In one of the postings at a discussion forum, someone has made the following statement:
The Ijma of the Sahabah to establish a Khaleefah manifested itself emphatically when they delayed the burial of the Prophet (saw) after his death while engaged in appointing a successor to him, despite the fact that the burial of the dead person is fard, and that it is haram upon those who are supposed to prepare for his burial to engage themselves in anything else until they complete the burial.
The Sahabah were obliged to engage themselves in preparing the burial of the Prophet (saw), instead some of them engaged themselves in appointing a Khaleefah rather than carrying out the burial, and some others kept silent on this engagement and participated in delaying the burial for two nights despite their ability to deny the delay and their ability to bury the Prophet (saw). So this was an Ijma to engage themselves in appointing a Khaleefah rather than to bury the dead.
Is it really true that the Prophet’s corpse lay unburied, while the companions were busy appointing a Khalifa?
According to Al-Bidayah Wa-al-Nihayah (Ibn Katheer), there is complete agreement among scholars that the Prophet died on Monday afternoon (or in the late forenoon). Ibn Katheer has cited Ahmad ibn Hanbal as having reported that the Prophet (pbuh) was buried sometime after sunset on Tuesday1. According to one of the narratives of Ibn Sa`d, (as cited by Ibn Katheer), the Prophet (pbuh) was buried during daytime on Tuesday. According to Ibn Hishaam, the burial took place in the middle of Tuesday night.
Thus, as we can see, even though there is some difference of opinion2 regarding the time between the death and the burial of the Prophet (pbuh), yet the difference is not as long as the cited author has mentioned it to be.
One of the major reasons for the time interval between the death and the burial of the Prophet (pbuh) was related to the great significance of the Prophet’s person in the eyes of the believers, on the one hand, and the particular method in which the burial prayer for the Prophet (pbuh) was organized, on the other. It is unanimously narrated in almost all the books of Seerah that the burial prayer for the Prophet (pbuh) was not organized in a congregation. On the contrary, all the Muslims came to the Prophet’s room in groups of three and would pay their respects and pray for the Prophet (pbuh). The first to come were men, then women and finally children. This went on until all the Muslims had paid their respects and offered their prayers for the Prophet (pbuh).
Seen in the perspective of the foregoing explanation, it is quite apparent that the short delay in the burial of the Prophet (pbuh) was for quite natural reasons, which had nothing to do with the appointment of the Khaleefah. It would be gross misrepresentation of the facts to say that the burial of the Prophet (pbuh) was delayed due to the reasons stated in the cited paragraph.
It seems that the author has derived his opinion from the incident that took place at the Saqeefah of Banu Saaidah. According to various narratives reported in books of history and Seerah, it was brought to the notice of the Muhaajireen (the original residents of Mekkah) that the Ansaar (the locals of Medinah) were proposing a division of rule between the two groups (of Muhaajireen and Ansaar) by appointing a ruler from each of the two groups. This obviously was a very dangerous proposal and would have resulted in a division in the Muslims. At getting this information, Abu Bakr (ra) and Omar (ra) went to the Saqeefah and succeeded in resolving the potential problem. This explanation should also adequately clarify that it was actually not the immediate appointment of a ‘Khaleefah’, as the cited author has contended, but a resolution of a potentially fatal situation for which Abu Bakr and `Omar went to the Saqeefah. It is quite predictable that had it not been for the grave situation, arising from the proposal of the Ansaar, the appointment of the Khaleefah may easily have been delayed for a few hours, until after the Prophet’s burial had taken place in the proper manner.
It should further be kept in mind that perpetuation of rule for an existing organized collectivity is not a religious obligation, but rather a political reality. The point, as I have stated in a number of my earlier responses, is not that the appointment of a ruler is a religious obligation of the Muslims. On the contrary, the point, in fact, is that an immediate appointment of a successor – at the death of an existing ruler – is one of the essential political requirements for the maintenance of the existing organized collectivity. A delay in this appointment is likely to result in a political division of the existing organized collectivity. It is because of this obvious nature of the immediate appointment of a successor to a dead ruler that you will hardly find any difference of opinion or any practical deviation, from this aspect, in the various organized nations of the world.
‘The King is dead. Long Live the King’, is a befitting representation of this political phenomenon.
I hope this helps.
May 15, 2001