The Prophet’s Family Line No 6 - Abdullah, and the Birth of the Prophet.

 

by

 

Sr. Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood.

(Material adapted from Sr. Ruqaiyyah’s forthcoming seerah The Life of the Prophet

 

 

As Abdu’l Muttalib entered his thirties he still only had one son, Harith, the son of either a slave-wife - Summayah bint Mauhab – or Safiyyah or Samrah bint Jundub. She had been the companion of his youth, his contract with her probably commencing when he was about 16 years of age.[1][1]

 

One night in c529 CE, when Abdu’l Muttalib was about 32 years old and his son Harith about 16, he was granted a vision revealing the whereabouts of Hajar’s spring. This famous spring had been buried around a hundred years previously by the Jurhumite ruler Mudad b. Amr b. Harith.[2][2]  He had become distressed by the ignoble behaviour of his tribe, which had caused their reputation and authority to wane. He dug a deep hole within the well of Zamzam in which he hid the treasures of the Holy House (the Ka’bah). The well was filled in and the entire site buried under sand. The Jurhumites then withdrew (or were driven out) in favour of the Banu Khuza’ah in around 429 CE.

 

Now, in his vision, Abdu’l Muttalib was ordered to dig at a place where there was blood and dung, an ant’s nest, and pecking ravens. He soon identified the place, between the two cultic rocks Isaf and Na’ilah, where sacrifices were regularly made. He knew the rediscovery of the Zamzam spring would be a great boon, but as he and Harith commenced digging between the ancient stones his idol-worshipping relatives came running to confront him, alarmed and afraid of sacrilege. He refused to stop, and when they threatened violence it fell to Harith to draw his sword to keep them at bay while Abdu’l Muttalib kept on digging. More and more gathered to protest, but they held back from physically attacking him since they observed that the ‘gods’ had not harmed him, as expected. On the third day Abdu’l Muttalib successfully found traces of the well. The anxious crowd was pacified, and the treasures buried by Mudad were discovered and restored to the Ka’bah.

 

Abdu’l Muttalib’s Oath

 

The experience convinced Abdu’l Muttalib of the wisdom of having more supporting sons. He rather imprudently tried to make a deal with God, that if He would grant him ten sons that lived to maturity he would give one of them as a blood-sacrifice.

 

Setting his plans in motion, he negotiated with the powerful and wealthy tribe of Makhzum to marry an important heiress, the 15 year old Fatimah bint Amr, also known as Fatimah of Makhzum.[3][3] The marriage forged a highly important link between his clan and hers – the clan of Makhzum being the most powerful of the Confederates, those tribes that remained loyal to the descendants of the ancestor Qusayy’s son Abd ad-Dar as opposed to the descendants of his son Abdu’l Manaf. Of all the Confederate tribes, Makhzum and Jumah were by far the most important.

 

Fatimah was Abdu’l Muttalib’s most influential and most prolific spouse, the mother of three of his sons and five of his daughters. Her eldest son was Zubayr (Zabbar), who was destined to become the head of the Banu Hashim on the death of his father. Then came Abdu’l Manaf, who took the kunya name[4][4] of Abu Talib from his eldest son. Her youngest was Abdullah, born in c545 when Abdu’l Muttalib was c48.

 

To his chagrin, the time came when Abdu’l Muttalib did have ten sons, who all survived to teenage.

 

The Vow must be Fulfilled

 

Abdu’l Muttalib was a man who never broke his word. He perhaps regretted making that vow, but the day came when he felt he could no longer put off its fulfillment and sacrifice one of them. The people were aghast, and could not believe he would go through with this. They pleaded with him to forget his rash oath, but Abdu’l Muttalib’s word was his honour, and he would not back down. He cast sacred lots - arrows with his sons’ names on - near the statue of Hubal, and although he could not bear to kill any of them, to his dismay the lot fell on Abdullah.

 

Abdu’l Muttalib, like the Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh), was quite prepared to slaughter his son, and Abdullah (like Isma’il pbuh) would have piously done his duty and accepted his fate. He led Abdullah by the hand and laid him down on a rock. It was said that the pressure of his foot on his son’s neck caused a permanent scar.[5][5]  However, Abdullah’s feisty mother Fatimah of Makhzum refused to accept the loss of her beloved youngest son calmly without a fight. It was her prompt and determined action that saved his life.

 

Abdullah saved by his mother, his sisters and Sajjah the ‘wise-woman’

 

First, she reasoned with Abdu’l Muttalib - he was making an appalling mistake. He had not been commanded by God to do this thing, she insisted; it was not a necessity at all, only the result of an impetuous and foolish oath made in the heat of the moment when he was under stress, and he should not consider it binding. The Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh) had been taught that God did not require human sacrifice but obedience – with the warning note that intimations from dramatic dreams were to be taken with caution, for they did not necessarily reveal the will of God.[6][6] Fatimah rallied her relatives, notably Mughirah  b. Abdullah, the current chief of Makhzum, to stay her husband’s hand, by force if necessary. She and her five daughters placed themselves around Abdullah weeping, and urged their father to consult a famous divining woman, Sajjah of Yathrib, who could call up an attendant spirit to advise them before he took any further action.[7][7] 

 

To her relief Abdu’l Muttalib agreed to her plea, and Abdullah was granted a reprieve while they took some time to find this woman. The normal blood-price of a man was ten camels, and the wise-woman’s suggestion was to cast lots between the youth and ten camels, until there was an indication that an acceptable number to redeem the vow had been reached. In the end Abdullah’s blood-price was reckoned as a hundred camels. Abdu’l Muttalib was very wary, and insisted that the procedure be checked through again, and then again, before he was satisfied. Each time the result was the same, and in the end he allowed Fatimah and his daughters to lead Abdullah away to safety.[8][8]

 

Abdu’l Muttalib’s Last Marriage

 

The dramatic story became famous, and Abdullah – the young man redeemed from being sacrificed – was regarded as a particularly lucky person, resulting in many hopeful young ladies being stirred to request that a match with him might be arranged. Abdullah, however, was in no rush and remained single.

 

Yet not only was he destined to make a fateful union, but his father Abdu’l Muttalib was also destined, when he was turned 70 years old, to marry his sixth and last wife.

 

The crisis over, Abdu’l Muttalib returned to his marriage plans. As it happened one of his favourite cousins, Muttalib’s daughter Ayyilah, was already married into the Banu Zuhrah, her husband being Zuhrah’s grandson Wuhayb.[9][9]

 

Wuhayb’s brother Wahb[10][10] had been the leading man of Zuhrah in birth and honour. Wahb’s chief wife, Barrah bint Abdu’l Uzzah, was a great-granddaughter of Qusayy,[11][11] and his other wife was Rughaybah bint Zurarah b. Addas, one of the eminent women of Yathrib. His son Abdu Yaghuth was now himself a notable chief. When Wahb died, and possibly also his wife Barrah – for there is no other mention of her – Ayyilah took Barrah’s daughters Halah and Aminah into her care. The widow Rughaybah chose not to accept the protection of her husband’s brother, but instead married Qays b. Amr of the Banu Adiy b. Najjar, returned to Yathrib, and in due course gave birth to Salmah (Umm Mundhir), and Salit.

 

Ayyilah also had a daughter of her own of marriageable age, also called Halah, and Abdu’l Muttalib who was still strong and handsome, (described by his friend Nufayl when comparing him to Sheikh Harb b. Umayyah as ‘a person who is taller than you in stature; more imposing than you in appearance, and more refined than you in intellect)[12][12] requested this Halah for himself, although he was now over seventy.[13][13] Halah’s age is not known, but Aminah was about fifteen. Both girls gave consent and the two marriages were organised to take place at the same time.[14][14]

 

The Interruption of Qutaylaj bint Nawfal

 

As the old sheikh and his son made their way to their double nuptials in the quarter of the tribe of Zuhrah, they were stopped by a woman who came rushing up demanding to speak to Abdullah. She was Qutaylah (Umm Qattal),[15][15] the sister of the famous Christian hanif Waraqah b. Nawfal[16][16]. She believed as he did that a new Messenger of God was about to be made manifest. She happened to be at the Ka’bah when the two bridegrooms came past, and was startled to see something she described as a special radiant glow in Abdullah’s forehead. It was this that had impelled her to run out and beg him with the offer of a hundred camels - his life-price - to change his mind and not take Aminah in marriage, but take her instead.[17][17] Embarrassed, he refused her offer. ‘I am with my father and cannot act against his wishes and leave him,’ he replied. Qutaylah was obliged to withdraw disappointed, and the double wedding took place as intended.[18][18]

 

Abdullah marries Aminah bint Wahb of Zuhrah

 

Abdullah’s bride Aminah was sweet and beautiful, and as soon as the young couple saw each other, great love flowed between them. They were very happy with their marriage, which they consummated without delay. Abdullah stayed three days amongst Aminah’s relatives while Abdu’l Muttalib took his bride Halah back to his house in Makkah, giving Abdullah the gift of a nine-year-old black Abyssinian maidservant he had bought in the market to help care for his bride. The girl’s name was Barakah bint Muhsin.[19][19]

 

It so happened that a few days later Abdullah saw Qutaylah again and was amused to discover that she was no longer interested in him. He teased her about her previous behaviour, but she only commented that what she had seen that had caused her to act as she did, had now disappeared.[20][20]

 

Abdullah’s Tragic Death

 

Aminah soon left her uncle’s house with Abdullah, and the couple set up their home together with Barakah in a house known as Ibn Yusuf’s.[21][21] No doubt they hoped like all contented newlyweds that their love would last forever and their home would resound with the laughter of children who would become the joy of their old age. To Aminah’s dismay, within days Abdu’l Muttalib pressed Abdullah to resume his work, expecting him to take his caravan to Syria. Aminah was devastated. ‘How can we be separated while the hinnah is still on my hands?’ she cried.[22][22]

 

Poor Aminah certainly needed little Barakah’s care – she was sick, depressed and weak, and spent the next two months in a state of restless feverishness and anxiety. Barakah refused to leave her, even sleeping at the foot of her bed. However, Aminah’s sickness was not just the result of depression. She had missed her menstruation. This was hardly uncommon in young women, for a multitude of reasons – but there was one  very obvious reason in the case of a young newly-married bride.

 

One day Aminah woke up feeling calm and better, exhilerated after a beautiful dream. She told Barakah that she had seen light streaming from her womb, which lit up all the hills and valleys around Makkah, and reached as far as the castles of Bosra in Syria. A voice had spoken to her: ‘You are pregnant with the lord of this people. When he is born say: ‘I put him in the care of the Supreme from the evil of every envier’; then call him Muhammad.’ What had already been suspected was soon confirmed. She was indeed pregnant, and both she and Barakah were convinced that the child in her womb was to be a boy, and very special indeed. Abdullah was not Abdu’l Muttalib’s eldest son, but Fatimah’s youngest, and very dear to both his parents. He was full of promise, and it was not impossible that his eldest son might one day become the chief sheikh of the Quraysh and Guardian of the Ka’bah. They could not wait to get the news of Aminah’s pregnancy to him.

 

But Aminah never saw her husband again. He completed his journey and returned via Yathrib, where he went to stay with his maternal uncles of the Banu Adiy b.Najjar.[23][23]  Unfortunately the greenery and beauty of the oases were accompanied by a humid hot-house atmosphere, and the pools were a breeding-ground of flies, microbes and swarms of virulent malaria-bearing mosquitoes. As the time came to leave Abdullah went down with fever and became so ill he had to let the caravan go on without him.

 

In Makkah they were eagerly awaiting his return. Barakah saw the caravan come in, but soon realised that something had happened to her dear master – Abdullah was not with them. She did not dare tell Aminah. When Abdu’l Muttalib was informed he sent his eldest son Harith speeding to Yathrib to fetch him home. In fact, Abdullah’s fever had flared and subsided and he had fought it on his sickbed for a month, but by the time Harith reached the oasis, Abdullah was dead and had been buried in the property of a famous Hawazin poet, Nabighah al-Ju’di.[24][24]

 

Barakah was at Abdu’l Muttalib’s house when the news broke, and went running to Aminah, although she had no idea with what words she could tell her the awful truth.

 

Aminah, who was by this time seven months pregnant, nearly died from her broken heart. She fainted away, and lay for some time hovering between life and death. Barakah once more nursed her day and night until she showed signs of recovery. Aminah’s elegy for Abdullah was simple and dignified: ‘Death invited the son of Hashim, and when he accepted mankind has not been left with his equal. Yet even if he is dead, his noble deeds have survived him; he was so generous and compassionate.’

 

In fact, at 25 Abdullah had accumulated little wealth of his own. The system of inheritance customary among the Arabs at that time allowed only ‘mature’ persons to inherit. Everything Abdullah had done was for his father. All he had of his own to provide for Aminah amounted to five camels, a small flock of sheep and goats, and Barakah.

 

The Birth of Muhammad

 

Aminah’s cousin Halah, who was by now pregnant with Abdu’l Muttalib’s son,[25][25] took on much of her care. She was assisted by Abdu’l Muttalib’s highly respected half-sister Shifa (Shaffah), the daughter of Salmah of Yathrib by her husband Awf b. Abdu’l Awf of Zuhrah.[26][26] They went to nurse Aminah through the birth.

 

Shifa related that during the delivery she became aware of a ‘presence’ and heard a voice say: ‘May God have mercy on you.’ Then, as Aminah gave her final huge effort, the baby made his entrance into the world, and slipped out on to the earth face down, landing on his hands and knees. It was said that the infant boy was born circumcised, and his navel-cord was already severed and needed no cutting.[27][27] Allah knows best. His tiny hand seized some of the earth, and he raised his head and looked up at the skies.[28][28]

 

‘I felt as if a meteor came out of me, which lit up the earth,’ Aminah said. The little black maid rushed to pick him up, wash him, and wrap him tenderly, the first person to hold the newborn baby in her arms.

 

Far away, in the oasis of Yathrib, a seven year old boy named Hasan b.Thabit  (destined to become a famous poet), told how that night he had been startled into wakefulness by a Jew shouting from the rooftop of one of the fortresses that a star had risen under which the awaited messenger of God, ‘Ahmad’,  had been born.[29][29]

 

Barakah found Abdu’l Muttalib sitting in the Hijr of the Ka’bah with his sons and friends, and announced the safe delivery of his new grandson. He hurried to Aminah’s bedside, and saw the circumcised child.

 

‘This child of mine will most certainly achieve greatness,’ he remarked.[30][30]

 

On his first night, the baby was placed according to Quraysh tradition under an upturned pot vessel. In the morning they discovered the pot split into two and the baby lying with his eyes wide open, gazing at the sky.[31][31]

 

Aminah had told Abdu’l Muttalib all that she had heard and seen during her pregnancy, and what she was ordered to call the child. On the seventh day Abdu’l Muttalib took the baby to the Ka’bah, made sacrifice, and blessed him, and stood praying to the One True God to thank him for this gift. He fetched his own youngest son, the three-year old Abbas, to kiss him.

 

‘All praise to the Almighty,’ he said, ‘Who has bestowed on me this pure boy. I entrust him to the care of the Almighty, the Lord of the Ka’bah. If only I could live to see him grow to maturity -  but I seek refuge from evil and the malice of the envious one.’

 

The baby was born on a Monday, 12th Rabi’ul Awwal/2nd August, in the Year of the Elephant, 570 CE.[32][32]  He was given the name as the voice had bidden Aminah, Muhammed, a variant of Ahmad, meaning ‘the praised one.’ After the celebratory feast, they asked Abdu’l Muttalib why he had not chosen a family name for the child.

‘Because I wanted God to praise him in heaven, and His creatures to praise him on earth,’ he replied.

 

That baby was destined to become the Prophet of Islam, and was to change the whole history of the world.

 

 



[1][1] Muslim 6079 names her as Summayah, but Ibn Sa’d names her as Safiyyah bint Junaydib b. Hujayr b. Zabbab b. Habib b. Suwa’ah b. Amir b. Sa’sa’ah, and Ibn Ishaq gives the variant Samrah bint Jundub b. Hujayr b. Ri’ab b. Habib b. Suwa’a b. Amir b. Sa’sa’a, b. Mu’awiyyah b. Bakr b. Hawazin b. Mansur b. Ikrima (Ibn Ishaq p.708 n97).

[2][2] A descendant of Isma’il’s father-in-law who had the same name but lived considerably earlier.

[3][3] Fatimah bint Amr b. Aidh (Ayidh) b. Imran (or Aidh was Imran) b. Makhzum b. Yaqazah b. Murrah b. Ka’b b. Lu’ayy. Her mother was Sakhrah bint Abd b. Imran of the same line; and Sakhrah’s mother was Takhmur bint Abd b. Qusayy.

[4][4] A kunya name is when people are called ‘Abu’ or ‘Umm’ (meaning ‘father of’ or ‘mother of’), the name taken from their eldest child. Abu Talib was the kunya name of this Abdu’l Manaf, who was also called Abdu’l Ka’bah. In Arabic grammatical rules, the word Abu changes to Abi when the word Ibn or ‘son of’ is prefixed to the name – so for example Ibn Abu Talib becomes Ibn Abi Talib. To avoid confusion, it is left as Abu in this text.

[5][5] Ibn Kathir 1.126, from Ibn Ishaq.

[6][6] The pillars or jamrat at Mina which are stoned by the pilgrims during the Hajj represented Shaytan, the origin of the rite being part of the story of Ibrahim (pbuh). He dreamed that God required him to sacrifice his son Isma’il (pbuh), and when he awoke told his son the dream. They both agreed to carry out what they believed to be the Lord’s will. Then the devil appeared in the guise of a man, and tempted Ibrahim (pbuh), his wife and son not to go through with it. In the end, Ibrahim (pbuh) and Isma’il (pbuh) threw stones at him to make him leave them alone. Just as Ibrahim (pbuh) was about to sacrifice Isma’il (pbuh), who accepted his fate and lay down willingly to die, God revealed that He had not required this sacrifice – Ibrahim (pbuh) had long ago proved his faith and obedience. The feast of Eid al-Adha, when each family sacrificed an animal and shared the meat with themselves and the poor was held every year after this to commemorate the incident.

[7][7] Ibn Kathir 1.126; Ibn Ishaq pp67-68).

[8][8] Tabari 2.p174; Ibn Sa’d 1 p.95.

[9][9] Wuhayb is also frequently called Uhayb.

[10][10] Wahb b. Abd Manaf b.Zuhrah b. Kilab.

[11][11] Barrah bint Abdu’l Uzzah b. Uthman b. Abd ad-Dar b. Qusayy. Barrah’s mother was Umm Habib bint Asad b. Abdu’l Uzzah b. Qusayy. Umm Habib’s mother was Barrah bint Awf b. Abid b. Awij b. Adiy b. Ka’b b. Lu’ayy.

[12][12] The Alim Encyclopedia, Biography of Umar.

[13][13] We know the Prophet (pbuh) was born in 570, and was 8 when Abdu’l Muttalib died at the age of 82; therefore Abdu’l Muttalib must have been 74 when the double marriage took place.

[14][14] If the Prophet (pbuh) was born in August 570, he must have been conceived in December 569; if he was born in April 570, then the marriage must have been in June 569.

[15][15] Umm Qattal bint Nawfal b. Asad b. Abdu’l Uzzah. She was also called Raqiqah.

[16][16] He was famous for translating a Gospel into Arabic. His cousin, Khadijah, was destined to become the Prophet’s life-partner for 25 years.

[17][17] Ibn Kathir 1.127, from Ibn Ishaq. Presumably this was a case of Qutaylah desiring to marry Abdullah because she hoped to be the mother of a special child, rather than lustful and immodest behaviour.

[18][18] Another narrative gives a similar story for a female diviner of the Banu Tibala who had adopted Judaism, Fatimah bint Murr al-Khathamiyyah. Ibn Kathir 1.128; Ibn Sa’d 1.104.

[19][19] She was also called Barakah bint Thalabah, his line being Thalabah b. Umar/Amr b. Hasan/Husayn b. Malik b. Salamah b. Umar/Amr b. Numan al-Habashiyyah.

[20][20] She guessed Aminah must be already pregnant. (Ibn Ishaq p.69). Another account was reported by Ibn Ishaq in which Abdullah had visited a lady for intimacy with her, but she rejected him as he had not bathed. She sent him away, and when he returned spruced up she no longer desired him as a ‘blaze’ between his eyes had now disappeared.

[21][21] This house was later given by the Prophet (pbuh) to Aqil b. Abu Talib, who kept it until he died. His son sold it to Muhammad b. Yusuf, the brother of al-Hajjaj, who incorporated it into his own house. Later Khayzuran the wife of Caliph al-Mahdi (158-69AH) separated it off again, and made it into a mosque - Ibn Ishaq p.70. I believe it has now been made into a library by the Saudi Wahhabi sect.

[22][22] Hinnah patterns usually take around three weeks to fade completely.

[23][23] These uncles included not only the relatives of Abdullah’s grandmother Salmah bint Amr, but also the new husband of Aminah’s step-mother Rughaybah – Qays b. Amr, her brothers Asad, Sa’d and Mas’ud the sons of Zurarah, and their cousins Sa’d, Amr, Iyas and Aws the sons of Mu’adh b. Numan, as well as the relatives of Salmah’s first husband Malik b. Adiy. 

[24][24] Ibn Kathir 1.146. Nabighah was Qays b. Abdullah of Hawazin, not to be confused with Nabighah al-Dhubyani (Ziyad b. Mu’awiyyah) a poet who became a Muslim.

[25][25] This child became the famous warrior Hamzah, first an enemy to Islam and then one of its greatest champions. Muslims know Hamzah was the Prophet’s uncle, but many do not realise that he was actually younger than the Prophet.

[26][26] Ibn Kathir 1.72,148. Shifa was later the mother of Abdu’r Rahman b. Awf.

[27][27] Ibn Kathir 1.149, from Bayhaqi. He used the words makhtum and masrur.

[28][28] Ibn Kathir 1.148, Ibn Sa’d 1.111.

[29][29] Ibn Kathir 1.152 from Ibn Ishaq. Some fifty-three years later Hasan met Muhammad (pbuh), and converted to Islam.

[30][30] Ibn Sa’d 1.112, from Ibn Abbas.

[31][31] Ibn Kathir 1.150, from Bayhaqi. Later, Abbas told him he had seen him in the cradle whispering to the moon, and pointing with his finger, and the Prophet (pbuh) replied that he would talk to it, and it distracted him from crying.

[32][32] I have an alternative date of the 20th April. If he was born in August, he was conceived in December 569; if he was born in April he was conceived in June 569.