And just before I begin, the Quraysh aren’t the Saudi ruling family. What? You think I’m joking? Not at all. There are loads of Muslims out there who absolutely believe that only the current Arabs in Saudi Arabia are the modern-day Quraysh, all of them without exception.
Actually, there are not many surviving Quraysh today, but there are still remnants and not just in Saudi Arabia, and not just identified by al-Qurashi but also by al-Sharīf or al-Ashrāf especially as descendants from the original Hashemites. There are good numbers of the Quraysh to be found nearby in Yemen and Egypt, but then some places as varied as Kenya to Indonesia, having settled after their travels throughout history. It is probably true though that most of the purest in blood line can be found in Makkah, ‘Arafah and Tā’if amongst other places in Saudi Arabia.
Goes slightly against what you might have had in your mind right?
So firstly, let’s remind ourselves that the Quraysh were the leading Arab tribe in Makkah at the time of Prophethood. The Prophet ﷺ came from Bani Hāshim, a sub-clan of Bani ‘Abd Manāf who were one of the key clans from the Quraysh. And the Prophet ﷺ established the excellence of the Quraysh in many different narrations, directly and indirectly.
The very first evidence of their excellence is that the Prophet ﷺ comes from their tribe and he shares their lineage. The Prophets only come from the greatest of tribes and families in honour, standing and respect. The Prophet ﷺ said as narrated in Sahīh Muslim:
إن الله اصطفى كنانة من ولد إسماعيل، واصطفى قريشاً من كنانة، واصطفى من قريش بني هاشم، واصطفاني من بني هاشم
Allah chose Kinānah from the progeny of Ismā‘īl, chose Quraysh from Kinānah, chose Bani Hāshim from Quraysh and chose me from Bani Hāshim.
Secondly, the Prophet ﷺ said in Imām al-Bukhāri’s al-Adab al-Mufrad in a hasan narration:
عَنْ رِفَاعَةَ بْنِ رَافِعٍ ، أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ لِعُمَرَ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ : ” اجْمَعْ لِي قَوْمَكَ ” ، فَجَمَعَهُمْ ، فَلَمَّا حَضَرُوا بَابَ النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ دَخَلَ عَلَيْهِ عُمَرُ فَقَالَ : قَدْ جَمَعْتُ لَكَ قَوْمِي ، فَسَمِعَ ذَلِكَ الْأَنْصَارُ فَقَالُوا : قَدْ نَزَلَ فِي قُرَيْشٍ الْوَحْيُ ، فَجَاءَ الْمُسْتَمِعُ وَالنَّاظِرُ مَا يُقَالُ لَهُمْ ، فَخَرَجَ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ ، فَقَامَ بَيْنَ أَظْهُرِهِمْ فَقَالَ : ” هَلْ فِيكُمْ مِنْ غَيْرِكُمْ ؟ ” قَالُوا : نَعَمْ ، فِينَا حَلِيفُنَا وَابْنُ أُخْتِنَا وَمَوَالِينَا ، قَالَ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ : ” حَلِيفُنَا مِنَّا ، وَابْنُ أُخْتِنَا مِنَّا ، وَمَوَالِينَا مِنَّا ، وَأَنْتُمْ تَسْمَعُونَ : إِنَّ أَوْلِيَائِي مِنْكُمُ الْمُتَّقُونَ ، فَإِنْ كُنْتُمْ أُولَئِكَ فَذَاكَ ، وَإِلَّا فَانْظُرُوا ، لَا يَأْتِي النَّاسُ بِالْأَعْمَالِ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ ، وَتَأْتُونَ بِالْأَثْقَالِ ، فَيُعْرَضَ عَنْكُمْ ” ، ثُمَّ نَادَى فَقَالَ : ” يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ – وَرَفَعَ يَدَيْهِ يَضَعَهُمَا عَلَى رُءُوسِ قُرَيْشٍ – أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ ، إِنَّ قُرَيْشًا أَهْلُ أَمَانَةٍ ، مَنْ بَغَى بِهِمْ – قَالَ زُهَيْرٌ : أَظُنُّهُ قَالَ : الْعَوَاثِرَ – كَبَّهُ اللَّهُ لِمِنْخِرَيْهِ ” ، يَقُولُ ذَلِكَ ثَلَاثَ مَرَّاتٍ
Rifā‘ah b. Rāfi‘ (r) reported that the Prophet ﷺ said to ‘Umar (r), “Gather your people for me.” He gathered them, and once they were at the door of the Prophet ﷺ, ‘Umar entered and said, “I’ve gathered for you my people.” The Ansār heard this and said, “Revelation has been sent down regarding the Quraysh.” People came to hear and see what would be said, so the Prophet ﷺ came out and stood amongst them and said, “Are there any amongst you who are not from your own selves?” They replied, “Yes, there are those who we are in alliance with, our nephews and our mawlās.” The Prophet ﷺ said, “Our allies are from us, our nephews are from us, our mawlās are from us. O you who are listening: my friends are those amongst you who maintain taqwā. If you are from them then good, but if not, then be careful lest people come on the Day of Standing with good deeds whereas you come with burdens, and you are cast aside.” Then he called out and said, “O People – and he lifted his hands and placed them on the heads of the Quraysh – O People! The Quraysh are the most trustworthy people. Whoever wishes for them – and Zuhayr said, “I think he said “problems” – Allah will throw him on his face.” He said that three times.
This narration in which the Prophet ﷺ was addressing the Muslims in Madinah indicates the excellence of the Quraysh. The Prophet ﷺ raising his hands for them and then putting his hands on the heads of the Quraysh strengthens the main message of this hadīth which is how close they are to the Prophet ﷺ.
The statement that they are the people of amānah has been explained in Faydh’l-Qadīr in various ways; they are the foremost in the choice for leadership, and that is due to their trustworthiness, reliability, honesty and all other such qualities that a successful leader needs. They also said that the Quraysh’s supporting of the Prophet ﷺ, their love for him, their respect for him and their closeness to him in kin ﷺ is an amānah that the people have to take on with respect to how they treat and deal with the Quraysh. All of this is possible in interpretation. Remember, with the importance of amānah being so emphasised in Islām, and such a difficult characteristic to achieve in our lives and also being the first quality that the Nation will lose as the Prophet ﷺ told us, then to be the “people of amānah” is a true praise.
Also, the phrase “‘Awāthir” or “problems” from the above narration, deserves further study. It comes from a root word عثر which means “to fall over, to stumble, to trip up.” The more advanced forms of the word such as عاثور mean a trap that is set up for animals like a snare for a lion or a pit that is dug for an animal to fall into. Likewise عِثار means that thing which someone stumbles over or causes one to fall and the plural of that is عواثير which is like the narrated word above with an extra ي but it also correct without the ي as in the version narrated here. That’s why we believe only humiliation will result for those who want the Quraysh to “trip up” or are trying to “plot their downfall”. Also, the word means “places of danger” and “death”, making it even more serious. Also, it means “to cause someone difficulty, hardship and distress.” That’s why I have translated the word as “problems” although clearly the word has a much higher connotation – “problems” combines all the evil intentions of those who wish harm, distress and a bad name for the Quraysh whilst at the same time trying to plot their downfall, diminish their status and cause them to literally fall from grace.
The last portion of the above narration has been narrated by Imam Ahmed as “throw him in the fire on his face” but here it means to basically humiliate and shame anyone who would oppose the Quraysh; the face and especially the nose has always been mentioned in Arabic and the word مِنْخِرَيْهِ literally means “his nostrils”. The understood meaning of this final statement though is that any one who becomes an enemy to the Quraysh will be destroyed and why not, when Allah himself has purified their hearts, despite their late entry into Islam yet with their excellence established. As Ibn Hajr said, “No-one opposes them except that they are defeated in this world and punished in the Hereafter.”
The Prophet ﷺ also said about the Quraysh in the Musannaf and Kanz al-‘Ummāl:
خيار قريش خيار الناس , وشرار قريش شرار الناس , والذي نفس محمد بيده , لولا أن تبطر قريش لأخبرتها بما لخيارها عند الله أو ما لها عند الله
The best of Quraysh are the very best of mankind and the worst of the Quraysh are the very worst of mankind. By the One in Whose Hand lies the soul of Muhammad, if it was not for the fact that the Quraysh become proud, I would have informed them of their position of excellence with Allah.
In the Musnad of Imām Ahmad, the Prophet ﷺ said in the authentic narration:
إن للقرشي مثل قوة رجلين من غير قريش
Certainly, a man from the Quraysh has the strength of two men from other than the Quraysh
Imām al-Zuhri was asked about the meaning of this statement and he replied, “in their superior opinions.”
There are many other narrations in the praise of the Quraysh but this is sufficient for now.
The issue though that some people find difficult is whether Islam promotes favouritism here with respect to the Quraysh? What happened to any idea of equality and everyone being judged the same and on the merit of their own actions? Is the love of the Prophet ﷺ for his tribe and family biased?
In brief, the first response to this is mentioned in the same hadīth above narrated in al-Adab al-Mufrad where the Prophet ﷺ censures the Quraysh and warns them to not fall short in good deeds. He also clarifies that when it actually comes down to it, then it’s only the people of taqwa who are his true friends and supporters. The word “walīyy” in the first narration above has all these connotations – he ﷺ doesn’t make his friends those who are just related to him as al-Qastalāni said in explanation of this statement; it’s as if he ﷺ is saying, “I don’t befriend simply those who are related to me. I love only Allah because that is His obligatory right from His servants, and I love the righteous believers for His Sake alone, and I love those who are loved because of their righteousness and their imān, whether he is a relative or not – I look after and fulfil the rights of my relatives in order to maintain the ties of kinship.”
This is of course supported by the narration in the Sahīh of Imām al-Bukhāri:
آل أبي طالب ليسوا إلي بأولياء , إنما وليي الله وصالح المؤمنين
The family of Abu Tālib are not necessarily my friends; my friend is only Allah and the Righteous Believers.
No-one should have any doubt that the Quraysh or those who call themselves Hāshimis or Syeds or the Hābā’ib or whoever wants to be from the Prophet’s ﷺ lineage will have no advantage over anyone else unless they are people of taqwa first and foremost and then that they come with good deeds. In another authentic hadīth narrated in al-Adab al-Mufrad, the Prophet ﷺ said:
O Bani Ka‘b b. Lu‘ay! Save yourselves from the Fire! O Bani ‘Abd Manāf! Save yourselves from the Fire! O Bani Hāshim! Save yourselves from the Fire! O Bani ‘Abd al-Muttalib! Save yourselves from the Fire! O Fātimah daughter of Muhammad! Save yourself from the Fire! I cannot do anything for you with respect to Allah’s decision other than that you have ties of kinship which I shall maintain.
Thus this is a point which needs no further explanation and the narrations on this point are too numerous to mention.
Secondly, we need to make an important clarification: there is no such thing as “equality” in Islam. Many Muslims have some mistaken idea, probably due to the influences of our modern-day culture, that everyone is in someway equal with respect to everything and anything.
This is not correct. Allah chooses some people to better than others, blesses some with understanding that He doesn’t give to others, gives some people strength that He doesn’t give to others, makes some from the Prophetic family and not others, makes some Companions and not others, and indeed blesses some with Prophethood and not others. This is all under His Divine Will and Wisdom of which we know little about, yet there is no doubt about Allah’s justice in all that He chooses. Whether we are the chosen ones or not with respect to any particular advantage, absolutely everyone has to opportunity to make it to the top. You don’t have to be from Quraysh to get al-Firdaws. Dying as a martyr in battle is probably easier, but who’s up for it?
Also, men and women have different qualities and they will likewise use those different qualities to accumulate good deeds in different ways, one sex having an advantage one day whereas the other sex will have the advantage the other day. And the examples for this in creation are many.
Also, people with advantages are held more accountable as well so it isn’t all necessarily plain sailing. If you are meant to be blessed like being from the Quraysh, you will be more under the microscope and you can expect your punishment to be equal to the amount of your advantage if you are to slip up. Ask any of the real people of Ahl’l-Bayt or the Imāms and the scholars and see what they tell you about the pressures of expectation.
But of which there is no doubt is that everyone has an equal chance to become the very, very best. When the Prophet ﷺ emphasised that neither Arab had superiority over a non-Arab, or a white man over a black man etc, then this is to close the door to discrimination by the creation themselves and to allow everyone the same opportunity to gain taqwa.
As for how those who have extra blessings on their side because of their lineage, their tribe, or other such good fortune etc, will actually use that advantage, we see various understandings from the scholars: if we take the above narrations for the Quraysh then it is understood that they will find achieving taqwa more easy, they will suffer less temptations, they will find more support from their community etc. This doesn’t mean though that if another normal person gains the same level of taqwa, that they will be rewarded differently in the After-life. Rather, the very basics of Islam affirm that everyone will be rewarded according to their efforts and their results, and Allah knows best.