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The Farewell Sermon (خطبة الوداع, Khuṭbatu l-Wadā') is purported to be the Prophet Muhammad's final sermon to his followers before his death in 632 CE. However like most elements of the Islamic tradition our sources for this are extremely late, in this case At-Tabari writing in the late 800's CE about an event which is purported to have taken place in 632 CE. The mention of "the Sunnah of the prophet" is clearly apycrophal, as Patricia Crone has shown in God's caliph, since such a concept did not exist in actual khalifal/Islamic jurisprudence until well into the Abbassid period. The entirety of the supposed speech shows up in Tabari, but other sources in the hadith repeat what appear to be its most salient point, reminding men to treat their wives well (like their pack animals) but echoing Qur'an 4:34 in commanding their forceful separation and beating in the case of disobedience. The command to beat disobedient wives appeared to be the main classical take-away from the speech, and it should be noted that a more recent retelling of the speech which omits this injunction is a recent fabrication and not part of the attested classical tradition.
According to Muslim historians, Muhammad’s Farewell Sermon (خطبة الوداع, Khuṭbatu l-Wadā') was delivered on the ninth day of Dhu al-Hijjah (Month of Hajj- Pilgrimage 632 CE) in the valley of mount Arafat. This area located in Saudi Arabia was, and still is, considered holy and even today non-Muslims are forbidden from entering.
The sermon took place ten years after Muhammad’s Hijra (هِجْرَة Migration) to Medina, meaning it was after conquering Mecca and wiping the infidels from the land.
Accordingly, the listeners were all strictly Muslim. Muhammad was addressing his own people, since no others were allowed to enter the area of the Sacred Mosque, which includes the Plain of Arafat.
Text of Farewell Sermon
Now then, O people, you have a right over your wives and they have a right over you. You have [the right] that they should not cause anyone of whom you dislike to tread on your beds; and that they should not commit any open indecency. If they do, then Allah permits you to shut them in separate rooms and to beat them, but not severely. If they abstain from [evil], they have the right to their food and clothing in accordance with the custom. Treat women well, for they are [like] domestic animals with you and do not possess anything for themselves. You have taken them only as a trust from Allah, and you have made the enjoyment of their persons lawful by the word of Allah, so understand and listen to my words, O people. I have conveyed the Message, and have left you with something which, if you hold fast to it, you will never go astray; that is, the Book of Allah and the sunnah of his Prophet. Listen to my words, O people, for I have conveyed the Message and understand [it]. Know for certain that every Muslim is a brother of another Muslim, and that all Muslims are brethren. It is not lawful for a person [to take] from his brother except that which he has given him willingly, so do not wrong yourselves. O Allah, have I not conveyed the message?
Analysis of The Farewell Sermon
Muhammad begins by praising and thanking his Lord, then addresses his followers.
The Call for Jihad
"Take these words to those who could not be present here today," An extremely significant statement, as it is symbolically calling for a full-scale Jihad. He accentuates the importance of taking his words to those who are not present there; naturally, by whatever means he has employed thus far to take down all those who had not paid heed to him and his message.
There is nothing noteworthy here, except the first few sentences which reaffirm the sacredness of the city and the period, purified from unbelievers. Confirming once again, that the audience was exclusively Muslim.
Again, nothing unusual, as most preachers preach against Satan.
The sermon suddenly sinks into misogyny. As the addressees were men, Muhammad reminds them of their rights over women, but (almost as an afterthought) adds that women too have rights over men. But these so-called rights of women are very much conditional.
If women abide by the rights given to men, only then do they deserve to be fed and clothed. As far as women's rights are concerned in this sermon, that is it. Men are also encouraged to be kind to their women so long as they stay quite and obedient, something akin to a pet (in the authentic account of this sermon, Muhammad does indeed liken women to domestic animals).
Women even have restrictions placed on their friendships with others (male or female) as proven by Muhammad commanding chastity from women separately. Therefore, even innocent friendships with other women is not possible if the husband wishes it. They are under their husbands will and can only enjoy what we would consider the basic rights of a women in a traditional marriage only if they remain in full compliance to their men.
A mention of the pillars of Islam; Nothing of note.
Equality of Mankind
This is the most often quoted portion of the Farewell Sermon, used by Muslims to preach of their prophet’s commitment to humanity. The talk is harsh on Arab prejudice against non-Arabs. It would seem, we have some glossy words against racism.
In reality, Muhammad was talking of piety in religious affairs. In this faculty, there can be no supreme race or language. Muhammad was compelled to preach this, due to his earlier call for Jihad. His followers would no-doubt encounter many non-Arabs and people of differing races, so in tough times, these kinds of appeasements would be necessary.
On the other hand, Muhammad was very much prejudicial. For an example of this, we need only look to the following hadith where he hoists clannish supremacy:
The Quraish (قريش Qurayš) were Arabs and Muhammad (himself being from the Quraish tribe) was speaking of the rulers who would rise up after him to rule over the Islamic world. When Muhammad says "will be" the connotation to his followers was and still is "should be". Moreover, this hadith has contributed a lot to the Shi'ite-Sunni rift in the Muslim world.
Brotherhood in Islam
Next we tackle the meaning of "brotherhood" in Islam; Whenever Muhammad spoke of brotherhood, it was only of the brotherhood between fellow believers (Muslims) and here too it is no different.
Muhammad starts by proclaiming "all mankind is from a common father and mother", but soon adds "Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood." It could not be stated any clearer than that; Only Muslims are brothers to Muslims. There is no mention of Atheists, Idolaters or even the so-called People of the Book who themselves are often equated with Idolaters.
Muhammad began his speech with the call for Jihad, so this has much significance. It was a call to stretch beyond their current dominion and for this purpose he alerts only those whom he considers part of the brotherhood. When the going gets tough, Muslims (and only Muslims) should conserve the brotherhood. We now move onto the final part of the sermon.
The Termination of Prophethood
Muhammad reaffirms the termination of prophethood by saying "no new faith will be born." Once again, "will be born", when spoken by Muhammad, means "should be born."
This speech took place after winning over the unbelievers of Mecca. He had already expelled the entirety of the Jewish population from the land, and cleansed his holy city of unbelievers. Islam had finally won over existing faiths, and likewise there should be no other faiths in the future. The sentiment expressed here often used as grounds for the prosecution of "deviants" such as the Baha'i, Ahmadiyya, and indeed Shi'a communities in the Muslim world.
He continues by saying "I leave behind me two things, the Qur'an and my example, the sunnah, and if you follow these you will never go astray". As with the beginning, he concludes the sermon with the reiteration for Jihad. "All those who listen to me shall pass on my words to others and those to others again" And by doing so, they have to follow Qur'an and Sunnah of the prophet. This takes us back to the Qur'an.
The Meaning of Fitna
The Arabic word Fitna (فِتْنَةٌ) does not have the same meaning as given by our three official translators (Yusuf Ali, Picktall, Shakir), which is "tumult" and "oppression". To understand the true meaning of this word as spoken by Muhammad, we need to look towards the universally accepted Qur'anic commentary by Ibn Kathir:
It is evident here that the word "Fitna" denotes polytheism or anything un-Islamic.
Muhammad started his sermon, proclaiming the importance of conveying his message to those who were absent. Who are these absentees? There weren’t many Muslims absent. Ali had been called back from Yemen to partake in this pilgrimage. Moreover, Muhammad did not say anything new in this sermon to his Muslim followers.
Muhammad preached on (Strictly Muslim) brotherhood, then of the pillars of Islam, All of which had been already established. Five prayers a day, fasting, Zakat (giving alms), performing hajj; Jizyah too was established by then. There was no need to repeat any of this information to the well-informed Muslims.
Therefore, we can conclude that the absentees being referred to were in fact the non-Muslims of foreign lands. Muhammad was alerting his followers to convey the message of Islam to the absentees, who were yet to become Muslims. As has been mentioned previously, he signaled this in the introduction and conclusion of his speech. Convey this message to the absentees.
Muslim historians tell us what happened soon after this farewell sermon:
An expedition to Syria, which is far beyond Mecca. So jihad had begun straight after Muhammad’s farewell speech. Muhammad sent messengers to distant kings including; Negus, Chosroes of Persia, and the Eastern Roman Emperor Heraclius, to whom he wrote:
He ordered his ummah to take his message to the absentees, and the precedence in how to approach this task was set by Muhammad himself. "Take these words to those who could not be present here today". Muhammad ordered it, and his followers complied by invading nation after nation in what is now referred to as the Arab or Muslim conquests. The message of Muhammad’s farewell sermon has to be understood under the context in which it was delivered, otherwise its true meaning is lost.
It is obvious that the sermon has been cut short while reporting. Additions may not have been made, but there was almost certainly a great deal of deletion or forgetfulness. The reason being that this sort of sermon is usually lengthy, but this particular one, if accepted as genuine, is rather short.
- Muhammad's Last Sermon - Staring At The View (archived), http://staringattheview.blogspot.com/2013/07/muhammads-last-sermon.html
- The Farewell Sermon - Blog post discussing the "sources" provided for this alternative Farewell Sermon (archived), http://bjhollingum.blogspot.com/2010/05/farewell-sermon.html
- Fraudulent Translation of Muhammad's 'Last Sermon' to Make It Egalitarian - T. Omar Moros, Islam-Watch, August 18, 2009 (archived), http://www.islam-watch.org/authors/89-other-authors/134-fraudulent-translation-of-muhammad-last-sermon-egalitarian.html
- al-Tabari, Vol IX, No. 1754