The Farewell Pilgrimage
In the tenth year of the Hijrah the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) went to Makkah as a pilgrim for the last time – his “pilgrimage of farewell” it is called – when from Mt. ‘Arafat he preached to an enormous throng of pilgrims. He reminded them of all the duties Islam enjoined upon them, and that they would one day have to meet their Lord, who would judge each one of them according to his work. At the end of the discourse, he asked: “Have I not conveyed the Message?” And from that great multitude of men who a few months or years before had all been conscienceless idolaters the shout went up: “O Allah! Yes!” The Prophet said: “O Allah! Be Thou witness!”
Illness and Death of the Prophet
It was during that last pilgrimage that the surah entitled “Succor” was revealed, which he received as an announcement of approaching death. Soon after his return to Al-Madinah he fell ill. The tidings of his illness caused dismay throughoutArabia and anguish to the folk of Al-Madinah, Makkah and Ta’if, the hometowns. At early dawn on the last day of his earthly life he came out from his room beside the mosque at Al-Madinah and joined the public prayer, which Abu Bakr had been leading since his illness. And there was great relief among the people, who supposed him well again.
“For him who worshipped Muhammad, Muhammad is dead. But as for him who worships Allah, Allah is alive and dieth not.”
When, later in the day, the rumor grew that he was dead. Omar threatened those who spread the rumor with dire punishment, declaring it a crime to think that the Messenger of God could die. He was storming at the people in that strain when Abu Bakr came into the mosque and overheard him. Abu Bakr went to the chamber of his daughter Ayeshah, where the Prophet lay. Having ascertained the fact, and kissed the dead-man’s forehead, he went back into the mosque. The people were still listening to Omar, who was saying that the rumor was a wicked lie, that the Prophet who was all in all to them could not be dead. Abu Bakr went up to Omar and tried to stop him by a whispered word. Then, finding he would pay no heed, Abu Bakr called to the people, who, recognizing his voice, left Omar and came crowding round him. He first gave praise to Allah, and then said: “O people! Lo! As for him who worshipped Muhammad, Muhammad is dead. But as for him who worships Allah, Allah is Alive and dieth not.” He then recited the verse of the Qur’an:
(And Muhammad is but a messenger, messengers the like of whom have passed away before him. Will it be that, when he dieth or is slain, ye will turn back on your heels? He who turneth back doth no hurt to Allah, and Allah will reward the thankful.)
The Qur’an has been very carefully preserved
“And,” says the narrator: an eye-witness, “it was as if the people had not known that such a verse had been revealed till Abu Bakr recited it.” And another witness tells how Omar used to say: “Directly I heard Abu Bakr recite that verse my feet were cut from beneath me and I fell to the ground, for I knew that Allah’s messenger was dead, May Allah bless and keep him!”
All the surahs of the Qur’an had been recorded in writing before the Prophet’s death, and many Muslims had committed the whole Qur’an to memory. But the written surahs were dispersed among the people; and when, in a battle which took place during the Caliphate of Abu Bakr – that is to say, within two years of the Prophet’s death – a large number of those who knew the whole Qur’an by heart were killed, a collection of the whole Qur’an was made and put in writing. In the Caliphate of Othman, all existing copies of surahs were called in, and an authoritative version, based on Abu Bakr’s collection and the testimony of those who had the whole Qur’an by heart, was compiled exactly in the present form and order, which is regarded as traditional and as the arrangement of the Prophet himself, the Caliph Othman and his helpers being Comrades of the Prophet and the most devout students of the Revelation. The Qur’an has thus been very carefully preserved.