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AssalamuAlaykim shaykh, could you please explain why the Prophet's funeral prayer was prayed individually by the Companions and not in congregation as we do today? I have heard some imams use this to justify that he supposedly never died but is still alive in his grave. Please clarify. JazaakAllah.

Assalamu Alaikum.

(Answered by Shaykh Abdurrahmann Murad) 

Dear brother, your question has two parts; the first, the issue of the Janazah (funeral prayer) of the Prophet, may Allah praise him. The second, the issue of the death of our beloved Prophet, may Allah praise him.

Part One: It has been authentically reported that the companions performed the Janazah on the Prophet, may Allah praise him, individually. This is affirmed in the Hadeeth of Abu Aseeb, may Allah be pleased with him. He said: “I witnessed the funeral prayer on the Prophet, may Allah praise him. The people asked, ‘How shall we pray on him?” They said, let people come in, in groups and pray on him (individually).  They then entered one by one from this door and performed prayer on him, then left from the other door.” (Ahmed 34/365). Its chain of narration is authentic as mentioned by scholars of Hadeeth.

Islamic scholars have mentioned many reasons for this.

A. This was on account of the Prophet’s last testament to his companions. This view is supported with a number of weak narrations; As-Suhaili, may Allah have mercy on him, said: “This would not occur except on account of something the companions would have heard from the Prophet, may Allah praise him.

It is also supported by the words of Allah: “Allah and His angels bestow blessings on the Prophet. O believers, you also should ask Allah to exalt his mention and render him safe from all evil.” (Surah Al-Ahzab 56)

The ruling in this verse is not a congregational worship, but an individual one. The prayer on the prophet during his life is similar to that done after his death. (Ar-Rode al-Anf 7/594)

B. Some scholars state that due to the fact that no Caliph was actually openly declared or appointed and people were unclear in relation to this issue, there was no Imam to step forward and pray on the Prophet, may Allah praise him. It was the Caliph’s job to lead the prayers, including the funeral prayer.

Imam ash-Shafi’ee, may Allah have mercy on him, said: “People prayed individually on the Prophet, may Allah praise him, because they were all keen to achieve this great honor.” (Al-Umm 1/314)

Imam ar-Ramli, may Allah have mercy on him, said: “No one was appointed as the Caliph after the Prophet at that time, and if someone had stepped forward that would indicate that that he was the preferred choice in all matters, including the Caliphate.” (2/482)

C. Another reason is mentioned by other scholars. They state that the position and status they held the prophet in was so great that no one would dare step up and assume that he was rightful enough to fill the Prophet’s place.

There are other reasons as well, but we cannot say that one reason is ‘the’ reason; it may be all of them combined. Allah knows best!

Part Two: In relation to the second part of your question, about the death of our Prophet, may Allah praise him. It should be clear that this incident has no bearing on that issue; let us view another matter, ‘WHAT IS DEATH?’

The saying that non-Muslims so often repeat, ‘Once you’re dead, you’re dead’ is erroneous! To us, ‘death’ is simply a transitional stage from this material, worldly realm to the life of al-Barzakh (life of the grave). The life of the grave is clearly discussed in the Hadeeth; of course, the Prophet’s life varies from the average individual. This is clearly indicated in the narration of Abush-Shaik, “Whoever asks Allah to exalt my mention by my grave, I would hear him and whoever asks this from a distance, it would reach me.” (Ibn Hajar stated that its chain was Hasan).

In another narration of an-Nasa’ee and Ibn Majah, it states: “Ask Allah to exalt my mention, for it will reach me! The Companions asked, ‘O messenger of Allah, how can our prayers reach you (after your death) for you would have turned into soil!’ He said: “Indeed, Allah, the Exalted, has forbidden the earth to consume the body of a Prophet.” (Authenticated by Imam Al-Albani, may Allah have mercy on him).

The life of al-Barzakh is governed by rules that are clearly indicated in the Hadeeth; one who is in this state cannot leave it to interact physically with the living. Those who claim this have no evidence whatsoever. 

We ask Allah to bless us, and grant us success, Ameen.