Abd al-Muttalib

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Shaiba ibn Hashim
Born 497
Death 578
Buried Jannat al-Mualla
Father Hashim ibn Abd Munaf
Mother Salma bint Amr
Shaiba ibn Hashim (Arabic: شيبة ابن هاشم‎), more commonly known as Abd al-Muttalib (or Abdul Muttalib, Arabic: عبد المطلب; Slave of Muttalib) was the grandfather of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). He was known as Abd al-Muttalib since he was raised by his uncle Muttalib ibn Abd Munaf.



Abd al-Muttalib was born in Yathrib (present day Medina) and was only a few months old when his father Hashim died. His mother Salma bint Amr was from the Banu Najjar tribe, whereas his father was from the Banu Hashim clan. After the demise of his father, his uncle Muttalib went to Yathrib and brought Abd al-Muttalib to Makkah. When Muttalib entered Makkah with his nephew people assumed that Shaiba was the slave of Muttalib. Although, Muttalib clarified to the people that Shaiba was his nephew, the title Abd al-Muttalib stuck with him.[1] Later in life, the personal virtues and qualities of leadership possessed by Abd al-Muttalib earned him the title of the Chief of Makkah (Sayyid aul-Batha).

Though extensive details about his life are not available, it is understood that he was amongst those who believed in monotheism and was on the religion of Prophet Ibrahim (as). Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has been quoted as saying his grandfather, "Abd ul-Muttalib did not gamble, nor did he worship idols or eat from what was slain for idols. He often said: I am on the religion of my father Abraham".[2]

Restoring the Well of Zamzam

The well of Zamzam had been buried for centuries due to negligence and turmoil in the region. When Abd al-Muttalib came at the helm of affairs in Makkah, he supervised the provision of providing water to pilgrims. However, the shortage of water in the desert made it a difficult task. One year, Abd al-Muttalib had a dream in which he heard a voice ordering him to dig up the well of Zamzam.[3] Thus, he decided to locate and dig up the well with the help of his son Harith. They were able to determine the spot where the well was located and Abd al-Muttalib wished to partake in its complete excavation himself. However, other individuals from the Quraysh tribe wanted to be part of the excavation so they would have some authority over the well. The debate amongst them reached a point where they decided to take their case to a woman of the tribe of Sa’d in Syria. Abd al-Muttalib and his rivals started their journey towards the sage, however during their journey the caravan of Abd al-Muttalib and his companions ran out of water and suffered extreme thirst. They were certain that they would all die. Abd al-Muttalib suggested that every person should dig a grave for himself and when anyone of them died others should bury him. Furthermore, if they continued to be deprived of water and all of them died they would all be buried except for the last person to die. This way the majority of the caravan would be saved from being devoured by beasts and birds.[4]

The grave of Abd al-Muttalib and Abu Talib in Jannat al-Mualla, before destruction.

Next day however, Abd al-Muttalib suggested that this would be an ignominious and disgraceful way to die. He instead asked everyone to move around the desert looking for water. As he rode his own camel, its foot hit the earth and a stream of cool sweet water appeared. They quenched their thirst and allowed their rivals to also fill up their water-skins. At that moment, their rivals claimed that God had decided between them and had given Abd al-Muttalib victory. Zamzam became the personal property of Abd al-Muttalib, who distributed the water amongst the pilgrims freely.

Vow to Sacrifice Abdullah

For a long time, Abd al-Muttalib had only one son (Harith). He made a vow to Allah (swt) that if Allah grants him more sons, he would sacrifice one of them when they reach a young age. Abd al-Muttalib was eventually granted nine more sons and by a lot it was Abdullah, Prophet Muhammad's father, who was to be slaughtered. As Abd al-Muttalib took Abdullah towards the sacrificial altar, the people of Quraysh tried to pressure him to change his mind. They asked him to go to an Arab sage located in Khayber and do what the sage tells him. The sage thought about it and eventually asked to draw lots between ten camels (the blood-money fixed for a human being) and the person who Abd al-Muttalib had chosen for the sacrifice. If the lot falls on that person then raise the number of camels to twice as many and if the lot falls on that person again then raise the number of camels to thrice as many and draw the lots again. Continue this practice till the lot falls on the camels.

Abd al-Muttalib returned back to Makkah and drew the lots between his son and the camels. Each time it landed upon Abdullah, until the tenth time when it landed upon the camels. Thus Abd al-Muttalib ordered a hundred camels to be slaughtered between the mountains of Safa and Marwa.[5]

Year of the Elephant

In the year 570, Abraha al-Ashram (the governor of Yemen) launched an expedition to destroy the Ka'ba. When Abraha arrived on the outskirts of Makkah, he sent a small contingent to capture camels and young people. He managed to capture 200 camels belonging to Abd al-Muttalib. A man was sent by Abraha to advise the Quraysh that he was only here to demolish the Ka'ba and not to fight. However, if anyone put up resistance, they would be crushed. Abd al-Muttalib replied to his words saying, "By Allah, we do not want to fight him. So far as this House is concerned, it is the House of Allah; if Allah wants to save His House, He will save it, and if He leaves it unprotected, no one can save it."[6]

Abd al-Muttalib, with Amr ibn Lu'aba and some other leaders went to see Abraha. During their meeting Abd al-Muttalib requested Abraha to release his camels which shocked Abraha and he said, "When my eyes fell upon you, I was so impressed by you that had you requested me to withdraw my army and go back to Yemen, I would have granted that request. But now, I have no respect for you. Why? Here I have come to demolish the House which is the religious center of yours and of your forefathers and the foundation of your prestige and respect in Arabia, and you say nothing to save it; instead, you ask me to return your few camels back to you?!"

Abd al-Muttalib replied back saying that as he was the owner of the camels, he has simply tried to save what belonged to him. However the Ka'ba has its own Owner who would protect it. Abraha released the camels and eventually ordered his army to enter Makkah. Abd al-Muttalib asked the people to retire to the neighbouring hills; leaving the Lord of Ka'ba to protect it and he himself went to the hills of Abu Qubays.

As the army of Abraha got closer to the Ka'ba, a flock of birds appeared with pebbles each made of baked clay; one in its beak and two in its claws. As the birds flew over the army of Abraha, they showered them with the pebbles killing them all.

This incident has been referred to in Surah al-Fil.

Family of Abd al-Muttalib

During the course of his life, Abd ul-Muttalib married Fatima bint Amr, Halah bint Wahab, Lubna bint Hajar, Samra bint Jandab and Umm Irar.[7]

  1. Abu Talib - father of Imam Ali (as), the first Shi'a Imam
  2. Abdullah - father of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)
  3. Umaima bint Abd al-Muttalib
  4. Barra bint Abd al-Muttalib
  5. Zubayr ibn Abd al-Muttalib
  6. Atika bint Abd al-Muttalib
  7. Umm Hakim bint Abd al-Muttalib
  8. Arwa bint Abd al-Muttalib
  1. Hamza ibn Abd al-Muttalib
  2. Saffiya bint Abd al-Muttalib
  3. Hijl ibn Abd al-Muttalib
  1. Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib


  1. Muhammad by Yasin al- Jibouri
  2. Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 77 p. 56
  3. The Life of Muhammad, by Allama Baqir Shareef al-Qurashi
  4. The Message, by Ayatullah Ja'far Subhani
  5. The Life of Muhammad, by Allama Baqir Shareef al-Qurashi
  6. The Year of the Elephant, The Life of Muhammad The Prophet by Syed Saeed Akhtar Rizvi
  7. Muhammad by Yasin al- Jibouri
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