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Ascendancy of Quraysh

3515 2008/05/16 2024/06/18

after their conquest of the `amaliq, the tribe of jurhum ruled makkah until the regime of mudad ibn `amr ibn al harith during these generations, trade had prospered so well that the tribe of jurhum waxed fat and forgot that they were really living in a desolate place and that they ought to work very hard to keep their position. their neglect led to the drying up of the zamzam spring; furthermore, the tribe of khuza'ah had even thought of conquering makkah and establishing their authority over its whole precinct.

mudad's warning to his people did not stop their indulgence and carelessness. realizing that his and his tribe's power was on the decline and would soon be lost, he dug a deep hole within the well of zamzam in which he buried two golden gazelles and the treasure of the holy house, with the hope that he would return some day to power and reclaim the treasure. together with the jurhum tribe and the descendants of isma'il he withdrew from makkah in favor of the tribe of khuza'ah, who ruled it from generation to generation until the advent of qusayy ibn kilab, the fifth grandfather of the prophet.


qusayy ibn kilab (circa 480 c.e)

fatimah, daughter of sa'd ibn sayl, mother of qusayy, married kilab and gave him two sons, zuhrah and qusayy. kilab died when qusayy was an infant. fatimah then married rabi'ah ibn haram who took her with him to al sham where she gave birth to a son called darraj. qusayy grew up knowing no other father than rabi'ah. when a quarrel broke out between qusayy and some members of the rabi'ah tribe, they reproached him as they would a foreigner and betrayed the fact that they never regarded him as one of their own. qusayy complained to his mother and related to her the reproach he heard. her answer was as defiant as it was proud. "o my son," she said, "your descendance is nobler than theirs, you are the son of kilab ibn murrah, and your people live in the proximity of the holy house in makkah." this was the cause of qusayy's departure from al sham and return to makkah. his seriousness and wisdom soon won him the respect of the makkans. at the time, the guardianship of the holy house was in the hands of a man of the khuza'ah tribe called hulayl ibn hubshiyyah, a very wise man with deep insight. soon qusayy asked for and married hubba, daughter of hulayl. he continued to work hard at his trade and acquired much affluence, great respect, and many children. when his father-in-law died, he committed the keys of the ka'bah to hubba, wife of qusayy. but the latter apologized and committed the keys to abu ghibshan, a man from khuza'ah. abu ghibshan, however, was a drunkard and one day he exchanged the keys of the ka'bah for a jug of wine from qusayy. the khuza'ah tribe realized that it was in danger should the guardianship of the ka'bah remain in the hands of qusayy whose wealth and influence were always increasing and around whom the tribe of quraysh was now rallying. they therefore thought to dispossess him of his guardianship. qusayy called upon the quraysh tribe to help him and, with the concurrence of a number of tribes from the surrounding area, he was judged the wisest and the mightiest and confirmed in his guardianship. when the tribe of khuza'ah had to evacuate, qusayy combined in his person all the offices associated with the holy house and became king over the quraysh.


construction of permanent residences in makkah

some historians claim that makkah had no constructed houses other than the ka'bah until qusayy became its king because neither khuza'ah nor jurhum wanted to raise any other construction besides the holy house and neither one spent his life outside of the holy area in the open desert. they added that upon his assumption of the kingship of makkah, qusayy commanded his people, the quraysh tribe, to build their residences in the vicinity of the holy house. they also explained that it was qusayy who built the house of nadwah where the elders of makkah met under his chairmanship in order to run the affairs of their city, for it was their custom not to allow anything to happen without their unanimous approval. no man or woman of makkah married except in the nadwah and with the approval of the quraysh elders. according to this view, it was the quraysh that built, at the command of qusayy, their houses around the ka'bah, leaving sufficient space for circumambulation of the holy house. their residences in the vicinity were spaced so as to leave a narrow passage to the holy house between every two houses.


the descendants of qusayy

although 'abd al dar was the eldest of qusayy's children, his brother 'abd manaf was more famous and more respected by the people. as qusayy grew old and weak and became unable to carry out the duties of his position, he delegated the hijabah to 'abd al dar and handed over to him the keys of the holy house. he also delegated to him the siqayah, the liwa, and the rifadah. [for definitions of these terms, see pp. 31-32] the rifadah implied a contribution the tribe of quraysh used to levy from every member to help qusayy in the provision of food for pilgrims incapable of procuring nourishment on their own. qusayy was the first to impose the rifadah on the quraysh tribe; and he incepted this practice after he rallied the quraysh and dislodged the tribe of khuza'ah from makkah. at the time the rifadah was imposed, qusayy said, "o people of quraysh! you are the neighbors of god and the people of his house and temple. the pilgrim is the guest of god and visitor of his house. of all guests that you receive during the year, the pilgrim is the most worthy of your hospitality. provide for him food and drink during the days of pilgrimage."


the descendants of `abd manaf

`abd al dar discharged the new duties incumbent upon him as his father had directed. his sons did likewise after him but could not match the sons of 'abd manaf in honor and popular esteem. hence, hashim, `abd shams, al muttalib and nawfal, the sons of `abd manaf, resolved to take over these privilege from their cousins. the tribe of quraysh stood divided into two factions, each supporting one of the contestants. the descendants of 'abd manaf concluded the hilf al mutayyibbin, a treaty so called because the covenantors dipped their hands in perfume as they swore allegiance to its new terms. the descendants of 'abd al dar, for their part, entered into another treaty called hilf al ahldf [literally, the alliance of the allies-tr.], and the stage was set for a civil war which could have dissolved the quraysh tribe. a peace was reached, however, under which the descendants of 'abd manaf were granted the siqayah and rifadah, and the descendents of 'abd al dar kept the hijabah, the liwa', and the nadwah [for definitions of these terms, see pp. 31-32]. thereafter the two parties lived in peace until the advent of islam.


hashim (646 c.e.)

hashim was the leader of his people and a prosperous man. he was in charge of the siqayah and the rifadah. in the discharge of his duties he called upon every member of the quraysh to make a contribution for use in providing food for the pilgrims. like his grandfather qusayy, he argued with his contemporaries that the pilgrims and visitors to the house of god are god's guests and, therefore, worthy of their hospitality. he discharged his duties well and provided for all the pilgrims during the time of their pilgrimage in makkah.


makkan affluence and prosperity

hashim did for the people of makkah more than his duty demanded. in a year of drought he was generous enough to provide food for the whole population and turned the occasion into one of joy. it was he who regulated and standardized the two main caravan trips of the makkan traders, the winter trip to yaman, and the summer trip to al sham. under his good ordering and wise leadership makkah prospered and its position rose throughout the peninsula. it soon became the acknowledged capital of arabia. from this position of influence the descendents of `abd manaf concluded peace treaties with their neighbors. hashim went in person to byzantium and to the neighboring tribe of ghassan to sign a treaty of friendship and good neighborliness. he obtained from byzantium permission for the tribe of quraysh to move anywhere in the territories of al sham in peace and security. 'abd shams, on the other hand, concluded a treaty of trade with the negus of abyssinia and nawfal and al muttalib, both a treaty of friendship with persia and a trade treaty with the himyaris of yaman. the glory of makkah increased with its prosperity. the makkans became so adept in trade that nobody could compete with them. the caravans came to makkah from all directions, and the goods were exported in two big convoys in summer and winter. surrounding makkah all kinds of markets were built to deal with all the attendant business. this experience developed in the makkans competence in business affairs as well as adeptness in the administration of the calendar and interest in financing.

hashim remained the uncontested chief of makkah throughout his life. nobody thought of competing with him in this regard. his nephew, however, umayyah ibn `abd shams, did entertain such ideas but he lost and chose to live in exile in al sham for ten full years. on one of his trips to al sham, hashim stopped in yathrib where he saw a woman of noble birth engaging in business with some of her agents. that was salma, daughter of `amr of the khazraj tribe. hashim fell in love with her and inquired whether she was married. when he learned that she was a divorced woman, but a very independent person, he asked her directly to marry him. as his position and prestige were known to her, she accepted. she lived with him in makkah for a while before she returned to madinah where she gave birth to a son called shaybah, whom she kept with her in yathrib. [the author is using the pre-islamic and islamic names of the same city interchangeably. pre-islamic "yathrib" had, upon the prophet's emigration thereto and the establishment therein of the first islamic polity, become "madinah al nabi" (literally, the city of the prophet) and "madinah" for short. -tr.]


al muttalib

several years later hashim died on one of his trips and was buried in gaza. his brother, al muttalib, succeeded him in his posts. though al muttalib was younger than `abd shams, he was well esteemed by the people. the quraysh used to call him "mr. abundance" for his generosity and goodness. naturally, with such competence and prestige as al muttalib enjoyed, the situation in makkah continued to be prosperous and peaceful.

one day al muttalib thought of his nephew shaybah. he went to yathrib and asked salma to hand the child over now that he had become fully grown. on return to makkah, al muttalib allowed the young man to precede him on his camel. the quraysh thought that he was a servant of al muttalib and called him so, namely `abd al muttalib. when al muttalib heard of this he said, "hold it, fellow tribesmen. this man is not my servant but my nephew, son of hashim, whom i brought back from yathrib." the title `abd al muttalib was so popular, however, that the young man's old name, shaybah, was forgotten.


abd al muttalib (495 c.e.)

when al muttalib sought to return to his nephew the wealth which hashim left behind, nawfal objected and seized the wealth. `abd al muttalib waited until he grew and then asked for the support of his uncles in yathrib against his uncles in makkah. eighty khazraj horsemen arrived from yathrib ready to give him the military support he needed in order to reclaim his rights. nawfal refused to fight and returned the seized wealth. `abd al muttalib then was assigned the offices which hashim occupied, namely the siqayah and the rifadah, after al muttalib passed away. he experienced no little difficulty in discharging the requisite duties because at that time he had only one son, al harith. as the well of zamzam had been destroyed, water had to be brought in from a number of sub-sidiary wells in the outskirts of makkah and placed in smaller reservoirs near the ka'bah. plurality of descendants was an asset in the execution of such a task as this but `abd al muttalib had only one son, and the task nearly exhausted him. naturally, he gave the matter a good deal of thought.


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.


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