Story of Mohammed - Edith Holland




The Farewell Pilgrimage

The four great duties which every good Moslem is expected to perform are Prayer, Almsgiving, Fasting, and Pilgrimage. Every follower of the Prophet, having the necessary health and means, should go, at least once in his life, as a pilgrim to Meccah. The full ceremonies of the "Greater Pilgrimage" can only be performed in the sacred month of Dhul Hijjah, the "Lesser Pilgrimage," consisting of fewer ceremonies, can be made at any other time of the year.

The practice of going to Meccah on pilgrimage was a very ancient one, as I have already told you, and I think the Prophet's chief reason for continuing it was that he realized the great power and strength of unity. At Meccah, Moslems of all nations meet together; from the plains of India, the snowy fastnesses of Afghanistan and Baltistan, from Persia, Syria, Turkey and Asia Minor, from Egypt and various parts of Africa to the shores of the Atlantic, the stream of pilgrims flows toward the central shrine of the Faith, the "Bayt Allah," or House of God. This is the name commonly used by Moslems for the Kaabah, and it is the same name as the Hebrew "Beth-el," which means House of God.

In the ninth year of Islam Abu Bakr led about three hundred pilgrims to Meccah for the "Greater Pilgrimage." There were, of course, still a good many idolaters in different parts of Arabia, and these came, as usual, to Meccah in the pilgrimage season. Many of the ceremonies they practised were degraded and idolatrous, and the Prophet determined that henceforward none but the worship of the True God should be celebrated at the holy shrine. He therefore sent Ali with a proclamation, to be read to the assembled pilgrims, ordering that in future no idolater should enter the sacred territory of Meccah.

In the following year Mohammed led a vast multitude of pilgrims to the Holy City. This great pilgrimage of the Prophet has been taken as a model for all succeeding ones, and exactly as he performed the ceremonies on this occasion, so have his followers performed them to the present day. The rites of the Greater Pilgrimage occupy three days, and include a visit to Mount Arafat, also called the Mount of Mercy, a sacred hill about twelve miles east of Meccah. Between Arafat and Meccah lies the valley of Mina, a sandy valley surrounded by low hills. Here Mohammed, and the many thousand pilgrims who followed him, encamped on the opening day of the Great Pilgrimage. At dawn the next morning, after the early prayers, the Prophet mounted his camel and continued his way to Arafat. Al-Kaswa, who had carried her master to safety when he fled from Meccah, carried him now, on the memorable occasion of his last pilgrimage. Arafat is a rough granite hill, about two hundred feet high, standing alone on the sandy plain; upon its summit is a spot called "Adam's place of prayer," which is connected with an old legend. The day at Arafat was spent in prayer and religious observance. After dusk Mohammed mounted Al-Kaswa and sped hurriedly in the moonlight to a place on the road to Mina, called Muzdalifah, where he passed the night. In every particular is the Prophet's example followed by the pilgrims of the present day, who always leave Arafat in haste and confusion, and proceed at headlong speed to Muzdalifah, accidents often happening on the way.

The following day, on the pilgrims' return to Mina, a strange ceremony took place, called the "Stoning of the Devil." A tradition tells that Abraham, crossing the valley of Mina, once met the Devil and drove him away by stoning him; to commemorate this event every pilgrim throws a number of small stones at certain rocky projections along the Mina Valley. Thus the ceremonies of pilgrimage are a curious mixture of acts of true devotion and strange rites connected with ancient legends and traditions. The closing ceremony is the sacrifice of the victims, which takes place at Mina, on the third day of pilgrimage. This sacrifice is an old pagan custom, which survived along with other ancient rites, for in reality sacrifice plays no part in the religion of Islam as instituted by Mohammed.

The Prophet's mission was now fulfilled, his work was done; for had he not overthrown idolatry and established the worship of One God in all parts of Arabia! This was the aim which he had set himself in those early days of doubt and struggle in the solitudes of Mount Hira, and he was not one to look back when he had once put his hand to the plough. His life's labour had been nobly accomplished. It seems that on this, his last visit to Meccah, Mohammed already felt that his end was approaching, and before leaving Mina (after the completion of the Pilgrimage) he addressed his followers in words which remained long in their memories.

Mohammed.

MOHAMMED PREACHING HIS FAREWELL SERMON.


The sun was declining, and the grey hills flamed into sudden splendour, as the Prophet, seated on Al-Kaswa, gathered his people round him. "Ye people," he began, "listen to my words; for I know not whether after this year I shall ever be amongst you here again." He then exhorted his followers to observe the commands he had given them, to beware the temptations of Satan and the sin of idolatry. He enjoined them to treat their wives kindly, and to respect life and property. "And your slaves," continued the Prophet, "see that ye feed them with such food as ye eat yourselves, and clothe them with the stuff ye wear. They are the servants of the Lord and are not to be tormented." The Prophet impressed on his followers the doctrine of the brotherhood of Islam. "Ye people," he said, "hearken to my speech and understand the same. Know that every Moslem is the brother of every other Moslem. All of you are on the same equality. Ye are one Brotherhood."

When he had finished his discourse the Prophet raised his hands to heaven and cried, "Lord, I have delivered my message and fulfilled my mission!" And the people replied as with one voice: "Yea, truly hast thou done so!" The assembly was then dismissed. On his return to Meccah, Mohammed entered the Kaabah and prayed within its walls. He remained for three days in Meccah and then went back to Medinah.

Though the Prophet seemed to feel that his life was drawing to a close, he appeared to be in his ordinary health, and attended to his business as usual. Abu Bakr, however, must have noticed signs of advancing age in his beloved master, for he one day exclaimed sorrowfully, "Alas! grey hairs are hastening upon thee!" Mohammed was then sixty-three years old.

Not many months after his return from the Great Pilgrimage the Prophet was attacked by a fever. For some days he struggled against the disease and went, as usual, into the mosque to lead the prayers. At length, however, he was forced to give in, and retired to the house of Ayesha, by whom he was tenderly nursed during his illness. He ordered Abu Bakr to lead the prayers in his absence.

The courtyard of the mosque was now hushed and quiet; the people only entered it during the hours of prayer, or when they came to make anxious inquiries after the Prophet's health. Mohammed suffered great pain and weakness and for several days was in a high fever. One day, calling Ayesha to his side, he asked her for some gold which he had given her to take care of; on her bringing the money he ordered it all to be distributed among the poor. "It would not have become me," he said, "to meet my Lord with this gold in my possession."

At the end of a few days the fever was less violent and Mohammed seemed a little stronger. Many people, hearing of his sickness, came from afar to inquire after him, and during the hours of prayer the mosque was often crowded with worshippers. One day as Abu Bakr was leading the midday prayers the curtain of Ayesha's doorway was softly pushed aside, and the Prophet himself entered the mosque. All those who saw him enter noticed the peaceful and radiant smile which lit up his face. Perhaps, as he gazed on the assembly of earnest and devout Believers, he felt that his work was finished, and he might now take his rest. Leaning on the arm of his cousin, one of the sons of Abbas, Mohammed walked slowly to the side of Abu Bakr and seated himself on the ground near him. When the prayers were ended, the Prophet talked with several of his friends, who were rejoiced to see him, as they thought, so much better. Seated in the courtyard of the mosque, he then spoke a few words to the people, but these exertions were too much for him and he returned to Ayesha's house very exhausted. Tenderly Ayesha supported her husband's drooping head and rubbed his cold hands, while she repeated a prayer she had often heard him use at the bedside of sick people. "Take away evil and misfortune, O thou Lord of mankind! Grant a cure, for Thou art the best Physician." It was but two hours after his return from the mosque that Mohammed peacefully breathed his last.

A legend tells that Gabriel, descending for the last time to earth, came to visit the dying Prophet; with him was another angel, the Angel of Death, who stood without, asking permission to enter. When Mohammed gave him leave the Angel of Death entered the house and, standing before the Prophet, asked him if he should take his soul or leave it? Never before had mortal man been given this choice. "Do even as thou art commanded," said Mohammed, signifying his readiness to meet his Lord. And Gabriel uttered the last blessing, "Peace be upon thee, O Apostle of God," as the soul of Mohammed passed away.

When it was known that the Prophet was dead, the people were seized with dismay and knew not what to make of it. So lately had they seen and spoken with him that many refused to believe that he had been taken from them. Some seem to have thought that he would never die, and the news came as a terrible shock. Omar, overcome with grief, was quite unable to face the bitter truth. "He is not dead," he cried, "he has only swooned, and will return to us—he has gone to his Lord, as Moses did when he was absent forty days." Drawing his sword, Omar spoke wildly and excitedly to the people in the mosque, threatening anyone who dared to say that the Prophet was dead.

Suddenly a stern voice commanded silence, and Abu Bakr addressed the people in calm and reasonable words. Mohammed had always told them, he said, that he was but a man like themselves, and would die as other men died. "If he were to die, would ye turn back from your faith," said Abu Bakr, quoting the words of the Koran. "Do ye worship Mohammed! Then know that he indeed is dead, but the God of Mohammed liveth and can never die!"