The Siege of the Banu Qurayza

Anees

In the context of: Is Muhammad a model for today? 

It is the year 627 AD, year 5 after Hijra, somewhere between February-March; the Meccans have retreated from the battle of the Trench. It is here that Muhammad and his troops now turn towards the Banu Qurayza, the third largest and richest of the three Jewish tribes of Medina (the other two, the Banu Qaynuqa and Banu Nadir, having been banished from Medina earlier). However, the Banu Qurayza were not as lucky as the other two. According to some of the earliest Muslim historians and commentators (Ibn Ishaq, Al-Waqidi, Al-Tabari, and Ibn Kathir), the Banu Qurayza were besieged for 25 days by the Muslims, led by Muhammad. Qur’anic passages from chapter 33 refer to the incident, although in a more oblique manner. Hadith collections such as Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim and Sunan Abu Dawud also give narratives of the event. After the final surrender of the Banu Qurayza, ditches were dug and the men, between 600-800 of them with tied shoulders, were then beheaded, and buried in them, while their children and women were taken as captives, or sold for horses and weapons. Before we get into the ‘nitty-gritty’ of the event and the historic sources, let us first look at the milieu at that time in Medina. Often overlooked, it nonetheless resulted in the banishment of these tribes which arose with the migration of Muhammad and his followers from Mecca to Medina.

The late Meccan period brought challenges to Muhammad. Abu Talib, who was the primary source of Muhammad’s security against the pagans, passed away, and so did Khadija, the wife of Muhammad, an influential character. The situation was bleak and due to much hostility exposed Muhammad to threats. In order to gain strength and have his new religion survive he had to establish connections with other tribes, which forced him to migrate to Yathrib (Medina), the town inhabited by a number of Jewish tribes. Watt asserts that,

“In such circumstances if Islam was not to fade away, some fresh line of activity was urgently required. All that could be done in Mecca had been done; therefore, the chief hope lay in advances elsewhere.” (Watt, 1953, p.138)

Before migrating to Medina, Muhammad had acquired his new religion to fit the Judaic Christian tradition, which was considered superior to the Arab paganism. This new religion of Muhammad he felt would seek to reunify the Jewish and Christian traditions, known as the people of the scriptures, with whom God cared to speak to, unlike the Arab pagans whom he belittled. Over the years, using whatever information Muhammad could get hold of, “a work in progress”, he established connections with material from the earlier scriptures. The polytheistic paganism was being challenged by the already existing monotheistic traditions, before Muhammad’s arrival on the scene. According to the traditional view Mecca was situated on the trading crossroads and was home to the sanctuary considered holy by the Arabs (Watt, 1953). Patricia Crone (in her research of 2004) challenges the historicity of Mecca’s engagement in heavy trading, doubting the city even existed this early; however, we shall approach the subject with the traditional view for now. According to the traditional Islamic account, the pilgrims would come to the sacred shrine and bring stories, as well as their experiences from the tribes of other regions. Watt maintains (1953) that there were only a few Jews in Mecca as well as people of the Christian faith. Carimokam (2010) points out that paganism was already a dying tradition and the movement towards monotheism was already taking place. There are accounts of both positive and negative reactions to Muhammad’s prophetic call. Armstrong (1993) acknowledges that there was a widespread feeling of spiritual inferiority. There were some Jewish tribes in Yathrib (Medina) and Fadak (to the north of Mecca), and some of the northern tribes on the borderlands of the Persian and Byzantine empires who had converted to Monophysite and Nestorian Christianity. Perhaps this could account for the influence of Nestorian Christianity in the Qur’an.

The work of Puin (2008) suggests that the Qur’an’s central theological tenets were influenced by Syrian Christianity. Although the Arabs cherished the superior tradition of the Jews and Christians, they experienced cultural isolation as paganism wore away, and this made them reluctant to embrace a tradition cloaked in a foreign language.

According to Wellhausen (1975), the Banu Qaylah maintained control of Medina, at the time of the Hijra. The Banu Qaylah were further divided into sub groups, the Banu al-Aus and the Banu al-Khazarj. Ibn Ishaq tells us that the Aus and Khazarj were polytheists who knew little about heaven and hell. The Jews were the second largest community in Medina. Lewis (1950) acknowledges that the Jews were disliked by the Arabs, due to their engagement in agricultural, and handiworks, which made them economically and culturally superior to the Arabs. Consequently they were attacked and almost eliminated. This has also been supported by the work of Wellhausen (1975), which suggests that even though the Jews did not have political control of Medina, nonetheless, due to their economic power and large numbers, they remained a threatening force.

Ibn Ishaq writes that,

There were two parties: The B. Qaynuqa and their adherents, allies of Khazarj; and al-Nadir and Qurayza and their adherent’s allies of Aus. When there was war between Aus and Khazraj the B. Qaynuqa went out with Khazraj, and al-Nadir and Qurayza with Aus, each side helping its allies against his own brethren so that they shed each other’s blood, while the Torah was in their hands by which they knew what was allowed and what was forbidden them. When the war came to an end they ransomed their prisoners in accordance with the Torah each side redeeming those of their men who had been captured by the polytheists. God said in blaming them for that; ‘Will you believe in a part of the scripture and disbelieve in another part?’ (Ibn Ishaq, p.253)

The Islamic sources do show us the prevalent inherent antagonism of the different tribes in Mecca. According to them, when Muhammad entered Medina, he longed to bring harmony between the tribes of the city so that they could all unite as a force. Muhammad made an effort to bring his new religion as close to Judaism as possible. He wished his revelations would strike a chord with the Jews and they would accept him as a prophet. Armstrong notes,

Thus he prescribed a fast for Muslims on the Jewish Day of Atonement and commanded Muslims to pray three times a day like the Jews, instead of only twice as hitherto. Muslims could marry Jewish women and should observe some of the dietary laws. Above all Muslims must now pray facing Jerusalem like the Jews and Christians. (Armstrong, 1993, p.184)

The traditions tell us that it was in Medina for the first time that Muhammad confronted the Jews, who had superior knowledge of the scriptures. It was easy for them to point out fallacies in Muhammad’s revelations, which differed substantially from the Judaic version. Armstrong (1993) acknowledges that the Jews had sound religious reasons to reject Muhammad; although they awaited the Messiah’s arrival, they believed the era of prophecy was over. Ironically the same theological reason is used by Muslims to reject later claims of prophet-hood. The greatest disappointment for Muhammad was the Jewish rejection which made his religious authority unstable. Nonetheless, Armstrong (1993) notes that some of the friendly Jews helped Muhammad to understand the Bible so that he could give rebuttals to the Jews criticisms. Muhammad learned the chronology of the prophets for the first time. He could now see why it was so crucial that Abraham lived before Moses and Jesus. He also learned that although Jews and Christians follow the same Abrahamic religion, they had serious theological disagreements between them. Muhammad had been oblivious to these details previously. Carimokam (2010) notes that the details in Muhammad’s ‘revelations’ almost disappeared in the Medinan period. Nonetheless, he made the utmost effort to attain the acknowledgement of the Jews, in order to unite with them as an alliance against the Meccans; yet, that unity never materialized, for Muhammad soon turned to violence.

We learn through Ibn Ishaq that Muhammad and his followers orchestrated various military raids and killings during the Medinan period. These included raids on Waddan, Buwat, al-Ushra, al-Kharrar, Safawan, B. Sulaym, Dhu Amarr, Al-Furu, Qaynuqa, Dhatu’l-Riqa, Dumatu’l-Jandal, B. Qurayza, B. Lihyan, Dhul Qarad, B. al-Mustaliq, Muta, and a Meccan caravan at Qarada, as well as the killing of Ka’b b. al-ashraf, Abu Afak, Sallam, and Asma bint Marwan, and finally the banishment of B. Nadir.

Through a Muslim apologist’s eyes all of these raids and killings were defensive and justified, and in each case the resisting party was considered obviously wrong. Yet, such an approach seems farfetched and inconceivable. For instance the raid on the Meccan caravan at Qarada resulted in all mainstream trading routes becoming risky for the Meccans forcing them not to travel along the western trade route to Syria. After a waiting period of almost one year Abu Sufyan concluded that they needed to find an alternate route to Syria before all of their trading stock was consumed. Furat Ibn Hayyan was hired to take them to Syria, by an eastern Iraqi route, not known to the Muslims. Nonetheless, the news was leaked to Muhammad and Zayd Ibn Harith was sent to seize the caravan. The Muslim captors warned Ibn Hayyan that if he embraced Islam Muhammad would not kill him. Thus, when he was brought in front of Muhammad, Ibn Hayyan accepted Islam and was set free (Tabari, cited in Carimokam, 2010, p.367).

Carimokam (2010) argues that this could be taken as a case of forced conversion, and as Islam spread many would face the same fate as Ibn Hayyan, following Muhammad’s practice. The event also proves that the trade route to Syria from Mecca was totally under the influence of Muhammad, and the Meccans were struggling as a result. Could it be these developments which inevitably pushed the Meccans to retaliate against Muhammad, leading first to the battle of Uhud (625) and subsequently to the battle of the trench (627)? Armstrong (1993) defends Muhammad’s practice, acknowledging that in the time of Muhammad, in a region where there was no central authority, each tribe was a law unto itself. Yet, it is my view that Muhammad, a guest in Medina, quickly appropriated the role of policing all of Medina, which included subjugating the indigenous Arabs who had invited him there to begin with (known as the ‘Ansar’), while forcing the Jewish families of Medina to join with him against the Meccan ‘Quraishi’, yet they had nothing to gain from Muhammad’s raids on the Meccan merchant caravans, nor the booty that Muslims obtained from these raids. What Armstrong does not recognize (or maybe doesn’t want to) is that Muhammad’s group of Muslims in seventh century Arabia followed their own social norms, raided caravans, used captive women sexually, traded them for armour, and slaughtered subjugated tribes. These practices would become the example of Islam and be imitated as the best example for all Muslims from this period on.

To underline these points we shall now return specifically to the siege of the Banu Qurayza in 627. Ibn Ishaq tells us that after the battle of the trench (al-Khandaq), once the Meccans had retreated, instead of putting his weapons down, Muhammad was instructed to turn against the Banu Qurayza Jews, on the orders of the angel Gabriel.

Narrated by ‘Aisha,

When Allah’s Apostle returned on the day (of the battle) of Al-Khandaq (i.e. Trench), he put down his arms and took a bath. Then Gabriel, whose head was covered with dust, came to him saying, “You have put down your arms! By Allah, I have not put down my arms yet.” Allah’s Apostle said, “Where (to go now)?” Gabriel said, “This way,” pointing towards the tribe of Bani Qurayza. So Allah’s Apostle went out towards them. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 4, book 52, Number 68)

We also learn from the Tafsir of Ibn Khathir,

The Messenger of Allah returned to Al-Madinah in triumph and the people put down their weapons. While the Messenger of Allah was washing off the dust of battle in the house of Umm Salamah, may Allah be pleased with her, Jibril, upon him be peace, came to him wearing a turban of brocade, riding on a mule on which was a cloth of silk brocade. He said, “Have you put down your weapons, O Messenger of Allah” He said, “Yes” He said, “But the angels have not put down their weapons. I have just now come back from pursuing the people.” Then he said: “Allah, may He be blessed and exalted, commands you to get up and go to Banu Qurayza. According to another report, “What a fighter you are! Have you put down your weapons” He said, “Yes”. He said, “But we have not put down our weapons yet, get up and go to these people.” He said: “Where?” He said, “Banu Qurayza, for Allah has commanded me to shake them.” So the Messenger of Allah got up immediately, and commanded the people to march towards Banu Qurayza, who were a few miles from Al-Madinah. This was after Salat Az-Zuhr. He said, No one among you should pray `Asr except at Banu Qurayza. (Ibn Kathir, p.213)

Ibn Ishaq tells us that Muhammad and his troops besieged the Banu Qurayza for twenty-five nights until “they were sore pressed and God cast terror into their hearts” (Ibn Ishaq, p.461).   When the Jews were certain that Muhammad would not release them, Ka’b b. Asad proposed three possibilities; 1. Accept Muhammad as a prophet 2. Kill their women and children and fight the Muslims 3. Take Muhammad and his men by surprise on the Sabbath. The Banu Qurayza decided not fight. Perhaps they had hopes they would be exiled by Muhammad, like the banu Qaynuqa and the Al-Nadir Jewish tribes. Wellhausen (1975) questions how Muslim historians can know about these negotiations from behind the bastioned walls of Qurayza? In my opinion there could be only two possibilities; 1. These are later developments, where historians put words in the mouths of the Jews; 2. The surviving women and children could have passed on the traditions, since they were eye witnesses to the event. Nonetheless, since we have no Jewish account of this incident, the authenticity should be taken with some scepticism.

According to Ibn Ishaq, al-Aus, an ally of the Qurayza, tried to convince Muhammad to banish them from Medina, but instead they had to face a worse fate. Carimokam (2010) notes that when Abdullah b. Ubbay b. Salul had earlier urged Muhammad to spare the previous Jewish tribe, the banu Qaynuqa, Muhammad got angry and it took great effort by him to convince Muhammad to banish them. Wellhausen (1975) also points out that Muhammad’s initial intention was to kill the Banu Qaynuqa. Muhammad asked Aus if they would be happy to submit to the judgement of one of their own leaders, and consequently Sa’ad b. Mu’adh was chosen as the arbitrator.  It is worth noticing that according to Ibn Ishaq it is Muhammad who chooses Sa’ad, not the Jews;

When al-Aus spoke thus the apostle said: ‘Will you be satisfied, O Aus, if one of your own number pronounces judgement on them?’ When they agreed he said that Sa’ad b. Mu’ad is the man. (Ibn Ishaq, p.463)

Interestingly, later Muslim writers assert that it was the Jewish Banu Qurayza themselves who chose Sa’ad as the arbitrator.

Narrated by Abu Said,

The people of (the tribe of) Qurayza agreed upon to accept the verdict of Sa’ad. The Prophet sent for him (Sa’ad) and he came. The Prophet said (to those people), “Get up for your chief or the best among you!” Sa’ad sat beside the Prophet and the Prophet said (to him), “These people have agreed to accept your verdict.” Sa’ad said, “So I give my judgment that their warriors should be killed and their women and children should be taken as captives.” The Prophet said, “You have judged according to the King’s (Allah’s) judgment.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 74, Number 278)

The notion that a tribe on its knees, subdued and surrendered, besieged for 25 nights, were then given a choice to choose their arbitrator is somewhat incoherent. Could this be a case of an evolving hagiography with the passage of time? Muslim polemicists like W.N Arafat (1976) argue that Ibn Ishaq’s accounts are on shaky grounds because they were written some one hundred and forty years after the event, hence there is room for many alterations. That very well might be the case, however if Ibn Ishaq’s records are murky, al Bukhari’s would be even more so, since they were written a full two hundred and forty years after the event. As we noted earlier, Ibn Ishaq’s are the earliest Muslim sources to this event, and we don’t even have any Jewish sources to verify whether they are true!

Muslim apologists like Arafat (1976) also claim that Ibn Ishaq did not apply a strict method of a chain of narrators, known as isnad to verify the credibility of his sources. Nonetheless, the work of Watt (1991) shows that while many of the isnads themselves were fabricated, Ibn Ishaq was quoted as one of the prominent ‘scientific’ transmitters. The Isnad method was a later development, hence the work of Ibn Ishaq could not be dismissed out of hand. We also learn that al-Bukhari authenticated some 4400 hadiths from approx. 600,000. This in itself suggests that a huge number of fabricated hadiths were in circulation at that time. Contemporary scholars would also be discredited with this approach.

Nonetheless, even if Sa’ad was chosen by the Qurayza, this still doesn’t shift the entire burden of responsibility on Sa’ad’s shoulders, as Muhammad was the supreme authority and his decision could override Sa’ad’s, yet he chose not to. Wellhausen (1975) points out that the demise of the Banu Qurayza was inevitable once Sa’ad was selected as the arbitrator, because of his hostility towards the Qurayza.

Narrated by ‘Aisha,

So, on that day, Allah’s Apostle got up on the pulpit and complained about ‘Abdullah bin Ubai (bin Salul) before his companions, saying, ‘O you Muslims! Who will relieve me from that man who has hurt me with his evil statement about my family? By Allah, I know nothing except good about my family and they have blamed a man about whom I know nothing except good and he used never to enter my home except with me.’ Sa’ad bin Mu’adh the brother of Banu ‘Abd Al-Ashhal got up and said, ‘O Allah’s Apostle! I will relieve you from him; if he is from the tribe of Al-Aus, then I will chop his head off, and if he is from our brothers, i.e. Al-Khazraj, then order us, and we will fulfil your order.’ (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 59, Number 461)

The above extract shows the very hostile viewpoint taken by Sa’ad towards people making defiling remarks against Muhammad.

Ibn Ishaq tells us further about Sa’ad’s verdict,

Do you covenant by Allah that you accept the judgement I renounce on them? They said yes, and he said, ‘And it is incumbent on the one who is here?’ (looking) in the direction of the apostle not mentioning him out of respect, and the apostle answered Yes. Sa’ad said, ‘Then I give judgement that the men should be killed, the property divided, and the women and children taken as captives.’ (Ibn Ishaq, p.464)

According to Ibn Sa’ad,

The Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, authorised Sa’ad ibn Mu’adh to give a decision about them. He passed an order: He who is subjected to razors (i.e. the male) should be killed, women and children should be enslaved and property should be distributed. Thereupon the Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, said: You have decided in confirmation to the judgement of Allah, above the seven heavens. The Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, returned on Thursday 7 Dhu al- Hijjah. Then he commanded them to be brought into al-Madinah where ditches were dug in the market. The Apostle of Allah, may Allah bless him, sat with his Companions and they were brought in small groups. Their heads were struck off. They were between six hundred and seven hundred in number. (Ibn Sa’d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir, Vol. 2, p. 93)

According to Al-Tabari, those killed were only men,

The Messenger of God had commanded that all of them who had reached puberty should be killed. (Tabari, Volume 8, p.38)

We also learn this from Atiyyah al-Qurazi,

I was among the captives of Banu Qurayzah. They (the Companions) examined us, and those who had begun to grow hair (pubes) were killed, and those who had not were not killed. I was among those who had not grown hair. (Abu Dawud, Book 38, Number 4390)

According to Ibn Kathir’s commentary, the number was as high as 800 men.

Then the Messenger of Allah commanded that ditches should be dug, so they were dug in the earth, and they were brought tied by their shoulders, and were beheaded. There were between seven hundred and eight hundred of them. The children who had not yet reached adolescence and the women were taken prisoner, and their wealth was seized (Tafsir Ibn Kathir Juz’21, p.213)

Even the Qur’an, Chapter 33, Verses 26-27 speaks of this incident, saying,

And He brought down those who supported them among the People of the Scripture from their fortresses and cast terror into their hearts [so that] a party you killed and you took captive a party. And He caused you to inherit their land and their homes and their properties and a land which you have not trodden. And ever is Allah, over all things, competent.

Muslim apologists like Arafat argue that only the warrior men were beheaded, yet these sources above prove that all the males post pubescent were killed. Interestingly, in the Qur’an there are only two categories given, the ones who were killed and the ones taken captives. It is clear from the sources above that only the women and children were taken as captives and then sold for horses and weapons. Some Muslims suggest that Sa’ad derived the punishment from Deuteronomy 20:12-14, which stipulates that all men are to be killed; yet if this was true, than Sa’ad should have read verses 16-17 which clearly states that all living things (including women and children) were to be killed, something Sa’ad did not follow. Furthermore, if the earliest Muslim sources have been corrupted, then it adds to the obscurity of Islam. It should also be taken into account that these events, as difficult as they are, would be used in legal Islamic proceedings of punishment throughout the world today, and would be interpreted as sharia law.

The slaughter of the Banu Qurayza is commonly justified by Muslim apologists on the basis that the entire tribe was treasonous towards the treaty that Muhammad made with them. Yet, according to Ibn Ishaq, it was only 7 men amongst the Banu Qurayza who joined the Meccans, and so were treasonous. Unfortunately, the entire Banu Qurayza tribe paid the price for these 7 men through either enslavement, or death. Is that just, or a model we should use today?

It has been discussed previously that Muhammad’s utmost struggle was to gain Jewish acceptance and unite Medina as a force against the Meccans. It is at this point that we need to introduce the ‘Constitution of Medina’, signed, according to Islamic Tradition, by both the Jews and the Muslims.

Ibn Ishaq relates,

This is a document from Muhammad the prophet [governing the relations] between the believers and the Muslims of Quraysh and Yathrib, and those who followed them and joined them and laboured with them. A believer shall not slay a believer for the sake of an unbeliever, nor shall he aid an unbeliever against a believer. If any dispute or controversy likely to cause trouble should arise it must be referred to God and Muhammad the apostle of God. (Ibn Ishaq, p.232-233)

It is worth noticing that in the last line Muhammad is portrayed as the arbitrator between God and man. How would any Jew accept a treaty which designates Muhammad as the arbiter between them and God; what’s more, why would they have agreed to such a treaty? We will never know, since we have no Jewish confirmation of such a treaty.

It is well known that the Jews did not consider Muhammad’s revelation, the Qur’an, authoritative, nor therefore, himself as a prophet. From a Jewish perspective the Qur’an was a patchwork consisting of miscellaneous incongruous material much of which was made up of Jewish apocryphal borrowings. Far from being the ‘unalterable speech’ of God, much of the Qur’an is borrowed from earlier Jewish material written in the second century AD, or later. For instance; Surah An-Naml (27) in the Qur’an was revealed during the middle stage of the Prophet’s stay in Mecca. The story of Solomon and the queen of Sheba, in this surah, has been ‘lifted’ directly from The Second Targum of Esther, a 2nd century apocryphal account, with parts of the story omitted in the Qur’an.

As we mentioned earlier, Muhammad was not indigenous to Medina. He and his followers migrated to Medina, from Mecca, according to the Traditions, in 622 AD. It was the Jews who were indigenous to the city, and had lived there for centuries. Thus, he was the guest, not them. Yet, with the banishment of the Banu Qaynuqa and Banu Al-Nadir, a pattern was already in place that would ultimately lead to the Banu Qurayza’s demise, and they could foresee that. The Banu Qurayza were being sucked into this confrontation between Muhammad and the Meccans, a problem which was not theirs. If they had indeed signed such a treaty (unlikely as it now seems), perhaps breaking the treaty would have been the only choice left to ensure their neutrality and survival. Nonetheless, the Muslim sources agree that they surrendered after the siege.

Watt (1956) acknowledges that the Banu Qurayza could have been detrimental for Muhammad and his clan, because of their economic clout, but since they didn’t struggle against him, their reluctance jeopardised their own existence.

It must also be noted that Muhammad made a good deal of profit in destroying the Banu Qurayza, since 1/5th of all their booty went to him personally, a practice which from this time on became commonplace.

Ibn Ishaq states,

Then the apostle divided the property, wives and children of B. Qurayza among the Muslims, and he made known on that day the shares of horse and men, and took out the fifth. It was the first booty on which the lots were cast and the fifth was taken. According to its precedent and what the apostle did the divisions were made, and it remained the custom for raids. Then the apostle sent Sa’ad b. Zayd al-Ansari brother of b. Abdu’l-Ashal with some of the captive women of B. Qurayza to Najd and he sold them for horses and weapons. (Ibn Ishaq, p.466)

 

Not all of the Banu Qurayza were acquiescent, however, for there was one woman who stood up to the prophet, refused to be his wife, and refused to accept Islam. As Ibn Ishaq continues,

The apostle had chosen one of their women for himself, Rayhana d. Amr b. Khunafa, one of the women of B. Amr b. Qurayza, and she remained with him until she died, in his power. The apostle had proposed to marry her and put the veil on her, but she said: ‘Nay, leave me in your power, for that will be easier for me and you.’ So he left her. She had shown repugnance towards Islam when she was captured and clung to Judaism. So the apostle put her aside and felt some displeasure. (Ibn Ishaq, p.466)

The episodes concerning Muhammad and his wives are also referred to in the Qur’an, Chapter 33, Verses 49- 50, though interestingly, nowhere does it refer to the Jewish Rayhana’s refusal. It states,

O Prophet, indeed We have made lawful to you your wives to whom you have given their due compensation and those your right hand possesses from what Allah has returned to you [of captives] and the daughters of your paternal uncles and the daughters of your paternal aunts and the daughters of your maternal uncles and the daughters of your maternal aunts who emigrated with you and a believing woman if she gives herself to the Prophet [and] if the Prophet wishes to marry her, [this is] only for you, excluding the [other] believers. We certainly know what We have made obligatory upon them concerning their wives and those their right hands possess, [but this is for you] in order that there will be upon you no discomfort. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful. 

We also learn from Sahih al-Bukhari that the Muslim captors used to use the captive women sexually. Al Bukhari mentions this in a narration by Abu Said Al-Khudri,

While he was sitting with Allah’s Apostle he said, “O Allah’s Apostle! We get female captives as our share of booty, and we are interested in their prices, what is your opinion about ‘coitus interruptus’?” The Prophet said, “Do you really do that? It is better for you not to do it. No soul that which Allah has destined to exist, but will surely come into existence. (Sahih Bukhari Volume 3, Book 34, Number 432)

Once the Banu Qurayza were defeated, all of the Jews were then thrown out of Medina, their home for many centuries. According to al-Bukhari, and narrated by Ibn Umar,

Bani An-Nadir and Bani Qurayza fought (against the Prophet violating their peace treaty), so the Prophet exiled Bani An-Nadir and allowed Bani Qurayza to remain at their places (in Medina) taking nothing from them till they fought against the Prophet again). He then killed their men and distributed their women, children and property among the Muslims, but some of them came to the Prophet and he granted them safety, and they embraced Islam. He exiled all the Jews from Medina. They were the Jews of Bani Qaynuqa’, the tribe of ‘Abdullah bin Salam and the Jews of Bani Haritha and all the other Jews of Medina (Sahih al-Bukhari, volume 5, book 59, number 362)

Conclusion:

Almost all of the material quoted above, concerning the situations surrounding the attack on the Banu Qurayza, come from the earliest Muslim sources. It is striking that Muslim apologists hold the accounts of these earlier historians of Islam (Ishaq and Hisham) with disdain and instead choose to go with the later developments (Bukhari and Muslim). It has to be kept in mind we are mulling over the historicity of the events through uniquely Muslim sources. The closest documentation we can even obtain concerning this early history of Islam does not appear before the emergence of Ibn Ishaq’s ‘Sirat Rasul Allah’ (765 AD), transmitted through Ibn Hisham (833 AD), over 200 years after the events they refer to, followed by Al Waqidi and others. The later hadith literature, such as al Bukhari, Muslim and others astonishingly emerge some 240 to 300 years after these events, a good 100 years after Ibn Ishaq. The long silence that surrounds the history of early Islam has profound implications and raises some serious questions concerning its reliability. Ironically Muslim apologists like W.N. Arafat who reject the earliest historic writings of Ishaq and Hisham, choosing instead al Bukhari and Muslim, stand against historical critical practice, which starts from the premise that the closer the document is to the event, the more reliable it tends to be. Ishaq and Hisham are indeed the closer writings, and thus should be the more reliable.

Nonetheless, whether we accept the early or late Muslim sources, they all give us a rather disturbing picture of Islam’s final and greatest prophet, who Muslims consider a model for all people, in all places, and for all time. This picture describes a man from Mecca, invited as a guest to Medina to arbitrate between the native Arabs and Jews. Yet, within two years he quickly sides with one group (the Arab Ansars), against the other (the Jewish clans), and takes on a policing role. After two years of wooing the Jews, he then takes over political power of the city and turns against them, blaming them for not supporting him in his grievances against the Meccans, a grievance which had nothing to do with them. After first exiling two of the Jewish clans for not supporting him, he then turns his attention against the last, largest, and richest of the Jewish families, the Banu Qurayza, whom he attacks and defeats within 25 days. He then chooses a hostile person to arbitrate their surrender, who stipulates that all the 600 – 800 men be beheaded in one afternoon, and the children, women and goods be taken and divvied up, with 1/5th going to Muhammad himself. Indeed Muhammad benefitted greatly from the demise of these Jews.

Later Muslim sources say killing them was legitimate because the Qurayza tribe were all guilty of treason, as they betrayed the ‘Treaty of Medina’, which they had signed earlier, possibly under duress. According to the earlier sources, it was only 7 of the men who sided with the Meccans, yet the entire tribe was convicted, while the treaty itself stipulated that Muhammad would be the arbiter between them and God, a document no Jew would sign, considering their high view of prophet-hood, their disdain for Muhammad, and their refusal to accept the Qur’an as a revelation. Thus, all were indicted for the guilt of a few.

The question for us today is this; if these are the actions of Islam’s greatest prophet, and their greatest paradigm, than what should we expect from Muslims today who choose to follow such a model? Could they, following this model, not likewise move to our cities as guests, begin to police us, and demand we sign a document accepting Muhammad as a prophet, even as our arbiter with God (at the moment they already demand that we not criticize him publicly)? And if we refuse to accept their prophet, as the Banu Qurayza did, should they not do as their prophet did, and attack us, kill our men, and enslave our women and children? Perhaps that scenario seems to you a bit ‘far-fetched’ (and hopefully not prophetic). Nonetheless, is Muhammad’s treatment of the Banu Qurayza a model worth emulating, and should Muhammad be a legitimate paradigm for anyone, anywhere, and for any time, including today, here in Britain? I think not…how think ye?

References

-Arent Jan Wensinck, Muhammad and the Jews of Medina (Berlin: Freiburg, 1975)

-Bernard Lewis, Arabs in History, Oxford University Press, USA; 6th edition (May 23, 2002)

-Gerd Puin, The Hidden Origins of Islam: New Research into Its Early History, Prometheus Books (2008)

-Gilchrist, Jam Al-Qur’an, Jesus to the Muslims (1989)

-Karen Armstrong, Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet, Phoenix; New Ed edition (2001)

-Karen Armstrong, A History of God, Vintage, 1999

-M. J. Kister, “The massacre of the Banu Qurayza: a re-examination of a tradition,” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 8 (1986)

-Muhammad Ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, Sirat Rasul Allah, A Guillaume (Trans), London, 1955

-Muhammad ibn Sa’d. Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir. (translated into English by S. Moinul Haq), 2 volumes, Pakistan Historical Society, Karachi, Pakistan. 1972.

-Patricia Crone, Meccan Trade and the rise of Islam, Gorgias Press (20 July 2004)

-Sahaja Carimokam, Muhammad and the People of the Book, Xlibris, Corp, 2010

-Tafsir Ibn Kathir Juz’ 21 (Part 21): Al-Ankabut 46 to Al-Azhab 30, Muhammad Saeed Abdul Rehman MSA Publication Limited, 2009

-The History of Al-Tabari: The Victory of Islam, translated by Michael Fishbein, State University of New York Press, Albany, (1997)

-W. Montgomery Watt, Early Islam, EDINBURGH University Press, 1990

-W. Montgomery Watt, Muhammad at Mecca, Oxford, 1953

-W. Montgomery Watt, Muhammad at Medina, Oxford, Clarendon press, 1956

-W. Montgomery Watt, Muhammad Prophet and statesman, Oxford, 1961

-W. Montgomery Watt, “The Condemnation of the Jews of Banu Qurayza: A Study of the Sources of the Sira,” in Early Islam: Collected Articles (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1990)

-W. N. Arafat, “New Light on the Story of the Banu Qurayza,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland 2 (1976)