Abdul Muttalib grew up to be a very handsome man and became a leading figure of the Quraysh tribe. He was the chieftain of the Quraysh and oversaw the tribe’s trade caravans. Famous for his generosity, he was called “the Generous.” He gave his leftovers to the needy, and even to animals and birds. For this reason, he was described as “the feeder of men on earth and of beasts and birds on the mountaintops.”
Abdul Muttalib also had the honour of rediscovering the sacred well of Zamzam. This well had gushed forth when the infant Isma’eel kicked at the dry sand while his mother, Hajar (Hagar), searched for water. The location of the well had been forgotten ever since the tribe of Jurhum covered it when they were being exiled from Makkah. One night Abdul Muttalib had a dream in which he was shown where to dig the well. When he started digging next to the Ka’bah, the water of Zamzam began to flow again.
It was also during Abdul Muttalib’s time that the Ka’bah was attacked by the Abyssinian conqueror Abraha and his men, whom the Qur’an refers to as the “Companions of the Elephant.” Abraha advanced with an army of sixty-thousand men, intent on destroying the Ka’bah. By destroying the Ka’bah he hoped to divert Arab pilgrims to his church in Yemen.
Abraha reached the valley of Muhassir, between Muzdalifah and Mina, ready to invade Makkah. As he advanced with his elephant, the beast that had terrified all of Makkah suddenly refused to move. As for the sixty-thousand soldiers, Allah, in defence of His Sacred House of worship, sent flocks of birds to pelt the invaders with stones. The soldiers were repulsed, and they lay felled by the stones, their bodies resembling “mashed corn.” Apart from the miraculous intervention of Allah in defence of the Ka’bah, this episode in Makkan history showed the strength of Abdul Muttalib’s character. He stood up to Arabia’s might in defence of his own property, unshakable in his faith that Allah would protect His Sacred House, the Ka’bah.