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Abdul Mutatlib, the first ancestor of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.)

By: Ayatullah Ja'far Subhani
Abdul Muttalib son of Hashim, the first ancestor of the Holy Prophet, was the chief of Quraysh and a renowned person. His entire social life was replete with brilliant attributes. As the events of his chiefship are also related to the history of Islam we narrate hereunder some of them.
There is no doubt about the fact that however resolute and strong a man may be, he is eventually influenced, to some extent, by his environment, and the habits and customs of the society affect his way of thinking. At times, however, some persons have an innate tendency to resist the factors governing their environments with great daring and courage, and keep themselves and their surroundings immune from all sorts of contamination.
The hero of our discourse was a perfect specimen of those people in whose lives we observe many brilliant points. If a person who, inspite of spending more than eighty years of his life amongst people who are habituated to idol-worship, drinking wine, usury and homicide, does not, throughout his life, let wine stain his lips and restrains people from committing murders drinking wine and doing wicked deeds, and prevents them from marrying the persons with whom marriage is prohibited, and from going round the Ka'bah unadorned, and remains firm in the matter of vows and promises till the last breath of his life, he is certainly one of those ideal men who are born rarely in human society. Of course, it was necessary that the person in whose body the light of the Holy Prophet (the greatest guide of humanity) had been deposited should be pure and free from every pollution.
From the brief anecdotes and instructive sayings ascribed to Abdul Muttalib it is learnt that everin those dark environments he was counted amongst those who believed in monotheism and in the Day of Judgement and used to say "An unjust person is punished in this very world. However, if, by chance, he dies before being duly punished, he will meet retribution for his actions on the Day of Judgement".[57]
Harb son of Umayyah was a near relative of Abdul Muttalib. He was also considered to be one of the distinguished persons amongst the Quraysh. A Jew was the neighbour of Har'b. One day the Jew displayed harshness towards Har'b in one of the bazaars of Tahamah and hot words were exchanged between them. This incident culminated in the Jew being murdered at the instigation of Har'b. Abdul Muttalib came to know about the matter and severed his relations with Har'b. He also made efforts to realise blood-money from him and to pass it on to the survivors of the few. This brief anecdote is a specimen of the enthusiasm of this magnanimous person for helping the weak people and for dispensation of justice.

From the day the well of Zamzam came into existence the people of the tribe of Jarham had settled round it and benefited from its water during the long years when they ruled over Makkah. However, as a result of the advancement of Makkans in business, their affluence, negligence on their part and lack of any restraint on the use of the water, the well gradually dried up.[58]
Another version is this: When the people of Jarham tribe were threatened by Khaza'ah tribe and were obliged to abandon their homes, their chief and distinguished man, Mazaz son of 'Amr, realised that he would soon cease to be at the helm of affairs and the enemy would attack and destroy his territory and government. He, therefore, ordered that two deer made of gold and a few precious swords, which had been brought as a present for the Ka'bah, should be thrown into the well, which should then be filled up completely so that the enemy might not lay his hands on these things, and later, when they (Jarham tribe) recovered their territory and throne, they themselves should utilise this treasure. After some time the tribe of Khaza'ah commenced their attacks and the tribe of Jarham as well as a large number of the descendants of Isma'il were compelled to leave Makkah and proceed to Yemen, and none of them returned to Makkah thereafter. From that time onwards the tribe of Khaza'ah ruled over Makkah till Quraysh gained ascendancy by the coming into power of Qusayy son of Kilab, the fourth ancestor of the Holy Prophet. After some time Abdul Muttalib came at the helm of affairs. He decided to dig the Zamzam well once again, but unfortunately the location of the original well was not known for certain. After excavating a good deal he was able to locate the real spot and resolved to take preliminary steps to dig the well with the assistance of his son Harith.
In every society there is usually a group of negativists who try to find one excuse or the other to prevent the performance of every positive act. Hence, the rivals of Abdul Muttalib, fearing that this honour might fall to his share, began criticising him and addressed him thus "O elder of Quraysh As this well is a memorial of our ancestor Isma'il, and all of us are reckoned to be his descendants, it is only appropriate that you may let all of us partake in this task".
For certain reasons Abdul Muttalib did not accept their suggestion, because his intention was to dig the well alone and let all of them use its water free of cost. He also wished to assume himself the responsibility of supplying water to the pilgrims on specific occasions so that this function could be performed in good order under his personal supervision. This could however, be ensured only when he had this job in his own hands, being independent of others.
This resulted in a good deal of bickering and it was at last decided that they should approach an Arab sage (fortune-teller) and his decision should be binding on all. Thus Abdul Muttalib and his rivals started their journey. They passed through many barren tracts of land. On their way, they were faced with extreme thirst, and became almost certain that they would perish. They, therefore, became anxious about their death and subsequent burial. Abdul Muttalib suggested that every person should dig a grave for himself and, as and when anyone of them died, others should bury him. And, if they continued to be deprived of water and all of them died, they would all be buried and be saved from being devoured by beasts and birds, except the person who would be the last one to pass away.
Abdul Muttalib's suggestion met approval and everyone of them dug a grave for himself. Now they awaited death with dejected and pale faces. Suddenly Abdul Muttalib cried out "Men! This will be a very ignominious and disgraceful death. It will be better if all of us move about in the desert in search of water. It is possible that Almighty Allah may have mercy on us.[59]
All of them mounted and began moving about. They were not very hopeful of finding water and looked at one another with dismay. By chance, however, they soon came across wholesome water and were thus saved from certain death. From that very place they returned to Makkah and, gladly agreeing with Abdul Muttalib's view with regard to the digging of the well, gave him full authority to carry out his project.[60]
Abdul Muttalib began digging the well with his only son Harith and a mound of dust appeared around the spot. Suddenly they touched upon two deer made of gold and a few swords. Now Quraysh kicked up another row and claimed a share in this find. Eventually it was decided to settle the dispute by drawing lots. By chance, the two golden deer fell to the share of the Ka'bah and the swords to that of Abdul Muttalib, whereas Quraysh received nothing. Noble-minded Abdul Muttalib utilised the swords for constructing a gate for the Ka'bah and installed the deer upon it.

Some of the qualities of the Arabs of the Age of Ignorance merit praise. For example, they considered breaking of promise to be the most loathsome act. At times they concluded very onerous and burdensome treaties with the Arab tribes and respected them to the last. And on some occasions they took extremely tiresome and intolerable vows but made an all-out effort to fulfil them.
While digging Zamzam Abdul Muttalib felt that owing to his not having many sons his position was rather weak amongst Quraysh. He, therefore, resolved and took a vow that when the number of his sons would become ten he would sacrifice one of them in front of the Ka'bah. He did not, however, make a mention to anyone about his having taken this vow. With the passage of time the number of his sons rose to ten and the time therefore, arrived for him to fulfil his vow. The very thought of the proposition was very trying for him. He was, however, afraid of lagging behind in the performance of this task and thus becoming one of those who failed to keep their promises. He, therefore, decided to mention the matter to his sons and, after obtaining their agreement, to select one of them for the purpose, by drawing lots.[61]
The ceremony of drawing the lots was performed and the lot fell upon Abdullah (father of the Holy Prophet). Abdul Muttalib immediately caught the hand of Abdullah and led him to the sacrificial altar. Qurayshite men and women came to know about the vow and the drawing of lots and became very much grieved. A flood of tears was flowing down the cheeks of men. One of them was heard saying: "O that they should have killed me instead of this young men!"
The chiefs of Quraysh were saying "If his life can be redeemed by property we are prepared to place all our wealth at his disposal". Abdul Muttalib was wondering what to do in the face of the roaring sentiments of the people. He was reflecting within himself lest he should be guilty of disobeying the Almighty and breaking his vow. Notwithstanding all this he was also thinking of finding a solution of the problem. One of those present said: "Take this problem before one of the Arab sages. It is possible that he may suggest a solution". Abdul Muttalib and the chiefs of the tribe endorsed the suggestion and proceeded to Yathrib, where the particular sage resided. The sage asked for a day's respite to give a reply. On the following day all went to him. He asked `'What is the blood-money fixed by you for one human being?" They told him that it was ten camels. Thereupon the man said: "You should draw lots between ten camels and the person whom you have selected for being sacrificed. If the lot falls on that person then raise the number of camels to twice as many (i.e. twenty). And if the lot falls on that person again then raise the number of camels to thrice as many (i.e thirty) and draw the lots again and continue doing so till the lot falls on the camels.
The suggestion made by the sage cooled down the emotions of the people, because it was easier for them to sacrifice hundreds of camels as compared with seeing a young man like Abdullah rolling in blood. One morning, after their return to Makka, the ceremony of drawing lots was performed for the tenth time, when the number of the camels had risen to one hundred, the lot fell on them. The deliverance and safety of Abdullah gave birth to very strange emotions. However, Abdul Muttalib said "It is only appropriate that I should draw the lots anew so that I may know for certain that the Almighty is pleased with my action. He then drew the lots thrice and every time the lot fell on one hundred camels. He was thus convinced of Divine pleasure and directed that one hundred camels, out of those belonging to him, should be slaughtered that very day in front of the Ka'bah and no human being or animal should be restrained from eating their meat.[62]
[57] Seerah-i Halabi, vol. 5, page 4
[58] One of the causes for a society being subjected to adversity is the prevalence of sin and debauchery amongst its people and it is not improbable that shameful deeds should bring famines and other calamities in their wake. This proposition, besides being in conformity with philosophical principles, has also been mentioned expressly in the Holy Qur'an and in the Islamic traditions.
[59] The question arises as to why others did not come up with this suggestion? Possibly they had lost all hope of finding water.
[60] Tarikh-i Yaqubi, vol. I, page 206 and Seerah-i Ibn Hisham, vol. I, page 45.
[61] The above-mentioned incident has been narrated by many historians and writers of Seerah. This story is worthy of appreciation for this reason only that it manifests the nobility of character and steadfastness of Abdul Muttalib and clearly indicates how ardent he was in the matter of his faith and in keeping his promises.
[62] Seerah-i Ibn Hisham, vol. I, page 153 and Bihar, vol. XVl, pp. 74 - 79.

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