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The Greatest Calamity – death of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam)

When Sūrah al-Nasr was revealed the Companions rejoiced with the glad tidings of help and victory from Allāh. The chapter depicts a most pleasing scene of people embracing the religion of Islām in large crowds, fulfilling the prophecy of the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), that Islām would spread across the Arabian Peninsula. Abū Bakr alone, wept uncontrollably. He declared, ‘May my mother and father be sacrificed for you, O Messenger of Allāh!’. For he alone understood that this chapter was not only foretelling the near victory that the Muslims would soon enjoy, but it was in fact foretelling the passing away of the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam). Ibn Abaas later explained this chapter in the gatherings of the senior companions who witnessed Badr by saying, ‘This was a sign for the Prophet to know his time of death.’[1]

The Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) stands alone as the greatest of the Messengers and the most beloved to Allāh of His creation. No being, whether human, jinn or indeed angel has drawn closer to Allāh’s presence in this life than the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam). During the miraculous night journey, even the leader of the angels, Jibrīl, could not accompany the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) as he ventured forward to speak to Allāh directly, with no barrier between him and His Lord except the veil of light. It is sufficient for us to understand the status of the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) when we look at the great terms of endearment and respect by which Allāh himself addresses the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) in the Qurān. With this in mind, it becomes clear that Allāh did not send the most beloved of His creation to this world for any other reason than to establish His religion and make His Word the highest. When this mission was complete the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was to return to His Lord.

The Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:

If one of you is afflicted with a calamity, then let him remember his calamity by me (his death); for indeed, it is the greatest of calamities[2].

To this day the Muslim ummah suffers from the trauma of the death of the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam). But even through his death, the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) sought to console the ummah and alleviate the anguish of their own calamities by comparing it to the greatest of calamities, namely his death (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam). As-Sindi states, ‘Remembering a greater disaster wipes out the effect of a smaller one, and if one was able to tolerate and shoulder the greater disaster then it becomes easier for him to withstand the smaller one’.

The Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) stated:

The stars safeguard the skies, and when the stars disappear, then the skies will get what they were promised (i.e. the day of Resurrection), and I safeguard my companions, so when I go then my companions will get what they were promised (i.e. trials and tribulations), and my companions safeguard the Muslim nation, so when they go then my nation will get what they were promised.[3]

Commenting upon this Ḥadīth, Imām An-Nawawi said, ‘Everything that the Prophet Muḥammad(sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) stated in this Ḥadīth regarding incidents that follow his departure has taken place.’ Anas b. Mālik narrates that “When the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) arrived, we felt as if Madīnah had become illuminated; and on the day that the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) passed away, the city of Madīnah never seemed darker.

The only companion who was explicitly informed of the imminent death of the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was his beloved daughter Fāṭima. She states that the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) whispered in her ear, ‘Jibrīl reviews the Qur’ān with me once every year, but this year he revised it twice – and I think this is because the time for my death has come. And you will be the next to die from my family.’ Upon hearing this she wept, so the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) whispered again, ‘Are you not happy that you will be the best of all the ladies of Paradise?’, causing Fāṭima to laugh out of joy.’[4] But in order to prepare the Companions for his passing the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) indeed hinted to his death on a number of occasions. Ibn Rajab cites the Prophet’s sermon during the ‘farewell pilgrimage’ in which the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:

“Take from me your rights for perhaps I will not meet you again after the end of this year.”[5]

The events leading up to his death began with the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) bidding farewell to and making duʿā’ for the deceased Muslims. His freed slave Abū Muwaihibah narrates that the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) instructed him to accompany him to al-Baqī (the graveyard of the Muslims in Madīna) where he invoked Allāh for the deceased. He then informed Abū Muwaihibah:

O Abū Muwaihibah! I was given a choice [by Allāh]; to have control over this world and live in it eternally, followed by Paradise; or to meet my Lord [now] and be granted Paradise after that. So I said: ‘I would sacrifice my father and mother for your sake! Choose the control over this world and to live in it eternally, followed by Paradise’. He (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) replied: “No Abū Muwaihibah! I swear by Allāh that I have chosen to meet my Lord [now] and be granted Paradise after it.”

In this narration the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was given the choice of everlasting life in this world followed by Paradise in the hereafter but he chose the higher companionship of His Lord. This momentous choice is hugely symbolic for all Muslims – our Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) chose the Hereafter and gave it preference over this world and he shunned clinging to this temporary life. In much the same way, he chose the vessel of milk over the vessel of wine when presented to him by Jibrīl prior to the miraculous night journey. He chose the pure fitrah (natural disposition) over the carnal desires of this world. The Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) on both occasions made fundamental choices for himself and by extension the rest of this ummah. It is our religion which is in perfect harmony with the natural disposition, and it is our religion which elevates its followers to seek the abode of the hereafter.

Upon his return the Prophet Muḥammad (Sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) fell ill with his final illness and deteriorated for a period which Ibn Hājar states to be around 13 days. ʿAbdullāh b. Masʿūd entered upon him and was taken aback by the suffering of the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) with his illness, to which the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) responded:

Allāh will remove sins, just as a tree sheds its leaves, for any Muslim who is afflicted with sickness or any other tribulation[6].

When he regained some of his strength he mounted the minbar for the final time, helped by the Companions, and stated:

Allāh has given one of his slaves the choice between this life and what He has for him, so the slave chose what Allāh had for him[7].

Abū Saʿīd al-Khudri narrates that upon hearing this, Abū Bakr (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) began crying. We were all very surprised as to why this story would make Abū Bakr cry, but later we discovered that Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was referring to himself. It was here that we understood that Abū Bakr (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) understood the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) better than any person[8].

When the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) deteriorated significantly he sought permission from his wives to remain in the apartment of ʿĀi’sha which they granted him. ʿĀi’sha narrates:

Whilst the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was suffering from his death-sickness, the call to prayer was made. He (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said: “Command Abū Bakr to lead the people in the prayer.” Some people advised him that Abū Bakr was a soft-hearted man who would not be able to restrain himself from crying during prayers. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) repeated his statement and people repeated the same advice to him. When this happened for the third time, the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said: “You people are just like the women who plotted against Yūsuf! Command Abū Bakr to lead the people in the prayer.” Therefore, Abū Bakr (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) went to lead the prayer, but all of a sudden, the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) felt that he was recovering, so he came out of his house leaning against two men.” ʿĀi’sha (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanha) continued: “It is as if I am looking at his feet dragging on the floor from pain at this very moment.” She (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanha) added: “When Abū Bakr (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) felt the presence of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam)he began to retreat from his position, but the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) signalled for him to continue. Then, he came and sat down next to Abū Bakr (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) and prayed on that spot.[9]

This is the final prayer that the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) conducted with his ummah. And it is an unparalleled honour for Abū Bakr that the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) led him in prayer while the Muslims followed the motions of Abū Bakr. He led the Muslims in the most important deed they can perform. And he would go on to lead the Muslims in their worldly affairs as the Khalīfah of the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) and head of state. It is from the compassion of Allāh to the Muslims that He chose a man to lead them in their religious and worldly affairs who most resembled the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) in conduct and was his intimate friend for over 50 years.

Anas b. Mālik (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) narrated that during the death-sickness of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam):

The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) did not come out for three days. After this, when the very next prayer was due, Abū Bakr (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) came forth to lead the prayer, the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) opened the curtain of his house [and looked at us from within his house]. There was nothing more beautiful than his face when he looked at us on that day. After that, he pointed to Abū Bakr (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) to proceed and lead the prayer and then he closed his curtain. He (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was to never come out of his house again, until he died’.[10]

In the final moments of his life ʿĀi’sha continued to recite al-Muawithāt (Surah al-Ikhlās, al-Falaq and an-Nās) upon the palms of the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) and helped him wipe it over his own body seeking blessings from his own hands. When the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) began to lose consciousness, his daughter Fāṭima (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanha) exclaimed, ‘What extreme pain my father is suffering!’ The Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) heard this and said, ‘Your father will never suffer again after today.’[11]

Anas b. Mālik (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) said, ‘The predominant matter that the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) kept repeatedly stressing whilst on his death bed was, ‘Guard your prayers and watch over what your right hands possess.’[12] He continued to repeat this until he was no longer able to speak. In fact the last scene the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) witnessed of his ummah which caused him to smile radiantly was his companions independently establishing the congregational prayer. It is as if this was the symbolic culmination of his message and confirmation that the Muslims would continue his legacy.

ʿĀi’sha (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanha) narrated:

“It is from the bounties of Allāh [upon me] that the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) died in my house whilst laying in my lap with me holding him between my chest and neck. ʿAbdur-Rahmān b. Abū Bakr (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhumā) went in to see the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) and had in his hand a Siwāk (a wooden tooth-stick) while I was holding the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) in my lap. I noticed that the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) kept looking at the Siwāk so I asked him if he wanted it. He nodded so I took it and began using it, but it seemed very hard so I asked him if I should soften it for him. Again he nodded, so I did so. There was a bowl of water next to the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) which he kept dipping his hands in and then wiping them over his head. Whilst doing this, he (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was saying, ‘Lā ilāha illa Allāh (there is nothing worthy of worship except Allāh), indeed death contains agony.’ Then he pointed upwards and kept saying, ‘Let me join the Highest Companions, let me join the Highest Companions.’ until he (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) died and his hand dropped down.”[13]

It is from the etiquettes of the angel of death to seek permission before taking the souls of the Prophets. Such is their stature and superiority. The Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) final decision in this world was to seek the companionship of his Lord and so he vigorously used his miswāk in preparation for this glorious meeting.

Politicians, media outlets and religious leaders have all sought to ‘revise’ the guidance of this great Messenger so that Muslims can occupy a predetermined position in society and ‘adapt’ to a new world order. Considering the status of this great man, the suggestion is almost laughable. The imagery used to describe this in the Qur’ān is of a person trying to extinguish the light of Allāh by blowing at it furiously with their lips.[14] This light is not a flame but a radiant light emanating from the heavens. The efforts of those trying to extinguish it are utterly self-defeating causing them only to tire and become frustrated.

There is not a single moment that passes in the world today except that there is caller to the prayer proclaiming across the skyline, ‘I bear witness that Muḥammad is the Messenger of Allāh’. There is not a single moment that passes in the world today except that there is a faithful believer, individually or in a gathering, sending salutations on the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam). There is not a single moment that passes in the world today except there is a Muslim re-enacting a sunnah of the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) in speech or in action. So let today be a poignant reminder to all Muslims that there is not a single aspect of his guidance (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) that we will abandon, compromise on or dilute.

The Prophet Muḥammad (Sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) is truly the most magnificent individual to walk the earth and we, as Muslims, should feel a surge of self-respect, dignity and honour that our leader is the leader of all humanity. His guidance supersedes all other attempts by human beings to manage their affairs through laws, doctrines and culture. His message is the culmination and perfection of all divine messages revealed since the time of the first man and Prophet, Ādam (ʿalayhi al-Salām). He has led all the Prophets in prayer in Masjid al-Aqsa as their Imām in the most noble congregation to ever assemble for prayer in the entire history of humanity. Even though his death is the greatest calamity to strike the Muslim nation, his life is the most profound source of guidance, mercy and hope for all human beings.

Source: www.islam21c.com

Notes:

[1] Saḥiḥ al-Bukhārī

[2] Ibn Mājah

[3] Saḥiḥ Muslim

[4] Saḥiḥ al-Bukhārī and Muslim

[5] Ibn Hishām

[6] Saḥiḥ al-Bukhārī

[7] Saḥiḥ al-Bukhārī and Muslim

[8] Saḥiḥ al-Bukhārī and Muslim

[9] Saḥiḥ al-Bukhārī and Muslim

[10] Sahih al-Bukhari and Muslim

[11] Sahih al-Bukhari

[12] Ibn Majah

[13] Saḥiḥ al-Bukhārī and Muslim

[14] Al-Qur’ān, 61:8

About Abu Haneefa

Abu Haneefah is an educationalist and student of knowledge. He has worked extensively in community projects in the UK. He holds regular study circles on reflections on the Qur'ān and his field of expertise is the tarbiyya of young people.

4 comments

  1. Nusrat Shaikh.

    MashaAllah tabarakAllah !! What a very beautiful , beautiful piece of writing of out beloved Prophet saw legacy to us. .
    I have been so moved by your retelling – SubhaanAllah !
    Jzk khair for an inspirational essay.
    May Allah swt bless you with the best in this world and the best in the next ! Aameen Ya Rabb aameen !

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