The Forefathers of Mahomet, and History of Mecca, from the middle of the Fifth Century to the Birth of Mahomet 570 A.D.


The Forefathers of Mahomet, and History of Mecca, from the middle of the Fifth Century to the Birth of Mahomet 570 A.D.

Cossai, Ruler of Mecca; middle of fifth century

IN the fourth section of die foregoing chapter I have endeavoured to give a connected view of the progress of events at Mecca, from the most remote times to the middle of the fifth century. About that period we left Cossai in the possession of all the important dignities of the city, religious and political.

Civil polity based on the habits of the Bedouins

The social institutions of Mecca did not essentially differ from those of the wandering Bedouins. They were to some extent modified by the requirements of a settled habitation, and the peculiarities of the pilgrimage and local superstition. But the ultimate sanctions of society, and the springs of political movement, were in reality the same at Mecca then (so wonderfully have they survived the corroding effects of time) as exist in the desert at the present day, and have been so graphically pourtrayed by the pen of Burkhardt.

General principles of Bedouin Government

It must be borne in mind that at Mecca there was not, before the establishment of Islam, any Government in the common sense of the term1. No supreme authority existed whose mandate must be put into execution. Each tribe formed a republic governed by opinion; and the opinnion or the aggregate tribes, who chanced for the time to be acting together, was the sovereign law. There was no recognized exponent of the popular will; each tribe was free to hold back from that which was clearly decreed by the rest; and no individual was more bound than his collective tribe to a compulsory conformity with the even unanimous resolve of his fellow-citizens. Honour and revenge supplied the place of a more elaborate system. The former prompted the individual, by the desire of upholding the name and influence of his clan, to a compliance with the general wish; the latter provided for the respect of private right, by the unrelenting pursuit of the injurer. In effect, the will of the majority did form the general rule of action for all2, although there was a continual risk that the minority might separate and assume an independent, if not antagonistic, course. The law of revenge, too, though in such a society perhaps unavoidable, was then, even as it is now, the curse of Arabia. The stain of blood once shed was not easily effaced: its price might be rejected by the heir, and life demanded for life. Retaliation followed retribution: the friends, the family, the clan, the confederated tribes, one by one in a widening circle, identified themselves with the sufferer, and adopted his claims as their own; and thus an insignificant quarrel or unpremeditated blow not unfrequently involved whole tracts of country in a protracted and bloody strife. Still, in a system which provided no magisterial power to interfere with decisive authority in personal disputes, it cannot be doubted that the law of retaliation afforded an important check upon the passions of the stronger; and that acts of violence and injustice were repressed by the fear of retribution from the friends or relatives of the injured party. The benefit of the custom was further increased by the practice of Patronage or guardianship. The weak resorted to the strong for protection; and when the word of a chief or powerful man was once pledged to grant it, the pledge was fulfilled with chivalrous scrupulosity.

The offices of the Kaaba and of the pilgrimage conferred a special authority on the Chiefs of Mecca

At first sight it might appear that, under this system, the chiefs possessed no shadow of authority to execute either their own wishes or those of the people. But in reality their powers, though vague and undefined, were large end effective. Their position always secured for them an important share in forming and giving expression to the public opinion; so that, excepting in rare and unusual cases, they swayed the councils and the movements of their tribes. It was chiefly by the influence derived from the local offices attaching to the Kaaba and the pilgrimage that the Sheikhs of Mecca differed from their brethren of the desert, and exercised a more systematic and more permanent rule. It is important, therefore, carefully to trace the history of these offices, which Cossai, with the hope of founding a stable government, concentrated first in his own person, and then in the person of his eldest son.

Enumeration of the offices

The offices are commonly reckoned five in number : - I. Sicaya and Rifada; the exclusive privilege of supplying water and food to the pilgrims. II. Kiyada; the command of the troops in war. III. Liwa; the standard, or right of affixing the banner to the staff; and presenting it to the Standard-bearer. IV. Hijaba; the charge of the Kaaba V. Dur at Nadwa; the presidency in the hall of Council3.

Cossai makes over the offices to his eldest son Abd al Dar

Cossai had four sons, the two most distinguished of whom are called Abd al Dar, and Abd Menaf4 (the latter born about 430 A. D.) The narrative of the patriarch's last days is thus simply told by Wackidi. In process of time Cossai became old and infirm. Abd al Dar was the oldest of his sons, but he lacked influence and power; and his brethren raised themselves up against him. Wherefore Cossai resigned all his offices into the hands of his first-born, saying: "Thus wilt thou retain thine authority over thy people, even though they raise themselves up against thee; - let no man enter the Kaaba, unless thou hast opened it unto him; nor let any banner of the Coreish be mounted upon its staff for war, excepting by thine own hands; let no oils drink at Mecca, but of the water which thou hast drawn, nor any pilgrim eat therein save of thy food; and let not the Coreish resolve upon any business but in thy Council Hall. So he gave him up the halt of Council, and the custody of the Holy House, and the giving of drink and of food, that he might unite his brethren unto him. And Cossai died, and was buried in Al Hajun5.

Abd Menaf a younger brother (born 430 A.D) enjoys the real power

Through the careful providence of his father Abd al Dar contrived, notwithstanding his weakness, to retain at least a nominal supremacy. But he enjoyed little influence in comparison with his brother Abd Menaf, on whom the real management of public aflitirs devolved, and who laid out fresh quarters for the growing population in the city6.

The Sons and grandsons of Abd al Dar (500 A.D.) Inherit the Offices

Upon the death of Abd al Dar, the whole of the offices of state and religion passed into the hands of his sons; but they all died within a few years after, and his grand-sons, who then inherited the dignities of the family, (500 A. D.), were of too tender years effectually to maintain their rights.

The sons of Abd Menaf conspire against the descendants of Abd al Dar

Meanwhile the sons of Abd Menaf had grown up, and continued in possession of their father's influence. The chief of them were Al Muttalib, Hashim, Abd Shams, and Nanfal7. These conspired to wrest from the descendants of Abd al Dar the hereditary offices bequeathed by Cossai. Hashim took the lead, and grounded his claim on the superior dignity of his branch of the family. But the descendants of Abd al Dar, headed by his grandson Amir, refused to cede any of their rights; and an open rupture ensued.

Two factions, and preparations for civil strife

The society of Mecca was equally divided between the two factions, one portion of the Coreish siding with the claimants, and the other with the actual possessors of the offices, while but few remained neutral. Both parties swore that they would prosecute their claim, and be faithful among themselves, "so long as there remained in the sea water sufficient to wet a tuft of wool." To add stringency to their oath, Hashim and his faction filled a dish with aromatic substances and, having placed it close to the Kaaba, put their hands into it as they swore, and rubbed them upon the Holy house. The opposite party similarly dipped their hands into a bowl of blood8.

The Offices amicably divided between the two parties

The opponents now made ready for a bloody contest; and the ranks were already marshalled within sight of each other when, by an unexpected turn of events, they mutually called for a truce. The conditions proposed were that Hashim and his party should have the offices of providivig food and water for the pilgrims; the descendants of Abd al Dar as hitherto retaining the custody of the Kaaba, the Hall of Council, and the right of raising the Banner. Peace was restored upon these terms9.

Hashim born 464 A.D. discharges with splendid liberality the office of providing for the pilgrims

HASHIM10, thus installed in the office of entertaining the pilgrims, fulfilled it with a princely magnificence. He was himself possessed of great riches, and many others of the Coreish had also by trading acquired much wealth. He appealed to them as his grand-father Cossai had done : - "Ye are the neighbours of God and the keepers of his house. The pilgrims who come honouring the sanctity of his temple are his guests; and it is meet that ye should entertain them above all other guests. Ye are especially chosen of God and exalted unto this high dignity; wherefore honour his guests and refresh them. For, from distant cities, on their lean and jaded camels, they come unto you fatigued and harassed, with hair dishevelled, and bodies covered with the dust and squalor of the long way. Then invite them hostitably, and furnish them with water in abundance:11 Hashim set the example by a munificent expenditure from his own resources, and the Coreish were forward to contribute every man according to his ability. A fixed cess was also levied upon them all12. Water sufficient for the prodigious assemblage was collected in cisterns close by the Kaaba from the wells of Mecca; and, in temporary reservoirs of leather, at the stations on the route to Arafat. The distribution of food commenced upon the day on which the pilgrims set out for Mina and Arafat, and continued until the assemblage dispersed. During this period, that is for five or six days13, they were entertained with pottage of meat and bread, or of butter and barley, variously prepared, and with the favorite national repast of dates14.

Feeds the people of Mecca in a famine

Thus Hashim supported the credit of Mecca. But his name is even more renowned for the splendid charity, by which he relieved the necessities of his fellow-citizens, reduced by a long continued famine to extreme distress15. He proceeded to Syria, purchased an immense stock or bread, packed it in panniers, and conveyed it upon camels to Mecca. There the provisions were cooked for distribution; the camels were slaughtered and roasted; and the whole divided among the people. Destitution and mourning were suddenly turned into mirth and plenty; and it was, (the historian adds,) "as it were the beginning of new life after the year of scarcity,"16

Commercial treaties concluded by Hashim and his brothers

The foreign relations of the Coreish were managed solely by the sons of Abd Menaf. With the Roman authorities, and the Ghjssnnide Prince, Hashim himself concluded a treaty. He received from the Emperor a rescript authorizing the Coreish to travel to and from Syria in security17. He also secured the friendship of the inhabitants on the road, by promising to carry their goods without hire18. His brother Abd Shams made a treaty with the Najashy, in pursuance of which the Coreish traded to Abyssinia; his other brothers, Naufal and Al Muttalib concluded alliances, the former with the King of Persia who allowed them to traffic in Irac and Fare, the latter with the Kings of Himyar, who encouraged their commercial operations in Yemen. Thus the affairs of the Coreish prospered in every direction19.

Mercantile caravans systematically established

To Hishim is ascribed the credit or establishing upon a uniform footing the mercantile expeditions of his people, so that every winter a caravan set out regularly for Yemen and Abyssinia, while in the summer a second visited Ghazza, Ancyra, and the other Syrian marts20.

Hashim challenged by his nephew Omeiya, who is vanquished and exiled

The success and the glory of Hashim exposed him to the envy of Omelya, the son of his brother Abd Shams. Omeiya was opulent, and he expended his riches in a vain attempt to rival the splendour of his uncle's munificence. The Coreish perceived the endeavour, and turned it into ridicule. Omeiya was enraged. Who, said he, is Hashim? and he defied him to a trial of superiority21. Hashim would willingly have avoided a contest with one so much his inferior both in years and in dignity; but the Coreish, who loved such exhibitions, would not excuse him; he consented, therefore, but with the stipulation that the vanquished party should lose fifty black-eyed camels, and be ten years exiled from Mecca. A Khozaite soothsayer was appointed umpire; and, having heard the pretensions of both, pronounced Hashim to be the victor. Hashim then took the fifty camels, slaughtered them in the vale of Mecca, and fed with them all the people who were present. Omeiya set out for Syria, and remained there the full period of his exile. The circumstance is carefully and superstitiously noted by Mahometan writers as the first trace of that rivalry between the Hashimite and Omeyad factions, which in after ages shook the Caliphate22.

Hashim meets Salma at Medina; and marries her

Hashim was now advanced in years when, on a mercantile journey to the north, he visited Medina with a party of the Coreish. As he traded there in the "Nabathean23 market," he was attracted by the graceful figure of a female who from an elevated position was directing her people how to buy and sell for her. She was discreet, and withal comely, and made a tender impression upon the heart of Hashim. He enquired of the citizens whether she was married or single; and they answered that she had been married to Oheiha, and had borne him two sons, but that he had divorced her. The dignity of the lady, they added, was so great amongst her people that she would not marry, unless it were stipulated that she should remain mistress of her own concerns and have at pleasure the power of divorce. This was SALMA daughter of Amr, a Khazrajite of the Bani Najjar24.

Hashim thereupon demanded her in marriage; and she consented, for she was well aware of his renown and noble birth. So he married her; and made a great feast to the Coreish, of whom forty were present with the caravan. He also invited some of the Khazrarites. After a few days' rest, the caravan proceeded onwards to Syria; and, on his return southwards, Hashim carried

She bears him Sheba (Abd al Muttalib) A.D. 497

his bride with him to Mecca. As the days of her pregnancy advanced, she retired to her father's house at Medina, and there brought forth a son who, because much white hair covered his infantile head, was called Sheba at Al Hamd25. Not long after, Hashim made aniother expedition to the north, and while at Ghazxa (Gaza) sickened and died. The event occurred early in the sixth century26.

Al Muttalib fetches his nephew from Medina

Hashim left his dignities to Al Muttalib27, his elder brother, who conducted the entertainment of the pilgrims in so splendid a style as to deserve the epithet Al Faidh, "the Munificent." Meanwhile, his little nephew Sheba was growing up, under the care of his widowed mother, at Medina. Several years after his brother's death, Al Muttalib chanced to meet a traveller from Medina, who described in glowing terms the noble bearing of the young Meccan. Al Muttalib's heart smote him because he had so long left his brother's son in that distant locality, and he set out forthwith to bring him to Mecca. Arrived at Medina, he enquired for the lad, and found him practising archery among the boys of the city. He knew him at once from his likeness to his father, embraced and wept over him, and clothed him in a suit of Yemen raiment. His mother sent to invite Al Muttalib to her house, but he refused to untie a knot of his camel's accoutrements until he had carried off the lad to Mecea. Salma was taken by surprise at the proposal, and passionate in her grief; but Al Muttalib reasoned with her, and explained the great advantages her son was losing by absence from his father's house. Seeing him determined, she at last relented. Thus, after Al Muttalib had sojourned with her three days, he set out with his nephew upon his journey homewards. He reached Mecca during the heat of the day. As the inhabitants, sitting in the shade of their houses, saw him pass with a lad by his side, they concluded that he had purchased a slave, and exclaimed Abu Mutttalib! - "lo, the servant of Al Muttalib!" "Out upon you," said he; "it is my nephew, Sheba, the son of Amr (Hashim.)"

Origin of the name (Abd at Muttalib) A.D. 491

And as each scrutinized the features of the boy, they swore - "By my life! it is the very same." In this incident is said to have originated the name of ABD AL MUTTALIB, by which the son of Hashim was ever after called28.

Abd al Muttalib obtains possession of his paternal estate through aid of his maternal relatives from Medina

Al Muttalib proceeded in due time to install his nephew in the possession of his father's property; but Naufal, another uncle, interposed, and violently deprived him of the paternal estate. Abd al Muttalib (who appears now to have reached the years of discretion) appealed to his tribe to aid him in resisting the usurpation of his rights; but they declined to interfere. He then wrote to his maternal relatives at Medina, who no sooner received the Intelligence than eighty mounted men of the Bani Najjar, with Abu Asad at their head, started for Mecca. Abd al Muttalib went forth to meet them, and invited them to his house; but Abu Asad refused to alight until he had called Naufal to account. He proceeded straightway to the yard of the holy House, and found him seated there among the chiefs of the Coreish. Naufal arose to offer welcome; but the stranger refused his welcome, and drawing his sword sternly declared that he would plunge it within him unless be forthwith reinstated the orphan in his rights. The oppressor was daunted, and agreed to the concession, which was ratified by oath before the assembled Coreish29.

Abd al Muttalib succeeds to the office of providing for the pilgrims

Some years after, Muttalib died on a mercantile journey to Yemen30; and then Abd al Muttalib succeeded to the office of entertaining the pilgrims. But for a long time he was destitute of power and influence; and having but one son to assist him in the assertion of his claims, he found it difficult to cope with the opposing faction of the Coreish. It was during this period that he discovered the ancient well of Zamzam. Finding it laborious to procure water from the scattered wells of Mecca, and store it in cisterns by the Kaaba, and perhaps aware by tradition of the existence of a well in the vicinity, he made diligent search, and at last came upon the circle of its venerable masonry31.

He discovers the ancient well Zam-Zam

It was a remnant of the palmy days of Mecca, when a rich and incessant stream of commerce flowed in this direction. Centuries had elapsed since the trade had ceased, and with it followed the desertion of Mecca, and the neglect of the well. It was choked up either accidentally or by design, and the remembrance of it was so indistinct that the site even was now unknown. Mecca had again risen to a comparatively prosperous state, and the discovery of the ancient well was an auspicious token of still increasing advancement.

Claim of the Coreish negatived by the oracle of the Kabba

As Abd al Muttalib, aided by his son Harith, dug deeper and deeper, he came upon the two golden gazelles, with the swords and suits of armour buried there by the Jorhomite king more than three centuries before. The rest of the Coreish envied him these treasures, and demanded a share in them. They asserted their right also to the well itself, which they declared had been possessed by their common ancestor Ishmael. Abd al Muttalib was not powerful enough to resist the oppressive claim; but he agreed to refer their several pretensions to the decision of the arrows of HOBAL, the god whose image was within the Kaaba32. Lots were cast for the Kaaba and for the respective claimants. The gazelles fell to the share of the Kaaba, and the swords and suits of armour to Abd al Muttalib, while the arrows of the Coreish were blank33. The Coreish acquiesced in the divine decision, and relinquished their pretensions to the well. Abd al Muttalib beat out the gazelles into plates of gold, and fixed them by way of ornament to the door of the Kaaba34. He hung up the swords before the door as a protection to the treasures within; but at the same time added a more effectual guard in the shape of a lock and key, which; (it is said) were made of gold.

Zam-Zam gives forth an abundant spring

The plentiful flow of fresh water, soon apparent in the well Zamzam, was a great triumph to Abd al Muttalib. All other wells in Mecca were deserted, and this alone resorted to35. From it alone, Abd al Muttalib supplied the pilgrims; and the water. itself soon, began to share in the sacredness of the Kaaba and its rites. The fame and influence of Abd al Muttalib now began

Prosperity of Abd al Muttalib

to wax greater and greater; a large family of powerful sons added to his dignity; he became, and continued to his death, the virtual chief of Mecca36.

His youngest son Abdallah ransomed from sacrifice by one hundred camels

A strange calamity threatened to embitter his prosperity. During his early troubles, while supported by his only son Harith, he had felt so strongly his weakness and inferiority in contending with the large and influential families of his opponents, as to vow that, if Providence should ever grant him ten sons, he would devote one of them to the Deity. Years rolled on, and the rash father at last found himself surrounded by the longed-for number, the sight of whom daily reminded him of his vow. He bade his sons accompany him to the Kaaba; each was made to write his name upon a lot, and the lots were made over to the Intendant of the temple, who cast them in the usual mode. The fatal arrow felt upon ABDALLAH, the youngest and the best beloved of Abd al Muttalib's sons. The vow devoting him to the Deity must needs be kept, but how else should it be fulfilled than by the sacrificial knife? His daughters wept and clung around the fond father, who was willingly persuaded to cast lots between Abdallah and ten camels, the current fine for the blood of a man. If the Deity should accept the ransom, the father need not scruple to spare his son. But the lot a second time fell upon Abdallah. Again, and with equal fortune, it was cast between him and twenty camels. At each successive trial Abd al Muttalib added ten camels to the stake, but the Deity appeared inexorably to refuse the vicarious offering, and to require the blood of his son. It was now the tenth throw, and the ransom had reached a hundred camels, when the lot at last fell upon them. The father joyfully released Abdullah from his impending fate; and taking a hundred camels slaughtered them between Safa and Marwa. The inhabitants of Mecca feasted upon them; and the residue was left to the beasts and to the birds; for Abd al Muttalib's family refused to taste of them. It was this Abdallah who became the father of the Prophet37.

Abd al Muttalib is unsuccessfully challenged by Harb son of Omeya

The prosperity and fame of Abd al Muttalib excited the envy of the house of Omeya, whose son Harb following the example of his father38, challenged his rival to a trial of their respective merits. The Abyssinian king declined to be the umpire, and the judgment was committed to a Coreishite, who declared that Abd al Muttalib was in every respect the superior. Harb was deeply mortified, and abandoned the society of his opponent, whose companion he had previously been. Thus the ill feeling between the branches of Hashim and Omeya was perpetuated and increased39.

Abd al Muttalib enters into league with the Bani Khozaa

Abd al Muttalib gained an important increase or stability to his party by concluding a defensive league with the Khozaite inhabitants of Mecca40. They came to him and represented that, as their quarters adjoined, such a treaty would be advantageous for both parties. Abd al Muttalib was not slow in receiving this. With ten of his adherents he met the Khozaites at the Kaaba, and there they mutually pledged their faith. The league was reduced to writing, and hung up in the Holy House. No one from the family of Omeya was present, or indeed knew anything of the transaction until thus published41. The combination was permanent, and in after times proved of essential service to Mahomet.

Abraha, the Abyssinian Viceroy, invades Mecca, 570 A.D.; and prepares to destroy the Kabba; but is discomfitted by a plague

In the year 570 A.D., or about eight years before the death of Abd al Muttalib, occurred the memorable invasion of Mecca by Abraha the Abyssinian viceroy of Yemen42. In the previous chapter43. It has been related that Abraha built at Sanaa a magnificent cathedral; that the Arabs, jealous of an attempt to divert thither the pilgrimage of their tribes, treated despitefully his emissaries and even the building itself; and that the enraged viceroy resolved to attack Mecca and raze its temple to the ground. Upon this enterprise he set out with a considerable army. In its train was led an elephant; - a circumstance for Arabia so singular and remarkable, that the Commander, his host, the invasion, and the year, to this day are called by the name "of the Elephant"44. A prince of the old Himyar stock, with an army of Arab adherents, was the first to oppose the advance of the Abyssinian. He was defeated, but his life was spared and he followed the camp as a prisoner. Arrived at the northern limits of Yemen, Abraha was attacked by the Bani Khatham, a tribe descended from Maadd45,: under the command of Nofail; he too was discomfited, and escaped death only on condition of guiding the Abyssinian army. Thence the conqueror proceeded to Taif, three days' march from Mecca; but its inhabitants, the Bani Thackif, deputed men to say that they had no concern with the Kaaba which he had come to destroy and, so far from opposing the project, would furnish him with a guide46. For this purpose they sent a man called Abu Rughal, and the viceroy moved onwards. At Mughammis, between Taif and Mecca, Abu Rughal died; and centuries afterwards, the Meccans were wont to mark their abhorrence of the traitor by casting stones at his tomb as they passed. From Mughammis Abraha sent forward an Abyssinian with a body of troops to scour the Tehama, and carry off what castle they could find. They were successful in the raid, and among the plunder secured two hundred camels belonging to Abd al Muttalib. An embassy was then despatched to the inhabitants of Mecca; - "Abraha" its message ran, "we had no desire to do them injury. His only object was to demolish the Kaaba; that performed, he would retire without shedding the blood of any." The Meccans had already resolved that it would be vain to oppose the the invader by force of arms; but the destruction of the Kaaba they refused upon any terms willingly to allow. At last the embassy prevailed on Abd al Muttalib and the chieftains or some of the other Meccan tribes47 to repair to the viceroy's camp and there plead their cause. Abd al Muttalib was treated with distinguished honour. To gain him over, Abraha restored his plundered camels; but he could obtain from him no satisfactory answer regarding the Kaaba48. The chiefs who accompanied him offered a third of the wealth of the Tehama if he would desist from his designs against their temple, but he refused. The negotiation was broken off, and the chieftains returned to Mecca. The people, by the advice of Abd al Muttalib, made preparations for retiring in a body to the hills and defiles in the vicinity on the day before the expected attack. As Abd al Muttalib leaned upon the ring of the door of the Kaaba, he is said to have prayed to the Deity thus aloud; -"Defend oh Lord thine own House, and suffer not the Cross to triumph over the Kaaba!" This done, he relaxed his hold, and betaking himself with the rest to the neighbouring heights, watched what the end might be49.

Meanwhile a pestilential distemper had shown itself in the camp of the Viceroy. It broke out with deadly pustule. and frightful blains, and was probably an aggravated form of small-pox. In confusion and dismay the army commenced its retreat. Abandoned by their guides, they perished among the valleys, and a flood (such is the pious legend) sent by the wrath of heaven swept off multitudes into the sea. The pestilence alone is however a cause quite adequate to the effects described50. Scarcely any one recovered who had unto been smitten by it; and Abraha himself, a mass or malignant and putrid sores, died miserably on his return to Sana51.

The Meccans establish the Homs, or ceremonial exceptions in their own favour

The unexpected and seemingly miraculous disappointment of the magnificent preparations of Abraha increased the reverence with which throughout Arabia the Coreish and other inhabitants of Mecca were regarded. They became vain-glorious, and sought to mark their superiority by the assumption of special duties and exemptions. "Let us," they said, "release ourselves from some of the observances imposed upon the multitude; and forbid ourselves some of the things which to them are lawful." Thus (says tradition) they gave up the yearly pilgrimage to Arafat, and the ceremonial return therefrom, although they still acknowledged those acts to be an essential part of the "religion of Abraham," and binding upon all others; they also denied themselves the use of cheese and butter while in the pilgrim garb; and, abandoning tents of camelís hair, restricted themselves to tents of leather. Upon pilgrims who came from beyond the sacred limits (haram), they imposed new rules for their own aggrandisement. Such visitors, whether for the greater or the lesser pilgrimage, were forbidden to eat food brought from without the sacred boundary: and were compelled to make the circuit of the Kaaba either naked, or clothed in vestments provided only by the Meccans who formed the league52. This association, called the HOMS, included the Coreish, the Bani Kinana a collateral branch53, and the Khozaites. To them the privileges of the league were restricted. All others were subjected to the humiliation of soliciting from them food and raiment54.

Proof of the strength and universality of the Meccan superstition

There is some doubt as to whether these innovations were only now introduced or existed from an earlier period55. Under any circumstances they give proof that the Meccan superstition was active and vigorous, and that its directors exercised a wonderful influence over the whole of Arabia56. The practices then enforced were superseded only by lslam; and (adopting the latest date assigned for their introduction) they were maintained for more than half a century. The reverence for the Kaaba, which permitted the imposition of customs so unreasonable and oppressive, must necessarily have been grossly superstitious, as well as universally prevalent. But the effect of the innovations themselves was perhaps adverse to the Meccan system.

Elements of weakness

If the pilgrimage were really of divine appointment, what human authority could grant a dispensation to relax any part of its observances? and, a country where the decent morality of Judaism and Christianity was known and respected, what could be gained by the outrage of forcing tire female sex publicly to circumambulate the Kaaba in an insufficient dress, and the men entirely naked? Here were points to which the Reformer might fairly take exception; and they would avail either as grounds for denouncing the entire superstition, or for insisting upon a return to the practices of a purer and more scrupulous age57.

Position of parties in the latter days of Abd al Muttalib
Let us now glance for a moment at the state of parties in Mecca towards the latter days of Abd al Muttalib58.

Low state of the descendants of Abd al Dar

There arose, as we have seem, upon te death of Cussai, two leading factions, the descendants respectively of his two sons, Abd al Dar and Abd Menaf. The former originally possessed all the public offices; but since the struggle with Hashim about seventy years before, when they were stripped of several important dignities, their influence had departed, and they had now sunk into a subordinate and insignificant position. The offices retained by them were still undoubtedly valuable, but they were divided among separate members of the family; the benefit of combination was lost; and there was no steady and united effort to improve their advantages towards the acquisition of social influence and political power59.

Prosperity of the descendants of Abd Menaf

The virtual chiefship of Mecca was thus in the hands of the descendants of Abd Menaf. Amongst these, again, two parties had arisen; the families, namely, of his sons Hashim and Abd Shams.

The Hashimites

The grand offices of giving of food and water to the pilgrims secured to the Hashimites a commanding and a permanent influence under the able management of Hashim, of Al Muttalib, and now of Abd al Muttalib. The latter, like his father Hashim, was regarded as the chief of the Meccan Sheiks.

The Omeyads

But the branch of Abd Shams, with their numerous and powerful connections, were jealous of the power of the Hashimites, and repeatedly endeavoured to humble them, or to bring discredit on their high position. One office, that of the Leadership in war, was secured by the Omeyad family, and contributed much to its splendour. It was, moreover, rich and successful in commerce, and by some is thought to have exceeded in influence and power even the stock of Hashim60.

The birth of Mahomet

But the "Year of the Elephant" had already given birth to a personage destined, within half a century, to eclipse the distinctions both of Hashimite and Omeyad race. To the narration of this momentous event the succeeding chapter will be devoted.

The Life of Mahomet, Volume I [Table of Contents]