Ascendancy of Quraysh: Pre-Prophethood [Seerah Ep 2]

July 24th, 2023
Ascendancy of Quraysh

The Quraysh had settled in Makkah towards the end of the fifth century. Their ancestor Qusayy (the fifth grandfather of the Prophet), his brother Zuhrah and his uncle Taym had settled in the Makkan valley besides the Sanctuary (Haram). Makhzum, the son of another uncle, and his cousins Jumah and Sahm settled there with Qusayy, and they and the clans named after them became known as the Quraysh of the Hollow.

Qusayy’s more remote kinsman settled in the surrounding countryside and were known as the Quraysh of the Outskirts. Legend has it that Qusayy had travelled to Syria and brought the three goddesses al-Lat, al-Uzza and Manat to the Hijaz and enthroned the Nabetean god Hubal in the Ka’bah, the Holy House.

In a campaign that combined trickery and force the Quraysh managed to take control of the Makkah and expel the Khuza’ah, its guardian tribe who were considered to have failed their sacred trust of maintaining the Ka’bah.

Of Qusayy’s descendants, ‘Abd al-Dar was the eldest, although his brother ‘Abd Manaf was more famous and respected. As Qusayy grew old, he delegated the positions of authority to ‘Abd al-Dar and handed over to him the keys of the Holy House. ‘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 honour and popular esteem. Hence, Hashim, ‘Abd Shams, al Muttalib and Nawfal, the sons of ‘Abd Manaf, resolved to take over these privileges from their cousins. The two factions set the stage for a civil war, but an agreement was reached in the form of a power-sharing deal. Thereafter the two parties lived in peace until the advent of Islam.

Hashim: Hashim was the leader of his people, a prosperous man who was given the honourable position of feeding and providing drink to the pilgrims of Makkah as an outcome to compromise between the sons of ‘Abd Manaf and Abd al-Dar. However, his role as a leader was encapsulated by his generosity, were once, during a drought, he provided food for the whole population of Makkah. He made an unprecedented move by regulating and standardising the two annual caravan trips to Yemen and Shaam. It was under his wise leadership that Makkah prospered and became the acknowledged capital of Arabia. From this position of influence, the descendants of ‘Abd Manaf concluded peace treaties with their neighbours, the Ghassanids, Byzantinium, Abyssinians, Persians, and the Himyarite of Yemen.

Hashim quickly rose to power and remained the chief of Makkah, and even though his nephew, Umayyah ibn ‘Abd Shams, attempted to challenge his rule, nothing was lost, and Umayyah was exiled to Shaam for ten years. Of the most important of his trips was his journey to Shaam, where he stopped in Yathrib. Upon arrival, he saw a woman of noble birth engaging in business with some of her agents –  Salma, the daughter of ‘Amr of the Khazraj tribe. Hashim sought her hand in marriage and upon her acceptance, she moved to Makkah to live with him for a while before she returned to Yathrib where she gave birth to a son called Shaybah, whom she kept with her.

Abd 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. One day al Muttalib thought of his nephew Shaybah. Thus, he went to Yathrib and asked Salma to hand the child over now that he had become fully grown, for he would restore his father’s authority back at the Holy Precinct. On return to Makkah, al Muttalib entered the city with the young boy riding behind him on his camel. The Quraysh, assuming that Shaybah was a servant of al Muttalib, called him Abd al Muttalib, the slave of al Muttalib.

When al Muttalib sought to return to his nephew the wealth which Hashim left behind, his uncle Nawfal objected and seized the wealth. Abd al Muttalib waited until he grew older, even after the death of al Muttalib, and then asked for the support of his maternal 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 was then assigned the offices which Hashim occupied. Given that the well of Zamzam had been destroyed, water had to be brought in from a number of subsidiary wells situated at the outskirts of Makkah and placed in smaller reservoirs near the Ka’bah. Since the plurality of sons considerably aided the execution of such a task, Abd al Muttalib faced a great deal of hardship as he had only one son.

One night, while sleeping there, he had a dream in which he was commanded to ‘dig sweetness.’ ‘What is sweetness?’ he asked but received no answer. The next night, in another dream, he was commanded to ‘dig goodness.’ He asked, ‘What is goodness?’ and again received no answer. The third night he was commanded to ‘dig the buried treasure,’ and when asking after it, received silence as his response. The next night, he was commanded to ‘dig Zamzam,’ and his asking after it elicited the response, ‘It will never dry up, never run low, and it will water the throngs of pilgrims.’ He was given signs that would direct him to its place and the next morning, his investigations led him to a place between the hills of Safaa and Marwah and with his only son, he began to dig. On each of the two hills was an idol to which the pagans would offer sacrifices. Digging in this place between their gods offended the Quraysh and they asked ‘Abdu’l- Muttalib to stop, arguing that what he was doing was sacrilegious. When he refused, they threatened him. He still refused, arguing that he was following what he had seen in a vision and set his son to guard him. The situation became tense, tempers were frayed, and realising the precariousness of the situation, coupled with the fact that no doubt, in their view, a vision of a respected leader was significant, the Quraysh backed down and allowed him to dig. Some accounts relate that he dug for three days and finally struck the stone covering the well. Next to it, he discovered two gold gazelles and some swords, shields and breast plates. Recognising them as the items left behind by the tribe of Jurhum, he magnified God and cried out, ‘Here is the well of Isma’il!’

The Quraysh rushed to him and asked him to give them a share of the well arguing that they were all descendants of Isma’il. He refused, but suggested they go for arbitration. In pre-Islamic time the soothsayer and fortune teller was held in esteem and awe, and it was a measure of the respect accorded them that in cases of disputes, it was the habit of Arabs to go to them for arbitration. This is what ‘Abd al Muttalib and  Quraysh decided to do. Choosing the soothsayer of Banù Sa’d Hudhaym in the uplands of Syria, they set off. On the way there, they ran out of water and having given up all hope, dug their own graves and waited for death. Then water was discovered under the place that Abd al Muttalib’s mount was and seeing this as an omen, they decided the rights to Zamzam belonged entirely to Abd al Muttalib and returned to Makkah instead of continuing their journey.

Overwhelmed Abd al Muttalib made a solemn vow to sacrifice one of his children to the Ka’bah if he was granted ten sons. His wish was fulfilled, and he called them to assist him in the fulfilment of his vow. 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. When the arrows were drawn it was the arrow of Abdullah, the youngest son of ‘Abd al Muttalib and the most beloved. Quraysh, Abdullah’s uncles from the Makhzum tribe and his brother Abu Talib all insisted that Abdullah be spared and that some kind of indulgence be sought from the god Hubal. In the end, they ransomed his life for one hundred camels which were sacrificed right away.

Later on, ‘Abdul Muttalib chose Amina, daughter of Wahab, as a wife for his son, ‘Abdullah. In light of her ancestral lineage, she 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 went on a trade journey and died on his way back.

‘Abdullah left very little wealth —five camels, a small number of goats, a she-servant called Barakah, famously known as Umm Aiman who would later serve as the Prophet’s nursemaid.

End of 400 CE

Lessons and Wisdom

Social status amongst the Arabs depended upon ones lineage as this would define nobility for them. Allah decreed that Muhammad ﷺ be from the most noble of lineages in the whole of Arabia, and by it He eliminated the excuse of the deniers of faith that Muhammad ﷺ was not noble enough a man to be listened to. Nor could any person accuse him of trying to gain social supremacy in Arabia as he was already from the most powerful clan; the Banu Hashim.

Nomadic life was a grim, relentless struggle, because there were too many people competing for too few resources in a barren desert. Always hungry, perpetually on the brink starvation, the Bedouin fought endless battles with other tribes for water, pastureland, and grazing rights. Consequently, the acquisition raids were an essential part of nomadic life. In times of scarcity, tribesmen would regularly invade the territory of their neighbors in the hope of carrying off camels, cattle, or slaves. Nobody considered this in any way reprehensible. It was an accepted fact of life; it was not inspired by political or personal hatred, but was a kind of national sport conducted with skill and panache according to clearly defined rules. They had a culture of chivalry (Muruwah) which inspired generosity, selflessness and bravery but this only within the context of the tribe. There was no concept of universal human rights. If a wrong was done to a single member of their tribe, the others would felt the duty of vengeance as a physical pain and a tormenting thirst.

Polemical rebuttals particular to this year

This part of the timeline seeks to address some of the most commonly held criticisms and attacks levelled at the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.
A series of short articles critically analysing these polemics begins from 595 CE and continues later in the following two eras: Makkan and Madinan Eras

Edicts and Rulings

The discovery of this miraculous spring in such an arid region had probably made the site holy to those that came after, long before the development of a city in Mecca. It attracted pilgrims from all over Arabia, and the Ka’bah, a cube-shaped granite building of considerable antiquity, may originally have housed the sacred utensils of the Zamzam cult. It is said that the Zamzam water is the best and noblest of all waters, the highest in status, the most precious and valuable to its people.

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