Khutba al-Wida’- An interpretation

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Ahmad ‘Abd al-Hamid Ghurab

Rajab 21, 1406 1986-01-01

Occasional Paper

by Ahmad ‘Abd al-Hamid Ghurab

In an historical perspective, the Hajjat al-Wida', or Farewell Pilgrimage, should be seen not as an isolated event in the life of the Prophet, upon whom be peace, but as a climax of a long historical process. The climax is expressed in the Qur'an as ‘perfection' of the Muslim Ummah through deen (the perfect way of life). This means that the Muslim Ummah becomes perfect through perfect understanding and practice of Islam. In this perfection lies that greatest favor of Allah bestowed on the Muslims, as Allah says in the verse revealed in the day of Hajjat al-Wida':

‘This day I have perfected your deen for you and completed My favour to you, and I have chosen Islam as the way of life for you.'1

Allah, the Most Powerful, could have brought that perfection to the Muslims overnight, or at any earlier stage of the Prophet's Mission. It took twenty-three years, almost the whole time of the Prophet's career. No human being can claim to know the Divine wisdom in all its aspects. But, the manifestations of the Divine wisdom are clear in the Divine plan of revealing the Qur'an in stages, as well as in the emergence of the best Ummah in stages.

The kuffar wanted the whole of the Qur'an to be revealed at once. But Allah's wisdom in revealing it at intervals, covering the whole career of the Prophet, upon whom be peace, is made clear in the Qur'an itself. It was revealed at intervals in order to provide continual support to the Prophet, and to give him time to teach his Companions how to live according to its instructions. In this manner, the best Ummah could emerge after a long and thorough process, taking its natural course to achieve perfection.2

The periodic revelation of the Qur'an is directly connected with the long historical process of producing the best Ummah. That historical process went through various stages, the most important of which are the following:

The first, roughly covering the pre-Hijra period in Makkah. It extends to about thirteen years, during which time the Muslims lived under uninterrupted persecution, which included torture, and the constant fear of Islam being rooted out completely.3

It is necessary to go through all the vicissitudes in order to build the best Ummah because human effort, endurance and suffering for the sake of Allah are necessary, so that Allah's word may rule supreme. This stage is called in Qur'anic language ibtila' (affliction), or fitnah (commotion), testing the faith of the Muslims, on both the communal and the individual level, to prove their sincerity and ascertain whether they can withstand the harshest conditions of the struggle for Allah's cause:

If He wanted, Allah could have defeated them (the kuffar) but He wanted to test you (thus it is ordained) that He may test you by one another.4

Indeed, We shall test you, till We know those of you who strive hard [for Allah's cause] and the steadfast, and We test your records.5

Do people think that they will be left [at ease] because they say: ‘We believe' and will not be tested with affliction? We tested those who were before you; Thus Allah establishes those who are sincere [to their beliefs] and knows those who feign.6

This testing was, at the time of the Prophet, upon whom be peace, an inseparable part of educating the Muslims. This process of education was based on two criteria: (a) the Divine guidance given to them by the Qur'an and the Sunnah of the Prophet, upon whom be peace, and (b) the actual ‘training' through bitter experience of the struggle.

This is the Divine norm. Those who think that Islam can spread, and the best Ummah can emerge, without Muslims going through the long and arduous process of education and without hard and bitter struggle for Allah's cause, are absolutely mistaken.

In the Qur'an, there are many references to hijra; especially as an effective means to fight the jahili way of life and to change the conditions of the Muslims from a state of oppression to a state of strength, through getting together and living an Islamic way of life.

Allah says:

When angels take the souls of those who have wronged themselves, they ask: ‘In what were you engaged?' They will say: ‘We were oppressed in the land'. [the angels] will say: ‘Was not Allah's earth spacious enough for you to migrate therein [away from oppression]?' Such persons' abode will be hell: what an evil refuge! Except those who are [really] weak, men, women and children, who have no means, nor guide. For those there is hope that Allah will forgive them. Allah is ever clement and forgiving. Those who migrate for the cause of Allah will find refuge and abundance in the earth.'7

Thus Muslims must never consent to live in conditions under which they are humiliated, oppressed and unable to practice their deen. They should do everything they can to change the evil status quo, because it prevents them from living an Islamic way of life. Therefore, hijra in Islam is a form of jihad, which is why it is mentioned in connection with jihad in several verses.8 The Prophet's hijra was not a flight, as orientalists and missionaries usually describe it, but one stage of a Divine plan to change the conditions of the Muslims. Thus, in Madinah, they were able to live Islam together as an Ummah and apply the Shari'ah. They were also in a better position to fight the tyranny of the mushrikun of Makkah and the treacherous conspiracies of the Jews and the munafiqun in Madinah. At the same time, they were being prepared by the Prophet, upon whom be peace, to play their future role of achieving the universal goal of Islam, i.e. to spread it beyond the Arabian Peninsula. And to liberate humanity from the two most tyrannical systems of the time: the Persian and Byzantine empires.

Within a century of its advent, Islam penetrated deep into Africa and Europe. We cannot fully understand that expansion unless we reflect on the steps taken by the Prophet and their meanings. We should concentrate on the steps taken during a relatively short period before the Hajjat al-wida' (‘i.e. during the three years between 7-10 AH). We refer especially to the following steps:

  1. Universal messages: In the 7th year, the Prophet sent messages to six non-Muslim rulers outside Arabia, including the Persian and Byzantine emperors. This step demonstrated the universality of the Islamic message and the Prophet's concern to have that message spread to all mankind.
  2. Elimination of the Jewish influence in the peninsula: This step is clearly demonstrated by the campaign of Khaybar (Maharram-Safar, 7 AH) and the subsequent evacuation of Jews from Madinah and all nearby areas. Obviously, this step had to be taken in order to protect the Muslim Ummah from the Jews, whose treachery had already been bitterly experienced by the Muslims. Especially during the Battle of the Ditch or al-Khandaq (also known as the Battle of the Allied Parties, or al-Ahzab - Dhu ‘l Qa'dah, 5 AH). In that battle the Muslims were besieged by the enemies of Islam - the mushrikun of Makkah and the Jews of Khaybar together with their Bedouin allies. During the siege, the Jews (who had been under solemn agreement with the Muslims to defend the city against any outside attack) colluded with the enemy and treacherously helped them, that they might conquer the city and annihilate the Muslims. By Allah's Power and Mercy, the Muslims were saved, their enemies defeated and the Jews of Madinah consequently punished for their treachery.
  3. The elimination of shirk: This step is clearly demonstrated by the conquest of Makkah (Ramadhan 8/January 630) and the destruction of all the idols in and around the Ka'bah. This conquest was followed later by a decree forbidding any mushrik from entering the Haram or doing tawaf therein (some of them had been in the custom of doing tawaf naked). All immoral practices associated with shirk, like usury, alcohol, gambling, prostitution, female infanticide, and enslaving and exploiting the weak, were abolished. This immoral way of life followed by the mushrikun is the reason why they are described in the Qur'an as najas, which means that they are unclean physically and mentally. There can be no co-existence between the believers ‘who love to be purified',10 and people who revel in najasah; there is always the danger of contamination. There would be little hope of spreading Islam as a pure way of life if Muslims cohabited with those who are najas.
  4. Campaigns against the Roman Empire: The preparations to spread Islam beyond Arabia were demonstrated by the campaign of Mutah (Jumadah I, 8 AH) and Tabuk (Rajab, 9 AH). These campaigns were part of the Prophet's farsighted plan to spread Islam outside the Arabian Peninsula; especially in Syria and Egypt, the two pearls of the Byzantine Empire.

The answer to the mystery of how it was possible to spread Islam in so short a time is because the Muslim community had acquired certain characteristics without which success would not have been possible. The Prophet's khutbah in the Hajjat al-wida' spells out these characteristics. A reading of the Prophet's khutbah will show that the most important of them are:

The Prophet, upon whom be peace, began the khutbah by saying: ‘O people', not ‘O Arab'. Throughout the khutbah he continued addressing the Muslims, saying ‘O People'. This is a clear indication that the message of Islam was for all mankind.

Behind the brevity of the expression lies a great ideal, which humanity still dreams of achieving, that all human beings are equal, regardless of race, colour or nation. In Islam, the only criterion of superiority is taqwa. This criterion is emphasized in the Qur'an:

‘O People, We have created you through male and female and have made you nations and tribes that you may know one another. The noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the best in conduct.'11

The Prophet alluded to this criterion in the khutbah referred to: "O People, your Lord is one, and you ancestor is one, you are all from Adam, and Adam was made of dust. The noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the best in conduct. No Arab is better than a non-Arab except by taqwa.'

Allah says, ‘the best believers are brothers'. 12 The khutbah emphasizes this brotherhood. The Prophet urged the Muslims to live by this principle and declared that for Muslim shedding each other's blood is an act of unbelief (kufr). He said, ‘After my death, do not turn unbelievers, cutting each others' throats'.

The believers' faith in Allah cannot be true unless they do justice to each other, especially the rulers to the ruled, the rich to the poor and, generally, the strong to the weak. Islam, as a religion of Justice, would not have spread as fast as it did if Muslims had been committing injustice against each other. This is why in his khutbah the Prophet stressed that all jahili forms of oppression and exploitation have been abolished.

The principle of I'adat al-amanat (safe return of trusts to their owners) is one of the most important moral and legal obligations of the Islamic government towards the Muslim community. This is why the principle is linked to ruling people justly. As the Qur'an says, ‘Allah commands you to return trusts to their owners, and, is you judge between people, judge justly.'13

This is illustrated by the Prophet's reference to the practice of nasi. The Unbelievers of Jahilliyyah used to tamper with the calendar according to their whims and interests, to postpone a sacred month in which killing was forbidden when they wanted to make war and make up for it by hallowing another month. This behavior is condemned in the Qur'an as ‘excess in unbelief'.14

The khutbah had made it clear that none of this tinkering with time is allowed. Time is very precious, as also is making good use of it by pursing worthwhile activities (‘amal salih).

The family is the most vital unit of the Muslim community. The whole structure of the Community would not function according to Islam were its units not leading an Islamic way of life. Few people would be convinced of the Islamic ideal if it were not even working in reality, especially in family life. So long as husbands and wives do not know their rights and duties in Islam and act accordingly. And as long as Muslim women are kept in a state of ignorance and oppression, and as long as the children are not brought up according to Islam, the attempt to establish a Muslim Ummah and an Islamic state is futile. The Prophet enjoined the believers:

‘Do treat your women well and be kind to them, for they are your partners and committed helpers'.

The Prophet said,

‘I am leaving you the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Prophet. If you follow them, you will never go astray'.

It is obvious that the plight of contemporary Muslims stems from the fact that they take their guidance from the east or west, but not from the Qur'an and Sunnah.

The Prophet emphasized that what he said should be conveyed to other people, and repeatedly asked Allah and the Muslims to witness that he himself conveyed the Divine message:

The Qur'an emphasized that tabligh is an obligation on every Muslim qualified for it. There are many verses emphasizing this obligation on both the Prophet and scholars.15

These are the main points emphasized in the khutbah. It is clear that the Farewell khutbah is not just a casual speech on a passing occasion but rather constitutes a historical declaration of the most vital principle of the Muslim community.

From the khutbah, contemporary Muslims can learn important lessons, some of which are the following:

1. Muslims cannot claim to be Muslims while leading a jahili life and living by jahili values/

2. The contemporary Muslim community has either to live according to the Divine principles of Islam in its totality or face annihilation, so that a new Ummah, molded on the model of that ‘best Ummah' may once again emerge.

The Qur'an has given us both the warning and the description of the new Ummah, which possess the unique qualities to those believers who love, and are loved by, Allah:

‘O you who have believed, whoever among you turns back from his deen, Allah will produce [other] people, whom He loves and who love Him; who are humble with the believers, firm with the unbelievers, fighting in the way of Allah and fearing no blame of any blamer. [This] is the grace of Allah, which He awards, to whom He wills. Allah is All-Embracing and All-Knowing.

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