Beyond a shadow of doubt, the biography of Prophet Muhammad (May the
peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) represents a complete picture of
the magnificent Divine Message that he communicated in order to deliver
the human race from the swamp of darkness and polytheism to the paradise
of light and monotheism. An authentic and comprehensive image of this
Message is therefore only attainable through careful study and profound
analysis of both the background and issues of such a biography. In view of
this, a whole chapter is introduced here about the nature and development
of Arab tribes prior to Islam as well as the circumstances and environment
that surrounded the Prophet’s mission.
Location of the Arabs
Linguistically, the word “Arab’’ means deserts and barren land without
water and vegetation. Ever since the dawn of history, this term has been
used for the Arabian Peninsula and its people.
The Arabian Peninsula is enclosed in the west by the Red Sea and Sinai, in
the east by the Arabian Gulf, in the south by the Arabian Sea, which is an
extension of the Indian Ocean, and in the north by Shaam (ancient Syria)
and parts of Iraq. The area is estimated between one million and one million
and three hundred thousand square miles.
Thanks to its geographical position, the peninsula has always had great
strategic importance. Considering its internal features, it comprises mostly
deserts and arid areas, which made it inaccessible to foreigners and invaders
and allowed its people complete liberty and independence through the ages,
despite the presence of two neighboring great empires.
Its external setting, on the other hand, caused it to be the center of the
ancient world and provided it with sea and land links with most nations at
the time. Thanks to this strategic position, the Arabian Peninsula became a
center for trade, culture, religion and art.
Arab peoples have been divided according to lineage into three groups:
- Perished Arabs: The ancient Arabs, of whose history little is known, and
of whom were `Ad, Thamud, Tasm, Jadis, Emlaq and others.
- Pure Arabs: They originated from the progeny of Ya’rub bin Yashjub bin
Qahtan and were also called Qahtanian Arabs.
- Arabized Arabs: They originated from the progeny of Ismael and were
also called Adnanian Arabs. The Pure Arabs — the people of Qahtam — originally lived in Yemen and comprised many tribes, two of which were very famous:
a) Himyar: The most famous of whose ancestors were Zaid Al-Jamhur, Qudaah and Sakasic.
b) Kahlan: The most famous of whose ancestors were Hamdan, Anmar,
Tai’, Mudhhij, Kindah, Lakhm, Judham, Azd, Aws, Khazraj and the
descendants of Jafnah — the kings of ancient Syria.
The Kahlan tribes emigrated from Yemen to dwell in different parts of the
Arabian Peninsula prior to the Great Flood (Sail Al-`Arim of the Ma’arib
Dam). They migrated due to the failure of trade under the Roman pressure
and control of both sea and land trade routes, following the Roman
occupation of Egypt and Syria. Naturally enough, the competition between
Kahlan and Himyar led to the evacuation of the former and the settlement
of the latter in Yemen.
The emigrating tribes of Kahlan can be divided into four groups:
- Al-Azd: They wandered in Yemen, sent pioneers under the leadership of
Imran binAmr Muzayqiya’, and finally headed to the north and the east.
Details of their emigration can be summed up as follows:
Thalabah binAmr left his tribe Al-Azd for Hijaz, and dwelt between
Thalabiyah and Dhi Qar. When he gained power, he headed for Madinah and stayed there. Of his descendants are Aws and Khazraj, sons of Harithah bin Thalabah.
Harithah bin Amr, known as Khuzaah, wandered with his offspring in
Hijaz until they came to Marr Az-Zahran. Later, they conquered the Haram,
and settled in Makkah after having driven away its people, the tribe of
Imran bin Amr and his family went to Oman, where they established the tribe of Azd whose offspring inhabited Tihamah and were known as Azd of Shanu’ah. Jafnah binAmr and his family, headed for Syria where he
settled and initiated the kingdom of Ghassan who was so named after a
spring of water in Hijaz, where they stopped on their way to Syria.
- Lakhm and Judham: From them was Nasr bin Rabi`ah, founder of the
Manadhirah Kings of Heerah.
- Banu Tai’: They also emigrated northwards to settle by the so-called Aja
and Salma Mountains which were thereafter named the Tai’ Mountains.
- Kindah: They dwelt in Bahrain but were expelled to Hadramout and
Najd, where they had no power base, just as they had none in Bahrain, and
so they settled in Najd. There they established an important rulership
although it did not last long, for the whole tribe soon faded away.
Another tribe of Himyar, known as Qudaah, also left Yemen and dwelt in the Samawah desert on the borders of Iraq.
The Arabized Arabs go back in ancestry to their great-grandfather Ibrahim from a town called “Ar’’ near Kufah on the west bank of the Euphrates in Iraq. Excavations have brought to light many details of the town, Ibrahim’s family, and the religions and social circumstances prevalent at the time.
It is known that Ibrahim (May peace be upon him!) left Ar for Harran and then for Palestine, which he made the headquarters for his Message and traveled all over the area.When he went to Egypt, the Pharaoh tried to do evil to his wife Sarah, but Allah saved her and the Pharaoh’s wicked scheme recoiled on him. He thus came to realize her strong attachment to Allah, and, in acknowledgment of her grace, the Pharaoh rendered his daughter Hagar at Sarah’s service.
Sarah gave Hagar to Ibrahim (May peace be upon him!) as a wife and Ibrahim (May peace be upon him!) returned to Palestine where Hagar gave birth to Ismael (May peace be upon him!). Sarah became jealous of Hagar and forced Ibrahim (May peace be upon him!) to send Hagar and her baby away to an uncultivated valley in Hijaz, by the Sacred House, exposed to the floods from the north and south.
He chose for them a place under a lofty tree near the upper side of the Masjid in Makkah, where there were neither people nor water, and went back to Palestine leaving a leather case with some dates and a vessel of water with his wife and infant. Before long, they ran out of both food and water, but thanks to Allah’s favor, water gushed forth to sustain them. The story of the Zamzam spring is well known to everybody.
Another Yemeni tribe, Jurhum the Second, came and lived in Makkah with Hagar’s permission, after having lived in the valleys around Makkah for years. It is mentioned in Sahih Al-Bukhari that this tribe had come to Makkah before Ismael (May peace be upon him!) was a young man, while they passed through that valley long before this event. Ibrahim (May peace be upon him!) used to go to Makkah from time to time to see his wife and son. The number of these journeys is still unknown, but dependable historical references have mentioned four instances.
Allah the Sublime states in the Noble Qur’an that He caused Ibrahim (May peace be upon him!) to see in a dream that he was sacrificing his son Ismael (May peace be upon him), and therefore Ibrahim (May peace be upon him!) prepared to fulfill His Order:
``Then, when they had both submitted themselves (to the Will of Allah), and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead (or on the side of his forehead for slaughtering); and We called out to him: ‘O Ibrahim (May peace be upon him)! You have fulfilled the dream (vision)!’ Verily, thus do we reward the Muhsinun (good-doers, who perform good deeds totally for Allah’s sake only, without showing off or to gain praise or fame, etc. and do them in accordance to Allah’s Orders). Verily, that indeed was a manifest trial -- and We ransomed him with a great sacrifice (i.e. a ram).’’ [37:103-107]
It is mentioned in the Genesis that Ismael (May peace be upon him!) was thirteen years older than his brother Ishaq. The sequence of events in the story of the sacrifice of Ismael (May peace be upon him!) shows that it occurred before Ishaq’s birth, and that Allah’s Promise to give Ibrahim (May peace be upon him!) another son, Ishaq, came after the narration of the whole story.
This story speaks of at least one journey before Ismael (May peace be upon him!) became a young man. Al-Bukhari,on the authority of IbnAbbas, reported the other three journeys, a summary of which goes as follows:
After Ismael (May peace be upon him!) became a young man, having
learned Arabic from the tribe of Jurhum who had great admiration and
affection for him, and gave him one of their women as a wife, his mother
died. Desiring to see his wife and son again, Ibrahim (May peace be upon
him!) came to Makkah after Ismael’s marriage, but he did not find him at
He asked Ismael’s wife about her husband and how they were doing. She
complained of poverty, so he asked her to tell Ismael (May peace be upon
him!) to change his doorstep. Ismael (May peace be upon him!) understood
the message, divorced his wife and got married again.
According to the most common narration, he married the daughter of
Mudad bin Amr, chief of the Jurhum tribe.
Once more, Ibrahim (May peace be upon him!) came to see his son, but did not find him at home. He asked his new wife the same question, upon which she thanked Allah. Ibrahim (May peace be upon him!) asked her to tell Ismael (May peace be upon him!) to keep his doorstep (i.e. to keep her as wife) and went back to Palestine.
A third time, Ibrahim (May peace be upon him!) came to Makkah to find Ismael (May peace be upon him!) sharpening an arrow under a lofty tree near Zamzam. The meeting, after a very long journey of separation, was very touching for a father so affectionate and a son so dutiful and righteous. This time, father and son built Al-Kabah and raised its pillars, and in compliance with Allah’s Commandment, Ibrahim (May peace be upon
him!) called people to perform pilgrimage to it.
By the grace of Allah, Ismael (May peace be upon him!) had twelve sons
from the daughter of Mudad, whose names were Nabet, Qidar, Edbael,
Mebsham, Mishma’, Duma, Micha, Hudud, Yetma, Yetour, Nafis and
Qidman, and who ultimately formed twelve tribes inhabiting Makkah and
trading between Yemen, Shaam (Syria) and Egypt.
Later on, these tribes spread all over and even outside the peninsula, after
which their offspring became untraceable except for the descendants of
Nabet and Qidar.
The Nabeteans — sons of Nabet — established a flourishing civilization in
the north of Hijaz, they instituted a powerful government that spread its
domain over all the neighboring tribes, and made Petra their capital.
Nobody dared challenge their authority until the Romans managed to
vanquish their kingdom later.
A group of research scholars inclined to the view that the Ghassanide kings,
along with the Aws and Khazraj were not Qahtanians but rather descendants
of Nabet, the son of Ismael, who remained in the region. Imam Al-Bukhari
also inclined to this view, and Al-Hafiz Ibn Hajar preferred the view that
Qahtan was among the descendants of Nabet.
Descendants of Qidar, the son of Ismael (May peace be upon him),
multiplied in number and lived in Makkah for a long time. From them
issued Adnan and his son Maad, to whom Adnanian Arabs traced their ancestry.Adnan is the twenty-first grandfather in the series of the Prophetic ancestry.
It was said that whenever Prophet Muhammad (May the peace and
blessings of Allah be upon him) spoke of his ancestry, he would stop at
Adnan and say: “Genealogists tell lies’’ and did not go further than him.
A group of scholars, however, favored the probability of going beyond Adnan, considering the aforementioned Hadith to be inauthentic. They
went on to say that there were exactly forty fathers between Adnan and Ibrahim.
Nizar, Maad’s only son, had four sons who branched out into four great
tribes: Eyad, Anmar, Rabiah and Mudar.
These last two branched into several tribes. Rabiah fathered Asad,
Anazah,Abdul-Qais, and Wa’il’s two sons (Bakr and Taghlib), Hanifah
and many others.
Mudar tribes branched out into two great divisions: Qais Ailan bin Mudar and the tribes of Elias bin Mudar. From QaisAilan came Banu Sulaim,
Banu Hawazin, and Banu Ghatafan of whom descended Abs, Dhubyan, Ashja and Ghani bin A’sur.
From Elias bin Mudar came Tamim bin Murrah, Hudhail bin Mudrikah,
Banu Asad bin Khuzaimah and the tribe of Kinanah bin Khuzaimah, of
whom came the Quraish, the descendants of Fihr bin Malik bin An-Nadr
The Quraish branched out into various tribes, the most famous of whom
were Jumah, Sahm, Adi, Makhzum, Tayim, Zahrah and the tribes of Qusai bin Kilab, consisting ofAbdud-Dar bin Qusai, Asad bin Abdul-’Uzza bin Qusai andAbd Manaf bin Qusai.
There were four divisions of the tribe of ‘Abd Manaf: Abd Shams, Nawfal, Muttalib and Hashim. It is, however, from the family of Hashim that Allah selected the Prophet Muhammad binAbdullah bin Abdul-Muttalib bin Hashim.
The Prophet Muhammad (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:
``Allah selected Ismael (May peace be upon him!) from the sons of Ibrahim, Kinanah from the sons of Ismael (May peace be upon him), Quraish from the sons of Kinanah, Hashim from the sons of Quraish and He selected me from the sons of Hashim.’’
Al-Abbas bin Abdul-Muttalib quoted Allah’s Prophet as saying: ``Allah created the creatures and made me among the best of them, He chose the tribes and selected me from the best whereof; and He chose families and made me among the best of them. Then He chose the households, making me among the best of their households. I am the best of them in person and the best of them in household.’’
After increasing in number, the children ofAdnan spread out over Arabia
in pursuit of pastures and water. Abdul-Qais, together with some tribes of Bakr bin Wa’il and Tamim, emigrated to Bahrain. Banu Hanifah bin Sab bin Ali bin Bakr went to settle in Hajr, the capital of Yamamah. All the tribes of Bakr bin Wa’il lived in an area of land that included Yamamah, Bahrain, Saif Kazimah, the seashore, the outer borders of Iraq, Ablah and Hait.
Most of the tribe of Taghlib lived in the area around the Euphrates, while
some of them lived with Bakr. Banu Tamim lived in the desert of Basrah,
Banu Sulaim in the vicinity of Madinah on the land stretching from Wadi
Al-Qura to Khaibar onwards to Harrah. Thaqif dwelt in Ta’if and Hawazin
east of Makkah near Awtas on the route from Makkah to Basrah. Banu
Asad lived on the land east of Taima’ and west of Kufah, while the family
of Tai’ lived between Banu Asad and Taima’. They were at a distance of
five days from Kufah. Dhubyan inhabited the area between Taima’ and
Some divisions of Kinanah lived in Tihamah, while some of the Quraish
dwelt in Makkah and its suburbs. The Quraish remained completely
disunited until Qusai bin Kilab managed to rally their ranks on honorable
terms, attaching great prominence to their status and importance.