Lessons for the Muslims in the Holy Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) burial

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Some Muslims have misconceptions about the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and his successor. While there are many incidents during the Noble Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) lifetime that serve to dispel these misconceptions and have clarified the matter for the Muslims, we would like to draw attention to the Holy Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) demise and his funeral that have many lessons for his nation.

First let us round up some of the misconceptions of these ostensible Muslims regarding the Noble Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and his successor.

  1. The Noble Prophet (s.a.w.a.) was an ordinary mortal like any other Muslim.
  2. Being an ordinary mortal, he (s.a.w.a.) did not possess any special powers and gifts, so he (s.a.w.a.) lacked the Knowledge of the Unseen (Ilm al-Ghaib) and to claim this for the Noble Prophet (s.a.w.a.) is polytheism (Shirk) as all knowledge is only for Allah.
  3. Undertaking a journey solely for the visitation (ziyaarat) of the Holy Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) grave is a sin and one should not undertake such journeys, else prayers must be shortened (qasr).
  4. The Shias raised the status of Ali b. Abi Taalib (a.s.) and lowered the position of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.).
  5. The Prophet (s.a.w.a.) did not appoint Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.) as his successor.
  6. Abu Bakr was the caliph of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.).
  7. Abu Bakr’s caliphate was based on the consensus (ijma) of all Muslims.
  8. The companions (Sahaabah) were always with the Prophet (s.a.w.a.). In the spirit of companionship they never abandoned him (s.a.w.a.).

Many misconceptions like these can be answered through just one incident – the death and burial of the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.).

While there are many reports about the Holy Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) death, we will focus on a few to highlight some important points for Muslims. There are many other reports that reinforce these points.

Tradition 1

Jabir b. Abdullah Ansari and Abdullah b. Abbas narrate – When the first verse of Surah Nasr (110) was revealed – “When there comes the help of Allah and the victory…” till the end, Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.) asked the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) – O Prophet (s.a.w.a.) when you die who will give you the ceremonial bath (Ghusl), shroud you and recite prayers on you and who will lower you in the grave?

The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) replied, “O Ali! As for the ceremonial bath, you will bathe me and Ibn Abbas will pour water for you and Jibraeel will be the third (one to bathe me).”

When you are done with the ritual bath, shroud me with 3 new garments. 

Jibraeel will get the camphor from Paradise.

Then when you lower me on the bed, place me in the Mosque (of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.)) and leave me.

The first to offer prayers (salawaat) on me will be Allah from His Throne (Arsh), followed by Jibraeel, Mikaaeel, Israafeel and the angels in groups after groups.

Then you all enter the mosque and align yourself in rows (for prayers). None shall come in my presence but he will exclaim (as condolence) – Surely the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) has died.

Then (as instructed by the Prophet (s.a.w.a.)), Ali gave the ritual bath to the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and Ibn Abbas poured the water while Jibraeel was with them. His (s.a.w.a.) shroud was 3 new garments. He (s.a.w.a.) was carried on the bed. Thereafter, they entered the Mosque, placed him (s.a.w.a.) inside it and left him (s.a.w.a.) alone (as ordered by the Prophet (s.a.w.a.)).

The first one to offer prayers (Salawaat) on the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) was Allah from His Throne (Arsh), followed by Jibraeel, Mikaaeel, Israafeel and the angels in groups after groups.

Ali (a.s.) narrates – We heard humming in the Mosque but we did not see anyone. We heard a caller announce – Enter – may Allah have mercy on you and offer prayers on your Prophet (s.a.w.a.).

Then we entered and formed rows like the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) ordered us. Then Jibraeel recited the takbeer (Allah-o-Akbar), we offered prayers on the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) with Jibraeel and none took precedence over us in praying for the Prophet (s.a.w.a.).

And finally Ali (a.s.) lowered the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) in his grave…

  1. Hilyah al-Awliyaa wa Tabaqaat al-Asfiyaa (vol. 4 p. 77) by Abu Noaim Isfahani
  2. Ithaaf al-Saadah al-Muttaqeen (vol. 10 p. 291) by Murtaza al-Zubaidi

Tradition 2

Abdullah b. Masood narrates – It was heavy for us when we asked the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) – Who will pray over you, O Prophet of Allah?

He (s.a.w.a.) wept and we also wept with him (s.a.w.a.).

He (s.a.w.a.) informed us, “May Allah forgive you and reward you with the best reward with respect to your (love of the) Prophet. When you have bathed me, applied camphor on me and shrouded me, then placed me at the edge of the grave and leave me alone for some time. Then the first one to offer prayers on me will be my friend, my companion – Jibraeel followed by Mikaaeel, Israafeel, Izraaeel (the Angel of Death) along with an army of angels. Then, the men from my Ahle Bait (a.s.) will pray over me, then their women and then you all will enter in groups and individually…

  1. Mustadrak alaa al-Sahihain vol. 3 p. 60
  2. Al-Bedaayah wa Al-Nehaayah vol. 5 p. 253 by Ibn Kathir – amongst the foremost students of Ibn Taymiyyah
  3. Dalael al-Nobuwwah vol. 7 p. 232 by Al-Baihaqi
  4. Ithaaf al-Saadah al-Muttaqeen vol. 10 p. 290 by Murtaza al-Zubaidi

Shibli Nomani’s allegation

With the abundance of such traditions on the role of Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) in the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) burial, it is surprising how the Nasibi and devotee of Umar – Shibli Nomani – can muster the temerity to allege:

‘The reason why Ali did not go to the Saqifah was not because he was prostrated with grief at the loss of the Prophet or because he was too disconsolate to think of the caliphate but because the Muhajireen and the Ansar were gathered at the Saqifah and none of them would have backed up Ali’s claim, for Abu Bakr was the acknowledged head of the Muhajireen while Saad Ibn Obadah was the chief of the Ansar.’

  • Al-Farooq vol 1 p 93 (English translation)

Tradition 3

Abdullah b. Umar narrates that the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) informed: One who visits me while he has no desire except my visitation (i.e. ziyaarat), then I am duty-bound to intercede for him on the Day of Resurrection.

  1. Majma al-Zawaaed vol. 3 p. 2
  2. Mo’jam al-Kabeer vol. 12 p. 291
  3. Al-Durr al-Manthoor vol. 1 p. 237

There are several other traditions of this nature, but we have sufficed with the aforementioned reports documented by the most respected of Ahle Tasannun scholars.

Collectively, such traditions have important messages for the Muslims:

  1. The Noble Prophet (s.a.w.a.) had knowledge of the unseen (Ilme Ghaib) which some Muslims deny. He (s.a.w.a.) was aware of the minutest details of his death as also other matters. 
  2. The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) enjoyed a far more honourable position in front of Allah than any mortal can ever conceive. He was not an ordinary person like some so-called Muslims claim and he was certainly not a mere postman delivering a letter as the Salafis claim! (We seek refuge in Allah)! 
  3. The Noble Prophet (s.a.w.a.) enjoyed a high position in his lifetime as also in his death and even after his death. Some so-called Muslims concede that the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) had a high status but it was limited to his life time.
  4. “After death, he was like any other dead person and elevating his status is wrong and an innovation (bid’ah).” This view is rejected by the army of angels led by Allah who recited salawaat over him (a.s.) on his death. Clearly, it is erroneous and misleading to consider the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) an ordinary person in his lifetime, and to regard him as lifeless and worthless (God forbid) after his death. 
  5. Undertaking a journey solely for ziyaarat or visitation of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) has tremendous rewards. Such a journey pleases Allah and His angels. Allah and His Chosen Angels themselves perform the ziyarat. Prohibiting Muslims from such journeys is an innovation and a grave sin. Even earlier Muslims reprimanded Salafis like Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn Qayyim al-Jauziyyah for suggesting that ziyaarat of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) should be avoided. These Salafis were even imprisoned and paraded on donkeys for their beliefs. 
  6. The Shias are accused of elevating the position of the Ahle Bait (a.s.) in general and that of Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.) in particular, and lowering the status of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.). But it is clear that Shias hold the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) in far higher respect than other Muslims. The aforementioned traditions in Ahle Tasannun books are among the most basic traditions recorded in honour of the Noble Prophet (s.a.w.a.) in the books of Shias. Despite such traditions in their own books, some Muslims lower the position of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) to that of an ordinary Muslim and prevent Muslims from his (s.a.w.a.) ziyaarat. These so-called Muslims are guilty of debasing the position of Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.), not the Shias. The Shias seek refuge in Allah from such actions. 
  7. Muslims in general claim that the Noble Prophet (s.a.w.a.) did not leave behind a successor nor did the Muslims make any inquiries in this regard. This view collapses in the face of such traditions wherein Muslims asked the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) about who would bathe him, shroud him, bury him and offer prayers over him. The Noble Prophet (s.a.w.a.) did not hesitate from giving a detailed response. Therefore, it is impossible that the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) forgot to mention more important details like who would succeed him in caliphate. 
  8. Ali was the sole person to give the ritual bath with Ibn Abbas and Jibraeel (a.s.) assisting him. This further reinforces the argument of Ali’s caliphate as traditions report that only the Holy Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) successor can give him the ceremonial bath. This was the Sunnah of all past Prophets (a.s.) and all Imams (a.s.) right from Ali b. Abi Talib till his eleventh descendant, Imam Hasan b. Ali al-Askari (a.s.). Even if we toe the argument of these so-called Muslims that the Noble Prophet (s.a.w.a.) did not appoint a successor, Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.) was the only person qualified for the position by virtue of giving the ceremonial bath to the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.). 
  9. The companions were not present in the funeral. In fact, they left the dead body of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and were busy fighting in Saqeefah to grab power, thus belying their claim of true companionship. True companionship as shown by Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.) is not limited to the lifetime, that too for a limited time. It involves being with the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) during the lifetime, being busy in the funeral arrangements after his demise and acting on his Sunnah thereafter. Selecting a caliph in Saqifah of Bani Saaedah can never be given priority over burying the Noble Prophet (s.a.w.a.) of the nation who rescued the nation from certain misguidance and apostasy and whose funeral was attended by Jibraeel, Mikaaeel, Israafeel and Allah Himself. Succession of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) is not more important than the Noble Prophet (s.a.w.a.) himself. If indeed it is, then the matter ought to have been settled in the Holy Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) lifetime. 
  10. Ali b. Abi Talib (a.s.) was already selected as Caliph by Allah and His Prophet (s.a.w.a.). Even if there were differences over his selection, they could wait till after the funeral. In any case, since the Bani Hashim were busy in the funeral, selecting the so-called caliph of Muslims without consulting them makes the selection of Abu Bakr void as there was no consensus  at the time of selection. Consensus cannot be claimed after selection, especially since there are reports that even many Ansaar in Saqifah were rooting for Ali b. Abi Talib as the Caliph, nullifying the entire argument of consensus for Abu Bakr as it lacked the consent of two major groups, viz. the Ansaar and the Bani Hashim.

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