Seerah – Life of the Prophet: The Death of Abu Talib

Seerah – Life of the Prophet: The Death of Abu Talib


Episode 56: The Death of Abu Talib

Welcome to Seerah Pearls, which aims to highlight some tantalising learning points from each episode of the Seerah- Life of the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam).

The 11th year of Prophethood marks the Year of Sorrow, in which the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) lost his beloved wife Khadijah (RA) and dear Uncle Abu Talib. The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) was eight when he came to the care of Abu Talib, who became a father-figure in his life. The Prophet’s (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) father died before he was born, his mother when he was aged 6, and his grandfather when he was aged 8. Abu Talib and the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) became very attached to each other, with the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) consulting him about major decisions e.g. with regards to his career and marriage. On proclaiming Prophethood, Abu Talib did not accept, but he defended the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) against the Quraysh.

Abu Talib falls ill

Abu Talib was in his late 70s and very ill. Quraysh realised he was approaching death and they sent a delegation of the leading Qurayshi figures, like Umayyah bin Khalaf and Abu Jahl. The delegation expressed their respect of Abu Talib, but also recognised that he was terminally ill. They wanted to address the political situation without any ambiguity. They did not agree with the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), so they asked for him to be called to negotiate something between them: that he should leave them and they would leave him. The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) came and Abu Talib explained that the dignitaries of his people had gathered for negotiations. The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) agreed, but never compromised in Tawhid. The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) made one request- if they gave this to him, they would rule over all the Arabs and the non-Arabs would come and follow them. Abu Jahl said, ‘Sure, by your father, I am ready, I will agree to 10 things!’ The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) said, ‘Say there is no God but Allah and you leave everything else’. The delegation clapped their hands as a sign of displeasure of this proposition. The delegation started saying to each other that the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) was not here to compromise, so they would continue the same and see who would come out on top.

Everyone walked away, leaving the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) sitting with Abu Talib, who commented, ‘I swear to God, beloved nephew, I do not think you asked them for a lot’. The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) thought this was the opportunity to address his uncle. He encouraged him to accept Islam, so that he could vouch for Abu Talib on the Day of Judgement. Abu Talib said, ‘Beloved Nephew, if I was not afraid what these people would do to you and your family and I did not think the Quraysh would assume that I did it to escape death, I would have done it. I will not say it just to please you.’

Abu Talib’s final moments

A few days later, Abu Talib became extremely ill and was breathing his last. The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) ran to his bedside, as did the Quraysh leaders. The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) kneeled in close and said, ‘Dear Uncle, say there is no God but Allah, just once. Just one word and I will fight on your behalf in front of Allah.’ Abu Jahl started screaming, ‘Oh Abu Talib, will you leave the religion of your father, Abu Muttalib?’ They kept saying this, almost heckling the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), to the point where Abu Talib could not hear the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam). Finally, he looked at the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) and said, ‘Upon the religion of Abdul Muttalib’, and passed away. Allah knows best whether Abu Talib accepted Islam or not, but this is something we do not need to ruminate over.

The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) said he would continue to ask for forgiveness on behalf of Abu Talib until he was forbidden to do so. Allah revealed:

9:113 It is not for the Prophet and those who have believed to ask forgiveness for the polytheists, even if they were relatives, after it has become clear to them that they are companions of Hellfire.

The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) was devastated, questioning if he could have done any more. Allah revealed:

28:56 Indeed, [O Muhammad], you do not guide whom you like, but Allah guides whom He wills. And He is most knowing of the [rightly] guided.

After the death of Abu Talib

The days after the passing of Abu Talib, the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) did not leave his home much. Even Abu Lahab was so overwhelmed by the Prophet’s sadness, that he extended his protection to him. However, this protection was withdrawn when the leaders commented on what impact this would have on Abu Lahab’s reputation. The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) had lost his protection. Whilst walking home, a young man walked upto the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) and threw dirt on his head. The doorstep of his home was covered in garbage and filth, which he had to clean with his own blessed hands. The neighbours were all laughing, and he asked, ‘What kind of neighbourly treatment is this?’ Entering his house, with dirty hands and torn, stained clothes, Fatima (RA) gasped and asked what happened. She started to cry as she helped him clean up, to which the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) said, ‘Oh dear little girl, do not cry. Allah will not forsake your father. This religion will reach far and wide. Allah will protect your father.’

Even a decade after the passing of Abu Talib, the concern of Abu Bakr for the events at that time is highlighted in this story. When the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) returned to Makkah at the conquest of Makkah, he was sitting in the Haram. Abu Bakr (RA) walked in with his elderly father. The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) asked why he did not leave him at home, and he would have gone to him instead. Abu Bakr declined, saying that his father needed to come to the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) to accept Islam. Abu Bakr was crying, and said ‘Oh Messenger, I cannot help but think how quickly I would trade places between my father for Abu Talib’.

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