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Hadith of the pen and paper

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Part of a series of articles on

Muhammad callig
Prophet of Islam

Family tree · In Mecca · In Medina · Conquest of Mecca · The Farewell Sermon · Succession

Diplomacy · Family · Wives · Military leadership

Farewell Pilgrimage · Ghadir Khumm · Pen and paper · Saqifah · General bay'ah

Interactions with
Slaves · Jews · Christians

Muslim (Poetic and Mawlid) · Medieval Christian · Historicity · Criticism · Depictions

A series of articles on

Muhammad callig
Prophet of Islam

Family tree · In Mecca · In Medina · Conquest of Mecca · The Farewell Sermon · Succession

Diplomacy · Family · Wives · Military leadership

Farewell Pilgrimage · Ghadir Khumm · Pen and paper · Saqifah · General bay'ah

Interactions with
Slaves · Jews · Christians

Muslim (Poetic and Mawlid) · Medieval Christian · Historicity · Criticism · Depictions

رزية يوم الخميس
The Calamity of Thursday
This is a sub-article to the Succession to Muhammad.

The Hadith of the pen and paper is a famous Hadith in Islam about an event when the Islamic prophet Muhammad was prevented from writing out his will. The hadith is referenced in both Shi'a and Sunni traditions.

Shi'as also refer to it as "The Calamity of Thursday" (Arabic Raziyat Yawm al-Khamis)


Muhammad became ill in the year 632 and his health took a serious turn on a Thursday. It is reported that Muhammad asked for writing materials to write a statement that would prevent the Muslim nation from going astray forever. The first person to reply was Umar, answering that there was no need for the statement, arguing that Muhammad was ill and that the Muslims had the Qur'an which was sufficient for them.[1]

Ibn Abbas:

"The Messenger of God said bring me a tablet (lawh) and an inkpot (dawat), so that I can write for you a document, after which you will not go astray ... Some people said that The Messenger of God was talking deliriously". [2]

But, even though Muhammad was unable to write his will because of the commotion, he did get three statements out:

"Then the Prophet ordered them to do three things saying, 'Turn out all the pagans from the Arabian Peninsula, show respect to all foreign delegates by giving them gifts as I used to do.' " The sub-narrator added, "The third order was something beneficial which either Ibn 'Abbas did not mention or he mentioned but I (the narrator) forgot.

When Umar claimed that there was no need for Muhammad's statement since the Muslims had the Qur'an, Ibn Abbas allegedly rushed out crying. There he met Ubaidullah ibn Abdullah. According to him, Ibn Abbas used to say,

'"No doubt, it was a great disaster that Allah's Apostle was prevented from writing for them that writing because of their differences and noise." [3]

Ibn Abbas though is said to not have witnessed this event in person. [4]


The first level narrator of this narrative is ibn Abbas, and at that time he was ten to fifteen years old [5].

Sunni view

Sunni Muslims refer to this episode as the "Event of Thursday". It is generally seen as a minor event and a test by Muhammad of his "Companions". The Companions are considered to have chosen to do the right thing and passed the test, having remained free from criticism by Muhammad for the rest of the days he remained with them. This period (from Thursday to Monday) during which Muhammad remained with the Companions after this incident was also not utilized to make a will - which, Sunnis argue, confirms that it was not an important document to be written but rather a simple test to know whether the Ummah is aware of the message of the Qur'an. The following passage is cited as evidence: "This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion." (5:3).

Some other arguments the Sunni’s use to support their view include:[6]

  • If Muhammad had been ordered by God to write down something, then no one could have prevented him from this- not even Umar. This goes by the Muslim reasoning that God’s message cannot be silenced or withheld by the antagonism of anyone. However, the fact that Muhammad did not end up writing something down (neither then nor during the future days) only proves that the thing which was supposed to be written was already known to the Sahaba and Muhammad was aware of this, so he did not take the matter any further.
  • The accusation that Umar prevented Muhammad from writing down what he willed due to Umar’s fear that it would contain orders of obedience to Ali, is nothing more than an unproven assumption and conjecture driven by ones predetermined feelings towards Umar.
  • The obvious, visible and immediate interpretation of Umar’s behavior is that he acted solely out of concern for the health and condition of Muhammad (as he saw most fit) due to his love and concern for Muhammad, by not having Muhammad burden himself during his present predicament of ill health. Likewise, other Sahaba who were present followed the same opinion as Umar.
  • The Sahaba differed even among themselves in their reaction to the request of Muhammad for a pen and paper i.e. they were not united in their opposition to Muhammad writing something down during his illness. Some Sahaba opposed Muhammad’s request, while others agreed with it. Therefore, there was no conspiracy (on behalf of the Sahaba) to “deny” Ali his “right” to succeed Muhammad. Instead, the Sahaba were acting upon their own sincere assessments of the situation of Muhammad.

Shi'a view

This event is the source of much controversy between Shi'as and Sunnis. Shi'as believe that Umar prevented Muhammad from confirming in writing that Ali was the chosen successor. They further speculate that Muhammad refrained from a public written will, seeing the extent of contempt Umar allegedly showed while he was still alive; future rulers might discredit the written will by repeating Umar's words, causing enormous damage to people's ability to take Muhammad seriously on other matters.

Husain Mohammad Jafri, a 20th century Shi'a Islamic scholar writes:

No one can be sure of what it was the Holy Prophet wanted to write. But the phrase he used gives us an idea. On several occasions the Holy Prophet had declared:

O People! Verily, I am leaving behind among you Two Precious Things, the Book of Allah and My Descendants who are my family members. So long as you keep hold of them sincerely, you will never go astray after me.

When he used the same phrase five days before his death (".. Let me write something for you by way of a will so that you are not misled after me" ), it was easy enough to understand that the Holy Prophet was going to write what he had been telling them all along about the Qur'an and his Ahlu 'l-bayt (as).

Ahl al-Bayt (Arabic:أهل البيت) is a phrase meaning People of the House, In the Kitaab ALLAH it refers to the household of ALLAH or family. If it is Ahl-e-Bayt In the Islamic tradition it refers to the household of Muhammad, and not the household of Ali ibne Abi Talib.

Perhaps 'Umar guessed as much; as is apparent from his claim: "The Book of Allah is sufficient for us." He wanted to make it known to the Prophet that he would not follow 'the Two Precious Things '. One was enough for him.

And he himself admitted it in a talk with 'Abdullah ibn 'Abbas, in which he, inter alia said: "And surely he (Muhammad) intended during his illness to declare his ('Ali's) name, so I prevented it. [7]"

Perhaps the word "delirium" would have served his purpose even if Muhammad had written the directive. 'Umar and his partisans would have claimed that as it was written "in delirium" it had no validity [8].

Husain Mohammad Jafri also makes remarks that Umar did not raise objection in the Hadith of the succession of Abu Bakr.

Ali Asgher Razwy, a 20th century Shi'a Islamic scholar writes:

In the summer of A.D. 632, Muhammad, lay on his deathbed in his house in Medina. His last wish was to comply with the commandment in the Book of God to write his will and testament. But Umar did not countenance this idea. In his opinion, writing a will was not the right thing for the Prophet of Islam to do. At Hudaybiyya, he had opposed the Prophet but had failed in his opposition; this time, however, he had no intention of failing. He opposed the dying Prophet, and he scored a brilliant success in his opposition. The will the Prophet wished to write, was never written.

If Umar was right in his attempts to inhibit the freedom of action of Muhammad, the Messenger of God, then it means that the latter was "wrong." And if he (Muhammad) was "wrong," then it means that Al-Qur’an al-Majid was also "wrong" because it claimed that:

Nor does he (Muhammad) say (anything) of (his own) desire. It is no less than inspiration sent down to him. (Chapter 53; verses 3 and 4)

If Umar was right, then Muhammad and Qur’an were "wrong." This is the only conclusion to which such a line of argument can lead. It is now for the Muslims to decide if this is the "logic" which appeals to them, and therefore, is acceptable to them [9].


  1. Sahih Bukhari, 70.573
  2. Tarikh al-Tabari, Volume 9 translated by Ismail. K. Poonawala p 175
  3. Sahih Bukhari 59.717
  4. (see note from Sahih Bukhari 1:3:114)
  5. Regarding Omar's Refusal to Give the Prophet a Pen to Write his Will!!!
  6. Sheikh Dimashqiah on Umar's role in the "Hadith of the pen and paper"
  7. Ibn Abi 'l-Hadid: Sharh, vol. 12, p. 21, (quoting from Tari'kh Baghdad of al-Khatib al-Baghdad;).
  8. The Origins and Early Development of Shi`a Islam p.58-079
  9. A Restatement of the History of Islam and Muslims on [1]



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