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 Sirat Rasoul Allah

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26- Last Illness

While the people were thus engaged the last illness of the apostle began in which Allah took him to Himself, to His mercy and grace. The malady began thus. He had given orders for an ex­pedition to set out to the borders of Syria ; that night, his manu­mitted slave recorded, 'The apostle of Allah awoke me in the middle of the night and said, "I am commanded to implore pardon for the dead in the cemetery!" So I went there with him, and when he stood among the dead, he exclaimed, "Peace be upon you, tenants of these graves! May the state you are in be better than that which lies in store for mankind! Rebellions are setting in like waves of darkness. They will follow each other, and the last will be worse than the first". Then he turned to me and said, "I have been offered a choice between the treasures of this world and everlasting life, or paradise and the meeting with my Lord. I have chosen the second." I replied, "Thou art my father and my mother; take the treasures of this world now and paradise afterwards." But he continued, "No. I have chosen to meet my Lord." After that, the malady of the apostle began, and Allah took him away.'

According to Aisha, 'The apostle of Allah returned from the cemetery to me. I had a headache and complained "My head! My head! " And he replied, "No, Aisha. My head! " Then he said, "Wouldst thou be distressed to die before me, that I might stand over thee and enshroud thee, and pray for thee, and bury thee?" But I exclaimed, "If that were to happen, I can see thee no sooner bury me than return to my house, to celebrate thy wedding with some other woman!" The apostle smiled, and, though the malady began to develop, he continued to make the round of his wives until, in the house of Maymuna, it overcame him. Then he called his wives to ask their permission to spend in my house such time as he was ill, and permission was granted to him.'

The total‑number of the apostle's wives was thirteen. After Khadiia' and Aisha, he married Sauda; then Zaynab, who had been the wife of his freed slave, Zayd, who divorced her that she might wed the apostle; and Umm. Salama, to whom he gave as dowry a mattress stuffed with palm fibres, a cup, a dish, and a handmill. Then he wed Hafsa; and Umm Habiba, as a compli­ment to Abyssinia; and Juwayriya from among the captives of the Banu Mustaliq; and Saflya from among the captives at Khaybar; and Maymuna, and Zaynab b. Khuzayma, who was called 'Mother of the Poor' because of her compassion and kindliness.

With these eleven wives the apostle consummated his mar­riages. Two died before him, namely Khadija and Zaynab, but nine survived him. With two others he did not consummate marriage: with Asma, who had the white spots of leprosy and whom he sent back to her family; and with Amra, who had lately been an Unbeliever and who fled to Allah for refuge from the apostle of Allah. He said, 'Who flees for refuge to Allah is well protected', and sent her back to her family.

At the time of his illness, Aisha said, 'The apostle of Allah came walking between two men, with his head wrapped in a cloth, and he walked slowly till he entered my house. Then the apostle fainted, and his malady became worse. He said, "Pour seven leather bags of cold water from the well over me, that I may go out to the people, and give them my last injunctions." So we seated him in a tub and poured water over him till he said, "Enough! Enough!"'

The apostle went out with his head bandaged, and sat upon the pulpit. The first words he spoke were words of prayer for those who had fallen at Uhud; for them he implored pardon and again prayed at some length. Then he said, 'Allah has given one of His servants the choice between this world and the next, and he has chosen to be with Allah.' Abu Bakr understood these words and knew that he meant himself; so he wept, saying, 'Nay. We shall give our own lives and those of our children for thine.' But the apostle said,'Look to these doors which open into the mosque, and close them all save those which lead to the house of Abu Bakr, because I have known no better companion than he.'

While the apostle was sick the people delayed the expedition he had commanded, but he said, 'Carry out the expedition to the Syrian border', and the people hastened their preparations.

He commanded the Emigrants to treat the Helpers well, saying, 'Other groups increase, but the Helpers must remain the same in number and cannot increase. They were my asylum and gave me shelter. Be kind to those who are kind to them, and punish those who injure them.' Then the apostle entered his house, and the sickness overcame him so that he fainted.

The wives of the apostle gathered to consult, and all agreed that they ought to pour medicine into his mouth. The uncle of the apostle, al‑Abbas, offered to pour it himself. When the apostle recovered from his swoon he asked, 'Who has done this to me?' and they replied, 'Thy uncle’ He said, 'This is a medi­cine brought by women from Abyssinia . Why have you done this?' Then his uncle replied, 'We feared thy having pleurisy', and the apostle said, 'That is a disease with which Allah the most high and glorious has not afflicted me! Let no one remain in this house without swallowing some of this medicine, except my uncle.' Accordingly even Maymuna swallowed some ‑ although she was fasting at the time ‑ because the apostle swore that all must taste it as a punishment for what they had done to him.

According to Aisha, 'When the apostle had become very ill, he said, "Order Abu Bakr to pray with the people!" And I replied, "Abu Bakr is a tender‑hearted man with a weak voice, and he weeps much when he reads the Koran." But he said, "Order him to pray with the people!" I objected only to spare my father, because I knew the people would never wish another man to stand in the prophet's place, and would blame my father for any evil which might occur.'

On the Monday on which Allah took His apostle he went out to the people at their morning prayers. The curtain at Aisha's door was lifted, the door opened, and the apostle of Allah came out and stood in the doorway. When the Muslims caught sight of him they were almost diverted from their prayers through joy at his presence. He signalled them to continue their devotions, and smiled with pleasure as he watched them pray; never had the watchers seen him wear a more beautiful expression than then. After the prayers he addressed the people in a voice loud enough to be heard outside the door of the mosque. He said, 'The fire is kindled, and confusion descends like darkness. But ye have nothing to reproach me for. I have allowed only what the Koran allows, and have forbidden what the Koran forbids.' When the apostle had finished speaking Abu Bakr said, 'Apostle of Allah! I see thou hast risen this morning, by the favour and grace of Allah, in the state of health we love to see thee in!' Then the people went to their homes, satisfied that the apostle was re­covered from his illness.

But al‑Abbas had said that morning to Ali, 'I swear by Allah that I have seen death in the face of the apostle.' And he was not mistaken.

Aisha said, 'When the apostle of Allah returned that morning from the mosque he rested on my lap.' Usama, in command of the Syrian expedition, had camped outside Medina , but when he heard the apostle was dangerously ill he went down to Medina with his army. 'When I went in to the apostle he had already lost the power of speech and said nothing; but he lifted his hands to heaven and then again lowered them, and I knew he was praying for me.'

According to Aisha, 'a man of the family of Abu Bakr hap­pened to enter with a fresh toothpick in his hand and the apostle of Allah looked at it in such a way that I knew he wanted it. I asked, "Shall I give thee this toothpick?" and he replied, "Yes". So I took it and chewed it until it became soft and gave it to him. He rubbed it against his teeth, more sharply than I had ever seen him do, and then he laid it down again. Then I found that he was becoming heavy in my lap, and I looked at him and saw that his eyes were turned upwards; and he said, "Nay! Rather the companion in paradise!" I had often heard the apostle say, "Allah takes no prophet away without giving him a choice", and when he died his last words were, "Rather the companion in paradise". Then I thought, "He has not chosen our companion­ship". And I said to him, "The choice was thine, and I swear by Him who sent thee that thou hast chosen what is right." Then the apostle of Allah died, at noon on Monday.

'The apostle died on my breast, despite my foolishness and youth. I placed his head on a cushion, and then I rose and began to strike my face and beat my breast with the other women.'

Now Umar rose before the people and said, 'Some Hypocrites say that the apostle of Allah is dead! He has not died, but has departed to his Lord, just as Moses left his people for forty days, and returned to them when it was rumoured he was dead. By Allah! The apostle will return just as Moses did, and the hands and feet of the men who have said that the apostle is dead will be cut off!'

Abu Bakr arrived, and alighted at the door of the mosque while Umar was talking thus. But he took no notice, and went in to see the body of the apostle in the house of Aisha. It was laid out and shrouded with a striped mantle. This he removed from the face of the apostle and, kissing it, said, 'Thou art to me as my father and mother! Thou hast tasted the death which Allah decreed for thee; but after it, no death will ever come to thee again.' Then he covered the face of the apostle and went out. He went to Umar and said, 'Gently! Listen to me’ but Umar paid no attention, and continued his speech.

            When Abu Bakr saw that he would not listen he himself turned to the people, who left Umar and came to him. Then he gave praise to Allah and said, 'Let all who adored Muhammad know that Muhammad is dead, and let all who adore Allah know that Allah is eternal and never dies.' Then he recited the verse 'Muhammad is but an apostle. Other apostles have passed away before him. If he die or be slain will ye turn back? He who turns back does no injury to Allah; and Allah will surely reward those who give thanks.' And it was as if the people had never heard this verse until Abu Bakr recited it then.

Umar told thereafter how'When Allah had caused His apostle to die, the Helpers disagreed with the Emigrants about what should next be done, and they gathered to discuss it. I said to Abu Baky, "Let us go to our brethren the Helpers", and we went, and sat down with them. Then their orator pronounced the Confession of Faith, uttered due praise to Allah, and said, "We are the Helpers of Allah and the army of Islam, and you Emi­grants are a part of us." And they intended thus to take dominion away from us. When he ceased to speak I prepared to reply and had already thought out an oration which pleased me when Abu Bakr said, "Gently, Umar!" And I was unwilling to anger him.

'Then he spoke and he was more learned and dignified than I. There was not a sentiment I had intended to use which he did not express in the same or even in a better way than I could have done. He said, "Whatever good qualities you claim, you are possessed of! But the Arabs concede supremacy only to us of the Quraysh, who are the centre of the Arab world by heredity and position. I propose to you one of these two men as leader and you may pay homage to whichever you prefer!" Then he took hold of my hand and that of Abu Ubayda. This was the only sentiment in his speech which displeased me, for I would rather have had my head struck off than govern over a man so great as Abu Bakr.

'Then a Helper rose and said, "Let there be one Amir selected from the Helpers, and one from the Emigrants", and many voices were raised and there was confusion. So, fearing dissension, I cried to Abu Bakr to stretch out his own hand and I paid him homage. Then all paid him homage.'

Finally, Abu Bakr spoke again. He said, 'I am appointed to govern you, although I am not the best of you. If I act well you must aid me, and if I act unjustly you must correct me. Truth is faithfulness and falsehood is treachery! No nation has failed to fight for Allah but Allah has punished it with abasement; nor has wickedness become widespread without Allah sending cala­mity. Obey me as long as I obey Allah and His prophet! But should I rebel against Allah and His prophet you will owe me no obedience! Rise to your prayers and may Allah have mercy on you’

On Tuesday, after allegiance had been paid to Abu Bakr, the people made preparations for the burial of the apostle of Allah. Ali, al‑Abbas and his sons al‑Fadl and Qutham, with Usama and Shuqran, took it upon themselves to wash the corpse. Ali leaned the body against his own breast, while al‑Abbas, al‑Fadl and Qutham helped to turn him. Usama and Shuqran poured the water whilst Ali washed him. Ali said, 'Thou art my father and my mother! How beautiful thou art, alive and dead.' And there was nothing distasteful, as with other dead bodies, in the corpse of the apostle of Allah.

Aisha said, 'When they were about to wash the apostle, they disagreed and said, "By Allah! We do not know whether we ought to strip the apostle of Allah as corpses are usually stripped, or whether to wash him in his clothes". As they were discussing, Allah sent sleep upon them so that there was not a man among them who did not slumber; and they heard a voice which they knew not, saying, " Wash the prophet in his garments! " They rose and washed the apostle of Allah in his shirt, pouring water over it, and rubbing it with their hands, so that the shirt was between their hands and the body.' After the washing had been com­pleted, the apostle was wrapped in three garments.

When the body had been arranged and laid out on the couch in his own house the Muslims knew not where to bury him. One said, 'Let us bury him in his mosque.' Another said, 'Let us bury him with his companions.' And Abu Bakr said, 'I have heard the apostle of Allah say that every prophet should be buried on the spot where he died.' Accordingly the bed on which the apostle had been resting was lifted up, and the grave dug under it. But there was doubt about the form of the grave.

Abu Ubayda was accustomed to dig graves plainly, according to the fashion of Mecca , but Abu Talha, the grave‑digger of Medina , dug them in a vaulted shape. Al‑Abbas therefore called two men, and said to one of them, 'Go to Abu Ubayda', and to the other, 'Go to Abu Talha.' He added, 'Allah, choose for Thy apostle.' Abu Ubayda could not be found, but the man who went to Abu Talha found him and brought him; so he dug the grave of the apostle in the Medina fashion.  

Then the men entered in throngs to pray for him. When they had completed their devotions the women came in; and when they had finished the children came. Yet no one had directed the people to visit the corpse of the apostle of Allah.

The apostle of Allah was buried in the middle of the night on Wednesday. Aisha said, 'We knew nothing about the burial of the apostle until we heard the sound of pickaxes in the middle of the night.' Those who went down into the grave of the apostle were the same men as washed the corpse. When the apostle had been laid in the grave and it was to be built up, his freed slave, Shuqran, took a wrapper which the apostle had used often and worn out; and, burying it in the grave, he said, 'No one shall wear it after thee.' It remained interred with the apostle.

According to Aisha, the apostle had said when he was dying, 'The curse of Allah is on a nation which makes the graves of its pro­phets into places of worship', but he knew that his own followers would do this. And it was true, for when the apostle died a great calamity befell the Muslims. Aisha, who survived the apostle forty‑seven years, recorded, 'When the apostle of Allah died many Arabs relapsed into idolatry; Judaism and Christianity rose again, and Hypocrisy became common, so that the Muslims seemed like a flock of sheep on a wintry night, because of the loss of their prophet. Then Allah roused them again under Abu Bakr.'  

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