- 1 The Sacred Chamber
- 2 Mawajaha
- 3 Inside the Sacred Chamber
- 4 Order of the Graves
- 5 Appearances of the Graves
- 6 Space for a Fourth Grave
- 7 History of the Sacred Chamber
- 7.1 The Hujarat
- 7.2 After the demise of the Prophet – 11 AH (632 CE) ﷺ
- 7.3 In the Ummayad Era – 91 AH (711 CE)
- 7.4 After the first major fire – 654 AH (1256 CE)
- 7.5 Enclosure built around the tomb – 668 AH (1269 CE)
- 7.6 Dome built for the first time – 678 AH (1279 CE)
- 7.7 Repair work – 881 AH (1476 CE)
- 7.8 After the second major fire – 886 AH (1481 CE)
- 7.9 In the Ottoman Era – 1228 AH (1813 CE)
- 7.10 Poetry added to the chamber – 1265 AH (1848 CE)
- 8 Death of the Prophet ﷺ
- 9 Burial of the Prophet ﷺ
- 10 Death and Burial of Abu Bakr al-Siddiq
- 11 Death and Burial of Umar ibn al-Khattab
- 12 Attempts to Remove the Blessed Body of the Prophet ﷺ
The Sacred Chamber
The Sacred Chamber, also referred to as the Sacred Prophetic Chamber (Arabic: الحجرة النبوية الشريفة; al hujratu n-nabawīyatu l-sharīfa) or Prophetic Compartment (Arabic: المقصورة النبوية; al-maqsūratu n-nabawīya) is located in the south-eastern section of Masjid Nabawi. The chamber is demarcated by gold and green copper and iron railing. The northern and southern sides of the chamber are 16 metres long, and its eastern and western sides are 15 metres long. The walls of this chamber were first built in 678 AH / 1282 AD by al-Zahir Baybaras V and were originally three metres high and made of wood. In 886 AH / 1481 CE, after the second great fire of Masjid Nabawi took place, Sultan al-Ashraf Qaitbay V replaced these walls with the railing that we see today. Part of the Rawdah is also included within this area.
The chamber has four doors. These are:
- Bab al-Tahajjud (Arabic: باب التهجد; The Door of Tahajjud) – located on the north side of the chamber, near the Mihrab of Tahajjud, which marks the spot where the Prophet ﷺ used to perform the Tahujjud prayer from time to time.
- Bab al-Tawba (Arabic: باب التوبة; The Door of Repentance) – on the south side of the chamber.
- Bab Aisha (Arabic: باب عائشة; The Door of Aisha) or Bab al-Wufud (Arabic: “باب الوفود; The Door of Delegations) – on the west side of the chamber, next to Ustuwaanah Wufud (The Pillar of Delegations).
- Bab Fatima (Arabic: باب فاطمة; The Door of Fatima) – on the east side of the chamber. This door is adjacent to where the house of Fatima J once stood.
Bab Fatima is the only door that is used to enter the Sacred Chamber. Only those permitted by the Saudi government may enter the chamber.
The Mawajaha (Arabic: المواجهة الشريفة; “The sacred meeting point”), located on the east side of the Sacred Chamber, is where pilgrims can look inside the chamber and greet the Prophet ﷺ and his two companions. There are three round holes at the Mawajaha. The first hole, the most prominent of the three, located on the left-hand side of the Mawajaha, directly faces the blessed Prophet ﷺ. Moving slightly towards the right, the second hole faces Abu Bakr I, and the third hole faces Umar I. In between the first hole and the other two holes is the Door of Aisha J (also known as the Door of Delegations), which remains closed.
Above the grill, there is a verse from the Quran:
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يَغُضُّونَ أَصْوَاتَهُمْ عِندَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ أُولَٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ امْتَحَنَ اللَّهُ قُلُوبَهُمْ لِلتَّقْوَىٰ ۚ لَهُم مَّغْفِرَةٌ وَأَجْرٌ عَظِيمٌ
Indeed, those who lower their voices before the Messenger of Allah – they are the ones whose hearts Allah has tested for righteousness. For them is forgiveness and great reward.
[Surah al-Hujarat, 49:3]
There is also a silver plaque above the Door of Aisha J, between the viewing hole which faces the Prophet ﷺ and the two viewing holes which face his companions. This plaque was added to the Mawajaha in 1026 AH / 1617 CE by Ottoman Sultan Ahmed I V, and its inscription, which has faded considerably, reads:
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم : نبيء عبادي أني أنا الغفور الرحيم. يا أيها النبي إنا أرسلناك شاهدا ومبشرا ونذيرا وداعيا إلى الله بإذنه وسراجا منيرا وبشر المؤمنين بأن لهم من الله فضلا كبيرا.اللهم يارحمن بجاه هذا النبي الكريم اغفر لعبدك المنقاد لأحكام شريعة نبيك العظيم السلطان أحمد بن السلطان محمد بن السلطان مراد السلطان بن السلطان سليم بن السلطان سليمان بن السلطان سليم بن السلطان بايزيد ابن السلطان محمد بن السلطان مراد بن السلطان بايزيد بن السلطان مراد بن السلطان أورخان بن السلطان عثمان نصره الله نصرا عزيزا وفتح له فتحا مبينا. و”تاريخ الإهداء بحساب الجمل” ألهمت في تاريخه أهداه حبا خالصا 1026هـ. وكذلك كتب على جانبي اللوح لا إله إلا الله الملك الحق المبين محمد رسول الله الصادق الوعد الأمين
Inside the Sacred Chamber
The Sacred Chamber is split into two sections:
- Outer chamber – the outer chamber compromises of what was the house of Fatima J, and the area around the exterior wall of the Prophet’s ﷺ Those that have access to this area can touch the cloth (ghilaf) that hangs on this wall but can’t go beyond this. It is only accessible to specific individuals such as dignitaries, people who change the cloth and cleaners.
- Inner chamber – the inner chamber contains the grave of the Prophet’s ﷺ and his two companions. This sacred room, which was once the house of the Prophet’s ﷺ wife, Aisha J, is surrounded by three sets of walls:
- The first set of walls was built with the house shortly after Prophet’s ﷺ migration to Madinah. These walls were replaced in 91 AH / 711 CE by Umar Abdul Aziz I with stones similar to the black stones of the Kaaba.
- The second set of walls was also built by Umar Abdul Aziz and is pentagonal in shape. It was built in this shape so that the chamber wouldn’t resemble the Kaaba and to deter people from praying towards it.
- The third set of walls, from where the cloth hangs, was built around the pentagonal wall in 886 AH / 1481 CE by Sultan al-Ashraf Qaitbay. This was done to fortify the pentagonal structure after it was damaged in a fire. It is this wall that visitors see when looking through the viewing holes in the Mawajaha.
The inner chamber has no doors or windows and is completely inaccessible to anyone. The last person reported to have entered the inner chamber and set eyes on the blessed graves of the Prophet ﷺ and his companions was Ali ibn Ahmad al-Samhudi V, a renowned scholar who was tasked with cleaning up the site of the graves after a major fire broke out in Masjid Nabawi. This took place over 500 years ago, in 886 AH / 1481 CE.
Order of the Graves
There is a difference of opinion among scholars about how the three graves are positioned. According to the vast majority of scholars, the graves are positioned as follows:
- The nearest grave from the southern wall of the Sacred Chamber is that of the Prophet ﷺ
- Slightly above the grave of the Prophet ﷺ is the grave of Abu Bakr al-Siddiq I, who is positioned in such a way that his head is aligned with the blessed shoulders of the Prophet ﷺ
- Just above Abu Bakr is the grave of Umar ibn al-Khattab I, whose head is aligned with the shoulders of Abu Bakr
The layout, according to this opinion, is as follows:
This layout is generally the one that visitors follow when greeting the Prophet ﷺ and his two companions in Masjid Nabawi. After greeting and presenting themselves to the Prophet ﷺ, visitors generally move one step to the right to greet Abu Bakr before moving another step to the right to greet Umar.
The other opinion is based on the following Hadith narrated by al-Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr I, the grandson of Abu Bakr al-Siddiq I:
According to this narration, the positioning of the three graves would be as follows:
Appearances of the Graves
Al-Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr I described the appearance of the graves when he asked his aunt Aisha J to show them to him. He narrates:
I said to Aisha: Mother, show me the grave of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) and his two Companions (Allah be pleased with them). She showed me three graves which were neither high nor low, but were spread with soft red pebbles in an open space.2Narrated in Sunan Abu Dawud
Al-Qasim was born in 36 AH, some 25 years after the demise of the Prophet ﷺ and was a child when he saw the graves.
Others who had seen the graves also described them as hump-shaped. Muhammad ibn Umar I said: “The graves of the Prophet, Abu Bakr and Umar were hump-shaped with pebbles on them.”3At-Tabaqat Al-Kabir by Ibn Saad, Vol. 2, P. 267
Abu Bakr al-Ajri I reports that Ghunaim ibn Bastam al-Madani I said: “I saw the tomb of the Prophet ﷺ during the time of Umar ibn Abdul Aziz – it was raised about four inches.”4As-Shari’a by Al-Ajiri, Vol. 5, P. 391
Rija bin Haiwah I reported the following in 91 AH / 711 CE: “When the walls of the chambers were removed, these graves became visible. The sandy soil on the graves had somewhat levelled off.”5Fath Al-Bari, Vol. 3, P. 248
Ali al-Samhudi V, the last person to have reportedly seen the graves, in 886 AH / 1481 CE, said: “I saw that the room was now flat, so no longer could the graves be seen, except for one mound in the back which I assumed was the grave of Umar.”6Wafa Al-Wafa, Vol. 2, P. 170
Space for a Fourth Grave
The Sacred Chamber also has a spot to accommodate a fourth grave. Although Aisha I previously wanted to be buried alongside the Prophet ﷺ and father, she turned down the opportunity and asked her nephew Abdullah ibn al-Zubayr I to bury her alongside the other wives of the Prophet ﷺ in Jannatul Baqi. This may have been because Umar I had been buried there, and he wasn’t a Mahram, or perhaps she thought it may have been more fitting to be buried alongside her co-wives. She is also reported to have offered the spot to Abdul Rahman bin Auf I, who is said to have declined the offer.
There are also narrations within Hadith literature that state the fourth spot has been reserved for Isa ibn Maryam S, who will be buried there after descending from heaven. Abdullah ibn Umar I narrated that Prophet ﷺ said:
Isa will descend to the Earth. He will marry and have children. He will spend 45 years in this way and he will finally die and be buried with me. On the Day of Judgement, I, Isa, Abu Bakr and Umar will rise from the same site.7Wafa Al-Wafa, Vol. 2, P. 122
Abdullah ibn Salam I narrated:
History of the Sacred Chamber
The house of Aisha bin Abu Bakr J and the other wives of the Prophet ﷺ were known as the hujurat (the Chambers) after which a whole chapter of the Quran (chapter 49) is named. These hujurat were made of the same material with which Masjid Nabawi was built – clay bricks with fibres from date trees and were located adjacent to the mosque itself. Below is a model of what the masjid and the hujarat may have looked like:
Each house consisted of one room, approximately 5m x 4m in size and a small backyard. The ceiling of each house could be touched with an upraised hand.
When the Prophet ﷺ migrated to Madinah, he had two wives – Aisha J and Sawda bint Zam’a J, who was his second wife. Houses for both of them were built next to each other adjacent to the rear of Masjid Nabawi (which became the front of the mosque when the Qibla changed direction, from north to south).
The house of Hafsa bint Umar J, the fourth wife of the Prophet ﷺ and the daughter of Umar ibn al-Khattab I was built south of the house of Aisha J soon after. A narrow street separated the houses, which was just wide enough for one person to walk through. The two homes were so close to each other that Aisha and Hafsa K would often converse with each other whilst sitting in their own rooms. A portion of the house belonging to Hafsa J is today located inside the Sacred Chamber, and the remaining portion is where visitors stand when greeting the Prophet ﷺ.
The Prophet ﷺ also had a house built for his daughter Fatima J and his son-in-law, Ali ibn Ali Talib I. This house was situated south of Aisha’s chambers and was the location in which the couple got married. The Prophet ﷺ would sometimes look through an opening of this house to enquire about Fatima J.
The house belonging to Aisha J had two doors, one leading to Masjid Nabawi and the other opening towards the north. It was special in many ways. The blessed Prophet ﷺ received countless revelations in these chambers, as he himself said:
The blessed Prophet ﷺ, after seeking permission from his other wives, stayed here for the last few days of his life.
After the demise of the Prophet – 11 AH (632 CE) ﷺ
When the Prophet ﷺ passed away in 11 AH (632 CE), a grave was dug for him in the house of Aisha J and he was buried directly beneath his bed. Two years later, his companion Abu Bakr al-Siddiq I was buried next to him. Ten years after that, Umar ibn al-Khattab I was buried in the same room.
Aisha I continued to live in the same house which contained the graves of her husband and father and later Umar I. After Umar I was buried, out of respect for him, she put up a partition in the house since he was not a Mahram. She lived in a small space that wasn’t occupied by the graves until she passed away in 58 AH (678 CE), 47 years after the demise of the Prophet ﷺ.
In the Ummayad Era – 91 AH (711 CE)
In 91 AH (711 CE), the houses of the blessed wives of the Prophet ﷺ, which had been inherited by the family of the Prophet ﷺ, were purchased and controversially razed by the Umayyad caliph al-Walid ibn Abd al-Malik I in order to expand Masjid Nabawi. By this point in time, there were no living Sahaba in Madinah, and these houses were unoccupied. However, the great-grandson of the Prophet ﷺ, Ali ibn Husayn Zayn al-Abidin I, would regularly sit in the house and sometimes talk to congregations in Masjid Nabawi from the house.
When news of this spread through Madinah, the people of Madinah were dejected, and sadness filled the air of the blessed City.
Umar ibn Abi Anas I narrates that he was in Masjid Nabawi, while some of the sons of the Sahaba like Abu Salama bin Abd al-Rahman and Abu Umamah ibn Sahl ibn Kharijah bin Zaid sat together L. They were crying, and tears soaked their beards. Abu Umamah I said, “I wish they abandoned this idea so that people would be discouraged from erecting buildings and see what Allah was pleased with for His Prophet, despite the treasures of the earth being placed in his hands”.10Akhbar Al-Madinah, P. 91
The renowned tabi‘ Sa‘eed ibn al-Musayyab I said, “I swear by Allah, I would have loved it if they had left them untouched. A new generation from Madinah and believers from around the world would gather; they would witness the austerity of the blessed Prophet and would be discouraged from coveting and competing with each other over materialistic pleasures.”11Akhbar Al-Madinah, P. 91
Umar ibn Abdul Aziz I, the governor of Madinah at the time who went on to become Caliph, took part in the demolition of the hujarat himself. When the house of Aisha J was dismantled, three graves appeared. Rija bin Haiwah I narrates in Fath al-Bari:
Al-Waleed ibn Abdul Malik wrote to Umar ibn Abdul Aziz to purchase the rooms of the wives of Prophet in order to include this space within the confines of the mosque. When the walls of the chambers were removed, these graves became visible. The sandy soil on the graves had somewhat levelled off. Umar ibn Abdul Aziz rebuilt the walls of Aisha’s chamber during the expansion of Masjid Nabawi.12Fath Al-Bari, Vol. 3, P. 257
The graves were also described as being about “four inches above ground level” by Abu Bakr al-Ajri I.
When the walls were being rebuilt, or after the walls had already been rebuilt, the eastern wall of the Sacred Chamber collapsed. In order to rebuild the wall, a foundation had to be dug whereupon a discovery was made. Urwah ibn Zubayr I narrates:
When the wall fell on them (i.e. graves) during the caliphate of al-Walid bin Abdul Malik, the people started repairing it, and a foot appeared to them. The people got scared and thought that it was the foot of the Prophet. No one could be found who could tell them about it until I (Urwa) said to them, ‘By Allah, this is not the foot of the Prophet (ﷺ) but it is the foot of Umar.’13Narrated in Sahih al-Bukhari
Abdullah ibn Muhammad ibn Aqeel ibn Abi Talib I gives his account of the collapse of this wall:
I would come to the Masjid Nabawi in the latter part of the night, where I would greet the Prophet and remain in the mosque until Fajr salah. During one rainy night, when I was near the house of al-Mughirah ibn Shuʿbah, I smelt a fragrance which I had never come across before. I entered the mosque and greeted the Prophet, before being surprised to see that one of the walls of the Sacred Chamber had collapsed. I went inside the chamber and once again greeted the Prophet. Shortly after, Umar ibn Abdul Aziz, the Governor of Madinah, arrived after having been informed about the collapse of the wall. He ordered the Sacred Chamber to be covered with a large piece of cloth. In the morning, a builder was summoned and told to go inside the chamber. The builder requested another person to accompany him. Umar ibn Abdul Aziz and Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr volunteered. Salim ibn Abdullah ibn Umar also volunteered. Umar ibn Abdul Aziz said, ‘We shouldn’t disturb the residents of these graves by crowding.’ Umar then instructed his freed slave, Muzahim to enter the room alone. Muzahim said, ‘The first grave is slightly lower in height than the other two graves.’ After the completion of the renovation, Umar instructed Muzahim to go inside again to clean the Sacred Chamber. Muzahim went in again and did the cleaning after the renovation had been completed. Later on Umar remarked, ‘I wish I had done the cleaning instead of Muzahim. This cleaning would have been better for me than all of my worldly assets.14Wafa Al-Wafa, Vol. 2, P. 112-113
Umar ibn Abdul Aziz then rebuilt the walls with stones similar to the black stones of the Ka‘ba. These walls were about 6.5 metres high and had no windows or doors, so the graves became inaccessible. Furthermore, a pentagonal structure was erected around the inner wall. The reason why this wall was built in this peculiar way was because they wanted to prevent people from thinking that the Sacred Chamber, which may have now resembled the Kaaba, was another Kaaba in Madinah.
After the first major fire – 654 AH (1256 CE)
In 645 AH (1256 CE), a great fire caused by a candle or oil lamp ravaged Masjid Nabawi, destroying the vast majority of it, although the tomb of the Prophet ﷺ remained preserved. However, the roof had collapsed onto the pentagonal structure built by Umar ibn Abdul Aziz I centuries earlier. After the fire, the residents of Madinah sought the assistance of the Abbasid Caliph, Al-Musta’sim Billah V, who was in Baghdad. However, the Caliph was preoccupied with the Mongol invasion of Baghdad and was unable to focus entirely on the reconstruction of Masjid Nabawi. Other Muslim leaders then assisted with the reconstruction of Masjid Nabawi, although nobody was willing to touch the pentagonal structure or clear the debris on top of it or inside of it out of respect for its sanctity, so it was left in that state. Temporary wooden roofing and five layers of cloth were used to shelter the Prophet’s ﷺ tomb for several years.
Enclosure built around the tomb – 668 AH (1269 CE)
Al-Zahir Baybars V was an eminent Mamluk Sultan of Egypt who defeated the Mongol army that had previously killed scores of Muslims. For the first time in the history of Masjid Nabawi, the Sultan built a wooden enclosure around the tomb of the Prophet ﷺ and the house of Fatima and Ali L. This railing marked the boundary where visitors could face the Prophet ﷺ and his two companions. At the time, it was three metres in height and had three doors – one to the east, one to the west and another to the south. Sultan Baybars took the measurements himself during a visit to Madinah before ordering the wood from Egypt. This boundary still exists and is demarcated today by the golden grill where visitors greet the Prophet ﷺ and his companions. Part of the Rawdah, adjacent to the tomb of Prophet ﷺ is also included within this boundary.
Dome built for the first time – 678 AH (1279 CE)
In 678 AH (1279 CE), the Mamluk Sultan, Al-Mansur Qalawun V, was the first to build a dome over the Sacred Chamber. It was made from wood and covered with lead. The base was rectangular, and the upper section was octagonal.
Repair work – 881 AH (1476 CE)
In 881 AH (1476 CE), the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt, Al-Ashraf Qaitbay V, started significant reconstruction work of Masjid Nabawi. Entire sections of the masjid were pulled down and rebuilt. Repair work was carried out on the walls of the Prophet’s ﷺ tomb, which were rebuilt using stone after they developed cracks during the first major fire. The ceiling of the inner chamber was raised, and the wooden dome was replaced with one made from stone. The floor of the Sacred Chamber was also replaced with red and white marble.
After the second major fire – 886 AH (1481 CE)
In Ramadan of 886 AH (1481 CE), the second major fire broke out in Masjid Nabawi after a lightning bolt struck a minaret, causing it to come crashing down on the roof of the mosque and killing the Mu’addhin. The fire started on the roof and quickly spread to other parts of the masjid, even spreading to neighbouring houses, such was its ferocity. The people of Madinah tried their best to put out the fire, which claimed the lives of several people. Sultan Qaitbay ordered a complete restoration of Masjid Nabawi and also ordered that the tomb of the Prophet ﷺ be cleaned.
The Sultan chose one of the greatest scholars of the time, Ali ibn Ahmad al-Samhudi V, to clean the Sacred Chamber. For the first time in at least 500 years, a person was reported to have entered the inner chamber where the Prophet ﷺ and his two companions were resting. Al-Samhudi, who later authored extensive works about Madinah and the life of the Prophet ﷺ, describes his blessed experience. He wrote in his book, Wafa al-Wafa:
As I enter the blessed room from the rear, I did not go any further. I detected a fragrance the likes of which I had never before perceived. I stood there as long as I could, giving salaam to the best of all prophets, and then to the closest of his two companions, and I made as many supplications as I could. I saw that the room was now flat, so no longer could the graves be seen, except for one mound in the back which I assumed was the grave of Umar. I touched the gravel on the ground and it was moist, as if it was fresh.15Wafa Al-Wafa, Vol. 2, P. 169-170
Although there were no doors, Al-Samhudi may have entered the Sacred Chamber through a gap between the wall and the ground. He also mentioned that the ground in the Sacred Chamber was lower than the ground outside of it. He added that to get to the site of the grave, he had to go down at least three arms lengths.
It was during the restoration by Al-Ashraf Qaitbay that the wooden boundary fence, built by Al-Zahir Baybars 200 years earlier around the Prophet’s tomb, was replaced with metallic railing. This very railing still stands today, and it is outside this perimeter that visitors give salam to the Prophet ﷺ and his companions. The Sultan also separated the house of Fatima J and the tomb of the Prophet ﷺ within the Sacred Chamber.
He also rebuilt the wooden dome above the Sacred Chamber built by al-Mansur Qalawun after the fire had destroyed it. The new dome was made from carved stone and was built on a solid foundation. He then ordered a second dome to be built on top of it.
Additionally, the Sultan built another large wall around the pentagonal structure, which had sustained damage during the fire. This is the wall from which the ghilaf (cloth) hangs and was covered in marble.
In the Ottoman Era – 1228 AH (1813 CE)
During the reign of Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II V, the upper dome built by Sultan Qaitbay was replaced in 1228 AH (1813 CE). After cracks appeared in the dome, it was demolished and replaced with a dome made from bricks covered in sheets of lead. This dome was painted green two decades later by his successor Sultan AbdulMejid I V, and is now commonly referred to as the Green Dome.
The walls of the Prophet’s ﷺ tomb were also covered with tiles. When work was carried out in the Sacred Chamber, every necessary precaution was taken to protect it from debris and dust.
Poetry added to the chamber – 1265 AH (1848 CE)
In the reign of Sultan AbdulMejid I, the 31st Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, the Sacred Chamber was adorned with poetry in praise of the Prophet ﷺ. One of the poems was by K’ab ibn Zuhayr I, a companion of the Prophet ﷺ which consists of 57 verses. The other poem was the famous Qasida Burda (Poem of the Mantle), composed by the great Imam al-Busiri V and consists of 164 verses. These were later unceremoniously painted over by the Saudi regime.
Who is Imam al-Busiri?
Imam al-Busiri was a spiritual disciple of Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi, one of the great scholars and spiritual masters of his age. During the Imam’s life, half of his body became paralysed, so he decided to write a poem as a means of asking God for a cure through the intercession of the Prophet ﷺ. During the time he wrote the poem, Imam al-Busiri had a dream that the Prophet ﷺ came to him and heard him recite the poem. On hearing the poem, the Prophet ﷺ became so pleased that he wrapped a cloak around the Imam, and when he woke up, he had been completely cured of the paralysis. Hence the poem was given the honorific title – the Burda (cloak).
Throughout the rule of the Ottomans, the Sacred Chamber, as well as Masjid Nabawi as a whole, was maintained splendidly and given the utmost respect.
Death of the Prophet ﷺ
The Prophet ﷺ passed away at the age of 63 after suffering from illness for a period of 14 days. The date of his death is said to be Monday 12th of Rabi al-Awwal 11 AH (633 CE) and occurred in mid-morning. He was buried two days later on Wednesday night.
As he neared death, he would dip his hand into a cup of water and wipe the water over his face whilst supplicating, “O Allah, help me overcome the pangs of death”. He would also cover his face with a blanket. His beloved wife Aisha J held him in her lap as he breathed his last. As he said his final words, with his eyes wide open staring towards the heavens, his head dropped down, and his soul departed.
Overcome with grief, she gently laid his blessed head down on a pillow and began to cry with the women of the house, who had just heard the news. Aisha J narrates her final moments with her husband:
When the Prophet ﷺ was healthy, he used to say, ‘No soul of a prophet is seized until he is shown his place in Paradise and then he is given the option.’ When death approached him while his head was on my thigh, he became unconscious and then recovered consciousness. He looked at the ceiling of the house and said, ‘O Allah! (with) the highest companions.’ I said (to myself), ‘Hence, he is not going to choose us.’ Then I realised that what he had said was the application of the narration which he used to mention to us when he was healthy. The last word he spoke was, ‘O Allah! (with) the highest companions.’16Narrated in Sahih al-Bukhari
After his demise, the companions were in a complete state of shock. Umar I was in a state of denial, believing that the Prophet ﷺ would wake up and threatening those who said the Prophet ﷺ had died. Uthman was dumbfounded I and Ali I was unable to stand up. Abu Bakr and al-Abbas L remained calmer than anyone on the most tragic day the Muslim community had endured and ever will endure.
Burial of the Prophet ﷺ
The burial site
After the demise of the Prophet ﷺ, a disagreement arose about where he should be buried. Some of the Muhajirun (emigrants) suggested that he should be buried in his hometown of Makkah, where his relatives were. Others suggested that he ought to be buried in Jerusalem, where preceding prophets had been interred. However, this was very impractical as Jerusalem was in the hands of the Byzantines, who were hostile towards Muslims.
The companions soon came to an agreement to bury him in Madinah, although they were unsure about the location of a burial site. Some suggested he should be buried in Masjid Nabawi, where he preached, spoke to, and led the people. A site at or next to his minbar was advocated, but this idea was rejected. Others said he should be buried in Jannatul Baqi. Abu Bakr al-Siddiq I, who had just been made the first Caliph of Islam, solved the conundrum by mentioning he heard the Prophet ﷺ say that prophets should be buried where they die. Upon hearing this, the furniture inside Aisha’s J house was removed in preparation for the burial, which was to be carried out directly beneath the Prophet’s ﷺ bed.
Washing the blessed body
Ghusl of the blessed body of the Prophet ﷺ was carried out by various family members: his cousin and son-in-law, Ali ibn Abu Talib, his uncle, al-Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib and al-Abbas’ two sons, al-Fadl and Qutham M. The Prophet’s ﷺ servants, Usamah ibn Zayd and Shuqran L also participated.
Al-Abbas, al-Fadl and Qutham were responsible for turning the blessed body whilst Usamah and Shuqran poured water over it. Ali washed the body. They were very careful not to expose the blessed body of the Prophet ﷺ, who was covered in a gown whilst the ghusl took place.
During the ghusl, beautiful scents emanated from the sanctified body of the Prophet ﷺ, just as they did during his life. Ali remarked: “O Messenger of Allah, how sweet and pure you are, both in life and death!” After the ghusl, three white garments from Yemen were used to shroud the blessed body of the Prophet. Two of these garments were made in the village of Sahul, and the third was made in Hibarah.
The community was then permitted to see the Prophet’s ﷺ blessed body. Companions flooded through the door of Masjid Nabawi to see him and to pray for him.
The funeral prayer
Abu Bakr and Umar entered the room and joined those companions who were already performing the Janazah salah (funeral prayer). Since the room was limited in size, companions came in small groups (ten by ten) before leaving to allow the next group in. There was no imam to lead the prayer. The first to pray for the Prophet ﷺ were members of his clan, who were followed by the Muhajirun, then the Ansaar. After the men had carried out the prayer, women and children were permitted to enter to see the Prophet ﷺ for the last time. Nobody emerged from the room except that they were filled with grief, indescribable sorrow and worry for the future of the community. People continually arrived to see the Prophet ﷺ throughout Tuesday and the best part of Wednesday.
When it came to the actual burial, there was a difference of opinion between the companions of how the Prophet ﷺ should be buried. At the time, there were two primary ways in which graves were dug:
- The Madinans preferred to excavate into the ground and dig a niche into the side of the earth, typically in the direction of the Qibla, so that the grave would be “L-shaped”. The body would then be laid in the niche, and the opening would be covered with bricks. Earth would then be thrown into the open space within the grave, avoiding the body. This method is known as “Lahd” (Arabic: اللحد) and is the Sunnah method of burial according to the majority of Sunni schools of thought.
- The Meccans preferred to excavate in the middle of the grave, laying the body on its right side in a hole dug at the bottom. A platform would then be placed above the body in the grave. This method is known as “Shaqq” (Arabic: الشق) and is the preferred method of burial according to the Hanafi school of thought.
Two companions who were adept at digging graves were sent for – Ubaydah ibn al-Jarrah I, a Meccan, and Abu Talha al-Ansari I, a Madinan. However, Ubaydah couldn’t be found, so Abu Talha was given the responsibility of digging the grave of the Prophet ﷺ. Abu Talha dug the grave in Aisha’s hujra under the bed in which the Prophet ﷺ was resting. He did so in the Medinan way. Aisha J narrates:
When the Messenger of Allah ﷺ died, they differed as to whether his grave should have a niche or a ditch in the ground until they spoke and raised their voices concerning that. Then Umar said: ‘Do not shout in the presence of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, living or dead,’ or words to that effect. So they sent for both the one who made a niche and the one who dug graves without a niche, and the one who used to make a niche came and dug a grave with a niche for the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, then he ﷺ was buried.17Narrated in Sunan Ibn Majah
On Wednesday, as nightfall descended and the companions reluctantly and dejectedly parted ways with the blessed body of the Prophet ﷺ, the relatives of the Prophet ﷺ prepared for his burial. After a quarter or a third of the night had passed, Ali ibn Abi Talib, al-Fadl ibn al-Abbas and Qutham ibn al-Abbas, along with Shuqran M, lowered the Prophet ﷺ into his resting place. Abu Laila I, who wasn’t a relative of the Prophet ﷺ is also reported to have taken part in the burial after getting permission from Ali I. After some earth had been laid over the blessed body, Shuqran I, the freed slave of the Prophet ﷺ, took a red mantle that the Prophet ﷺ used to wear and buried it in the grave. A bridge was built with bricks, then the grave was covered with sand.
His head was directed towards the west, and his blessed face was turned towards the Qibla. His feet were directed eastwards.
Death and Burial of Abu Bakr al-Siddiq
Abu Bakr al-Siddiq I was struck by fever on 7th Jumada al-Akhirah 13 AH (634 CE). He passed away 15 days later on 22 Jumada al-Akhirah 13 AH (634 CE). He died at the age of 63, the same age as the Prophet ﷺ was when he passed away. His caliphate lasted two years, three months and 10 days.
Aisha J, his daughter and the wife of the Prophet ﷺ narrates:
Abu Bakr’s sickness first began when he took a full ritual bath on a cold day and developed a fever. He did not go out to pray for fifteen days, and he instructed Umar to lead the prayer. They used to visit him, and Uthman was the one who visited him most frequently during his sickness. When his sickness grew worse, he was asked, ‘Shall we call the doctor for you?’ He said, ‘He has already seen me’, and he said, ‘I do what I want.’18Sahih Al-Bukhari, Vol. 3, P. 253, No. 1387
He gave instructions that he was to be washed by his wife Asma bint Umays I and that he was to be buried next to the Prophet ﷺ. He asked his daughter Aisha J what the day was on which the Prophet ﷺ passed away, to which she replied that it was a Monday. He enquired about what day it was that particular day, to which she replied that it was also a Monday. Upon hearing this, he affirmed that he would not live beyond Monday and gave instruction to be buried that same day.
The last words that Abu Bakr spoke were the words of Allah:
…cause me to die a Muslim and join me with the righteous. (Qur’an 12: 101)
He was washed by his wife and enshrouded in two garments in accordance with his instructions. He was buried at night, between the time of Maghrib and Isha prayers, beside the Prophet ﷺ in Aisha’s J room, with his head in line with blessed shoulders of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ. Like the Prophet ﷺ, his feet were directed eastwards, his head was directed westwards, and his face was turned towards the Qibla.
The funeral prayer was offered by his successor, Umar ibn al-Khattab I. Umar, Uthman, Talhah, and Abu Bakr’s son Abdul Rahman M went down into his grave to bury him. The niche was on the edge of the grave of the Prophet ﷺ.
Death and Burial of Umar ibn al-Khattab
Umar ibn al-Khattab I was martyred on a Wednesday, the 26th or 27th of Dhu al-Hijjah 23 AH / 644 CE. Like the Prophet ﷺ and his predecessor, Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, he was 63 years old when he passed away. About his age, Jareer al-Bajali I said:
I was with Mu’awiyah and he said: ‘The Messenger of Allah ﷺ died when he was 63 years old old, Abu Bakr died when he was 63 years old and Umar was killed when he was 63 years old.’19Sahih Muslim, Vol. 4, P. 326, No. 2352
He was caliph for little more than 10 and a half years. He was murdered during the Fajr prayer by Piruz Nahavandi, also known as Abu Lu’lu’ah. Abu Lu’lu’ah was the Persian slave of al-Mughirah ibn Shu‘bah I and followed the Magian (Zoroastrian) religion.
Abu Rafi‘ I, a companion of the Prophet ﷺ, narrates the incident:
Abu Lulu was a slave of al-Mughirah ibn Shu’bah, and he used to make grindstones. Al-Mughirah used to deduct four dirhams from him every day. Abu Lulu met Umar and said, ‘O Ameer al-Mu’mineen, al-Mughirah is taking too much from me; ask him to reduce it.’ Umar said, ‘Fear Allah and be good to your master.’ Umar intended to speak to al-Mughirah and ask him to reduce it, but the slave got angry and said, ‘His justice extends to all of them except me.’ So he planned to kill him. He made a two headed dagger, sharpened it and put poison on it, then he showed it to al-Hormuzan, and asked, ‘What do you think of this?’ He said, ‘I do not think you will strike anyone with it but you will kill him. ’ Then Abu Lulu waited for an opportunity to strike Umar. He came to him at the time of Fajr prayer and stood behind Umar. As was his habit, when the iqamah for prayer was given Umar spoke to the people and told them to straighten their rows, then when he said the takbeer, Abu Lulu stabbed him in the shoulder and then in his side, and Umar fell down.20Musnad Abu Ya’la, Vol. 4, P. 423, No. 2730
Amr ibn Maymun I, another companion of the Prophet ﷺ, further narrates his version of events:
I was standing with no one between me and him but Abdullah ibn Abbas on the day when he was struck. When he passed between the rows, he would say, ‘Make (your rows) straight,’ and when they were straight, he would go forward and say takbeer, and he would recite Surah Yusuf or an-Nahl, or a similar Surah in the first rak’ah, until all the people had gathered. No sooner had he said the takbeer, that I heard him say, ‘The dog has killed or devoured me!’ when he was stabbed. The foreigner tried to flee, wielding a two-edged knife, and he did not pass by anyone, right or left, but he stabbed him. He stabbed thirteen people, of whom seven died. When one of the Muslim men saw that, he threw a cloak over him and when the foreigner realised that he had been caught, he killed himself.
Umar took the hand of Abdur Rahman ibn Awf and made him go forward to lead the people in prayer. Those who were immediately behind Umar saw what had happened; those who were in other parts of the mosque did not realise. Abdur Rahman led them in a brief prayer, and when they finished, Umar asked, ‘O Ibn Abbas, find out who killed me.’ He went around for a while, then he came and said, ‘It was the slave of al-Mughirah.’ He asked, ‘The craftsman?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘May Allah curse him, I told his master to treat him well. Praise be to Allah Who has not caused my death to be at the hands of a man who claimed to be a Muslim.’
He was carried to his house, and we set off with him, and it was as if no calamity had ever struck the people before. Some nabeedh was brought to him and he drank it, but it came out from his stomach. Then some milk was brought to him and he drank it, but it came out through his wound. They realised that he was dying, so we entered his house and the people came and started praising him.
Umar said: ‘Go to Aishah, the Mother of the Believers, and say, Umar sends you greetings of peace. Do not say Ameer al-Mu’mineen, for today I am no longer the leader of the believers. Say, Umar ibn al-Khattab is asking for permission to stay with his two companions.’ Abdullah ibn Umar went to her and found her weeping. He said, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab sends you salam and is asking for permission to be buried with his two companions.’ She said, ‘I had wanted it for myself, but today I will give it up for him.’ When he came back, a man helped him to sit Umar up and he asked, ‘What news do you have?’ He said, ‘That which you want to hear, O Ameer al-Mu’mineen. She has given permission.’ He said, ‘Praise be to Allah, nothing was worrying me more than that.’21Akhbar Al-Madinah by Ibn An-Najjar, P. 142-144
Uthman I narrates the last moments of Umar’s I life:
I was the last of you to see Umar. I entered to see him and his head was resting in the lap of his son Abdullah ibn Umar. He said to him: ‘Lay my cheek upon the ground.’ He said, ‘Is there any difference between my thigh and the ground?’ He said, ‘Lay my cheek on the ground, may you be bereft of your mother,’ the second or third time. Then he crossed his legs and I heard him say, ‘Woe to me and woe to my mother if Allah does not forgive me,’ then his soul departed.
Umar was washed and shrouded and the funeral prayer was performed for him, although he was a martyr. His funeral prayer was led by Suhayb ibn Sinan (also known as Suyahb ar-Rumi). He was buried in the room where the Prophet was buried. Uthman, Sa’eed ibn Zayd, Suhayb and Abdullah ibn Umar went down into the grave of Umar to bury him. His head was positioned towards the west, behind the shoulders of Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, and his faced was directed towards the Qibla. His feet were pointed eastwards.22Tarikh Al-Madinah by Ibn Schabba, Vol. 3, P. 918
Attempts to Remove the Blessed Body of the Prophet ﷺ
There have been a number of attempts throughout history to remove the blessed body of the Prophet ﷺ from its resting place. At least two attempts were carried out by the Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, who wanted to transfer the body of the Prophet ﷺ to Cairo in Egypt.
The most audacious attempt took place in the year 557 AH (1164 CE) when two Christian men, who disguised themselves as Moroccan pilgrims from Andalusia (Muslim Spain), travelled to Madinah with this sinister intention. Whilst in Madinah, they stayed in rented accommodation in the vicinity of the Sacred Chamber, which was located inside Masjid Nabawi.
The two men made themselves known to the locals and subsequently duped the inhabitants of Madinah by regularly performing at the Prophet’s ﷺ mosque, visiting Jannatul Baqi and giving charity. Unbeknown to the Muslims of the illuminated city, the two men had begun digging a tunnel from their lodging towards the Sacred Chamber. They would fill leather bags with earth that they had excavated and disposed of it in Jannatul Baqi after carrying them from their place of residence. They continued this for some time and thought they were close to their perverse goal.
One of the foremost leaders of the Muslim world at the time was Sultan Noorudin Zangi V, who was part of the Seljuk Empire and ruled over the Syrian province. He was a mentor of the great Salahuddin Ayyubi V, who he appointed as one of his governors. He had a reputation as a courageous and noble leader and was responsible for repeatedly defeating the Christian Crusader armies. One night, after performing his night prayers, the Prophet ﷺ appeared to him in a dream. In the dream, the Prophet ﷺ pointed out two men with blonde hair and said: “Oh Mahmoud, save me from them.” The Sultan woke up in a state of bewilderment. Unsure of what this statement meant, he prayed and went back to sleep. He had the same dream three times until he decided to share his dream with someone. He called for one of his viziers, Jamaluddin Al-Mawsili V, who was known for his righteousness and wisdom. Jamaluddin advised the Sultan not to mention the dream to anyone and to immediately leave for Madinah.
The Sultan and his men, along with one thousand camels, left Syria for Madinah shortly after. The caravan took 16 days to reach its destination. After entering Madinah, the Sultan went straight to Masjid Nabawi, where he performed salah. The governor of Madinah, surprised by the Sultan’s sudden arrival, respectfully enquired about the reason for his unexpected appearance. The Sultan then explained his dream to the governor and asked for his assistance.
The governor asked the Sultan whether he would be able to recognise the two men he saw in his dream if he saw them. He replied in the affirmative. The governor then made a public announcement in the city, informing the residents that the Sultan would be holding a gathering where he would be providing them with food and gifts. During the gathering, however, after examining the faces of those present, the Sultan was unable to identify the assailants. After the governor enquired about any absentees, the residents informed him that there were two individuals who hadn’t turned up. The residents vouched for two men and informed the Sultan they were righteous people.
He then ordered the two men to be brought to him whereupon he recognised them immediately. After questioning them about the intentions of their visit, the men told him that they had come to perform the pilgrimage and to visit Masjid Nabawi. They told the Sultan that they had planned to live in Madinah for a year. The Sultan then searched the residence of the men but couldn’t find any evidence of wrongdoing. After closer inspection, the Sultan came across large sums of money and a piece of wood covered by a sheet. After removing the sheet and lifting the piece of wood, he uncovered the tunnel, which had almost reached the Sacred Chamber.
The two men were immediately arrested and interrogated. They confessed they were Christians from Rome who had been taught the Arabic language and Arab customs. They admitted their mission was to steal the blessed body of the Prophet ﷺ and take it back to Rome. The men were sentenced to death and executed for their crimes.
After this grave incident, Sultan Nooruddin Zangi ordered a trench to be dug around the Sacred Chamber. The trench was filled with molten lead in order to prevent any future attempts of tunnelling into the chamber from below.
|↑1, ↑2||Narrated in Sunan Abu Dawud|
|↑3||At-Tabaqat Al-Kabir by Ibn Saad, Vol. 2, P. 267|
|↑4||As-Shari’a by Al-Ajiri, Vol. 5, P. 391|
|↑5||Fath Al-Bari, Vol. 3, P. 248|
|↑6||Wafa Al-Wafa, Vol. 2, P. 170|
|↑7||Wafa Al-Wafa, Vol. 2, P. 122|
|↑8||Sunan Al-Tirmidhi, Vol. 6, P. 12, No. 3617|
|↑9||Narrated in Sunan al-Nasa’i|
|↑10, ↑11||Akhbar Al-Madinah, P. 91|
|↑12||Fath Al-Bari, Vol. 3, P. 257|
|↑13, ↑16||Narrated in Sahih al-Bukhari|
|↑14||Wafa Al-Wafa, Vol. 2, P. 112-113|
|↑15||Wafa Al-Wafa, Vol. 2, P. 169-170|
|↑17||Narrated in Sunan Ibn Majah|
|↑18||Sahih Al-Bukhari, Vol. 3, P. 253, No. 1387|
|↑19||Sahih Muslim, Vol. 4, P. 326, No. 2352|
|↑20||Musnad Abu Ya’la, Vol. 4, P. 423, No. 2730|
|↑21||Akhbar Al-Madinah by Ibn An-Najjar, P. 142-144|
|↑22||Tarikh Al-Madinah by Ibn Schabba, Vol. 3, P. 918|