The Jewish tribe Bani Nadhir ordered into exile
The Bani Nadhir were one of the Jewish tribes inhabiting the vicinity of Medina and were confederated with the Bani Aamir with whom Muhammad had experienced conflict. Attended by a few followers Muhammad visited their village, and despite being treated courteously suddenly arose, and, without saying a word to any one, walked out of the assembly. His followers waited a long time expecting his return but they waited in vain; at length they also arose, and went back to Medina. They found, to their astonishment, that Muhammad had returned straightway to his home, and had given out that his hasty departure from the assembly was caused by a divine intimation that the chiefs of the Bani Nadhir were seeking treacherously to take his life. It is asserted that they had formed a plot to ascend the roof under which he sat, and roll down great stones upon him His followers however, saw nothing to excite suspicion, and as the chapter of the Quran specially devoted to the subject does not hint at any such treachery, we must receive the narrative with distrust. Muhammad now resolved that Bani Nadhir should no longer remain in the neighbourhood of Medina.
He pronounced an order of banishment and they began to make their preparations for departure. It was a grievous prospect for them to be exiled from the home of their fathers, from their fertile fields, and their choice date-groves and w when promises of support came from other tribes they resolved to hold fast. The Muslims armed themselves and made ready for the campaign with Ali carrying the standard. The besiegers were kept at a distance by arrows and stones; but the Bani Nadhir looked in vain for help either from Medina or from the tribes of Nejd. The Bani Qurayza, their Jewish brethren, either swayed by ancient, jealousies or fearful of incurring the wrath of the vindictive Prophet, pretended that they could not break their treaty with him. Despite these disappointments, the Bani Nadhir held out gallantly and defied all the attempts of their enemy.
Muhammad in order to hasten their surrender, had recourse to an expedient, unusual, if not wholly unwarranted, according to the laws of Arab warfare. He cut down the surrounding date-trees, and burned the choicest of them to the roots with fire. The Jews remonstrated against this proceeding as barbarous and opposed to the law of Moses (Deuteronomy 20:19) so Muhammad, feeling that his reputation could be violated, had a special sanction from Allah approving the destruction of his enemy’s palm-trees.
The siege had lasted for fifteen or twenty days and Bani Nadhir seeing no prospect of relief, sent to say that they were now ready to abandon the lands which had already to them lost their chief value. Muhammad was glad to accede to the offer. They submitted, moreover, to the stipulation that they should leave their arms behind them. The Bani Nadhir having laden the whole of their property even to their doors and lintels, upon camels, set out on the road to Syria. Some of their chiefs turned aside at Kheibar, the rest went on to the highlands south of Syria. Two of their number only abandoned their ancestral faith, and, having embraced Islam, were able to remain in possession of their fields and property. Thus early were the inducements of this life brought to bear on the advancement of the creed of Muhammad. The spoil consisted of 50 coats of mail, 50 portions of complete armour and 340 swords but of greater importance was the fertile tract of land now at the disposal of Muhammad.
One by one Muhammad was breaking up the adjoining Jewish settlements, and weakening the cause of disaffection. The whole of Surah 59, Al-Hashr is devoted to the victory in which is ascribed the terror which struck the hearts of Bani Nadhir by the power of Allah.
Siege of Medina (Battle of the Ditch)
A year and a half after the expulsion of the Bani Nadhir the Meccans joined by Bedouin tribes, tried to lay siege to Medina but were thwarted by the digging of a ditch. After several days wearied and damped in spirit, with the wind and rain beating mercilessly on the unprotected camp it hardened into a hurricane. Fires were extinguished, tents blown down, cooking vessels and other equipment overthrown. Cold and comfortless, Abu Sofian suddenly resolved on an immediate march and retired. During the siege Abu Sofian succeeded in detaching the Jewish tribe of Qurayza from their allegiance to Muhammad and it was agreed that now they would assist the Qurraish.
Siege of the Banu Qurayza
Rumours of the defection reached Muhammad and this was confirmed by a small delegation which he sent to them. Under divine instruction from Gabriel he laid siege on the Bani Qurayza. The grim details of how hundreds of prisoners were slaughtered has been carefully recorded which has made an indelible blot upon the character of Muhammad.
Gabriel came to Muhammad bringing him the command to proceed immediately against the Bani Qurayza: ‘hast thou laid aside thine armour, while as yet the angels have not laid theirs aside, arise, and go forth against the Qurayza. Behold, I go before thee to shake the foundations of their walls.’ An immediate march was ordered; all were to be present at the evening prayer in the camp pitched before the fortress of the Qurayza, two or three miles to the south-east of Medina. The standard was placed in the hands of Ali and Muhammad mounted his ass, and the army 3,000 strong, with 36 horses followed him.
A discharge of archery fell on the fortress of the Qurayza and they were soon reduced to great distress, and sought to capitulate on condition of quitting the neighbourhood even empty-handed. Muhammad, having no longer other Jewish neighbours to alarm or alienate by his severity, was bent on a bloody revenge, and he refused to listen. In their extremity, the Qurayza appealed to their ancient friendship with the Bani Aus, and the services rendered to them in bygone days. They begged that Abu Lubaba, a friend and ally belonging to that tribe, might be allowed to visit and counsel them. He came, and, overcome by the wailing of the children and the cries of the women, had no heart to speak, but, symbolically drawing his hand across his throat, indicated that they must fight to the last, as death was all had to hope for.
After a siege of 14, or according to others 25 days, the whole tribe, men, women and children, came forth from their stronghold. The men, handcuffed behind their backs, were placed on one side, under the charge of Muhammad son of Maslama, the assassin of K’ab; the women and children, torn from their fathers and husbands, were put under the care of Abdallah, a renegade Jew. As the women passed before the conqueror, Muhammad’s eye marked the lovely features of Rihana, and he destined her to be his own. The captives household materials, clothes and armour (500 swords, 1,000 lances, 500 shields and 300 coats of mail) along with their camels and flocks, were all brought forth to await a decision in respect of the booty. The wine and fermented liquors were poured away, the use of such being now forbidden to Muslims.
The Bani Aus were insistent that their ancient allies should be spared and when Muhammad suggested that their fate should be placed into the hands of one of this tribe, they expressed satisfaction. Muhammad immediately nominated Sa’d ibn Muadz to be the judge. S’ad still suffered from the severe wound received at the Battle of the Ditch. He had been carried from the field of battle to a tent pitched in the court-yard of the Mosque, where the wounded men were treated. His wound had begun apparently to heal but the sense of the injury still rankled in his heart and Muhammad knew well how his former friendship with the Qurayza had turned into bitter hatred because of their treachery. S’ad pronounced his judgement: ‘’This verily is my judgement, that the male captives shall be put to death, and the female captives and the children shall be sold into slavery, and the spoil divided amongst the army.’
The Butchery of the Banu Qurayza
Many a heart quailed, besides the hearts of the wretched prisoners, at this bloody decree but all questionings were stopped by Muhammad, who sternly adopted the verdict of his own by declaring it to be the solemn judgement of Allah. Cold and unmoved he said: ‘Truly thou hast decided according to the judgement of Allah pronounced on high from beyond the seven heavens.’ No sooner was the sentence passed and ratified than the camp broke up and the people wended their way back to Medina. The captives, still under charge of Muhammad were dragged roughly along; one alone was treated with tenderness and care, – it was Rihana the beautiful Jewess, set apart for Muhammad. The men and women were penned up for the night in separate yards; they were supplied with dates and spent the night in prayer, repeating passages from their Scriptures and exhorting one another to constancy. During the night graves or trenches sufficient to contain the dead bodies of the men were dug in the chief market place of the city. When these were ready in the morning Muhammad, himself a spectator of the tragedy gave command that the captives should be brought forth in companies of five or six at a time. Each company was made to sit down by the brink of the trench destined for its grave, and there beheaded. The murderous work began in the morning, lasted all day, and was concluded by torchlight in the evening. The market-place was drenched with the blood of 800 victims, (the numbers are variously given from between 600 to even 900) and the earth was smoothed over their remains.
One woman alone was put to death; it was she who threw the millstone from the battlements. When she heard that her husband had been slain, she loudly avowed what she had done, and demanded to be led too execution also, – a request which Muhammad granted in more mercy perhaps than he intended, and she met her death with a cheerful countenance. Ayesha relates that this woman, whose heart perhaps was sustained by faith in the God of her fathers went smiling and fearlessly to her fate. Ayesha said that she could never get this woman out of her imagination.
There were (besides little children) a thousand captives; from his share of these, Muhammad made certain presents to his friends of slave girls and female servants. The rest of the women and children he sent to be sold among the Bedouin tribes of Nejd, in exchange for horses and arms.
A Jewish concubine for Muhammad
Muhammad turned from the horrid spectacle to solace himself with the charms of Rihana, whose husband and all her male relatives had just perished in the massacre. He invited her to be his wife; but she declined, and chose to remain (having refused marriage, she had no alternative) his slave or concubine. She also declined the summons to conversion, and continued in the Jewish faith, at which the Prophet was much concerned. It is said, however, that afterwards she embraced Islam. She lived with Muhammad until her death.
Reflections on the massacre which bears on Muhammad’s character
That the massacre was barbarous and inhuman requires no comment to prove. The ostensible grounds upon which Muhammad proceeded were purely political, for as yet he did not profess to force men to join Islam, or to punish them for not embracing it. Muhammad’s policy towards the Jews, from a period shortly after his arrival at Medina, had been harsh and oppressive; he had attacked and expatriated two whole tribes on very doubtful grounds; and had been involved in the assassination of several Jews; and had felt that the existing treaty with the Jews had been practically set aside. Yet, the Qurayza had joined his enemies at a critical period, and he had now a good cause for warring against them. He had furthermore, fair grounds of political necessity for requiring them perhaps to quit altogether a vicinity where they must have continued to form a dangerous nucleus of disaffection, and possibly an encouragement for renewed attack. We might even concede that the conduct of their leaders amounted to treason against the city, and warranted a severe retribution but the indiscriminate slaughter of 800 men, and the subjugation of the women and children of the whole tribe to slavery, can be recognised by no civilised people otherwise than as an act of enormous cruelty.
The plea of divine ratification or command may allay the scruples of the credulous Muslim; but it will be summarily rejected by others, who will call to mind that the same authority was now habitually produced for personal ends, and for the justification even of unhallowed actions. However much Muhammad may have deluded himself into the belief that he had the divine sanction for that which he did, a candid and severe examination of his heart must have shown him that these so-called revelations were but the counterpart of his own will, that they followed the course of his own longings and desires, and that he was himself was responsible for their shape and colour. The butchery of the Qurayza casts an indelible blot upon the character of Muhammad.
The invasion of Kheiber
On his return from making the Treaty of Hodeiba with the Meccans, Muhammad fulfilled to those who accompanied him in the pilgrimage the promise of the early prospect of a rich and extensive plunder. In the autumn of the year A.D. 628 he made an unprovoked invasion on the fertile land of the Jewish territory of Kheiber. He marched out of Medina with an army of 1600 men and journeyed the distance of perhaps 100 miles in three forced marches. So quick was the movement and surprise, that the cultivators coming out in the morning suddenly found themselves confronted by a great army.
The rich vale of Kheiber was studded with villages and fortresses rudely built but posted strongly on the rocks of eminences which here and there rose above the luxuriant date-groves and fields of corn. One by one, before any general opposition could be organised, these forts were attacked and taken. The region of Kuteiba did have time to rally around their leader Kinana, and after Muhammad failed to dislodge them he handed the great black flag, to Ali. The Jewish warrior Marhab challenged his adversary to single combat and in the struggle Ali cleft off his head, while Zubeir slew Marhab’s brother. The Muslim line now made a general advance in which Ali performed great feats of prowess which tradition has magnified. The victory for the Muslims was decisive; the Jews lost 93 men while only 19 Muslims were killed throughout the whole campaign.
The surrender of the Jewish fortresses was made on the condition that the inhabitants were free to leave the country, but that they should give up all their property to the conqueror. Muhammad accused Kinana of keeping back, in contravention of the pact, a portion of riches. Kinana claimed that they no longer had these articles but a traitorous Jew divulged to Muhammad their whereabouts. Kinana, having agreed beforehand that if he had concealed anything would have to face fearful consequences. On the discovery of the wealth, Kinana was subjected to cruel torture in the hope that he would confess to the whereabouts of other treasures of Kheiber which were concealed. Muhammad then gave his command, that the heads of the chief and his cousin should be severed from their bodies.
Marriage of Muhammad with Safia, Kinana’s bride
The scene of torture and bloodshed was hardly ended when Muhammad sent Bilal to fetch the bride of Kinana, a young lady of seventeen or eighteen years of age. Finding with Safia another lady, her cousin, he brought them both straight across the battlefield strewed with the dead, and close by the corpses of Kinana and his cousin. At the ghastly sight of their headless trunks, the companion of Safia screamed wildly, beating her face, and casting dust upon her head and Muhammad chided Bilal for his want of consideration in bringing the women so near the bodies of their relatives. Muhammad cast his mantle around Safia, in token that she was to be his own, and then gave her over to the care of Bilal.
Muhammad eats of the poisoned kid
The nuptials of Muhammad were dampened by the revenge of Zeinab, sister of the warrior Marhab, who had lost her husband, father, brothers and other relatives in the battle. She dressed a kid, and having steeped it in deadly poison, placed the dish with fair words before Muhammad at his evening meal. Graciously accepting the gift, he took the shoulder (the part he loved to eat, and to which Zeinab had therefore impregnated the most strongly) for himself, tore off a choice bone for Bishr a follower who sat next to him, and distributed portions to Abu Bakr and his other friends around. Scarcely had he swallowed a mouthful, when he exclaimed: ’Hold ! Surely this shoulder hath been poisoned; ’ and he spat out what was in his mouth. Bishr, who had eaten more than Muhammad, at once changed colour, and stirred neither hand nor foot until he died; Muhammad himself, was seized with excruciating pain. Zeinab was then summoned, and interrogated as to the motive of her offence. She replied boldly ’Thou hast inflicted, these grievous injuries on my people; thou hast slain my father, and my uncle, and my husband. Therefore I said within myself, if he is a Prophet he will be aware that the shoulder of the kid is poisoned; but if he be a mere pretender, then we shall be rid of him, and the Jews again will prosper.’ She was put to death and the effect of the poison was felt by Muhammad to his dying day.