While most Muslims are well aware that Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was a member of the Quraysh tribe, many never learn anything more about the tribe that was home to not only the Prophet (SAW) , but also his family and much of the sahaba.
Well before the time of the Prophet (SAW) , the ebb and flow of Arabia’s history, commerce and society was determined by the status of and interaction between various tribes. The greater Makkah area in particular was home to a large number of tribes. Of these, however, the Quraysh was the largest and the most prominent.
Since the time of jahiliyyah (pre-Islamic Arabia), the Quraysh were well-known not only as keepers of the Kaaba but as prolific merchant traders. Capitalizing on the Kaaba’s renown as a place of pilgrimage and the home of various pre-Islamic religious idols, members of the Quraysh turned Makkah into a major stop on the trade route stretching from the northern tip of the Arabian peninsula to the south. Truly astute businessmen of their time, the Qurayshis gained wealth and status by charging fees to visit the Kaaba, taxing trade caravans going in and out of Makkah, and managing all commercial transactions that occurred in the city. 1
Tribes were not homogeneous: every tribe was divided into a series of clans. Some clans were more powerful than others, allowing them more influence over inter-tribal affairs as a whole. The Quraysh was divided into 10 clans.2 The Prophet (SAW) and his family hailed from the Hashimi clan, but the most powerful clan within the Quraysh was the Umayyad, whose most famous member was Uthman (RAA) .
Many of the Prophet (SAW) ‘s family members were prominent leaders in the Quraysh. Abu Talib, the Prophet (SAW) ‘s uncle, was the chief of the Hashimis. His brother Abu Lahab was the next in line as a leader of the clan. Although Abu Talib was a stringent supporter of the Prophet (SAW) and his message, Abu Lahab strongly objected to it and was determined to stop the Prophet (SAW) .3
In fact, the message of the Prophet (SAW) advocating equal treatment of all in the eyes of Allah (SWT) regardless of wealth and social status presented a problem not just for Abu Lahab, but for many powerful Qurayshis as well. How were they to retain their influence over members of other clans and tribes if social hierarchies dictated by wealth and power had no meaning under the banner of Islam? While many were encouraged by the premise of equality to become Muslims, these Qurayshis were only dissuaded by it.
It was because of this that some members of the Quraysh, while initially proud of Muhammad (SAW) as a merchant with an exceptional penchant for honesty and trustworthiness, would eventually become the Prophet (SAW) ‘s most avowed critics. Feeling as though their authority and their faith had been undermined by the message of the Prophet (SAW) , they would soon boycott the Hashimi clan in an attempt to stifle the spread of his message. These Qurayshis refused to accept Islam and would later fight against the Prophet (SAW) at the Battle of Badr and other important encounters later on in Islamic history.
1 Lesley Hazleton, After the Prophet (2009, Doubleday)
2 “Quraysh”; Encyclopedia Britannica
3 Alia N. Athar, Muhammad: The Last Messenger (1994, Library of Islam)