-may God's peace and blessing be upon him until midnight or later"; and so did Fatimah report. The Prophet was buried on Tuesday night, 14th of Rabi` I, two days after his death, in the year 10 A.H.
`A'ishah and the Grave Room
`A'ishah lived thereafter in her quarters, next door to the Prophet's grave, contented with her proximity to this holy precinct. When Abu Bakr died, he was buried in the immediate vicinity of the Prophet's grave, as was `Umar ibn al Khattab thereafter. It is related that `A'ishah used to visit the grave room without veil until `Umar was buried therein, i.e., during the time it contained only the grave of her father and husband. But after `Umar's burial, she entered the room only when fully veiled.
Expediting Usamah's Army on Its March
As soon as the burial of the Prophet was completed, Abu Bakr commanded that the army of Usamah begin its march on al Sham in execution of the commandment the Prophet of God had issued in his last days. Some Muslims objected to this measure just as they had during the sickness of Muhammad. `Umar joined the ranks of these objectors on the grounds that the Muslim forces ought not to be dispersed in this grave hour. Abu Bakr, however, did not hesitate to follow the commandment left unfulfilled by the Prophet at his death. He refused to give credit to those who counseled that an older and more experienced general in war than Usamah be appointed to lead that army. Al Jurf remained the rallying place for the army, and Usamah remained its leading general. Abu Bakr went out in person to see the army off on its march. It was there that Abu Bakr asked Usamah to absolve `Umar ibn al Khattab from his duty to go forth in the army so that he might remain in Madinah in close proximity to Abu Bakr who needed his advice in his first days of administration. Twenty days after the army began its march northward, the Muslims launched their attack against al Balqa' and avenged the Muslims' setback in Mu'tah where Usamah's father fell under Byzantine arms. The war cry in that campaign was "O Victor! Give death to the enemy!" Thus Abu Bakr and Usamah fulfilled the commandment of the Prophet, and the army returned to Madinah victorious. Usamah was at its head, riding the very horse on which his father died at the Battle of Mu'tah, and carrying high the banner which the Prophet of God had entrusted to him in person.
Prophets Leave No Inheritance
After the death of the Prophet, his daughter Fatimah asked Abu Bakr to return to her the land the Prophet kept for himself at Fadak and Khaybar. Abu Bakr, however, answered her by quoting her father's words: "We, the Prophets, do not leave any inheritance for anyone. Whatever we do leave shall be given out in charity." Continuing with his own words, Abu Bakr said "However, if it was the case that your father had made a grant to you of this property, then I shall certainly honor your word to this effect and fulfill for you his commandment." At this, Fatimah answered that her father had not made any such grant to her at all, but that Umm Ayman had informed her that that might have been Muhammad's purpose. Abu Bakr therefore resolved that the lands of Fadak and Khaybar should be kept by the public treasury of the Muslims as state domain.
Muhammad's Great Spiritual Legacy
Thus Muhammad left this world just as he had entered, without material shackles. His only inheritance left to mankind was the religion of truth and goodness. He had paved the ground and laid the foundation for the great civilization of Islam which had covered the world in the past and would cover the world in the future. It was a civilization in which tawhid, or the unitization of God, was the cornerstone; and an order in which the word of God and His commandments are always uppermost, while those of unfaith are nethermost. It was a civilization purged absolutely clean of all paganism and of all idolatrous forms and expressions, a civilization in which men were called upon to cooperate with one another for the good and moral felicity of all men, not for the benefit of any group or people. Muhammad left to this world the Book of God, a guidance and mercy to mankind, while the memory of his own life gave the highest and noblest example for man's emulation. One of the last sermons which the Prophet delivered to the people during his illness contained the following words: "O Men! If I have lashed the back of anyone, let him come forward and lash my back in return. If I have insulted anyone, let him come forth and take satisfaction of me. If I have dispossessed anyone of any wealth, let him come forth and seize his wealth from me. If there be any such men as these, let them come forth without fear of retaliation or hatred, for neither of these become of me." Only one man came forth to make a claim, that Muhammad owed him three dirhams; he was paid in full by Muhammad on his deathbed. The Prophet left this world an inheritance of a great spiritual legacy whose light continues to illumine the world and will continue to illumine the world until God completely fulfills His promise and gives victory to His religion over all the religions despite all unbelievers. May God's peace and blessing be upon Muhammad!