From Merchant to Messenger
The Prophet's Last Sermon
The second most important document in Islam after the Koran is probably Muhammad’s Farewell Khutba, his farewell sermon. In his last sermon, delivered on Mount Arafat outside Mecca a few months before he died, God’s spokesman summarized all the basic beliefs of Islam and all the duties of a Muslim. English translations will usually run less than 1,300 words. Like the Koran, commentators have spoken about the last khutba in laudatory terms. If you are not a believer, your praise may be more guarded.
The three translations of the Khutba I consulted, those of S. F. H. Faizi, Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah [1908-2002] and Barnaby Rogerson, all differ in a variety of ways both in content and presentation, i.e., the order of what was said. The translation that I have chosen to serve as the template and included in its entirety is the one from S. F. H. Faizi, author of Sermons of the Prophet. I would have preferred using Barnaby Rogerson’s translation, which is rendered in more elegant English, but unfortunately his translation is not as complete as Faizi’s. Where a segment of Faizi’s translation is not as clear, I have included one of the other translator’s relevant segments. Unless otherwise indicated, the translation is from Faizi.
Muhammad begins his last khutba with an inspirational panegyric to Allah which reiterates a central concept of Islam, that Allah is one indivisible and self-sufficient God: He has “no partner.”
All praise is due to Allah, so we praise Him, and seek His pardon and we turn to Him. We seek refuge with Allah from the evils of ourselves and from the evil consequences of our deeds. Whom Allah guides, there is none to lead him astray; and there is none to guide him aright whom Allah leads astray. I bear witness that there is no God but Allah, the One, having no partner with Him. His is the Sovereignty and to Him is due all praise. He grants life and causes death and is Powerful over everything. There is no God but Allah, the One; He fulfilled His promise and helped His servant and He alone routed the confederates.
(The Confederates were Tribes allied with the Meccans against the Muslims. The battle referred to in the above is believed to be the Battle of the Ditch during the siege of Medina.)
Muhammad invited the assembled to listen carefully, as this may be the last time they were together to perform the pilgrimage.
O people, listen to my words! for I do not know whether we shall meet again and perform Hajj after this year.
After praising Allah and reminding the faithful that his days are numbered, Muhammad made what appears to be a universal declaration about all being equal.
O ye People! Allah says: O people we created you from one male and one female and made you into tribes and nations, so that you are known to one another. Verily in the sight of Allah, the most honoured amongst you is the one who is the most God-fearing. There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab and for a non-Arab over an Arab, nor for the white over the black nor for the black over the white except in piety.
All Muslims are equal but Muslims are superior to non-Muslims, the meaning of “except in piety.” This statement also loses some of its lustre when you consider the position of women in Islam and Allah’s condoning of slavery (see Getting to Know Allah: "Slavery," Boreal Books). After making his less than universal declaration on equality, Muhammad offered a statement about the creation of Adam that, unlike the Koran, is unambiguous: Adam was created from clay (see Shared Prophets: "Adam," Boreal Books).
All mankind is the progeny of Adam and Adam was fashioned out of clay.
All claims of privilege, which the leading tribe of Mecca, the Quraysh, used to assert, have been abolished. They remain, however, custodian of the Ka’ba and continue to be responsible for supplying water to the pilgrimage.
Behold! Every claim of privilege whether that of blood or property, is under my feet except that of the custody of Allah’s House and supplying of waters to the pilgrimage. O people of Quraysh! Do not appear with the burden of the world around your necks, whereas other people may appear [before their Lord] with the rewards of the Hereafter. In that case I shall avail you naught against Allah.
All blood feuds from the time of ignorance have been settled or abolished and all interest on debts I declare remitted with the first amount being the money I owe my uncle Abbas.
Behold! All practices of the days of Ignorance are now under my feet. The blood revenges of the days of Ignorance are remitted. And the first claim on blood I abolish is that of Ibne Rabi’ah bin Al-Harith who was nursed in Bani Sa’d and who was killed by the Hudhayls. All interest and usurious dues accruing from the age of Ignorance stand wiped out. And the first amount of interest that I remit is that which Abbas bin Abdul Mutallib had to receive. Verily, it is being remitted entirely.
A reminder of the special place that the city of Mecca, its believers, their property and their festivals occupy in Allah’s universe.
O people! Verily your blood, your property and your honour are sacred and inviolable until you appear before your Lord, as the sacred inviolability of this day of yours, this month of yours, and this very town [of yours]. Verily, you will soon meet your Lord and you will be held accountable for your deeds.
O my people, just as you regard this day, this city as sacred, so regard the life and property of every Muslim as a sacred trust. Remember that you will indeed meet your Lord, and he will indeed reckon your deeds. (Rogerson)
You may continue to beat your wives for acts, real or imagined, that you deem improper, but not “too severely.”
O people! Verily, you have got certain rights over your women - and your women have certain rights over you. It is your right upon them that they must not allow anybody save you to come to your bed and admit none to enter your homes whom you do not like but with your permission. And it is for them not to commit acts of impropriety, which if they do, you are authorized by Allah to separate them from your beds and chastise them, but not severely, and if they refrain, then clothe and feed them properly.
What a wife must not do with her husband’s property.
Behold! It is not permissible for a woman to give anything from the wealth of her husband to anyone but with his consent.
All translations consulted on Muhammad’s last sermon—to one extent or another—portray women as not having the wherewithal to look after themselves or be in a position to manage their own affairs. In Dr. Hamidullah’s translation, women are prisoners in their husband’s or father’s house. In Faizi’s translation, women fare a little better; they are “helpers” provided by Allah to aid in their male owner’s management of their affairs.
Treat the women kindly, since they are your helpers and are not in a position to manage their affairs themselves. Fear Allah concerning them, for verily you have taken them on the security of Allah and have made their persons lawful unto you by words of Allah.
Treat the women kindly, for verily, they are like prisoners in your house and are incapable of looking after themselves ... (Hamidullah)
A reminder of the Koran’s new inheritance rules. In Dr. Hamidullah’s translation, we find a rule about a stranger’s share of an inheritance that is not found in other translations of the Khutba.
O people! Allah, the Mighty and Exalted, has ordained to everyone his due share [of inheritance]. Hence there is no need [of special] testament for a heir [departing from the rules laid down by the Shari’ah].
O people, God has fixed for everyone a rightful share of an inheritance; it is therefore not permitted to make out a will that provides for more than the Lord allows. A stranger’s share of an inheritance shall not exceed one third of the total inheritance. (Hamidullah)
A reminder that orphans must continue to be identified by their natural father’s name and adulterers are to be stoned, giving credence to a statement that Caliph Umar would make: that a revelation in which Allah decrees stoning for illegal intercourse had been received then lost (see Women and the Koran: "Stoning," Boreal Books).
The child belongs to the marriage-bed and the violator of wedlock shall be stoned. And reckoning of their deeds rests with Allah.
The patronymic naming nomenclature rests on being able to trace lineage through the father’s name. The conjunctions ibn/ben in a name means son of, while Abu means father of. Matronymics to trace your lineage are out of the question, as Muhammad reminds his audience.
He who attributes his ancestry to other than his father or claims his clientship (sic) to other than his master, the curse of Allah is upon him.
It goes without saying:
All debts must be repaid, all borrowed property must be returned, gifts should be reciprocated and a surety must make good the loss to the assured.
The following declaration on Talion law—literally, "law as retaliation"—only appears in Dr. Hamidullah’s translation. Payments in blood and chattel and retaliation in kind are central concepts in Islam, therefore it is to be expected that Muhammad would expand on them.
And intentional murder shall be punished according to Talion law; where the murderess intention is not clear and the victim is killed using a club or a stone it will cost the perpetrator one hundred camels as blood money. Whoever demands more is a man from the time of ignorance. (Hamidullah)
The only universal declaration in the entire Khutba, i.e., no exceptions!
Beware! No one committing a crime is responsible for it but himself. Neither the child is responsible for the crime of his father, nor the father is responsible for the crime of his child.
A reminder that it is a crime to steal from another Muslim.
Nothing of his brother is lawful for a Muslim except what he himself gives willingly. So do not wrong yourselves.
What God allows, no man can deny. In the face of this bleak reality, it is to Muhammad’s credit that he asked the faithful to take good care of their slaves.
And your slaves! see that you feed them with such food as you eat yourselves, and clothe them with the clothes as you yourselves wear.
Muslims must refrain from fighting amongst themselve after he is gone and return entrusted goods to their rightful owner.
Beware that you go not astray after me and strike one another’s necks. He who [amongst you] has any trust with him, he must return it to its owner.
A declaration on the suitably of black mangled slaves as military commanders or rulers – the meaning of Amir.
If a mangled black slave is appointed your Amir, listen to him, and obey him provided he executes the Ordinance of the Book of Allah amongst you.
Muhammad confirmed that he is God’s ultimate spokesperson and Islam, the last religion.
O people! There is no Prophet to come after me and there would be no Ummah to form after you.
O my people! No prophet or apostle will come after me and no new faith will be born. (Rogerson)
Muhammad on his legacy:
Verily I have left amongst you that which would never lead you astray, the Book of Allah, and the Sunnah of His Messenger, which if you hold fast, you shall never be misled. And beware of transgressing the limits set in the matters of Deen (faith), for it is transgression of [the proper bounds of] Deen, that brought destruction to many people before you.
Reason well, therefore my people, and understand my word which I convey to you. I leave behind me two things, the Qur’an and my example, the Sunnah, and if you follow these you will never go astray. (Rogerson)
A warning that a frustrated Satan will take advantage of what you may consider insignificant transgressions in matters of faith.
Verily the Satan is disappointed at ever being worshipped in this land of yours, but if obedience in anything [short of worship is expected that is]: he will be pleased in matters you may be disposed to think insignificant, so beware of him in the matters of your Deen.
A reminder of the five pillars of the Faith assuming that “worship your Lord” is equivalent of the Shahadah, the declaration of faith.
Behold! worship your Lord; offer prayers five times a day; observe fast in the month of Ramadan; pay readily the Zakat on your property; and perform pilgrimage to the House of God and obey your rulers and you will be admitted to the Paradise of your Lord.
It was the custom of some of the tribes that shared the Peninsula, before the Muslim conquest, to add a thirteenth month when it became obvious that the lunar calendar had lost all connection with the seasons and needed to be resynchronized with the solar calendar. This, Allah claimed, was an attempt by the unbelievers to interfere with his sacred months and He forbade it (see Getting to Know Allah: "Allah’s Calendar," Boreal Books), as Muhammad reminds his audience.
O people! Postponement [of a sacred month] is only an excess of disbelief whereby those who disbelieve are misled; they allow it one year and forbid it [another year] that they may make up the number of the months which Allah hath hallowed, so that they allow that which Allah hath forbidden. And verily the time hath adopted the shape of the day when Allah hath created the heavens and the earth. And Lo! The number of months with Allah is twelve months. Four of them are sacred. Three are consecutive months and the Rajab, in between the months of Jumadius sani and Sha’aban.
Spread the word.
Let him that is present, convey it unto him who is absent. For many people to whom the message is conveyed may be more mindful of it than the audience.
All those who listen to me shall pass on my words to others and those to others again; and may understand my words better than those who listen to me directly. (Rogerson)