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The Events which followed on the Death of Mahomet

[13th and 14th of I Rabi, A.H. Xl. 8th and 9th June, 632 A.D.]

The news of Mahomet's death reaches Abu Bakr

THE news of the Prophet's death spread rapidly over Medina, and soon reached Abu Bakr in the suburb of Al Sunh. Immediately he mounted his horse, and rode back to the Mosque in haste.

Omar wildly declaims in the Mosque that Mahomet had only swooned away

Meanwhile, a strange scene was being enacted there. Shortly after Mahomet had breathed his last, Omar entered the apartment of Ayesha; and, lifting up the sheet which covered the body, gazed wistfully at the features of his departed master. All was so placid, so natural, so unlike death, that Omar could not believe the mournful truth. Starting up, he exclaimed, "The Prophet is not dead: he hath only swooned away." Mughira, who was standing by, vainly endeavoured to convince him that he was mistaken. "Thou liest!" cried Omar as, quitting the chamber of death, they entered the courts of the Mosque;- "the Apostle of God is not dead: it is thy seditious spirit which hath suggested this thine imagination. The Prophet of the Lord shall not die until

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he have rooted out every hypocrite and unbeliever." The crowd which, at the rumour of the Prophet's death, rapidly gathered in the Mosque, was attracted by the loud and passionate tones of Omar, and flocked around him; he went on to harangue them in a similar strain. "The disaffected people would persuade you, O Believers! that Mahomet is really dead. Nay! but he hath gone to his Lord, even as Moses the son of Imran, who remained absent forty days, and then returned after his followers had said that he was dead. So, verily, by the Lord! the Prophet shall return, and of a certainty shall cut off the hands end feet of those who dare to say that he is dead." Omar found a willing audience. It was but a little while before that Mahomet had been in the midst of them, at their head had joined in the public prayers on that very spot, and, gladdened their hearts by the hope of his speedy convalescence. The echo of his voice had hardly yet died away from the courts of the Mosque. Sudden alternations of hope and despair tend to disturb the equilibrium of the mind, and unfit it for the exercise of a calm and dispassionate judgment. The events of the day had been pre-eminently of the kind calculated to produce this effect upon the people, who, now carried away by the fervour of Omar, gladly persuaded themselves that he might be in the right.

Abu Bakr visits the scene of death

Just then appeared Abu Bakr. Passing through the Mosque, he listened for a moment to the frenzied words of Omar, and without pausing further,

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walked onwards to the door of Ayesha's room. Drawing the curtain softly aside, he asked leave to enter. "Come," they replied from within, "for this day, no permission needeth to be asked." Then he entered, and raising the striped sheet which covered the bed, stooped down and kissed the face of his departed friend, saying: "Sweet thou wert in life, and sweet art thou in death." After a moment, he took the head between his hands, and slightly lifting it, gazed on the well-known features, now fixed in death, and exclaimed,- "Yes, thou art dead! Alas, my friend, my chosen one! Dearer than father or mother to me! Thou hast tasted the bitter pains of death; and thou art too precious in the sight of the Lord, that he should give thee this cup a second time to drink!" Gently putting down the head upon its pillow, he stooped again and kissed the face; then replaced the covering on the body, and withdrew.

and coming forth, convinces Omar and the people that Mahomet is really dead

Having left the room of Ayesha, Abu Bakr proceeded at once to the spot where Omar, in the same excited state as before, was haranguing the people. "Silence!" cried Abu Bakr, as he drew near. "Omar! sit thee down ; be quiet!" but Omar 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 open with the customary exordium, than they all quitted Omar, and gave attention to the words of Abu Bakr who proceeded thus: "Hath not the Almighty revealed

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this verse unto his Prophet saying,- 'Verily thou shalt die, and they shall die?' And again, after the battle of Ohod, - 'Mahomet is no more than an Apostle; verily the other Apostles have deceased before him. What then! If he were to die, or to be killed, would ye turn back on your heels ?' 1 Let him then know, whosoever worshipeth Mahomet, that Mahomet indeed is dead: but whoso worshipeth God, let him know that the Lord liveth and doth not die." The words of the Coran fell like a knell on the ears of Omar and all those who with him had buoyed themselves up with the delusive hope of Mahomet's return to life. The quiet and reflecting mind of Abu Bakr had no doubt frequently recalled these passages during the Prophet's illness. To the people in general they had not occurred, at least in connection with the present scene. When they heard them now repeated, "it was as if they had not known till that moment that such a passage existed in the Coran;" and, the truth now bursting upon them, they sobbed aloud. Omar himself would relate,- "By the Lord! it was so that when I heard Abu Bakr reciting those verses, I was horror-struck, my limbs trembled, I dropped down, and I knew of a certainty that Mahomet indeed was dead."2

1 Sura, xxxix. 80; iii. 144.

2 I have, on a previous occasion, expressed a strong dissent from the opinion of Dr. Weil, that these verses were extemporized by Abu Bakr for the occasion. Introduction, ch. i. p. xx.

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The army at Jorf breaks up and returns to Medina

The greater part of the army, when the Prophet died, was at Jorf, three miles distant from Medina. Encouraged by his seeming convalescence that morning in the Mosque, they had rejoined their camp. Osama, mindful of his master's strict injunction, had given the order for immediate march, and his foot was already in the stirrup, when a swift messenger from his mother Omm Ayman announced the Prophet's death. The army, stunned by the intelligence, immediately broke up, and returned to Medina. Osama, preceded by the standard-bearer, went direct to the Mosque, and planted the great banner at the door of Ayesha's house.

Abu Bakr chosen as the Caliph, or successor to Mahomet

It was now towards the afternoon when a friend came running hastily to Abu Bakr and Omar with the tidings that the chief men of Medina, with Sad ibn Obada at their head, had assembled in one of the halls of the city,1 and were proceeding to choose Sad for their leader : - "If ye, therefore," he said,

note. The sudden revulsion of the people's sentiment, on Abu Bakr's reciting the verses, shews the power they contained; and their power was solely due to their being at once recognized as a part of the Coran. It is perhaps hardly necessary to remark that neither Omar nor the people pretended to believe that Mahomet was immortal or not liable to death. They only hoped that his death would be long postponed. The verses quoted by Abu Bakr shewed, on the contrary, that nothing out of the common course of nature was to be expected, and that the apparent symptoms of death were therefore real.

1 It was called the Saackifa of the Bard Saida." Sackifa signifies a thatched or covered place, where the tribe and their friends tract together for discussion and friendly intercourse.

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"desire to have the conimaud, come quickly thither before the matter is settled, and opposition become dangerous." Immediately on the receipt of this report, Abu Bakr, after giving strict command that the family and near relatives of the Prophet should be left undisturbed while they washed the corpse and laid it out, hurried, in company with Omar and Abu Obeida, to the hall where the people had assembled. There was urgent necessity for their presence. The men of Medina were brooding over their supercession by the once dependent strangers whom they had received as refugees from Mecca :- "Let them have their own chief" was the general cry; "but as for us, we shall have a chief for ourselves." Sad, who lay sick and covered over in a corner of the hall, had already been proposed for the chiefship of the Medina citizens, when suddenly Abu Bakr and his party entered. Omar, still in a state of excitement, was on the point of giving vent to his feelings in a speech which he had prepared, when Abu Bakr, afraid of his rashness and impetuosity, held him back, and himself addressed the people. Omar used in after days to say that Abu Bakr anticipated all his arguments, and expressed them in language the most eloquent and persuasive. "Ye men of Medina!" he said, "all that ye speak of your own excellence is true. There is no people upon earth deserving such praise more than ye do. But the Arabs will not recognize the chief command elsewhere than in our tribe of the Coreish. We are

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the Ansars; ye are our Wazeers."1 "Not so," shouted the indignant citizens, "but there shall be an Ameer from amongst us, and an Ameer from amongst you." "That can never be," said Abu Bakr, and he repeated in a firm, commanding voice, "We are the Ameers; you are our Wazeers. We are the noblest of the Arabs by descent; and the foremost in the glory of our city. There! Choose ye whom ye will of these two (pointing to Omar and Abu Obeida), and do allegiance to him."2 "Nay!" cried Omar, 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, shouldst lead the prayers? Thou art our master, and to thee we pledge our allegiance, - thou whom the Prophet loved the best amongst us all!3 and so saying he seized the hand of Abu Bakr, and striking it pledged faith to him. The words of Omar, touching as they did chords which vibrated in every believer's heart, and his example, had the desired effect; the opposition died away, and Abu Bakr was saluted as the Caliph, or successor of the departed Prophet.4

1 Ameer, Chief, or Leader. Wazeer, or Vizier, Deputy, Councillor.

2 There was nothing in the antecedents or Abu Obeida to sustain a claim to the Caliphate. He was simply named by Abu Bakr as being the only other Coreishite present. He subsequently bore a conspicuous part in the conquest of Syria.

3 K. Wackidi, 146.

4 K. Wrackidi, 155 , Hishami, 463. The tale of Ali being threatened that his house would be turned over his head because

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The body of Mahomet is washed and laid out

Meanwhile Ali, Osmana, and Fadhl the son of Abbas, with one or two of the Prophet's servants, had been busily employed in the room of Ayesha. There on the spot on which he died they washed the body of Mahomet and laid it out.1 The garment in which he died was left upon him: two sheets of fine white cloth were wound around it; and above all was cast a covering of stripped Yemen stuff. Thus the body remained during the night, and until the time of burial.

Allegiance publicly sworn to Abu Bakr, Tuesday, 14th I. Rabi, 9th June

On the morrow, when the people had assembled in the Mosque, Abu Bakr and Omar came forth to them. Omar first addressed the great assembly

he declined to acknowledge Abu Bakr, is given in a marginal gloss in the Ms. of K. Wackidi. The tradition does not appear genuine.

1 As usual, when the name of Ali is introduced, tradition is overspread with fiction. A heavenly voice was heard ordering the attendants not to make bare the Prophet's body, for the eyes of any one that looked upon his nakedness would forthwith be destroyed. When Ali raised the limbs, they yielded to his touch, as if unseen hands were aiding him; another, assaying to do the same, found the weight unsupportable. Thus also Fadhl, who had ventured on the task, was well nigh dragged down, and called out for help: "haste thee, Ali! Hold, for my back is breaking with the weight of this limb."

Abbas himself would not enter the room at the time, "because Mahomet had desired him always to be hid from him while he bathed."

Besides the three named in the text (who, as the nearest and most intimate relatives, naturally superintended the washing of the body), one of the Medina citizens, Aws ibn al Khawla, was admitted by Ali into the room. Another son of Abbas (Ackil or Cutham) is named by some authorities as having been present. The servants were Shakran and Salih. K. Wackidi, 157.

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Speech of Omar

"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 we made with his Apostle. As for me, verily I hoped that the Apostle of the Lord would continue yet a while 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. And truly the inspired word which directed your Prophet is with us still. Take it, therefore, for your guide, and ye shall never go astray. And now, verily, hath the Lord placed the administration of your affairs in the hands of him that is the best amongst us; the companion of his Prophet, the sole companion, the Second of the two when they were in the cave alone.1 Arise! Swear fealty to him!" Then the people crowded round, and one by one they swore allegiance upon the hand of Abu Bakr.2

Speech of Abu Bakr on his inauguration

The ceremony being ended, Abu Bakr arose and said :- 'Ye people I now, verily, I have become the 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 sincerity is faithfulness, and in falsehood perfidy. The weak and oppressed among you in my sight shall be strong, until I restore his

1 Sura, ix. 42; see also above, vol.ii. ch. vi. p.256.

2 K. Wackidi, 156; Hishami, 464.

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right unto him, if the Lord will: and the strong oppressor among you shall be weak until I wrest from him that which he hath usurped. Now hearken to me ; when a people leaveth off to fight in the ways of the Lord, he casteth them away in disgrace. Know also that wickedness never aboundeth in any nation, but the Lord visiteth it with calamity. Wherefore, obey ye me, even as I small obey the Lord and his Apostle : Whensoever I disobey them, obedience is no longer obligatory upon you. Arise to prayers! and the Lord have mercy on you !"1

Discontent of Ali and Fatima

The homage done to Abu Bakr was almost universal. Sad ibn Obada, deeply chagrined at being superseded, is said by some to have remained altogether aloof.2 It is probable that Ali, while the people were swearing allegiance remained in his own apartments, or in the chamber of death. It is alleged by his adherents, that he expected the Caliphate for himself; but there was nothing in his previous position, nor in the language and actions of the Prophet towards him, which should have led to this anticipation. It is possible, indeed, that as the husband of Mahomet's only surviving daughter, he may have conceived that a claim existed by

1 Hishami, 465. This speech is not given by the Secretary. The words may be partly apocryphal; but there is little doubt that Abu Bakr delivered himself something to this effect.

2 It is even said that he retired in disgust to Syria, where he died. Tabari, on the other hand, relates that he submitted to Abu Bakr, and acknowledged his authority.

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inheritance. Whatever his expectations were, it is certain that he considered himself aggrieved when Abu Bakr denied the title of his wife to the Prophet's share in the lands of Fadak and of Kheibar. Fatima failed in producing any evidence of her father's intention to bestow this property on her, and the Caliph justly held that it ought to be reserved for those purposes of state to which Mahomet in his lifetime had devoted it.

Fatima renounces the society of Abu Bakr

Fatima took this denial so much to heart that she held no intercourse with Abu Bakr during the short remainder of her life. It was probably she who stirred up Ali and his friends to form, a hostile faction, the result of which was in after days disastrous to the interests of Islam. Whether Ali swore allegiance at the first to his new chief, or refused to do so, it was certainly not till Fatima's death, six months after that of her father, that Ali recognized with any cordiality the title of Abu Bakr to the Caliphate.1

1 Some traditions say that he swore allegiance at the first, with the rest; others, that he refused to do so till after Fatima's death.

The traditions of Fatima's deep grief at the loss of her father, and of her joy at his prophecy that she would soon rejoin him in heaven, &C, will accord with the sordid manner in which she urged her claim to the property. "On the day after her father's death," we learn from Wackidi, "Fatima repaired with Ali to Abu Bakr, and said, - Give me the inheritance of my father the Prophet.' Aba Bakr inquired whether she meant his household goods or his landed estates. 'Fadak and Kheibar,' she replied, 'and the tithe lands at Medina, - my inheritance therein, even as thy daughters will inherit of thee when thou diest.' Abu Bakr replied: -

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'Verily, thy father was better that: I am; and thou art better than my daughters are. But the Prophet hath said, No one shall be my heir; that which I leave shalt be for alms. Now, therefore, the family of Mahomet shall not eat of that property; for, by the Lord, I will not alter a tittle of that which the Prophet ordained; all shall remain as it was in his life-time. But, contintued he, 'if thou art certain that thy father gave thee this property, I will accept thy word, and fulfil thy father's direction.' She replied that she had no evidence excepting that of Omm Ayman, who had told her that her father had given her Fadak. Abu Bakr, therefore, maintained his decision." K. Wackidi, 161 .

The Life of Mahomet, Volume IV [Table of Contents]

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