“The sons of Makhzum should raise the Black Stone,” declared one of the men in the circle. “It is our right as foremost of the tribes.”
“Who gave you such a position?” demanded another man. “The sons of Jumah will raise it!”
“Not while the sons of Abdu Manaf stand here,” said another. “The honor should be ours.”
“Then you will have to fight for it,” cried another. “None but the sons of Abdul-Dar shall raise the stone!”
In the years before Muhammad’s holy mission, it happened that the tribes around Mecca decided to rebuild their temple, the Kaaba. In those days, the Kaaba was simply a yard enclosed by a wall. Their plan was to build a higher, thicker wall and add a roof.
Each tribe had chosen a section of the wall and started pulling down the stones. The sacred Black Stone, built into the east corner, had been removed carefully and set aside.
At last they had gotten down to the foundation laid by Abraham. They had begun to rebuild, and the wall had grown steadily higher. But when the time had come to raise the Black Stone back to its place, they could not agree on which tribe would have the honor.
The dispute grew fiercer and fiercer, till it seemed likely that blood would flow. But then Abu Amayya said, “Brothers, let us not fight among ourselves. I have an idea: Wait for the next man who comes through the gate, then give the decision to him.”
All agreed and settled down to wait. And it happened that the first man to enter the gate was Muhammad, he whom they called “The Trustworthy One.”
When Muhammad had listened to their claims, he considered for a moment. Then he said, “Bring me a cloak.”
They brought one, and Muhammad spread it on the ground. Then he took the Black Stone and placed it in the center.
“Each tribe will choose a man to hold the cloak by its edge. Then all will raise the stone together.”
This was done, and Muhammad himself set the stone in place. Then all the tribes were satisfied, and work went on with no further dispute.
About the Story
Muhammad, the founder of Islam, lived in Arabia from 570 to 632 A.D. Though in later years he took to warfare to spread his religion, Muhammad’s teachings were often aimed at conciliation—a trait found also in this tale of his early life.
The story concerns the Kaaba (“KAH-buh”)—meaning “Cube”—a Muslim shrine in the Arabian city of Mecca. Muslims believe the original Kaaba was built by Abraham and his first son, Ishmael, legendary founder of the Arab race. Set into one corner of the building is a black stone about eight inches in diameter, said to have fallen from heaven. This stone—possibly a meteorite—is the most sacred relic of Islam.
All Muslims are required to make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lives if they are able. Today, as many as two million pilgrims a year visit the Kaaba and kiss the Black Stone.
Whether or not the Kaaba was truly built by Abraham, it existed well before Muhammad, and at the time of this story was used as a temple for tribal gods.
The tale is found in the Sirat Rasul Allah of Ibn Ishaq, the earliest complete biography of Muhammad, compiled a little more than a century after Muhammad’s death. References included:
The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, translated by A. Guillaume, Oxford University Press, Karachi, 1955.
Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources, by Martin Lings, Allen & Unwin, London, 1983.
Understanding Islam: An Introduction to the Muslim World, Thomas W. Lippman, Penguin, New York, 1990.
For further reading: The Life of the Prophet Muhammad, by Leila Azzam and Aisha Gouverneur, Islamic Texts Society, London, 1985.