RULERSHIP AND PRINCESHIPAMONG THE ARABS
When talking about the Arabs before Islam,we deem it necessary to draw
a mini-picture of the history of rulership, princeship, sectarianism and
the religious dominations of the Arabs, so as to facilitate the understanding
of 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 whom could have shown some
kind of submission to a crowned king. The crowned kings were only those
of Yemen, Heerah and Ghassan. All other rulers of Arabia were non-crowned.
The folks of Sheba were one of the oldest nations of the pure Arabs,
who lived in Yemen. Excavations at “Or” brought to light their existence
twenty five centuries B.C. Their civilization flourished, and their domain
spread eleven centuries B.C.
It is possible to divide their ages according to the following estimation:
- The centuries before 650 B.C., during which their kings were called
“Makrib Sheba”. Their capital was “Sarwah”, also known as “Khriba”,
whose ruins lie in a spot, a day’s walk from the western side of “Ma’rib”.
During this period, they started building the “Dam of Ma’rib” which
had great importance in the history of Yemen. Sheba was also said to
have had so great a domain that they had colonies inside and outside
- From 650 B.C. until 115 B.C. During this era, they gave up 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 sixty miles east of San‘a.
- From 115 B.C. until 300 A.D. During this period, the tribe of Himyar
conquered the kingdom of Sheba and took Redan for 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 and fall. Their trade failed to a very great extent, firstly,
because of the Nabetean domain over the north of Hijaz; secondly, because
of the Roman superiority over the naval trade routes after the Roman
conquest of Egypt, Syria and the north of Hijaz; and thirdly, because
of the inter-tribal warfare. Thanks to the three above-mentioned factors,
families of Qahtan were disunited and scatteredout.
- From 300 A.D. until Islam dawned on Yemen. This period witnessed a
lot of disorder and turmoil. The great many and civil wars rendered
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) to occupy Yemen for the first time in 340 A.D., making
use of the constant intra-tribal conflict of Hamdan and Himyar. The
Abyssinian (Ethiopian) occupation of Yemen lasted until 378 A.D., whereafter
Yemen regained its independence. Later on, cracks began to show in Ma’rib
Dam which led to the Great Flood (450 or 451 A.D.) mentioned in the
Noble Qur’ân. This was a great event which caused the fall of the entire
Yemeni civilization and the dispersal of the nations living therein.
In 523, Dhu Nawas, a Jew, despatched a great campaign against the Christians
of Najran in order to force them to convert into Judaism. Having refused
to do so, they were thrown alive into a big ditch where a great fire had
been set. The Qur’ân referred to this event:
- “Cursed were the people of the ditch.” [85:4]
This aroused great wrath among the Christians, and especially the Roman
emperors, who not only instigated the Abyssinians (Ethiopians) against
Arabs but also assembled a large fleet which helped the Abyssinian (Ethiopian)
army, of seventy thousand warriors, to effect a second conquest of Yemen
in 525 A.D., under the leadership of Eriat, who was granted rulership
over Yemen, a position he held until he was assassinated by one of his
army leaders, Abraha, who, after reconciliation with the king of Abyssinia,
took rulership over Yemen and, later on, deployed his soldiers to demolish
Al-Ka‘bah, and , hence, he and his soldiers came to be known as the “Men
of the Elephant”.
After the “Elephant” incident, the people of Yemen, under the leadership
of Ma‘dikarib bin Saif Dhu Yazin Al-Himyari, and through Persian assistance,
revolted against the Abyssinian (Ethiopian) invaders, restored independence
and appointed Ma‘dikarib as their king. However, Ma‘dikarib was assassinated
by an Abyssinian (Ethiopian) he used to have him around for service and
protection. 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 A.D., thus terminating
the Persian domain over Yemen.
Ever since Korosh the Great (557-529 B.C.) united the Persians, they
ruled Iraq and its neighbourhood. Nobody could shake off 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 which lasted until 230
A.D. Meanwhile, the Qahtanians occupied some Iraqi territories, and were
later followed by some ‘Adnanians who managed to share some parts of Mesopotamia
The Persians, under the leadership of Ardashir, who had established the
Sasanian state in 226 A.D, regained enough unity and power to subdue the
Arabs living in the vicinity of their kingdom, and force Quda‘a to leave
for Syria , leaving the people of Heerah and Anbar under the Persian domain.
During the time of Ardashir, Juzaima Alwaddah exercised rulership over
Heerah, Rabi‘a and Mudar, and Mesopotamia. Ardashir had reckoned that
it was impossible for him to rule the Arabs directly and prevent them
from attacking his borders unless he appointed as king one of them who
enjoyed support and power of his tribe. He had also seen that he could
make use of them against the Byzantine kings who always used to harass
him. At the same time, the Arabs of Iraq could face the Arabs of Syria
who were in the hold of Byzantine kings. However, he deemed it fit to
keep a Persian battalion under command of the king of Heerah to be used
against those Arabs who might rebel against him.
After the death of Juzaima around 268 A.D., ‘Amr bin ‘Adi bin Nasr Al-Lakhmi
was appointed as king by the Persian King Sabour bin Ardashir. ‘Amr was
the first of the Lakhmi kings who ruled 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-Munzir bin
Ma’ As-Sama’, to follow after. When the latter, because of his pride and
self-respect, rejected their orders, Qabaz discharged him and nominated
Harith bin ‘Amr bin Hajar Al-Kindi, who had accepted the Mazdaki 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
Munzir 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
Sons of Al-Munzir bin Ma’ As-Sama’ maintained kingship a long time until
An-Nu‘man bin Al-Munzir took over. Because of a calumny borne by Zaid
bin ‘Adi Al-‘Abbadi, the Persian king got angry with 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 where he perished. Kisra, then, appointed Eyas bin Qubaisa
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 than had the Persian
king received the fanatically motivated rejection on the part of the Arab
chief, he declared war against the tribe of Shaiban and mobilized his
troops and warriors under the leadership of King Eyas to a place called
Dhee Qar which witnessed a most furious battle wherein the Persians were
severely routed by the Arabs for the first time in history. That was very
soon after the birth of Prophet Muhammad Õáì Çááå Úáíå æÓáã eight months
after Eyas bin Qubaisah’s rise to power over Heerah.
After Eyas, a Persian ruler was appointed over Heerah, but in 632 A.D.
the authority there returned to the family of Lukhm when Al-Munzir Al-Ma‘rur
took over. Hardly had the latter’s reign lasted for eight months when
Khalid bin Al-Waleed fell upon him with Muslim soldiers.
In the process of the tribal emigrations, some septs of Quda‘a reached
the borders of Syria where they settled down. They belonged to the family
of Sulaih bin Halwan, of whose offspring were the sons of Duj‘am bin Sulaih
known as Ad-Duja‘ima. Such septs of Quda‘a were used by the Byzantines
in the defence of the Byzantine borders against both Arab Bedouin raiders
and the Persians, and enjoyed autonomy for a considerable phase of time
which is said to have lasted for the whole second century A.D. One of
their most famous kings was Zyiad bin Al-Habula. Their authority however
came to an end upon defeat by the Ghassanides who were consequently granted
the proxy rulership over the Arabs of Syria and had Dumat Al-Jandal as
their headquarters, which lasted until the battle of Yarmuk in the year
13 A.H. Their last king Jabala bin Al-Aihum embraced Islam during the
reign of the Chief of Believers, ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab (May Allah be pleased
Ishmael (Peace be upon him) administered authority over Makkah as well
as custodianship of the Holy Sanctuary throughout his lifetime. Upon his
death, at the age of 137, two of his sons, Nabet and Qidar, succeeded
him. 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, though very little authority for Ishmael’s
sons due to their father’s exploits in building the Holy Sanctuary, a
position they held until the decline of the tribe of Jurhum shortly before
the rise of Bukhtanassar.
The political role of the ‘Adnanides had begun to gain firmer grounds
in Makkah, which could be clearly attested by the fact that upon Bukhtanassar’s
first invasion of the Arabs in ‘Dhati ‘Irq’, the leader of the Arabs was
not from Jurhum.
Upon Bukhtanassar’s second invasion in 587 B.C., however, the ‘Adnanides
were frightened out to Yemen, while Burmia An-Nabi fled to Syria 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‘ana, was given to Ma‘ad as wife who, later, had a son by
him named Nizar.
On account of difficult living conditions and destitution prevalent in
Makkah, the tribe of Jurhum began to ill-treat visitors of the Holy Sanctuary
and extort its funds, which aroused resentment and hatred of the ‘Adnanides
(sons of Bakr bin ‘Abd Munaf bin Kinana) who, with the help of the tribe
of Khuza‘a that had come to settle in a neighbouring area called Marr
Az-Zahran, invaded Jurhum and frightened them out of Makkah leaving rulership
to Quda‘a in the middle of the second century A.D.
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, the well-known historian, to have
buried the two gold deer together with the Black Stone as well as a lot
of jewelry and swords in Zamzam, prior to their sorrowful escape to Yemen.
Ishmael’s epoch is estimated to have lasted for twenty centuries B.C.,
which means that Jurhum stayed in Makkah for twenty-one centuries and
held rulership there for about twenty centuries.
Upon defeat of Jurhum, the tribe of Khuza‘a monopolized rulership over
Makkah. Mudar tribes, however, enjoyed three privileges:
The First: Leading pilgrims from ‘Arafat to Muzdalifah and then from
Mina to the ‘Aqabah Stoning Pillar. This was the authority of the family
of Al-Ghawth bin Murra, one of the septs of Elias bin Mudar, who were
called ‘Sofa’. This privilege meant that the pilgrims were not allowed
to throw stones at Al-‘Aqabah until one of the ‘Sofa’ men did that.
When they had finished stoning and wanted to leave the valley of Mina,
‘Sofa’ men stood on the two sides of Al-‘Aqabah and nobody would pass
that position until the men of ‘Sofa’ passed and cleared the way for
the pilgrims. When Sofa perished, the family of Sa‘d bin Zaid Manat
from Tamim tribe took over.
The Second: Al-Ifadah (leaving for Mina after Muzdalifah) on sacrifice
morning, and this was the responsibility of the family of Adwan.
The Third: Deferment of the sacred months, and this was the responsibility
of the family of Tamim bin ‘Adi from Bani Kinana.
Khuza‘a’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 septs of Quraish remained on the sides of Makkah; they were
Haloul, Harum and some families of Kinana. They enjoyed no privileges
in Makkah or in the Sacred House until the appearance of Qusai bin Kilab,
whose father is said to have died when he was still a baby, and whose
mother was subsequently married to Rabi‘a bin Haram, from the tribe of
Bani ‘Udhra. Rabi‘a 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 Halil bin Habsha from Khuza‘a, who gave Qusai his daughter,
Hobba, as wife. After Halil’s death, a war between Khuza‘a and Quraish
broke out and resulted in Qusai’s taking hold of Makkah and the Sacred
The First: Having noticed the spread of his offspring, increase of
his property and exalt of his honour after Halil’s death, Qusai found
himself more entitled to shoulder responsibility of rulership over Makkah
and custodianship of the Sacred House than the tribes of Khuza‘a and
Bani Bakr. He also advocated that Quraish were the chiefs of Ishmael’s
descendants. Therefore he consulted some men from Quraish and Kinana
concerning his desire to evacuate Khuza‘a and Bani Bakr from Makkah.
They took a liking to his opinion and supported him.
The Second: Khuza‘a claimed that Halil requested Qusai to hold custodianship
of Al-Ka‘bah and rulership over Makkah after his death.
The Third: Halil gave the right of Al-Ka‘bah service to his daughter
Hobba and appointed Abu Ghabshan Al-Khuza‘i to function as her agent
whereof. Upon Halil’s death, Qusai bought this right for a leather
bag of wine, which aroused dissatisfaction among the men of Khuza‘a
and they tried to keep the custodianship of the Sacred House away
from Qusai. The latter, however, with the help of Quraish and Kinana,
managed to take over and even to expel Khuza‘a completely from Makkah.
Whatever the truth might have been, the whole affair resulted in
the deprivation of Sofa of their privileges, previously mentioned,
evacuation of Khuza‘a and Bakr from Makkah and transfer of rulership
over Makkah and custodianship of the Holy Sanctuary to Qusai, after
fierce wars between Qusai and Khuza‘a inflicting heavy casualties
on both sides, reconciliation and then arbitration of Ya‘mur bin ‘Awf,
from the tribe of Bakr, whose judgement entailed eligibility of Qusai’s
rulership over Makkah and custodianship of the Sacred House, Qusai’s
irresponsibility for Khuza‘a’s blood shed, and imposition of blood
money on Khuza‘a. Qusai’s reign over Makkah and the Sacred House began
in 440 A.D. and allowed him, and Quraish afterwards, 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,
Murra bin ‘Awf preserved the same rights they used to enjoy before his
A significant achievement credited to Qusai was the establishment of
An-Nadwa House (an assembly house) on the northern side of Al-Ka‘bah Mosque,
to serve as a meeting place for Quraish. This very house had benefited
Quraish a lot because it secured unity of opinions amongst them and cordial
solution to their problem.
QUSAI HOWEVER ENJOYED THE FOLLONG PRIVILEGED OF LEADERSHIP AND HONOUR:
- Presiding over An-Nadwa House meetings where consultations relating
to serious issues were conducted, and marriage contracts were announced.
- The Standard: He monopolized in his hand issues relevant to war launching.
- Doorkeeping of Al-Ka‘bah: He was the only one eligible to open its
gate, and was responsible for its service and protection.
- Providing water for the Pilgrims: This means that he used to fill
basins sweetened by dates and raisins for the pilgrims to drink.
- Feeding Pilgrims: This means making food for pilgrims who could not
afford it. Qusai even imposed on Quraish annual land tax, paid at the
season of pilgrimage, for food.
It is noteworthy however that Qusai singled out ‘Abd Manaf, a son of
his, for honour and prestige though he was not his elder son (‘Abd Ad-Dar
was), and entrusted him with such responsibilities as chairing of An-Nadwa
House, the standard, the doorkeeping of Al-Ka‘bah, providing water and
food for pilgrims. Due to the fact that Qusai’s deeds were regarded as
unquestionable and his orders inviolable, his death gave no rise to conflicts
among his sons, but it later did among his grand children, for no sooner
than ‘Abd Munaf had died, his sons began to have rows with their cousins
—sons of ‘Abd Ad-Dar, which would have given rise to dissension and fighting
among the whole tribe of Quraish, had it not been for a peace treaty whereby
posts were reallocated so as to preserve feeding and providing water for
pilgrims for the sons of ‘Abd Munaf; while An-Nadwa House, the flag and
the doorkeeping of Al-Ka‘bah were maintained for the sons of ‘Abd Ad-Dar.
The sons of ‘Abd Munaf, however, cast the lot for their charge, and consequently
left the charge of food and water giving to Hashim bin ‘Abd Munaf, upon
whose death, the charge was taken over by a brother of his called Al-Muttalib
bin ‘Abd Manaf and afterwards by ‘Abd Al-Muttalib bin Hashim, the Prophet’s
grandfather, whose sons assumed this position until the rise of Islam,
during which ‘Abbas bin ‘Abdul-Muttalib was in charge.
Many other posts were distriamong people of Quraish for establishing
the pillars of a new democratic petite state with government offices and
councils similar to those of today. Enlisted as follows are some of these
- Casting the lots for the idols was allocated to Bani Jumah.
- Noting of offers and sacrifices, settlement of disputes and relevant
issues were to lie in the hands of Bani Sahm.
- Consultation was to go to Bani Asad.
- Organization of blood-money and fines was with Bani Tayim.
- Bearing the national banner was with Bani Omaiyah.
- The military institute, footmen and cavalry would be Bani Makhzum’s
- Bani ‘Adi would function as foreign mediators.
We have previously mentioned the Qahtanide and ‘Adnanide emigrations,
and division of Arabia between these two tribes. Those tribes dwelling
near Heerah were subordinate to the Arabian king of Heerah, while those
dwelling in the Syrian semi-desert were under domain of the Arabian Ghassanide
king, a sort of dependency that was in reality formal rather than actual.
However, those living in the hinder deserts enjoyed full autonomy.
These tribes in fact had heads chosen by the whole tribe which was a
demi-government based on tribal solidarity and collective interests in
defence 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.
Heads of tribes and masters had special claims to spoils of war such
as the quarter of the spoils, whatever he chose for himself, or found
on his way back or even the remaining indivisible spoils.
The three Arab regions adjacent to foreigners suffered great weakness
and inferiority. The people there were either masters or slaves, rulers
or subordinates. Masters, especially the foreigners, had claim to every
advantage; slaves had nothing but responsibilities to shoulder. In other
words, arbitrary autocratic rulership brought about encroachment on the
rights of subordinates, ignorance, oppression, iniquity, injustice and
hardship, and turning them into people groping in darkness and ignorance,
viz., fertile land which rendered its fruits to the rulers and men of
power to extravagantly dissipate on their pleasures and enjoyments, whims
and desires, tyranny and aggression. The tribes living near these regions
were fluctuating between Syria and Iraq, whereas those living inside Arabia
were disunited and governed by tribal conflicts and racial and religious
They had neither a king to sustain 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 as rulers and servants of the religious
centre. Rulership of Hijaz was, in fact, a mixture of secular and official
precedence 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 neighbourhood. They looked after the interests
of Al-Ka‘bah visitors and were in charge of putting Abraham’s code into
effect. They even had such 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.