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The Unlettered Prophet (50)
Khalid Masud
(Tr. by:Nikhat Sattar)

Journey towards Supreme Companionship

A few days were left in the month of Safar, 11th AH, when one night, the Prophet (sws) woke one of his slaves whom he had freed, Abu Muhibah, from sleep. He told him that he had been instructed to go to the graveyard of al-Baqi‘ of Madinah and pray for the faithful who had reached their Lord. “Abu Muhibah! Come with me.” The Prophet (sws) went to the graveyard and prayed for forgiveness for the departed souls. When he returned home, he developed a headache. He kept performing his duties with the pain and also stayed with each of his wives according to his schedule. His headache continued and he also developed fever. The day when he was staying with Umm al-Mu’minin, Maymunah (rta), his pain increased and so did the fever. He called all his wives and told them that his illness had gained severity and if the wives permitted, could he spend the days of his illness with ‘A’ishah (rta)? All of them gave permission readily and the Prophet (sws) moved to the room of Umm al-Mu’minin ‘A’ishah (rta) with the help of two men.


Choice to Leave the World

He went to the Mosque in the same condition, and, sitting on the pulpit, prayed for forgiveness of the martyrs of the Battle of Uhud, and continued to pray for God’s mercy for them for a long time. Then he told his audience that God had given one of His servants the choice of either staying in the world or leaving to go to the blessings which are with God. The servant had decided to go to God. On hearing this, Abu Bakr (rta) started to weep. He understood that the servant was the Prophet (sws) himself and that he was to leave the world soon. The Prophet (sws) then instructed that the doors of people’s homes that opened to the Mosque be closed but that of Abu Bakr (rta) was not to be closed because he (the Prophet) had found no other companion better than Abu Bakr (rta). If he was ever to have made someone a close friend, he would have made Abu Bakr (rta) so, but his relationship with him was that of a companion and brotherhood in faith. This would remain thus until God gathered all of them unto Himself.


Arrangements for the Last Battle

Before the advent of his illness, the Prophet (sws) had made arrangements for the last battle of his life. He had put together an army and made Usamah ibn Zayd (rta) its commander. He had been ordered to go into the region where the Battle of Mawtah had been fought and of which his father, Zayd ibn Harithah (rta) was the commander. Zayd (rta), ‘Abdullah ibn Rawahah (rta) and in which three commanders: Ja‘far ibn Abi Talib (rta) had been martyred. Usamah (rta) was to attack the region of Balqa near Palestine. Experienced and older Ansars and Muhajirs were placed under him. The army was being prepared when the Prophet (sws) fell ill and the pace of preparations became slow. At this time, some people started saying that assigning a young man like Usamah to be the commander of and to lead older and experienced companions was not appropriate. When the Prophet (sws) came to know of this, he came to the Mosque with a band around his head due to his headache and said to the people that he had come to know of the objections of some people to the assignment of Usamah as the commander of the army. “By my life! you had also objected to his father being given the position of commander whereas, undoubtedly he was fully eligible. Similarly, Usamah too is capable of this responsibility. Hearing this sermon, people began preparing to go for the battle. Usamah gave orders for the army to gather at the place of Jarf, a few miles away from Madinah. He himself reached Jarf, but kept communications open with Madinah to ensure he knew of developments there.

 The army was ready. The Prophet (sws) became severely ill. Usamah decided to wait and see.


Fulfilling the Obligation to give Advice during Illness

When it became impossible for the Prophet (sws) to fulfill his responsibilities of the Mosque due to severity of illness, he ordered that Abu Bakr (rta) be asked to lead prayers instead of himself. ‘A’ishah  (rta) suggested that since Abu Bakr (rta) was a soft hearted man and might not be able to stand at the pulpit; his voice faltered and he started crying while reciting the Qur’an, someone else be given this responsibility. The Prophet (sws) did not agree and insisted that Abu Bakr (rta) be asked to carry out this responsibility. Hence, Abu Bakr (rta) led the prayers.

Even when he was very ill, the Prophet (sws) fulfilled the rights of the faithful and continued to give them advice and instructions. ‘A’ishah (rta) said that he would say often: “May God destroy the nation that converted the graves of its prophets into mosques.” Similarly, he instructed that there should not be two religions in the Arabian Peninsula. He also said that God had always given the choice to live longer to every prophet.


Narratives on Writing the Last Instructions   

Certain narratives about the last moments of the Prophet (sws) have been quoted according to which he had asked for something to be written down for the ummah, but it was not implemented. For example, Sa‘id ibn Jubayr narrated that Ibn ‘Abbas (rta) used to say: “Oh, the day of Thursday! How painful was this day!” and he would weep so much that pebbles on the ground would become wet. Sa‘id said that when he asked how was this Thursday, Ibn ‘Abbas (rta) said: “On that day, the Prophet’s illness became worse and he asked for writing material with which to write, so that after him, people would not go astray. At this, there was a difference of opinion among those present, although it is not appropriate to express difference of opinion in front of a prophet. People said: ‘Just look at him. He is in a state of extreme illness. Try to understand what he says.’ The Prophet (sws) said: ‘Leave my condition. I am well in whatever condition I am. I advise you three things. One is that you are to exile all Idolaters from the Arabian Peninsula; second is that just as I have been welcoming delegations, you should do the same.’” At the third, Ibn ‘Abbas (rta) became quiet, or if he did say it, I have forgotten it.’1

 The second narrative about this matter is from al-Zuhri. In this, Ibn ‘Abbas (rta) narrates that when the time for the Prophet (sws) came, some people, including ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (rta) were present in the house. The Prophet (sws) said: “Bring some material with which I could write, after which you will not be misguided.” ‘Umar (rta) said: “The Prophet (sws) is extremely ill. You have the Qur’an, so God’s Book is sufficient for us.” At this, a difference of opinion emerged among the people and they began to argue with each other. Some of them said that the things should be brought so that the Prophet (sws) may have his instructions written down after which they will not go astray. Others were in agreement with ‘Umar (rta). When the debate heated up and voices became loud, the Prophet (sws) asked them to get up. One narrator, ‘Ubaydullah said that Ibn ‘Abbas said that it was such a great calamity that became a barrier between the Prophet (sws) and the writing, and its cause was the argument and voices of the people.2

These are the narratives on the basis of which the Shiites claim that the Prophet (sws) had wished to write down the name of ‘Ali (rta) as having the right to the caliphate. But the people present at the time, including ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (rta) did not provide the writing material due to which this important document could not be written.

If the above two narrations are considered, we find that they provide information about the same event but there are no similarities between the two. The only common point is the personal view of Ibn ‘Abbas (rta).

‘Umar’s presence is not proved by the first narration. But his name has been mentioned deliberately in the narrative from Zuhri. It is obvious that the purpose was to assign the responsibility of the calamity that became a reason to prevent the Prophet (sws) from having his words documented to ‘Umar.

As far as the purpose of the document is concerned it implies that as long as it remained, people would not be misguided, this is an unattainable objective and the Prophet (sws) was very well aware of this fact. The guidance to and going astray of humans are in the hands of God. This is why it had been made clear to the Prophet (sws): “It is true thou wilt not be able to guide every one, whom thou lovest; but Allah guides those whom He will and He knows best those who receive guidance.” (28:46)

The Qur’an is the book of guidance. After the Prophet (sws), humans can find guidance only from this book. No other document can be of equivalence to the Word of God. Therefore, in our view, the Prophet (sws) could not have said something which was totally against the teachings of the Qur’an. Not communicating such important guidance before his death, acting upon which His servants could have been protected from misguidance, amounts to lack of fulfillment of the responsibilities of prophet hood. The Prophet (sws) was completely free of such errors.

When writing material was not provided to the Prophet (sws) and he was requested to give his advice verbally, the two points which he spoke about were not related to guidance or to going astray. They concerned management or etiquette. The third point was forgotten by the narrator. So, if the Prophet (sws) had something written down, he would have stated a similar point. Hence, the purpose of writing could not have been what seems to be from the words of the narration.

In our view, while the narrative is weak, it is also contaminated by the wishes of the narrators.


Increase in Illness

When his illness increased, the Prophet (sws) became unconscious. When Usamah came to know, he came to Madinah. The Prophet (sws) regained consciousness before his arrival but was not in a state to speak. He recognized Usamah, raised his hands towards the sky and passed them on Usamah. It seemed as if he was giving his blessings to Usamah.

‘A’ishah (rta) said: “When in extreme pain, the Prophet (sws) would often repeat: ‘No, but I want the companionship of the supreme and highest companion in Paradise.’ Since he had earlier told people that prophets are given a choice between life and death, I assumed that he was making use of this choice and choosing the companionship of the people of Paradise. He did not wish to stay in the world after fulfillment of his responsibilities: hence he wanted to be raised up.”


Offering the Last Prayer

During fajr of 12th Rabi‘ al-awwal, he felt better and was able to get up from bed to stand at the door of the room. People were offering prayers under the leadership of Abu Bakr (rta). Seeing them, the Prophet (sws)’s face lit up with happiness. When people saw him, they made way for him into the Mosque, but he asked them to stay where they were. When Abu Bakr (rta) sensed some movement among the faithful, he realized that the Prophet (sws) was present amongst them and tried to give space to the Prophet (sws) at the pulpit. The Prophet (sws) prevented him to move behind and sat down to his right to offer his prayers. After this, he sat down facing the others and said: “The fire of Hell has been lit. Devils are advancing to spread like a dark night. What the Qur’an declared to be halal, I have done the same, and what the Qur’an declared to be haram, I have done the same.”



 After prayers, when the Prophet (sws) went towards his house, Abu Bakr asked his permission to visit his home in the locality of Sakh in the upper part of Madinah. When he had gone, the Prophet (sws) took a turn for the worse. Meanwhile, ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Abi Bakr came to see him. He had a new miswak with him. The Prophet (sws) was looking at it with great interest. ‘A’ishah (rta) realized that he wished to brush his teeth. She took the miswak from her brother, softened it by chewing on it and gave it to the Prophet (sws). He brushed his teeth well and then lay down. He was ill again. ‘A’ishah (rta) saw that his eyes had become fixed. She held him, he was repeating the words: “No, but I want the companionship of the supreme and highest companion in Paradise.” While in this condition, his soul left his body.

 The news of the Prophet’s death spread like fire throughout the city. Abu Bakr (rta) came immediately from Sakh, went inside the room, removed the cloth from the Prophet’s face and kissed his forehead. Then he said: “My parents be sacrificed for you. The death which God had ordained for you has been faced by you. Now you will not need to face another death.” This was the afternoon of Monday, 12th Rabi al-Awwal.

According to narratives, when Abu bakr (rta) came out, he saw ‘Umar (rta) overcome by extreme emotions, scolding people who were saying that the Prophet (sws) had passed away. He was saying that just as Musa (sws) had gone for 40 days to the mountains, and Israelites had started to say that he had died and would not return, the same way Muslims were saying the same thing. In reality, the Prophet (sws) had not passed away. Abu Bakr (rta) tried to stop ‘Umar (rta) but he kept repeating the same thing. At this, Abu Bakr called the attention of people to himself and said that those who had been worshipping Muhamad (sws), should understand that the Messenger of God had passed away, and those who had worshipped God should remember that God was alive and would never die. He reminded people of the verse: “Muhammad is no more than an apostle: many were the apostles that passed away before him. If he died or were slain, will ye then turn back on your heels? If any did turn back on his heels, not the least harm will he do to Allah. but Allah [on the other hand] will swiftly reward those who [serve Him] with gratitude.” (3:144)

People were so affected by this sermon that they realized that they had never understood the content of this verse, even though it had been revealed after the Battle of Uhud. ‘Umar (rta), riveted by fear, sat down on the ground.


Selection of a Successor

Some time later, the news came to the Mosque that a group of Ansars, the Saqifah, had collected in Bani Sa‘idah and were arguing about succession as to who would lead the Muslims after the Prophet (sws). The influential leader of the Ansars, Sa‘d ibn ‘Ubadah (rta) was also present in Saqifah. This was most significant news as the future of Islam was related to it. Any wrong decision at this time could have resulted in creating rifts among Muslims. So Abu Bakr (rta) and ‘Umar (rta) proceeded to the Saqifah. Sa‘d ibn ‘Ubadah (rta) was lying down and influential Ansars were giving their opinions. They said that the Ansars had sacrificed most for Islam and Muslims and so it was the right of Ansars to take over the caliphate after the Prophet (sws). Sa‘d ibn ‘Ubadah (rta) would be the best person for this responsibility. Abu Bakr (rta) spoke then and said that while the services of the Ansars were massive and they were also highly influential in that region, but Islam had spread over the whole of Arabia. Arab tribes would not accept anyone from other than Quraysh. The Ansars suggested that there be two caliphs: one from the Ansars and one from the Muhajirin. Both should rule together. Abu Bakr (rta) reminded people that the Prophet (sws) had said clearly that the leader of Muslims should be from the Quraysh. When people became satisfied at this, he asked them to take a pledge at the hands of either ‘Umar or Abu ‘Ubaydah ibn al-Jarrah, who would be the best candidates. ‘Umar (rta) came forward to say that Abu Bakr (rta) was the most trusted companion of the Prophet (sws) and the one who had stayed in the cave with him. The Prophet (sws) had nominated him to lead prayers during his lifetime and to be his deputy. There was no one better than him. He would take a pledge on his hand. ‘Umar said this and took Abu Bakr (rta)’s hand in his, thus taking the pledge. The Ansars did the same. Thus, Abu Bakr (rta) was selected as the caliph of the Messenger.

After the burial of the Prophet (sws), when some people said that the Prophet (sws) had nominated ‘Ali (rta) to be his successor, ‘A’ishah (rta) differed. She said that in his last moments, the Prophet’s head was in her lap. At this stage, he had asked for water in a bowl but his body had sagged at the same time. When could he have named ‘Ali (rta) as his successor?

In the same manner, the question had been raised as to what will he left behind. When it became clear that he had not left a will, some people began to discuss the issue. ‘A’ishah (rta) then clarified that if the Prophet (sws) had not left dinar, dirham, goats or sheep or camels as his legacy, why should he have made a will?3



The Prophet (sws) was bathed on Wednesday and clothed in burial sheets. The question arose whether to make his grave within the Mosque or in Jannah al-Baqi‘. Abu Bakr (rta) repeated the Prophet’s saying that a prophet was to be buried at the place he had died. Therefore, Abu Talhah Zayd ibn Sahal dug the Prophet’s grave at the place of his bed. His body was not removed from his room so there was no need for a collective prayer. People entered the room in groups and offered their prayers. On the night between Wednesday and Thursday, the Prophet (sws) was lowered into his grave by his cousins. Thus, this shining sun of the world disappeared from the eyes of the people of the world.


(Translated by Nikhat Sattar)



1. Muslim, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, vol. 2, 15.

2. Ibid., vol. 2, 16.


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