Rulership and Princeship among the Arabs

Rulership and Princeship among the Arabs

When talking about the Arabs before Islam,we deem it necessary to draw a mini-picture of the history of rulership, princeship, sectarianism and the religious dominations of the Arabs, so as to facilitate the understanding of emergent circumstances when Islam appeared.

When the sun of Islam rose, rulers of Arabia were of two kinds: crowned kings, who were in fact not independent; and heads of tribes and clans, who enjoyed the same authorities and privileges possessed by crowned kings and were mostly independent, though some of whom could have shown some kind of submission to a crowned king. The crowned kings were only those of Yemen, Heerah and Ghassan. All other rulers of Arabia were non-crowned.

Rulership in Yemen

The folks of Sheba were one of the oldest nations of the pure Arabs, who lived in Yemen. Excavations at "Or" brought to light their existence twenty five centuries B.C. Their civilization flourished, and their domain spread eleven centuries B.C.

It is possible to divide their ages according to the following estimation:

  1. The centuries before 650 B.C., during which their kings were called "Makrib Sheba". Their capital was "Sarwah", also known as "Khriba", whose ruins lie in a spot, a day’s walk from the western side of "Ma’rib". During this period, they started building the "Dam of Ma’rib" which had great importance in the history of Yemen. Sheba was also said to have had so great a domain that they had colonies inside and outside Arabia.
  2. From 650 B.C. until 115 B.C. During this era, they gave up the name "Makrib" and assumed the designation of "Kings of Sheba". They also made Ma’rib their capital instead of Sarwah. The ruins of Ma’rib lie at a distance of sixty miles east of San‘a.
  3. From 115 B.C. until 300 A.D. During this period, the tribe of Himyar conquered the kingdom of Sheba and took Redan for capital instead of Ma’rib. Later on, Redan was called "Zifar". Its ruins still lie on Mudawwar Mountain near the town of "Yarim". During this period, they began to decline and fall. Their trade failed to a very great extent, firstly, because of the Nabetean domain over the north of Hijaz; secondly, because of the Roman superiority over the naval trade routes after the Roman conquest of Egypt, Syria and the north of Hijaz; and thirdly, because of the inter-tribal warfare. Thanks to the three above-mentioned factors, families of Qahtan were disunited and scattered out.
  4. From 300 A.D. until Islam dawned on Yemen. This period witnessed a lot of disorder and turmoil. The great many and civil wars rendered the people of Yemen liable to foreign subjection and hence loss of independence. During this era, the Romans conquered ‘Adn and even helped the Abyssinians (Ethiopians) to occupy Yemen for the first time in 340 A.D., making use of the constant intra-tribal conflict of Hamdan and Himyar. The Abyssinian (Ethiopian) occupation of Yemen lasted until 378 A.D., whereafter Yemen regained its independence. Later on, cracks began to show in Ma’rib Dam which led to the Great Flood (450 or 451 A.D.) mentioned in the Noble Qur’ân. This was a great event which caused the fall of the entire Yemeni civilization and the dispersal of the nations living therein.

In 523, Dhu Nawas, a Jew, despatched a great campaign against the Christians of Najran in order to force them to convert into Judaism. Having refused to do so, they were thrown alive into a big ditch where a great fire had been set. The Qur’ân referred to this event:

"Cursed were the people of the ditch." [Al-Qur'an 85:4]

This aroused great wrath among the Christians, and especially the Roman emperors, who not only instigated the Abyssinians (Ethiopians) against Arabs but also assembled a large fleet which helped the Abyssinian (Ethiopian) army, of seventy thousand warriors, to effect a second conquest of Yemen in 525 A.D., under the leadership of Eriat, who was granted rulership over Yemen, a position he held until he was assassinated by one of his army leaders, Abraha, who, after reconciliation with the king of Abyssinia, took rulership over Yemen and, later on, deployed his soldiers to demolish Al-Ka‘bah, and , hence, he and his soldiers came to be known as the "Men of the Elephant".

After the "Elephant" incident, the people of Yemen, under the leadership of Ma‘dikarib bin Saif Dhu Yazin Al-Himyari, and through Persian assistance, revolted against the Abyssinian (Ethiopian) invaders, restored independence and appointed Ma‘dikarib as their king. However, Ma‘dikarib was assassinated by an Abyssinian (Ethiopian) he used to have him around for service and protection. The family of Dhu Yazin was thus deprived of royalty forever. Kisra, the Persian king, appointed a Persian ruler over San‘a and thus made Yemen a Persian colony. Persian rulers maintained rulership of Yemen until Badhan, the last of them, embraced Islam in 638 A.D., thus terminating the Persian domain over Yemen.

Rulership in Heerah

Ever since Korosh the Great (557-529 B.C.) united the Persians, they ruled Iraq and its neighbourhood. Nobody could shake off their authority until Alexander the Great vanquished their king Dara I and thus subdued the Persians in 326 B.C. Persian lands were thenceforth divided and ruled by kings known as "the Kings of Sects", an era which lasted until 230 A.D. Meanwhile, the Qahtanians occupied some Iraqi territories, and were later followed by some ‘Adnanians who managed to share some parts of Mesopotamia with them.

The Persians, under the leadership of Ardashir, who had established the Sasanian state in 226 A.D, regained enough unity and power to subdue the Arabs living in the vicinity of their kingdom, and force Quda‘a to leave for Syria , leaving the people of Heerah and Anbar under the Persian domain.

During the time of Ardashir, Juzaima Alwaddah exercised rulership over Heerah, Rabi‘a and Mudar, and Mesopotamia. Ardashir had reckoned that it was impossible for him to rule the Arabs directly and prevent them from attacking his borders unless he appointed as king one of them who enjoyed support and power of his tribe. He had also seen that he could make use of them against the Byzantine kings who always used to harass him. At the same time, the Arabs of Iraq could face the Arabs of Syria who were in the hold of Byzantine kings. However, he deemed it fit to keep a Persian battalion under command of the king of Heerah to be used against those Arabs who might rebel against him.

After the death of Juzaima around 268 A.D., ‘Amr bin ‘Adi bin Nasr Al-Lakhmi was appointed as king by the Persian King Sabour bin Ardashir. ‘Amr was the first of the Lakhmi kings who ruled Heerah until the Persians appointed Qabaz bin Fairuz in whose reign appeared someone called Mazdak, who called for dissoluteness in social life. Qabaz, and many of his subjects, embraced Mazdak’s religion and even called upon the king of Heerah, Al-Munzir bin Ma’ As-Sama’, to follow after. When the latter, because of his pride and self-respect, rejected their orders, Qabaz discharged him and nominated Harith bin ‘Amr bin Hajar Al-Kindi, who had accepted the Mazdaki doctrine..

No sooner did Kisra Anu Shairwan succeed Qabaz than he, due to hatred of Mazdak’s philosophy, killed Mazdak and many of his followers, restored Munzir to the throne of Heerah and gave orders to summon under arrest Harith who sought refuge with Al-Kalb tribe where he spent the rest of his life.

Sons of Al-Munzir bin Ma’ As-Sama’ maintained kingship a long time until An-Nu‘man bin Al-Munzir took over. Because of a calumny borne by Zaid bin ‘Adi Al-‘Abbadi, the Persian king got angry with An-Nu‘man and summoned him to his palace. An-Nu‘man went secretly to Hani bin Mas‘ud, chief of Shaiban tribe, and left his wealth and family under the latter’s protection, and then presented himself before the Persian king, who immediately threw him into prison where he perished. Kisra, then, appointed Eyas bin Qubaisa At-Ta’i as king of Heerah. Eyas was ordered to tell Hani bin Mas‘ud to deliver An-Nu‘man’s charge up to Kisra. No sooner than had the Persian king received the fanatically motivated rejection on the part of the Arab chief, he declared war against the tribe of Shaiban and mobilized his troops and warriors under the leadership of King Eyas to a place called Dhee Qar which witnessed a most furious battle wherein the Persians were severely routed by the Arabs for the first time in history. That was very soon after the birth of Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) eight months after Eyas bin Qubaisah’s rise to power over Heerah.

After Eyas, a Persian ruler was appointed over Heerah, but in 632 A.D. the authority there returned to the family of Lukhm when Al-Munzir Al-Ma‘rur took over. Hardly had the latter’s reign lasted for eight months when Khalid bin Al-Waleed fell upon him with Muslim soldiers. [Muhadrat Tareekh Al-Umam Al-Islamiyah 1/29-32]

Rulership in Geographical Syria

In the process of the tribal emigrations, some septs of Quda‘a reached the borders of Syria where they settled down. They belonged to the family of Sulaih bin Halwan, of whose offspring were the sons of Duj‘am bin Sulaih known as Ad-Duja‘ima. Such septs of Quda‘a were used by the Byzantines in the defence of the Byzantine borders against both Arab Bedouin raiders and the Persians, and enjoyed autonomy for a considerable phase of time which is said to have lasted for the whole second century A.D. One of their most famous kings was Zyiad bin Al-Habula. Their authority however came to an end upon defeat by the Ghassanides who were consequently granted the proxy rulership over the Arabs of Syria and had Dumat Al-Jandal as their headquarters, which lasted until the battle of Yarmuk in the year 13 A.H. Their last king Jabala bin Al-Aihum embraced Islam during the reign of the Chief of Believers, ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab [R].  [Muhadrat Tareekh Al-Umam Al-Islamiyah 1/34; Tareekh Ard Al-Qur'an 2/80-82]

Rulership in Hijaz

Ishmael (peace be upon him) administered authority over Makkah as well as custodianship of the Holy Sanctuary throughout his lifetime. Upon his death, at the age of 137, two of his sons, Nabet and Qidar, succeeded him. Later on, their maternal grandfather, Mudad bin ‘Amr Al-Jurhumi took over, thus transferring rulership over Makkah to the tribe of Jurhum, preserving a venerable position, though very little authority for Ishmael’s sons due to their father’s exploits in building the Holy Sanctuary, a position they held until the decline of the tribe of Jurhum shortly before the rise of Bukhtanassar. [Ibn Hisham 1/111]

The political role of the ‘Adnanides had begun to gain firmer grounds in Makkah, which could be clearly attested by the fact that upon Bukhtanassar’s first invasion of the Arabs in ‘Dhati ‘Irq’, the leader of the Arabs was not from Jurhum. [Qalb Jazeerat Al-Arab, p.230]

Upon Bukhtanassar’s second invasion in 587 B.C., however, the ‘Adnanides were frightened out to Yemen, while Burmia An-Nabi fled to Syria with Ma‘ad, but when Bukhtanassar’s pressure lessened, Ma‘ad returned to Makkah to find none of the tribe of Jurhum except Jursham bin Jalhamah, whose daughter, Mu‘ana, was given to Ma‘ad as wife who, later, had a son by him named Nizar. [Rahmat-ul-lil'alameen, 2/48]

On account of difficult living conditions and destitution prevalent in Makkah, the tribe of Jurhum began to ill-treat visitors of the Holy Sanctuary and extort its funds, which aroused resentment and hatred of the ‘Adnanides (sons of Bakr bin ‘Abd Munaf bin Kinana) who, with the help of the tribe of Khuza‘a that had come to settle in a neighbouring area called Marr Az-Zahran, invaded Jurhum and frightened them out of Makkah leaving rulership to Quda‘a in the middle of the second century A.D.

Upon leaving Makkah, Jurhum filled up the well of Zamzam, levelled its place and buried a great many things in it. ‘Amr bin Al-Harith bin Mudad Al-Jurhumi was reported by Ibn Ishaq, the well-known historian, to have buried the two gold deer together with the Black Stone as well as a lot of jewelry and swords in Zamzam, prior to their sorrowful escape to Yemen. [Ibn Hisham 1/114,115]

Ishmael’s epoch is estimated to have lasted for twenty centuries B.C., which means that Jurhum stayed in Makkah for twenty-one centuries and held rulership there for about twenty centuries.

Upon defeat of Jurhum, the tribe of Khuza‘a monopolized rulership over Makkah. Mudar tribes, however, enjoyed three privileges:

Khuza‘a’s reign in Makkah lasted for three hundred years, during which, the ‘Adnanides spread all over Najd and the sides of Bahrain and Iraq, while small septs of Quraish remained on the sides of Makkah; they were Haloul, Harum and some families of Kinana. They enjoyed no privileges in Makkah or in the Sacred House until the appearance of Qusai bin Kilab, whose father is said to have died when he was still a baby, and whose mother was subsequently married to Rabi‘a bin Haram, from the tribe of Bani ‘Udhra. Rabi‘a took his wife and her baby to his homeland on the borders of Syria. When Qusai became a young man, he returned to Makkah, which was ruled by Halil bin Habsha from Khuza‘a, who gave Qusai his daughter, Hobba, as wife. After Halil’s death, a war between Khuza‘a and Quraish broke out and resulted in Qusai’s taking hold of Makkah and the Sacred House. [Ibn Hisham 1/117]

The Reasons of this War have been illustrated in Three Versions

Qusai brought his kinspeople to Makkah and allocated it to them, allowing Quraish some dwellings there. An-Nus’a, the families of Safwan, Adwan, Murra bin ‘Awf preserved the same rights they used to enjoy before his arrival. [Ibn Hisham 1/124]

A significant achievement credited to Qusai was the establishment of An-Nadwa House (an assembly house) on the northern side of Al-Ka‘bah Mosque, to serve as a meeting place for Quraish. This very house had benefited Quraish a lot because it secured unity of opinions amongst them and cordial solution to their problem. [Ibn Hisham 1/125; Akhbar Al-Kiram p.152]

Qusai however enjoyed the following privileges of leadership and honour:

  1. Presiding over An-Nadwa House meetings where consultations relating to serious issues were conducted, and marriage contracts were announced.
  2. The Standard: He monopolized in his hand issues relevant to war launching.
  3. Doorkeeping of Al-Ka‘bah: He was the only one eligible to open its gate, and was responsible for its service and protection.
  4. Providing water for the Pilgrims: This means that he used to fill basins sweetened by dates and raisins for the pilgrims to drink.
  5. Feeding Pilgrims: This means making food for pilgrims who could not afford it. Qusai even imposed on Quraish annual land tax, paid at the season of pilgrimage, for food. [Ibn Hisham 1/130]

It is noteworthy however that Qusai singled out ‘Abd Manaf, a son of his, for honour and prestige though he was not his elder son (‘Abd Ad-Dar was), and entrusted him with such responsibilities as chairing of An-Nadwa House, the standard, the doorkeeping of Al-Ka‘bah, providing water and food for pilgrims. Due to the fact that Qusai’s deeds were regarded as unquestionable and his orders inviolable, his death gave no rise to conflicts among his sons, but it later did among his grand children, for no sooner than ‘Abd Munaf had died, his sons began to have rows with their cousins —sons of ‘Abd Ad-Dar, which would have given rise to dissension and fighting among the whole tribe of Quraish, had it not been for a peace treaty whereby posts were reallocated so as to preserve feeding and providing water for pilgrims for the sons of ‘Abd Munaf; while An-Nadwa House, the flag and the doorkeeping of Al-Ka‘bah were maintained for the sons of ‘Abd Ad-Dar. The sons of ‘Abd Munaf, however, cast the lot for their charge, and consequently left the charge of food and water giving to Hashim bin ‘Abd Munaf, upon whose death, the charge was taken over by a brother of his called Al-Muttalib bin ‘Abd Manaf and afterwards by ‘Abd Al-Muttalib bin Hashim, the Prophet’s grandfather, whose sons assumed this position until the rise of Islam, during which ‘Abbas bin ‘Abdul-Muttalib was in charge. [Ibn Hisham 1/129-179]

Many other posts were distributed among people of Quraish for establishing the pillars of a new democratic petite state with government offices and councils similar to those of today. Enlisted as follows are some of these posts.

  1. Casting the lots for the idols was allocated to Bani Jumah.
  2. Noting of offers and sacrifices, settlement of disputes and relevant issues were to lie in the hands of Bani Sahm.
  3. Consultation was to go to Bani Asad.
  4. Organization of blood-money and fines was with Bani Tayim.
  5. Bearing the national banner was with Bani Omaiyah.
  6. The military institute, footmen and cavalry would be Bani Makhzum’s responsibility.
  7. Bani ‘Adi would function as foreign mediators. [Tareekh Ard Al-Qur'an 2/104-106]

Rulership in Pan-Arabia

We have previously mentioned the Qahtanide and ‘Adnanide emigrations, and division of Arabia between these two tribes. Those tribes dwelling near Heerah were subordinate to the Arabian king of Heerah, while those dwelling in the Syrian semi-desert were under domain of the Arabian Ghassanide king, a sort of dependency that was in reality formal rather than actual. However, those living in the hinder deserts enjoyed full autonomy.

These tribes in fact had heads chosen by the whole tribe which was a demi-government based on tribal solidarity and collective interests in defence of land and property.

Heads of tribes enjoyed dictatorial privileges similar to those of kings, and were rendered full obedience and subordination in both war and peace. Rivalry among cousins for rulership, however, often drove them to outdo one another in entertaining guests, affecting generosity, wisdom and chivalry for the sole purpose of outranking their rivals, and gaining fame among people especially poets who were the official spokesmen at the time.

Heads of tribes and masters had special claims to spoils of war such as the quarter of the spoils, whatever he chose for himself, or found on his way back or even the remaining indivisible spoils.

The Political Situation

The three Arab regions adjacent to foreigners suffered great weakness and inferiority. The people there were either masters or slaves, rulers or subordinates. Masters, especially the foreigners, had claim to every advantage; slaves had nothing but responsibilities to shoulder. In other words, arbitrary autocratic rulership brought about encroachment on the rights of subordinates, ignorance, oppression, iniquity, injustice and hardship, and turning them into people groping in darkness and ignorance, viz., fertile land which rendered its fruits to the rulers and men of power to extravagantly dissipate on their pleasures and enjoyments, whims and desires, tyranny and aggression. The tribes living near these regions were fluctuating between Syria and Iraq, whereas those living inside Arabia were disunited and governed by tribal conflicts and racial and religious disputes.

They had neither a king to sustain their independence nor a supporter to seek advice from, or depend upon, in hardships.

The rulers of Hijaz, however, were greatly esteemed and respected by the Arabs, and were considered as rulers and servants of the religious centre. Rulership of Hijaz was, in fact, a mixture of secular and official precedence as well as religious leadership. They ruled among the Arabs in the name of religious leadership and always monopolized the custodianship of the Holy Sanctuary and its neighbourhood. They looked after the interests of Al-Ka‘bah visitors and were in charge of putting Abraham’s code into effect. They even had such offices and departments like those of the parliaments of today. However, they were too weak to carry the heavy burden, as this evidently came to light during the Abyssinian (Ethiopian) invasion.