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Muhammad is no more than a messenger: many Were the messenger that passed away before him. If he died or were slain, will ye then Turn back on your heels? If any did turn back on his heels, not the least harm will he do to Allah; but Allah (on the other hand) will swiftly reward those who (serve Him) with gratitude.

The Rumor that the Prophet was Killed at Uhud


When Muslims suffered defeat in battle at Uhud and some of
them were killed, Shaytan shouted,

“Muhammad has been killed.”


Ibn Qami’ah went back to the idolators and claimed, “I have
killed Muhammad.”


Some Muslims believed this rumor and thought that the
Messenger of Allah had been killed, claiming that this could
happen, for Allah narrated that this occurred to many Prophets
before. Therefore, the Muslims’ resolve was weakened and they
did not actively participate in battle.


This is why Allah sent down to His Messenger His statement,

Muhammad is no more than a Messenger, and indeed
Messengers have passed away before him. He is to deliver Allah’s Message and may be killed
in the process, just as what happened to many
Prophets before.


Ibn Abi Najih said that his father said that;
a man from the Muhajirin passed by an Ansari
man who was bleeding (during Uhud) and said to
him, “O fellow! Did you know that Muhammad
was killed?”


The Ansari man said, “Even if Muhammad was
killed, he has indeed conveyed the Message.
Therefore, defend your religion.”


The Ayah,
(Muhammad is no more than a Messenger, and
indeed (many) Messengers have passed away
before him), was revealed.


This story was collected by Al-Hafiz Abu Bakr Al Bayhaqi in Dala’il An-Nubuwwah.

Allah said next, while chastising those who became
weak,

If he dies or is killed, will you then turn back on your
heels, become disbelievers.

And he who turns back on his heels, not the least harm
will he do to Allah; and Allah will give reward to those
who are grateful.

Those who obeyed Allah, defended His religion
and followed His Messenger whether he was alive
or dead.


The Sahih, Musnad and Sunan collections gathered
various chains of narration stating that Abu Bakr recited
this Ayah when the Messenger of Allah died.


Al-Bukhari recorded that Aishah said that;


Abu Bakr came riding his horse from his dwelling
in As-Sunh. He dismounted, entered the Masjid
and did not speak to anyone until he came to her
(in her room) and went directly to the Prophet,
who was covered with a marked blanket. Abu
Bakr uncovered his face, knelt down and kissed
him, then started weeping and proclaimed,


“My father and my mother be sacrificed for you!
Allah will not combine two deaths on you. You
have died the death, which was written for you.”
Ibn Abbas narrated that;


Abu Bakr then came out, while Umar was
addressing the people, and Abu Bakr told him to
sit down but Umar refused, and the people
attended to Abu Bakr and left Umar.

Abu Bakr said, “To proceed; whoever among you
worshipped Muhammad, then Muhammad is
dead, but whoever worshipped Allah, Allah is alive
and will never die. Allah said,

Muhammad is no more than a Messenger and
indeed (many) Messengers have passed away
before him. If he dies or is killed, will you then
turn back on your heels And he who turns back
on his heels, not the least harm will he do to
Allah; and Allah will reward the grateful.”


The narrator added,
“By Allah, it was as if the people never knew that
Allah had revealed this verse before until Abu
Bakr recited it, and then whoever heard it,
started reciting it.”


Sa`id bin Al-Musayyib said that Umar said,
“By Allah! When I heard Abu Bakr recite this
Ayah, my feet could not hold me, and I fell to the
ground.”

Allah said,
And no person can ever die except by Allah’s leave and
at an appointed term.
meaning, no one dies except by Allah’s decision,
after he has finished the term that Allah has
destined for him. This is why Allah said,
(at an appointed term) which is similar to His
statements,

And no aged man is granted a length of life nor is
a part cut off from his life, but it is in a Book.
(35:11)

He it is Who has created you from clay, and then
has decreed a (stated) term (for you to die). And
there is with Him another determined term (for
you to be resurrected). (6:2)


This Ayah (3:145) encourages cowards to participate in
battle; for doing so, or avoiding battle neither decreases,
nor increases the life term.


Ibn Abi Hatim narrated that,
Habib bin Suhban said that a Muslim man, Hujr
bin Adi, said in a battle, “What prevents you from
crossing this river (the Euphrates) to the enemy

And no person can ever die except by Allah’s leave and at
an appointed term).”
He then crossed the river riding his horse, and
when he did, the Muslims followed him. When the
enemy saw them, they started shouting, “Diwan
(Persian; crazy),” and they ran away.

References:

Kathir, Ibn. Tafsir Ibn Kathir. (surah 3 verse 144). https://archive.org/details/TafseerIbnKathirenglish114SurahsComplete

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