Rule & Government among the Arabs

When talking about the Arabs before Islam, we see that it is necessary to
outline the history of rule, government, sectarianism, and the religious
domination of the Arabs, to facilitate the understanding of the emergent
circumstances when Islam appeared. When the sun of Islam rose, rulers of
Arabia were of two kinds: crowned kings, who were in fact not
independent; and heads of tribes and clans, who enjoyed the same
authorities and privileges possessed by crowned kings and were mostly
independent, though some of them may have shown some kind of
submission to a crowned king. The crowned kings were those of Yemen,
and those of Shaam (ancient geographical Syria); the family of Ghassan and
the monarchy of Heerah. All the other rulers of Arabia were not crowned.

Rulership in Yemen

In Yemen, the people of Sheba were one of the oldest known nations of the
pure Arabs. They have been mentioned in records as early as the 25th
century C.E., according to excavations undertaken at Or. Their civilization
flourished, and their domain spread in the 11th century C.E. It is possible to
divide their ages to the following estimation:

1. From 1300 to 620 B.C. Their nation was known as Mainiyah’ during
which their kings were called Makrib Sheba’. Their capital was Sarwah, also known as Kharibah, whose ruins lie approx. 50 kms. north-west of Ma’rib, and 142 kms. east of Sana’. During this period, they began
building the Dam of Ma’rib which had great importance in the history of
Yemen. Sheba had so great a domain that they established colonies within
and outside Arabia.

2. From 620 B.C. to 115 B.C. During this era, their nation was known by
the name Sheba. They left the name Makrib and assumed the designation of
Kings of Sheba. They also made Ma’rib their capital instead of Sarwah. The
ruins of Ma’rib lie at a distance of 192 km east of San`a’.

3. From 115 B.C. until 300 C.E. During this period, the nation became
known as Himyariyah the First after the tribe of Himyar conquered the
kingdom of Sheba making Redan their capital instead of Ma’rib. Later on,
Redan was called Zifar. Its ruins still lie on Mudawwar Mountain near the
town of Yarim. During this period, they began to decline in trade and power
that eventually led to their downfall. Their trade failed to a great extent:
firstly, because of the Nabetean domain over northern Hijaz; secondly,
because of the Roman superiority over the naval trade routes after the
Roman conquest of Egypt, Syria and northern Hijaz; and thirdly, because of
the inter-tribal warfare. Due to the three above-mentioned factors, the
families of Qahtan remained disunited and scattered about.

4. From 300 C.E. until Islam dawned in Yemen. During this period the
nation was known as Himyariyah the Second, and it witnessed increasing
disorder and turmoil, followed by civil rebellion and outbreaks of tribal
wars, rendering the people of Yemen liable to foreign subjection and hence
loss of independence. During this era, the Romans conquered Adn and even helped the Abyssinians (Ethiopians) occupy Yemen for the first time in 340 C.E., making use of the constant intra-tribal conflict in Hamdan and Himyar. The Abyssinian (Ethiopian) occupation of Yemen lasted until 378 C.E., after which Yemen regained its independence. Later, cracks began to show in the Ma’rib Dam which led to the Great Flood (450 or 451 C.E.) mentioned in the Noble Qur’an. This was a great event, which caused the fall of the entire Yemeni civilization and the dispersal of the nations living therein.

In 523 C.E., a Jewish ruler named Dhu Nawas launched a devastating campaign against the Christians of Najran in order to force them to convert to Judaism. Having refused to do so, they were thrown alive into a big ditch where a great fire was lit. The Qur’an refers to this event:

``Cursed were the people of the ditch.’’ [85:4] 

This aroused great wrath among the Christians, especially the Roman emperors, who not only instigated the Abyssinians (Ethiopians) against the Arabs but also assembled a large fleet of seventy thousand warriors, which helped the Abyssinian (Ethiopian) army to bring about a second conquest of Yemen in 525 C.E., under the leadership of Eriat. He was granted rulership over Yemen, a position he held until he was assassinated by one of his army leaders, Abrahah. After reconciliation with the king of Abyssinia, Abrahah gained rulership over Yemen and, later on, deployed his soldiers to attempt to demolish Al-Kabah, and hence, he and his soldiers came to be known as the `People of the Elephant’’.

In the year 575 C.E., after the incident of the “People of the Elephant”, the people of Yemen, under the leadership of Madikarib bin Saif Dhu Yazin Al-Himyari, and through Persian assistance, revolted against the Abyssinian (Ethiopian) invaders, regained independence and appointed Ma’dikarib as their king. However, Ma’dikarib was assassinated by some of his Abyssinian (Ethiopian) servants. The family of Dhu Yazin was thus deprived of royalty forever. Kisra, the Persian king, appointed a Persian ruler over San’a, and thus made Yemen a Persian colony. Persian rulers maintained rulership of Yemen until Badhan, the last of them, embraced Islam in 638 C.E., thus ending the Persian dominion over Yemen.

Rulership in Heerah

Ever since Korosh the Great (557-529 B.C.) united the Persians, they ruled over Iraq and its neighboring areas. Nobody could displace their authority until Alexander the Great vanquished their king Dara I and thus subdued the Persians in 326 B.C. Persian lands were thenceforth divided and ruled by kings known as “the Kings of Sects’’, an era that lasted until 230 C.E. Meanwhile, the Qahtanians occupied some Iraqi territories, and were later followed by some `Adnanians who managed to share some parts of Mesopotamia with them.

The Persians, under the leadership of Ardashir, who had established the Sasanian state in 226 C.E., regained enough unity and power to subdue the Arabs living in the vicinity of their kingdom, and force the Quda’ah tribe to leave for Syria, leaving the people of Heerah and Anbar under the Persian domain.

During the time of Ardashir, Jadhimah Alwaddah exercised rulership over Heerah and the rest of the Iraqi desert area, including Rabi’ah and Mudar in Mesopotamia. Ardashir reckoned that it was impossible for him to rule the Arabs directly and prevent them from attacking his borders unless he appointed one of them who enjoyed the support and power of his tribe as a king. He had also seen that he could make use of them against the Byzantine kings who persistently harassed him. At the same time, the Arabs of Iraq could face the Arabs of Syria who were under the hold of Byzantine kings. However, he deemed it fit to keep a Persian battalion under the command of the king of Heerah to be used against those Arabs who might rebel against him.

After the death of Jadhimah, and during the era of Kisra Sabour bin Ardashir, `Amr bin `Adi bin Nasr Al-Lakhmi was ruler of Heerah and Anbar (268-288 C.E.). The Lakhmi kings remained in rule of Heerah until the Persians appointed Qabaz bin Fairuz in whose reign appeared someone called Mazdak, who called for dissoluteness in social life. Qabaz, and many of his subjects, embraced Mazdak’s religion and even called upon the king of Heerah, Al-Mundhir bin Ma’-us-Sama’ (512-554 C.E.), to follow suit. When the latter, because of his pride and self-respect, rejected their call, Qabaz discharged him and nominated Harith bin `Amr bin Hajar Al-Kindi, who had accepted the Mazdak doctrine.

No sooner did Kisra Anu Shairwan succeed Qabaz than he, due to hatred of Mazdak’s philosophy, killed Mazdak and many of his followers, restored Mundhir to the throne of Heerah, and gave orders to summon under arrest Harith who sought refuge with Al-Kalb tribe where he spent the rest of his life.

The sons of Al-Mundhir bin Ma’-us-Sama’ maintained kingship a long time until An-Nu`man bin Al-Mundhir took over. Because of a calumny borne by Zaid bin `Adi Al-`Abbadi, the Persian king got angry at An-Nu`man and summoned him to his palace. An-Nu`man went secretly to Hani bin Mas’ud, chief of Shaiban tribe, and left his wealth and family under the latter’s protection, and then presented himself before the Persian king, who immediately threw him into prison until his death. Kisra, then, appointed Eyas bin Qubaisah At-Ta’i as king of Heerah. Eyas was ordered to tell Hani bin Mas`ud to deliver An-Nu`man’s charge up to Kisra. No sooner had the Persian king received the fanatically motivated rejection on the part of the Arab chief, he declared war against the tribe of Shaiban. He mobilized his troops and warriors under the leadership of King Eyas to a place called Dhi Qar which witnessed a most furious battle wherein the Persians were severely routed by the Arabs for the first time in history.They say that this occurred very soon after the birth of Prophet Muhammad (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), eight months after Eyas bin Qubaisah’s rise to power over Heerah.

After Eyas, a Persian ruler named Azadhabah was appointed over Heerah, ruling for seventeen years (614-631 C.E.) after which the authority returned to the family of Lakhm when Al-Mundhir Al-Ma`rur took over. Hardly had the latter’s reign lasted for eight months when Khalid bin Al-Walid fell upon him with Muslim soldiers

Rulership in Geographical Syria

During the tribal emigrations, some branches of the Quda`ah tribe reached the borders of geographical Syria where they settled down. They belonged to the family of Sulaih bin Halwan, of whose offspring were the sons of Daj`am bin Sulaih known as Ad-Daja`imah. The tribes of Quda’ah were used by the Byzantines in the defense of the Byzantine borders against both Arab bedouin raiders and the Persians. A king was put in charge of them. One of their most famous kings was Ziyad bin Al-Habulah.They enjoyed autonomy for a considerable phase of time that lasted from the beginning of the first century to near the end of the second century C.E. Their authority however ended upon defeat by the Ghassanides who were consequently granted the proxy rulership over the Arabs of Syria and had Dumatul-Jandal as their headquarters, which lasted until the battle of Yarmuk in the year 13 A.H. Their last king Jabalah bin Al-Aihum embraced Islam during the reign of the Chief of believers, `Umar bin Al-Khattab.

Rulership in Hijaz

Ismael (May peace be upon him!) administered authority over Makkah as well as custodianship of the Ka`bah throughout his lifetime. Upon his death, at the age of 137, two of his sons succeeded him; Nabet, then Qidar. It is also said that they were opposite in order. Later on, their maternal grandfather, Mudad bin `Amr Al-Jurhumi took over, thus transferring rulership over Makkah to the tribe of Jurhum, preserving a venerable position. Very little authority remained for Ismael’s sons even though they held a sacred status since it was their father who built the Ka`bah.

Time passed without the situation of the children of Ismael (May peace be upon him!) changing, until the rule of Jurhum declined prior to the invasion of Bukhtanassar. The political role of the `Adnanides had begun to gain firmer ground in Makkah, which could be clearly attested to by the fact that upon Bukhtanassar’s first invasion of the Arabs in Dhati `Irq, the leader of the Arabs was from the `Adnanides not from Jurhum.

Upon Bukhtanassar’s second invasion in 587 C.E., however, the `Adnanides were frightened out to Yemen, while the Israelite proclaimed Prophet Burkhiya fled to Syria from Harran with Ma`ad. But when Bukhtanassar’s pressure lessened, Ma`ad returned to Makkah to find none of the tribe of Jurhum except Jursham bin Jalhamah, whose daughter, Mu`anah, was given to Ma`ad as wife. She later had a son by him named Nizar.

On account of the difficult living conditions and poverty prevalent in Makkah, the tribe of Jurhum began to treat visitors to the Ka`bah poorly and seized its funds by force.This aroused resentment and hatred of the `Adnanides (sons of Bakr bin `Abd Manaf bin Kinanah). They, with the help of the tribe of Khuza`ah that had come to settle in a neighboring area called Marr Az-Zahran, invaded Jurhum and chased them out of Makkah. Rulership was left to Khuza’ah in the middle of the second century C.E. Upon leaving Makkah, Jurhum filled up the well of Zamzam, levelled its place and buried a great many things in it. `Amr bin Al-Harith bin Mudad Al-Jurhumi was reported by Ibn Ishaq to have buried the two gold deer of the Ka`bah, together with the Black Stone in the Zamzam well. After sealing it up, he and those with him escaped to Yemen.

Ismael’s period is estimated to have lasted for twenty centuries B.C. It means that the Jurhum stayed in Makkah for twenty-one centuries and held rulership there for about twenty centuries.

Upon the defeat of Jurhum, the tribe of Khuza`ah monopolized rulership over Makkah. Mudar tribes, however, enjoyed three privileges:

  • First: Leading pilgrims from `Arafat to Muzdalifah and during the rites at Mina on the Day of Sacrifice. This was the authority of the family of Al-Ghawth bin Murrah, descendants of Elias bin Mudar, who were called `Sufah’. This privilege meant that the pilgrims were not allowed to throw stones at Al-`Aqabah until one of the men of the Sufah did so. When they finished stoning and wanted to leave the valley of Mina, the Sufah men stood on the two sides of Al-`Aqabah and nobody would pass that position until the men of Sufah passed and cleared the way for the pilgrims. When the Sufah perished, the family of Sa`d bin Zaid Manat from the Tamim tribe inherited the responsibility.
  • Second: Al-Ifadah (leaving for Mina after Muzdalifah) on the morning of the sacrifice, and this was the responsibility of the family of Adwan.
  • Third: Postponement of the sacred months, and this was the responsibility of the family of Tamim bin `Adi from Bani Kinanah.

Khuza`ah’s reign in Makkah lasted for three hundred years, during which the `Adnanides spread all over Najd and the sides of Bahrain and Iraq, while small branches of the Quraish remained on the sides of Makkah; they were Halloul, Sarim and some other families of Kinanah. They enjoyed no privileges over Makkah or the Sacred House until the appearance of Qusai bin Kilab. Qusai’s father is said to have died when he was still a baby, and his mother subsequently married Rabi`ah bin Haram, from the tribe of Bani `Udhrah. Rabi`ah took his wife and her baby to his homeland on the borders of Syria. When Qusai became a young man, he returned to Makkah, which was ruled by Hulail bin Habshah from Khuza`ah, who gave Qusai his daughter, Hobbah, as wife. After Hulail’s death, a war between the Khuza`ah and the Quraish broke out resulting in Qusai taking hold of Makkah and the Sacred House.

The Reasons for This War Have Been Illustrated in Three Versions

First: Due to the influence and multiplicity of his offspring, increase of his property and exaltation of his honor after Hulail’s death, Qusai considered himself more entitled than the tribes of Khuza`ah and Bani Bakr to shoulder the responsibility of rulership over Makkah and custodianship of the Sacred House. He also advocated that the Quraish were the chiefs of Ismael’s descendants. He consulted Quraish and Kinanah to expel Khuza`ah and Bani Bakr from Makkah and they supported him.

Second: The Khuza`ah claimed that Hulail requested Qusai to hold custodianship of the Ka`bah and rulership over Makkah after his death.

Third: Hulail gave the right of Ka`bah service to his daughter Hobbah and appointed Abu Ghubshan Al-Khuza`i to function as her agent thereof. Upon Hulail’s death, Qusai bought this right for a leather bag of wine, which aroused dissatisfaction among the men of Khuza`ah and they tried to keep the custodianship of the Sacred House away from Qusai. The latter, however, with the help of Quraish and Kinanah, managed to take over and even to expel Khuza`ah completely from Makkah.

Whatever the truth might have been, the entire affair resulted in Sufah being deprived of their privileges; the evacuation of Khuza`ah and Bakr from Makkah; the transfer of rulership over Makkah and custodianship of the

Holy Sanctuary to Qusai. The matter was resolved after fierce wars between Qusai and Khuza`ah, inflicting heavy casualties on both sides, reconciliation and then arbitration of Ya`mur bin `Awf from the tribe of Bakr. His judgment entailed eligibility of Qusai’s rulership over Makkah and custodianship of the Sacred House; Qusai’s absolution of responsibility for the bloodshed of Khuza`ah and imposition of blood money on Khuza`ah and Banu Bakr. Qusai’s reign over Makkah and the Sacred House began in 440 C.E., and allowed him and the Quraish after him absolute rulership over Makkah and undisputed custodianship of the Sacred House to which Arabs from all over Arabia came to pay homage.

Qusai brought his kinspeople to Makkah and allocated it to them, allowing

Quraish some dwellings there. An-Nus’a, the families of Safwan, Adwan, Murrah bin `Awf preserved the same rights they used to enjoy before his arrival.

A significant achievement credited to Qusai was the establishment of AnNadwah House (an assembly house) on the northern side of Al-Ka`bah, to serve as a meeting place for the Quraish. This was very beneficial for the Quraish because it secured unity of opinions among them and cordial solutions to their problems.

Qusai enjoyed the following privileges of leadership and honor:

  1. Presiding over An-Nadwah House Meetings: Consultations relating toserious issues were conducted there and marriage contracts were announced.
  2. The War Standard: There could be no declaration of war except with hisapproval or the approval of one of his sons.
  3. Caravan Leader: He was the commander of all caravans. No caravan from Makkah could depart, be it for trade or otherwise, except under his authority or the authority of one of his sons.
  4. Doorkeeper of the Ka`bah: He was the only one eligible to open its gate,and was responsible for its service and protection.
  5. Providing Water for the Pilgrims: They would fill basins sweetened withdates or raisins for the pilgrims visiting Makkah to drink.
  6. Feeding Pilgrims: This means making food for pilgrims who could notafford it. Qusai even imposed an annual land tax for food on the Quraish, paid at the season of pilgrimage.

It is noteworthy however that Qusai singled out `Abd Manaf, a son of his, for honor and prestige though he was not his eldest son (who was `AbdudDar), and entrusted him with such responsibilities such as chairing the meetings at An-Nadwah House, custody of the standard, the doorkeeping of Al-Ka`bah, providing water and food for pilgrims. Due to the fact that Qusai’s actions were regarded as unquestionable and his orders inviolable, his death did not give rise to conflicts among his sons. However, no sooner had`Abd Manaf died, fierce infighting began between his sons and their cousins, the sons of `Abdud-Dar, which would have given rise to further conflicts and strifes among the whole tribe of Quraish, had it not been for a peace treaty.

Thereby the posts were reallocated to reserve the rights of feeding and providing water for pilgrims for the sons of `Abd Manaf; while An-Nadwah House, custody of the standard and the doorkeeping of Al-Ka`bah were maintained for the sons of `Abdud-Dar. The sons of `Abd Manaf, however, cast lots for their charge. Consequently they left the charge of providing food and water to Hashim bin `Abd Manaf, upon whose death, the charge was to be taken over by his brother Al-Muttalib bin `Abd Manaf. After him it was to be taken by `Abdul-Muttalib bin Hashim, the Prophet’s grandfather. His sons assumed this position until the rise of Islam, during which `Abbas bin `Abdul-Muttalib was in charge.

Many other posts were distributed among the Quraish for establishing the pillars of a new quasi-democratic state with government offices and councils similar to those today. Some of these posts are enumerated as follows:

  1. Casting lots for the idols was allocated to Bani Jumah.
  2. Keeping record of offers and sacrifices, settlement of disputes and relevant issues were to lie in the hands of Bani Sahm.
  3. Consultation was to go to Bani Asad.
  4. Organization of blood money and fines was with Bani Tayim.
  5. Bearing the national banner was with Bani Umaiyah.
  6. The military institute, footmen and cavalry would be the responsibility ofBani Makhzum.
  7. Bani `Adi would function as foreign ambassadors.

Rulership in Pan-Arabia

We have previously mentioned the Qahtanide and `Adnanide emigrations, and the division of Arabia between these two tribes.

The tribes dwelling near Heerah were subordinate to the Arabian king of Heerah, while those dwelling in the Syrian deserts were under the domain of the Ghassanides — a dependency that was in reality formal rather than actual. However, those living in the far-off desert areas enjoyed full autonomy.

These tribes in fact had heads chosen by the whole tribe which was a semigovernment based on tribal solidarity and collective interests in defense of land and property.

Heads of tribes enjoyed dictatorial privileges similar to those of kings, and were rendered full obedience and subordination in both war and peace. Rivalry among cousins for rulership, however, often drove them to outdo one another in entertaining guests, affecting generosity, wisdom, and chivalry for the sole purpose of outranking their rivals, and gaining fame among people — especially poets, who were the official spokesmen at the time.

The head of a tribe and its chief had special claims to spoils of war such as one-fourth of the spoils, whatever he chose for himself, or found on his way back or even the remaining undivided spoils.

The Political Situation

The three Arab regions adjacent to foreigners suffered from great weakness and inferiority. The people there were either masters or slaves, rulers or subordinates. Their masters — especially the foreigners — had claim to every advantage; slaves had nothing but responsibilities to shoulder. In other words, absolute rulership brought about violation of the rights of subordinates, ignorance, oppression, iniquity, injustice and hardship, and turned them into people groping in darkness and ignorance.

Under such a system, the fertile land rendered its fruits to the rulers and men of power to extravagantly spend on their pleasures and enjoyments, wishes and desires, oppression and aggression.

The tribes living near these regions moved between Syria and Iraq, whereas those living inside Arabia were disunited, and governed by tribal conflicts and racial and religious disputes.

They had neither a king to maintain their independence nor a supporter to seek advice from, or depend upon in hardships.

The rulers of Hijaz, however, were greatly esteemed and respected by the Arabs, and were considered rulers and servants of the religious center. Rulership of Hijaz was, in fact, a mixture of secular and official superiority as well as religious leadership. They ruled among the Arabs in the name of religious leadership and always monopolized the custodianship of the Holy Sanctuary and its neighboring areas. They looked after the interests of visitors to the Ka`bah and were in charge of putting the code of Ibrahim into effect. They even had offices and departments like those of the parliaments of today. However, they were too weak to carry the heavy burden, as this evidently came to light during the Abyssinian (Ethiopian) invasion.

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