By Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall
The Farewell Pilgrimage
In the tenth year of the Hijrah, the Prophet Muhammad salAllahu `alayhi wa sallam went to Makkah as a pilgrim for the last time – his “pilgrimage of farewell” it is called – when from Mount `Arafat he preached to an enormous throng of pilgrims. He reminded them of all the duties Islam enjoined upon them, and that they would one day have to meet their Lord, who would judge each one of them according to his work. At the end of the discourse, he asked, “Have I not conveyed the Message?” And from that great multitude of men who a few months or years before had all been conscienceless idolaters the shout went up, “O Allah! Yes!” The Prophet salAllahu `alayhi wa sallam said, “O Allah! Be You witness!”
Illness and Death of the Prophet
It was during that last pilgrimage that the surah entitled “an-Nasr” was revealed, which he received as an announcement of approaching death. Soon after his return to Madinah, he fell ill. The tidings of his illness caused dismay throughout Arabia and anguish to the folk of Madinah, Makkah, and Ta’if, the hometowns. At early dawn on the last day of his earthly life, he came out from his room beside the mosque at Madinah and joined the public prayer, which Abu Bakr radhiAllahu ‘anhu had been leading since his illness. And there was great relief among the people, who supposed him well again.
When, later in the day, the rumor grew that he was dead. `Umar radhiAllahu ‘anhu threatened those who spread the rumor with dire punishment, declaring it a crime to think that the Messenger of Allah salAllahu `alayhi wa sallam could die. He was storming at the people in that strain when Abu Bakr came into the mosque and overheard him. Abu Bakr went to the chamber of his daughter `Aishah radhiAllahu ‘anha, where the Prophet salAllahu `alayhi wa sallam lay. Having ascertained the fact, and kissed the Prophet’s forehead, he went back into the mosque. The people were still listening to `Umar, who was saying that the rumor was a wicked lie, that the Prophet salAllahu `alayhi wa sallam who was all in all to them could not be dead. Abu Bakr went up to `Umar and tried to stop him by a whispered word. Then, finding he would pay no heed, Abu Bakr called to the people, who, recognizing his voice, left `Umar and came crowding round him. He first gave praise to Allah, and then said, “O people! Lo! As for him who worshiped Muhammad (salAllahu `alayhi wa sallam), Muhammad (salAllahu `alayhi wa sallam) is dead. But as for him who worships Allah, Allah is Alive and does not die.” He then recited the ayah of the Qur’an:
“Muhammad is not but a messenger. [Other] messengers have passed on before him. So if he was to die or be killed, would you turn back on your heels [to unbelief]? And he who turns back on his heels will never harm Allah at all; but Allah will reward the grateful.” [Surah Aal Imran 3 : 144]
“And,” says the narrator: an eye-witness, “it was as if the people had not known that such an ayah had been revealed till Abu Bakr recited it.” And another witness tells how `Umar used to say, “Directly I heard Abu Bakr recite that ayah my feet were cut from beneath me and I fell to the ground, for I knew that Allah’s Messenger was dead, May Allah bless and keep him!”
All the Surahs of the Qur’an had been recorded in writing before the Prophet’s death, and many Muslims had committed the whole Qur’an to memory. But the written Surahs were dispersed among the people; and when, in a battle which took place during the Caliphate of Abu Bakr – that is to say, within two years of the Prophet’s death – a large number of those who knew the whole Qur’an by heart were killed, a collection of the whole Qur’an was made and put in writing. In the Caliphate of `Uthman, all existing copies of Surahs were called in, and an authoritative version, based on Abu Bakr’s collection and the testimony of those who had the whole Qur’an by heart, was compiled exactly in the present form and order, which is regarded as traditional and as the arrangement of the Prophet himself, the Caliph `Uthman and his helpers being Comrades of the Prophet salAllahu `alayhi wa sallam and the most devout students of the Revelation. The Qur’an has thus been very carefully preserved.
Published with permission from onislam.net