Section 4

Origin, and Early History of Mecca.


Section 4

Origin, and early History, of Mecca.

Traditional history of Mecca ascends above the Christian era; of the other tribes ordinarily only to the 4th century A.D.

Leaving now the outskirts of Arabia, I proceed to sketch the history of the chief tribes occupying the centre of the peninsula, and to trace the rise and progress of Mecca.

The traditional history of Mecca, and of the Coreishite stock goes back farther than that of the other Bedouin tribes. Their fixed habitation in the valley of Mecca strengthened and perpetuated the local tradition, (a mixture of fact and fable), which ascends to a century before the Christian era. The accounts of the desert tribes on the other hand, seldom commence more than two centuries before the birth of Mahomet.

The legend of the founding of Mecca by Abraham and Ishmael

The founding of Mecca by Abraham and Ishmael is so clearly a legendary fiction, that we need not have adverted to it at all except to enquire in what facts or popular notions it took its rise. The outline of the legend, interwoven as usual with a profuse variety of circumstantial colouring, is as follows. The wandering Hagar reaches with her boy the valley of Mecca; in the agonies of thirst she hastes to and fro from the little bill of Marwa to that of Safa, seeking for water. Ishmael, whom she has left on the ground lamenting, kicks around him in childish passion, when lo! the spot thus struck bubbles forth in a sweet and limpid stream beneath his feet; it is the well of Zamzam.


A tribe of Amalekites are tempted by the fountain to the place, and among them the youthful Ishmael grows up. On an,eminence in the vicinity, Abraham, in fulfilment of the divine behest communicated in a dream, was about to offer up his son, when his arm was stayed, and a vicarious sacrifice was prescribed, and accepted from him. The youth was married to an Amalekite wife, but during the absence of her husband she proved inhospitable to Abraham, who chanced to arrive as a guest: at the monition of the offended patriarch, Ishmael put her away, and married another.

Bani Jorhom and Bani Catura

Two Yemen tribes, the Jorhom and Catura, about this time arrived in the vicinity; the wicked Amalekites, who vainly opposed their settlement, were expelled by a plague of ants, and the strangers succeeded to their place. It was with the daughter of the Jorhom Chief that Ishmael celebrated his second nuptials. On a subsequent visit, Abraham assisted by his son proceeded to erect the Kabba, and to reconstitute the ancient rites of pilgrimage on the sacred spot. After Ishmael and his son Nabit (Nebaioth), the management of the temple devolved on Modadh the Jorhom Chief, who held the imposts of the northern or upper part of Mecca, while Samayda the Catura Chief held the southern.

The Amalekites and Bani Catur expelled

But a quarrel having arisen between the two tribes, the Bani Jorhom, aided by the descendants of Ishmael 1, expelled the Bani Catura who joined, and were lost amongst, the Amalekites.

The Bani Jorhom and Ishmealite unite and constitute the Musidriba.

From this point (which the juxtaposition with Ishmael would make at least 2000 years anterior to Mahomet) to Adnan, who lived a little before the Christian era, the legend is blank: and although the ready pen of the traditionists has filled up the space by a list of Mahomet's

Fictitious character of the genealogy prior to the Christian era

progenitors derived from Jewish sources, yet Mahomet himself never traced his pedigree higher than Anan, and declared that all who went further back were guilty of fabrication and falshood 2.

Even in the time of Adnan legend is suppositious: his era (130 B.C.) being confounded with that of Nebuchadnezzar (577 B.C.)

Even in the time of Adnan we find ourselves encompassed with legend and with doubt. Bakht-nassar, or Nebuchadnezzar, according to the traditionists, attacked Arabia and, having Adnan and the Jorhomites, devastated Mecca and carried off to Babylon a multitude of captives. But Providence watched over Adnan's son Maadd whom, by the command of the Lord, Eremia and Abrakhia (Jeremiah and Baruch) took with them and nurtured safely in the land of Harran. But between Mahomet and Adnan there is an ascertained interval or only eighteen generations, so that by careful calculation the birth of Adnan cannot be assigned to an earlier date than 180 B.C. 3; while the ravages of Nebuchadnezzar's army occurred B.C. 577 4. Thus, even in events comparatively modem, legend spurns the limitations of reason and chronology.

Dynasty of Jorhomite kings of Mecca, 100 B.C. 200 A.D.

After the expulsion of the Bani Catura, the Jorhomites remained supreme at Mecca, and a list of their kings is given for nine generations, that is for nearly three centuries, beginning about 100 B.C. 5. During this period, in which (according to the language of the Moslems), the Jorhomites usurped the privileges of the Kaaba, of right belonging to the descendants of Ishmael, the following successions took place among the ancestry of the Coreish 6.

Adnan, 130 B.C.; Maudd, 97 B.C.

ADNAN begot two sons, Maadd and Akk. The descendants of Akk moved to the south of Jidda, and mingled with the Yemenites.

Maudd, 97 B.C.

MAADD 7 had four grandsons, Modhar, Rabia, Iyad and Anmar, each distinguished by a most prolific progeny, which was destined to play a conspicuous part in various quarters of the peninsula.

Of the two last, the posterity spread from Yemen to Irac 8. From Rabia sprang several notable tribes, viz. the Bani Abd al Gays, who, eventually passed over to Bahrein on the Persian Gulph; the Anaza 9, who to this day overspread Arabia: the Bani Namir ibn Casit, who settled in Mesopotamia; and finally the Bani Bakr and Bani Taghlib sons of Wail, with their numerous branches, whose wars, famous in the annals of Arabia, will be alluded to hereafter.

Modhar, 31 B.C.; Eilyas, A.D. 2; Mudrika, A.D. 35; Khozaima A.D. 68; Kinana, AD. 101; Nadhr, 134 A.D.; Fihr Coreish, 200 A.D.

MODHAR had two sons, Eliyads, and Aylan the father of Cays. From Cays descended the powerful tribes of the Bani Adwan, Chatafan, Suleim, Hawazin, and Thackif.

The descendants of ELIYAS, who was born about the beginning of the Christian era, are, from their Codhaite mother, termed the Bani Khindif; one of them, Tabikha, was progenitor of the Bani Mozaina, and of the Bani Tamim, famous in the history of Najd.

Another son of Eliyas, called MUDRIKA, was the father of Khozaima and Hodzail. The latter was the ancestor of the Bani Hodzail, distinguished in the annals both of war and of poetry, and, as we learn from Burkhardt, still occupying under the same name the environs of Mecca 10.

KHOZAMIA begot Asad and Kinana. The Bani Asad retired to Najd, but were subsequently expelled by Yemen tribes. They eventually returned to the Hejar, where they bore a prominent part in opposing the arms of Mahomet.

KINANA had six sons, and each became the chief of a numerous family. Among them was Abu Monat the father of Bakr and, through him, of the Bani Duil, Laith, and Dhamra11. But the most illustrious of his sons was NADHR, the grandfather of FIHR, surnamed Coreish 12, and the ancestor, at the distance of eight generations, of the famous Cusaai (born 400 A.D.)

Appearance of the Azdites, end of 2nd century

Up to the era of Nadhr or of his son Malik, that is to the end of the second century, the Jorhomites retained their supremecy. About that period the migration of the Bani Azd from Yemen, repeatedly mentioned above 13, took place. The horde of Azdite adventurers entered the Hejaz, and settled at Batn Marr, a valley near Mecca.

The Jorhomites unsuccessfully attempt to repel them

The Jorhomites, jealous of these neighbours, endeavoured to expel them, but were worsted in the attempt. At the same time the Maaddite 14 tribes (or ancestors of the Coreish,) were engaged in a similar but more successful struggle with a body of Codhaite adventurers, who were endeavouring to establish themselves between Mecca and Taif.

Codhaite immigrants repelled by the Coreish

The Codhaites, finding that they could not maintain the contest, retired, as before noticed, towards Syria and Bahrein 15.

The Azdites leave a colony, the Khozza, at Mecca

Meanwhile a part of the Azdites (the Bani Ghassan, Aws, and Kazraj) spontaneously quitted Batn Marr and proceeded towards Syria 16. Those that were left behind, thence styled the Bani Khozaa (the "remanent,") settled permanently at Mecca under the command of Amr son of Lohai and great-grandson of Amr Mozaikia 17. With the Khozaa, the Meccan families descended from Bakr son of Abd Monat, and the Bani Iyad, combined; and

The Khozaa combine with certain Coreish tribes and expel the Jorhomites, 206, A.D.

falling upon the Jorhomites, slaughtered and expelled them from the country. Modhad, the last king of the Jorhom dynasty, before his departure, or some time previously, when he foresaw that his people would be overthrown for their flagrant wickedness, buried in the vicinity of the Kaaba, and close to the well Zamzam (by this time probably choked up), his treasures consisting of two gazelles of gold, with swords and suits of armour 18. These events occurred about 206 A.D.

The Bani Iyad unsuccessfully aim at the government and emirate to the East

The Bani Iyad then contended with the other descendants of Maad for the charge of the Kaaba, now vacated by the Jorhomites; but they were defeated in the struggle, and emigrated towards Irac, where, as has been shown 19, they took part in the establishment of the kingdom of Hira.

Government of Mecca held by the Khozaa, 207-440 A.D.

But the children of Maadd, the forefathers or the Coreish were destined to be still excluded from the administration of the Kaaba and of Mecca: for, about 207 A.D. the government was seized upon by their allies the Bani Kozaa, whose chief Amr and his

Three of the offices connected with the Kaaba retained by Maaddite tribes

descendants retained it for upwards of two centuries 20. Still, three important offices were secured by the Maadite tribes ; -- First, the NASAA or commutation of the holy months, and intercalation of the year, held by a descendant of Kinana; Second, the IJAZA, or making the signal and arrangements for the departure of the pilgrims from Mount Arafat and Mina, performed by the Bani Sufa, descendants of Tabikha and Elyas; Third, the IFADHA, or heading the procession from Muzdalifa, enjoyed by the Bani Adwan 21.

The Coreish come to power in the person of Cussai, middle of 5th century

Such continued to be the position of parties till the beginning of the fifth century, by which time the Coreish had so greatly advanced in numbers and power as to rival their Khozaaite rulers. It was reserved for CUSSAI (the progenitor of Mahomet at the distance of five generations), to assert the real or imaginary right of his tribe to the guardianship of the Kaaba and the government of Mecca. The outline of his romantic story is as follows: --

Story , of CUSSAI, born A.D. 400

KHAB 22, the fifth in descent from Fihr Coreish, died; leaving two sons, Zohra and Zeid, the former grown up, the latter, who was born about 400 A.D., yet an infant. His widow married a man

His mother takes him as a child to the Bani Odzra in the desert

of the Bani Odzra, a Codhaite tribe, and followed him with little Zeid to her new home in the highlands of Syria, where she gave birth to another child called Rizah. When Zeid grew up he was named Cussai, because of the separation from his father's house; but at last, learning the noble rank of his ancestry, he

When grown up he returns to Mecca

resolved to return to Mecca, and travelled thither with a company of the Odzra pilgrims. At Mecca he was recognized by his brother Zohra, and at once received into the position which his birth entitled him to hold 23.

Cussai gains influence and marries the daughter of the Khozaite king

Cussai was a man of commanding person, and of an energetic and ambitious temper. He was treated with great distinction by Holeil the Khozaite King, who gave him his daughter Hobba in marriage, and permitted him, or his wife, to assume the immediate management of the Kaaba, and perhaps some functions attaching to the government of the city. On the death of Holeil, Cussai, who had now four grown up sons and had rapidly advanced to wealth and influence, perceived his opportunity, and, having

He binds the Coreish in a league to support him

canvassed among the Coreish for support, bound them together in a secret league. He also wrote to his brother Rizah to aid him at the ensuing pilgrimage, with an armed band of the Bani Odzra; for even then the Khozaa are said to have outnumbered the Coreish 24.

Cussai claims office of Ijaza, i.e. the marshaling and heading the pilgrims as they leave

Cussai first opened these clandesthe measures by the sudden and violent assertion of his claim to the Ijaza, or right of dismissing the assembled Arab tribes from Mina when the ceremonies of the pilgrimnge were finished. From remote times it had been the office of the Bani Sufa (a distant branch collateral with the Coreish) to repress the impatient pilgrims on their return from Arafat; to take the precedence in flinging stones at Mina; and, having marshalled the order of departure, themselves to lead the dispersing multitudes.

The Sufa, after a sharp contest, yield the office to Cussai

On the present occasion the Bani Sufa, stationed on the eminence of Ackaba in the defile of Mina, were on the point of giving the usual command for breaking up the assembly when Cussai stepped forth and claimed the privilege. It was disputed. Weapons were drawn, and after a sharp encounter, in which Rizah with 300 of the Bani Odzra rushed to the succour of Cussai, the Sufa yielded their office with the victory to their opponent.

Cussai, supported by the Coreish, fights with the Khozaa; they submit to arbitration; the Kabba; with the government, is awarded to Cussai

The Khozaa looked on with jealousy at the usurpation of prescriptive right, and began to entertain suspicions that Cussai would seek to snatch from them their own hereditary title to the supremacy over the Hejaz. They prepared to resist, and associated with themselves the Bani Bakr25, their old allies in the expulsion of the Jorhomites. The Coreish rallied round Cussai, who was again supported by Rizah and his comrades. A second, but more general and bloody action ensued. The field remained uncertain, for the carnage was great on both sides, and the combatants mutually called for a truce, surrendering the decision of their claims into the hands of Amr, an aged sage. The umpire, though of Bani Bakr descent, affirmed the pretensions of Cussai; yielded to him the guardianship of the Kaaba and the government of Mecca; and, still more strongly to mark the justice of his position, decreed the price of blood for all men killed on the side of Cussai, while the dead on the other side were to pass unavenged by fine 26.

Cussai assumes the government 440 A.D. assembles the scattered Coreish and settles them at Mecca

Thus, about the middle of the fifth century (perhaps in 440 A.D.) the command of Mecca passed into the hands of Cussai. The first act of his authority, after the Khozaa and Bani Bakr had evacuated Mecca, and the Odzra allies had taken their leave, was to bring within the villey his kinsmen of Coreish descent, many of whom had previously lived in the surrounnding glens and mountains 27. The town was laid out anew, and to each family was allotted a separate quarter, which they retained with such tenacity that the same partition was still in force in the time of Mahometan historians. So large an influx of inhabitants, added to the regular distribution of the land, swelled the city far beyond its previous bounds; and the site of the new habitations trenched upon the acacias and brushwood of the valley 28. The superstition of the place had invested the trees with so peculiar a sanctity that the people feared to remove them. Cussai, superior to such scruples, seized a hatchet, the Coreish followed his example, and the wilderness was soon cleared. From erecting the re-union of his clan, Cussai was called Mujammi or the "Gatherer 29."

The town hall. Cussai its President, Liwa

The next civic work of Cussai was to build a Council House or Town Hall called Dar-al-Nadwa, near the Kaaba and with its porch opening towards it 30. Here all practical movements were discussed, and social ceremonies solemnized. In the Town Hall girls first assumed the dress of womanhood, and there marriages were celebrated. From thence all caravans set forth; and thither the traveller, on returning from his journey, first bent his steps.

When war was resolved upon, it was there that the banner (Liwa) was mounted upon its staff by Cussai himself, or by one of his sons. The assumption of the presidency in the Hall of Council rivetted the authority of Cussai as the Sheikh of Mecca and Governor of the country; "and his ordinances were obeyed and venerated, as people obey and venerate the observances of religion, both before and after his death31."

Other offices assumed by Cussai

Besides these civil offices, Cussai possessed the chief religious diginities connected with the Meccan worship. The Hijaba gave him the keys, and the control of.the Kaaba; the Sicaya or giving drink to the pilgrims, and the Rifada or providing them with food, were his sole prerogatives, and in the eyes of the generous Arabs invested his name with a peculiar lustre. During the pilgrimage, leather cisterns were placed at Mecca, at Mina, and at Arafat32; and he stimulated the liberality of the inhabitants

Providing food and drink for the pilgrims

to subscribe annually an ample fund, which was expended by himself in the gratuitous distribution of food to the pilgrims. He did not assume the minor offices of marshalling the processions on the ceremonial tour to Arafat (though it was ostensibly for one of those offices that he first drew the sword), nor the post of Nasa, the office of commuting the holy months 33 ; but as he was the paramount authority, these duties were no doubt executed in strict subordination to his will. 'Thus;' writes Tabari, "he maintained the Arabs in the performance of all the prescriptive rites of pilgrimage, because he believed them in his heart to be a religion which it belioved him not to alter34."

Religious observances of the Kaaba

The religious observances, thus perpetuated by Cussai, were in substance the same as in the time of Mahomet, and with some modifications the same as we still find practised at the present day. The grand centre of the religion was the Kaaba; to visit which, to kiss the black stone, and to make seven circuits round the sacred edifice, was at all times regarded as a holy privilege.

Omra or lesser pilgrimage

The LESSER pilgrimage (Omra or Hajj at Asghar), which includes these acts and the rite of hastily passing to and fro seven times between the little hills of Safa and Marwa close by the Kaaba, may be performed with merit at any season of the year, but especially in the sacred month of Rajab which forms a break in the middle of the eight secular months. Before entering the sacred territory, the votary assumes the pilgrim garb (ihram), and at the conclusion of the ceremonies shaves his head, and pares his nails.

Hajj or greater pilgrimage

The GREATER pilgrimage (Hajj al Akbar) involves all the ceremonies of the lesser, but can be performed only in the holy month pilgrimage Dzul Hijja. It requires the additional rite of pilgrimage to Arafat, a small eminence composed of granite rocks in a valley within the mountainous tract ten or twelve miles east of Mecca35. The pilgrims start from Mecca on the 8th of the month, spend the 9th at Arafat, and the same evening hurry back three or four miles to a spot named Muzdalifa. Next morning they proceed about half way to Meca, and spend at Mina the two or three succeeding days. Small stones are repeatedly cast by all the pilgrims at certain objects in the Miuft valley, and the pilgrimage is concluded by the sacrifice of a victim.

The sacred environs of Mecca, and the four holy months

The sacred The country for a distance of several miles around Mecca was called Haram or inviolable, and from time immemorial had been so regarded. The institution of four sacred months formed also an ancient, perhaps an original, part of the system. During three consecutive months (viz. the last two of one year and the first of the following)36, and during the seventh month (Rajab), war was by unanimous consent suspended, hostile feelings were suppressed, and an universal amnesty reigned over Arabia. Pilgrims from every quarter were then free to repair to Mecca; and fairs throughout the country were thronged by those whom merchandize, or the contests of poetry and vainglory brouglit together.

The luni-solar year of Mecca

There is reason to suppose that the Mecean year was originally lunar, and so continued till the beginning of the fifth century, when in imitation of the Jews it was turned, by the interjection of a month at the close of every third year (Nasa), into a luni-solar period37. If by this change it was intended to make the season of pilgrimage correspond invariably with the autumn, when a supply of food for the vast muititude would be easily procurable, that object was defeated by the remaining imperfection of the cycle; for the year being still shorter by one day and a fraction than the real year each recurring season accelerated the time of pilgrimage: so that when, after two centuries, intercalation was prohibited by Mahomet (A.D. 631), the days of pilgrimage had moved from October gradually backward to March.

Commutation of a sacred for a secular month

Coupled with this, and styled by the same name (Nasa), was the privilege of commuting the last of the three continuous sacred months, for the one succeeding it (Safar), in which case Moharram became secular, and Safar sacred. It is probable that this innovation was introduced by Cussai, who wished, by abridging the long three months' cessation of hostilities, to humour the war-like Arabs, as well as to obtain for himself the power of holding Moharram either sacred or secular, as might best suit his purpose38.

Farther enquiry into the origin of the Kaaba and its worship

In reviewing the history of Mecca and its religion, the origin of the temple and worship demands further scrutiny. The Mahometans attribute both to Abraham and Ishmael, and connect a part of their ceremonial with biblical legends; but the traditional narrative I have already shown to be a mere fable, devoid of probability and of consistency39. The following considerations will strengthen the conviction that Mecca and its rites cannot possibly claim any such origin.

No Abrahamic element traceable in the main ceremonies of the Kabba

First. There is no trace or anything Abrahamic in the essential elements of the superstition. To kiss the black stone, to make the circuit of the Kaaba, and perform the other observances at Mecca, Arafat, and the vale of Mina, to keep the sacred months, and to hallow the sacred territory, have no conceivable connection with Abraham, or with the ideas and principles which his descendants would be likely to inherit from him. Such rites originated in causes foreign to the country chiefly occupied by the children of Abraham. They were either strictly local, or being connected with the system of idolatry prevailing in the south of the peninsula, were thence imported by the Bani Jorhom, the Catura, the Azdites, or some other tribe which emigrated from Yemen and settled at Mecca.

Remote antiquity of the Kaaba

Second. A very high antiquity must be assigned to the main features of the religion of Mecca. Although Herodotus does not refer to the Kaaba, yet he names, as one of the chief Arab divinities ALLAT; and this is strong evidence of the worship, at that early period, of Allat the Meccan idol40. He makes likewise a distant allusion to the veneration of the Arabs for stones41. Diodorus Siculus, who wrote about half a century before our era, in describing that part of Arabia washed by the Red Sea, uses the following language: - "there is, in this country, a temple greatly revered by all the Arabs."42 These words must refer to the holy house of Mecca, for we know of no other which ever commanded the universal homage of Arabia. Early historical tradition (for we make of course no account of the legendary and mythical tradition which ascends to Noah, to Adam, and even to remoter periods,) gives no trace of its first construction. Some assert that the Amalekites rebuilt the edifice which they found in ruins, and retained it for a time under their charge43. All agree that it was in existence under the Jorhom dynasty 44 (about the time of the Christian era), and that, having been injured by a flood of rain, it was then repaired. It was again repaired by Cussai.

Wide extent of the worship of the Kabba; connected with the Systems native to Arabia

From time immemorial, tradition represents Mecca as the scene of a yearly pilgrimage from all quarters of Arabia; - from Yemen, Hadhramaut, and the shores of the Persian Gulph, from the deserts of Syria, and from the distant environs of Hira and Mesopotamia. The circuit of its veneration might be described by the radius of a thousand miles, interrupted only by the sea. So extensive an homage must have had its beginnings in an extremely remote age; and a similar antiquity must be ascribed to the essential concomitants of the Meccan worship,--the Kaaba with its black stone, the sacred limits, and the holy months. The origin of a superstition so ancient and universal may naturally be looked for within the peninsula itself, and not in any foreign country.

Third. The native systems of Arabia were Sabeanism, Idolatry, and Stone worship, all closely connected with the religion of Mecca.

1. Sabeanism

There is reason for believing that Sabeanism, or the worship of the heavenly bodies, was in Arabia, the earliest form of departure from the pure adoration of the deity. The book of Job, many historical notices, and certain early names in the Himyar dynasty, imply the prevalence of the system45. As late as the fourth century, we have seen that sacrifices were offered in Yemen to the sun, moon, and stars46. The seven circuits of the Kaaba were probably emblematical of the revolutions of the planetary bodies; and it is remarkable that a similiar rite was practised at other idol fanes in Arabia47.

2. Idolatry

Mahomet is related to have said that Amr son of Lohai (the first Khozahite king, A.D. 200,) was the earliest who dared to change the pure "religion of Ishmael," and set up idols brought from Syria. This however is a mere Moslem conceit, The practice of idolatry thickly overspread the whole peninsula from a much more remote period. We have authentic records of ancient idolatrous shrines scattered from Yemen to Duma, and even as far as Hira, some of them subordinate to the Kaaba and having rites resembling those of Mecca48. A system thus widely diffused and thoroughly organized, cannot but have existed in Arabia long before the time of Amr Ibn Lohai, and may well be regarded as of an indigenous growth.

3. Stone-worship

The most singular feature in the Fetichism of Arabia was the adoration paid to unshapen stones. The Mahometruis hold that the general practice arose out of the Kaaba worship. "The adoration of stones among the Ishmaelites;' says Ibn Ishac, "originated in the practice of carrying a stone from the sacred enclosure of Mecca when they went upon a journey, out of reverence to the Kaaba; and whithersoever they went they set it up and made circuits round about it as to the Kaaba, till at the last they worshipped every goodly stone which they saw, and forgot their religion, and changed the faith of Abraham and Ishmael, and worshipped images.49" This tendency to stone-worship was undoubtedly prevalent throughout Arabia; but it is more probable that it occasioned the superstition of the Kaaba with its black stone, than that it took its rise from that superstition.

Supposed history of the rise or Mecca and its religion

Thus the religion of Mecca, in its essential points, is connected strictly with forms of superstition native to Arabia, and we may naturally conclude that it grew out of them. The process may be thus imagined. Mecca owed its origin and importance to its convenient position, midway between Yemen and Petra. It has been shown above that, from ancient times, the merchandise of the east and south passed through Arabia; and the vale of Mecca lay upon the usual western route. The plentiful supply of water attracted the caravans50; it became a halting place, and then an entrepot of commerce; a mercantile population with the conveniences of traffic grew up in the vicinity, and eventually a change of carriage took place there, the merchandise being conveyed to the north and to the south on different sets of camels. The carrier's hire, the frontier customs, the dues of protection51, and the profits of direct traffic, added capital to the city which probably rivalled, though in a more simple and primitive style, the opulence and the extent of Petra, Jerash, or Philadelphia 52. The earliest inhabitants were (like the Bani Catura, Jorhom, and Khozaa, though long anterior to them), natives of Yemen, and the ever flowing traffic maintained a permanent intercourse between them and their mother country. From Yemen no doubt they brought with them, or subsequently received, Sabeanism, Stone worship, and Idolatry. These became connected with the well of Zamzam, the source of their prosperity; and near to it they erected their fane, with its symbolical sabeanism and mysterious black stone. Local rites were superadded; but it was Yemen, the cradle of the Arabs, which furnished the normal elements of the system. The mercantile eminence of Mecca, while it attracted the Bedouins of Central Arabia with their camels by the profits of the carrying trade, by degrees imparted a national character to the local superstition, till at last it became the religion of Arabia. When the southern trade deserted this channel, the mercantile prestige of Mecca vanished and its opulence decayed, but the Kaaba still continued the national temple of the peninsula. The floating population betook themselves to the desert; and the native tribe (the ancestry of the Coreish) were overpowered by such southern immigrants as the Jorhom and Khozaa dynasties; till at last Cussai arose to vindicate the honour, and re-establish the influence, of the house of Mecca.

How, the above theory reconciled with the legend of the Abrahamic origin of the Kabba?

But according to this theory, how shall we account for the tradition current among the Arabs, that the temple and its rites were indebted for their origin to Abraham and Ishmael? This was no Moslem fiction, but the popular opinion of the Meccans long before the era of Mahomet. Otherwise, it could not have been referred to in the Coran as an acknowledged fact; nor would the names of certain spots around the Kaaba have been connected, as we know them to have been, with Abraham and with Ishmael53.

Supposed origin of Abrahamic legend in connection with the Kabba

The reply to this question has been anticipated in the preceeding chapter54. We have there seen reason to believe that the Yemenite Arabs were early and extensively commingled with the Abrahamic tribes, and that a branch descended from Abraham, probably through Ishmael, settled at Mecca, and became allied with the Yemenite race. The Nabatheans, or some other mercantile nation of this stock, attracted to Mecca by its gainful position, brought along with them the Abrahamic legends which intercourse with the Jews had tended to revive and perpetuate. The mingled race of Abraham and of Cahtan required such a modification of the original Meccan religion as would correspond with their double descent. Hence Abrahamic legends were naturally grafted upon the indigenous worship, and rites of sacrifice and other ceremonies were now for the first time introduced, or at any rate now first associated with the memory of Abraham.

Combination of the Abrahamic legend with the local superstition

The Jews themselves were also largely settled in Northern Arabia, where they acquired a considerable influence. There were extensive colonies about Medina and Kheibar, in Wadi al Cora, and on the shores of the Aelanitic gulph. They maintained a constant and friendly intercourse with Mecca and the Arab tribes55. who looked with respect and veneration upon their religion and their holy books. When once the loose conception of Abraham and Ishmael as the great forefathers of the race on one side, was superimposed upon the Meccan superstition, and had received the stamp of native currency, it will easily be conceived that even purely Jewish tradition would be eagerly welcomed and Jewish legend unscrupulously adopted. By a summary and procrustean adjustment, the story of Palestine became the story of the Hejaz. The precincts of the Kaaba were hallowed as the scene of Hagar's distress, and the sacred well Zamzam as the source of her relief. It was Abraham and Ishmael who built the Meccan Temple, placed in it the black stone, and established for all mankind the pilgrimage to Arafat. In imitation of him it was that stones were flung by the pilgrims at Satan; and sacrifices were offered at Mina in remembrance of the vicarious sacrifice by Abraham in the stead of his son Ishmael. And thus, although the indigenous rites may have been little if at all altered by the adoption of the Abrahamic legends, they came to be viewed in a totally different

Vantage ground thus gained by Mahomet

light, and to be connected in the Arab imagination with something of the sanctity of Abraham the Friend of God56. The gulph between the gross Idolatry of the Arabs and the pure theism of Israel was bridged over. Upon this common ground Mahomet took his stand, and proclaimed to his people a new and a spiritial system, in accents to which all Arabia could respond. The rites of the Kaaba were retained, but stripped by him of every idolatrous tendency; and they still hang, a strange unmeaning shroud, around the living theism of Islam.

The Life of Mahomet, Volume I [Table of Contents]