Irresponsible Attitudes of the Companions 2

Jubair b. Abdullah says:

"When the Messenger of God fell sick with the illness that was to end in his death, he asked for paper in order to write down for his ummah instructions that would prevent them from ever going astray or accusing each other of having gone astray. Words were exchanged among those present in the Prophet's house and an argument ensued in the course of which 'Umar uttered words that caused the Prophet to order him to leave the house."(1)

'Ubaydullah b. Abdullah b. 'Utbah relates Ibn Abbas to have said: "During the final moments of the life of the Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, a number of people were present in this house, including 'Umar b. al-Khattab, The Prophet said: 'Come, let me write for you a document that will prevent you from ever going astray after me.' 'Umar said: 'Sickness has overcome the Prophet; we have the Qur'an, which is enough for us.'

"Then disagreement arose among those present. They began to argue with each other, some saying, 'Quick, have the Prophet write a document for you so that you will never go astray after him,' and others repeating the words of 'Umar. "When the arguing and nonsensical talk reached its pitch, the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, told them all to leave." Thus it was that, as Ibn Abbas says: "The great misfortune arose when their noisy disputing prevented the Messenger of God from writing his testamentary document."(2) He then adds sorrowfully. "The tribulations of the Muslims began on that very day."(3)

In the discussion that took place between Ibn Abbas and the second caliph concerning the caliphate of 'Ali, the caliph said: "The Prophet wanted to declare 'Ali as his successor, but I did not allow it to happen."(4) Some Sunni historians and hadith scholars have written that when the Prophet decided to write a document that would prevent the Muslims from going astray 'Umar said: "The Messenger of God has become delirious." Others, however, in order to soften the offensiveness of his words, maintain that he said: "Sickness has overcome the Prophet; you have the Book of God at your disposal, which is enough for us."(5)

It seems that the Most Noble Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, was unaware of the importance of the Book of God and they were better informed than him on this point! Was it necessary to accuse him of mental derangement if he wished to draw up a written document specifying who was to lead the ummah after his death?

If indeed the Prophet's decision could be attributed to the failing of his mental powers as a result of illness, why did the second caliph not prevent Abu Bakr from drawing up a comparable document during the last moments of his life, or accuse him of being deranged? 'Umar was present at the side of Abu Bakr and he knew that Abu Bakr intended to designate him as ruler in his testament, so naturally he wanted the document to be signed.

If 'Umar truly thought the Book of God to suffice for the solution of all problems, why did he immediately hasten to the Saqifah after the death of the Prophet, together with Abu Bakr to ensure that the question of the caliphate should be resolved in accordance with their ideas? Why did they not at that point refer exclusively to the Book of God and make no mention of the Qur'an, even though the Qur'an had already settled the matter?

al-Tabari writes the following in his history:

"When Shadid, the emancipated slave of Abu Bakr took into his hand the command Abu Bakr had written for 'Umar to become his successor, 'Umar said to the people, "People, pay heed, and obey the command of the caliph. The caliph says, 'I have not failed you in providing for your welfare.'"(6) The expression of personal opinions running counter to the orders of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, continued after his death, culminating in the changing of certain divine decrees in the time of the second caliph and on his orders. Instances of this are to be found in reputable books by Sunni authors.(7)

For example, the second caliph said: "Let them never bring before me a man who has married a woman for a set period, for it they do I will stone him."(8) The fact that he prohibited temporary marriage (mut'ah) proves that this type of union was common among the Companions and other Muslims at the time, for otherwise it would not have been necessary for him to order them to desist. Now if the Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him and his family, had forbidden this form of marriage, the Companions would never have had recourse to it and there would have no need for 'Umar to threaten people with stoning.

The second caliph himself admitted: "There were three things that were permissible in the time of the Prophet which I have forbidden and for which I exact punishment: temporary marriage, the mut'ah pilgrimage, and reciting 'Hasten to the best of deeds' (hayya 'ala khayri 'l-'amal) in the call to prayer."(9)

Continue in the next article: ( Irresponsible Attitudes of the Companions 3 )



1. Ibn Sa'd, al-Tabaqat, Vol. II, p. 243.

2. Ibn Sa'd, al-Tabaqat, Vol. II, p.242; Muslim, al-Sahih, Vol. XI, p. 95; Ahmad b. Hanbal, al-Musnad, Vol. I, p. 336.

3. Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah, Vol. V, pp. 227-28; al-Dhahabi, Tarikh al-Islam, Vol. I, p. 311; al-Diyar Bakri, Tarikh al-Khamis, Vol. I, p. 182; al-Bid'wa al-Tarikh, Vol. V, p. 95; Taysir al-Wusul, Vol. IV, p. 194.

4. Ibn Abi 'l-Hadid, Sharh ., Vol. III, p.97.

5. Muslim, al-Sahih, Vol. III, p. 1259; al-Bukhari, al-Sahih, Vol. IV , p. 5; Ahmad b. Hanbal, al-Musnad, hadith no. 2992., 

6. al-Tabari, Tarikh, Vol. IV, p. 51.

7. Ibn Hisham, al-Sirah, Vol. IV, p. 237; Muslim, al-Sahih, Vol. IV, pp. 37-8, 46; al-Tabari, Tarikh, Vol. II, p. 401; Ahmad b. Hanbal, al-Musnad, Vol. III, pp. 304, 380.

8. Muslim, al-Sahih, Vol. VIII, p. 169.

9. al-Amini, al-Ghadir, Vol. VI, p.23.