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Prophet Muhammad’s Last Days

{This day I have completed your religion for you, perfected My grace on you, and approved Islam as your religion.} (5: 3), the last verse to be revealed.

One or two of the Prophet’s companions, endowed with keen insight, recognized that it was an announcement of the completion of the Prophet’s mission realizing that when perfection has been achieved, only imperfection can creep in.

No one, however, could imagine that the Prophet’s life was approaching its end. But the Prophet was a human being, distinguished only by the fact that God had chosen him to convey His message to mankind. When the message has been delivered, his role is fulfilled.
Late in the month of Safar, the second month in the Islamic calendar, of the eleventh year of the Islamic era, the Prophet asked Abu Muwayhibah, a servant of his, to accompany him one night to the graveyard of Madinah known as Baqi’ al-Gharqad. He stood there praying to God to forgive those who were buried in that graveyard, as they had served Islam during their lives.

It was an act which showed the Prophet’s love and compassion for those who recognized the truth of Islam and molded their lives according to it.

Justice and Equity

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The Prophet’s illness continued to get worse and he became feverish. He asked to be given a cold bath.

When he felt that his temperature had gone down, he asked his cousin, Al-Fadl ibn Al-‘Abbas, to take his hand and walk him to the mosque. He sat on the pulpit with a band round his head and asked him to call the people. They came to listen to the man who had been teaching them what to do in every situation they faced. His address to them was one which stressed that injustice was not admissible in Islam in any way:

“I praise God, the One other than whom there is no deity. If I have ever beaten any of you on his back, let him come and avenge himself by beating me on my back. If I ever abused anyone, let him come and abuse me. To dispute is not part of my nature, nor does it appeal to me. The one of you who is dearest to me is the one who has a right against me and claims it. By so doing, he releases me, and I will be able to meet God with nothing held against me by any person.”
In line with the Prophet’s priorities, the address showed how the Prophet (peace be upon him) was always eager to stress that justice was the main characteristic of Islamic society.

The Prophet stayed indoors as his health gradually deteriorated. On those few occasions when he felt a little better, he went out to the mosque to cast a glance on the community he had molded and the people he loved.
The atmosphere in Madinah in those final days of the month of Safar and the early days of Rabi’ al-Awwal was a sad one with no sign of any improvement in the Prophet’s health. Moreover, there was the added element of expectation, since a Muslim army was being raised for a confrontation with the Byzantine Empire.

Every Muslim in Madinah loved the Prophet more than he loved his own children, or indeed himself. It is such a degree of love which faith demands of the believers. Hence, to see him ill and in pain was a very distressing sight for everyone. His illness was getting worse. He suffered a great deal, and those who were around him were very sad to see him suffering. The army raised for an expedition against the Byzantines delayed its departure because of the Prophet’s illness.

The Prophet, however, continued to go out into the mosque and speak to the people whenever he had the strength to do so. One day he sat on the pulpit, with a band round his head, and people surrounding him.

The Prophet continued to lead the believers in prayers despite his illness. As his condition worsened, however, he was unable to continue to do so. He therefore gave his order that Abu Bakr should lead the prayers. Abu Bakr led the prayers 17 times, which meant three and a half days. Those were days when the Prophet was very ill. He is authentically reported to have said: “I suffer as much as two of you put together.”
Yet despite the severity of his illness, the Prophet continued to be alert, his mind always intact, and he continued to show his keenness to establish the main principles of Islam deep in the hearts of his followers. He continued to remind them of the basic principles of his message.

The worst thing the Prophet feared for his nation was that they should come to attach undue importance and give unwarranted reverence to people or graves or anything else, as followers of other religions have done and still do. He wanted his nation always to maintain its firm belief in the oneness of God, worshipping Him alone. Even when he was in the throes of death, he continued to warn the Muslims against this danger.

Another evil which the Prophet continued to warn his followers against was following one’s caprice or looking on others with contempt. Those who follow their caprice are bound to neglect their prayers, and those who are contemptuous of others are bound to treat their servants, employees and slaves badly.

A nation which gives way to such evils is not worthy of life, nor can it contribute anything useful to life. It is bound to be neglected by God in punishment for its offences. Such neglect brings humiliation in this world and suffering in the Hereafter.

The Prophet’s fear that his Islamic nation should suffer such evils caused him to repeat warnings against them time after time to such an extent that on his deathbed, he continued to draw the attention of the Muslims to the main aspects of good conduct.

Anas ibn Malik reports that on his deathbed the Prophet continued to emphasize the importance of prayers and extending good treatment to slaves. Other reports confirm this, pointing out that the Prophet continued to advise the Muslims with these words:

“Attend to prayers; attend to prayers. Do not charge those whom your right hands possess [i.e. your slaves] with what they cannot bear. Fear God in your treatment of women.”

Sometimes the Prophet was very keen to attend the congregational prayers and to see his followers in their worship. It seems that God wanted to reassure His messenger that his nation was very firm in its belief in the message of Islam that He enabled him to look at them in their dawn prayer on the Monday when his death occurred.

The Prophet’s appearance in that prayer gave the Muslims a false impression that he was much better. They thought that he was on his way to complete recovery. Happy in these hopes, people dispersed to attend to their affairs. That took place on Monday the 12th of Rabi’ al-Awwal in the eleventh year of the Islamic era.

The tragic news was soon known and people were stunned. The believers felt that the whole city of Madinah sank into total darkness. They were like young children losing their parents. They did not know what to do. Despite the repeated hints by the Prophet of his impending death and the fact that the Quran mentions that possibility clearly, to lose him was, for his companions, something they could not imagine or visualize.

He lived among them as one who was dearer to them than their souls. He was the sun of their lives. His death meant that they had to live in absolute darkness. For the Prophet to be withdrawn from their lives meant to them a vacuum which could never be filled. It was an event which they could not imagine or comprehend. Some of them were physically paralyzed, others were dumb, others still made statements which they could not have thought out properly.

Umar ibn Al-Khattab himself, whose opinions had been confirmed by the Quran on more than one occasion, could not make a proper judgment. He stood up to address the people and said:

“Some hypocrites are alleging that God’s Messenger, peace be upon him, has died. God’s Messenger has not died. He has gone to his Lord as Moses had done before and was away from his people for 40 nights. He then returned after people had said that he had died. I swear that God’s messenger shall return…”

As Umar was making his speech, Abu Bakr arrived, having been summoned when the tragic event took place. He paid no attention to anything going on around him until he went into the room of his daughter Aisha, the Prophet’s wife. The Prophet was at one side, covered by a Yemeni robe. Abu Bakr went straight to him and uncovered his face, knelt down and kissed him, saying:

“My father and my mother may be sacrificed for your sake. The one death that God has decreed that you shall experience, you have now had. You shall never die again.”

He covered the Prophet’s face and went out to find Umar still speaking to the people. Abu Bakr said to him:

“Listen to me.”

Umar, however, went on speaking. Abu Bakr, therefore, started to speak to the people. When they realized that it was Abu Bakr, they turned to him and left Umar. Abu Bakr began by praising God and thanking Him for His grace then said:

“People, if any of you has been worshipping Muhammad, let him know that Muhammad is dead. He who worships God knows that God is always alive; He never dies.”

He then recited a verse of the Quran:

{Muhammad is but a messenger before whom other messengers have passed. Should he die or be slain, would you turn back on your heels? He who turns back on his heels shall do God no harm. God shall reward those who give thanks to Him.} (3: 144)

When people heard Abu Bakr reciting that verse, they seemed as if they had never heard it before. They had indeed heard it repeatedly, and they repeated it then.

‘Umar said: “When I heard Abu Bakr reciting that verse I was stunned and perplexed. I fell down to the ground, feeling that my legs could not support me. I realized, however, that God’s Messenger was dead.”

It was to be expected that Abu Bakr, the first man to accept Islam and the closest to the Prophet of all his companions, should be the one who reminded the Muslim community of the very basic fact that God’s messenger was an ordinary human being and that he would ultimately die as every human being would.

Thus the Prophet’s life ended. His message, however, remains alive. It will remain intact for the rest of time as God has guaranteed its preservation in its original form.

May God reward the Prophet Muhammad, His last messenger, and grant him peace and blessings.