بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
والصلاة والسلام على رسوله الكريم
وعلى اهل بيته الطيبين الطاهرين المظلومين
Was the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ martyred – killed by poisoning – or did he die a natural death? According to the holy Quran:
أَفَإِن مَّاتَ أَوْ قُتِلَ
If he dies or is killed
Allah Most High declared before the Prophet’s death that there is the possibility of him being killed. There is nothing unusual about a true prophet of God being killed, and many Israelite prophets were martyred at the hands of their own people (Surah 2:61; 3:21; 3:112; 3:181; 4:155). The New Testament attributes the following statement to Jesus Christ: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee” (Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34. *See also Matthew 23:34 and Luke 11:49 which I quoted in a previous entry). Jesus is also quoted as saying about the Jews: “ye are the children of them which killed the prophets” (Matthew 23:31), “Woe unto you! For ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them” (Luke 11:47). According to the New Testament and also the historian Josephus, the great prophet John the Baptizer (who is known as Yahya Yuhanna to the Muslims) was executed by the evil Jewish king Herod Antipas. For a prophet to be murdered does not negate his truthfulness and reality of being a prophet sent by God. Furthermore, it is a misconception that while a Nabi (prophet) can be killed, a Rasul (apostle) cannot (Surah 2:87). The fact of the matter is that for a prophet or apostle to be killed is dependent upon the will of Allah. Nevertheless, Allah only allows for one of His prophets or apostles to be martyred only after the prophet or apostle has fulfilled his obligation of delivering the message to his people, thereby establishing the proof against them. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ bore the responsibility of delivering a very great and heavy message, which he fulfilled over a period of slightly over twenty years. It was only after the Prophet discharged his responsibilities of delivering the message of God, and after the people testified that he had done so, did the Prophet ﷺ acquire an illness that took his life.
In the battle of Khaybar, which took place in the year 628 CE, or the seventh year after the Hijrah, the Jews were decisively defeated. However, in her thirst for revenge, one of their ladies, a certain Zaynab bint al-HarithLA, offered the Prophet ﷺ and some of his companions a piece of roasted sheep shoulder which she had poisoned. It is said that she was the sister of Marhab (Sunan Abi Dawud #4509), a Jewish warrior who was killed and dispatched to Hell during the battle. The Prophet ﷺ was warned through divine inspiration not to eat the poisoned meat. According to a version he spat out some of that which he had already taken (The Sealed Nectar p.374). According to a Hadith, the Prophet ﷺ immediately told the people present who were, along with him, eating the meat:
ارْفَعُوا أَيْدِيَكُمْ فَإِنَّهَا أَخْبَرَتْنِي أَنَّهَا مَسْمُومَةٌ
“Take away your hands (from the food), for it has informed me that it is poisoned” (Sunan Abi Dawud #4510)
However, the Prophet’s companion, Bishr b. al-Baraa b. al-Ma’rur al-AnsariRA died on the spot. Before the Prophet ﷺ ordered the Jewess executed for his murder, he asked her as to her motivation for attempting to kill him with poison, to which she answered:
إِنْ كُنْتَ نَبِيًّا لَمْ يَضُرَّكَ الَّذِي صَنَعْتُ وَإِنْ كُنْتَ مَلِكًا أَرَحْتُ النَّاسَ مِنْكَ
“If you were a prophet, it would not harm you; but if you were a king, I should rid the people of you.” (ibid)
In another Hadith narrated by sayyidina Abi HurayrahRA, it is narrated that this was a conspiracy of a group of Jews to have the Prophet ﷺ poisoned. He had them assembled before him and asked them their motivation, to which they replied:
أَرَدْنَا إِنْ كُنْتَ كَاذِبًا نَسْتَرِيحُ، وَإِنْ كُنْتَ نَبِيًّا لَمْ يَضُرَّكَ
“We wanted to know if you were a liar in which case we would get rid of you, and if you are a prophet then the poison would not harm you.” (Sahih al-Bukhari #3169)
In yet another Hadith, the Jewess ZaynabLA said:
“I wanted to kill you”
To which the Prophet ﷺ replied:
مَا كَانَ اللَّهُ لِيُسَلِّطَكِ عَلَى ذَلِكَ أَوْ قَالَ عَلَىَّ
“Allah would never give you that power” or he said “(Allah would never give you that power) over me” (Sunan Abi Dawud #4508).
That the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was not killed despite having swallowed some morsels of that poisoned meat is in fact one of his miracles and a sign of him being a true Prophet of Allah. As already mentioned, this episode occurred in the immediate aftermath of the Muslim victory at the Battle of Khaybar in the year 628 CE, or the seventh year after the Hijrah. The Prophet ﷺ actually died some four years later in 632 CE, or in the eleventh year after the Hijrah. From a medical perspective, it is impossible that the cause of the Prophet’s death would have been from eating some morsels of poisoned meat four years prior. It is true that the Prophet ﷺ, during his final illness in which he died, said:
يَا عَائِشَةُ مَا أَزَالُ أَجِدُ أَلَمَ الطَّعَامِ الَّذِي أَكَلْتُ بِخَيْبَرَ، فَهَذَا أَوَانُ وَجَدْتُ انْقِطَاعَ أَبْهَرِي مِنْ ذَلِكَ السَّمِّ
“O A’ishah! I still feel the pain caused by the food I ate at Khaybar, and at this time, I feel as if my aorta is being cut from that poison” (Sahih al-Bukhari #4428).
Incidentally, some Christian missionaries, whose hearts have been blackened with malice, claim this is a proof that our beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was, ma’adh Allah, God forbid, a “false prophet”. They cite the passage of the Quran:
وَلَوْ تَقَوَّلَ عَلَيْنَا بَعْضَ الْأَقَاوِيلِ ﴿٤٤﴾ لَأَخَذْنَا مِنْهُ بِالْيَمِينِ ﴿٤٥﴾ ثُمَّ لَقَطَعْنَا مِنْهُ الْوَتِينَ ﴿٤٦﴾ فَمَا مِنكُم مِّنْ أَحَدٍ عَنْهُ حَاجِزِينَ ﴿٤٧﴾
And if he had made up about Us some [false] sayings, We would have seized him by the right hand; Then We would have cut from him the aorta. And there is no one of you who could prevent [Us] from him.
This passage is actually in the past tense, meaning that if the Prophet Muhammad had, as these Christian missionaries believe, fabricated saying to Allah, he would already have been destroyed in the way described before the revelation of this passage. The fact that he was still alive up till the revelation of this passage means that he had not fabricated anything to Allah up till that point. Here Allah is revealing these words to confirm the truthfulness of the Prophet ﷺ and as a proof of his veracity. Furthermore, the Prophet did not say definitively that his aorta was being cut by the poison, only that he perceived or felt as though it was being cut by the poison; he said وَجَدْتُ “I perceive”. Poison does not actually cut the aorta, and a person who dies of poisoning does not die of a severed aorta. The Prophet admitted to the people:
أَنْتُمْ أَعْلَمُ بِأَمْرِ دُنْيَاكُمْ
“You know better about the affairs of your world” (Sahih Muslim)
And he said:
إِنَّمَا أَنَا بَشَرٌ ، إِذَا أَمَرْتُكُمْ بِشَيْءٍ مِنْ دِينِكُمْ ، فَخُذُوا بِهِ ، وَإِذَا أَمَرْتُكُمْ بِشَيْءٍ مِنْ رَأْيٍ ، فَإِنَّمَا أَنَا بَشَرٌ
“Verily, I am only a mortal human being. When I command you with something from the Religion, then hold on to it. But when I command you with something from my opinion, then verily I am only a mortal human being.” (Sahih Muslim)
So the Prophet’s statement “I feel as though my aorta is being cut by that poison” was a statement from his own opinion and perception, and not made under the authority of divine inspiration. If one undertakes an elementary reading of the description of the Prophet’s final illness and the state of how he died, it is quite evident that he did not die of poisoning nor did he exhibit the symptoms of a a person who is dying of poison. The Prophet ﷺ exhibited the symptoms of a high fever, and he endured his final illness before dying for a period of thirteen or fourteen days (The Sealed Nectar, p.472). In conclusion, it is obvious that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ died a natural death of natural causes, he was not killed, and certainly he could not have died from an incident of food poisoning that occurred four years before he actually died. And Allah knows best!