the redigging of zamzam
the makkans still had memories of the zamzam well which was filled with dirt by mudad ibn `amr of the jurhum tribe a few hundred years back and wished that it could be reactivated. this matter concerned `abd al muttalib more than anyone else, and he gave it all his attention. suffering under his duties, he thought so much about the matter that he even saw in his dreams a spirit calling him to re-dig the well whose waters sprang under the feet of his ancestor, isma'il. but no one knew where the old well stood. finally, after much investigation, `abd al muttalib was inspired to try the place between the two idols, isaf and na'ilah. helped by his second son al mughirah, he dug at the place until water sprang forth and the two golden gazelles and swords of mudad of the jurhum tribe appeared. the quraysh wanted to share his find with `abd al muttalib. after objecting, he finally came to an agreement with them to determine the rightful ownership of the treasure by the drawing of lots among three equal partners, namely the ka'bah, the quraysh, and himself. the divinatory arrows were drawn near the idol hubal within the ka'bah, and the result was that the quraysh lost completely, `abd al muttalib won the swords, and the ka'bah won the two gazelles. `abd al muttalib ordered his part, namely the swords, reforged as a door for the ka'bah, and placed the two golden gazelles within the holy house as a decoration. now that the zamzam water was close by, `abd al muttalib performed his siqayah duties with ease.
the vow and its fulfillment
`abd al muttalib realized the limitations, which his lack of children imposed upon him. he vowed that should he be given ten sons to grow to maturity and to help him in his task he would sacrifice one of them to god near the ka'bah. `abd al muttalib's wish was to be fulfilled: he had ten fully-grown sons. when he called them to assist him in the fulfillment of his vow, they accepted. it was agreed that the name of each one of them would be written on a divinatory arrow, that the arrows would be drawn near hubal within the ka'bah and that he whose name appeared on the drawn arrow would be sacrificed. it was then customary among the arabs whenever they faced an insoluble problem to resort to divination by means of arrows at the foot of the greatest idol in the area. when the arrows were drawn it was the arrow of 'abdullah, the youngest son of 'abd al muttalib and the most beloved, that came out. without hesitation 'abd al muttalib took the young man by the hand and prepared to sacrifice him by the well of zamzam between the idols of isaf and na'ilah. 'abd al muttalib insisted upon the sacrifice, but the whole of quraysh insisted that 'abdullah be spared and that some kind of indulgence be sought from the god hubal. finally, in answer to 'abd al muttalib's inquiry as to what should be done to please the gods, al mughirah ibn 'abdullah al makhzumi volunteered the answer, "perhaps the youth can be ransomed with wealth; in that case, we shall be pleased to give up all the necessary wealth to save him." after consultation with one another, they decided to consult a divineress in yathrib renowned for her good insight. when they came to her, she asked them to wait until the morrow; upon their return she asked, "what, in your custom, is the amount of a man's blood wit?" "ten camels," they answered. she said, "return then to your country and draw near your god two arrows, one with the name of the youth and the other with the term 'ten camels.' if the arrow drawn is that of the youth, then multiply the number of camels and draw again until your god is satisfied. they accepted her solution and drew the divinatory arrows which they found to converge on 'abdullah. they kept multiplying the number of camels until the number reached one hundred. it was then that the camels' arrow was drawn. the people were satisfied and told 'abd al muttalib, who stood nearby in terror, "thus did your god decide, o 'abd al muttalib." but he answered, "not at all! i shall not be convinced that this is my god's wish until the same result comes out three times consecutively." the arrows were drawn three times, and in all three it was the camels' arrow that came out. 'abd al muttalib then felt sure that his god was contented, and he sacrified the one hundred camels.
in this way the books of biography have reported to us some of the customs of the arabs and of their religious doctrines. in this way they have informed us of the arabs' adherence to these doctrines and of their loyalty and devotion to their holy house. in confirming this custom al tabari reports that a muslim woman had once vowed to sacrifice one of her sons. she sought the advice of `abdullah ibn `umar without much avail. she went to `abdullah ibn al 'abbas who advised her to sacrifice one hundred camels after the example of `abd al muttalib. but when marwan, the governor of madinah, knew of what she was about, he forbade her to do it, holding to the islamic principle that no vow is valid whose object is illegitimate.