‘abdul-muttalib: we have already known that after the death of hashim, the charge of pilgrims’ food and water went to his brother al-muttalib bin ‘abd munaf (who was honest, generous and trustworthy). when ‘abdul-muttalib reached the age of boyhood, his uncle al-muttalib heard of him and went to madinah to fetch him. when he saw him, tears filled his eyes and rolled down his cheeks, he embraced him and took him on his camel. the boy, however abstained from going with him to makkah until he took his mother’s consent. al-muttalib asked her to send the boy with him to makkah, but she refused. he managed to convince her saying: "your son is going to makkah to restore his father’s authority, and to live in the vicinity of the sacred house." there in makkah, people wondered at seeing abdul-muttalib, and they considered him the slave of muttalib. al-muttalib said: "he is my nephew, the son of my brother hashim." the boy was brought up in al-muttalib’s house, but later on al-muttalib died in bardman in yemen so ‘abdul-muttalib took over and managed to maintain his people’s prestige and outdo his grandfathers in his honourable behaviour which gained him makkah’s deep love and high esteem. [ibn hisham 1/137,138]
when al-muttalib died, nawfal usurped ‘abdul-muttalib of his charges, so the latter asked for help from quraish but they abstained from extending any sort of support to either of them. consequently, he wrote to his uncles of bani an-najjar (his mother’s brothers) to come to his aid. his uncle, abu sa‘d bin ‘adi (his mother’s brother) marched to makkah at the head of eighty horsemen and camped in abtah in makkah. ‘abdul-muttalib received the men and invited them to go to his house but abu sa‘d said: "not before i meet nawfal." he found nawfal sitting with some old men of quraish in the shade of al-ka‘bah. abu sa‘d drew his sword and said: "i swear by allâh that if you don’t restore to my nephew what you have taken, i will kill you with this sword." nawfal was thus forced to give up what he had usurped, and the notables of quraish were made to witness to his words. abu sa‘d then went to ‘abdul-muttalib’s house where he stayed for three nights, made ‘umra and left back for madinah. later on, nawfal entered into alliance with bani ‘abd shams bin ‘abd munaf against bani hashim. when khuza‘a, a tribe, saw bani an-najjar’s support to ‘abdul-muttalib they said: "he is our son as he is yours. we have more reasons to support him than you." ‘abd munaf’s mother was one of them. they went into an-nadwa house and entered into alliance with bani hashim against bani ‘abd shams and nawfal. it was an alliance that was later to constitute the main reason for the conquest of makkah. ‘abdul-muttalib witnessed two important events in his lifetime, namely digging zamzam well and the elephant raid. [mukhtasar seerat ar-rasool, p.41,42; ibn hisham 1/142-147]
in brief, ‘abdul-muttalib received an order in his dream to dig zamzam well in a particular place. he did that and found the things that jurhum men had buried therein when they were forced to evacuate makkah. he found the swords, armours and the two deer of gold. the gate of al-ka‘bah was stamped from the gold swords and the two deer and then the tradition of providing zamzam water to pilgrims was established.
when the well of zamzam gushed water forth, quraish made a claim to partnership in the enterprise, but ‘abdul-muttalib refused their demands on grounds that allâh had singled only him out for this honourable job. to settle the dispute, they agreed to consult bani sa‘d’s diviner. on their way, allâh showed them his signs that confirmed ‘abdul-muttalib’s prerogative as regards the sacred spring. only then did ‘abdul-muttalib make a solemn vow to sacrifice one of his adult children to al-ka‘bah if he had ten.
the second event was that of abraha as-sabah al-habashi, the abyssinian (ethiopian) viceroy in yemen. he had seen that the arabs made their pilgrimage to al-ka‘bah so he built a large church in san‘a in order to attract the arab pilgrims to it to the exclusion of makkah. a man from kinana tribe understood this move, therefore he entered the church stealthily at night and besmeared its front wall with excrement. when abraha knew of that, he got very angry and led a great army – of sixty thousand warriors – to demolish al-ka‘bah. he chose the biggest elephant for himself. his army included nine or thirteen elephants. he continued marching until he reached a place called al-magmas. there, he mobilized his army, prepared his elephants and got ready to enter makkah. when he reached muhassar valley, between muzdalifah and mina, the elephant knelt down and refused to go forward. whenever they directed it northwards, southwards or eastwards, the elephant moved quickly but when directed westwards towards al-ka‘bah, it knelt down. meanwhile, allâh loosed upon them birds in flights, hurling against them stones of baked clay and made them like green blades devoured. these birds were very much like swallows and sparrows, each carrying three stones; one in its peak and two in its claws. the stones hit abraha’s men and cut their limbs and killed them. a large number of abraha’s soldiers were killed in this way and the others fled at random and died everywhere. abraha himself had an infection that had his fingertips amputated. when he reached san‘a he was in a miserable state and died soon after.
the quraishites on their part had fled for their lives to the hillocks and mountain tops. when the enemy had been thus routed, they returned home safely. [ibn hisham 1/43-56; tafheemul-qur'an 6/462-469]
the event of the elephant took place in the month of al-muharram, fifty or fifty five days before the birth of prophet muhammad [pbuh] which corresponded to late february or early march 571 a.d. it was a gift from allâh to his prophet and his family. it could actually be regarded as a divine auspicious precursor of the light to come and accompany the advent of the prophet and his family. by contrast, jerusalem had suffered under the yoke of the atrocities of allâh’s enemies. here we can recall bukhtanassar in b.c. 587 and the romans in 70 a.d. al-ka‘bah, by divine grace, never came under the hold of the christians – the muslims of that time – although makkah was populated by polytheists.
news of the elephant event reached the most distant corners of the then civilized world. abyssinia (ethiopia) maintained strong ties with the romans, while the persians on the other hand, were on the vigil with respect to any strategic changes that were looming on the socio-political horizon, and soon came to occupy yemen. incidentally, the roman and persian empires stood for the powerful civilized world at that time. the elephant raid event riveted the world’s attention to the sacredness of allâh’s house, and showed that this house had been chosen by allâh for its holiness. it followed then if any of its people claimed prophethood, it would be congruous with the outcome of the elephant event, and would provide a justifiable explanation for the ulterior divine wisdom that lay behind backing polytheists against christians in a manner that transcended the cause-and-effect formula.
‘abdul-muttalib had ten sons, al-harith, az-zubair, abu talib, ‘abdullah, hamzah, abu lahab, ghidaq, maqwam, safar and al-‘abbas. he also had six daughters, who were umm al-hakim – the only white one, barrah, ‘atikah, safiya, arwa and omaima. [rahmat-ul-lil'alameen 2/56,66; talqeeh fuhoom ahl al-athar, p8,9]
‘abdullah: the father of prophet muhammad [pbuh]. his mother was fatimah, daughter of ‘amr bin ‘a’idh bin ‘imran bin makhzum bin yaqdha bin murra. ‘abdullah was the smartest of ‘abdul-muttalib’s sons, the chastest and the most loved. he was also the son whom the divination arrows pointed at to be slaughtered as a sacrifice to al-ka‘bah. when ‘abdul-muttalib had ten sons and they reached maturity, he divulged to them his secret vow in which they silently and obediently acquiesced. their names were written on divination arrows and given to the guardian of their most beloved goddess, hubal. the arrows were shuffled and drawn. an arrow showed that it was ‘abdullah to be sacrificed. ‘abdul-muttalib then took the boy to al-ka‘bah with a razor to slaughter the boy. quraish, his uncles from makhzum tribe and his brother abu talib, however, tried to dissuade him from consummating his purpose. he then sought their advice as regards his vow. they suggested that he summon a she-diviner to judge whereabout. she ordered that the divination arrows should be drawn with respect to ‘abdullah as well as ten camels. she added that drawing the lots should be repeated with ten more camels every time the arrow showed ‘abdullah. the operation was thus repeated until the number of the camels amounted to one hundred. at this point the arrow showed the camels, consequently they were all slaughtered (to the satisfaction of hubal) instead of his son. the slaughtered camels were left for anyone to eat from, human or animal.
this incident produced a change in the amount of blood-money usually accepted in arabia. it had been ten camels, but after this event it was increased to a hundred. islam, later on, approved of this. another thing closely relevant to the above issue goes to the effect that the prophet [pbuh] once said:
"i am the offspring of the slaughtered two," meaning ishmael and ‘abdullah. [ibn hisham 1/151-155; rahmat-ul-lil'alameen 2/89,90]
‘abdul-muttalib chose amina, daughter of wahab bin ‘abd munaf bin zahra bin kilab, as a wife for his son, ‘abdullah. she thus, in the light of this ancestral lineage, stood eminent in respect of nobility of position and descent. her father was the chief of bani zahra to whom great honour was attributed. they were married in makkah, and soon after ‘abdullah was sent by his father to buy dates in madinah where he died. in another version, ‘abdullah went to syria on a trade journey and died in madinah on his way back. he was buried in the house of an-nabigha al-ju‘di. he was twenty-five years old when he died. most historians state that his death was two months before the birth of muhammad [pbuh] . some others said that his death was two months after the prophet’s birth. when amina was informed of her husband’s death, she celebrated his memory in a most heart-touching elegy. [ibn hisham 1/156-158; fiqh as-seerah p.45]
‘abdullah left very little wealth —five camels, a small number of goats, a she-servant, called barakah – umm aiman – who would later serve as the prophet’s nursemaid. [muslim 2/96; talqeeh fahoom ahl-athar p.4; mukhtasar seerat ar-rasool p. 12]