Life of Muhammad 1

This is an excerpt from Ibn Ishaq’s Sira, the first written biography of prophet Muhammad. This piece tells a story from life of Abdu’l-Muttalib, Muhammad’s grandfather.

THE DIGGING OF ZAMZAM

While Abdu’l-Muttalib was sleeping in the hijr,1 he was ordered in a vision to dig Zamzam. Yazid b. Abu Hablb al-Misrl from Marthad b. ‘Abdullah al-Yazanl from ‘Abdullah b. Zurayr al-Ghafiqt told me that he heard ‘Ali b. Abu Talib telling the story of Zamzam. He said that ‘Abdu’l-Muttalib said: ‘I was sleeping in the hijr when a supernatural visitant came and said, “Dig Tiba”. I said “And what is Tiba?”; then he left me. I went to bed again the next day and slept, and he came to me and said “Dig Barra”; when I asked what Barra was he left me. The next day he came and said “Dig al-Madnuna”; when I asked what that was he went away again. The next day he came while I was sleeping and said “Dig Zamzam”. I said, “What is Zamzam?”; he said:

“Twill never fail or ever run dry,
“Twill water the pilgrim company..
It lies ‘twixt the dung and the flesh bloody,
By the nest where the white-winged ravens fly,
By the nest where the ants to and fro do ply.’

When the exact spot had been indicated to him and he knew that it corre­sponded with the facts, he took a pick-axe and went with his son al-Harith for he had no other son at that time and began to dig. When the top of the well appeared he cried ‘Allah akbar!’ Thus Quraysh knew that he had obtained his object and they came to him and said, ‘This is the well of our father Ishmael, and we have a right to it, so give us a share in it.’ ‘I will not,’ he answered, ‘I was specially told of it and not you, and I was the one to be given it.’ They said: ‘Do us justice, for we shall not leave you until we have got a judicial decision in the matter.’ He said: ‘Appoint anyone you like as umpire between us.’ He agreed to accept a woman diviner of B. Sa’d Hudhaym, who dwelt in the uplands of Syria.

So ‘Abdu’l-Muttalib, accompanied by some of his relations and a representa­tive from all the tribes of Quraysh, rode away. They went on through desolate country between the Hijaz and Syria until ‘Abdu’l-Muttalib’s company ran out of water and they feared that they would die of thirst. They asked the Quraysh tribes to give them water, but they refused, on the ground that if they gave them their water they too would die of thirst. In his desperation ‘Abdu’l-Muttalib consulted his companions as to what should be done, but all they could do was to say that they would follow his instructions: so he said, ‘I think that every man should dig a hcle for him­self with the strength that he has left so that whenever a man dies his com­panions can thrust him into the hole and bury him until the last man, for it is better that one man should lie unburied than a whole company.’ They accepted his advice and every man began to dig a hole for himself. Then they sat down until they should die of thirst.

After a time ‘Abdu’l-Muttalib said to his companions, ‘By God, to abandon ourselves to death in this way and not to scour the country in search of water is sheer incompetence; perhaps God will give us water somewhere. To your saddles!’ So they got their beasts ready while the Quraysh watched them at work. ‘Abdu’l-Muttalib went to his beast and mounted her and when she got up from her knees a flow of fresh water broke out from beneath her feet. ‘Abdu’l-Muttalib and his companions, crying ‘Allah akbar!’, dismounted and drank and filled their water-skins. Then they invited the Quraysh to come to the water which God had given them and to drink freely. After they had done so and filled their water-skins they said: ‘By God, the judgement has been given in your favour ‘Abdu’l-Muttalib. We will never dispute your claim to Zamzam. He who has given you water in this wilderness is He who has given you Zamzam. Return to your office of watering the pilgrims in peace.’ So they all went back without going to the diviner.

This is an example of stories that I am going to skip in the future, because they don’t contribute a lot to understanding the prophet’s life and character. I posted it just to give you the taste of these ancient Arab stories.

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