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Chapter 2: The Pilgrimage of Islam

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THE PILGRIMAGE OF ISLAM
ENCOMPASSING THE FIVE SCHOOLS OF LAW
By: Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri

Chapter 2
Pilgrimage From Adam to Muhammad

 

From Adam to Muhammad

The Ka‘bah is the oldest sacred sanctuary on earth of which there is historical record. The Qur`an says:

Most surely the first house appointed for men is the one at Bakkah [Makka], blessed and a guidance for the nations. (3:96)

The Ka‘bah predated the Prophet Abraham (Ibrahim), who unearthed the foundation and rebuilt the House upon it:

And when Abraham and Ishmael raised the foundations of the House [they prayed]: ‘Our Lord! Accept [this work] from us; surely Thou art the Hearing, the Knowing.’ (2:127)

The oldest extant history of Makkah, Reports About Mecca, written by Muhammad al-Azraqi approximately three centuries after the Prophet Muhammad’s death, contains information on the origin of the Ka‘bah which most latter historical texts rely upon extensively. Al-Azraqi traces his information to reports from certain companions of the Prophet Muhammad, who all relate that the Ka‘bah is linked to Adam. There are different versions of the specific details of the original construction of the Ka‘bah, but all contain the same basic information.

An example may be found in the tradition stemming from Ibn ‘Abbas, the Prophet’s cousin, who said that Adam travelled until he arrived at Makkah, where he built the Ka‘bah with angelic inspiration and assistance. Later, the flood of Noah (Nuh) swept away the physical structure, which later on was re-erected by Abraham and Ishmael (Isma‘il). Ibn ‘Abbas also alluded to the inward meaning of the Ka‘bah, mentioning that there is another House like the Ka‘bah which is directly under God’s Throne. He said that if this House fell, it would fall upon the Ka‘bah of earth. In other words, the physical Ka‘bah of form is an emanation of its archetype in the spiritual world.

 

Abraham settles Ishmael and Hagar

The great prophet Abraham was born approximately four thousand years ago, in a place called Ur, which is located in the south of what is now known as Iraq. The Qur`an speaks much about him, as does the Bible. He was the greatest revolutionary since the prophet Noah. Both came with the divine message of one God and the path of submission, thereby antagonising the vested powers of their respective times.

As a young man, Abraham spoke out strongly against the idolatry in which his people were immersed, and physically destroyed their idols to prove his point. The power elite of the society in which he lived subjected him to torture by fire, from which he was miraculously saved. He then left his homeland and travelled to Egypt and later to Palestine.

Abraham and his wife Sarah had no children, and although he was quite old she suggested that he marry their servant girl Hagar (Hajar), who then bore him a son. He was named Ishmael (Isma‘il). However Hagar’s son caused some emotional pain for Sarah, in consequence of which Abraham took Hagar and Ishmael out of Palestine to settle them elsewhere.

Ishmael was still unweaned when Abraham left them with a bag of dates and a leather skin of water and departed on a journey. Hagar protested at being left in such an inhospitable desert and asked Abraham if God had commanded his action. When Abraham assured her that he was following divine inspiration, Hagar said, ‘Then He will not desert us’. The Qur`an reveals that upon leaving Hagar and Ishmael, Abraham said, O our Lord! surely I have settled a part of my offspring in a valley unproductive of fruit near Thy Sacred House, Our Lord! that they may keep up prayer; therefore make the hearts of some people yearn towards them and provide them with fruits; haply they may be grateful. (14:37).

By the Grace of God, Sarah also bore a son, who was named Isaac (Ishaq the father of Jacob and the fourteen tribes).

 

Zamzam and the Arrival of the Jurhum

Hagar suckled her child and gave him small sips of water until the water was finished and both became extremely thirsty and weak. Unable to bear her child’s anguished crying, she went to the nearest hill, Safa, and looked down into the valley to see if anyone was there, but saw no one. Desperately determined, she descended from Safa and set off across the valley to another hill about a quarter of a mile away, called Marwah. She climbed Marwah and once again searched across the wilderness and saw no one. She returned to Safa and again to Marwah, going back and forth chasing mirages in increased desperation. When she ascended Marwah after the seventh time she heard a voice within her, calling her to listen in silence. She heard it again and said, ‘You whom I hear, if you can, bring help.’ Then beside her appeared an angel, who directed her to the spot where Ishmael was and from near his feet water appeared. Hagar hurriedly dug a depression at the spot so the water would not escape. That was the spring of Zamzam (meaning ‘gathered water’).

Hagar and Ishmael continued to live by the well of Zamzam. Now the Jurhum, a tribe of Yemeni origin, had come from the north across Mount Kada and camped in the lower part of the Makkan valley. One day a group of them were travelling in the desert when they saw a flock of birds, whose habit it was to circle above water. They sent a scout to see what was there and he returned with news of water. The Jurhum came and found Hagar and Ishmael. They asked if they could use the water and Hagar granted them permission. They began to settle in the area and sent messengers to their people, who also began to join them.

 

Ishmael in the Bible

Hagar and Ishmael remained in Makkah until their deaths; Ishmael grew up among the Jurhum, speaking their language and marrying one of their women. We find references to Ishmael in the Bible as follows:

And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation. And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink. And God was with the lad; and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer. (Genesis 21:17-20)

We also find that the Bible connects the Ka‘bah and Ishmael:

Blessed are they that dwell in Thy House; they will be still praising thee.
Blessed is the man whose strength is in Thee; in whose heart are the ways of them, Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools. (Psalm 84:4-6)

 

Building the Ka‘bah

Before building the Ka‘bah, Abraham visited his son Ishmael in Makkah on several occasions. When God took the covenant with him, which included the circumcision of all males, Ishmael was also circumcised. The Qur`an mentions Abraham’s vision, in which he was ordered to sacrifice Ishmael:

O my son! surely I have seen in a dream that I should sacrifice you; consider then what you see. He said: O my father, do what you are commanded; if Allah please, you will find me of the patient ones. So when they both submitted and he threw him down upon his side, and We called out to him saying, O Abraham! you have indeed fulfilled the vision [...] and We ransomed him with a great victim. (37:102-7)

When Abraham received the revelation from God to raise the foundations of the Ka‘bah, he went to Ishmael and found him sitting under a large tree in the area of Zamzam. Abraham said to Ishmael, ‘Oh Ishmael, God the Exalted has given me a command.’ ‘Then you must obey your Lord,’ Ishmael replied. Abraham said, ‘My Lord has commanded me to build a House for Him.’ Ishmael asked where, and Abraham pointed to the mound which was higher than its surroundings. They dug the ground that Adam had built and when they reached the original foundation a cloud came directly over the spot to indicate the dimensions of the structure. Abraham dug the earth according to the cloud's shape, in order to build on the original foundation. Once he had finished digging, the cloud disappeared. Then Ishmael brought large stones from the surrounding area, and Abraham built the walls of the structure. When he had reached to a certain point in the wall at the corner of the structure, he asked Ishmael to find a stone to place there, so that people would know where to begin circumambulation. Ishmael went to the mountains in search of a stone. Gabriel appeared before him with the Black Stone, which had been carried to and deposited upon the mountain of Abu Qubays by the flood of Noah. ‘Where did you get this stone?’ Ishmael asked him. ‘From Him who has no need of your building,’ Gabriel answered. The stone was put in its place, and when Abraham reached a point where he could reach no higher, Ishmael brought him a large rock, so he could stand upon it to lay the upper level of the walls. This rock is now located at a spot called ‘the Station of Abraham’ (maqam Ibrahim).

It is related that when Abraham completed building the Ka‘bah, he went around the House seven times, kissing the Black Stone during each round. Upon completing the seven rounds, Abraham and Ishmael made two cycles of prayer at the Station of Abraham.

And when We made the House a pilgrimage for men and a place of security, and [He said,] appoint for yourselves a place of prayer on the standing place of Abraham. And We enjoined Abraham and Ishmael saying: Purify My House for those who visit it and those who abide in it for devotion and those who bow down and those who prostrate themselves. (2:125)

And when We assigned to Abraham the place of the House, saying: Do not associate with Me aught, and purify My House for those who make the circuit and stand to pray and bow and prostrate themselves. (22:26)

 

The First Pilgrimage

It was through the agency of the Angel Gabriel that Abraham was shown the ritual practices of the pilgrimage. Having been commanded by Allah to sacrifice his son, on three occasions Satan tried to tempt Abraham away from fulfilling his purpose. When they entered Mina, Satan appeared to Abraham at the place which later became known as the pillar of stoning, ‘the Pillar of Aqabah’ (Jamrah al-‘Aqabah). Gabriel ordered him to stone Satan which Abraham did with seven pebble stones. Satan disappeared then appeared again at another spot close by, which is called ‘the Middle Pillar’ (Jamrah al-Wusta). Again Gabriel ordered the casting of stones, and again Abraham did so. Satan disappeared, but then reappeared for a third time, at the place called ‘the Lower Pillar’ (Jamrah al-Sughra). Abraham hurled seven more stones at him and Satan disappeared, and did not appear again.

Having been proven steadfastly willing to carry out Allah’s command, Abraham was then relieved of the need to sacrifice his son’s life by the appearance of a ram, which he was then commanded to sacrifice instead of Ishmael.

Then, when the angelic presence, Gabriel, had finished teaching him the ritual practices of the Pilgrimage, Abraham was commanded to inform other people:

And proclaim among men the Pilgrimage: they will come to you on foot and on every lean camel, coming from every remote path. (22:27)

Upon the completion of the Pilgrimage, Abraham prayed for the security of the Ka‘bah:

And when Abraham said: My Lord, make it a secure town and provide its people with fruits, such of them as believe in Allah and the last day. He said: And whoever disbelieves I will grant him enjoyment for a short while, then I will drive him to the chastisement of the Fire, an evil destination. (2:126)

When Abraham died Ishmael inherited the legacy of prophecy and spiritual leadership from him and carried on with the ritual practices of his father:

And mention Ishmael in the Book; surely he was truthful in his promise, and he was an apostle, a prophet. And he enjoined on his family prayer and almsgiving, and was one in whom His Lord was well pleased. (19:54-5)

 

After Abraham

Ishmael had twelve sons whom he sent out across the Arabian Peninsula to bring people to the divine path of unity, and to initiate them in the prophetic practices revealed to his father, including the Pilgrimage. Upon Ishmael’s death, his eldest son Kadar (or Nabit) took over the leadership of Makkah and the responsibility for practising the teachings of Abraham. Ishmael was buried next to his mother, between the wall of Ishmael and the Ka‘bah.

The tribe of Jurhum controlled Makkah and the Ancient House after the death of Ishmael, but their control was usurped by a tribe known as the Amaliq. The Amaliq were a people of Arabian descent who had settled in Southern Arabia, Syria, Palestine, and in the peninsula proper. The Abil branch of the Amaliq are said to have founded a city which was in the vicinity of, if not actually on, the present site of Madinah.

Another branch of the Amaliq, who lived in Makkah, were the cause of a long period of inter-tribal warfare for the custody of the Ka‘bah. They launched an attack on the descendants of Ishmael who guarded the holy place, but as it was sinful to fight there, the latter refused to defend themselves. Thus they were driven out, and for centuries wandered as nomads in the valleys and gorges which lie between the mountains and the coast. Later, some of the tribe moved away; as their numbers grew and the available pastureland became insufficient for their needs, they took up trading. Other descendants of Ishmael, the Prophet Muhammad’s ancestors among them, could not bear to leave the vicinity of the Ka‘bah, even though they were allowed to visit it only on the occasion of major pilgrimages.

The Ka‘bah in Makkah had by now become Arabia’s foremost sanctuary, a place where strife and bloodshed were prohibited. The fugitive and the hunted beast alike found safety in Bakkah, as the valley around the Ka‘bah was then called. Bushes and trees which grew there were not to be cut down. In these early days, the Ka‘bah stood alone in the valley. The tribesmen’s tents and cattle-pens, and some cave-dwellings, lay on the slopes of Mount Abu Qubays and the Red Mountain, or else beyond the four gorges which lead out of the Makkan valley. During the daytime, the people would gather around the Ka‘bah, and at night they would return to their tents, leaving the House and the valley in solitude.

When Abraham built the Ka‘bah it had stood upon a mound. Since that time alluvial mud carried down by the flood waters had gradually raised the level of the surrounding plain until the mound had disappeared. The area of the House itself had to be constantly cleared, and by the Amaliq period the Ka‘bah was standing in the centre of a depression.

In the winter months Makkah was sometimes lashed by violent rainstorms. After one such storm, flash floods rushed down the hillsides and along the ravines, filling the basin in which the Ka‘bah stood. As a result, the foundations were affected and the building collapsed. The Amaliq, however, rebuilt it exactly as it had been before.

 

The Deputation from ‘Ad

A constant stream of pilgrims and petitioners visited the sanctuary, including a deputation sent by the moon-worshipping people of ‘Ad, one of the early Arabian tribes, also mentioned in the Qur`an. It is believed that they lived in Southern Arabia, in a town of pillars set among sand-dunes, which was named Iram after their chief, and was traditionally located a little to the east of Aden. They were visited by a long drought, and in their despair sent a deputation to Makkah to pray for rain.

The members of the delegation from ‘Ad were entertained in the dwelling of a Makkan with whom they had an alliance. There they proceeded to engage in a series of drinking bouts. After a month of drinking and carousing, the weary host induced his musicians to improvise a song reminding the visitors of the purpose of their journey. Consequently the head of the deputation went down to the valley and at the sanctuary made a supplication for rain. As he did so, clouds began to form overhead. He singled out one that seemed to be heavy with rain, and asked the God of Makkah to send it to his country. Unfortunately for his people, however, he had chosen a cloud that contained a tornado. For seven days and nights the wind raged across the sand-dunes, burying the city and its inhabitants, who lay ‘prostrate as if they were the trunks of hollow palm’(69:7). The deputation was still in Makkah, unaware of the disaster, when a messenger arrived one day to tell them of their fellow tribesmen’s fate.

 

The Jurhum Regain Control

The Yemeni tribes of Jurhum and Qaturah, who had lived long in the Makkan area awaiting their opportunity, succeeded at last in ejecting the Amaliq. They divided the Makkan valley between them, along its physical configuration, from the north-east to the south-west. As Mudad, the dynastic leader of the Jurhum, was descended from Ishmael’s father-in-law Mudad ibn Amr, the Jurhum claimed the right to guard the Sacred Precinct of the Ka‘bah. They occupied the upper part of the valley and Mount Qu‘a’qi‘an, and exacted a toll from all travellers who entered Makkah through their territory. The Qaturah, who settled in the lower part of the valley, were great horsemen and combative like the Jurhum, and forced pilgrims who came from the direction of Yemen to pay them dues for the right of passage.

It was inevitable that there should be a clash between these two tribes. When at last it came, the Qaturah chief was killed and his tribe defeated. Yet, in the end, because of the kinship between them, the tribes concluded a peace treaty in an atmosphere of amity, and a feast of celebration was held in a ravine near the city. This place was afterwards known as ‘the kitchens’, in commemoration of the vast amounts of meat which had been prepared there that day.

The history of Makkah during its domination by the Jurhum remains shrouded in the mist of popular lore. The Jurhum rule may well have lasted over 1,000 years. They claimed to be closely related by intermarriage to the descendants of Ishmael, and on this lineage they based their claim to be the rightful guardians of the Ka‘bah. Perhaps for this reason, too, certain Ishmaelites were apparently allowed to live in the sacred valley; some of them were even promoted to high priesthood. One of them, called Iyad, built a holy tower in Makkah, where he worshipped God (Allah). Another famous descendant of Ishmael of this period was Nizar, the son by a Jurhumi woman, of Ma‘add, who had fled to Makkah from Nebuchadnezzar’s persecution of the Arabs. Nizar in his turn had four sons to whom he assigned the insignia that were to distinguish the four main branches of the Ishmaelites: the Scarlet Tents, the Black Tents, the Silver-haired Ones, and the Owners of the Dappled Camels. The Scarlet Tents thereafter proudly displayed their scarlet tents on festive or solemn occasions.

 

Moral Degeneration

At the height of their power, the Jurhum became neglectful of their duties as keepers of the Ka‘bah. Far from maintaining peace in the Sacred Precinct, the guardians of the House took to stealing from the pilgrims the gifts they brought to the sanctuary. Some young men even attempted to rob the Ka‘bah of its treasure. They posted a guard at each of its four corners, while a fifth tried to climb into the roofless building from above. It is said that he was struck dead before he could enter, while the others fled in terror.

The reigning king was afraid that these acts of sacrilege might bring down the judgement of God upon the Jurhum. Indeed, it seemed that his fears were justified, for the waters of the miraculous Zamzam well began to sink, and at last dried up.

The king hid the treasure of the Ka‘bah in the empty well, hoping thus to save it from would-be thieves. Then the king gathered his family together and set out for the desert, to await the final calamity he felt was sure to come.

 

The Overturn of Jurhum Rule

This came in the wake of a catastrophe occurring some distance away, in the land of Saba’. The huge Ma‘rib Dam, formerly one of the wonders of the world, was now in a state of decay. Repairs were being made, but the great edifice continued to crumble. It appears from inscriptions and records that this disintegration was regarded in Arab lore as a portent of Southern Arabia’s decline.

It is said that a priestess called Turayfah, allied to the Azd tribe, foretold in an oracle the total collapse of the dam and the consequent inundation of Saba’. Her tribe and others decided to move northward to escape this disaster. The migration probably took place in the last century BC. When the tribes approached Makkah they were met by the unwelcoming Jurhum and a pitched battle ensued. With the aid of a group of Ishmaelites, however, the people of Saba’ succeeded in defeating the Jurhum. In accordance with ancient custom, the women were taken into slavery and the warriors were massacred.

In spite of this victory, however, an epidemic began to rage among the members of the victorious tribes, causing them to wonder whether they should remain in the holy city. They consulted a fortune teller, who advised them to disperse to other regions. Some tribes, therefore, turned southward towards Oman and their native land. Others, the progenitors of the later Ghassan dynasty, travelled northward to Syria. The Aws and Khazraj tribes settled in Yathrib (Madinah), alongside the Jewish tribes of Banu Nadir and Banu Qurayza. Yathrib had now become one of the many agricultural oases on the caravan route from the Arabian peninsula to Syria inhabited by Jewish mercantile communities.

 

The Introduction of Idols

One group of Sabean invaders, the Khuza’ah, stayed in Makkah, where shortly before the Christian era they established a powerful state which was to last for about five centuries. The Khuza’ah dynasty ruled until five generations before the time of the Prophet Muhammad. Their ruling house, the Lahiyy, allied themselves to the family of the Mudad, and all hostility between the various tribes ceased. For a time, the Khuza’ah allowed their Ishmaelite allies to assume responsibility for the Ka‘bah. A quarrel, however, arose between the Ishmaelites of the Scarlet Tents and those of the Dappled Camels and as a result the Khuza’ah took charge of the Ka‘bah themselves.

‘Amr ibn Lahiyy, the most renowned leader of the Khuza’ah, also had the ignominious distinction of introducing idols into the Ka‘bah, which set the stage for the final degeneration and complete loss of the way of Abraham among the majority of the tribes in the Makkan area and surrounding regions of the peninsula.

The acceptance and practice of idolatry had its roots in the nomadic nature of the pilgrims to Makkah. Whenever a resident of the Makkan valley left, he took a stone from the locality of the Ka‘bah as a symbol and reminder. As generations passed, the descendants of these people lost the original meaning intended in having a stone, and they began to believe that the stone had the power to give them what they asked for. Many began circumambulating the family stone, just as they had the Ka‘bah.

‘Amr ibn Lahiyy had been introduced to idol worship during his travels to the north. When a statue of Hubal was sent to him from Hit, an Amaliq town in the north, ‘Amr placed the statue in the Ka‘bah, on top of the treasury-well, and ordered the people of Makkah to worship the idol.

Ya‘qubi relates in his history that the Arabs of the peninsula coming for Pilgrimage asked the Khuza’ah why they worshiped idols, to which they replied, ‘because they can bring us closer to God.’ Those who came for Pilgrimage spread the fame of idol worship, and gradually the practice spread throughout the peninsula. Each tribe began to acquire its special idol. Soon they began to place them in or near the courtyard of the Ka‘bah. The weaker tribes were not allocated space in the Ka‘bah courtyard, but had to put their idols outside of the main area.

These idols took many shapes. Hubal was the major Makkan idolic deity. Other idols were Manaf, the sun god; Quzah, who held the rainbow; the eagle-shaped Nasr; Wadd; and three other major deities (all mentioned in the Qur`an): al-Lat, Manat and al-‘Uzza. A piece of stone on which a crown was incised was placed on the plain near Marwah; two statues designated ‘the Windmaker’ and ‘the Bird-eater’ were placed on the summits of Safa and Marwah, and the petrified lovers were brought back to the Ka‘bah, the scene of their sacrilegious tryst.

Trees and stones were also invested with supernatural significance. An acacia grove on the Tihamah coast was sacred to al-‘Uzza, the Arabian version of Aphrodite. A rock in the highlands of Ta’if, where a hermit had once given milk to travellers, became a symbol for al-Lat, the mother-goddess. It is also related that when the residents of Makkah came down from the hills and began to build houses in the valley, they sometimes built their houses around trees, or that a tree was left inside the house.

 

Quraysh

A large group of Ishmaelites called Quraysh lived in the Makkan region. One of the members of the tribe, a man called Kilab, married a woman named Fatimah, who bore two sons, Zuhrah and Zayd, about the year 400 CE. Zayd was the fifth forefather of the Prophet Muhammad. Kilab died soon after Zayd’s birth, and the two boys were left in the care of their mother. She married again quite soon to a man who had come to Makkah on pilgrimage. Fatimah left Zuhrah behind with Kilab’s family, and took the baby Zayd with her to her new home.

There, near the river Yarmuk, in the country of the Nabateans, Zayd grew up with his mother's second family, and was called Qusayy, ‘the little stranger’. It was not until he was an adult that he learned of his Makkan origin. He decided to pay a visit to his father’s family, and joined a group of pilgrims travelling south along the desert route.

Qusayy decided to stay in Makkah and married a girl from the Khuza’ah tribe, whose father, Khalil ibn Habishiyah al Khuza’ah, was the doorkeeper of the Ka‘bah, and a descendant of ‘Amr ibn Lahiyy. Upon his death Khalil bequeathed the key to Qusayy, which incensed the Khuza’ah, and they demanded that Qusayy give up the key. Qusayy refused, calling upon Quraysh and possibly some Nabateans for support. A battle ensued in Mina in which many were killed, until the two sides were petitioned by another group to cease fighting within the sacred area, citing the legend of the two tribes who had been wiped out as a result of fighting in the precincts of the Ka‘bah. They then resolved to solve the conflict by arbitration, calling on one of the Arabs, a man well-known for his wisdom, to act as arbitrator. He examined the situation carefully and decided that the key to the Ka‘bah door, as well as the rule of Makkah, belonged to Qusayy. Another version relates that Qusayy and his allies actually defeated the Khuza’ah, and the arbitrator, who was brought in to determine the fate of the Khuza’ah, decided that they could remain in Makkah because they were related to Qusayy by marriage.

Qusayy was a powerful, astute leader who had excellent leadership and administrative skills. He focused a great deal of energy on the development of Makkah, the care of the Ka‘bah and the organization of the Pilgrimage, distributing the various functions of the Pilgrimage among the more powerful people of Makkah.. It is believed that during his reign Qusayy rebuilt, or at least repaired, the Ka‘bah. Qusayy was the first man to construct a town in the sacred valley itself (where no houses had ever stood before). The dwellings nearest to the Ka‘bah had always been on the lower slopes of the Red Mountain and Mount Qubays, overlooking the valley. The shrubs were cleared away from the plain and, on the site of Zamzam (long since forgotten), new wells were dug.

The new houses were arranged in concentric circles around the Ka‘bah, according to strict rules of caste and tribal precedence. The houses of Qusayy and his children, each of whom had been dedicated to and named after one of the gods worshipped in Makkah, enclosed the square sandy courtyard which had been left around the temple. His own house faced the northern side of the Ka‘bah. The rows behind were occupied by people in descending degrees of importance. Accommodation was also provided for numbers of allied tribes whom Quraysh regarded as their equals, such as the Ghassanid tribes. The outskirts of Makkah were left to undistinguished foreigners, outcasts, slaves and mercenary soldiers.

 

Qusayy's Rule

Makkah was a republic, administered by an elite group of men; Qusayy’s house also served as a kind of city hall, where men would meet to discuss public affairs. In reality Qusayy was in charge of both temporal and spiritual matters: he was ‘lifter of the veil’ in the Ka‘bah, and in this capacity led the ceremonies there; it was he who consulted the oracles and organized the distribution of food and water to the pilgrims; if members of Quraysh wished to marry outside the tribe, they had to seek the permission of Qusayy; in times of war, Qusayy assumed command.

Qusayy had four sons, two of whom managed to consolidate their father’s power after his death. ‘Abd al-Dar controlled the custodianship of the Ka‘bah, the representative assembly and the banner. When the Prophet entered Makkah in triumph, the following verse was revealed to him regarding the custodianship of the Ka‘bah:

Surely Allah commands you to make over trusts to their owners. ...(4:58)

Thus he left the custodianship with the descendants of ‘Abd al-Dar while ‘Abd al-Manaf controlled distribution of water and food to the pilgrims, as well as holding the executive position.

The house of Qusayy continued to control Makkah and the Pilgrimage until the conquest of Makkah by the Prophet, whose great-great-grandfather was ‘Abd al-Manaf Hashim, ‘Abd al- Manaf’s son, who had succeeded his father as leader and whose concern for the pilgrims was legendary. One year there was great difficulty obtaining the provisions necessary to feed the pilgrims, so Hashim travelled to Syria and purchased animals for meat and flour for bread in order to feed the pilgrims. The Banu Hashim tribe maintained the tradition of feeding and giving water to the pilgrims up till the time of the Prophet. ‘Abd al-Muttalib, the Prophet’s grandfather, fed and gave water to the pilgrims after Hashim, then Abu Talib continued the tradition. When the Prophet deputed Abu Bakr to lead a group of Muslims for the Pilgrimage in 9 AH, he gave him money to prepare food for the pilgrims. During the Farewell Pilgrimage the Prophet also provided food for the pilgrims, maintaining the tradition that whoever ruled Makkah was responsible for feeding the pilgrims.

‘Abd al-Manaf dug new wells to supply the pilgrims with water, as Zamzam had dried up. When ‘Abd al-Muttalib was the leader of Quraysh and Makkah, he heard a voice which told him to dig into the earth and uncover the spring of water that was the heritage of his grandfather Ishmael. So he dug, and uncovered the well of Zamzam.

 

The Sanctity of the Ka‘bah

The sanctity and inviolability of Makkah had been well established from the time of Abraham.

And when Abraham said: My Lord! make this city secure, and save me and my sons from worshipping idols….(14:35)

The Sacred Mosque was a sanctuary for all who sought refuge within its boundaries. Slaves were able to enter its environs desiring freedom. Until about the middle of this century hundreds of fugitives lived within the walls of the Sanctuary. Many had lived in it for decades to escape detention, persecution or punishment. Every attempt to violate the sanctity of Makkah and the Ka‘bah since the time of Abraham has been repelled or dealt with harshly. Before the Prophet’s time several Yemeni chiefs, who had attempted to overthrow Makkah, were soundly defeated. We have previously mentioned the two groups who fought within the Ka‘bah and who were totally destroyed. Even those who ostensibly seemed to gain victory, such as al-Hajjaj, who assaulted Makkah by Yazid's injunction in order to overthrow Ibn Zubayr, lost in the end. The greatest example illustrating the inviolability of the Ka‘bah was the attempted attack by Abraha in the year of the Prophet’s birth.

 

Abraha Repelled

Southern Arabia, known today as the Yemen, was at that time under Abyssinian rule. The governor there, Abraha, who was a Christian, decided to initiate a proselytising campaign with the intention of diverting the Pilgrimage from the Ka‘bah and its Black Stone to his own capital. He built a magnificent church at Sana‘a decorated with marble, gold, silver inlay, and gems. At the gate of the church he set an enormous ruby, perfumed with musk, and hung a curtain across it. Then he suggested that the Arabs should come to worship in the church adorned with this jewel instead of at the Ka‘bah, and some tribes did indeed break with their old beliefs and worshipped there. When, however, a young member of the Kinanah tribe who had been angered by this defection, defiled the church, Abraha was so enraged that he swore to take his revenge upon the Ka‘bah itself.

Abraha set out for the Ka‘bah at the head of a tremendous army, riding upon a giant elephant. When he arrived at the edge of the sacred valley of Makkah, he drew up his cavalry on the plain and sent his infantry into the mountains overlooking the Ka‘bah. The Makkans were terrified to find themselves surrounded but made no attempt at defence, relying on the sacredness of the sanctuary to protect them. Abraha sent them a message, asking to see their leader. There had been no official chief of Quraysh since ‘Abd al-Manaf and ‘Abd al-Dar had divided the responsibility between themselves, so ‘Abd al-Muttalib, the leader of the Banu Hashim, was asked to meet Abraha. He went with one of his sons who impressed Abraha by the nobility of his bearing. He asked ‘Abd al-Muttalib if he had any favor to ask. Now Abraha’s army had previously confiscated two hundred of ‘Abd al-Muttalib’s camels, so he requested that they be returned. Abraha was surprised and disappointed at the request, thinking ‘Abd al-Muttalib sought a favor for himself rather than for the Ka‘bah, which he, Abraha, was about to destroy. He spoke of his disappointment to ‘Abd al-Muttalib, who replied, ‘I am the lord [in charge] of the camels, and the House has its own Lord, Who will defend it.’ ‘He cannot defend it against me,’ said Abraha. ‘We shall see,’ replied ‘Abd al-Muttalib, ‘but give me my camels.’ Abraha returned the camels and ‘Abd al-Muttalib returned to Makkah, warning its inhabitants to retreat to the mountains, as Abraha and his army were attempting to destroy the Ka‘bah. The inhabitants of the valley departed quickly. ‘Abd al-Muttalib was the last to leave and, grasping the metal knocker on the door of the Ka‘bah, offered up this prayer before he abandoned the House to its fate: ‘O God, in truth, as the servant defends his camel, defend Your city.’

At dawn the next day, the Abyssinian troops were drawn up in battle order to enter Makka. As they advanced upon the Ka‘bah, the commander’s elephant suddenly kneeled down and refused to get up, even when it was severely beaten. The sky grew dark and a huge flock of small birds appeared, each one carrying a pebble in its beak. As they flew over the plain, the birds dropped the stones on the invaders, at which point the soldiers were severely struck by a virulent plague so they retreated in confusion and dismay. Many died; those who survived fled in terror towards the Yemen. God describes the incident in Chapter 105, ‘The Elephant’:

Have you not considered how your Lord dealt with the possessors of the elephant? Did He not cause their war to end in confusion, And send down to prey upon them birds in flocks, casting against them stones of baked clay. So He rendered them like straw eaten up?

 

The Pilgrimage before Muhammad

The divine path of Islam that was revealed to Abraham, and which was perpetuated by his son Ishmael in the Arabian peninsula, had gradually degenerated into idolatry over a span of almost two thousand years. The worship of idols, stones, trees and other natural phenomena such as the sun, moon, planets and stars, was not a new phenomenon to the Arabs. Abraham himself had combated idolatry throughout his life. In the Qur`an he confronts his father, Azar:

Do you take idols for gods? Surely I see you and your people in clear error. (6:74)

Following this are verses eloquently describing Abraham’s demonstration of God’s existence, and the frivolity and irrationality of worshipping anything other than Him:

And thus did We show Abraham the kingdom of the heavens and the earth that he might be of those who are sure. Then when the night overshadowed him, he saw a star; said he: This is my Lord. Then when it set, he said: I do not love things that set. Then when he saw the moon rising, he said: This is my Lord? Then when it set, he said. If my Lord had not guided me, I should certainly be of the erring people. Then when he saw the sun rising, he said: This is my Lord, this is the greatest! Then when it set, he said: O my people! Surely I am free of what you associate with Allah. Surely I have turned my face, being myself upright, to Him who originated the heavens and the earth, nor am I of the polytheists. (6:75-9)

This tendency to idolatry is also found amongst other peoples to whom prophets were sent. After his remarkable stand and victory against the most powerful ruler of his time, Moses, for example. returned to his people after a forty-day retreat to find many of them worshipping a golden calf, just after they had witnessed the miraculous parting of the sea and seen Pharaoh and his army drown. Another example was the prophet Solomon who overcame the Sabaean queen Bathsheba (the sun worshipper).

After the introduction of idols into the Sacred Precinct and the resulting spread of idolatry throughout the Arabian peninsula, religious practices among the Arabs diversified. As has already been mentioned, each tribe had its own object of worship. When the Prophet entered Makkah in victory, there were 360 idols in the courtyard surrounding the Ka'bah.

 

The Hunafa’ or Unitarians

In addition to those who believed in idolatry, there were groups of believers referred to as the hunafa’ (true believers, plural of hanif), who believed in divine unity but were not satisfied with the practice of Christianity or Judaism. Some of the hunafa’ eventually became Jews or Christians, such as Waraqah ibn Nawfal, who, after adopting Christianity, confirmed the first angelic revelation to the Prophet.

The hunafa’ were not organized as a group or sect. They were individuals or groups of seekers who lived in different places and sought to follow the original path of Abraham. There is not a great deal of information about what books they followed or what their practices were, but we do know that they were the intellectual and spiritual elite of Arabia. Many of the hunafa’ knew how to read and write and spoke several languages. Because they usually came from the wealthier families of Arabia, they were able to travel outside the peninsula and acquire books and the skill to read them.

The hunafa’ were seekers on the path to God. In their travels they met with monks, priests, rabbis and other learned men in search of the truth. They were reformers who called their people to the unitarian path of knowledge of God and the abolition of idolatry, which they regarded as foolish. They asked their people to use their intellects in order to discern how useless idol-worship was. The hunafa’ were strongly opposed by the majority of the Arabs, particularly those who had a vested interest in idol worship practices in the Arabian society. Some of the hunafa’ were forced to seek refuge in the caves and mountains outside Makkah. They used to go on retreats like the one performed by the Prophet in the cave of Hira, and their poems mention that they practised rising in the night for spiritual contemplation. With the coming of the Prophet Muhammad, most of the hunafa’ became Muslim. Some of them performed the Greater and Lesser Pilgrimages in the same way as Abraham, although others, who did not understand the meaning of the Pilgrimage and were confused by the different traditions, did not perform it.

 

Beginning the Journey

The tribes of Arabia had continued to perform the Pilgrimage since the time of Abraham, although through the centuries they began to differ in their observance of some of the rites. Four particular months were deemed best for the performance of the Greater and Lesser Pilgrimages. Al-Tabari mentions that Dhu ’l-Hijjah was the month of the Pilgrimage, but there is confusion as to which month was considered Dhu ’l-Hijjah. Esin says that the date for the Pilgrimage was computed every year by a seer and was always made to coincide with a major fair. Pilgrims would begin preparing for the event as much as three months in advance. The Pilgrimage was made not only to the Ka‘bah but also to other temples in the peninsula where idols were kept. Ta’if, ‘Arafat and Mina were all places of residence for idols, and the Pilgrimage included stops at these spots. On the way to Makkah the pilgrim would attend a series of smaller fairs, where merchants bought and sold pieces of gold and silver, or other valuables, such as precious ore taken from the mountains of Arabia. They brought slaves from Africa, Persia and Anatolia, tanned leather, henna, balsam, scented woods, oils, perfume and spices, cottons and fine white linen fabrics from Egypt, Chinese silks, from Basrah finely worked arms and the grain that was a valuable commodity in the infertile region of Makkah. There too wandering healers and surgeons attended the ailing.

Poets also came, straight from the poetic contest held at the fair of Ukaz, near Ta’if, to chant short rajaz (verses), in a four-syllable metre said to have been suggested by the camel’s pace, or to recite long odes describing their life in the desert. Minstrels would direct bitter satires against their enemies. A leading soothsayer would select the seven best poetic compositions, which would then be written out and hung upon the inside walls of the Ka‘bah. All the tribes would send delegations ahead with gifts. Upon arrival, the pilgrims would first go to the market, and then to where their own idol was located (the people of Madinah, for instance, went to Mina). There they awaited the appearance of the moon of Dhu ’l-Hijjah.

 

The Rites

Upon the arrival of the moon of Dhu ’l-Hijjah, the rites began. The aristocracy of Makkah directed the Pilgrimage, having gone out beforehand to Muzdalifah, a widening of the Makkan pass not far from ‘Arafat but still within the sacred precinct of Makkah. There the custodian of the Ka‘bah would light a fire and the ‘Scarlet Tent’ Ishmaelites would pitch their red leather tents. The noblemen’s guests and allies had the right to join them in their camp, while everyone else among the rank and file of the pilgrims, including the common people who lived farthest from the House, the outlaws and vagabonds who had been cast out of their tribes, the desert Bedouin, and all the foreigners who were not guests of the Makkan aristocracy, gathered together on the plain of 'Arafat, just outside the Sacred Precinct. At a given sign, they ran towards the fire at Muzdalifah, where a feast was served to them by the Makkans. Then the crowd would continue the rites, offering loud homage to each idol, monolith or sacred oracular effigy. Sacrifices were made at the altars and at the pointed leather tents that were erected over tombs: these took the form of libations, gifts of grain, ostrich-eggs, and sacrificial victims.

Circumambulation was the ritual most generally practised by all the tribes. They progressed around the idols and the pillars, upon which stones were cast, in Mina as well as in Makkah around the Ka‘bah. Some poured milk over the idols and then went around them. Some used to circumambulate with one hand tied to another person by a rope or piece of cloth, the two people making a vow not to be separated. The Prophet Muhammad, upon seeing this in his time, used to cut the rope with a knife.

Circumambulation of the Ka‘bah always began by touching the Black Stone. Touching the stone by hand was an important rite, for the stone was said to have healing properties. In addition to the Black Stone, people used to touch, kiss and rub injured or diseased parts of their body upon the stones and idols, believing that these objects also had the power to heal them from sickness or injury. If it were too crowded, and the object could not be physically touched, the pilgrim would attempt to touch it with a long stick from a distance.

Some performed the circumambulation silently and would say nothing during the remaining rites of the Pilgrimage. Others would call upon the idols in the loudest possible voice, clapping their hands in the belief that the idol would be sure to hear them. They would utter many phrases and supplications to make their Pilgrimage acceptable, asking forgiveness of God and requesting what they wanted through the intercession of the idol, for each of which there was a specific phrase or formula.

A common practice among some of the tribes was to perform circumambulation around the Ka‘bah while wearing no clothes (shedding their clothing was symbolic of divesting themselves of the sins they had committed). Most historical versions relate that they would not wear their old clothes again but would put on new, clean clothes upon completion of the circumambulation. Women who practised circumambulation in this fashion would do so under cover of darkness. Other tribes, among them the Khuza’ah from Madinah and Quraysh from Makkah, made circumambulation fully dressed and were strict about wearing clothes during this ritual. Quraysh also went out to ‘Arafat, returned to Muzdallifah and then went to Mina.

There were differences regarding the practice of going back and forth between the two hills of Safa and Marwah (the path taken by Hagar in her search for water). Quraysh performed the rite, but some of the other tribes did not consider it necessary to perform this ritual, especially the tribes from Madinah. A group of Muslims who did not accept this ritual confronted the Prophet Muhammad when he included it in the Pilgrimage of Islam, substantiating their resistance by the absence of the ritual from their own pre-Islamic practices. Thus the verse was revealed:

Surely Safa and Marwah are among the signs appointed by Allah; so whoever makes a pilgrimage to the House or pays a visit to it, there is no blame on him if he go round them both; and whoever does good spontaneously, then surely Allah is Grateful, Knowing. (2:158)

Some of the tribes refused to go to ‘Arafat with the Prophet as part of the Pilgrimage of Islam, because as residents of Makka they felt that the people of the Sacred House should not leave its boundaries.

The other rites associated with the Pilgrimage of Islam, such as collecting small stones at Muzdallifah, stoning the pillars in Mina and sacrificing an animal, were generally practised by all the tribes. Another practice which preceded the performance of the Pilgrimage was attention to cleansing of the body and clothing.

 

Individual Customs

During the Pilgrimage before Islam, men used to wear a certain kind of necklace which was generally accepted as a symbolic deterrent from being attacked by enemies; after completing the Pilgrimage, they would put on another necklace made from a sweet-scented plant. Some would also have a necklace of beads made of the wood from trees near the Ka‘bah around the neck of their camel, so that upon returning home, a person could be easily recognized as having completed the Pilgrimage. Women wore white veils over their hair. Upon returning to their homes celebration feasts lasted up to seven days. People who made the Pilgrimage would allow their hair and beards to grow long, believing that if they cut their hair their Pilgrimage would not be accepted. Some of the tribes, such as the ‘Aws from Madina, used to keep their hair long until they returned to Madinah, whereupon they would cut their hair and dedicate it to their idol. This marked the completion of their Pilgrimage.

 

The Lesser Pilgrimage

The Lesser Pilgrimage was performed at any time, but the months of Shawwal, Dhu ’l-Qa‘dah, Dhu ’l-Hijjah and Rajab were most preferred. The Lesser Pilgrimage consisted of circumambulation, going back and forth between Safa and Marwah, and the sacrifice of a victim. With the advent of Islam, the sacrifice was no longer performed as part of the Lesser Pilgrimage.

Back Up Next

Preface: The Pilgrimage of Islam ] Introduction: The Pilgrimage of Islam ] Chapter 1: The Pilgrimage of Islam ] [ Chapter 2: The Pilgrimage of Islam ] Chapter 3: The Pilgrimage of Islam ] Chapter 4: The Pilgrimage of Islam ] Chapter 4: The Pilgrimage of Islam (Continues) ] Chapter 5: The Pilgrimage of Islam ]