The Final Sermon: Key Themes 1

The words of our beloved Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) are full of rich lessons. Among them is his address during the farewell Hajj. This is the second in a series of articles on The Prophet’s Last Sermon, Lessons for Humanity.

There are multiple sermons. We are going to take one of the main narrations. This is mentioned by Imam Ahmad and others. The sermon has many key themes. It can be broken down into 16 key areas.

The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) began his farewell sermon with the praise of Allah: “All praise is Allah’s. We praise Him, seek His help, ask His forgiveness, and we repent unto Him. We seek refuge in Allah from the evils of our selves and our bad actions. Whomever Allah guides none can lead astray, and whomever He leads astray has no one to guide him. I testify that there is no god but Allah alone, without any partner, and I testify that Muhammad is his slave and messenger.” (Allah bless him and give him peace.) 

Some of our brethren insist on beginning every sermon and speech with the exact same opening.  The sermons of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) have shared elements, but each sermon is distinct. Beginning exactly the same way and thinking it is a specific Sunna is actually not from the Sunna. 

Opening Counsel

The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) began with an opening counsel: “I enjoin you, O servants of Allah, to be godfearing towards Allah, I urge you to obey Him, and I begin with that which is best.” 

The basis of all guidance is taqwa (to be godfearing). The Quran and every revelation before it is guidance for the God-fearing, those who have attained taqwa or those who are striving for it. 

Then the sermon begins: “To commence: O people, hear me well. I explain to you, for I do not know [the future]. I may well not meet you again in this place where I now stand, after this year of mine.”

Ibn Abbas and other companions were sure that the final days of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) were impending, even though physically, he was in good health. He had performed all the rites of Hajj himself.

The Sanctity of Rights

Then the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) talked about the sanctity of rights, lives, property, places, times and responsibility, “O people: your lives and your property, until the very day you meet your Lord, are as inviolable to each other as the inviolability of this day you are now in, and the month you are now in.”

There is an emphasis on lives and rights. One of the reasons behind this is that in much of the world, the law of the jungle prevailed. Those who have power set the rules and they bent the rules. Even when people professed equality in the law.

This applies to all people. Your lives and your property are inviolable for one another.  These are rights granted by Allah.

Some days are sacred because Allah has made them sacred. The month they were in was Dhul Hijja. It is one of the sacred months that Allah has granted special significance to. 

Then he said, “Have I given the message?—O Allah, be my witness.”

This is mentioned for emphasis and out of a sense of responsibility. 

“So let whoever has been given something for safekeeping give it back to him who gave him it.”

This has practical implications at the individual level.

The Prohibition of Usury (riba)

The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) continued. The third of the teachings is on the prohibition of usury (Riba), “Truly, the usury of the Era of Ignorance has been laid aside forever. And the first usury I begin with is that which is due to my father’s brother ‘Abbas ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib.”

This is very noteworthy. Amongst the first things the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace)  emphasized in his farewell sermon was the prohibition of usury. 

Blood Vengeance and the Rule of Law

Then the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) emphasized the prohibition of blood and of taking vengeance for the spilling of blood. “And truly the blood-vengeance of the Era of Ignorance has been laid aside forever, and the first blood-vengeance we shall start with is that which is due for the blood of [my kinsman] ‘Amir ibn Rabi‘a ibn Harith ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib.”  

Part of the sense of the law of the jungle is that despite existing laws and customs, ultimately, you follow your way and do what you want. If someone wrongs you, you wrong them back. 

The individual and tribal feuds that came as a result of it have plagued humanity throughout history. Families fighting each other for generations. This has been laid aside forever.

Hereditary Distinctions and Justice

The fifth lesson has to do with hereditary distinctions. In most societies, you would have some kind of societal distinctions. In some societies, you have a formal caste system, like you found in much of India, where they brought in hereditary distinctions at the level of society. So there were people who had different ranks, roles and rights.

The Arabs in general, the Makkans in particular, and most notably Quraysh themselves, the great Makkan had a sense of equality, but it was a confused sense. It was a confused sense because they did not have revelation or sacred law. They had a sense that people were equal, but Quraysh were more equal than others.  

The strong would take the rights of the weak. There was all kinds of chaos. People would hold on to different privileges related to the sacred pilgrimage, taxation, and other matters. 

The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Truly, the hereditary distinctions that were pretensions to respect in the Era of Ignorance have been laid aside forever, except for the custodianship of the Kaaba [by Bani ‘Abd al-Dar] and the giving of drink to pilgrims [by al-‘Abbas].”

Hereditary Rights and Duties

In the specific context of the Makkans, a lot of these were related to pilgrimage. Who would have rights and some responsibilities related to where the pilgrims lived, and access to water, and who oversaw different elements of the rights of the pilgrimage? 

Some other hereditary distinctions had to do with the festival seasons related to the times when people would particularly come to the marketplace in Madina. 

Different people would have distinctions and they would be inherited even though the person who had responsibility for them did not care, did not merit that distinction, and could not fulfill its rights. 

The custodianship of the Kaaba (which was given to Bani Abd al-Dar) and the giving of drinks to the pilgrims (which was in the hands of Al-Abbas) continued to be acknowledged.