Armoire

THE CHOICE

The Prophet continually spoke of Paradise, and when he did so it was as a man who sees what he describes. This impression was confirmed by many other signs, for example when he once stretched out his hand as if to take something, and then drew it back. He said nothing, but some of those who were with him noticed his action and questioned him about it. “I saw Paradise,” he said, “and I reached out for a cluster of its grapes. Had I taken it, ye would have eaten of it as long as the  world endureth.”‘ They had grown accustomed to thinking of him as one who is already in a sense in the Hereafter. Perhaps it was partly for this reason that when he spoke of his death, and when he inferred indirectly, as sometimes now he did, that it might be imminent, his words made little impression on them. Moreover, despite his sixty-three years, he still had the stature and grace of a much younger man, his eyes were still bright, and there were only a few white hairs in his black hair. Yet on one occasion, a remark of his when he was with his wives was sufficiently ominous to prompt the question as to which of them would be the first to rejoin him in the next world. He replied: “She of the longest reach will be the soonest of you to join me,”! whereupon they set about measuring their arms, one against another. Presumably, though it is not recorded, Sawdah was the winner of this contest, for she was the tallest of them and in general the largest. Zaynab, on the other hand, was a small woman, with an arm to match. But it was Zaynab who died first of them all, some ten years later. Only then did they realize that by “she of the longest reach” the Prophet had meant the most giving, for Zaynab was exceedingly generous, like her predecessor of the same name who had been called “the mother of the poor”.

One night, not long after the Prophet had ordered preparations for the Syrian campaign and before the army had left, he called to a freedman of his in the small hours, Abu Muwayhibah, and said: “I have been commanded to pray forgiveness for the people of the cemetery, so come thou with  me.” They went out together, and when they reached the Baqi’ the Prophet said: “Peace be on you, O people of the graves. Rejoice in your state, how much better it is than the state of men now living. Dissensions come like waves of darkest night, the one following hard upon the other, each worse  than the last.” Then he turned to Abu Muwayhibah and said: “I have been offered the keys of the treasuries of this world and immortality therein followed by Paradise, and I have been given the choice between that and meeting my Lord and Paradise.” “O dearer than my father and my mother,” said Abu Muwayhibah, “take the keys of the treasuries of this world and immortality therein followed by Paradise.” But he answered him saying: “I have already chosen the meeting with my Lord and  Paradise.” Then he prayed for forgiveness for the people of the Baqi’.’

It was at dawn that day, or perhaps the next day, that his head ached as he had never known it to ache, but he none the less went to the Mosque and after leading the prayer he mounted the pulpit and invoked blessings on the martyrs of Uhud, as if- so it was said afterward – he was doing it for the last time. Then he said: “There is a slave amongst the slaves of God unto whom God hath offered the choice between this world and that which is with Him, and the slave hath chosen that which is with God.” When he said this Abu Bakr wept, for he knew that the Prophet was speaking of himself and that the choice meant imminent death. The Prophet saw that he had understood, and telling him not to weep, he said: “O people, the most beneficent of men unto me in his companionship and in that which his hand bestoweth is Abu Bakr; and if I were to take from all mankind an inseparable friend he would be Abu Bakr – but companionship and brotherhood of faith are ours until God unite us in His Presence.” It was on that occasion that he said, looking around at the multiple entrances into the  Mosque from the private houses which surrounded it: “Behold these doors that intrude upon the Mosque. Let them be walled up, save only the door of Abu Bakr.” Before leaving the pulpit he said: “I go before you, and I am your witness. Your tryst with me is at the Pool,’ which verily I behold from here where now I stand. I fear not for you that ye will set up gods beside God; but I fear for you this world, lest ye seek to rival one another in worldly gains.”

From the Mosque he went back to the apartment of Maymunah, whose turn it was to house him. The effort of speech to the congregation had increased his fever; and after an hour or two, wishing to let ‘A’ishah know that he was ill, he went briefly to visit her. She also was suffering from a headache, and when he entered her room she moaned: “Oh my head!” “Nay, ‘A’ishah,” said the Prophet, “it is oh my head!” But he looked at her searchingly, as if to seek some sign of mortal sickness in her face, and  finding none he said: “I wished that it might be” – he meant her death ­” whilst yet I was alive, that I might ask forgiveness for thee and invoke mercy upon thee and shroud thee and pray over thee and bury thee.” ‘A’ishah could see that he was ill and she was alarmed at the tone of his voice, but she tried to make light of it, and succeeded in bringing a brief smile to his face. Then he repeated: “Nay, but it is oh my head,”; and returned to Maymunah.

He tried to do as he did when he was well, and continued to lead the prayers in the Mosque as usual; but his illness increased, until the hour came when he could pray only in a sitting position, and he told the congregation that they also should pray seated. On his return to the apartment of the wife whose day it was, he asked her “Where am I tomorrow?” and she named the wife to whom he would go. “And where the day after tomorrow?” he asked. Again she answered; but struck by his insistence, and sensing that he was impatient to be with ‘A’ishah, she told the other wives, whereupon they all came to him and said: “Messenger of God, we have given our days with you unto our sister ‘A’ishah.” He accepted their gift but was now too weak to walk unaided, so ‘Abbas and ‘Ali helped him to ‘A’ishah’s apartment.

Word came to him that there was much criticism of his choice of so young a man as Usamah to command the army for the Syrian campaign and that there was, in consequence, a certain slackening in the preparations. He felt the need to answer his critics, but his fever was intense, so he said to  his wives: “Pour over me seven skins of water from different wells that I may go out unto the men and exhort them.” Hafsah brought a tub to ‘A’ishah’s room and the other wives brought water, and he sat in the tub while they poured it over him. Then they helped him to dress and bound up his head, and two of the men took him between them to the Mosque, where he sat in the pulpit and addressed those who were assembled there, saying: “O people, dispatch Usamah’s troop, for though ye question his leadership even as ye questioned the leadership of his father before him, yet is he worthy of the command,’ even as his father was worthy of it.” He descended from the pulpit and was helped back to ‘A’ishah’s house. Preparations were hastened on, and Usamah went out with his army as far as jurf, where they encamped, about three miles to the north of Medina.

At the next call to prayer the Prophet felt he could no longer lead it even though he remained seated, she said to his wives: “Tell Abu Bakr to lead the people in prayer.” But ‘A’ishah feared that it would greatly pain her father to take the place of the Prophet. “O Messenger of God,” she said, “Abu Bakr is a very sensitive man, not strong of voice and much given to weeping when he reciteth the Qur’an.” “Tell him to lead the prayer,” said the Prophet, as if she had not spoken. She tried again, this time suggesting that ‘Umar should take his place. “Tell Abu Bakr to lead the prayer,” he reiterated. ‘A’ishah had thrown a glance of appeal at Hafsah, who now began to speak, but the Prophet silenced her with the words: “Ye are even as the women that were with joseph.’ Tell Abu Bakr to lead the people in prayer. Let the blamer find fault and let the ambitious aspire. God and the believers will not have it otherwise.:” He repeated the last sentence three times, and for the rest of his illness Abu Bakr led the prayer.  

Umm Ayman was in constant attendance, and she kept her son informed. He had already resolved to advance no further and to remain in his camp at Jurf until God should decide. But one morning the news was such that he came to Medina and went in tears to the Prophet, who was too ill that day to speak, though he was fully conscious. Usamah bent over him and kissed him, and the Prophet raised his hand, palm upwards, to ask and to receive blessings from Heaven. Then he made a gesture as if to empty the contents of his hand upon Usamah, who returned sadly to his camp. The next day was Monday the twelfth of Rabi’ in the eleventh year of Islam, that is, the eighth day of June in the year AD 632. Early that morning the Prophet’s fever abated, and although he was exceedingly weak the call to prayer decided him to go to the Mosque. The prayer had already begun when he entered, and the people were almost drawn away from it for joy at the sight of him, but he motioned them to continue. For a moment he stood to watch them and his face shone with gladness as he marked the piety of their demeanor. Then, still radiant, he made his way forward, helped by Fadl and by Thawban, one of his freedmen. “I never saw the Prophet’s face more beautiful than it was at that hour,” said Anas.

Abu Bakr had been conscious of the stir throughout the ranks behind him. He knew that it could only have one cause and that the man he now heard approaching must be the Prophet. So without turning his head, he stepped back, but the Prophet placed his hand on his shoulder and pressed him forwards again in front of the congregation, saying “Lead thou the prayer,” while he himself sat on the right of Abu Bakr and prayed seated. Great was the rejoicing at this apparent recovery, and not long after the prayer, Usamah arrived again from his camp, expecting to find the Prophet worse and overjoyed to find him better. “Set forth, with the blessings of God,” said the Prophet. So Usamah bade him farewell and rode back to Jurf, where he told his men to make ready for the northward march. Meantime Abu Bakr had taken leave to go as far as Upper Medina. Already before his marriage to Asma’, he had long been betrothed to Habibah, the Khazrajite with whom he had lodged ten years ago on his arrival in the oasis, and they had recently been married. Habibah still lived with her family at Sunh, where he now went to visit her.

The Prophet returned to ‘A’ishah’s apartment helped by FadI and Thawban. ‘All and ‘Abbas followed them there but did not stay long, and when they came out some men who were passing asked ‘All how the Prophet was. “Praise be to God,” said ‘All, “he is well.” But when the questioners had gone on their way ‘Abbas took ‘All’s hand and said: “I swear I recognize death in the face of God’s Messenger, even as I have ever been able to recognize it in the faces of our clansmen. So let us go and speak with him. If his authority is to be vested in us, then we shall know it; and if in other than us, then will we ask him to commend us unto the people, that they may treat us well.” But ‘Ali said: “By God, I will not, for if the authority is withheld from us by him, none after him will ever give it to us.” The prophet had now returned to his couch. Nonetheless, when her brother ‘Abd ar-Rahman entered the room with a tooth-stick in his hand, she saw the Prophet looking at it in such a way that she knew he wanted it. So she took it from her brother and gnawed upon it to soften it. Then she gave it to the Prophet, who rubbed his teeth with it vigorously despite his weakness.

Not long afterward he lost consciousness, and ‘A’ishah thought it was the onset of death, but after an hour he opened his eyes. She then remembered his having said to her: “No Prophet is taken by death until he hath been shown his place in Paradise and then offered the choice, to live or to die.” And she understood that this had been accomplished and that he had returned from a vision of the Hereafter. “He will not now choose us!” she said to herself. Then she heard him murmur: “With the supreme communion in Paradise, with those upon whom God hath showered His favor, the prophets and the saints and the martyrs and the righteous, most excellent for communion are they.’ Again she heard him murmur: “O God, with the supreme communion,”; and these were the last words she heard him speak.

President

The divine scriptures are God’s beacons to the world. Surely God offered His trust to the heavens and the earth, and the hills, but they shrank from bearing it and were afraid of it. And man undertook it.
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