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The Unlettered Prophet (3)
Khalid Masud
(Tr. by:Nikhat Sattar)


The Trusteeship of the House of God to the Israelites

Ishmael (sws) was married into Hagar’s tribe, Banū Jurham, which was a devotee of Abraham (sws). The people of this tribe had also come and settled in Makkah. According to the revelations received by Abraham (sws), Ishmael’s progeny expanded considerably. He had 12 sons, who led 12 tribes. Ishmael (sws) was already dedicated to looking after the House of God, his sons also took up the responsibility after him. His eldest son, Nābat made all the arrangements for the Ka‘bah. There is evidence about both Nābat and the second son Qaydar in ancient books:

All ewes of Qaydār shall be with you. Nābat’s sheep too will be present before you. They will be accepted at my altar, and I shall bestow grandeur to my House of Glory. (Isaiah; 60:7) 

It is obvious that the House of Glory means the House of God. Hence both Qaydar and Nābat played a role in managing the affairs of this great place. Using the strong relationship the tribe of Banū Jurham had with the Ishmaelites, the former too began to assist the latter in fulfilling the objectives of the House of God.

Management of the House of God outside the Ishmaelites

As the numbers of the Ishmaelites increased, they moved out of Makkah. Wherever they went, they were blessed by God and they set up their own states. One of the consequences of this migration was that the Banū Jurham became stronger in Makkah and obtained full control of the Ka‘bah. Initially they too took great care in looking after it, but over time, they started to make grave mistakes in their obligations. They used the Ka‘bah for their vested interests, and instead of using the offerings made for improvements of the facilities or the pilgrims, they took them for their private consumption. The pilgrims finally grew tired of the ways which the managers robbed them of their wealth and possessions, with no thought of the revered significance of the Ka‘bah. To redress the situation, the tribes of Banū Bakr and the Banu Khuzā‘ah decided to jointly expel the Banū Jurham from Makkah. The two parties fought a battle in which Jurham lost and were forced to leave Makkah. As they were leaving, they covered the well of Zamzam next to the Ka‘bah with their ammunition and other equipment and leveled it with the ground.

The Banū Bakr were in reality nomads; so the management of the House of God was now in the hands of the Banū Khuzā‘ah. The trusteeship began to be transferred from father to son and as is usually the case, when reformists bring about a revolution, they start with much sincerity and faithfulness, but as time passes, they lose control and their behavior becomes similar to that of their predecessors. The Banū Khuzā‘ah too started to act as Banū Jurham had. One of its men, ‘Amr ibn Lahayy was the source of introducing elements of polytheism to the Ka‘bah by bringing a statue of Habal from Syria, on his way from his travels. He installed it right in front of the Ka‘bah and instilled fear of the idol in the heart of the people. They started to pray to it for blessings in case of important events. Once the sanctity of the Ka‘bah had been thus sullied, it was no longer difficult for more idols to enter. Soon, the centre for the oneness of God was converted into the centre for polytheism. 


Retrieval of the Management of the House of God

Qusayy ibn Kilāb

An oft mentioned name in the progeny of Ishmael (sws) is one of ‘Adnān whose family tree has been preserved over the ages. In the second century A.D, the children of Kanānah, who lived in Makkah became prominent. Kanānah’s great grandson, Fahr ibn Mālik was a man of many qualities. His children came to be known as Quraysh. Qusayy ibn Kilāb in Fahr’s sixth generation gained a lot of fame. He married the daughter of the Ka‘bah’s trustee, belonging to the tribe of Khuzā‘ah, Halīl ibn Habshiyyah, and became a partner in the management of the House of God. On Halīl’s death, Qusayy took over the entire responsibility. When the tribe of Khuzā‘ah opposed him, he took help from his family, the Banū Kanānah and the rest of the Ishmaelites, inviting them to come and stay close to Makkah. Several of his tribes did so, and consequently, the strength of the Quraysh increased. Qusayy was given the name of “Assembly,” presumably at being able to gather such crowds together.

It finally came to a battle between the warring parties with heavy losses to both. Ya‘mar ibn ‘Awf was assigned as the arbitrator to decide between them. He decided that as compared to the Khuzā‘ah, Qusayy ibn Kilāb holds greater legitimacy to keep the management of the Ka‘bah under his control. Also, that the Banū Bakr and Banū Khuzā‘ah will have to give blood money in lieu of the men of the Quraysh they have killed. However, those killed by Qusayy will not be atoned for. In this manner, the legacy of Abraham (sws) and the religious governance of the Arabs came to the tribe that was from the progeny of Ishmael (sws) and whose trusteeship was its first right.1

Qusayy’s farsighted mind thought of setting up an urban city within Makkah, dividing the responsibilities of its management among the various dynasties of Quraysh so that each would feel ownership. Each tribe would believe that it is being given importance and that each must fulfill its duty in the responsibilities of the state so that they are equal partners in maintaining order and management. Qusayy delineated separate districts for each of the branches of the Quraysh, and set up a council for consultation comprised of the leaders. None of the leaders was less than 40 years of age. The head of the council was Qusayy himself, and the council was responsible for matters related to management of the House of God, war and reconciliation, important issues related to the state and decisions of marriage. He set up the Dār al-Nadwah for gatherings of the council, the door of which opened towards the Ka‘bah. Qusayy took up the responsibilities of the Ka‘bah himself, as he was the governor of Makkah as well as the religious head of all Arabs. With such status, he was held in great regard.

The city government had several departments, of which the hijābah (security and guard ship) and sadānah (key handling) related to the Ka‘bah. Siqāyah (giving water to drink), and rifādah (making food arrangements) were departments to serve the pilgrims. Al-Liwā’ (flag), qiyādah (leading the war) and raqbah (managing military encampments) were concerned with the state of war. This division of responsibilities improved the city management, enhanced the importance of families and created synergies amongst them. Qusayy started to take a tenth of the earnings from the traders who came to Makkah and this became a major source of its income. He also made several reforms in the arrangements for hajj and ‘umrah. For the welfare of the pilgrims, he advised the Quraysh that they should consider themselves the servants of the House of God, and the pilgrims to be God’s guests. He improved the water supply system and made it mandatory for the Quraysh to collect funds and arrange feasts for the visiting pilgrims.

At his death, Qusayy made his eldest son ‘Abd al-Dār responsible for the state affairs, although his second son, ‘Abd Munāf was the most capable of his four sons and had demonstrated this during his father’s lifetime. He was also highly respected by the people. The other brothers accepted their father’s decision, but their children were not satisfied. At ‘Abd al-Dār’s death, ‘Abd Munāf’s sons raised their voices against their grandfather’s decision, and demanded a just division of the departments. As a result, the Quraysh were divided into two: Banū Asad, Banū Zahrā’ and the Banū Hārith were in favour of ‘Abd Munāf’s son’s demands. They resolved to remain together and came to be called Mutayyibīn. ‘Abd al-Dār’s children were supported by the Banū Sahm, the Banū ‘Adī, the Banū Makhzum and the Banū Jamha. They were called Ihlaf. The two groups had come close to war when some people intervened to arbitrate and brought them to a compromise. The Banū ‘Abd al-Dār retained the departments of nadwah, hijābah and liwā’, and the Banū Munāf were given siqāyah and rifādah. Although the decision was taken with a reconciliatory spirit, the respective families retained the divisive feelings that had existed between the Mutayyibīn and the Ihlaf.


Hāshim ibn ‘Abd Munāf

After ‘Abd Munāf’s death, the tribe was led by ‘Abd Shams. Since he was mostly on his travels and was also financially weak, his responsibilities were mainly met by ‘Abd Munāf’s second son, Hāshim. He was a very generous and kind man by nature. Once when Makkah was ravaged by famine, he went to Palestine, bought flour and fed the people of Makkah with tharīd (bread dipped in curry). Hāshim was in the forefront in serving the pilgrims to Makkah, feeding them from his own pocket. He was a successful trader. He and his brothers had used their relationships and connections and obtained written agreements for peaceful passage for the trading caravans of the Quraysh from the governments of Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Egypt and Yemen as well as from other tribes of Arabia. Muttalib ibn Munāf obtained permission from Negus, Nawfil ibn Munāf obtained one from the Shah of Iran. Hāshim himself obtained such permissions for the safe passage of the Quraysh from the King of Rome.2 Through the efforts of these brothers, the Quraysh received such facilities that were not available to any other tribe in Arabia. Whenever other tribes passed the area that belonged to another, they had to pay a tax. In contrast, the Quraysh could commute easily across other states and countries without any payment. Since their profession was trade, each individual could send his goods to the market either himself or through his emissary, being promised of safe travel. Those who did not have capital of their own acted as agents of others, and the people of Makkah, including their women, earned income through trade while staying in Makkah. It was common for the Quraysh to travel to Yemen and Egypt in summer, and Palestine and Syria in the winter. The people would not object to them, taking them to be servants of the House of God, its trustees and supporters of pilgrims. These travels were a source of good times, wealth and blessings for the Quraysh. Referring to this extraordinary facility for the Quraysh, the Qur’ān says:

Owing to the association the Quraysh have – the association they have with the winter and summer journeys. So, they should worship the Lord of this House who fed them because of hunger and provided them with peace because of fear. (106: 1-4)

Since the Quraysh were bestowed with this facility because of the trusteeship of the Ka‘bah, they could only fulfill their obligation if they worshipped the Lord of this House and abstained from polytheism.


‘Abd al-Muttalib ibn Hāshim

Hāshim married a woman of status from the tribe of Banū Najjār in Yathrib. She put the condition that she will remain in Yathrib to look after her affairs. When she gave birth to a son, Hāshim had to leave him with the mother according to his promise. The son was named Shaybah. On Hāshim’s death, his brother, Muttalib went to Yathrib and asked the mother to send the boy with him so that he may be brought up according to the family customs. She agreed, but after much difficulty. When Muttalib reached Makkah, people there thought the boy was his slave, and started to call him ‘Abd al-Muttalib. Even after they knew the truth, this name had become entrenched that his real name was forgotten and he was always known as ‘Abd ul-Muttalib. Muttalib ibn Munāf became responsible for the departments of siqāyah and rifādah after Hashim died, and he also took on the leadership of Banū Hāshim.3

A significant incident during the time of ‘Abd al-Muttalib is the discovery of the well of Zam Zam that the Banū Khuzā‘ah closed after being chased out from the House of God. Although the well was located just next to the Ka‘bah, with the passage of time, people had forgotten its whereabouts. According to various narratives, ‘Abd al-Muttalib dreamt that he was digging in a particular spot. Considering this as a divine sign, he consulted the Quraysh and sought their help in digging the place. They thought it would be a useless exercise and refused to cooperate. ‘Abd al-Muttalib started digging with his son, Hārith. In a while, they found the swords that had been buried by the Banū Jurham. Now the Quraysh wished to participate, but ‘Abd al-Muttalib did not agree to their involvement at this stage, and decided to complete the process himself. It was after a very long time that pilgrims had the honour of drinking water from the blessed well.

According to the narratives in books on the life of the Prophet (sws), ‘Abd al-Muttalib had been deeply hurt by the fact that the other families of the Quraysh had not assisted him in the digging of the well. He made a vow that if God granted him ten sons, he would offer one of them as sacrifice. This wish was granted, and he had ten sons. When they were old enough, the father gathered them and told them of his vow. They agreed to implement it. ‘Abd al-Muttalib drew a lot near the Ka‘bah for which of his sons to be sacrificed, and it fell to his youngest, ‘Abdullāh. As ‘Abd al-Muttalib walked towards the altar with ‘Abdullāh, the Quraysh were concerned that such an act would set a wrong precedent in the Arab world that would be difficult to check for anyone. They asked ‘Abd al-Muttalib to consult a famous soothsayer in Yathrib, and offer something in expiation. Some people went to Yathrib, where the soothsayer advised them to draw a lot between 10 camels and ‘Abdullāh near the Ka‘bah. If the draw is for ‘Abdullāh, it should be repeated with 20 camels. Each time the draw is in favour of ‘Abdullāh, the number of camels should be increased by 10 until the draw is in favour of the latter. This was followed until the expiation was settled at 100 camels for ‘Abdullāh. The camels were slaughtered and their meat was distributed within the community.

During the time of ‘Abd al-Muttalib, a biased Christian ruler of Yemen, Abrahah, advanced upon the Ka‘bah with a large army, intending to destroy it. The attacking contingent included elephants. The Arabs had no previous experience of fighting battles with such armies. The Quraysh, along with other tribes of Arabia adopted the strategy of guerilla warfare by keeping themselves safe behind the mountains. Abrahah had deliberately concocted a false reason and a time to launch his attack. The reason was to avenge the alleged defiling of a newly built church in Yemen by an Arab. The time chosen was the holy months, because he thought that since the Arabs do not consider it right to wage war during these days, he would not be offered much resistance. He attempted to attack during the days when the pilgrims who had come from across the country were either busy in sacrifice or are returning home, tired after a physically demanding pilgrimage. Makkah was usually empty in those days because its residents were busy making arrangements for hajj outside. When ‘Abd al-Muttalib heard of the attack, he prayed in the Ka‘bah:4

O Lord, a man protects his family and property; please protect your own people. The cross of the enemy and his strength should not overwhelm your strength. If you wish to leave our Qibla to the whims of our enemy, that is your will; so do what you will.”


God destroyed Abrahah’s plans and his tricks completely. He had to face attacks from the Arab tribes while travelling from Yemen to Makkah. When he reached Makkah, the residents of Makkah and unarmed pilgrims pelted his army with stones from Minā, using them as ammunition, and forcing the attackers to retreat. Meanwhile, the Quraysh used guerilla warfare tactics, and kept praying to God. As a result, a strong stone-laden wind blew from the valley of Muhassar, adjacent to Minā, that stoned Abrahah’s army, causing it to be completely destroyed. All of a sudden, birds of prey descended in flocks and cleaned the flesh off the bodies, thus eliminating the stench of dead bodies from the valley. The valley was then flooded with water that carried away the remaining bones with it. God thus made the resistance of the Quraysh so effective with His support that the “people of the elephants” were reduced to nothingness. This incident became so significant in the history of the Arabs that they started their calendar from this date, and this year was called the Year of the Elephant.

Ever since the Banū Khuzā‘ah had been deprived of the management of the Ka‘bah, they had been feeling hurt and resentful. During his leadership, ‘Abd al-Muttalib had developed an agreement of mutual support and assistance with Banū Khuzā‘ah’s ‘Amr ibn Rabī‘ah and his friends. This agreement was also to be followed by their children. The Banū Muttalib also entered this agreement, but the children of ‘Abd Shams, Banū Umayyah, and Banū Nawfil remained outside it. ‘Abd al-Muttalib asked his heir Zubayr bin Muttalib, and he his heir in turn, Abū Tālib, to honour this agreement. Banū Khuzā‘ah, too, continued to support ‘Abd Muttalib and his children later in accordance to this agreement. It was thus that the tribe of Banū Khuzā‘ah that was living around Makkah came close to the Quraysh again and began to take an interest in matters related to the Ka‘bah.


The Children of ‘Abd al-Muttalib

Of ‘Abd al-Muttalib’s sons, Hārith, Zubayr, Abū Tālib, Abū Lahab, ‘Abbās, Hamzah and ‘Abdullāh became famous. Hārith died during his father’s lifetime. ‘Abd al-Muttalib had three sons from his second wife, Fātimah bint ‘Amr: Zubayr, Abū Tālib and ‘Abdullāh. On his deathbed, he gave his responsibilities to the eldest, Zubayr who, as his father’s heir,5 became the head of the household. In this position, he established his piety and kindness among all. He remained the head of Banū Hāshim for about 13-14 years, and on his death, this position was transferred to Abū Tālib. Abū Tālib was a poor man and was in debt to his brother, ‘Abbās. When he was unable to pay off the debt, he resigned from the management of siqāyah, in favour of ‘Abbās.

‘Abdullāh died while his father was still alive. He had the honour of being the father of the greatest of all prophets, for whom Abraham (sws) and Ishmael (sws) had prayed; about whom the prophets of the Israelites had been predicting and asking their people to have faith in, and about whose advent Jesus (sws) had brought tidings and had paved the way for; ie. Prophet Muhammad (sws). 

In previous times, the signs that prophets had given of the prophet to come had included the fact that he would be from the Ishmaelites, who would be in charge of the House of God. Muhammad (sws) was born in that branch of the Quraysh, which had the trusteeship of the Ka‘bah. The second sign was that there would be no prophet between Jesus (sws) and him, so, in fact, there was none. The Israelites, Jews and Christians all had waited for the promised prophet. The third sign was that this prophet would be for all times to come, and no other prophet would come after him. After Muhammad (sws), several individuals have claimed that they are prophets, but no one has been able to give any evidence of their claims. They have had no knowledge gained through wahī, and they have not been accepted by the world. Several other signs have been proved in relation to the Prophet’s (sws) life, and these shall be explained in later chapters. 


(Translated from Hayāt-i Rasūl-i Ummī by Nikhat Sattar)


1. Muhammad ibn Sa‘d, Al-Tabaqāt al-kubrā, vol. 1 (Beirut: Dar al-fikr, n.d.), 44.

2. Ibid., vol. 1, 51.

3. Ibid., vol. 1, 54.

4. Ibid., vol. 1, 60.

5. Ibid., vol. 1, 61.


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