In the history of Islam, there have been many events that have defined the faith, exemplified the character of the Prophet Muhammad, and determined the future of the Muslim community. I have written in previous posts about a few: the Night of Power, the hijra, the Battle of Badr, the conquest of Mecca, and the Farewell Sermon. However, the most trying event for the the nascent Muslim community was the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 C.E. Over 23 year, the Prophet established Islam in Arabia and founded a community of believers whose ties transcended tribal bonds and were based on a shared faith. He was the center of the Muslim community, the ummah, and served as the religious, political, and military leader. When he died, the Muslims were utterly shocked by the loss of this central figure and had to figure out a way to move forward so that this new faith would continue to grow.
According to Islamic sources, there were several signs of the Prophet’s impending death. In Ramadan before his death, the Prophet went and meditated for twenty days instead of his usual ten. Also, during what would become the farewell hajj, he said,
I do not know whether I will ever meet you at this place once again after this current year.
Two months after this pilgrimage, the Prophet Muhammad became ill. After one of the prayers, it is recorded that the Prophet made supplication for the martyrs of the Battle of Uhud and then said to the Muslims,
There is a slave among the slaves of Allah (The One God) to whom God has offered the choice between this world and that which is with Him, and the slave has chosen that which is with God.
When Abu Bakr, his close friend and companion, heard this statement, he began to cry because he knew that the slave that the Prophet was referring to was himself and that his death was approaching.
Soon after, the Prophet became very ill to the point that he could not move and thus appointed Abu Bakr to lead the congregational prayers. During his final days, he was taken to Ayesha‘s home. A few days into his illness, he seemed to have recovered. He even went to the mosque. Abu Bakr seeing the Prophet approaching stepped aside to let him lead the prayer, but the Prophet Muhammad signaled to him to lead the prayer. That same day, he called for his daughter Fatima and whispered something in her ear that made her first cry and then laugh. When Ayesha asked her after his death what he had said, Fatima replied,
The first time he disclosed to me that he would not recover from his illness and I wept. Then he told me that I would be the first of his family to join him, so I laughed.
The Muslims assumed that the Prophet had recovered and were overjoyed. However, this joy was short lived because shortly after his illness became so severe that he lost consciousness. After an hour he woke and said to Ayesha,
No Prophet is taken by death until he has been shown his place in Paradise and then offered the choice to live or to die.
It is said that the Prophet’s last words were,
O Allah, with the supreme communion.
He was 63 years old. His death sent shockwaves through the Muslim community. Most were in disbelief. Even Umar, also a close friend of the Prophet, refused to believe the news and threatened anyone who repeated it. After confirming that the Prophet Muhammad had indeed died, Abu Bakr addressed the Muslims saying,
O People! If Muhammad is the sole object of your adoration, then know that he is dead. But if it is Allah (The One God) you Worshiped, then know that He does not die.
He continued by reciting verse 144 in chapter 3 from the Qur’an.
Muhammad is no more than an Apostle: many were the Apostles that passed away before him. If he died or were slain, will you 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.
Abu Bakr’s words forced the community to deal with the fact that while the Prophet was central to Islam, God is the true focus of worship. The Prophet Muhammad was buried in Ayesha’s home where he had died, which is now part of the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina. To this day, the story of the Prophet’s death brings tears to the eyes of Muslims and serves as a reminder of the core principles of the faith: only God is eternal and worthy of worship and Muhammad, while the example for all Muslims, was a prophet and a human being.
What is your reaction when your hear the story of Prophet Muhammad’s death? What are other important events in the history of Islam? Are there events like his death that have significance in other faith traditions? Why are they considered significant? Please share your comments below.