Muhammad's Grave

Muhammad's Grave: Death Rites and the Making of Islamic Society

Leor Halevi
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 416
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/hale13742
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  • Book Info
    Muhammad's Grave
    Book Description:

    In his probing study of the role of death rites in the making of Islamic society, Leor Halevi imaginatively plays prescriptive texts against material culture and advances new ways of interpreting highly contested sources. His original research reveals that religious scholars of the early Islamic period produced codes of funerary law not only to define the handling of a Muslim corpse but also to transform everyday urban practices. Relying on oral traditions, these scholars established new social patterns in the cities of Arabia, Mesopotamia, and the eastern Mediterranean. They distinguished Islamic rites from Christian, Jewish, and Zoroastrian rites and changed the way men and women interacted publicly and privately.

    In each chapter Halevi explores a different layer of human interaction, following the movement of the corpse from the deathbed to the grave. In the process he analyzes the real and imaginary relationships between husbands and wives, prayer leaders and mourners, and even dreamers and the dead. He describes how Muslims wailed for the deceased, prepared corpses for burial, marched in funerary processions, and prayed for the dead, highlighting the specific economic and political factors involved in these rituals as well as key religious and sexual divisions.

    Offering a unique perspective on the making of Islamic social and religious ideals during this early period, Halevi forges a fascinating link between the development of funerary rites and the efforts of an emerging religion to carve out its own, distinct identity. Muhammad's Grave is a groundbreaking history of the rise of Islam and the roots of contemporary Muslim attitudes toward the body and society.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51193-3
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xv)
  5. Map
    (pp. xvi-xvi)
  6. INTRODUCTION Funerary Traditions and the Making of Islamic Society
    (pp. 1-13)

    Perhaps the story should begin with an oral tradition set in the city of Medina in the year 632, moments before the death of Muḥhammad’s daughter. Sensing the end of her life, after suffering in illness for several months, Fāṭima recognized the time had come to prepare for her own death and burial. So she asked Salmā, a woman in her company, to pour water for a bath. Having purified her body in a ritual ablution, Fāṭima dressed in new clothes and instructed Salmā to place her bed in the middle of the room. Fāṭima then lay down facing in...

  7. CHAPTER ONE Tombstones: Markers of Social and Religious Change, 650–800
    (pp. 14-42)

    Twenty or so years after the death of the prophet Muḥammad in 632, ‘Abd al-Raḥmān ibn Khayr passed away. His name does not appear in the annals of history and, but for an extraordinary record of his death, memory of his existence would have been altogether lost. His tombstone, once hailed as “the oldest known monument in the Islamic world,” entreats the reader to ask for God’s forgiveness:

    In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate, this grave

    belongs to ‘Abd al-Raḥmān ibn Khayr al-Ḥajrī.

    Forgive him, O God, and make him enter [Paradise] by your mercy,

    and let...

  8. CHAPTER TWO Washing the Corpse in Arabia and Mesopotamia
    (pp. 43-83)

    The Qur’ān does not reveal, even in parables, how the last of the Prophets died and what became of his corpse. It provides but an allusion to his death in a verse (Qur’ān 3:144) that fails to predict whether he would die in a natural or a violent way: “Muḥammad is only a messenger. Other messengers have already passed away before him, so if he dies or is slain, will you turn on your heels?” Unlike the Qur’ān, the oldest extant biography, by Ibn Isḥaq (d. 767), depicts in some detail the events surrounding Muḥammad’s death in the summer of...

  9. CHAPTER THREE Shrouds: Worldly Possessions in an Economy of Salvation
    (pp. 84-113)

    A celibate ascetic from a Mesopotamian garrison city not unknown for its sweet temptations, ‘Āmir ibn ‘Abd Qays of Baṣra hurried to find the woman on the verge of death who would become his “wife in the Garden” (imra’atuka fi ‘l-janna). This pious woman was the slave girl of evil desert Arabs (walīda li-a‘rāb sū), who reviled and treated her coarsely, fearing her as a source of corruption. She had been accustomed to break her daily fasts with but one flat loaf of bread earned by her work grazing sheep. The second loaf, also received as wages, she used to...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR Wailing for the Dead in the House of Islam
    (pp. 114-142)

    During the course of a day when one of the earliest converts to Islam, Abū Ṭalḥa, was away from home, his son passed away. His wife, the boy’s mother, prepared the corpse for burial and put it aside in a corner of the house. When the father returned home, he asked, “How is the boy?” She responded with measured ambiguity, “His spirit was tranquil and I expect he has found rest.” Abū Ṭalḥa assumed she was being truthful (ṣādiqa), and so retired for the night. (An uncensored version of the story specifies that Umm Sulaym, the wife, ordered everyone to...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE Urban Processions and Communal Prayers: Opportunities for Social, Economic, and Religious Distinction
    (pp. 143-164)

    Muḥammad died on the bed of his beloved wife ‘Ā’isha and immediately, according to Ibn Isḥāq (d. 767), a controversy emerged. The Muslims who had argued earlier about the right way to wash the Prophet’s corpse now began “disputing with one another over the place of his burial.” Some favored burying Muḥammad in his mosque, perhaps under the pulpit. Others preferred to transport him toward the cemetery of al-Baqī‘, where Muḥammad’s companions had been interred. All of a sudden, Abū Bakr (d. 634), soon to become the first caliph, recalled that the apostle used to say, “All prophets are buried...

  12. CHAPTER SIX The Politics of Burial and Tomb Construction
    (pp. 165-196)

    According to the Qur’ān, Cain inaugurated the human institution of burial after brutally murdering his brother and then wondering, as he succumbed to feebleness of spirit and feelings of repentance, how to hide the naked corpse. To instruct Cain in the art of burial, God dispatched a raven that dug in the earth. “Woe unto me!” exclaimed Cain (Qur’ān 5:31). “Do I lack the strength to be like this raven and so conceal my brother’s disgraceful private parts [saw’a]?” Then Cain “became one of the remorseful.” The ritual thus had its origins in the act of fratricide. It served both...

  13. CHAPTER SEVEN The Torture of Spirit and Corpse in the Grave
    (pp. 197-233)

    In his novel and imaginative treatises about last things, Ibn Abī al-Dunyā (d. 894) described in some detail the experiences of the dead from the moment of death to the resurrection. In edifying exhortations that took the form of oral traditions, he blurred the line between orthodoxy and popular religion. He ascribed one tradition, whose origin he located in the caliphate of ‘Umar I (r. 634–644), to Tamīm al-Dārī, a Christian convert to Islam and a famous storyteller. This ascetic moralist’s tradition brings to the foreground the central themes of this chapter: the condition of spirit and corpse in...

  14. EPILOGUE Death Rites and the Process of Islamic Socialization
    (pp. 234-240)

    Of all the sources of religion,” wrote the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski, “the supreme and final crisis of life—death—is of the greatest importance.” An individual’s death “breaks the normal course of life” and “threatens the very cohesion and solidarity” of the community; the danger arises that the crowd of the bereft will succumb to violent emotions and engage in destructive behavior. “And here,” he said, “into this play of emotional forces . . . religion steps in.” By its mortuary rites and beliefs about the afterlife, it works to counteract “the centrifugal forces of fear, dismay, demoralization” and provides...

  15. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 241-242)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 243-338)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 339-378)
  18. Index
    (pp. 379-400)