In the ninth year of the Hijra, the Holy Prophet lost his daughter Zainab, who had never recovered from the ill-treatment that she had suffered on her escape from Mecca. Um Kulthum, whom Uthman married after Ruqayya’s death, had also died, so that of his daughters Fatima alone was left. Shortly after his return from Taif his wife, Mary the Copt, bore him a son who was named Ibrahim. The Holy Prophet was delighted at his birth. He was able to visit him almost daily and fondle him in his arms.
The fall of Mecca opened a new era in Islam. It practically established its supremacy in Arabia. At the opening of the ninth year, on his return from Jirana, the Holy Prophet arranged for the recovery of Zakat from the tribes, which had tendered their submission. Collectors were deputed in every direction to make the assessment, and bring it in to Medina. They were well received, and accomplished their mission without obstruction, excepting only one or two cases. A branch of Bani Temim chanced to be encamped close at hand when the collector arrived to make the collection from an adjoining tribe. While the herds and flocks of their neighbours were being collected for the assessment, Temim, anticipating a like demand, came forward with bows and swords and drove the collector away. The Holy Prophet dispatched Oyeina with fifty horsemen, who fell unexpectedly on them, and making about fifty captives, men, women and children, carried them to Medina. Bani Temim, some of whom had fought by the side of the Holy Prophet at Hunain and been munificently rewarded at Jirana, lost no time in sending a deputation of eighty or ninety chief men to beg for their brethren’s release. When they were received by the Holy Prophet they sought leave to contend for the palm of victory in rhetoric and poetry with the orators and poets of Medina. The Holy Prophet gave permission and the contest proceeded. By the Holy Prophet’s direction Hassan bin Thabet was the last to recite his glowing and well-measured verses. When he finished the strangers were astonished at the beauty of his poetry and observed, ‘By the Lord, how rich is this man’s fortune! His poet, as well as his orator, surpass ours in eloquence.’ The Holy Prophet liberated the prisoners, and, having entertained his visitors hospitably, dismissed their chief with rich presents and provisions for the way. All the branches of the tribe which had not yet given in their adhesion now embraced Islam.
Among other expeditions, one was about this time dispatched against Bani Tai under the command of Ali, who performed his mission effectively and returned with many prisoners. Amongst them was the daughter of Hatim, the Christian Arab chieftain, famous for his generosity but now for some time dead. His son Adi having fled to Syria, his sister, on disclosing her identity to the Holy Prophet, was at once released and presented with a change of raiment and a camel on which, joining the first Syrian caravan, she went in quest of her brother. At her solicitation Adi presented himself before the Holy Prophet, and having embraced Islam, and been confirmed in the chiefship of his tribe, distinguished himself thereafter in the service of Islam.
The Mosque of the Holy Prophet was now the scene of frequent embassies from all quarters of Arabia. His supremacy was everywhere recognised; and from the most distant parts of the peninsula, from Yemen and Hadramaut, from Mahra, Oman and Bahrain, from the borders of Syria and the outskirts of Persia, the tribes hastened to offer submission. They were uniformly treated with consideration and courtesy. Their representations were heard publicly in the court of the Mosque, which formed the hall of audience, and there whatever matters required the directions of the Holy Prophet were discussed and settled. Simple though its exterior, and unpretending its forms and usages, more power was exercised, and affairs of greater importance transacted, in the courtyard of the Mosque of the Holy Prophet than in many an Imperial Palace.
In the autumn of 631, intimation reached the Holy Prophet of the gathering of a large army on the borders of Syria, and he resolved to meet the danger with as large a force as could be collected. The journey in contemplation was so distant and the heat of the season so excessive that, contrary to his custom, the Holy Prophet gave timely warning of his objective so that the necessities of the way might be foreseen and provided for. Though some of the Bedouin tribes showed little alacrity in obeying the Holy Prophet’s command to join the army, and some men of Medina were on various pleas excused, extraordinary eagerness pervaded the ranks of loyal and earnest Muslims. Offerings and contributions poured in from every quarter, and from these sources transportation and supplies were provided for the poorer soldiers, though some still had to be turned away. The numbers of those who finally assembled for the march have been variously estimated, and were probably in the neighbourhood of 30,000, of whom not less than 10,000 were cavalry. After a hot and thirsty march, the army arrived at Tebuk, where there was plenty of shade and water and a halt was made there. The rumours of invasion had by this time melted away. There was nothing at the moment to threaten the border. So the Holy Prophet contented himself with sending a strong detachment under Khalid to Duma, and with receiving the adhesion of the Jewish and Christian tribes on the shores of the Gulf, towards the east of which the army was encamped. To John, the Christian prince of Ayla, the Holy Prophet addressed a letter summoning him to submission. The prince arrived with presents, was received with kindness and was entertained hospitably. The following treaty was concluded with him: ‘In the name of God, Most Gracious, Ever Merciful: A compact of peace from God, and from Muhammad the Prophet and Apostle of God, granted unto Yuhanna, son of Ru’ba, and unto the people of Ayla. For them who remain at home, and for those that travel by sea or by land, there is the guarantee of God and Muhammad the Apostle of God, and for all that are with them, whether of Syria or of Yemen or of the sea coast. It shall not be lawful to hinder the men of Ayla from any springs which they have been in the habit of frequenting, nor from any journey they desire to make, whether by sea or by land. The writing of Juheim and Shurahbil, by command of the Apostle of God.’
In token of approbation the Holy Prophet presented the Christian prince with a mantle of striped Yemen stuff and dismissed him honourably. The tribute was fixed at the yearly sum of a golden piece for every family or 300 for the whole town of Ayla.
At the same time deputations from the Jewish settlements of Maqna, Adhruh and Jarba presented themselves with a tender of submission to the Holy Prophet. To each was given a prescript specifying the amount of their tribute and enjoining them to afford refuge and aid to any Muslim travellers or merchants who might stand in need of their good offices.
Having concluded these matters the Holy Prophet left Tebuk after having halted there for twenty days and returned to Medina. Meanwhile Khalid had been travelling across the desert from Tebuk to Duma with 420 horse, the flower of the army. So rapidly did he march and so unexpectedly appear before Duma that Okeidir, the Christian chief, was surprised by him while hunting. Okeidir was taken captive and the city was ransomed in return for a large number of camels, sheep, suits of mail and stands of arms. With these, and carrying with him Okeidir and a brother, Khalid returned to Medina. The Christian chief, wearing a golden cross, and clad in brocade inwrought with gold, to the admiration of the simple inhabitants of Medina, was brought to the Holy Prophet who invited him to embrace Islam. Okeidir complied and was admitted to the terms of a favoured ally.
When the Holy Prophet returned to Medina many who had remained behind without permission came forward to exculpate themselves. They were suitably dealt with, under divine direction, according to the degree of their culpability.
About two months after the return of the army from Tebuk, Abdullah bin Ubayy, the leader of the disaffected party, died. With his death no one was left in the ranks of the disaffected possessing power or influence. The faction had died out. Those who had hitherto been lukewarm or disloyal soon embraced, heart and soul, the cause of Islam, and the authority of the Holy Prophet became fully and finally consolidated in Medina.
It was now ten months since the siege of Taif had been raised. Its inhabitants, still wedded to idolatry, maintained a sullen isolation. Urwah bin Masood, who had been one of the emissaries sent by Quraish to the Muslim camp at Hudaibiyya, was absent during the siege of his native city, having gone to Yemen to learn the use of warlike engines for its defence. On his return, finding that all Mecca and the surrounding tribes excepting Taif had submitted to the Holy Prophet, and being himself favourably impressed with what he had seen at Hudaibiyya, Urwah went to Medina and embraced Islam. His first generous impulse was to return to Taif and invite his fellow citizens to share in the blessings of the new faith. The Holy Prophet, well knowing their bigotry and ignorance, warned him of the danger he would incur, but, presuming on his popularity at Taif, he persisted in the design. Arriving in the evening he made public his conversion and called on the people to join him. They returned to consult upon the matter. In the morning, ascending his roof, he made the Call to Prayer, upon which the rabble surrounded his house and shot arrows at him by which he was mortally wounded. His family and friends rallied round him, but it was too late. He blessed God with his dying breath for the honour of martyrdom, and prayed his people to bury him by the side of the Muslims who had fallen at Hunain. When the tidings reached the Holy Prophet he lauded the memory of the martyr, observing, ‘He may be compared to the Prophet Yasin, who summoned his people to believe in the Lord, and they slew him.’
The martyrdom of Urwah compromised the inhabitants of Taif, and forced them to continue the hostile course they had been pursuing. But they began to suffer severely from the attacks of Hawazin under Malik, who, according to his resolve, had maintained an unceasing warfare against them. ‘We have not strength,’ they said among themselves, ‘to fight against the Arab tribes all round who have plighted their faith to Muhammad, and are bound to fight in his cause.’ So they sent a deputation of six chiefs with some twenty followers who reached their destination a fortnight after the return of the army from Tebuk. Mughira, nephew of the martyr Urwah, meeting the embassy in the outskirts of the city, hastened to announce their approach to the Holy Prophet, who received them gladly and directed that a tent be pitched for their accommodation close by the Mosque. Every evening he visited and instructed them in the faith. They freely communicated their apprehensions to him. As for themselves, they were quite ready at once to destroy their great idol, Lat; but the ignorant amongst them, and especially the women, were devoted to the worship and would be alarmed at its demolition. If the matter were postponed but for three years, and the people meanwhile familiarised with the requirements of Islam, the wishes of the Holy Prophet might then without difficulty be carried into effect. But the Holy Prophet would not consent. Two years, one year, six months were asked successively, and successively refused. The grace of one month might surely be conceded, they begged, but the Holy Prophet was firm. Islam and the idol could not co-exist. The idol must fall without a single day’s delay. They then begged to be excused performance of the daily prayers, and that someone else might be deputed to destroy the image. ‘As for the demolition of the idol with your own hands,’ replied the Holy Prophet, ‘I will dispense with that; but prayer is indispensable. Without prayer religion were naught.’ To this they submitted. They pleaded that the forest of Wajj, a famous preserve for the chase in the vicinity of Taif, might be declared inviolate, and to this the Holy Prophet acceded, and the embassy, having finally tendered their allegiance, left with a prescript to the effect that they had desired.
Abu Sufyan and Mughira, both friends of the tribe, were deputed by the Holy Prophet to accompany the envoys and destroy their idol. Mughira, wielding a pick-axe and surrounded by a guard of his relatives, attacked the great image, and, amid the cries and wailings of the women, with his own hand hewed it to the ground. Taif was the last stronghold that held out against the authority of the Holy Prophet. It was also the only place where the fate of an idol excited the sympathy of the people. Everywhere else the idols were destroyed by the people themselves without a pang.
The month of pilgrimage now drew near and the Holy Prophet appointed Abu Bakr to lead the caravan of pilgrims from Medina, which was limited to 300 men.
The Holy Prophet’s little son, Ibrahim, was now fifteen or sixteen months old. He fell ill in the middle of summer and his illness soon became grave. Though carefully tended, he expired in the arms of the Holy Prophet, who expressed the poignancy of his grief in the words: ‘The eye sheds tears and the heart grieves, yet we say not aught that would offend our Lord. Ibrahim, we grieve sorely over thy parting. To Allah we belong, and to Him we shall all return.’ Then he comforted Mary and her sister Sireen and bade them to be silent and resigned. The obsequies, prayers and burial were carried through by the Holy Prophet, assisted by his uncle Abbas and his son Fadhl. He lingered at the grave after it was filled up and, calling for a skin of water, caused it to be sprinkled over the spot.
An eclipse of the sun occurred on the same day, and the people spoke of it as a tribute to the death of the Holy Prophet’s son. Sir William Muir has observed (Life of Muhammad, p. 430):
A vulgar impostor would have accepted and confirmed the delusion; but Muhammad rejected the idea. The sun and the moon, he taught them, are amongst the signs appointed by the Lord. They are not eclipsed on the death of anyone. Whensoever you see an eclipse, then betake yourselves to prayer until it passeth away.
The adhesion of Taif and the destruction of its famous idol had enhanced the Holy Prophet’s fame throughout the south and east of the peninsula. A stream of submissive embassies from all quarters now flowed uninterruptedly towards Medina.
Among the embassies there was one from Bani Haneefa, a Christian branch of Bani Bakr, inhabiting Yamamah. One of the Bani Haneefa party was Musailamah, who, probably from what he then saw, conceived the idea that he might successfully set up a claim to prophet hood. When the customary presents were distributed among them, the deputies solicited a share for him, saying he had been left behind in charge of the baggage. The Holy Prophet directed that he should have the same as the rest, as his position was none the worse among them because of his duty. Bani Haneefa, before their departure, embraced Islam and abandoned Christianity without compunction.
Sometime later, a deputation of fourteen chief men from Najran, in the centre of Arabia, repaired to Medina; among them was Abdul Masih of Bani Kinda, their chief, and Abdul Harith, Bishop of Bani Harith. On reaching Medina, they were permitted by the Holy Prophet to enter the Mosque and to perform their service, which they did turning towards the east. After some discussion, a treaty was made with them, which provided: ‘The Pledge of God and His Prophet is given that no Bishop shall be removed from his bishopric, nor any monk from his monastery, nor any priest from his priesthood; their authority and rights shall not be interfered with, nor anything that is customary amongst them; so long as they conduct themselves peaceably and uprightly. They shall not be oppressed, neither shall they oppress.’ With this they returned to Najran. Sir William Muir’s comment on the religious aspect of the discussion between the Holy Prophet and the Christian embassy from Najran is (Life of Muhammad, p. 460):
We cannot but see throughout the earnestness of Muhammad’s belief, and his conviction that a spiritual illumination had been vouchsafed to him, bringing with it knowledge and certainty, where to the Christian, as he conceived, all was speculation and conjecture.
A year later, Khalid was directed to lead a delegation to that section of Bani Harith of Najran who were not parties to the treaty and to call on them to embrace Islam. They all responded to his invitation and professed their belief in Islam. On receiving his report, the Holy Prophet summoned Khalid to return along with a deputation from the tribe, which accordingly visited Medina and were kindly and courteously received.
The supremacy of Islam being thus widely recognised in the south of Arabia, the Holy Prophet sent forth a band of officers charged with the instruction of the people and the collection of the public dues. Over them, he placed Muaz bin Jabal, who had by this time fulfilled his mission at Mecca. The Holy Prophet instructed them, ‘Deal gently with people and be not harsh; put them not in fear, but rather cheer them.’ This was the key-note of the instructions that he always gave to public functionaries.
The pilgrimage came round again. Five days before the commencement of the Month of Pilgrimage the Holy Prophet, followed by a vast multitude, set out on the journey to Mecca. All his wives accompanied him. One hundred camels, marked by his own hand for sacrifice, were led in solemn order. A stop was made at Dhul Haleefah where the whole company assumed the pilgrim’s garb, the Ihram. The Holy Prophet mounted Qaswa and pronounced Talbeeh:
Here am I, O Allah, here am I;
Here am I. Thou hast no associate, here am I;
All praise and bounty are Thine, and Thine the Kingdom;
Thou hast no associate.
When his mount stood up and stepped out he repeated the Talbeeh, and again when it negotiated the first rise in the track, and thereafter on every change of position and posture, throughout; the multitude in his company following his example. Thus has it since been down the ages, and thus will it continue till the end of time.
As indicated in the opening words of his address on the Day of Arafat, the Holy Prophet knew that this was to be his only pilgrimage, and this consciousness added to his eagerness to leave no part of his task undone. A Muslim’s knowledge that the Holy Prophet knew that what he esteemed as his greatest and final pilgrimage was not to be long delayed makes the memory of all that he did and said in the course of this pilgrimage poignant and precious.
On the tenth day of his journey the Holy Prophet reached Saif, an easy stage from Mecca; there he rested for the night, and on the morning, having bathed and mounted Qaswa, proceeded towards Mecca. He entered the upper suburbs by the same route, which he had taken two years before and, passing down the main street, approached the Ka’aba. As he passed through the Bani Shaiba Gate, with the Holy House full in view, he raised his hands to heaven, and invoked a blessing on it: ‘O Lord, add unto this House in the dignity and glory, the honour and the reverence, which already Thou hast bestowed upon it. They that for the pilgrimage, and the Umra, frequent this House, increase them much in honour and dignity, in piety, goodness and renown.’ Then, mounted as he was on his camel, he performed the prescribed circuits with other preliminary rites, and afterwards retired to a tent pitched for him in the valley.
On the seventh of the month, after the midday Prayer, the Holy Prophet preached to the concourse assembled around the Ka’aba. Next day, followed by myriads of devotees, he set out for Mina where he performed the ordinary prayers and slept in a tent. On the second morning at sunrise he moved to Arafat, where he arrived shortly after noon. The plain of Arafat, in which 100,000 eager pilgrims were gathered, was humming with Takbir, Talbeeh, Tasbih, Tahmeed and calling down blessings on the Holy Prophet. He proceeded through the throngs to Jabal Rahmat (Mount of Mercy).
Muhammad, the Chosen of Allah; rejected by Quraish; persecuted; penned in with his family and a few Companions for thirty months in Shi’b Abi Talib and denied all provisions and contact; hounded out of Taif; forced out of Mecca with a price of one hundred camels proclaimed for his person, dead or alive; pursued by the hatred of Quraish even in Medina; challenged by force, besieged, plotted against; faithful, loyal, steadfast, humble, obedient servant of Allah; His Messenger par excellence; in rejection and in acceptance, in trial and in triumph proclaiming as his stand: ‘Sufficient unto me is Allah, there is no god but He, in Him is my trust, the Lord of the Glorious Throne’ (9:129); Muhammad was now surrounded by an ocean of faithful, devoted hearts, all proclaiming the glory of Allah, celebrating His praise, affirming His Unity, supplicating Him for forgiveness, mercy, compassion, invoking His blessings upon Muhammad. Arrived at the Mount, the Holy Prophet stood on the back of Qaswa and made his address:
‘I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship save Allah, the One, without associate, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His Servant and His Messenger.
‘I do not think, O people, that we shall be gathered together here again. Your belongings, your honour, and your lives are sanctified and made inviolate like the sanctity of this day, this month and this city. You will soon appear before your Lord and He will call you to account for all your doings. Take heed that you do not go astray, after I am gone, and start slaying one another.
‘Take note, that I trample underfoot all un-Islamic customs and traditions. All blood-feuds are utterly wiped out. I hereby remit everything owed to any member of my family on that account.
‘Riba [interest] has been declared unlawful and is no longer due. I hereby remit any interest due to any member of my family; for instance, all interest due to my uncle, Abbas bin Abdul Muttalib, is remitted altogether.
‘Be ever mindful of the duty you owe to Allah in respect of your wives. You have married them with the guarantee of Allah’s name, and you have made them lawful for yourselves in accordance with Allah’s word. So be mindful of your covenant. They owe you fidelity; for any default on their part you may correct them gently. You owe them suitable maintenance. As regards those under your authority, see that you feed them with such food as you eat yourselves; and clothe them with the stuff you wear. If they commit a fault, which you are not inclined to forgive, and then sell them, for they are the servants of the Lord, and are not to be tormented.
‘Allah has made you brethren one to another, so be not divided. An Arab has no preference over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab over an Arab; nor is a white one to be preferred to a dark one, nor a dark one to a white one.
‘I am leaving something with you that will safeguard you against all error, if you hold fast to it. That is Allah’s Book.
‘There is no new prophet after me, nor any new law. Worship your Lord, observe Prayer, observe the fast during Ramadhan, pay the Zakat cheerfully, perform the Pilgrimage to the House of Allah, and obey those in authority among you; Allah will admit you to His Paradise.
‘You will be questioned concerning me also on the Day of Judgment. Tell me, then, what will you answer?’
There was a tremendous response: ‘We bear witness that you have conveyed all Allah’s commands to us.’ The Holy Prophet raised his finger to heaven and then pointed it at the people, and voiced the adjuration, ‘Hear, O Allah.’
The people affirmed, ‘You have discharged in full your obligations as Prophet and Messenger.’
In the same manner again, the Holy Prophet begged, ‘Bear witness, O Allah.’
A third time came the response, ‘You have made clear to us that which is right and that which is wrong.’
Again the entreaty went up from the Holy Prophet, ‘Hear, O Lord.’
He then charged those present to convey the substance of his address to those absent, observing that perchance he who hears at second hand may retain it better then one who is present.
As soon as he concluded, the revelation came: ‘This day have I completed My commandments -for you, and have brought to its fullness the favour that I have bestowed upon you, and have chosen Islam as your religion’ (5:4).
The Holy Prophet descended from the back of Qaswa and directed Bilal to call the Azan. The whole concourse was hushed and the call went forth:
Allah is Great, Allah is Great;
I bear witness that there is no god save Allah,
I bear witness that there is no god save Allah;
I bear witness that Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger,
I bear witness that Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger;
Come to Prayer, come to Prayer;
Come to Prosperity, come to Prosperity;
There is no god save Allah.
The Holy Prophet led the combined noon and afternoon prayer services. Thereafter he remounted Qaswa and returning to the vicinity of the Mount of Mercy, among the boulders, stood on the back of Qaswa, facing in the direction of the Ka’aba, and raising his arms became absorbed in entreaty and supplication, in the attitude of one who, sore troubled and distressed, humbly begs for mercy. Long did he continue thus occupied with passionate entreaty before his Lord.
After sunset, the Holy Prophet proceeded to Muzdalifah, a distance of three or four miles, where, after leading the combined sunset and evening services, he spent the night in supplication, under the open sky, like all his fellow pilgrims. After sunrise, he returned to Mina and sacrificed the camels that had been brought for the purpose. After three days spent at Mina he proceeded to Mecca and on arrival there he performed the circuits of the Ka’aba and drank from Zam zam. Three more days were spent at Mecca and then the Holy Prophet returned to Medina with his followers.
The final year of the Holy Prophet’s residence at Medina opened peacefully. The greater part of the peninsula acknowledged his authority. His days were now chiefly occupied with the reception of embassies, the issue of prescripts to his various delegates scattered over the land and the consolidation of the Islamic state.
Badhan, the Persian governor, who had earlier submitted himself to the Holy Prophet, died about this time. His son Shehr was continued in the government of San’a and the surrounding district. But the other provinces hitherto combined under his authority, as Ma’reb, Najran and Hamdan were divided among different governors.
A new cause of danger suddenly arose, in the emergence of three false claimants to the Prophetic office in different quarters of the peninsula. Their pretentions were not, however, developed till near the close of the life of the Holy Prophet, and the tidings, which he received were hardly of so grave a nature as to raise serious uneasiness. The least important of the three impostors was Tulaiha, chief of Bani Asad, and a warrior of note and influence in Nejd. When the news of his imposture reached the Holy Prophet he sought, by aid of the faithful converts in his tribe, to put down the pretender. However, subsequent to the Holy Prophet’s death he broke out into open rebellion, and was defeated, after a severe engagement, by Khalid, whereupon he retired into Syria. On Umar’s summoning, he returned to his tribe and submitted to Umar’s authority, and thereafter fought bravely on the side of Islam.
It has already been noticed that Musailamah had accompanied the deputation of Bani Haneefa to Medina. He was a man of small stature, in presence insignificant, but ready and powerful in speech. He claimed that he was the recipient of divine revelation and pretended also to work miracles. The Holy Prophet, hearing the rumour of his insolent pretentions, sent him a summons to submit to Islam. Musailamah returned the reply that he too was a Prophet like Muhammad himself. ‘I demand, therefore,’ he said, ‘that thou divide the land with me; as for Quraish, they are a people that have no respect for justice.’ The Holy Prophet’s reply was, ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and He causeth such of His servants as He pleaseth to inherit the same. Peace be on him that follows the guidance.’ Musailamah went on consolidating his authority and in the time of Abu Bakr constituted a menace for the Islamic state. He was fought in the battle of Yamamah and was killed by Wahshi, now a Muslim, who had killed Hamzah, the uncle of the Holy Prophet, on the day of Uhud.
The third false claimant was Aswad Ansi of Yemen, who abjured Islam during the Holy Prophet’s lifetime. A prince of wealth and influence in the south, he assumed the garb of a magician, and gave out that he was in communication with the unseen world. He prosecuted his claims at first secretly, and gained over the chieftains in the neighbourhood who were dissatisfied with the distribution of power upon the death of Badhan. About the close of the tenth year of the Hijra, he openly raised the standard of rebellion, and drove out the officers of the Holy Prophet. Advancing on Najran, which rose in his favour, he suddenly fell on San’a, where, having killed Shehr the son of Badhan, he put his army to flight, married his widow, and established himself in undisputed authority. The insurrection, fanned by this sudden success, spread quickly, and the greater part of the country lying between Bahrain, Taif and the coast, was reduced to his authority. On intimation of this rebellion reaching the Holy Prophet, he contented himself with dispatching letters to his officers on the spot to deal with the rebel according to the means at their disposal. Aswad, in the pride of conquest, had already begun to slight the commanders to whose bravery he was indebted for success. The officers of the Holy Prophet opened up secret negotiations with them, and, favoured by the tyrant’s wife, who detested him and burned to avenge her late husband’s death, soon put an end to the usurper, just before the death of the Holy Prophet.
After his return from the Farewell Pilgrimage, the Holy Prophet, receiving intimation of unrest among the tribes on the Syrian border, gave orders for an expedition to the Syrian frontier. On the day following the command it was announced that Usama, son of Zaid, the beloved friend of the Holy Prophet slain at Muta, was, notwithstanding his extreme youth (he was not yet twenty years of age), appointed to lead the army. There was some criticism of the appointment, but the Holy Prophet put it down by observing, ‘Some of you criticized the appointment of his father Zaid to various commands. But he was entirely competent and I loved him. I also love his son and I am sure that he will prove competent.’
On the following day the Holy Prophet was seized with a violent headache and fever, but they passed off. The next morning he found himself sufficiently recovered to bind with his own hands the banner for the army, and presented it to Usama, saying, ‘Fight thou beneath this banner in the name of the Lord, and for His cause.’ The camp was then formed at Jurf; and the whole body of the fighting men, including Abu Bakr and Umar, were summoned to join it.
About this time the Holy Prophet received the revelation (110:2-4):
Now that Allah’s succour has become manifest and victory has been achieved, and thou hast seen people join the religion of Allah in large numbers, then glorify thy Lord, with His praise, and seek forgiveness of Him for their frailties. Surely, He is Oft-Returning with compassion.
He interpreted this as meaning that the task assigned to him by his Lord had been fulfilled and that his end, which had been intimated to him in the revelation vouchsafed to him on the conclusion of his address on the Mount of Mercy on the day of the pilgrimage, was now approaching. When he announced this revelation he observed, ‘A servant of the Lord was granted the choice to stay on a little longer upon the earth or to return to Him forthwith, and he preferred the latter.’ On hearing this, Abu Bakr, who was of the company, was overcome by emotion and exclaimed, ‘Fain would we ransom thee with the sacrifice of our fathers, our mothers and ourselves,’ upon which the Holy Prophet said, ‘Were it permissible to take a human being as a devoted friend, I would have chosen Abu Bakr; but such love is permissible only for Allah.’ Umar has related that when Abu Bakr exhibited deep emotion on hearing the latest revelation of the Holy Prophet and expressed his devotion to him in the words that have just been cited, he felt that Abu Bakr had been deeply affected without cause as the Holy Prophet had only cited the case of a devoted servant of God, who, on being granted the choice between a little longer life on earth and immediate return to his Lord, preferred the latter. ‘But Abu Bakr,’ he said, ‘was blessed with greater spiritual penetration than we were, because he perceived that the Holy Prophet had mentioned his own case and not that of some other devoted servant of God.’
For a day or two the Holy Prophet continued to lead the Prayer services and to visit the apartments of his wives in rotation. One night he arose softly, and, followed only by a servant, walked to the burial ground in the outskirts of the city. There he rested long, absorbed in meditation. At last winding up his thoughts, he prayed aloud for those who were buried there, supplicating thus: ‘Verily, both ye and I have received fulfilment of that which our Lord did promise us. Blessed are ye, for your lot is better than the lot of those that are left behind. Temptation and trial approach like portions of a dark night that follow one upon another, each darker than that preceding it. Lord, have mercy upon them that lie buried here.’ With these words, he turned and went back to his apartment.
His sickness returned upon him with increasing violence, but it did not confine him entirely to his apartment. He was able to move into the Mosque and lead the public Prayers, till it became difficult for him to do so. He then directed that Abu Bakr should conduct the Prayers in his stead, upon which Aisha urged, ‘Messenger of Allah, truly Abu Bakr is a man of a tender heart, and weepeth readily. He will not be able to stand in your place and to lead the Prayers.’ ‘Command that he lead the Prayers,’ repeated the Holy Prophet, and Aisha still urging her pleas, he observed, ‘Truly, ye resemble the foolish women in the story of Joseph; give command forthwith as I desire.’ The command was given, and Abu Bakr conducted the public Prayers during the remaining period of the Holy Prophet’s illness. There can be little doubt that by nominating Abu Bakr to this duty the Holy Prophet intended the delegation of his authority to him. This was further confirmed by his direction that all doors opening into the courtyard of the Mosque be closed, except the door of Abu Bakr’s apartment.
With the consent of his other wives, he decided to remain in Aisha’s apartment during the rest of his illness. He was now too weak to attend to any public business, yet the Syrian expedition occupied his mind and he kept saying to those around him, ‘Send off quickly the army of Usama.’ He also inquired about the embassies daily arriving at Medina, and enjoined for them the same hospitable treatment and gift of similar largesses as he had been won’t to bestow.
His sickness had lasted nearly a fortnight when, on the night of Saturday, it began to assume a serious aspect. The fever rose to such a pitch that a hand could hardly be kept upon him from the burning heat. Observing his suffering, one of his wives exclaimed, ‘You would surely have great reward.’ ‘Yea,’ he answered, ‘I swear by Him in Whose hands is my life, that there is not upon the earth a believer, sore afflicted with calamity or disease, but the Lord thereby causeth his sins to fall off from him, even as the leaves from a tree in autumn.’ At another time he said, ‘Suffering is an expiation for sin. If a believer suffer but the scratch of a thorn, the Lord raiseth his rank thereby, and wipeth away from him a sin.’ And again, ‘Believers are tried according to their faith. If a man’s faith be strong, so are his sufferings; if he be weak, they are proportioned thereunto.’ Umar, approaching the bed, placed his hand on his forehead, and suddenly withdrew it from the great heat. ‘Messenger of Allah,’ said he, ‘how fierce is the fever upon you.’ ‘Yea, verily,’ replied the Holy Prophet, ‘but I have been during the night repeating in praise of the Lord, seventy Suras, among them the seven long ones.’ Umar answered, ‘Why not rest and take your ease, for has not the Lord suppressed all your weaknesses?’ ‘Nay,’ replied the Holy Prophet, ‘wherefore should I not yet be a faithful servant unto Him?’ An attendant, while the Holy Prophet lay covered up, put his hand below the sheet and, feeling the excessive heat, made a remark like that of Umar. On which the Holy Prophet said, ‘Just as this affliction prevailed now against me, even so shall my reward hereafter be.’ ‘Who are they,’ asked another, ‘that suffer the severest trials?’ ‘The Prophets and the righteous,’ answered the Holy Prophet, ‘yet each of them rejoiced exceedingly in his affliction.’
All Sunday the Holy Prophet lay in a helpless and, at times, delirious state. Usama, who had delayed his march waiting to see what the issue might be, came in from Jurf to visit him. Removing the covering he stooped down and kissed the beloved face. The Holy Prophet raised his hands in the attitude of blessing and then placed them on the young commander’s head, who then returned to the camp.
At one time, Um Salama and Um Habeebah, who had both been exiles in Abyssinia, spoke of the beauty of the Cathedral of Mary there, and of the wonderful pictures on its walls. Overhearing them, the Holy Prophet said, ‘These are the people who, when a saint among them dieth, build over his tomb a place of worship, and adorn it with their pictures. Let the anger of the Lord be kindled against those that turn the tombs of their Prophets into objects of worship. Lord, let not my tomb be ever an object of worship.’ In the course of the day he recalled that there was some gold in the house, and directed that it should be divided amongst certain indigent families and observed, ‘Now I am at peace. It would not have become me to meet my Lord, and this gold still in my hands.’
All Sunday night the illness lay heavy upon him, but the morning brought relief. The fever and the pain abated and there was some return of strength. The dangerous accession of fever on the previous night having become known, the Mosque was crowded in the morning at the hour of Prayer with anxious worshippers. Abu Bakr led the devotions; as Imam he stood in the place of the Holy Prophet before the congregation, his back turned towards them. He had ended the first raka‘a and the congregation had just stood up for the second when the curtain of Aisha’s door slowly moved aside and the Holy Prophet himself appeared. As he entered the assembly he whispered in the ear of Fadhl, son of Abbas, who with a servant supported him, ‘The Lord hath granted unto me great joy,’ and he looked around him with a gladsome smile remarked by such as at the moment caught a glimpse of his countenance.
Having paused thus for a moment, he walked softly to the front where Abu Bakr stood. The people made way for him, opening their ranks as he advanced. Abu Bakr heard the rustle and, guessing the cause, stepped backwards to vacate the leader’s place. But the Holy Prophet motioned him to go on and moved forward towards the pulpit. There, on the ground, he sat by the side of Abu Bakr, who resumed the service and completed it in due form. Abu Bakr then entered into conversation with the Holy Prophet and expressed his joy at finding him, to all appearance, convalescent. He then asked his permission to go and visit at her house at the Sunh, a suburb of the upper city, his wife whose turn it was that day. On permission being granted, he departed.
The Holy Prophet then sat down in the courtyard of the Mosque near the door of Aisha’s apartment and addressed the people who, overjoyed to find him again amongst them, crowded round. He spoke with emotion, and with a voice still so powerful as to reach beyond the outer doors of the Mosque. He inquired whether anyone had any claim against him. One or two who preferred a trifling claim were immediately compensated. The Holy Prophet proceeded: ‘I have not made lawful anything excepting that which God has made lawful; nor have I prohibited aught but that which God in His Book hath prohibited.’ Usama coming up to bid farewell, he said to him, ‘Go forward with the army; and the blessings of the Lord be with ye.’ Then turning to the women who sat close by, he admonished them: ‘O Fatima, my daughter, and thou Safiya, my aunt, work ye that which shall gain acceptance for you with the Lord; for I verily have no power with Him to save you in anywise.’ He then rose and was helped back into Aisha’s chamber.
Exhausted, he lay down upon the pallet stretched upon the floor and Aisha, seeing him very weak, raised his head from the pillow and, as she sat by him on the ground, laid it tenderly on her bosom. His strength now rapidly sank, and after a little he repeated in a whisper, ‘To the blessed Companionship On High; to the blessed Companionship on High.’ He stretched himself gently, and then all was still. The Holy Prophet had breathed his last.
The news of his death, spreading rapidly over Medina, soon reached Abu Bakr in the suburb of the Sunh. He immediately mounted his horse and rode back to the Mosque in haste. Meanwhile a strange scene was being enacted there. Shortly after the Holy Prophet had expired, Umar entered the apartment of Aisha and, lifting up the sheet, which covered the body, gazed wistfully at the features of his beloved master. All was so placid, so natural, so unlike death, that Umar could not believe the mournful truth. Starting up, he exclaimed wildly, ‘The Prophet is not dead; he hath but swooned away.’ Mughira, standing by, vainly sought to convince him that he was mistaken. As, quitting the chamber of death, they entered the courtyard of the Mosque, Umar cried, ‘The Apostle of God is not dead.’ The crowd, attracted by the loud and passionate tone of Umar, flocked around him, and he went on haranguing them in similar strain: ‘The hypocrites would persuade you that Muhammad is dead. Nay, but he hath gone to His Lord, even as Moses who remained absent for forty days, and then returned, after his followers had said he was dead. So, by the Lord, the Prophet shall return, and confound those that say that he is dead.’ Umar found a willing audience. It was but a little while before that the Holy Prophet had been amongst them, had joined with them in Prayer on that very spot, and had gladdened their hearts by hope of speedy convalescence. The echo of his voice was hardly yet silent in the courts of the Mosque. The events of the day had produced such effect upon the people that, carried away by Umar’s fervour, they gladly persuaded themselves that he might be in the right.
Just then appeared Abu Bakr. Passing through the Mosque he listened for a moment to the frenzied words of Umar and, without pausing further, walked onwards to the door of Aisha’s chamber. Drawing the curtain softly aside he asked leave to enter. ‘Come,’ came the reply from within, ‘for this day no permission needs to be asked.’ He entered and, raising the striped sheet which covered the bed, stooped down and kissed the face of his departed friend, saying, ‘Sweet wast thou in life, and sweet thou art in death.’ After a moment he took the head between his hands and, slightly lifting it, gazed on the well known features, and exclaimed, ‘Yes, thou art dead! Alas, my friend, my chosen one! Dearer than father or mother to me! Thou hast tasted the bitter pain of death; and thou art too precious with the Lord, that He should give thee the bitter cup to drink a second time!’ Gently putting down the head upon its pillow, he stooped again and kissed the face, then replaced the covering and withdrew.
Leaving the room, Abu Bakr went at once to the spot without where Umar, in the same excited state, was haranguing the people. ‘Sit ye down Umar, and be quiet,’ cried Abu Bakr. But Umar went on, not heeding the remonstrance. So Abu Bakr, turning from him, began himself to address the assembly. No sooner did they hear his voice than they quitted Umar and gave attention to the words of Abu Bakr. He recited from the Holy Quran: ‘Thou wilt die and they will die’ (39:31), and ‘Muhammad is but a Messenger; of a surety, all Messengers before him have passed away. If then, he die or be slain, will you turn back on your heels?’ (3:145) He proceeded: ‘Whosoever worshippeth Muhammad, let him then know that Muhammad indeed is dead; but whoso worshipped God, let him know that the Lord liveth and doth not die.’ The words of the Holy Quran fell like a knell on the ears of Umar and all those who had buoyed themselves up with the delusive hope of the Holy Prophet’s return to life. The truth now bursting upon them, they sobbed aloud. Umar himself would relate, ‘By the Lord, it was so that, when I heard Abu Bakr reciting those verses, I was horror-struck, my knees trembled, I dropped down, and I knew of a certainty that the Prophet was indeed dead.’
It was now towards the afternoon, when someone came running hastily towards the Mosque to say that the chief men of Ansar, with S’ad bin Ubadah at their head, had assembled in one of the halls of the city and were proceeding to choose S’ad for their leader. On hearing this report, Abu Bakr, after arranging that the family of the Holy Prophet should not be disturbed while they washed the corpse and laid it out, hurried, in company with Umar and Abu Obaidah, to the hall where the people had assembled. There was urgent necessity for their presence. ‘Let them have their own chief,’ was the general cry of Ansar, ‘but as for us, we shall have a chief for ourselves.’ S’ad, who lay sick and covered over in a corner of the hall, had already been proposed for the chiefship of Ansar, when Abu Bakr and his party entered. Umar, still in a state of excitement, was about to speak, when Abu Bakr, afraid of his impetuosity, held him back, and himself addressed the people. ‘Ye Ansar,’ he said, ‘all that ye speak of your own excellence is true. There are no people upon earth deserving all this praise more than ye do. But the Arabs will not recognise the chief command elsewhere than in Quraish. We are the Ameers; ye are our Wazeers.’ ‘Not so,’ shouted Ansar, ‘but there shall be an Ameer from amongst us, and an Ameer from amongst you.’ ‘That can never be,’ said Abu Bakr; and repeating his previous formula in a firm commanding voice he added, ‘We are the noblest of the Arabs by descent; and the foremost in the glory of our City. Choose ye whom ye will of these two [pointing to Umar and Abu Obaidah and do allegiance to him.’ ‘Nay,’ cried Umar, in words which rose high and clear above the growing tumult of the assembly, ‘did not the Prophet himself command that thou, O Abu Bakr, should lead the Prayer? Thou art our master, and to thee we pledge our allegiance, thou whom the Prophet loved the best amongst us all.’ So saying, he seized the hand of Abu Bakr and, striking it, pledged faith to him. The words touched a chord that vibrated in every believer’s heart and Abu Bakr was saluted Successor of the Holy Prophet.
Meanwhile, All, Usama and Fadhl son of Abbas, with one or two of the Holy Prophet’s servants, had been busily employed in the chamber of Aisha. There on the spot on which he breathed his last, they washed the body and laid it out. The garment in which he died was left upon him; two sheets of fine white linen were wound around it; and overall was cast a covering of striped Yemen stuff. Thus the body remained during the night, until the time of burial.
On the morrow, when the people had assembled in the Mosque, Abu Bakr and Umar came forth to meet them. Umar first addressed the great assemblage: ‘O ye people, that which I spoke unto you yesterday was not the truth. Verily, I find that it is not borne out by the Book, which the Lord hath revealed, nor by the covenant, which you made with His Apostle. As for me, verily I hoped that the Apostle of the Lord would continue yet awhile amongst us, and speak in our ears a word such as might seem good unto him and be a perpetual guide unto us. But the Lord hath chosen for His Apostle the portion, which is with Himself, in preference to that which is with you. Truly, the Word, that same Word which directed the Prophet, is with us still. Take it, therefore, for your guide and ye shall never go astray. Now, verily, hath the Lord placed your affairs in the hands of him that is the best amongst us; the Companion of His Prophet, the second of the two when they were in the cave alone. Arise, and swear fealty to him.’ Forthwith, the people crowded round, and one by one, they swore allegiance upon the hand of Abu Bakr.
The ceremony ended, Abu Bakr arose and said: ‘You people, now, verily, I have become your Chief over you although I am not the best amongst you. If I do well, support me; if I err, then set me right. In truth and sincerity is faithfulness, and in falsehood perfidy. The weak and oppressed among you in my sight shall be strong, until I restore his right unto him, if the Lord will; and the strong oppressor shall be weak, until I wrest from him that which he hath taken. Now hearken to me; when a people leaveth off striving in the ways of the Lord, verily, He casteth them in disgrace. Know also that wickedness never aboundeth in any nation, but the Lord visiteth that nation with calamity. Wherefore, obey me, even as I shall obey the Lord and His Apostle. Whensoever I disobey them, obedience is no longer binding upon you. Arise to Prayers, and the Lord have mercy on you.’
When Abu Bakr had ended his address preparations were made for the burial. There was a difference regarding the place most fitting for the grave, but Abu Bakr said, ‘I have heard it from the lips of the Prophet himself, that in whatsoever spot a Prophet dieth, there also should he be buried.’ He therefore gave command that the grave should be dug where the body was still lying within the chamber of Aisha. It remained there from the afternoon of Monday to the same hour on the following day. On Tuesday, it was visited by all inhabitants of the city. They entered in companies by the door, which opened into the Mosque; and, after gazing once more on the countenance of the Holy Prophet and praying over his remains, retired by the opposite entrance. The room was crowded to the utmost at the time when Abu Bakr and Umar entered together. They prayed as follows ‘Peace be upon thee, O Prophet of God; and mercy from the Lord and His blessing. We bear testimony that the Prophet of God has delivered the Message revealed to him; has fought in the ways of the Lord until God brought forth his religion unto victory; has fulfilled His words, commanding that He alone in His unity is to be worshipped; has drawn us to himself, and been kind and tenderhearted towards the believers; has sought no recompense for delivering to us the Faith, neither has he sold it for a price at any time.’ All the people said, ‘Amen.’ When the men departed, the women followed in company, and then even the children crowded round for a last look on the Holy Prophet’s face. In the evening, the final rites were performed. A red mantle, worn by him, was first spread as a soft covering at the bottom of the grave; then the body was lowered into its last resting-place by the same loving hands that had washed and laid it out. The vault was built over with unbaked bricks, and the grave filled up.
Aisha continued to live in her chamber thus honoured as the Holy Prophet’s cemetery. She occupied a room adjoining that contained the grave, but partitioned off from it. When her father died he was buried close by the Holy Prophet in the same chamber and, in due time, Umar also. Thus was fulfilled her dream that three moons fell from heaven, one after the other, into her chamber.
The first concern of Abu Bakr on assuming the office of Khalifa was to dispatch the Syrian army and thus fulfil the dying wish of the Holy Prophet. But the horizon was lowering all around, and many urged that the force should not be sent just yet upon this distant expedition. Even Umar joined in the cry: ‘Scatter not the believers; rather keep the army here; we may have need of it yet to defend the city.’ ‘Never,’ replied Abu Bakr, ‘the command of the Holy Prophet shall be carried out, even if I be left here in the city all alone, prey to the wolves and the beasts of the desert.’ Then they besought that a more experienced warrior might be appointed to the chief command, but Abu Bakr would have none of it. He would admit of no excuse and no delay; the force was soon marshalled again at Jurf. Abu Bakr bade Usama be mounted and accompanied him on foot to the camp, treating him with the profound respect due to a commander appointed by the Holy Prophet himself, and begged permission that Umar might be left behind at Medina as his counsellor. The request was granted. He then bade Usama farewell, and exhorted him to go forward in the name of the Lord, and fulfil the commission received by him at the Holy Prophet’s hands. The army marched, and the Khalifa, with Umar alone, returned to Medina. Having fulfilled the Holy Prophet’s last command, in a matter of three weeks the army retraced their steps. It was a triumphal procession as they approached Medina; Usama rode upon his father’s horse and the banner, bound so lately by the Holy Prophet’s own hands, floated before him. Abu Bakr and the citizens went forth to meet him, and received the army with acclamations of joy. Attended by the Khalifa and the chief Companions, Usama proceeded to the Mosque and offered up Prayer in thanksgiving for the success which had richly crowned his arms.
Sir William Muir has summed up (Life of Muhammad, p. 509):
I will merely add that the simplicity and earnestness of Abu Bakr, and of Umar also, the first two Caliphs, are strong evidence of their belief in the sincerity of Muhammad; and the belief of these men must carry undeniable weight in the formation of our own estimate of his character, since the opportunities they enjoyed for testing the grounds of their conviction were both close and long-continued. It is enough that I allude to this consideration, as strengthening generally the view of Muhammad’s character, which throughout I have sought to support.