The calamity of Thursday
Source: Al-Nass Wal-Ijtihad, Text and Interpretation
By: Allama Abdul Husayn Sharafuddin al-Musawi
It was in the eleventh year of hijra during the Prophet’s illness which had led to his death. 1
The true fact of this calamity
The authors of Sihah (books of Hadith) and the historians had detailed this event in their books and considered it as one of the true facts.
Al-Bukhari mentioned 2 a tradition narrated by Ubaydillah bin Abdullah bin Mas’ood that Ibn Abbas had said: “When the Prophet (S) was about to die, there were some men in his house among whom was Umar. The Prophet (S) said: “Come on! Let me write you a book that you will never go astray after it.” Umar said: “The Prophet (S) has been overcome by pain. We have the Qur'an. The Book of Allah suffices us.”
The men in the house disagreed. Some of them said: “Approach the Prophet! Let him write you a book after which you will never go astray.” Some of them repeated what Umar had said. When they did much noise and disagreement, the Prophet (S) said to them: “Get out!” Abdullah bin Mas’ood said: “Ibn Abbas often said: “It was the great calamity when their clamor and disagreement had prevented the Prophet (S) from writing that book.”
Muslim has mentioned this tradition in his Sahih, vol.2. Ahmad also has mentioned it in his Musnad 3 and so have all the historians but they have changed the wording somehow. The actual word of Umar was “…the Prophet (S) is raving” but they used “the Prophet (S) has been overcome by pain” in order to soften the horrible statement of Umar.
Abu Bakr Ahmad bin Abdul Aziz al-Jawhari mentioned in Kitab as-Saqeefa 4 that Ibn Abbas had said: “When the Prophet (S) was about to die, he said, while there were some men in the house among them was Umar: “Bring me an inkpot and a piece of paper to write you a book after which you will never go astray.” Umar said a word which meant that the Prophet (S) had been overcome by pain and then he added: “We have the Qur'an. The Book of Allah suffices us.” The men in the house disagreed and disputed among them. Some of them said: “Approach! Let the Prophet (S) write a book to you.” Some others said as Umar had said. When they did much clamor and disagreement, the Prophet (S) became angry and said to them: “Get out!”
It is clear, out of this tradition, that the historians have quoted the meaning of Umar’s words and not the exact words he has said.
When the narrators had narrated the exact words of the man, who had opposed the Prophet (S), they did not mention the name of that man. Al-Bukhari said in his Sahih:5 “Qubaysa narrated from Ibn Uyayna from Salman al-Ahwal from Sa’eed bin Jubayr that Ibn Abbas had said: “Thursday…and what Thursday is!” He cried until his tears fell on the ground and then he said: “The Prophet (S) had become very ill on Thursday. He said: “Bring me a piece of paper to write you a book after which you will never go astray at all.”
They (the men who were in the Prophet’s house) disputed whereas no one should dispute before a prophet. They said: “The Messenger of Allah is raving.” The Prophet (S) said: “Let me alone! What I am in is better than what you ascribe to me.” When he was about to die, he ordered of three things: “Drive the polytheists out of Arabia, reward the delegations as I have rewarded them…” and I have forgotten the third one6 ”.
This is another tradition that has been mentioned by Muslim in his Sahih, by Ahmad in his Musnad 289 and by the rest of narrators. Muslim has mentioned in his Sahih, chap. “The will” the tradition from another way narrated by Sa’eed bin Jubayr that Ibn Abbas had said: “Thursday and what Thursday is!” His tears began flowing on his cheeks and then he said: “The Prophet (S) said: “Bring me a blade and an inkpot (or a tablet and an inkpot) so that I write you a book after which you will not go a stray at all.” They said: “The Messenger of Allah is raving.” 7
He, who has studied the “calamity” in the Sihah, knows well that the first one, who has said “The Prophet (S) is raving” was Umar and then the present men, who had adopted his opinion, imitated his situation. You have seen above the saying of Ibn Abbas in the first tradition “…the men in the house disputed. Some of them said: “Approach! Let the Prophet (S) write you a book after which you will never go astray” and some others said as Umar had said. That is “The Prophet (S) is raving.”
At-Tabarani mentioned a tradition in his book al-Awsat 8 that Umar had said: “When the Prophet (S) became ill, he said: “Bring me a piece of paper and an inkpot to write you a book after which you will never go astray at all.” The women from behind the curtain said: “Do you not hear what the Messenger of Allah is saying?” I (Umar) said (to the women): “You are like the women of Yousuf (Prophet Joseph). If he becomes ill, you press your eyes and if he becomes alright, you ride on his neck.” The Prophet (S) said: “Let them (the women) alone. They are better than you.”
You see here that they have not obeyed the order of the Prophet (S). If they had done, they would have been safe from deviation. Would that they had been satisfied with disobeying the Prophet (S) only and had not rejected his order when they said: “The Book of Allah suffices us” as if he did not know the position of the Book of Allah among them or as if they were more aware of the Book and its values than him!
And would that they were satisfied with all that and they did not surprised him with their horrible word “the Messenger of Allah is raving” while he was about to die! What a word it was that they wanted to farewell their prophet with! They did not obey him pretending that the Book of Allah sufficed! Had they not heard the Book of Allah announcing day and night: “and whatever the Messenger gives you, accept it, and from whatever he forbids you, keep back” (Qur’an 59:7)
and as if they, when saying: “the Messenger of Allah is raving” had not read the sayings of Allah: “Most surely it is the Word of an honored messenger. The processor of strength, having an honorable place with the Lord of the Dominion. One (to be) obeyed, and faithful in trust. And your companion is not gone mad” (Qur’an 81:19-22)
“Most surely, it is the Word brought by an honored Messenger. And it is not the word of a poet; little is it that you believe. Nor the word of a soothsayer; little is it that you mind. It is a revelation from the Lord of the worlds” (Qur’an 69:40-43)
“Your companion does not err, nor does he go astray. Nor does he speak out of desire. It is naught but revelation that is revealed. The Lord of Mighty Power has taught him” (Qur’an 53:2-5)
They knew that the Prophet (S) wanted to certify the caliphate of ‘Ali (as) and the infallible imams of his progeny especially with a written covenant and therefore they prevented him from writing that book as the second caliph Umar had confessed later on through an argument between him and Ibn Abbas. 9
If you ponder on the saying of the Prophet (S) “Come on! Let me write you a book after which you will never go astray” and on his saying in the tradition of “Thaqalayn”: “I have left to you what if you keep to, you will never go astray; the Book of Allah and my progeny” you will know that the purpose of the two sayings is the same. The Prophet (S), during his illness, wanted to write them the details of what he had ordered them of in the tradition of “Thaqalayn”.
The Prophet (S) had given up writing that book because the horrible word of those men had forced him to give up that for there would be no use of his book. It would cause sedition and disagreement after him for they would dispute whether his book was out of his raving or not. They disagreed and disputed and caused much clamor before him and so he had nothing to do except to say: “Get out!”
If he had insisted on writing that book, they would have persisted in their saying “the Messenger of Allah is raving” and then their followers would try their best to prove that the Prophet (S) had really been raving and they would fabricate many stories and tales to refute that book and to refute whoever believed in it.
Therefore wisdom had led the Prophet (S) to give up writing that book lest those people and their followers would open a gap to criticize prophethood, Allah forbid! The Prophet (S) had found that Imam ‘Ali (as) and his followers would submit to the content of that book whether it had been written or not and that the others would not regard nor would they do according to it whether it had been written or not. Hence wisdom determined to give up that book for it would lead to opposition and sedition.
The excuses of the resistants
Sheikh Saleem al-Bishri, through some of the muraja’ats (arguments) between him and me in Egypt in 1329 A.H. and after that, has justified that event by saying: “The Prophet (S), when ordering his companions to bring a paper and an inkpot, might not intend to write anything but he just wanted to inform them only and then Allah inspired Umar from among the companions with the intent of the Prophet (S) and so he prevented the others from bringing the paper and the inkpot. Hence we have to consider this prevention of Umar as one of his assents to his God and one of his charismata, may Allah be pleased with him”.
He said: “Thus some of the scholars have said”. Then he said: “But it is fair to say that the saying of the Prophet (S) “you will never go astray after it” refutes that situation (of Umar) because the Prophet’s saying is a conditional statement which means: “if you bring me a paper and an inkpot and let me write you the book, you will never go astray after that at all”. Definitely informing of such a thing just for mere informing to test the others is a kind of clear lying which we have to exalt the prophets far above especially in a time when not bringing the paper and the inkpot would be better than bringing them. This justification is weak from other sides and so we have to find another justification”.
He said: “What we can say is that the matter was not a compulsory order that it could not be argued and the arguer would be disobedient but it was a matter of consultation. The companions often discussed some of those orders with the Prophet (S) and especially Umar who knew that he was always in conformity with the benefits and he was inspired by Allah. Umar, due to his kindness to the Prophet (S), wanted to cause no tiredness to the Prophet (S) when he would dictate that book while he was ill; therefore Umar thought that not bringing the paper and the inkpot would be better.
“Or Umar might fear that the Prophet (S) would write some things that people would be unable to carry out and so they would deserve punishment due to that for the orders of the Prophet (S) would be compulsory and would not be interpreted in another way.
“Or he might fear that the hypocrites would criticize that book because the Prophet (S) was ill when he wrote it and then it would cause sedition; therefore Umar said: “The book of Allah suffices us” for Allah has said: “We have not neglected anything in the book” (Qur’an 6:38) and “This day have I perfected for you your religion” (Qur’an 5:3)
as if Umar was certain that the umma would not go astray because Allah had perfected the religion for it (the umma) and completed His favor on it.
“This is the justification of the ulama. The saying of the Prophet (S) “you will never go astray” is decisive and compulsory because trying to assure what prevents deviation, if one is able to, is compulsory no doubt. The Prophet’s anger and his saying to the companions “get out” when they did not obey his order was another evidence showing that the matter was compulsory and it was not a matter of consultation.
“If you say: if the matter was compulsory, the Prophet (S) would not give it up just because the companions opposed him as he had not given up informing of the mission in spite of the opposition of the unbelievers. The answer is that writing that book was not compulsory to the Prophet (S) after his companions had opposed him and this did not mean that bringing the paper and the inkpot was not compulsory especially when the Prophet (S) ordered them and declared to them that the book would save them from deviation. The fact is that a command is compulsory to the commanded one and not to the commander especially if the benefit of that command concerns the commanded one; therefore compulsoriness of this order concerned the companions and not the Prophet (S).
“It might be compulsory to the Prophet (S) too but it became not so when the companions disobeyed him and said “the Messenger of Allah is raving” for the book, after that, would not lead save to sedition.
“Some scholars might justify that Umar and those, who had assisted him, did not understand from the Prophet’s saying that the book would be the cause of saving every individual of the umma from deviation that no one would go astray after that at all. They understood from the saying “you will not go astray” that the whole umma all in all would not go astray and deviation would not reach every individual in the umma after writing that book. They knew that it was impossible for the whole umma to go astray; therefore they thought that writing that book was not necessary.
“They thought that the Prophet (S) just wanted to attract their attention to the matter due to his kindness and mercifulness. They opposed the Prophet (S) thinking that the matter was not necessary but it was out of his kindness and mercifulness so they wanted not to tire the Prophet (S) when they refused to bring the paper and the inkpot.
“This is all what has been said to justify this doing. But he, who ponders on this justification, will find it far away from the truth because the Prophet’s saying “you will not go astray” means that the matter is necessary as we have said besides that his being angry with them means that they have left an obligatory order. The Prophet (S) has ordered them to get out in spite of his great patience and this is an evidence showing that they have left the most obligatory and the most useful thing as it has been known of his great morals.
“It would be better, when talking about this event, to say: it was a matter that took place unlike their conducts. It was a slip and a stumble of them which we do not know a way to justify. Allah is the Guide to the straight path.”
Sheikh Saleem al-Bishri tried his best to justify this resistance and to find an excuse for those resistants but he did not find a way to that. Rather his knowledge and fairness refused save to refute these trifles. He was not satisfied in refuting them with one evidence yet he examined all the evidences he could get. May Allah reward him for what he has done.
Refuting the excuses in other ways
As we had other evidences to refute those justifications, I wished at that time to offer these evidences to him (Sheikh al-Bishri) and asked him to judge on them.
You (Sheikh al-Bishri) said: they (who defended Umar) said that the Prophet (S), when he had ordered his companions to bring a paper and an inkpot, might have not intended to write anything but he just wanted to test them.
I say, in addition to what you have said: this event took place while the Prophet (S) was about to die. The time was not a time of testing; rather it was a time of warning and advising the umma. One, who was about to die, would be away from fun and jesting. He would be busy with himself, with his important affairs and the important affairs of his relatives, especially if he was a prophet.
If he, throughout his life, could not test his people, then how would he be able, at the time of dying, to test them?
When the companions disputed and did much clamor before him, the Prophet (S) ordered them to get out. This showed that he had become angry with them. If the resistants were right, the Prophet (S) would accept that from them and he would be pleased with them!
He, who studied this tradition and especially their saying “the Messenger of Allah is raving”, would be certain that those companions were aware that the Prophet (S) had intended to declare something that they had hated; therefore they surprised him with that horrible word and they disputed and made much ado before him.
The crying of Ibn Abbas for this event and his considering it as a calamity was another evidence refuting this justification.
Those, who justified the event, said: Umar was always right in perceiving the benefits and he was inspired by Allah. This nonsense could never be listened to because it showed that the right in that event was on the side of Umar and not on the side of the Prophet (S) and it showed that Umar’s inspiration was more truthful than the revelation that had been revealed to the Prophet (S) by Allah.
They also said: Umar wanted to relieve the Prophet (S) from the tiredness that he would get if he dedicated that book while he was ill. It was definitely that writing the book would make the Prophet’s heart delighted because he would be certain that his umma would be safe from deviation.
The order and the divine will of the Prophet (S) must be obeyed. The Prophet (S) wanted the companions to bring him a piece of paper and an inkpot to write a book and the companions had no right to disobey him or to oppose his will. Allah said: “And it behooves not a believing man and a believing woman that they should have any choice in their matter when Allah and His Messenger have decided a matter; and whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he surely strays off a manifest straying” (Qur’an 33:36).
The resistance of the companions and their disputes and clamors before the Prophet (S) were more tiresome to him than dictating that book. So how did the one, who pitied the Prophet (S) for being tired because of dictating the book, resist him and surprise him by saying: “the Messenger of Allah is raving”?
They said: Umar thought that not bringing the paper and the inkpot was better although the Prophet (S) had ordered of that. Did Umar think that the Prophet (S) ordered of something which was better to be neglected?
Stranger than that was their saying: Umar might fear that the Prophet (S) would write some things that people would not be able to carry out and then they would deserve punishment because of not carrying them out!
How did Umar fear that whereas the Prophet (S) had said: “you will never go astray at all”? Did they think that Umar was more aware of the ends than the Prophet (S) and more compassionate and more careful for the umma? Certainly not!
They also said: Umar might fear that the hypocrites would consider the book as untrue because the Prophet (S) was ill when he wrote it and this would cause a sedition.
This was impossible because the Prophet (S) had said: “you will never go astray”. He had confirmed that the book would save the umma from deviation; then how would it be a cause for sedition if the hypocrites criticized it?
If Umar was afraid that the hypocrites might consider the book as untrue; then why did he lead them to that when he resisted and said: “The Messenger of Allah is raving”?
As for their saying when interpreting Umar’s saying “the Book of Allah suffices us” according to these two verses: “We have not neglected anything in the Book” (Qur’an 6:38) and “This day have I perfected for you your religion” (Qur’an 5:3)
is not right because these two verses do not refer to being safe from deviation and they do not assure guidance to people. How could it be possible for them to leave that book and to depend on these two verses? If the existence of the Qur'an would save the umma from deviation, then this deviation and disagreement among the Muslims would not have taken place! 10
They said in their last justification: Umar did not understand from the Prophet’s saying that that book would be the cause to save every individual of the umma from deviation but he understood that it would be a cause that would prevent the umma as whole from going astray and he (Umar), may Allah be pleased with him, knew that the umma would not get together on deviation at all whether that book had been written or not and therefore he resisted the Prophet (S) on that day.
I say, in addition to what you have said:11 Umar was not of that kind that he would not understand from the tradition what had been clear to all of the people because every one had understood that if that book had been written, it would have been a perfect cause to save every individual from going astray. It is this meaning which is understood by the people.
Umar knew well that the Prophet (S) had not feared for his umma to get together on deviation because he often heard the Prophet (S) saying: “My umma does not get together on deviation nor on error” and “A group of my umma will still keep to the truth.” Allah has said: “Allah has promised to those of you who believe and do good that He will most certainly make them rulers in the earth as He made rulers those before them, and that He will most certainly establish for them their religion which He has chosen for them, and that He will most certainly, after their fear, give them security in exchange; they shall serve Me, not associating aught with Me” (Qur’an 24:55).
There are many clear texts in the Qur'an and the Sunna showing that the umma as whole will not gather together on deviation. Hence it was not reasonable that Umar or other than Umar might think that the Prophet (S) had feared for the umma to be deviate all in all. It behooved Umar to understand from the tradition what came to mind and not what the Qur'an and the Sunna had denied!
The Prophet (S) became angry and said to the companions: “Get out!” This meant that what they had resisted was one of the necessary obligations which they had to follow. If the resistance of Umar was because he had misunderstood the Prophet’s saying as they who defended him, pretended, then the Prophet (S) would have removed his misunderstanding and would have declared his (the Prophet’s) intent to the companions. In fact if the Prophet (S) could have convinced them of what he had ordered them, he would not have got them out of his house. The weeping and sadness of Ibn Abbas is one of the clearest evidences that prove what we have said.
Indeed this “calamity” can never be excused. If it was, as you said, a slip and a stumble, it would be easy but it was the disaster that had broken the back! In fact the resistants were among those who believed in ijtihad against the clear text and in this event they had practiced ijtihad before the text of the Prophet (S). They had their own opinions and Allah had His own opinion!
Sheikh al-Bishri admires what we have said When Sheikh al-Bishri read our speech in refuting those excuses, he replied to it saying: “You have closed the way before the justifiers, controlled their routes and separated between them and their intents. There is no doubt about what you have mentioned and there is nothing leading to suspect a bit of what you have declared…”
1. The Prophet’s death was on Monday; four days after this event.
2. In his Sahih, vol.1 chap. “Knowledge” and vol.4 chap. “The sick”.
3. Vol.1 p.325.
4. As in Sharh Nahjul Balagha, vol. 2 p.20.
5. Vol.2 p.118
6. Definitely the third thing was the order which the Prophet (S) wanted to write down to his umma in order not to go astray after that at all but politics had forced the narrators to pretend that they had forgotten it as the mufti of the Hanafites (in Soor) Sheikh Abu Sulayman Haj Dawood ad-Dada has said.
7. This tradition with the same wording has been mentioned by Ahmad in his Musnad, vol.1 p.355 and by other scholars of Hadith.
8. Kanzol Ummal, vol. 3 p.138.
9. Sharh Nahjul Balagha, vol.3 p.114.
10. The Prophet (S) did not say: “I want to write the legal verdicts” so that one might say: “The book of Allah suffices us to understand the verdicts”. If we supposed that the Prophet (S) wanted to write the verdicts, then writing them might be the cause to save the umma from deviation and hence no one would be excusable in neglecting that book and pretending to be satisfied with the Qur'an. In fact if that book had nothing except to save from deviation only, it would not be permissible to leave it depending on the Qur'an.
You know well that the umma is in necessary need of the sacred Sunna and it cannot do without it to depend on the Qur'an only because concluding the verdicts from the Qur'an is not easy for every one. If the Qur'an has sufficed without the Sunna, Allah would have not ordered the Prophet (S) to explain it to the people. Allah has said: “and We have revealed to you the Reminder that you may make clear to men what has been revealed to them” (Qur’an 16:44)
11. The author addresses Sheikh al-Bishri.