Rafed English

Position of the Keeper and custodian of the Ka'aba was the top most in first-rate precedence

Position of the provider of water to the pilgrims. During the pre-Islamic pilgrimage those who visited Mecca were not familiar with the water wells, and as they all needed water, the task of bringing water from the neighbouring wells and offering it to pilgrims was assigned to a branch of the Quraish to act as wardens over water Georgie Zeydan narrates that they devised open tanks of hides and filled them with water for the pilgrims to take.

Position of reception and hospitality. To attract more visitors to Mecca and make their market brisk, as well as to preserve the Arab custom of acting as lordly hosts, they laid out feasts for the pilgrims as their guests, and this task was assigned to a particular branch of the Quraish tribe For this purpose they collected contributions to provide free meals to the pilgrims.

Position of flag-bearer. Mecca had a flag called the Eagle banner which was used in the time of war. This flag was kept in the family whose chief would bring it out in the event of war. In the time of the Prophet this banner was in the hands of the Bani Umayya.

Position of Dar-un-Nadwa or Dar-u-Showra. One of Qussi's initiatives was to build a house near the Ka'aba, called Dar-en-Nadwa. 16 Dar-ul-Nadwa means a meeting place or assembly for consultation. Whenever an issue of importance rose for the Quraish in general, their chiefs and elders who were truly the people's representative assembled in that place, discussed the matter and came to a decision about it and whatever the majority's decision carried it out. What is noteworthy however is that according to the laws of elections of Qussi bin kalab, one of the pre-conditions was that the tribes and clans representatives should not be less than forty years of age. Today young people could well protest against such a law on the plea that it meant favouring the old people as they accepted only over forty years old. In those days, however, they wished to have well tried and experienced peoples' representatives, though at the same time we read in the biography of the holy Prophet of Islam that Abdul-Mutallib took Muhammad (a s.) as a child along with him to Dar-un-Nadwa, even though the admission of a person below the age of forty was forbidden. The first time Muhammad (a.s.) was taken there, they were displeased, but after that they agreed that he could enter - but that is another story.

The charge and leadership of trade caravans was held by the Bani-Umayya.

The institution for the payment of blood-money and compensation. Sometimes when a member of a tribe was killed by someone from another tribe, in the first place was a demand for compensation and indemnity or a fight would ensue. Thus the fine had to be collected, and one of these families was responsible for this task of determining the share, collecting them, and handing them over to the claimants. This was in fact a kind of office for public funds related of course to blood-money and reparations.

Administration of the arsenal. This was a large tent where arms and weapons were collected in the event of war and distributed judicially among the soldiers.

Management of army stables: a task given to a branch of Quraish tribe to take care of the remounts such as horses and camels necessary far the war effort.

Assigning of envoys or ambassadors: Sometimes it became necessary to dispatch envoys abroad. As we shall see later, envoys were required to travel to Abyssinia to pursue the question of Muslim emigrants to that country.

Position of administering justice was given to a special committee of Arabs.

Position of the Key Bearer of the Ka'aba, as distinct from the position of the custodian. As you may be aware, pilgrims to the holy shrines often made offerings of gold coins in the holy shrines. The pilgrims who visited the Ka'aba often brought vowed offering for dropping them within the sacred grille. Once a year or every six months the custodian would open the door of the Ka'aba, collect whatever had been offered and then divide that amongst the various clans.

Position of the repairs and maintenance of the holy Ka'aba and other buildings of Mecca which were entrusted to one particular clan

Position of "Ansab and Azlam", which could be called the office of lottery. There was a custom among the Arabs called "Isar" (from "Yusr" meaning ease and plenty) incidentally the Arabic word is also related to 'gambling and lottery' At present, too, in winter there comes a time when a villager has consumed whatever he has in store, is left with nothing, and is in dire need Such conditions often occurred in Arabia during winters particularly when rainfall was scanty in spring and summer Such a custom also exists in remote parts of Iran near the annual spring festival. So to provide relief the Arabs resorted to a measure by which a part of the wealth of the rich would be contributed to help the needy. Such practices are common among people who have not developed a secure economic system and are faced with straitened circumstances.

The Arabs invented a lottery as a game of chance This game of luck was played as follows: They took ten wooden shafts, on seven of which they wrote a number of shares from one to seven serially and the remaining three were left blank. These shafts were then handed over to a trustworthy man. Then a camel was bought, and the price of it was paid by drawing lots with these wooden beams which determined the share of the money to be paid by the participants. With this money the camel was bought and slaughtered, and the meat was distributed on the basis of lottery members again. These wooden shafts were called 'Ansab' which in from 'Naseeb' meaning destiny. They also had another form of lottery called 'Azlam' which served for divining whether a step should be taken in a matter or not.

Here they prepared seven small wooden shafts on each of which either a positive load as 'do it', or negative indication such as 'don't do it' or 'to your advantage' or 'to the advantage of the other side' etc. were written and one of them was left blank. Whenever a person was undecided about what he should do in a matter, he would go to a diviner who employed these shafts for fortune-telling, and drew a lot from under a cloth, and that shaft indicated to him what he should do.

The above systems of 'Ansab' and 'Azlam' were entrusted to another clan of the Quraish tribe. Thus the allocation of the said positions was intended to prevent disputes and war, but clashes nonetheless occurred from time to time. However, sometimes disputes would rise and through the application of this organisation, albeit defective, they managed to prevent wars.

After Qussi bin-kalab no armed clashes occurred between the branches of the Quraish tribe, except an old one and that too a minor one. The period following Qussi in Mecca was a period of transition between the tribal and control government's establishment. For, as you can see, in this period discussions regarding types of organisation, positions, division of responsibilities and political order were taking place in Mecca. That was the situation as it prevailed in Mecca.

Ta'if, on the other hand, was more or less under the influence of a single tribe named Bani Thaqif It was a small but a flourishing city controlled by that tribe. However Medina offered an interesting perspective. As already stated, it has been predicted at the beginning of the second century A.D. that the Mareb Dam would collapse, consequently a large number of the Qahtani Arabs of Yemen migrated to the north and north-east. Two of these clans namely the Aus and Khazraj having reached Yathrib, found it to be a suitable place and decided to settle down there. But before the arrival of the Arabs, the Jews had chosen it to be their home, and thus they were its original residents. The new-comers, namely the Aus and the Khazraj were delighted at the beginning to pay tribute to the Jews because they were weak, alien and emigre guests. Meanwhile the Jews, too, were politically astute and for a long time coexisted with the newcomers.

After a time the Jews found a rather powerful and despotic ruler who encroached upon the Aus and Khazraj, giving rise to continued fighting between the Jews and the Aus and Khazraj tribes. The latter, owing to their relations with the neighbouring Arabs who had a common race and spoke the same language, grow in numbers and enhanced their influence, as well as received assistance from their Arab allies in their conflicts with the Jews. Gradually therefore the power of the Arabs went on the increase while that of the Jews diminished in Medina. So long as the Aus and Khazraj remained united, everything was in their favour. But an incident occurred that caused a rift between them resulting in a war. The sly Jews made the utmost use of this difference, and did their best to intensify this dispute.

Close to the time of the Prophet's ordainment, this dispute between the Khazraj who were the larger tribe and the Aus who were the smaller, carried on. The Khmazraj who were sub-divided into several clans, decided to choose a king for themselves. As you are aware, Mecca was then passing through a transition phase between the tribal and centralised governmental systems, and Medina, too, was passing through a similar process trying to pass from the tribal phase to a governmental stage.

Thus for the first time in the history of the Arabs in Medina, this became the common topic and ground was prepared that all should swear allegiance to Abdullah bin Abi, a respected man among the Khazraj tribe, and make him the king and make ready a throne and crown for him This matter had a lasting effect from various aspects on the future history of Islam. This subject which might appear small and trifling, was really quite consequential and will be discussed further. It was under such socio-economic and political conditions and the state of religious beliefs that the Prophet of Islam declared his mission in Mecca inviting people to the new faith.

This was the brief situation in Arabia concurrent with the rise of Islam with reference to its historical background which bears relation with our subsequent discussions.

16. This house was preserved for a long time, but I don't know whether it has survived as an important historical monument.

Adapted from the book: "Background of the Birth of Islam" by: "S. T. H. Khwarazmi"

Share this article

Comments 0

Your comment

Comment description

Latest Post

Most Reviews