How Old Was Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) When He Died?
There are some who have argued that there is a contradiction in our hadeeth literature regarding at what age the Prophet (peace be upon him) died. Some say he died at the age of sixty, some say sixty three, while others say sixty five.
Let's take a look at the narrations:
Narrations That State That The Prophet (peace be upon him) Died At Age Sixty
Volume 4, Book 56, Number 747:
Narrated Rabia bin Abi Abdur-Rahman:
I heard Anas bin Malik describing the Prophet saying, "He was of medium height amongst the people, neither tall nor short; he had a rosy color, neither absolutely white nor deep brown; his hair was neither completely curly nor quite lank. Divine Inspiration was revealed to him when he was forty years old. He stayed ten years in Mecca receiving the Divine Inspiration, and stayed in Medina for ten more years. When he expired, he had scarcely twenty white hairs in his head and beard." Rabi'a said, "I saw some of his hairs and it was red. When I asked about that, I was told that it turned red because of scent."
Volume 4, Book 56, Number 748:
Allah's Apostle was neither very tall nor short, neither absolutely white nor deep brown. His hair was neither curly nor lank. Allah sent him (as an Apostle) when he was forty years old. Afterwards he resided in Mecca for ten years and in Medina for ten more years. When Allah took him unto Him, there was scarcely twenty white hairs in his head and beard.
Volume 7, Book 72, Number 787:
Narrated Anas bin Malik:
The Prophet was neither conspicuously tall, nor short; neither, very white, nor tawny. His hair was neither much curled, nor very straight. Allah sent him (as an Apostle) at the age of forty (and after that) he stayed for ten years in Mecca, and for ten more years in Medina. Allah took him unto Him at the age of sixty, and he scarcely had ten white hairs on his head and in his beard.
Narrations That State That The Prophet (peace be upon him) Died At Age Sixty Three
Volume 5, Book 58, Number 190:
Narrated Ibn 'Abbas:
Allah's Apostle was inspired Divinely at the age of forty. Then he stayed in Mecca for thirteen years, and then was ordered to migrate, and he migrated to Medina and stayed there for ten years and then died.
Volume 5, Book 58, Number 242:
Narrated Ibn Abbas:
Allah's Apostle started receiving the Divine Inspiration at the age of forty. Then he stayed in Mecca for thirteen years, receiving the Divine Revelation. Then he was ordered to migrate and he lived as an Emigrant for ten years and then died at the age of sixty-three (years).
Volume 5, Book 58, Number 243:
Narrated Ibn Abbas:
Allah's Apostle stayed in Mecca for thirteen years (after receiving the first Divine Inspiration) and died at the age of sixty-three.
Narrations That State That The Prophet (peace be upon him) Died At Age Sixty Five
Book 030, Number 5805:
'Ammar, the freed slave of Banu Hashim, reported: I asked Ibn 'Abbas how old was he when death overtook the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him). He said: I little know that such a thing is not known to a man like you who belong to his people. He said: I asked people about it but they differed with me, and I liked to know your opinion about it. He said: Do you know counting? He said: Yes. He then said: Bear this in mind very well that he was commissioned (as a Prophet) at the age of forty, and he stayed in Mecca for fifteen years; sometime in peace and sometime in dread, and (lived) for ten years after his migration to Medina.
Book 030, Number 5807:
Ammar, the freed slave of Banu Hashim, reported that Ibn 'Abbas said that Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) died when he had attained the age of sixty-five.
What is the correct answer?
I would have to say sixty three.
How Do You Know? How Do you Reconcile These Apparent Contradictions?
There are no contradictions; we just need to understand the habits and practices of Arabs. It was common practice for Arabs back in the days to round off numbers. They would round off an eight to a ten or possibly even to a five. They could round ninety eight either to hundred or ninety.
For example, Allah in the Qur'an says:
And complete the pilgrimage and the Umrah for the sake of ALLAH; but if you are kept back, then make whatever offering is easily available; and do not shave your heads until the offering reaches its destination. And whoever among you is sick or has an ailment of the head, should make and expiation either by fasting or alms giving, or a sacrifice. But when you are safe, then he who would avail himself of the Umrah together with the Pilgrimage, should make whatever offering is easily obtainable. But such of you as cannot find an offering should fast three days during the Pilgrimage, and seven when you return home; these are ten complete. This is for him whose family does not reside near the Sacred Mosque. And fear ALLAH and know that ALLAH is severe in punishing.
Notice that Allah said that they must fast three days and then seven and then He had to clarify that the ten were complete. Shaykh Ibn Taymiyyah clarifies that this is because the Arabs could have easily understood it to mean nine and a half (see Majmu' Al Fataawa, Volume 34, page 64, online source, Also, see Al Qurtubi.) I have also shown a similar example in a previous refutation to Sam Shamoun here (look at example no. 5)
In light of this, it is easy to imagine someone rounding sixty three to either sixty or sixty five.
Now one may ask how we should reconcile the hadeeths, which state that the Prophet (peace be upon him) received revelation in Mecca for either ten, thirteen or fifteen years.
I believe that it could be reconciled the same way, which is that this is a method of estimation. Ibn Hajar argues that it's possible that those who mentioned ten years only intended to exclude the temporary pause of revelation (which they might have estimated to be three years long) to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and were only counting the years of revelation being actively sent (see Ibn Hajar Al Asqalani, Fathul Bari, Kitab: Fadaa'il Al Qur'an, Bab: Kayfa Nazal Al Wahy wa 'Awwal ma Nuzzil, Commentary on Hadith no. 4596, Source). As for the narration, which states that Ibn Abbass said fifteen, well the Prophet (peace be upon him) did technically receive revelation for thirteen years and three months in Mecca, hence it's not surprising to see him at times rounding it off to fifteen years, while at other times being more specific.
It's also worthy to note that the narrator Ammar, the freed slave of Banu Hashim has been criticized by scholars such as Ibn Hibban and Bukhari for making mistakes, despite being trustworthy. So it's possible that Ammar is making a mistake here (yes narrations in the two Saheehs could be weak at times, although rarely).
I Am Still Not Convinced, Shouldn't I Be Worried About The Trustworthiness of Hadeeths?
I don't understand how one could lose confidence in the preservation of hadeeths and accuracy of hadeeth methodology over something like this. Just because the hadeeths report different people saying contradictory things, that in no way shows that the hadeeths contradict each other. Rather, the only thing that this shows is that there were people who contradicted each other. The hadeeth reliably reports the contradictory opinions of people of the past. This in no way should make us lose hope in the hadeeth system, especially when it comes to matters of no importance like the age of the Prophet (peace be upon him) when he past away.
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