Prophet Muhammad, God’s Messenger and the last prophet, was born in the city of Makka. Makka is in the west of the Arabian Peninsula, lying between Asia, Europe and Africa, within the Hejaz region. It is important to be aware of the history of Makka, the Ka’ba and the Quraysh tribe in order to understand the life of the Prophet.
The known history of Makka dates back to the time of Prophet Abraham, but there is not much information about any earlier history. Prophet Abraham brought his infant son Ishmael and his wife Hagar to Makka, upon the command of God, leaving them there and himself returning to Palestine.
The valley of Makka is described as an "uncultivable valley" (14:37), being a desert with a hot, dry climate. Thus, Hagar and Ishmael were soon very thirsty. According to religious accounts, just as Hagar, who had been running between the Safa and Marwa Hills in order to find water, had become desperate and abandoned hope for her son's life, a source of water sprung from under the feet of her son. The source was an abundant spring called zamzam and subsequently became a stopping place for caravans. After a certain time, the Jurhum tribe from Yemen settled in the outer sections of Makka. Ishmael learned Arabic from them and married a girl from this tribe.
Prophet Abraham, who was living in Palestine, paid occasional visits to Hagar and Ishmael. On his third visit to Makka, Prophet Abraham, in accordance with Divine decree, began to construct the Ka’ba with his son Ishmael. It can be understood from certain verses of the Qur’an (2:127; 3:96; 22:26) that the Ka’ba had existed before the time of Abraham; however it had been destroyed and its location was lost over time until Prophet Abraham once again found its place and rebuilt it. (1) Although there is no information about who built the Ka’ba before Abraham, it is recorded in some sources that it was built by Prophet Adam or his son Seth. When Prophet Abraham completed the construction of the Ka’ba, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to him and taught him how to perform the pilgrimage (hajj).
The administration of Makka and the Ka’ba, which had been the duty of Ishmael, passed to the Jurhum tribe after him. The Jurhum tribe first accepted the religion conveyed by Ishmael, but later deviated with time, performing immoral acts, stealing gifts that were brought to the Ka’ba, and mistreating the visiting pilgrims. After a certain time, the Khuza’a tribe, which had migrated to Makka from Southern Arabia, defeated the Jurhum tribe in a battle and removed them from the city. The Jurhum tribe returned back to Yemen, their homeland, after removing the Black Stone from its place and covering over the zamzam well to disguise its location. The Ishmaelites did not take part in the battle due to their small number, and they continued to stay in the city after making an agreement with the Khuza’a tribe. Amr ibn Luhay, one of the leading figures of the Khuza’a tribe, broke the tradition of monotheism and allowed for the emergence of idolatry when he took over the administration of Makka and the Ka’ba.
The Quraysh, under the leadership of Qusay ibn Kilab, an ancestor of Prophet Muhammad five generations removed, took over the administration of Makka in the first part of the fifth century after defeating the Khuza’a tribe. Accordingly, the services of the Ka’ba, which represented great honor and respect, passed to the Quraysh. Qusay gathered the branches of Quraysh, living around Makka, and he placed them around the Ka’ba. In addition, by making the necessary arrangements, Qusay gained control of the following services: the administration of Makka, or presidency of council chambers (Dar al-Nadwa); military command (Kiyada); the right to present the standard to the standard-bearer (Liwa); maintenance of the Ka’ba; possession of the keys and the control of the Ka’ba (Hijaba or Sidana); supply of water for the pilgrims (Sikaya); and accommodation for the pilgrims (Rifada). The Dar al-Nadwa, which he commissioned, continued its existence up to the Islamic period as a meeting place where important issues were discussed and decided upon, and various official ceremonies were held.
The administration of Makka and the services of the Ka’ba were continued by the descendants of Qusay ibn Kilab after his death. Hashim ibn ‘Abd Manaf, the grandson of Qusay and an ancestor of Prophet Muhammad three generations removed, worked hard to provide food and water for both the pilgrims who came to Makka and the Quraysh tribe. Hashim, known for his generosity, and his brothers ‘Abdu Shams and Nawfal made trade agreements with Byzantium, Yemen, Abyssinia (modern-day Ethiopia) and Iran. They also signed nonaggression pacts with the tribes along the trade routes. Accordingly, trade in Makka gained international importance. The Quraysh were able to make journeys for trade without threat to Yemen and Abyssinia in the winter, and to Syria and through Anatolia in the summer because of the prestige they had earned from the provision of their Ka’ba services. On his way to Syria, Hashim went to Yathrib (Madina) and resided there for a while, marrying Salma, the daughter of ‘Amr ibn Zayd from the tribe of Banu Najjar. ‘Abd al-Muttalib (Shayba), Prophet Muhammad’s grandfather, was their child. Hashim died in Gaza in Palestine during one of his travels, and was buried there. ‘Abd al-Muttalib stayed in Madina for eight years and was later brought to Makka by his uncle Muttalib. ‘Abd al-Muttalib was raised by his uncle and the latter transferred the leadership of the tribe to him before his death. After a dream, ‘Abd al-Muttalib located the place of the zamzam well that had been covered by the Jurhum tribe on their departure from Makka, and he reopened the well. He undertook the duty of bringing food and water to the pilgrims.
The religious and commercial importance of Makka, in addition to its geographical location, attracted the attention of states such as Byzantium, Iran (Sassanid Empire) and Abyssinia. Abraha, the Yemeni governor of the kingdom of Abyssinia, built a church in San'a to try to prevent the visits of the Arabs to the Ka’ba. When this attempt failed, he decided to destroy the Ka’ba and destroy Makka's status as a religious center by invading it and preventing the commercial activities of its inhabitants. Abraha and his army came as far as the area surrounding Makka and camped there. The Prophet’s grandfather ‘Abd al-Muttalib, the leader of the Hashimite branch of the Quraysh, met Abraha and reminded him that the Owner of the Ka’ba, known as Bayt Allah God’s Sacred House would protect it. Abraha ordered his soldiers to strike, but the elephant in front of his army refused to take a step towards the Ka’ba. According to the Qur’anic chapter entitled The Elephant (105:1-5) his army was destroyed by small stones that were dropped by birds flying overhead, sent by God. This incident was called the Incident of the Elephant, and the year in which it occurred was called the Year of the Elephant. The fact that Abraha's attempt failed caused the Arabs to place more importance on the pilgrimage than was ever seen before. As a result, the prestige of Makka and the Quraysh was raised.
Makka was the leading city of the three prominent cities of the Hejaz region, the other two being Yathrib (Madina) and Ta’if. Makka, the point of intersection on the roads leading to Yemen to the south, the Mediterranean to the north, the Persian Gulf to the east, and the Red Sea port of Jeddah to the west, was located at an economically strategic point. Moreover, the Ka’ba was located in the city, thus making the city the religious center of Arabia. People from all parts of Arabia would come to visit the Ka’ba during certain months of the year and trade would increase in the city. People would set up fair grounds and poetry competitions would be held. As Makka was unsuitable for agriculture due to geographical conditions, trade constituted the essence of business life.
Like the rest of the Arabian Peninsula in general, idolatry was also prevalent in Makka. The number of idols in the Ka’ba and its surroundings was 360; the biggest of these idols was Hubal, the most important Qurayshi idol. In addition to this, there were idols in most of the houses. Arabs accepted that God was the creator and ruler of the skies and the earth, but they worshiped the idols, which they thought would bring them closer to God. They deviated from the monotheistic belief that commanded they worship God alone, and thus they committed the sin of idolatry by associating partners with God. Yet, although their numbers were not great in Makka, there were the Hanif who still practiced the monotheistic belief that had been introduced by Prophet Abraham.
1) Sadettin Ünal, "Kabe," DIA, XXIV, 15-16.