Although there is a consensus between the Shia and Sunni scholars that the Holy Prophet (S) passed away on a in 11 year of Hijri, a Monday, there is much confusion regarding the exact date of this incident. Most Shia scholars believe that it was the 28th of Safar, and the majority of the Sunnis say that it was 12th Rabiul Awwal, ten years after Hijri. There are also reports, both from Sunni and Shi’i sources that however suggest that the actual date of death was 2 Rabi ul Awwal. Why the Muslims never reached a consensus as far as the death of their Prophet is concerned, is so is a tragedy! They seem to remember everything else.
Incidentally according to popular belief prevalent amongst the Sunnis, the Prophet was born and died on the same day! Thus the day is known as Bāra Wafāt: the culmination of 12 days in any of which the death of the Prophet occurred. Recently since a few years it has been nomenclated as Mīlādun Nabi, and celebrated as the date of the birth of the Prophet.
What do the sources tell us in this regard?
In Sahih Muslim, there is a famous tradition narrated by Ibn ‘Abbas saying:
“Three days before the Prophet’s death, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab and other companions were present by his side. The Prophet said, “Now let me write something for you whereby you shall not go astray after me.” ‘Umar said, “The Prophet is overcome by illness; you have the Qur’an, the Book of Allah, which is sufficient for us.”
“’Umar’s statement caused a furor among those present. Some were saying that the Prophet’s command should be obeyed so that he might write whatever he desired to write for their guidance. Others sided with’Umar. When the tension and uproar intensified, the Prophet said, “Get away from me!” Therefore, Ibn ‘Abbas used to say, “It was a miserable, absolutely miserable, occurrence that the conflict of opinion and noise made by the people came in the way of the Prophet’s writing a will and, because of it, the Prophet could not leave behind what he wanted to put on paper.”
Sa’eed ibn Jubayr’s narrative is thus recorded in Sahih Bukhari:
“Ibn ‘Abbas said, “What a miserable day it was that Thursday!,” and he wept so bitterly that the pebbles lying there became wet with his tears. Then he continued, When on a Thursday, the Prophet’s sickness intensified, he said, ‘Get me the things to write with so that I may write something by which you may never be misguided after me.’ People differed and quarreled over the matter, although quarreling in the presence of the Prophet was unseemly. People said that the Prophet was talking in delirium. The Prophet cried out, ‘Go away from me! I am more sound than you are.”‘
It is stated in Rawdatul-ahbab that the Prophet said to Fatimah, “Bring your sons to me.” Fatimah brought Hasan and Husain to the Prophet. Both of them greeted the Prophet, sat by his side and wept at witnessing the agony of the Prophet in such a manner that the people who saw them weeping could not hold their tears. Hasan rested his face upon the Prophet’s face and Husain rested his head upon the Prophet’s chest.
The Prophet opened his eyes and kissed his grandsons lovingly, enjoining the people to love and respect them. In another tradition, it is stated that the companions who were present there, having seen Hasan and Husain weep, wept so loudly that the Prophet himself could not hold his tears at their grief. Then he said, “Call my beloved brother ‘Ali to me.” ‘Ali came in and sat near the head of the Prophet. When the Prophet lifted his head, ‘Ali moved to the side and, holding the Prophet’s head, he rested it, on his own lap. The Prophet then said:
“O ‘Ali! I have taken a certain amount from so and so Jew for the expenditure on Usamah’s army. See that you repay it. And, O ‘Ali! You will be the first person to reach me at the heavenly reservoir of al-Kawthar. You will also be given a lot of trouble after my death. You should bear it patiently and when you see that the people prefer the lust of this world, you should prefer the hereafter.”
The following is quoted in Khasa’ is of Nasa’ i from Ummu Salamah:
“By Allah, the closest person [to the Prophet] at the time of the Prophet’s death was ‘Ali. Early on the morning of the day when he was going to die, the Prophet called ‘Ali who had been sent out on some errand. He asked for ‘Ali three times before his return. However, ‘Ali came before sunrise. So, thinking that the Prophet needed some privacy with ‘Ali, we came out. I was the last to be out; therefore, I sat closer to the door than the other women. I saw that ‘Ali lowered his head towards the Prophet and the Prophet kept whispering into his ears (for sometime). Therefore, ‘Ali is the only person who was near the Prophet till the last.”
Al-Hakim, moreover, remarks in his Mustadrak that:
“the Prophet kept confiding in ‘Ali till the time of his death. Then he breathed his last.”
On getting the news Umar, who was so stunned that he almost lost consciousness and stood before people addressing them:
“Some of the hypocrites claim that the Messenger of Allah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam died. The Messenger of Allah did not die, but went to his Lord in the same way as Moses ibn ‘Imran did. He stayed away for forty nights, but finally came back though they said he had been dead. By Allah, the Messenger of Allah will come back and he will cut of the hands and legs of those who claim his death.” [Ibn Hisham, 2/655]
Abu Bakr on hearing this said: “‘Umar, be seated.” ‘Umar refused to do so. People parted ‘Umar and came towards Abu Bakr, who started a speech saying:
“And now, he who worships Muhammad, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, Muhammad is dead now. But he who worships Allah, He is Ever Living and He never dies. Allah says: ‘Muhammad is no more than a Messenger, and indeed (many) Messengers have passed away before him. If he dies or is killed, will you then turn back on your heels (as disbelievers)? And he who turns back on his heels, not the least harm will he do to Allah, and Allah will give reward to those who are grateful.’ [Al-Qur’an 3:144]”
Ibn al-Musayyab said that ‘Umar had said: “By Allah as soon as I heard Abu Bakr say it, I fell down to the ground. I felt as if my legs had been unable to carry me so I collapsed when I heard him say it. Only then did I realize that Muhammad sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam had really died.” [Sahih al-Bukhari, 2/640,641]
Dispute about who would succeed him broke out even before having the Messenger of Allah’s body prepared for burial. Lots of arguments, discussions, dialogues took place between the Helpers and Emigrants in the roofed passage (Saqīfa / portico) of Banu Sa’ida. Finally they acknowledged Abu Bakr as a Caliph. They spent the whole Monday there till it was night. People were so busy with their arguments that it was late night — just about dawn of Tuesday — yet his blessed body was still lying on his bed covered with an inked-garment. He was locked in the room.
The burial process took Tuesday long and Wednesday night (i.e. the night which precedes Wednesday morning). ‘A’ishah said: “We did not know that the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam was being buried till we heard the sound of tools digging the ground at the depth of Wednesday night.” [Mukhtasar Sirat ar-Rasul, p.471; Ibn Hisham, 2/649-665; Talqih Fuhum Ahlul-Athar, p. 38, 39; Rahmatul li’l-Alamin 1/277-286]
The Ottoman Miniature depicts the Ahle Bayt as they mourn the Prophet:
The death of the Prophet Mohammed has been depicted in an Ottoman miniature painting from the Siyer-i Nebi, kept at the Topkapı Sarayı Müzesi, Istanbul (Hazine 1222, folio 414a) . circa 1595. Ottoman miniature painter 492 Siyer-i Nebi 414a One can see Hasan and Husain crying, as Ali holds the head of the Prophet. A veiled lady, probably Fatima and another personage is shown standing.
• Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi