From Merchant to Messenger
The Prophet's Last Sermon
The second most important document in Islam after the Koran is probably the Prophet’s Farewell Khutba, his farewell sermon. In his last sermon, delivered on mount Arafat outside Mecca a few months before he died, God’s Messenger 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 Prophet’s last khutba in laudatory terms. If you are not a believer your praise may be more guarded.
The three translations of the Khutba that I consulted all differ in a variety of ways both in content and presentation i.e. the order of what was said.
The translation 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 as another, I have included the other translator’s relevant segment. In one case, I have included what I consider an important declaration on Talion law, literally "law as retaliation" whose most common expression is "an eye for an eye”, that is in Islamic scholar Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah’s [1908-2002] translation but not in Faizi’s. I have taken on the responsibility of rendering into English quotes from Dr. Hamidullah’s French translation of the Khutba.
Unless otherwise indicated the translation is from Faizi. Where my understanding of a particular declaration is not clear or where the meaning is self-evident I offer no comment.
The Prophet 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 who 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 (Tribes allied with the Meccans against the Muslims at what is believed to be the Battle of the Ditch during the siege of Medina 5AH.)
God’s Messenger then invites the assembled to listen carefully as this may be the last time they are 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.
Therefore listen to what I am saying to you very carefully and take these words to those who could not be present here today. (Rogerson)
After praising Allah and reminding the faithful that his days are numbered, the Prophet makes what appears to be a universal declaration about all men 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.
But there is a caveat, “except in piety.” All Muslims are equal but Muslims are superior to non-Muslims. This statement also loses some of its luster when you consider the position of women in Islam and Islam’s condoning of slavery.
In Islam, human rights per se don’t exist. In Islam you don’t so much have rights as obligations. Most of these obligations are to Allah and are spelled out in the Koran or implied in the Prophet’s sayings, actions or silent approval of the actions of others done in his presence – his Sunnah. The Koran’s emphasis on your obligations to Allah and the expanse of the Prophet’s Sunnah render the Islamic equivalent of universal declaration on human rights largely meaningless, if not a contradiction in terms.
After making his less than universal declaration on the brotherhood of men, the Prophet makes a statement about the creation of Adam that, unlike the Koran, is unambiguous: Adam was created from clay.
All mankind is the progeny of Adam and Adam was fashioned out of clay.
Following his affirmation about the substance from which the first man was created, the Prophet declares that all debts and undertakings have been remitted or fulfilled, except for one eminently reasonable exception, debts due the House of Allah and supplyers of waters to the pilgrimage; that blood feuds from the time of ignorance have been settled or abolished; that the Quraysh, which the Muslim triumph has displaced as the leading tribe of Mecca, not take it so hard.
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.
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.
It was in a cave, on a hill overlooking Mecca that Allah first sent down his revelations confirming the sanctity of a Muslim’s life by setting a high price for its taking, and the inviolability of a believer’s property by making its taking, without the owners permission, punishable by the amputation of one or both hands. The following declaration is a reminder to the world of the special place that the city of Mecca, the believers, their property, 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)
The Prophet on the relationship between husband and wife and how a husband may discipline his wives for acts he deems improper by denying them clothes, food or beating them… 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 the Prophet’s last sermon – to one extent or another – portray women as not having the wherewithal to look after themselves or are not 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 fair a little better, they are “helpers” provided by Allah to help their male owners manage 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)
Women as helpers or prisoners is followed by a reminder of the Koran’s strict inheritance rules. In Dr. Hamidullah’s translation we find a new rule about a stranger’s share of an inheritance which I did not find in the Koran or in the 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)
According to Syed Shahabuddin writing in the Milli Gazette, Indian Muslim’s leading English newspaper, some Islamic jurisdiction still consider stoning to death the appropriated punishment because of a statement attributed to the second Caliph Umar who maintained that a revelation on the subject had been received but had been lost. In some jurisdiction, I suspect, the following admonition from the Prophet may play a role.
The child belongs to the marriage-bed and the violator of wedlock shall be stoned. And reckoning of their deeds rests with Allah.
Even before the God's Messenger came along, the Arab patronymic naming nomenclature (a part of a personal name is based on the name of one's father) rested on a father being able to trace his ancestry through his father’s name. Therefore, the Prophet making using your mother’s name a serious transgression against God is not entirely out of place.
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.
The Prophet’s warning about spending an eternity in Hell, the usual consequence of being cursed by Allah, for using your mother’s name to trace your lineage is followed by a reiteration of the importance of repaying your debts. This would be of concern to a merchant, the occupation of Muhammad before he became God’s Messenger, therefore also to be expected.
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 only appears in Dr. Hamidullah’s translation. Payments in blood and chattel and retaliation in kind are central concepts in Islam. It is only reasonable that the Prophet would remind the faithful of this edict in his last sermon.
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.
The Prophet again reminding the believers 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 the Prophet’s credit that he asks 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.
A plea that Muslims refrain from fighting each other after he is gone, and to 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.
Confirming that he is the last of God’s messengers 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)
The Prophet 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 (the 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)
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 mandatory pillars of the Faith (I interpret “worship your Lord” as the first pillar, 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 (the third pillar of Islam, obligatory charity) 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.
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)
In Faizi’s translation the Prophet ends his khutba by asking his audience “And if you were asked about me, what would you say?” With one voice, it is said, the thousands who had listened to the Prophet shouted “We bear witness that you have conveyed the trust and discharged your ministry and looked to our welfare.” After which, again according to Faizi, the Prophet lifted his forefinger towards the sky and then pointing towards the people said “O Lord: Bear Thou witness unto it” three times.
In Dr. Hamidullah’s translation the Prophet ends his address to the faithful with “peace be with you” and this is also how I would like to end our discussion - peace be with you.