Location and Nature of Arab Tribes
Beyond a shadow of doubt, the biography of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be
upon him) manifestedly represents an exhaustive embodiment of the sublime
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 image, authentic as well as comprehensive, of this Message
is therefore only attainable through careful study and profound analysis
of both backgrounds and issues of such a biography. In view of this, a
whole chapter is here introduced about the nature and development of Arab
tribes prior to Islam as well as the circumstantial environment that enwrapped
the Prophet’s mission.
Linguistically, the word “Arab” means deserts and waste barren land well-nigh
waterless and treeless. Ever since the dawn of history, the Arabian Peninsula
and its people have been called as such.
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 old Syria and
part of Iraq. The area is estimated between a million and a million and
a quarter square miles.
Thanks to its geographical position, the peninsula has always maintained
great importance.. Considering its internal setting, it is mostly deserts
and sandy places, which has rendered it inaccessible to foreigners and
invaders, and allowed its people complete liberty and independence through
the ages, despite the presence of two neighbouring great empires.
Its external setting, on the other hand, caused it to be the centre of
the old world and provided it with sea and land links with most nations
at the time. Thanks to this strategic position the Arabian Peninsula had
become the centre for trade, culture, religion and art.
Arab kinfolks have been divided according to lineage into three groups:
Perishing Arabs: The ancient Arabs, of whose history little is known,
and of whom were ‘Ad, Thaműd, Tasam, Jadis, Emlaq, and others.
Pure Arabs: Who originated from the progeny of Ya‘rub bin Yashjub bin
Qahtan. They were also called Qahtanian Arabs.
Arabized Arabs: Who originated from the progeny of Ishmael. They were
also called ‘Adnanian Arabs.
The pure Arabs – the people of Qahtan – originally lived in Yemen and
comprised many tribes, two of which were very famous:
- Himyar: The most famous of whose septs were Zaid Al-Jamhur, Quda‘a
- Kahlan: The most famous of whose septs were Hamdan, Anmar, Tai’, Mudhhij,
Kinda, Lakhm, Judham, Azd, Aws, Khazraj and the descendants of Jafna
— the kings of old Syria.
Kahlan septs emigrated from Yemen to dwell in the different parts of
the Arabian Peninsula prior to the Great Flood (Sail Al-‘Arim of Ma’rib
Dam), due to the failure of trade under the Roman pressure and domain
on both sea and land trade routes following Roman occupation of Egypt
Naturally enough, the competition between Kahlan and Himyar led to the
evacuation of the first and the settlement of the second in Yemen.
THE EMIGRATING SEPTS OF KAHLAN CAN BE INTO FOUR GROUPS:
- Azd: Who, under the leadership of ‘Imran bin ‘Amr Muzaiqbâ’, wandered
in Yemen, sent pioneers and finally headed northwards. Details of their
emigration can be summed up as follows:
- Tha‘labah bin ‘Amr left his tribe Al-Azd for Hijaz and dwelt between
Tha‘labiyah and Dhi Qar. When he gained strength, he headed for Madinah
where he stayed. Of his seed are Aws and Khazraj, sons of Haritha bin
Haritha bin ‘Amr, known as Khuza‘a, wandered with his folks in Hijaz
until they came to Mar Az-Zahran. Later, they conquered the Haram,
and settled in Makkah after having driven away its people, the tribe
‘Imran bin ‘Amr and his folks went to ‘Oman where they established
the tribe of Azd whose children inhabited Tihama and were known as
Jafna bin ‘Amr 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: Of whom was Nasr bin Rabi‘a, father of
Manadhira, Kings of Heerah.
- Banu Tai’: Who also emigrated northwards to settle by the so- called
Aja and Salma Mountains which were consequently named as Tai’ Mountains.
- Kinda: Who dwelt in Bahrain but were expelled to Hadramout and Najd
where they instituted a powerful government but not for long , for the
whole tribe soon faded away.
- Another tribe of Himyar, known as Quda‘a, also left Yemen and dwelt
in Samawa semi-desert on the borders of Iraq.
The Arabized Arabs go back in ancestry to their great grandfather Abraham
(Peace be upon him) from a town called “Ar” near Kufa on the west bank
of the Euphrates in Iraq. Excavations brought to light great details of
the town, Abraham’s family, and the prevalent religions and social circumstances.
It is known that Abrahaml (Peace be upon him) eft Ar for Harran and then
for Palestine, which he made headquarters for his Message. He wandered
all over the area. When he went to Egypt, the Pharaoh tried to do evil
to his wife Sarah, but Allâh saved her and the Pharaoh’s wicked scheme
recoiled on him. He thus came to realize her strong attachment to Allâh,
and, in acknowledgment of her grace, the Pharaoh rendered his daughter
Hagar at Sarah’s service, but Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham as a wife.
Abraham returned to Palestine where Hagar gave birth to Ishmael. Sarah
became so jealous of Hagar that she forced Abraham to send Hagar and her
baby away to a plantless valley on a small hill in Hijaz, by the Sacred
House, exposed to the wearing of floods coming right and left. He chose
for them a place under a lofty tree above Zamzam near the upper side of
the Mosque in Makkah where neither people nor water was available, and
went back to Palestine leaving with his wife and baby a leather case with
some dates and a pot of water. Not before long, they ran out of both food
and water, but thanks to Allâh’s favour water gushed forth to sustain
them for sometime. The whole story of Zamzam spring is already known to
Another Yemeni tribe – Jurhum the Second – came and lived in Makkah upon
Hagar’s permission, after being said to have lived in the valleys around
Makkah. It is mentioned in the Sahih Al-Bukhari that this tribe came to
Makkah before Ishmael was a young man while they had passed through that
valley long before this event.
Abraham used to go to Makkah every now and then to see his wife and son.
The number of these journeys is still unknown, but authentic historical
resources spoke of four ones.
Allâh, the Sublime, stated in the Noble Qur’ân that He had Abraham see,
in his dream, that he slaughtered his son Ishmael, and therefore Abraham
stood up to fulfill His Order:
- “Then, when they had both submitted themselves (to the Will of Allâh),
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 Abraham! You
have fulfilled the dream (vision)!” Verily! Thus do we reward the Muhsinűn
(good-doers, who perform good deeds totally for Allâh’s sake only, without
any show off or to gain praise or fame, etc. and do them in accordance
to Allâh’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 Ishmael was thirteen years older
than his brother Ishaq. The sequence of the story of the sacrifice of
Ishmael shows that it really happened before Ishaq’s birth, and that Allâh’s
Promise to give Abraham another son, Ishaq, came after narration of the
This story spoke of one journey – at least – before Ishmael became a
young man. Al-Bukhari, on the authority of Ibn ‘Abbas, reported the other
three journeys; a summary of which goes as follows:
When Ishmael became a young man, he learned Arabic at the hand of the
tribe of Jurhum, who loved him with great admiration and gave him one
of their women as a wife, soon after his mother died. Having wanted to
see his wife and son again, Abraham came to Makkah, Ishmael’s marriage,
but he didn’t find him at home. He asked Ishmael’s wife about her husband
and how they were doing. She complained of poverty, so he asked her to
tell Ishmael to change his doorstep. Ishmael understood the message, divorced
his wife and got married to the daughter of Mudad bin ‘Amr, chief of the
tribe of Jurhum.
Once more, Abraham came to see his son, but again didn’t find him at
home. He asked his new wife the same previous question, to which she thanked
Allâh. Abraham asked her to tell Ishmael to keep his doorstep (i.e. to
keep her as wife) and went back to Palestine.
A third time, Abraham came to Makkah to find Ishmael 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 so
dutiful and righteous son. This time, father and son built Al-Ka‘bah and
raised its pillars, and Abraham, in compliance with Allâh’s Commandment,
called unto people to make pilgrimage to it.
By the grace of Allâh, Ishmael 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, geographical Syria
and Egypt. Later on, these tribes spread all over, and even outside, the
peninsula. All their tidings went into oblivion 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 which spread
out its domain over all neighbouring tribes, and made Petra their capital.
Nobody dared challenge their authority until the Romans came and managed
to eliminate their kingdom. After extensive research and painstaking investigation,
Mr. Sulaiman An-Nadwi came to the conclusion that the Ghassanide kings,
along with the Aws and Khazraj were not likely to be Qahtanians but rather
Descendants of Qidar, the son of Ishmael, lived long in Makkah increasing
in number, of them issued ‘Adnan and son Ma‘ad, to whom ‘Adnanian Arabs
traced back their ancestry. ‘Adnan is the twenty-first grandfather in
the series of the Prophetic ancestry. It was said that whenever Prophet
Muhammad Őáě Çááĺ Úáíĺ ćÓáă spoke of his ancestry he would stop at ‘Adnan
and say: “Genealogists tell lies” and did not go farther than him. A group
of scholars, however, favoured the probability of going beyond ‘Adnan
attaching no significance to the aforementioned Prophetic Hadith. They
went on to say that there were exactly forty fathers between ‘Adnan and
Abraham (Peace be upon them).
Nizar, Ma‘ad’s only son , had four sons who branched out into four great
tribes; Eyad, Anmar, Rabi‘a and Mudar. These last two sub-branched into
several septs. Rabi‘a fathered Asad, ‘Anazah, ‘Abdul Qais, and Wa’il’s
two sons (Bakr and Taghlib), Hanifa and many others.
Mudar tribes branched out into two great divisions: Qais ‘Ailan bin Mudar
and septs of Elias bin Mudar. Of Qais ‘Ailan were the Banu Saleem, Banu
Hawazin, and Banu Ghatafan of whom descended ‘Abs, Zubyan, Ashja‘ and
Ghani bin A‘sur. Of Elias bin Mudar were Tamim bin Murra, Hudhail bin
Mudrika, Banu Asad bin Khuzaimah and septs of Kinana bin Khuzaimah, of
whom came Quraish, the descendants of Fahr bin Malik bin An-Nadr bin Kinana.
Quraish branched out into various tribes, the most famous of whom were
Jumah, Sahm, ‘Adi, Makhzum, Tayim, Zahra and the three septs of Qusai
bin Kilab: ‘Abdud-Dar bin Qusai, Asad bin ‘Abdul ‘Uzza bin Qusai and ‘Abd
Manaf bin Qusai.
‘Abd Manaf branched out into four tribes: ‘Abd Shams, Nawfal, Muttalib
and Hashim. It is, however, from the family of Hashim that Allâh selected
Prophet Muhammad bin ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abdul-Muttalib bin Hashim (Peace be
Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said:
- “Allâh selected Ishmael from the sons of Abraham, Kinana from
the sons of Ishmael, Quraish from the sons of Kinana, Hashim from
the sons of Quraish and He selected me from the sons of Hashim.”
Al-‘Abbas bin ‘Abdul-Muttalib quoted the Messenger of Allâh (Peace be
upon him) as saying:
- “Allâh created mankind and chose me from the best whereof, He
chose the tribes and selected me from the best whereof; and He chose
families and selected me from the best whereof. I am the very best
in person and family.”
Having increased in number, children of ‘Adnan, in pursuit of pastures
and water, spread out over various parts of Arabia.
The tribe of ‘Abdul Qais, together with some septs of Bakr bin Wa’il and
Tamim, emigrated to Bahrain where they dwelt.
Banu Hanifa bin Sa‘b bin Ali bin Bakr went to settle in Hijr, the capital
of Yamama. All the tribes of Bakr bin Wa’il lived in an area of land which
included Yamama, Bahrain, Saif Kazima, the sea shore, the outer borders
of Iraq, Ablah and Hait.
Most of the tribe of Taghlib lived in the Euphrates area while some of
them lived with Bakr.
Banu Tamim lived in Basra semi-desert.
Banu Saleem lived in the vicinity of Madinah on the land stretching from
Wadi Al-Qura to Khaibar onwards to the eastern mountains to Harrah.
Thaqif dwelt in Ta’if and Hawazin east of Makkah near Autas on the road
from Makkah to Basra.
Banu Asad lived on the land east of Taimâ’ and west of Kufa, while family
of Tai’ lived between Banu Asad and Taimâ’. They were five-day-walk far
Zubyan inhabited the plot of and between Taimâ’ and Hawran.
Some septs of Kinana lived in Tihama, while septs of Quraish dwelt in
Makkah and its suburbs. Quraish remained completely disunited until Qusai
bin Kilab managed to rally their ranks on honourable terms attaching major
prominence to their status and importance.