The signs which ‘Abbas had been the first to see had soon become apparent to others, and before the advent of death, Umm Ayman had sent word to her son that the Prophet was dying. Camp had already been raised for the northward march but Usamah immediately gave orders for the return to Medina. Many of the older Companions were with the army, including ‘Umar, and when they were met on their arrival in the city with the news that the death had taken place ‘Umar refused to believe it. He had misinterpreted a verse of the Qur’an which he had thought to mean that the Prophet would outlive them all and other generations to come, and he now stood in the Mosque and addressed the people, assuring them that the Prophet was merely absent in the Spirit and that he would return. While he was speaking thus, Abu Bakr arrived on horseback from Sunh, for news had quickly spread over the whole oasis.
Without pausing to speak to anyone, he went straight to his daughter’s house and drew back from the Prophet’s face the cloak with which they had covered him. He gazed at him, and then kissed him. “Dearer than my father and my mother,” he said, “thou hast tasted the death which God decreed for thee. No death after that shall ever befall thee.” Reverently he drew the cloak over his face again and went out to the throng of men whom ‘Umar was still addressing. “Gently, ‘Umar,” he said as he approached. “Hear me speak” ‘Umar paid no attention and persisted, but recognizing the voice of Abu Bakr the people left ‘Umar and turned to hear what the older man had to tell them. After giving praise to God, he said: “O people, whoso hath been wont to worship Muhammad – verily Muhammad is passed away, and whoso hath been wont to worship God – verily God is Living and dieth not.” Then he recited the following verses which had been revealed after the battle of Uhud: Muhammad is but a messenger, and messengers have passed away before him. If he dies or be slain, will ye then turn upon your heels? Whoso turneth upon his heels will thereby do no hurt unto God, and God will reward the thankful.
It was as if the people had not known of the revelation of this verse until Abu Bakr recited it that day. They took it from him, and it was on all their tongues. ‘Umar said afterward: “When I heard Abu Bakr recite that verse, I was so astounded that I fell to the ground. My legs would no longer carry me, and I knew that God’s Messenger had passed away.” ‘Ali had now withdrawn to his house, and with him were Zubayr and Talhah, The rest of the Emigrants gathered round Abu Bakr and they were joined by Usayd and many of his clan. But most of the Helpers, of Aws as well as Khazraj, had assembled in the hall of the Bani Sa’idah of whom Sa’d ibn ‘Ubadah was chief, and the word was brought to Abu Bakr and ‘Umar that they were debating there the question as to where the authority should lie, now that the Prophet had passed away. They had gladly accepted his authority; but failing him, many of them were inclined to think that the sons of Qaylah should be ruled by none except a man of Yathrib, and it appeared that they were about to pledge their allegiance to Sa’d.
‘Umar urged Abu Bakr to go with him to the hall, and Abu ‘Ubaydah went with them. Sa’d was ill and he was lying in the middle of the hall, wrapped in a cloak. On behalf of him, another of the Helpers was about to address the assembly when the three men of Quraysh entered, so he included them in his speech, which began, after praising for God, with the words: “We are the Helpers of God and the fighting force of Islam; and ye, O Emigrants, are of us, for a group of your people have settled amongst us.” The speaker continued in the same vein, glorifying the Helpers, and while giving the Emigrants a share of that glory, deliberately failing to recognize the unique position that they held in themselves as the first Islamic community. When he had finished ‘Umar was about to speak, but Abu Bakr silenced him and spoke himself firmly, reiterating the praise of the Helpers, but pointing out that the community of Islam was now spread throughout Arabia, and that the Arabs as a whole would not accept the authority of anyone other than a man of Quraysh, for Quraysh held a unique and central position amongst them. In conclusion, he took ‘Umar and Abu ‘Ubaydah each by a hand and said: “I offer you one of these two men. Pledge your allegiance to whichever of these ye will.”
Then another of the Helpers rose and suggested that there should be two authorities, and this led to a heated argument, until finally ‘Umar intervened, saying: “O Helpers, know ye not that the Messenger of God ordered Abu Bakr to lead the prayer?” “We know it,” they answered, and he said: “Then which of you will willingly take precedence over him?” “God forbid that we should take precedence over him!” they said, whereupon ‘Umar seized the hand of Abu Bakr and pledged allegiance to him, followed by Abu ‘Ubaydah and others of the Emigrants who had now joined them. Then all the Helpers who were present likewise pledged their allegiance to Abu Bakr, with the exception of Sa’d, who never acknowledged him as caliph,’ and who eventually migrated to Syria.
Whatever they had decided in the hall, it would have been unacceptable for anyone to have led the prayers in the Mosque in Medina except Abu Bakr, so long as he was there; and the next day at dawn, before leading the prayer, he sat in the pulpit, and ‘Umar rose and addressed the assembly, bidding them pledge their allegiance to Abu Bakr, whom he described as “the best of you, the Companion of God’s Messenger, the second of two when they were both in the cave,” A recent Revelation had recalled the privilege of Abu Bakr to have been the Prophet’s sole Companion at this crucial moment;’ and with one voice the whole congregation swore fealty to him – all except ‘Ali.
Then Abu Bakr gave praise and thanks to God and addressed them, saying: “I have been given the authority over you, and I am not the best of you. If I do well, help me; and if I do wrong, set me right. Sincere regard for truth is loyalty and disregard for truth is treachery. The weak amongst you shall be strong with me until I have secured his rights if God will, and the strong amongst you shall be weak with me until I have wrested from him the rights of others if God will. Obey me so long as I obey God and His Messenger. But if I disobey God and His Messenger, ye owe me no obedience. Arise for your prayer, God have mercy upon you!’”
After the prayer, the Prophet’s household and his family decided that they must prepare him for burial, but they were in disagreement as to how it should be done. Then God cast a sleep upon them all, and in his sleep, each man heard a voice say: “Wash the Prophet with his garment upon him.” So they went to ‘A’ishah’s apartment, which for the moment she had vacated, and Aws ibn Khawli, a Khazrajite, begged leave to represent the Helpers, saying: “I adjure thee by God, O ‘Ali, and by our share in His Messenger,” and ‘Ali allowed him to enter. ‘Abbas and his sons Fadl and Qitham helped ‘Ali to turn the body, while Usamah poured water over it, helped by Shuqran, one of the Prophet’s freedmen, and ‘Ali passed his hand over of the long woolen garment. “Dearer than my father and my mother,” he said, “how excellent art thou, in life and in death!”
Even after one day, the Prophet’s body seemed to be sunken merely in sleep, except that there was no breathing and no pulse, no warmth, and no suppleness. The Companions now disagreed as to where he should be buried. It seemed to many that his grave should be near the graves of his three daughters and Ibrahim and the Companions whom he himself had buried and prayed over, in the Baqi al-Gharqad, while others thought he should be buried in the Mosque; but Abu Bakr remembered having heard him say “No Prophet dieth but is buried where he died,” so the grave was dug in the floor of ‘A’ishah’s room near the couch where he was lying.
Then all the people of Medina visited him and prayed over him. They came in relays, and each small gathering prayed the funeral prayer – firstly the men, group after group, and then when all the men had visited him the women came, and after them the children. That night he was laid in his grave by ‘Ali: and the others who had prepared him for burial. Great was the sorrow in the City of Light, as Medina now is called. The Companions rebuked each other for weeping but wept themselves. “Not for him do I weep,” said Umm Ayman, when questioned about her tears. “Know I not that he hath gone to that which is better for him than this world? But I weep for the tidings of Heaven which have been cut off from us.” It was indeed as if a great door had been closed. Yet they remembered that he had said: “What have I to do with this world? I and this world are as a rider and a tree beneath which he taketh shelter.
Then he goeth on his way, and leaveth it behind him.”! He had said this that they, each one of them, might say it of themselves; and if the door had now closed, it would be open for the faithful at death. They still had in their ears the sound of his saying: “I go before you, and I am your witness. Your trust with me is at the Pool.” Having delivered his message in this world, he had gone to fulfill it in the Hereafter, where he would continue to be, for them and for others, but without the limitations of life on earth, the Key of Mercy,’ the Key of Paradise, the Spirit of Truth, the Happiness of God. Verily God and His angels whelm in blessings the prophet. O ye who believe, invoke blessings upon him and give him greetings of Peace.