Video #38 This is a general transcript of a Dan Gibson video.
Hello, I am Dan Gibson and this is another Question and Answer Video. Today’s question is asked by Ali, who wonders: If Petra was the first Mecca, then where was Shib Abi Taleb? This is an excellent question. Thank you Ali. Let’s start out by examining the story as related to us by Al Al-Ṭabarī . (Al-Ṭabarī 6:105)
This story takes place very early in Islamic history when the number of Muslims was still very small. This takes place just after 83 Muslim men and 18 women had emigrated to Abyssinia over in Africa. The people who remained had hoped that the ruler of Abyssinia would send them gifts and arms. But this did not happen.
It was then that the Quraysh tribe, who were the keepers of the holy area around the Ka’ba building, decided to take action against Muhammad and the few Muslims who were left. So they drew up a document stating that the Quraysh and the others in the city could not marry Muslim women. They especially mentioned the Banu Hashim family and the Banu Muttalib family. Nor could the general population buy or sell from the Muslims.
This document was then hung up in the Ka’ba area for everyone to see. Very quickly everyone else in the city joined in this boycott against the few remaining Muslims.
So the Muslims retreated from the Holy City to a nearby valley, where they lived for about three years. It was a very hard time and until they eventually they ran out of food. The valley was known as Shi’b Abi Talib.
A shi’b is a way through a narrow place, with mountains on each side. It is different from a thaniya, which is a narrow pass, while shi’b would be more like a canyon or narrow valley. Shi’b Abi Talib has been known by other names: Shi’b Banu Hashim, Shi’b Abi Yusuf, and Shi’b ‘Ali bin Abi Talib.
Some records tell us that ‘Abd al-Muttalib owned property there, as well as the place where Khadija lived with the Prophet Muhammad. (Qāʾidān, Tārīkh wa āthār-i Islāmī-yi Makka wa Madina, p. 114)
So when the Muslims retreated back to their homes in this very narrow valley, the people of Quraysh came and barricaded the entrance and placed a guard there. So they were locked in. And for three years they suffered, until the boycott was lifted.
Now our question in this video is: If Petra is the original holy city of Islam, where would this valley be? It is a very good question. Remember, this would have to be a very special valley. It would be what we call in english a box canyon. A box canyon has one way in, and no way out.
First of all, notice that the sides of the canyon were steep enough that the people could not climb out. Second, there was only one entrance to the canyon, and it was a very narrow entrance and that it was a narrow canyon. Some say that a camel had difficulty entering into this valley. So it is described as “A long narrow box canyon, steep sides, only one end open, and that one very narrow entrance. And it was close to the city, within easy walking distance to the Ka’ba. And there should be evidence of homes and dwelling, probably carved out of the rocks, since it was such a narrow canyon and it was the home of Abdul Muttalib, and Khadija and Muhammad.
Al-Rahiiq al-Makhtum also mentions:
“Abu Talib wisely and quietly took stock of the situation and decided to withdraw to a valley on the eastern outskirts of Makkah. Banu Hashim and Banu Al-Muttalib, who followed suit, were thus confined within a narrow pass (referred to as ‘Shi‘b of Abu Talib’), from the beginning of Muharram, the seventh year of Muhammad’s mission till the tenth year, that is a period of three years.
Now, just for fun, I read the description of this box canyon to some of my kids. They are all adults now, but they spent their teenage years living in southern Jordan, and they knew the area around Petra as well as anybody could. And they all suggested the same place, as it was the only narrow box canyon that they knew of.
But first, if we go to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, there is a place that has been called the Valley of Abu-Talib. But it isn’t really a box canyon with really steep sides. But it is a canyon, and it is where people today remember the Valley of Abu Talib in Mecca. Today, however, much of this seems to have been demolished with the construction of a set of highway tunnels through the mountain.
Now What about Petra? Just a couple of kilometers from Petra there is a small box canyon. It has a very narrow entrance way, so narrow that only one horse or camel can get through at a time. Today a narrow gate has been built in the entrance, but it is still possible to get a horse through it.
I know this, because our film crew tested this with a single horse who passed through the entrance, and then rode down through the canyon.
At the far end of the canyon, there is a set of steps that go up to a very small hanging valley. There is no way down from this hanging valley unless you have ropes to repel down a cliff.
At the entrance to the box canyon, there is an old carved tomb. Some archeologists feel that this was the original burial place for the Nabataeans, before they began to use the much larger valley of Petra.
In the box canyon there are a couple of tombs, but the majority of places there are carved rooms were used for dwellings. There are also a series of dinning or feasting rooms complete with running water into large basins at the entrance.
This canyon is known locally as Little Petra, but historically it is also known as Al-Baydha. And it fits the description of Shi’b Abi Talib, or the Valley of Abu Talib. Right down to the very narrow entrance. This valley could easily be sealed, and it would only take one or two guards to keep people boxed up in the canyon.
Don’t you think it strange that there is a place in Petra that fits the description of Shi’b Abi Talib perfectly?
And what is more, Little Petra as it is known today would have made a perfect place for Khadija to run her merchant business from. Just outside of Little Petra is an excellent place for camel caravans to load and unload. The narrow box canyon provided rock cut rooms where goods could be stored. A single guard at the entrance could guard the entire valley. And right outside the entrance, there is the start of fields and agriculture, where fodder could be provided to the camels.
Until an inscription can be found at the site, there is no way of proving 100% that this is Shi’b Abi Talib, but it does fit the description better than the place in Mecca known today as Shi’b Abi Talib.
And besides, every mosque in the first 100 years of Islam faced the Ka’ba monument just a couple of kilometers away. I am convinced that Petra is the original Holy City of Islam. And every time someone asks about a location that was supposed to be near Mecca; a perfect location near Petra can be found to match it.
I am Dan Gibson, and this has been another Question and Answer Video.