Syed Ameer Ali.

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half-legendary, half-historic destruction of the 'Adites and the
Thamudites, we see the destructive fate which overwhelmed
these Hamitic races before the Semitic tide, Assyrian and
Arab. 2

The children of Jacob, flying from their ruthless enemies,
brought their legends and traditions with them, and thus
contributed their quota to the folklore of the Peninsula. The
last of the Semitic colonies that entered Arabia was acknow-
ledged by themselves as well as their neighbours to be descended
from Abraham ; and tradition had handed down this belief,
and given it a shape and character.

Manicheism, stamped out from Persia and the Byzantine
dominions, had betaken itself to Arabia. 3 The early Docetes,
the Marcionites, the Valentinians, all had their representatives
in this land of freedom. They all disseminated their views and
traditions, which in course of time became intermixed with
the traditions of the country. These Christians, more consis-
tent in their views than their orthodox persecutors, believed
that the God incarnate, or at least the Son of God, His Word,
born in the bosom of eternity, an /Eon, an Emanation issuing
from the Throne of Light, could not, did not, die on the cross ;
that the words of agony which orthodox Christian traditions
put into the mouth of Jesus did not, and could not, escape
from his lips ; in short, that the man who suffered on the cross
was a different person from the Divine Christ, who escaped
from the hands of his persecutors and went away to the regions
whence he had come. 4 This doctrine, however fanciful, was
more consistent with the idea of the sonship of Jesus, and in
itself appears to have been based on some strong probabilities.
The intense desire of Pilate, whom Tertullian calls a Christian
at heart, to save Jesus ; 5 even the unwillingness of Herod

1 Lenormant, Ancient History of the East, vol. ii. p. 296.

2 Ibn ul-Athir, vol. i. pp. 55-58.

3 Beausobre, Hist, du M anicheisme , pt. i. 1. ii. chap. iv.
* Mosheim and Gibbon, in loco.

5 Blunt, History of the Christian Church, p. 138.


to incur more odium by the murder of the Prophet of
Nazareth ; the darkness of the short hours when that great
benefactor of humanity was led forth for the consummation
of the frightful scenes which had continued throughout the
night ; the preternatural gloom which overshadowed the earth
at the most awful part of this drama ; l all these coincident
circumstances lend a strong probability to the belief that the
innocent escaped and the guilty suffered. 2

Before the Advent of Mohammed, all these traditions, based
on fact though tinged by the colourings of imagination, must
have become firmly imbedded in the convictions of the people,
and formed essential parts of the folklore of the country.
Mohammed, when promulgating his faith and his laws, found
these traditions current among his people ; he took them up
and adopted them as the lever for raising the Arabs and the
surrounding nations from the depths of social and moral
degradation into which they had fallen.

The light that shone on Sinai, the light that brightened the
lives of the peasants and fishermen of Galilee, is now aflame
on the heights of Faran ! 3

1 Comp. Milman, History of Christianity, vol. i. pp. 348-362.

2 If anything could lend stronger probability to this curious belief, it ought
to be the circumstantial account of Luke xxiv. 36 et seq., about Jesus allowing
himself to be touched and felt (after the resurrection) in order to calm his
affrighted disciples, who believed him to be a spirit ; and his asking for
" meat," and partaking of " a broiled fish and of a honey-comb."

3 The tradition which I have paraphrased into English is as follows : — -

" Sa'ir," says Yakut in his Geographical Encyclopaedia, " is a hill in
Palestine and Faran is the hill of Mecca ; " Mu'jam ul-Biilddn, vol. iii. p. 834.











— A= p-:'





O - ■*'



C» >



Jl >




THESE lines, untranslatable in their beauty, do not in
the least exaggerate the gentleness of disposition,
the nobility of character, of the man whose life,
career, and teachings we propose to describe in the following
pages. At the dawn of the seventh century of the Christian
era, in the streets of Mecca might often be seen a quiet
thoughtful man, past the meridian of life, his Arab mantle
thrown across his shoulders, his tailasdn x drawn low over
his face ; sometimes gently sauntering, sometimes hurrying
along, heedless of the passers-by, heedless of the gay scenes
around him, deeply absorbed in his own thoughts — yet withal
never forgetful to return the salutation of the lowliest, or
to speak a kindly word to the children who loved to throng
around him. This is al-Amin, " the Trusty." He has so
honourably and industriously walked through life, that he
has won for himself from his compatriots the noble designa-
tion of the true and trusty. But now, owing to his strange

1 A scarf thrown over the head usually covering the turhan, and brought
round under the chin and passed over the left shoulder.
S.I. A


preaching, his fellow-townsmen are beginning to look
suspiciously upon him as a wild visionary, a crazed revolutionist,
desirous of levelling the old landmarks of society, of doing
away with their ancient privileges, of making them abandon
their old creeds and customs.

Mecca was, at this time, a city of considerable importance and
note among the townships of Arabia, both from its associations
and its position. Situated in a low-lying valley stretching
north to south, bordered on the west by a range of hills, on the
east by high granite rocks — the Kaaba in its centre, its regular
and paved streets, its fortified houses, its public hall opening
on to the platform of the temple, the city presented an unusual
appearance of prosperity and strength. The guardianship of
the Kaaba, originally an appanage of the children of Ishmael,
had in consequence of the Babylonian attack, passed into the
hands of the Jurhumites. The combination of the secular and
religious power enabled the chiefs of the Bani-Jurhum to assume
the title of malik or king. In the early part of the third century
the Jurhumites were overwhelmed by the irruption of a Kahta-
nite tribe, called the Bani-Khuza'a, who, issuing from Yemen,
possessed themselves of Mecca and the southern parts of
Hijaz. In the meantime, the race of Ishmael, which had
suffered. so terribly at the hands of the Babylonian king, was
gradually regaining its former strength. 'Adnan, one of the
descendants of Ishmael, who flourished about the first century
before Christ, had, like his ancestor, married the daughter of the
Jurhumite chief, and established himself at Mecca, and his son
Ma'add became the real progenitor of the Ishmaelites inhabit-
ing Hijaz and Najd. Fihr, surnamed Koreish, a descendant
of Ma'add, who flourished in the third century, was the ancestor
of the tribe which gave to Arabia her Prophet and Legislator.

The Khuzaites remained in possession of the temple, and of
all the pre-eminence it conferred on them, for more than two
centuries. Upon the death of Holayl, the last of the Khuzaite
chiefs, Kossay, a descendant of Fihr, 1 who had married Holayl's
daughter, drove the Khuzaites out of Mecca, and possessed

1 Kossay was the fifth in descent from Fihr, and was born about 398 a.c.
The word Koreish is derived from Karash, to trade, as Fihr and his descendants
were addicted to commerce.


himself of the entire power, both secular and religious, in the
city, and thus became the virtual ruler of Hijaz. 1 We now
arrive on absolutely historical grounds.

Kossay appears to have made himself the master of Mecca
about the middle of the fifth century of the Christian era, and
he at once set himself to the task of placing the administration
of the city upon an organised basis. Until Kossay's time, the
different Koreishite families had lived dispersed in separate
quarters, at considerable distances from the Kaaba, and the
extreme sanctity they attached to the temple had prevented
their erecting any habitation in its neighbourhood. Perceiving
the dangers to which the national pantheon was exposed from
its unprotected condition, he induced the Koreish to settle in
its vicinity, leaving a sufficient space free on the four sides of
the temple for the tawdf (circumambulation) . The families, to
whom the lands were allotted, dwelt in strongly fortified quarters.

Kossay built for himself a palace, the door of which opened
on the platform of the temple. This palace was called the Dan.
sP'ml-Nadwd, 2 " the council hall," where, under the presidency of
Kossay, public affairs were discussed and transacted. To this
hall, no man under the age of forty, unless a descendant of
Kossay, could gain admission. Here also were performed all
civil functions. At the Ddr un-Nadwd, the Koreishites, when
about to engage in a war, received from the hands of Kossay
the standard, liwa. Kossay himself attached to the end of a
lance a piece of white stuff, and handed it, or sent it by one of
his sons, to the Koreishite chiefs. This ceremony, called the
AM ul-liwa, continued in vogue from the time of its inaugura-
tion by Kossa}^ until the very end of the Arab empire. Another
of Kossay's institutions endured much longer. By representing
to the Koreish the necessity of providing food for the poor
pilgrims who annually visited Mecca, and by impressing on
them the duties of hospitality, Kossay succeeded in making
them submit to the payment of an annual poor-tax, called the
Rifdda, which he applied in feeding the poorer pilgrims during

1 The next we hear of the Khuzaites is when the Koreish invoked their
assistance against the Prophet.

2 This building, after having been renewed several times, was ultimately
converted into a mosque, under Abdul Malik II. (one of the Ommeyyades).


the Ayydm id-Mind x — the day of the sacrificial feast, and the
two following days which they passed at Mina. This usage
continued after the establishment of Islam, and was the origin
of the distribution of food which was made at Mina each year
during the pilgrimage, in the name of the Caliphs and the
Sultans, their successors. The words nadwa, liwa and rifdda
denote the functions exercised by Kossay, being the right of
convoking and presiding at the council of the nation, of bestow-
ing the standard, — the symbol of military command, — and of
levying imposts, raised for the purpose of supplying food to
the pilgrims. With these dignities, Kossay also held the
administration of the water supplied by the wells in Mecca and
its neighbourhood (sikdya) and the custody of the keys of the
Kaaba (hijdba), with the ministration to the worship of the gods.

Kossay thus united in his own person all the principal
religious, civil, and political functions. He was king, magistrate
and chief pontiff. His power, which was almost royal, threw
great lustre on the tribe of Koreish, of whom he was the
acknowledged chief, and from his time the Koreish acquired
a marked preponderance among the other descendants of

Kossay died at an advanced age, about the year 480 a.c.

He had in his lifetime designated his eldest son Abd ud-Dar
as his successor, and after his death the son succeeded quietly,
and without dispute, to the high position of the father. Upon
the death of Abd ud-Dar, serious disputes broke out between
his grandchildren and the sons of Abd(u)Manaf, his brother.
The various clans and their allies and neighbours ranged
themselves on opposite sides. The dispute, however, was
amicably settled for the time. By the compromise thus
effected, the sikdya and the rifdda were intrusted to Abd
us-Shams, the son of Abd(u)Manaf, whilst the hijdba, nadwa,
and liwa remained in the hands of the children of Abd ud-Dar.
Abd us-Shams, who was comparatively a poor man, transferred
the duties which had been intrusted to him to his brother
Hashim, a man of great consequence as well as riches among
the Koreish. Hashim was the receiver of the tax imposed
on the Koreishites by Kossay for the support of the pilgrims,

1 Mina (the ' i ' is pronounced very short) is a suburb of Mecca.


and the income derived from their contributions joined to his
own resources, was employed in providing food to the
strangers who congregated at Mecca during the season of the

Like the majority of the Meccans, Hashim was engaged in
commerce. It was he who founded among the Koreishites the
custom of sending out regularly from Mecca two caravans, one
in winter to Yemen, and the other in summer to Syria. Hashim
died in the course of one of his expeditions into Syria, in the
city of Ghazza, about the year 510 a. a, leaving an only son,
named Shayba, by an Yathribite lady of the name of Salma.
The charge of the rifdda and the sikdya passed, upon his death,
to his younger brother Muttalib, who had won for himself a
high place in the estimation of his compatriots, and the noble
designation of al-Faiz (the Generous) by his worth and munifi-
cence. Muttalib brought Shayba, the white-haired youth, from
Yathrib, to Mecca. Mistaking Shayba for a slave of Muttalib,
the Meccans called him Abd ul-Muttalib and history recognises
the grandfather of the Prophet under no other name than that
of Abd ul-Muttalib, " the slave of Muttalib." x

Muttalib died at Kazwan, in Yemen, towards the end of 520
a. a, and was succeeded by his nephew, Abd ul-Muttalib, as the
virtual head of the Meccan commonwealth. The government
of Mecca was at this time vested in the hands of an oligarchy
composed of the leading members of the house of Kossay.
After the discovery of the sacred well of Zemzem by Abd ul-
Muttalib, and the settlement of the disputes regarding its
superintendence, the governing body consisted of ten senators,
who were styled Sharif s. These decemvirs occupied the first
place in the State, and their offices were hereditary in favour
of the eldest member, or chief, of each family. These dignities
were —

(1). The Hijdba, the guardianship of the keys of the Kaaba,
a sacerdotal office of considerable rank. It had been allotted to
the house of Abd ud-Dar, and at the time when Mecca was
converted to Islam, it was held by Osman, the son of Talha.

1 Of the sons of Abd(u)Manaf, Hashim died first, at Ghazza ; then died
Abd ush-Shams at Mecca ; then Muttalib at Kazwan ; and lastly, Naufal,
some time after Muttalib, at Silman, in Irak.


(2). The Sikdya, or the intendance of the sacred wells of
Zemzem, and of all the water destined for the use of the pil-
grims. This dignity belonged to the house of Hashim, and was
held at the time of the conquest of Mecca, by Abbas, the
uncle of the Prophet.

(3). The Diyat, or the civil and criminal magistracy, which
had, for a long time, belonged to the house of Taym ibn-
Murra, and, at the time of the Prophet's advent, was held by
Abdullah ibn-Kuhafa, surnamed Abu Bakr.

(4). The Sifdrah, or legation. The person to whom this
office belonged was the plenipotentiary of the State, authorised
to discuss and settle the differences which arose between the
Koreish and the other Arab tribes, as also with strangers.
This office was held by Omar.

(5). The Lima, or the custody of the standard under which
the nation marched against its enemies. The guardian of this
standard was the general-in-chief of all the forces of the State.
This military charge appertained to the house of Ommeyya,
and was held by Abu Sufian, the son of Harb, the most im-
placable enemy of Mohammed.

(6). The Rifdda, or the administration of the poor tax.
Formed with the alms of the nation, it was employed to provide
food for the poor pilgrims, whether travellers or residents,
whom the State regarded as the guests of God. This duty,
after the death of Abu Talib, upon whom it had devolved
after Abd ul-Muttalib, was transferred to the house of Naufal,
son of Abd(u)Manaf, and was held at the time of the Prophet
by Harith, son of Amr.

(7). The Nadwa, the presidency of the national assembly.
The holder of this office was the first councillor of the State,
and under his advice all public acts were transacted. Aswad,
of the house of Abd ul-'Uzza, son of Kossay, held this dignity
at the time of the Prophet.

(8) . The Kha'immeh, the guardianship of the council chamber.
This function, which conferred upon the incumbent the right
of convoking the assembly, and even of calling to arms the
troops, was held by Khalid, son of Walid, of the house of
Yakhzum, son of Marra.

(9). Khdzina, or the administration of the public finances,


belonged to the house of Hasan, son of Kaab, and was held by
Harith, son of Kais.

(10). The Azldm, 1 the guardianship of the divining arrows by
which the judgment of the gods and goddesses was obtained.
Safwan, brother of Abu Sufian, held this dignity. At the same
time it was an established custom that the oldest member
exercised the greatest influence, and bore the title of Rais or
Syed, chief and lord par excellence. Abbas was at the time
of the Prophet the first of these senators.

In spite, however, of this distribution of privilege and power,
the personal character and influence of Abd ul-Muttalib gave
him an undoubted pre-eminence. The venerable patriarch,
who had, in accordance with the custom of his nation, vowed
to the deities of the Kaaba the sacrifice of one of his male
children, was blessed with a numerous progeny. 2 And in
fulfilment of his vow he proceeded to offer up to the inexorable
gods of his temple the life of his best beloved son, Abdullah.
But this was not to be. The sacrifice of the human life was
commuted, by the voice of the Pythia attached to the temple,
to a hundred camels — thenceforth the fixed Wehrgeld, or price
of blood.

Abdullah was married to Amina, a daughter of Wahb, the
chief of the family of Zuhri. The year following the marriage
of Abdullah was full of momentous events. At the beginning
of the year the whole of Arabia was startled by an event which
sent a thrill through the nation. Abraha al- Ashram, the
Abyssinian viceroy of Yemen, had built a church at San'a, and
was anxious to divert into his own city the wealth which the
sanctity of the Kaaba attracted to Mecca. The desecration
of the church by a Meccan furnished him with an ostensible

1 With a j (zay), plural of zalam.

1 Abd ul-Muttalib had twelve sons and six daughters. Of the sons, Harith,
born towards a.c. 538, was the eldest ; the others were Abd ul-'Uzza, alias Abd
Lahab, the persecutor of the Prophet ; Abd(u) Manaf, better known as A bit
Tdlib (born in a.c. 540, died in 620 a.c.) ; Zubair and Abdullah (54.5), born
of Fatima, the daughter of 'Amr, the Makhzumi ; Dhirarand Abbas (566-652),
born of Nutayla ; Mukawwim, Jahm, surnamed al-Ghaydak (the liberal), and
Hamzah, born of Hala. The daughters were Atika, Omayma, Arwa, Barra,
and Umm-i-Hakim, surnamed al-Bayza (the fair), by Fatima, and Safiya, born
of Hala, who married Awwam, the grandfather of the famous Abdullah ibn-
Zubair, who played such an important part in the history of Islam. The
names of the other two sons of Abd ul-Muttalib are not known, probablv
because they left no posterity.


motive, and he marched a large army to the destruction of the
temple, himself riding at the head of his troops on a magnifi-
cently caparisoned elephant. The sight of the huge animal
striding solemnly in the midst of the vast force so struck the
imagination of the Arabian tribes, that they dated an era
from this event, and named it as the Era of the Elephant (570
a. a). On the approach of the Abyssinians, the Koreish, with
their women and children, retired to the neighbouring moun-
tains, and from there watched the course of affairs, hoping all
the while that the deities of the Kaaba would defend their
dwelling place. The morning dawned brightly as the Abys-
sinians advanced towards Mecca, when, lo and behold, say the
traditionists, the sky was suddenly overcast by an enormous
flight of small birds, swallows, which poured small stones
over the ill-fated army. These stones, penetrating through
the armour of men and horses, created terrible havoc among
the invaders. At the same time the flood-gates of heaven
were opened, and there burst forth torrents of rain, carrying
away the dead and dying towards the sea.

Abraha fled to San 'a covered with wounds, and died there
soon after his arrival. Ibn-Hisham, after narrating this
prodigy, adds, " it was in the same year that small-pox mani-
fested itself for the first time in Arabia." " This indication
explains the miracle," says Caussin de Perceval. One can
well understand the annihilation of Abraha's army by some
terrible epidemic, similar to the fate which overtook Senna-
cherib, to which was joined perhaps one of those grand down-
pours of rain which often produce terrible inundations in the
valley of Mecca.

Shortly after this event, Abdullah died in the course of a
journey to Yathrib, in the twenty-fifth year of his age. 1 And,
a few days after, the afflicted wife gave birth to a son who was
named Mohammed. Mohammed was born on the 12th of
Rabi I., in the year of the Elephant, a little more than fifty
days after the destruction of the Abyssinian army, or the 29th
of August 570. 2 His birth, they say, was attended with signs

1 He was buried in the quarter occupied by the sons of ' Adi, his maternal uncles.

2 Towards the end of the fortieth year of the reign of Kesra Anushirvun,
and the end of the year 880 of the era of the Seleucidae.


and portents from which the nations of the earth could know
that the Deliverer had appeared. The rationalistic historian
smiles, the religious controversialist, who, upon a priori reason-
ing, accepts without comment the accounts of the wise men
following the star, scoffs at these marvels. To the critical
student, whose heart is not devoid of sympathy with earlier
modes of thought, and who is not biased with pre-conceived
notions, " the portents and signs " which the Moslem says
attended the birth of his Prophet are facts deserving of historical
analysis. We, moderns, perceive, in the ordinary incidents
in the lives of nations and individuals, the current of an
irresistible law ; what wonder then that 1400 years ago they
perceived in the fall of a nation's memorial the finger of God,
pointing to the inevitable destiny, which was to overtake it
in its iniquity. In accordance with the custom of the Arabs,
the child was confided during his early infancy to a Bedouin
woman 1 of the tribe of Bani-Sa'd, a branch of the Hawazin,
and upon being returned by her to his mother, was brought
up by Amina with the tenderest care. But she died not long
after, and the doubly-orphaned child was thus thrown upon
the care of his grandfather, Abd ul-Muttalib, who, during the
few years that he survived the mother, watched his grandson
with the utmost tenderness. But nothing could make up for
the loss of that parental care and love which are the blessings
of childhood. His father had died before he was born. He
was bereft of his mother when only six years of age, and this
irreparable loss made a deep impression on the mind of the
sensitive child. Three or four years later he lost his grand-
father also. Abd ul-Muttalib died towards the year 579
A.c., 2 shortly after his return from a journey to San'a, where he
had gone as the representative of the Koreish to congratulate

1 In after life, when this poor Bedouin woman was brought by the Koreish
as a captive to Mecca, Mohammed recognised her with tears of joy, and
obtained for her from his rich wife an ample provision for her life.

2 Of the two duties of the Sikdya and Rifdda held by Abd ul-Muttalib, the
Sikdya, with the custody of the Zemzem, passed to his son Abbas. The
second devolved on Abu Talib, who enjoyed at Mecca great authority and
consideration. Abu Talib, however, did not transmit the Rifdda to his
children. This dignity was transferred, upon his death, to the branch of
Naufal, son of Abd(u) Manaf ; and at the time Mecca surrendered to the
Prophet, Harith, the son of 'Amr, and the grandson of Naufal, exercised, as
we have said before, the functions of the Rifdda ; /airii, vol. i. p. 14.


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