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Tribal Rivalries and Boastings

Tribal Rivalries and Boastings

Tribal Rivalries and Boastings

Another feature of the Arab's life in those dark days was rivalry and boasting. An Arab would bask in the dominant values of those days which were generally absurd. Besides bravery in the war-fields, other traits, such as generosity, loyalty, wealth, number of children and dependency towards tribal values, were considered significant. The Holy Qur'¡n re-states their statements, condemning them at the same time:

And they say: we have more wealth and children, and we shall not be punished. Say: surely my Lord amplifies the means of Subsistence for whom He pleases and straitens (for whom He pleases), but most men do not know. And not your wealth nor your children are the things which bring you near Us in station, but whoever believes and does good, these it is for whom is a double reward for what they do, and they shall be secure in the highest places. (34:35-37)

Once, Khosrow, the Iranian king, asked al-Nu`m¡n Ibn al-Mundhir, the king of °¢rah, “Is there a tribe among the Arab tribes, which is superior to others in dignity and honor? He answered, “Yes, there is.” When he was asked for the reason, al-Nu`m¡n replied, “Anybody who has three of his ancestors as the tribal chiefs consecutively and the fourth chief from his own tribe will have the next chief from his own tribe as well.”[1]

The Arabs at the time of ignorance used to boast about the numbers of their tribe members; in this way, they disheartened rival tribes.

One day, there was an argument between two tribes; each enumerated his tribal points of honor and claimed that the number of the dignified persons and the sheer number of the members was superior to that of the rival tribe. They started calling heads of all tribal members. The counting of the living members did not help. So, they went to the cemetery to count the dead.[2] The Holy Qur'¡n has condemned such ignorant and irrational boastings:

Abundance diverts you, until you come to the graves, Nay! You shall soon know. (102:1-3)

The Significance of Parentage

Two of the most significant criteria among the Arabs during the period of ignorance were parentage and kinship relations. These were the very basis of many other criteria.[3] Boasting on one's race was prevalent among the Arab tribes. A typical example was the rivalry between the `Adn¡nite Arabs (in the north) and the Qa¦§¡nite Arab (in the south).[4] For this very reason, an Arab gave great significance to his parentage. al-Nu`m¡n ibn al-Mundhir said to Khosrow:

The members of other nations do not care about their parentage; if they are asked about their ancestors, they will lack the necessary knowledge. This was completely different in the case of Arabs, who recognized their ancestors fully. The Arabs would not accept foreigners as members of their clans. They would not enter any interaction with strangers. An Arab is not called by any other name than his father's.[5]

Thus, it is not surprising to see the science of genealogy, which was one of the limited sciences in those days, receiving a prominent significance. Genealogists received lots of respect, as well. ªl£s¢, a prominent researcher on Arab issues, writes:

“Arabs in the Age of Ignorance put a lot of emphasis on their parentage because this kind of recognition was one of the means to cooperate with others. They really needed this sort of recognition, because they lived in separate locations and the fire of war was always blazing. Plunder was a common practice. Since they were reluctant to accept anybody's help in order to defeat their enemies, they had to stick to their parentage, because the love and caring for ones’ relatives would result in mutual cooperation and would prevent disunity.[6]

Islam, however, rejected any concept of racial superiority. Although the verses of the Holy Qur'¡n were revealed among the Arabs and the tribe of Quraysh, they were never addressed to any Qurayshite or any Arab. Rather, these sacred verses are addressed to people in general. When Muslims are reminded of their duties, they are referred to as believers. According to the Holy Qur'¡n, racial differences are natural things. However, it rejects boasting about one's race, and recognizes the criterion of piety as the base for values:

O you men! Surely We have created you of a male and a female, and made you tribes and families that you may know each other, surely the most honorable of you with Allah is the one among you most careful of his duty, surely Allah is Knowing, Aware. (49:13)[7]

The Holy Prophet emphatically rejected boasting about one's race or parentage. Examples are the following:

(1) On the Conquest of Mecca when the Quraysh's main stronghold fell, people of Quraysh considered themselves superior; hence, the Holy Prophet remarked:

O people: God, through Islam, has strongly rejected taking pride in one's parentage which existed at the age of Ignorance. Remember, you are not at the Age of Ignorance. Remember, you are the offspring of Adam, and Adam was created of dust. The best of God's servants are the most pious. Arabism could not possibly be the father of anybody. But Arabic is an eloquent language. One who is a loser in life could not be saved through racial or ancestral privileges.[8]

(2) During his last pilgrimage (¦ijjat al-wad¡`; Farewell Pilgrimage) and through a detailed discourse, the Holy Prophet warned the attendants, saying:

“No Arab has any superiority over any non-Arab except for piety.”[9]

While confirming Salm¡n in his discussion with Quraysh and his condemnation of the Arab’s wrong ideology in believing in racism, the Holy Prophet (¥), said:

“O People of Quraysh; one's honor rests on one’s religion; one's manhood and honor rest on one’s behavior; one's true origin is one’s wisdom and understanding.”[10]



[1] Al-ªl£s¢, op cit, 1:281.

[2] Sayyid Mu¦ammad °usayn ±ab¡§ab¡'¢, al-M¢z¡n f¢ Tafs¢r al-Qur'¡n 30:353; al-ªl£s¢, op cit, 1:279.

[3] For instance, if one's father was Arab, but his mother was non-Arab, he was insultingly referred to as haj¢n, which indicated the concept of inferiority; in the reverse situation, he used to be called mudharra`. Haj¢n was deprived of inheritance. See Ibn `Abd Rabbih al-Andalus¢, al-`Iqd al-Far¢d 6:129. A haj¢n male had to marry a woman of his own standing. See Mu¦ammad ibn °ab¢b, al-Mu¦abbar, pp. 310; al-Shahrist¡n¢, al-Milal wa’l-Ni¦al, pp. 254.

In Islam, when he was asked about the blood-money of a haj¢n, the Holy Prophet replied, “The blood money of all followers of Islam is the same.” See Ibn Shahr¡sh£b, al-Man¡qib 1:113.

[4] Jaw¡d `Al¢, al-Mufa¥¥al f¢ T¡r¢kh al-`Arab Qabl al-Isl¡m 1:493; Shawq¢ ®ayf, T¡r¢kh al-Adab al-`Arab¢, al-`A¥r al-J¡hil¢, pp. 55.

[5] Al-ªl£s¢, op cit, 1:149. At the beginning of Islam, `Umar Ibn al-Kha§§¡b, who was strongly influenced by this kind of thinking, and who showed his dissatisfaction towards the Iraqi Nabataean who used to refer to their locations in their names, told them: Always remember your familial bonds and parentage and stop being like the Iraqi Nabataean who, when asked about their families, would refer to their place of birth or to the location of their residence. See Muqaddimat Ibn Khald£n, pp. 162; Al-Andalus¢, op cit, 3:312.

[6] Bul£gh al-Irab… 3:182; also refer to al-Mufa¥¥al f¢ T¡r¢kh al-`Arab Qabl al-Isl¡m 1:466-4667.

[7] On the word of a narration reported from Imam al-¯¡diq (a.s) and some books of exegesis of the Holy Qur'¡n, the Arabic word qab¡'il mentioned in the aforementioned holy verse refers to the Arab tribes, while the word shu`£b refers to the non-Arabs. (See al-±abris¢, Majma` al-Bay¡n f¢ Tafs¢r al-Qur'¡n, Exegesis of S£rah al-°ujur¡t, verse 13)

[8] Shaykh al-Kulayn¢, al-Raw¤ah min al-K¡f¢, pp. 246; al-Majlis¢, Bi¦¡r al-Anw¡r 21:137-8; S¢rat Ibn Hush¡m 4:54.

[9] Ibn Shu`bah al-°arr¡n¢: Tu¦af al-`Uq£l, pp. 34.

[10] Shaykh al-Kulayn¢, op cit, p. 181.

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