The Quraysh

The Quraysh

God answered each and every prayer sent up by Ibrahim (‘alayhis salaam) and Isma’il (‘alayhis salaam). The descendants of Isma’il multiplied exceedingly, so that the barren valley overflowed with the progeny of Ibrahim. Isma’il (‘alayhis salaam) took for his wife a girl of the tribe of Jurhum,(86) a clan belonging to the ‘Arab ‘Aribah. In the lineal descendants of Isma’il, ‘Adnan was born whose lineage was universally recognised as the most worthy and noble among them. The Arabs being too particular about the purity of race and blood, have always treasured the genealogy of ‘Adnan’s progeny in the store house of their memory.

‘Adnan had many sons of whom Ma’add was the most prominent. Among the sons of Ma’add, Mudar was more distinguished; then Fihr b. Malik in the lineage of Mudar achieved eminence; and finally the descendants of Fihr b. Malik b. Mudar came to be known as Quraysh. Thus came into existence the clan of Quraysh, the nobility of Makkah, whose lineage and exalted position among the tribes of Arabia as well as whose virtues of oratory and eloquence, civility, gallantry and high mindedness were unanimously accepted by all. The recognition accorded to the Quraysh without a dissentient voice throughout the Peninsula became, in due course of time, a genuine article of faith to the people of Arabia.(87)

Qusayy Bin Kilab
Qusayy Bin Kilab was born in the direct line of Fihr but the hegemony of Makkah had, by that time, passed on from Jurhum’s clansmen to the hands of the Khuza’ites. Qusayy b. Kilab recovered the administration of the K’aba and the town through his organising capacity and superior qualities of head and heart. The Quraysh strengthened the hands of Qusayy b. Kilab in dislodging the Khuza’ites from the position of leadership usurped by them. Qusayy was now master of the town, loved and respected by all. He held the keys of the K’aba and the rights to water the pilgrims from the well of Zamzam, to feed the pilgrims,(88) to preside at assemblies and to hand out war banners. In his hands lay all the dignities of Makkah and nobody entered the K’aba until he opened it for him. Such was his authority his Makkah during his lifetime that no affair of the Quraysh was decided but by him, and his decisions were followed like a religious law which could not be infringed.

After the death of Qusayy his sons assumed his authority but ‘Abdu Munaf amongst them was more illustrious. His eldest son, Hashim b. ‘Abdu Munaf conducted the feeding and watering of the pilgrims, and, after his death the authority passed on to ‘Abdul Muttalib, the grandfather of the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). His people held him in the highest esteem and such was the popularity gained by him, so they say. as was never enjoyed by anybody amongst his ancestors.(89)

The progeny of Hashim, who now filled the stage and assumed a commanding position among the Quraysh, was like a stream of light in the darkness of Arabia. The sketches of Bani Hashim preserved by the historians and genealogists, although fewer in number, eloquently speak of the nobility of their character and moderation of their disposition, the reverence they paid to the House of God, their sovereign contempt for the things unjust and uneven, their devotion to fairplay and justice, their willingness to help the poor and the oppressed, their magnanimity of heart, their velour and horsemanship, in short, of every virtue admired by the Arabs of the pagan past. Bani Hashim, however, shared the faith of their contemporaries which had beclouded the light of their soul; but despite this failing, they had to have all this goodness as the forefathers of the great Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) who was to inherit their ennobling qualities and to, illustrate them by his own shining example for the guidance of the entire human race.

Makkah in Paganism
The Quraysh continued to glorify the Lord of the worlds, from whom all blessings flow, like their forefathers Ibrahim (alayhis salaam) and Isma’il (‘alayhis salaam) until ‘Amr b. Luhayy became the chief of Khuza’ites. He was the first to deviate from the religion of Isma’il (‘alayhis salaam); he set up idols in Makkah and bade the people to worship and venerate them, he instituted the custom of sa’iba(90) which were to be held in reverence. ‘Amr b. Luhayy also modified the divine laws of permissible and impermissible. It is related that once ‘Amr b. Luhayy went from Makkah to Syria on some business where he found the people worshipping idols. He was so impressed by the ways of the idol worshippers that he obtained a few idols from them, brought them back to Makkah and asked the people there to pay divine honours to them.(91)

It might have been so, or, perhaps, on his way to Syria ‘Amr b. Luhayy had happened to pass through Betra which was variously known to ancient historians and geographers as Petraea and Petra. It was the key city on the caravan route between Saba and the Mediterranean, located on an arid plateau three thousand feet high, to the south of what is today called Transjordan, as mentioned by the Greek and Roman historians. The city was founded by the Nabataeans, ethnically an Arab tribe, in the early part of the sixth century BC. These people carried their merchandise to Egypt, Syria, valley of the Euphrates and to Rome. Most likely, they took the way to the valley of the Euphrates through Hijaz. The Nabataeans were an idolatrous people who made their deities of graven stones. Some historians hold the view that al-Lat, the famous deity of the Northern Hijaz during the pre-Islamic period, had been originally imported from Petra and was assigned an honoured place among the local gods and goddess.(92)

The above view finds a confirmation in the History of Syria by Philip K. Hitti who writes about the religion of Nabataean kingdoms:

“At the head of the pantheon stood Dushara (dhu-al-Shara, Dusara), a sun deity worshipped under the form of anobelisk or an unknown four-cornered black stone…. Associated with Dushara was Allat, chief goddess of Arabia. Other Nabataean goddesses cited in the inscriptions were Manat and al-‘Uzza, of Koranic fame, Hubal also figures in the inscriptions.”(93)

It is noteworthy that the above description relates to a period when idolatory had, in different forms and shapes, engulfed Arabia and the countries around it. Jesus Christ (‘alayhis salaam) and his disciples had not yet appeared on the scene who later on laboured to restrain its unbridled expansion. Judaism had already proved its incompetence to the task, since, being essentially a racial religion, it allowed none save the children of Bani Israel to join his faith to the creed of monotheism preached by it.

Another writer, De Lacy O’Leary, tracing the influences responsible for introduction of idol worship in the Arabian peninsula sums up his findings in the “Arabia Before Muhammad” in these words:

“It seems fairly safe therefore to understand that the use of images was an instance of Syro-Hellenistic culture which had come down the trade-route; it was a recent introduction in Makkah in the time of the Prophet and was probably unknown to the Arab community at large.” (p. 197)

Worship the idols was thus the popular creed of the people in the valley of the Euphrates and the lands to the east of Arabia. As the Arabians were bound, since times immemorial, by the ties of commerce with these countries, it is not unlikely that their cultural influence was responsible for grafting idolworship within the Arabian Peninsula. ln his history of Ancient Iraq, Georges Roux says that during the third century B.C. and long thereafter idol-worship was very popular in Mesopotamia.(94) Its every city, old or new, gave shelter to several foreign gods besides the local deities.”(95)

There are also reports which suggest that idol worship gradually; came into vogue among the Quraysh. In olden times, as some historians relate, when anybody went out on a long journey from Makkah he took a few stones from the enclosures of the sanctuary as a mark of grace with him. In due course of time, they started venerating the monoliths they admired most. The subsequent generations, not knowing the reason for holding such monoliths in esteem, started worshipping them like other pagan people of the surrounding countries.(96) The Quraysh, however, remained attached to some of the older traditions like paying deference to the holy sanctuary, its circumambulation, Hajj(97) and ‘Umra.(98) The gradual evolution of different religions showing substitution of means for the ends and the slow progression from suppositions to conclusions lend support to the view put forth by the historians about the beginning of idol worship among the Quraysh. The esteem and reverence in which even certain misguided Muslim sects come to hold the portraits and sepulchres of the saints and the way they sluggishly adopt this course possesses an incriminating evidence in support of the gradual evolution of idol worship. That is why the Islamic Shari’a completely stalls all those tracks and alleys which lead to the undue veneration of personages, places and relics for they ultimately lead to ascribing partners to God.(99)

The Elephants
It was during this period that a significant event, unparalleled in the history of Arabia, came to pass which portended something of vital importance likely to take place in the near future. It augured well for the Arabs, in general, and predicted a unique honour for the K’aba, never attained by any place of worship anywhere in the world. The incident afforded hope for expecting a great future for the K’aba – a future on which depended the destiny of religions or rather the entire humanity since it was soon to unfold itself in the shape of an eternal message of righteousness and peace.

An Implicit Belief of the Quraysh
The Quraysh had always held the belief that the Bait-ullah or the House of God had a special place of honour in the eyes of the Lord Who was Himself its protector and defender. The trust placed b, the Quraysh in the inviolability of the K’aba is amply borne out by the conversation between Abraha and ‘Abdul Muttalib. It so happened that Abraha seized two hundred camels belonging to ‘Abdul Muttalib, who, then, called upon him and sought permission to see Abraha. Abraha treated ‘Adul Muttalib with the greatest respect and got off his throne and made him sit by his side. Asked to tell the purpose of his visit, ‘Abdul Muttalib replied that he wanted the King to return his two hundred camels which the King had taken.

Abraha, taken by surprise, asked ‘Abdul Muttalib, “Do you wish to talk about your two hundred camels taken by me, but you say nothing about the House on which depend your religion and the religion of your forefathers, which I have come to destroy?” ‘Abdul Muttalib boldly replied “I am the owner of the camels and the House has an Owner Who will Himself defend it.”

Abraha said again, “How can it be saved from me?”

“This is a matter between you and Him,” replied ‘Abdul Muttalib. (Ibn Hisham, Vol. I, pp.49-50)

Who could dare to do harm or cast a blighting glance at the House of God? Its protection was, in truth, the responsibility of God.

The episode, briefly, was that Abraha al-Ashram, who was the viceroy of Negus, the King of Abyssinia, in Yemen built an imposing cathedral in San’a and gave it the name of al-Qullays. He intended to divert the Arab’s pilgrimage to this cathedral. Being a Christian Abrah had found it intolerably offensive that the K’aba should remain the great national shrine, attracting crowds of pilgrims from almost every Arabian clan. He desired that his cathedral should replace K’aba as the most sacred chapel of Arabia.

This was, however, something inglorious for the Arabs. Veneration of the K’aba was a settled disposition with the Arabs: they neither equated any other place of worship with the K’aba nor they could have exchanged it with anything howsoever precious. The perturbation caused by the declared intentions of Abraha set them on fire. Some Kinanite dare-devils accepted the challenge and one of them defiled the cathedral by defecating in it. Now, this caused a serious tumult. Abraha was enraged and he swore that he would not take rest until he had destroyed the K’aba.

Abraha took the road to Makkah at the head of a strong force which included a large number of elephants. The Arabs had heard awesome stories about elephants. The news made them all confused and bewildered. Some of the Arab tribes even tried to obstruct the progress of Abraha’s army, but they soon realised that it was beyond their power to measure swords with him. Now, hoping against hope, they left the matter to God putting their trust in Him to save the sacred sanctuary.(100)

The Quraysh took to the hills and craggy gorges in order to save themselves from the excesses of Abraha’s soldiers. ‘Abdul Muttalib and a few other persons belonging to the Quraysh took hold of the door of the K’aba, praying and imploring God to help them against Abraha. On the other side, Abraha drew up his troops to enter the town and got his elephant ‘Mahmud’ ready for attack. On his way to the city, the elephant knelt down and did not get up in spite of severe beating. But when they made it face Yemen, it got up immediately and started off. God then sent upon them flocks of birds, each carrying stones in its claws. Everyone who was hit by these stones died. The Abyssinians thereupon withdrew in fright by the way they had come, continually being hit by the stones and falling dead in their way. Abraha, too, was badly smitten, and when his soldiers tried to take him back, his limbs fell one by one, until he met a miserable end on reaching San’a(101). The incident finds a reference in the Qur’an also.

“Hast thou not seen how thy Lord dealt with the owners of the Elephant ? Did He not bring their stratagem to naught, And send against them swarms of flying creatures, Which pelted them with stones of baked clay, And made them like green crops devoured (by cattle)?” [Qur’an 105:1-5]

Repercussions of Abraha’s Failure
When God turned back the Abyssinians from Makkah, crushed and humbled, and inflicted His punishment upon them, the Arabs, naturally, looked up to the Quraysh in great respect. They said: “Verily, these are the people of God: God defeated their enemy—and they did not have even to fight the assailants.” The esteem of the people for the K’aba naturally increased strengthening their conviction in its sanctity.(Ibn Hisham, Vol. 1, p.57)

It was undoubtedly a miracle; a sign of the advent of a Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) who was to cleanse the K’aba of its contamination of idols. It was an indication that the honour of the K’aba was to rise with the final dispensation to be brought by him. One could say that the incident foretold the advent of the great Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him).

The Arabians attached too much importance, and rightly too, to this great event. They instituted a new calendar from the date of its occurrence. Accordingly, we find in their writings such references as that a certain event took place in the year of Elephant or that such and such persons were born in that year or that a certain incident came to pass so many years after the Year of Elephant. This year of miracle was 570 A.D.

Footnotes
[87] For details see Sirat Ibn Hisham and other works on the genealogy of Arabs.

[88] A general feast, known as Rifaadah, was held every year, to which all the pilgrims, deemed to be the guest of Rahman, were invited. The Quraysh contributed a specifed sum for it (Al-Khudri, p. 36.

[89] Ibn Hisham, Vol. I (The sons of ‘Adnan)

[90] Bulls dedicated to the idols and not used for any other purpose.

[91] Ibn Hisham, Vol. I, pp. 76-77. It is related that the Prophet once said: “I saw ‘Amr b. Luhayy dragging his intestines in the Hell as he was the first to institute the custom of dedicating beast to the idols as Sa’iba. (Bukhari, usli, Ahmad). Another tradition related by Muhammad b. Is’haq says: “He was the first to change the religion of Ismail, to set up idols and to institute customm of Sa’iba.

[92] The author happened to visit Perta in 14th August, 1973, as a member of the delegation of Rabita ‘Alam-I-Islami, where he saw a large number of idols hewn in the mountains. The details can be seen in another work of the author ‘Darya’I Kabul Se darya’I Yaruk Tak.

[93] Philip K. Hitti, History of Syria, London, 1951, p. 384-5.

[94] George Roux, Ancient Iraq, Suffolk, 1972, pp. 383-84

[95]George Roux, Ancient Iraq, Suffolk, 1972, pp. 383-84.

[96] In order to know the names of the earliest deities of Arabia and how they came to worship graven images see Al-Asnam lil-Kalabi’ and Vol. II and the Bulugh al-Arab fi Ma’rafate Ahwal-il-‘Arab by Syed Mahmud Shukri al-Alusi.

[97] The pilgrimage to Mecca performed in the month of Zul Hijja, the twelfth month of the Islamic year.

[98] The Lesser pilgrimage to the holy sanctuary performed at any tie other than the occasion of Haj.

[99] The Shari’a as well as authentic tradition of the Prophet contain innumerable injunctions showing disapproval of paganish superstition savouring of Shirk or plurality deities. Some of the well-known Traditions of the Prophet on the subject say: ‘Do not make my grave a place of mirth and festivity nor should you hold fairs over it”. “Only with the intention of paying a visit to the three Mosques one is permitted to make journey”. “Never pay compliments to me in the way Christian extol Jesus, son of Mary”. There are many more similar Traditions prohibited shirk. And, same is the reason forbidding the making of portraits of living things. In the days of yore, many a people had taken to idol worship through venerating the portraits or the images of their saints. Ibn Kathir writes, on the authority of Muhammad b. Qays, that there were a large number of persons pious and pure in spirit between the period from Adam to Noah, who had a large number of followers. After these men of God had departed from the world, their followers had the idea of making their portraits which they though would keep their memory fresh and help them in concentration during prayers. Those who came after this generation were misled by the devil in thinking that their forefathers paid divine honours to these images which helped to bring rains to them. Thus, they gradually fell to idol worship.

[100] It is just possible that Abraha might have an objective deeper than the avowed purpose of avenging upon the K’aba a sacrilege committed by an individual. He might have intended to gain control over Mecca so that he might be able to strengthen Christianity in Arabia by opening the road on which depended the contact of Yemen with Syria. The step taken by Abraha was beneficial both of the Byzantium and Abyssinia, for both were Christian kingdoms. Whatever might have been the reason, the objective of Abraha could not have been achieved without removing the national temple of the Arabians, which was destined to become the centre of the last Prophethood. And, therefore, God had willed it otherwise. It is also possible that the Byzantines might have urged Abraha to conquer Mecca since this was the only way to weaken the influence of Sasanids who were the only power the Byzantines had then to face in Arabia.

[101] Ibn Hisham, Vol. 1, pp.43-57.

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