11 – A Pact of Chivalry

When he had finished his trading in Syria, Abu Talib returned to Mecca with his nephew, who continued his solitary life as before. But his uncles saw to it that he, as also ‘Abbas and Hamzah, had some training in the use of weapons of war. Hamzah was clearly destined to be a man of mighty stature, endowed with great physical strength. He was already a good swordsman and a good wrestler. Muhammad was of average height and average strength. He had a marked aptitude for archery, and gave every promise of being an excellent bowman, like his great ancestors, Abraham and Ishmael. A powerful asset for this lay in the strength of his eyesight: he was reputed to be able to count no less than twelve of the stars of the constellation of the Pleiades.

In those years Quraysh were not involved in any fighting except for a spasmodic and intermittent conflict which came to be known as the sacrilegious was because it had started in one of the sacred months. A profligate of Kinanah had treacherously murdered a man of ‘Amir, one of the Hawazin tribes of Najd, and had taken refuge in the impregnable fortress township of Khaybar. The sequence of events followed the usual desert pattern: honor demanded revenge, so the tribe of the murdered man attacked Kinanah, the tribe of the murderer, and Quraysh were involved, somewhat ingloriously, as allies of Kinanah. The conflict dragged on for three or four years in which there were only five days of actual fighting. The head of the clan of Hashim was at that time Zubayr, full brother, like Abu Talib, of Muhammad’s father. Zubayr and Abu Talib took their nephew with them to one of the first battles, but they said he was too young to fight. He was none the less allowed to help by gathering enemy arrows that had missed their mark and handing them to his uncles so that they could shoot them back.[1] But at one of the subsequent battles, where Quraysh and their allies had the worst of the day, he was allowed to show his skill as a bowman and was praised for his valor.[2]

The war helped to fan the growing discontent which every sedentary community tends to feel with the law of the desert. Most of the leading men of Quraysh had traveled to Syria and had seen for themselves the relative justice which prevailed in the Roman empire. It was also possible in Abyssinia to have justice without recourse to fighting. But in Arabia there was no comparable system of law by which a victim of crime, or his family, might obtain redress; and it was natural that the sacrilegious war, like other conflicts before it, should have set many minds thinking of ways and means to prevent the same thing from happening again. But this time the result was more than mere thoughts and words: as far as Quraysh were concerned, there was now a widespread readiness to take action; and their sense of justice was put to test by a scandalous incident which took place in Mecca in the first few weeks after the end of the fighting.

A merchant from the Yemeni port of Zabid had sold some valuable goods for a notable of the clan of Sahm. Having taken possession of these, the Sahmite refused to pay the promised price. The wronged merchant, as his wronger well knew, was a stranger to Mecca, and had no confederate or patron in all the city to whom he might go for help. But he was not to be overawed by the other man’s insolent self-assurange; and, taking his stand on the slope of Abu Qubays, he appealed to Quraysh as a whole, with loud and vehement eloquence, to see that justice was done. An immediate response came from most of those clans which had no traditional alliance with Sahm. Quraysh were bent above all on being united, regardless of clan; but within that union there was sill an acute consciousness of the rift which had divided them, over the legacy of Qusayy, into two groups, the Scented Ones and the Confederates, and Sahm were of the Confederates. One of the leaders of the other group, and one of the wealthiest men in Mecca at this time, was the chief of Taym, ‘Abd Allah ibn Jud’an, and he now offered his large house as a meeting-place for all lovers of justice. From amongst the Scented Ones, only the clans of ‘Abdu Shams and Nawfal were absent. Hashim, Muttalib, Zuhrah, Asad and Taym were all well reprsented, and they were joined by ‘Adi, which had been one of the Confederates. Having decided, after an earnest discussion, that it was imperative to found an order of chivalry for the furtherance of justice and the protection of the weak, they went in a body to the Ka’bah where they poured water over the Black Stone, letting it flow into a receptacle. Then each man drank of the thus hallowed water; and with their right hands raised above their heads they vowed that henceforth, at every act of oppression in Mecca, they would stand together as one man on the side of the oppressed against the oppressor until justice was done, whether the oppressed were a man of Quraysh or one who had come from abroad. The Sahmite was thereupon compelled to pay his debt, nor did any of those clans which had abstained from the pact offer him their assistance.

Together with the chief of Taym, Zubayr of Hashim was one of the founders of this order, and he brought with him his nephew Muhammad, who took parth in the oath and who said in after-years: “I was present in the house of ‘Abd Allah ibn Jud’an at so excellent a pact that I would not exchange my part in it for a herd of red camels; and if now, in Islam, I were summoned unto it, I would gladly respond.”[3] Another of those present was their host’s first cousin, Abu Quhafah of Taym, together with his son Abu Bakr, who was a year or two younger than Muhammad and who was to become his closest friend.


[1] I.H. 119
[2] I.S. 1/1 : 81
[3] I.I. 86

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