A short time after returning from the "Farewell Pilgrimage", the Holy Prophet fell sick. The poison which a Jewess had given to him at Khyber had slowly penetrated into his system, and began to show its effects. The Holy Prophet felt that having fulfilled his mission his earthly life was to end and he was to meet his Master.
One night the Holy Prophet went to the graveyard and there prayed for the souls of his companions who had fallen at the battle of Uhud. Then he returned to the apartment of his wife Maimuna. The fever became violent. The Holy Prophet assembled all his wives and told them that on account of his sickness it would not be possible for him to visit each wife in turn. He wanted their permission to stay in the apartment of Ayesha till he recovered. All the wives gave their consent, and the Holy Prophet supported by Ali and Abbas moved to the apartment of Ayesha.
A day later there was some relief and the Holy Prophet took a bath. Refreshed by the bath the Holy Prophet went to the Mosque to offer the noonday prayer. After the prayer had concluded, the Holy Prophet took his seat on the pulpit and addressed the people:
"There is a servant whose Lord has given him option between this life and the next nigh unto the Lord and the servant has chosen the latter. O People it has reached me that you are afraid of the approaching death of your Prophet. Has any previous Prophet lived for ever among those to whom he was sent so that I would live for ever among you? Behold, I am about to go to my Lord. You too will go sooner or later."
After the address the Holy Prophet retired to the quarter of Ayesha. His condition did not improve The night following the seventh June 632 A D. lay heavy upon him. He was overheard praying constantly to Allah for his blessings The morning of the eighth June brought some relief. Fever and pain abated to some extent. Moving the curtain of his apartment the Holy Prophet saw the Muslims praying in the Mosque. The Holy Prophet supported by Ali walked to the Mosque. After the conclusion of the prayer, the Holy Prophet took his seat on the pulpit and addressed his followers thus:
"By the Lord! As for myself, I have not made lawful anything excepting that which God has declared lawful; nor have I prohibited aught but that which God has forbidden."
Thereafter the Holy Prophet returned to the apartment of Ayesha. The condition of the Holy Prophet grew worse, and within a few hours he passed away.
The faithful had assembled in the Mosque. They sat in groups here and there. There was an air of uneasiness in the atmosphere. There was a whispering that the Holy Prophet was dead, There were suppressed sobs and sighs, Many persons were weeping, What would happen to the Muslims when the Great Prophet was to be no longer in their midst was the thought that disturbed everyone.
All eyes were turned to the quarter of Ayesha. The faithful had the fond hope that the door of the chamber would open any moment and the Holy Prophet would emerge with his face radiating divine light.
In the courtyard of the Mosque. Umar moved among the people saying:
"Who says that the Prophet is dead. I testify that he is alive and has gone to Allah like Moses, and would return to us after some time."
The door of the chamber of Ayesha opened and a thin frail old man walking stoopingly moved towards the courtyard of the Mosque. He had the look of a patriarch. He was Abu Bakr. As he stood among the people, his furrowed face and tear stained eyes betrayed the grief within him. In measured words he said:
"Listen to me, ye people. Those of you who worshipped Muhammad know that he is dead like any other mortal. But those of you who worship the God of Muhammad know that He is alive and would live for ever."
A hushed silence fell on the gathering. They were stunned with the shock. Abu Bakr wiped the tears from his eyes and turning to the people recited the following verses from the Holy Quran:
"Muhammad is but a Messenger, Messengers of God have passed away before him. What, if he dies or is killed? Will you turn back upon your heels? And whosoever turns back upon his heels Will by no means do harm to Allah, And Allah will reward the thankful." Abu Bakr added:
"Muhammad the Great Prophet was a mortal; From Allah he came, and to Allah he has returned."
The effect of Abu Bakr's address was electrical in character. It appeared as though the people did not know that this verse of the Holy Quran had come down until Abu Bakr had recited it that day. Umar said:
"By God when I heard Abu Bakr recite these words I was dumb founded so that my legs would not bear me, and I fell to the ground knowing that the Holy Prophet was indeed dead."
When the dead body of the Holy Prophet of Islam was being prepared for burial, the Ansar assembled at their meeting place 'Saqifa-i-Bani Sa'dah' to discuss the question of succession to the Holy Prophet. The Holy Prophet was the last of the prophets, and there could be no prophet after him. He was also the Leader of the Muslims, and it was necessary that after him there should be some one who should be the head of the community.
At the meeting at Saqifa-i-Bani Sa'dah, Sa'd bin Ubadah made a passionate plea that the successor to the Holy Prophet for managing the temporal affairs of the community should be chosen from among the Ansars. He argued that they were the people who had protected Islam, and had offered a home for the Holy Prophet and his companions when they were persecuted by their own people. It was through their efforts that Islam had spread and grown. When Sa'd completed his speech he was applauded by the audience and it appeared as if the Ansars were going to choose him as their Leader in succession to the Holy Prophet.
While the meeting was being held at Saqifa-i-Bani Sa'dah some one reported to the Muhajreen assembled at Masjid-Nabvi that the Ansars had assembled to choose a successor to the Holy Prophet. it was a critical situation. The burial of the Holy Prophet was a matter that needed priority, but the question of choosing a successor to the Holy Prophet was a question of life and death for the Muslim community and if any wrong decision was taken at that stage, the future of Islam was likely to be jeopardized. Umar accordingly prevailed upon Abu Bakr to proceed to Saqifa-i-Bani Sadah to negotiate the matter with the Ansars before it was too late.
When Abu Bakr, Umar, and Abu Ubaidah reached the Saqifa-i-Bani Sa'dah, the Ansars were on the verge of electing Sa'd bin Ubadah as the successor to the Holy Prophet. Abu Bakr took the stage and explained that the Quraish were the custodians of the House of God at Mecca, and as such it was necessary that the successor to the Holy Prophet should be chosen from among the Quraish. Addressing his appeal to the Ansar he said:
"O Ansar, none can deny the superiority of your position, or the greatness of your eminence in Islam. You were chosen by Allah as the helpers of His religion and His Apostle. To you the Prophet was sent on his emigration from Mecca and from among you come the majority of his companions and his wives. Indeed, in position you are next only to the earliest companions. Therefore it would be fair if we take the Amirate and you accept the Wazirate. You should not be obstinate in your stand. We assure you that we will do nothing without consulting you."
This did not satisfy the Ansars. Habab bin Mandhar rose to say that the Amirate was the right of the Ansars and they could not forego that right. He added that the utmost concession that they could make in favor of the Muhajreen was that they could have two Amirs, one from the Ansars and the other from the Muhajreen.
Umar said that this would create a division between the Ansars and the Muhajreen and that would be against the interests of Islam. Islam stood for unity-one God, one Prophet and one Quran. It followed as a necessary corollary that the Muslim community should remain united and should have one Amir. If the proposal of having two Amirs from the Ansars and Muhajreen was accepted, other tribes would later lay claim to the election of their Amir as well. Such multiple Amirates would lead to the disintegration of Islamic polity. Umar emphasized that in the interests of the solidarity of Islam they should not have more than one Amir and that such Amir should be chosen from among the Quraish, the tribe of the Holy Prophet.
There was some further exchange of hot words between Habab and Umar. Abu Bakr took the stage again and said:
"God is my witness that we are not pressing the claim of the Quraish because of any selfish interest. The proposal is prompted in the interest of the solidarity of Islam. To give you a proof positive of our sincerity I declare before you that I do not covet the office. Here are Umar and Abu Ubaidah. You may choose any one of these."
This appeared to have some effect on the Ansars. Zaid bin Thabit an eminent Ansar said:
"In fact the Holy Prophet was from the emigrants Hence it is necessary that the Imam is also selected from among them. God chose us as Helpers, and we should continue to help the successor of the Holy Prophet in the same way as we helped the Holy Prophet himself."
Supporting him, Bashir bin Sad another Ansar leader said: "O Ansar! if we have secured a position of superiority in the holy wars against the polytheists and gained precedence in matters of religion, it was with the object of pleasing our Allah and obeying our Prophet. It is not proper to make this as a ground for self aggrandizement. We should leave our reward to Allah. We must realize that the Holy Prophet came from the Quraish, and that the Quraish have strongest claims for his successorship. We should not quarrel with the Quraish on this issue."
That turned the tables and the Ansars now appeared to be inclined to choose the Leader from among the Quraish. There upon Abu Bakr repeated his proposal that they might choose any one out of Umar and Abu Ubaidah.
Umar rose to say:
"O Abu Bakr, how can I or Abu Ubaidah be preferred to you.
You were the second of the two in the Cave. You were appointed as Amir-ul-Hajj. During his illness the Holy Prophet appointed you as the Imam to lead the prayers. Of all the Companions you were the dearest to the Holy Prophet, and so you are dearest to us. Stretch your hand so that we may offer our allegiance to you."
Umar made Abu Bakr stand, and he was the first to touch the hand of Abu Bakr reverently ID token of allegiance. Abu Ubaidah was the next to offer allegiance. Thereafter the Ansars except Said bin Ubadah advanced turn by turn to offer allegiance to Abu Bakr.
On the day following the burial of the Holy Prophet, all the Muslims assembled in the Prophet's Mosque.
Umar addressed the people as follows:
"O ye men of faith! Yesterday I had said to you Who says that the Holy Prophet is dead'. I am afraid what I said was not correct. In the Holy Book of God there is nothing to indicate that the Holy Prophet was to live forever. The Holy Prophet himself never gave an indication to the effect that he was to live for ever. I was of the impression that the Holy Prophet was to live in our midst and guide us. But this impression was not correct. The Holy Quran itself provides that the Holy Prophet was a mortal liable to death. The Holy Prophet had come from God, and to God he has returned. He has returned after fulfilling the mission entrusted to him. God has perfected our religion. God has given us a Book through which He guided His Messenger, and through which He will continue to guide the faithful. Our task is to hold steadfast to the Book of God, and to follow His injunctions. We miss the Holy Prophet. But the Holy Prophet was a messenger. He has delivered the message, and after fulfilling his role returned to his Master. The message remains with us in the form of the Holy Book. Those who worship Allah let them know that Allah lives and is not subject to death. The Holy Prophet was a mortal and has gone to His Master. We must follow in the footsteps of the Holy Prophet, and get used to life without his physical presence. In his absence our people must have a leader who would guide us. For this task who can be more competent than Abu Bakr, the life long friend of the Holy Prophet, whom God has referred to as 'Second of the Two'. O ye faithful, rise and offer allegiance at the hand of Abu Bakr."
Having made this address, Umar requested Abu Bakr to take his seat on the pulpit. Abu Bakr took his seat on the pulpit, a step below that which was used by the Holy Prophet. Thereafter all the Muslims present swore their allegiance.
Thereafter Abu Bakr after praising Allah and the Holy Prophet addressed the people:
"O people ! I swear by Allah that I never coveted the Amirate either by day or by night, nor had I any inclination towards it. I never prayed to God openly or in secrecy to confer the Amirate on me. But I certainly feared that some mischief might arise at this critical juncture in the history of the Muslims. In fact a big task has been assigned to me which is beyond my power to fulfill except with the help of the Almighty Allah. I wished to see the Strongest of men in my place today. Now, it is beyond doubt that I have been elected your Amir, although I am no better than you. Help me if I am in the right; set me right if I am in the wrong. Truth is a trust; falsehood is a treason. The weak among you shall be strong with me till God willing his rights have been vindicated, and the strong among you shall be weak with me till, if the Lord will, I have taken what is due from him. Obey me as long as I obey Allah and His Prophet. When I disobey Him and His Prophet, then obey me not."
Umar played an important role in the election of Abu Bakr as the first Caliph of Islam. During the caliphate of Abu Bakr, Umar remained as the principal Adviser of the Caliph.