2 – A Great Loss

Abraham’s prayer was answered, and rich gifts were continually brought to Mecca by the pilgrims who came to visit the Holy House in increasing numbers from all parts of Arabia and beyond. The Greater Pilgrimage was made once a year; but the Ka’bah could also be honored through a lesser pilgrimage at any time; and these rites continued to be performed with fervor and devotion according to the rules which Abraham and Ishmael had established. The descendants of Isaac also venerated the Ka’bah, as a temple that had been raised by Abraham. For them it counted as one of the outlying tabernacles of the Lord. But as the centuries passed the purity of the worship of the One God came to be contaminated. The descendants of Ishmael became too numerous to live all in the valley of Mecca; and those who went to settle elsewhere took with them stones from the holy precinct and performed rites in honor of them. Later; through the influence of neighboring pagan tribes, idols came to be added to the stones; and finally pilgrims began to bring idols to Mecca. These were set up in the vicinity of the Ka’bah, and it was then that the Jews ceased to visit the temple of Abraham.[1]

The idolaters claimed that their idols were powers which acted as mediators between God and men. As a result, their approach to God became less and less direct, and the remoter He seemed, the dimmer became their sense of the reality of the World-to-come, until many of them ceased to believe in life after death. But in their midst, for those who could interpret it, there was a clear sign that they had fallen away from the truth: they no longer had access to the Well of Zamzam, and they had even forgotten where it lay. The Jurhumites who had come from the Yemen were directly responsible. They had established themselves in control of Mecca, and the descendants of Abraham had tolerated this because Ishmael’s second wife was a kinswoman of Jurhum; but the time came when the Jurhumites began to commit all sorts of injustices, for which they were finally driven out; and before they left they buried the Well of Zamzam. No doubt they did this by way of revenge, but it was also likely that they hoped to return and enrich themselves from it, for they filled it up with part of the treasure of the sanctuary, offerings of pilgrims which had accumulated in the Ka’bah over the years; then they covered it with sand.

Their place as lords of Mecca was taken by Khuza’ah[2], an Arab tribe descended from Ishmael which had migrated to the Yemen and then returned northwards. But the Khuza’ites now made no attempt to find the waters that had been miraculously given to their ancestor. Since his day other wells had been dug in Mecca, God’s gift was no longer a necessity, and the Holy Well became a half forgotten memory.

Khuza’ah thus shared the guilt of Jurhum. They were also to blame in other respects: a chieftain of theirs, on his way back from a journey to Syria, had asked the Moabites to give him one of their idols. They gave him Hubal, which he brought back to the Sanctuary, setting it up within the Ka’bah itself; and it became the chief idol of Mecca.


[1] I.I., 15
[2] See index for note on pronunciation of Arabic names

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