By Moin Qazi*
As you read these lines, 1.6 billion Muslims across the world, from Morocco to Jakarta, will be paying homage to Prophet Muhammad ahead of the Prophet’s birthday, which falls on 9-10 November 2019. This day, 1,430 years ago, Prophet Muhammad delivered the historic Last Sermon (khutabat al-wida) on the parched terrain of Mount of Mercy (Jabal ar-Rahmah) in the Uranah valley of Mount Arafat, 20 kilometres east of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
It was precisely on the ninth day of Dhu al-Hijjah (12th and last month of the Islamic year -6 March 632) in the tenth year of hijrah (migration from Mecca to Medina) that the Prophet addressed 1,44,000 pilgrims. The sermon, though seemingly addressed to a Muslim gathering, had a universal message. It consists of summarized exhortations based on some core teachings of the Qur’an and sunnah (Prophetic practices).
It captures the ethos of Islam and provides a great lens to view the religion through. Some of his advices have become the fundamental touchstones of the Islamic faith.
Muslims use the occasion a propitious time to rededicate themselves to the universal human values such as sacredness of life and property, equality, justice, peace, forgiveness, non-violence, women’s rights, the pillars of Islam and more. Upon these lofty principles, the religion of Islam was built. The Prophet died after unifying Arabia and his lifelong declared love of learning protected and contributed to classical knowledge and continued the tradition of Persian scholarship during the dark ages of Christendom.
For centuries, the Prophet inspired the Muslim world to thrive economically, culturally, scientifically and artistically. More than 1,400 years on, the divine providence of his philosophy, among myriad other socio-economic and political factors continue to anchor Muslim civilization.
We still have so much to learn from this 1,400-plus-year-old cry and we are so much in need of this message of Prophet Muhammad to soothe and heal our broken times where we continue to struggle with almost identical issues in our global human community.
The content of the message was powerful and intense and was redolent with Islam’s lofty values such as individual liberty, respect for the rule of law, social responsibility, mutual respect, and tolerance of those of different faiths and are inherently Islamic. The teachings of the Qur’an are unambiguous on being inclusive, and treating others with equality and justice.
The Prophet began by stating that he did not know whether he would meet the pilgrims again ‘in this place after this year’. After praising God and declaring the basic creed, ‘There is no deity but Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger’, he went on to speak on various themes. He then reminded them of the sacred character of the place and month, as well as of that of their lives, their honour, and their belongings.
He explained that the period of ignorance had come to an end, and so had its practices, its rivalries, and its conflicts based on power and profit. Henceforth, all Muslims were united by faith, fraternity and love, which were to transform them into witnesses of Islam’s message. They must under no circumstances accept being ‘either oppressors or oppressed’. They were to learn of the equality of all people in front of God and the desired humility because, he said: “You all descend from Adam and Adam was created from dirt. The most noble in the sight of God is the most pious. No Arab is superior to a non-Arab, except by their intimate consciousness of God [piety].”
He reiterated the need for tolerance to people of all denominations: An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black, nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action.
The Prophet reminded all Muslims to treat their wives gently and added: “Be intimately conscious of God as regards women, and strive to be good to them.” He then added, as if to show the way and its conditions to all the faithful present and all those who were to follow his teachings through the ages: “I have left among you what will, if you keep to it firmly, preserve you from error: clear guidance, the Book of God and His Prophet’s tradition.” After each teaching that he reminded them of, the Prophet added: ‘Have I conveyed the Message? O God, be my witness!” At the end of the sermon, the pilgrims answered: “We bear witness that you have faithfully conveyed the message, that you have fulfilled your mission, and that you have given your community good advice.”
Concluding the sermon, the Prophet said, “You will be questioned about me (on the Day of Judgment). What answer will you give?” They replied, “We will bear witness that you conveyed to us what you were entrusted with….” The Prophet then pointed towards the people and said, thrice: “O Lord bear witness!” O God, be my witness! …. And let whoever is present convey this message to whoever is absent.”
A few hours later, near the summit of Arafat, the final revelation came down: “…This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My Grace upon you, and have chosen Islam for you as your religion…” (Quran 5:3).
The last cycle of prophethood was drawing to its close, and the Messenger was to return to the place of his election, his home beyond this life, in proximity to the One.
Here is his sermon
“O People, listen well to my words, for I do not know whether, after this year, I shall ever be among you again. Therefore, listen to what I am saying to you very carefully and take these words to those who could not be present here today.
“O People, just as you regard this month, this day, this city as Sacred, so regard the life and property of every Muslim as a sacred trust. Return the goods entrusted to you to their rightful owners. Treat others justly so that no one would be unjust to you. Remember that you will indeed meet your LORD, and that HE will indeed reckon your deeds. God has forbidden you to take usury (riba), therefore all riba obligations shall henceforth be waived. Your capital, however, is yours to keep. You will neither inflict nor suffer inequity. God has judged that there shall be no riba and that all the riba due to `Abbas ibn `Abd al Muttalib shall henceforth be waived.
“Every right arising out of homicide and blood-killing in pre-Islamic days is henceforth waived and the first such right that I waive is that arising from the murder of Rabi`ah ibn al Harith ibn `Abd al Muttalib.
“O people, the Unbelievers indulge in tampering with the calendar in order to make permissible that which God forbade, and to forbid that which God has made permissible. With God the months are 12 in number. Four of them are sacred, three of these are successive and one occurs singly between the months of Jumada and Sha`ban. Beware of the devil, for the safety of your religion. He has lost all hope that he will ever be able to lead you astray in big things, so beware of following him in small things.
“O People, it is true that you have certain rights over your women, but they also have rights over you. Remember that you have taken them as your wives only under God’s trust and with His permission. If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Treat your women well and be kind to them, for they are your partners and committed helpers. It is your right and they do not make friends with anyone of whom you do not approve, as well as never to be unchaste.
“O People, listen to me in earnest, worship God (The One Creator of the Universe), perform your five daily prayers (salah), fast during the month of Ramadan, and give your financial obligation (zakah) of your wealth. Perform hajj if you can afford to.
“All mankind is from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves.
“Remember, one day you will appear before God (The Creator) and you will answer for your deeds. So beware, do not stray from the path of righteousness after I am gone.
“O People, no prophet or messenger will come after me and no new faith will be born. Reason well, therefore, O People, and understand words, which I convey to you. I am leaving you with the Book of God (the Quran) and my sunnah (the sayings and practices as evidenced in the behavioural mode of the Prophet). If you follow them you will never go astray.
“All those who listen to me shall pass on my words to others and those to others again; and may the last ones understand my words better than those who listen to me directly. Be my witness O God, that I have conveyed your message to your people.”
(Reference: See Al-Bukhari, Hadith 1623, 1626, 6361) Sahih of Imam Muslim also refers to this sermon in Hadith number 98. Imam al-Tirmidhi has mentioned this sermon in Hadith nos. 1628, 2046, 2085. Imam Ahmed bin Hanbal has given us the longest and perhaps the most complete version of this sermon in his Masnud, Hadith no. 19774.)