4 – The Recovery of A Loss

Adjoining the north-west side of the Ka’bah there is a small precinct surrounded by a low semicircular wall. The two ends of the wall stop short of the north and west corners of the House, leaving a passage for pilgrims. But many pilgrims make wide their circle at this point and include the precinct within their orbit, passing round the outside of the low wall. The space within it is named Hijr Isma’il, because the tombs of Ishmael and Hagar lie beneath the stones which pave it.

‘Abd al-Muttalib so loved to be near the Ka’bah that he would sometimes order a couch to be spread for him in the Hijr; and one night when he was sleeping there a shadowy figure came to him in a vision and said: “Dig sweet clarity.” “What is sweet clarity?” he asked, but the speaker vanished. He none the less felt such happiness and peace of soul when he woke that he determined to spend the next night in the same place. The visitant returned and said: “Dig beneficence.” But again his question received no answer. The third night he was told: “Dig the treasured hoard”, and yet again the speaker vanished at his questioning. But the fourth night the command was: “Dig Zamzam”; and this time when he said “What is Zamzam?” the speaker said:

“Dig her, thou shalt not regret,
For she is thine inheritance
From thy greatest ancestor.
Dry she never will, nor fail
To water all the pilgrim throng.”

The the speaker told him to look for a place where there was blood and dung, an ants’ nest, and pecking ravens. Finally he was told to pray “for clear full flowing water that will water God’s pilgrims throughout their pilgrimage.”[1]

When dawn was breaking ‘Abd al-Muttalib rose and left the Hijr at the north corner of the Holy House which is called the Iraqi Corner. Then he walked along the north-east wall, at the other end of which is the door of the Ka’bah; and passing this he stopped, a few feet beyond it, at the east corner, where he reverently kissed the Black Stone. From there he began the rite of the rounds, going back past the door to the Iraqi Corner, across the Hijr to the west corner -the Syrian Corner- and thence to the Yemenite Corner which is towards the south. The children of Abraham, alike the lines of Ishmael and Isaac, go round their sanctuaries with a movement opposite to that of the sun. As he walked from the Yemenite Corner to the Black Stone, he could see the dark slope of Abu Qubays and beyond it the further eastern hills, sharply outlined against the yellow light. Seven times he went the round, and each time the light was appreciably brighter, for in Arabia the dawns and the dusks are brief. Having fulfilled the rite he went from the Black Stone to the door and, taking hold of the metal ring which hung from the lock, he prayed the prayer which he had been told to pray.

There was a sound of wings and a bird alighted in the sand behind him. Then another bird alighted and having finished his supplication he turned and watched them strut with their raven’s gait towards two statuesque rocks which were about a hundred yards away, almost opposite the door. These had been adopted as idols, and it was between them that Quraysh sacrificed their victims. ‘Abd al-Muttalib knew well, as did the ravens, that there was always blood in the sand at that place. There was also dung; and going up to it, he now saw that there was an ants’ nest.

He went to his house and took two pickaxes, one of which was for his son Harith whom he brought with him to the place where he knew that he must dig. The thud of the tools in the sand and the unusual sight -for the courtyard could be seen from all sides- soon attracted a crowd; and despite the respect generally felt for ‘Abd al-Muttalib, it was not long before some of them protested that it was a sacrilege to dig at the place of sacrifice between the idols and that he must stop. He said he would not, and told Harith to stand by him and see that no one interfered with his digging. It was a tense moment, and the outcome could have been unpleasant. But the two Hashimites were determined and united, whereas the onlookers had been taken by surprise. Nor did these idols, Isaf and Na’ilah, hold a high rank among the idols of Mecca, and some even said that they were a Jurhumite man and woman who had been turned to stone for profaning the Ka’bah. So ‘Abd al-Muttalib continued to dig without any actual move being made to stop him; and some of the people were already leaving the sanctuary when suddenly he struck the well’s stone covering and uttered a cry of thanksgiving to God. The crowd reassembled and increased; and when he began to dig out the treasure which Jurhum had buried there, everyone claimed the right to a share in it. ‘Abd al-Muttalib agreed that lots should be cast for each object, as to whether it should be kept in the sanctuary or go to him personally or be divided amongst the tribe. This had become the recognized way of deciding an issue of doubt, and it was done by means of divining arrows inside the Ka’bah, in front of the Moabite idol Hubal. In this instance some of the treasure went to the Ka’bah and some to ‘Abd al-Muttalib, but none of it to Quraysh in general. It was also agreed that the clan of Hashim should have charge of Zamzam itself, since in any case it was their function to water the pilgrims.


[1] I.I. 93

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