The Campaigns of al Khandaq and Banu Qurayzah

Muhammad's Caution and Arab Instinct

After the forced evacuation of Banu al Nadir from Madinah, and the events of the "second Badr," the campaigns of Ghatafan and Dawmat al Jandal, it was high time the Muslims felt a measure of security within their city. Hence, they applied themselves to the task of organizing their own internal affairs. Their constant preoccupation with security and war had largely prevented their engagement in agriculture or commerce. Nonetheless, their state of privation and need was largely ameliorated by the booty they acquired through these campaigns. Though Muhammad felt relatively secure, he was always cautious lest the enemy strike without notice. He therefore had to maintain eyes, ears, and channels of communication throughout the Arabian Peninsula in order to learn of all the news of the tribes so that the Muslims might have time to prepare for defense in case of emergency. It is easy for us to appreciate the need for all these precautions after hearing of the treacherous attacks of Quraysh and other tribes against the Muslims. The Arabian Peninsula of those days was covered with autonomous little republics, each of which extended over the territory inhabited or used by its various clans, and depended for its security on an intricate system of intertribal customs, pacts, and traditions, which we do not usually expect to find in the organizations of states in modern times. Since Muhammad himself was an Arab and understood the will to retaliate innate in Arab character, he took extreme care to guard the Muslim community from all sides. Quraysh, the Jews of Banu Qaynuqa` and Banu al Nadir, the tribes of Ghatafan and Hudhayl as well as those living in the vicinity of al Sham, were all lying in wait for Muhammad and his companions. Each one of these groups awaited the opportunity to avenge itself on this man who had divided the Arabs in their religion, and, though emigrating from Makkah devoid of power or ally, had acquired, within the last five years by virtue of his great faith, such prestige and power as to make him a real threat to the strongest cities and tribes of Arabia.

 

Jewish Enmity

The Jews were perhaps the most cognizant of Muhammad's teachings and the most apprehensive of the success of his message. They knew too well what consequences to them would be implied in the victory of Islam. In Arabia, having distinguished themselves through their monotheistic teachings, they competed with the Christians and were hoping soon to wrest all power from them throughout Arabia. They were right in their expectation inasmuch as the Semitic soul was by nature more inclined toward monotheism than to Christian trinitarianism. As if to spoil that promise and dash those hopes, Muhammad, the pure Arab and pure Semite, was calling men to the monotheistic truth with strong and emphatic words which penetrate to the nethermost depths of consciousness. His revelation overwhelmed and intoxicated the soul. It caused man to transcend himself. Furthermore, Muhammad achieved such political and worldly power that he had forced the evacuation of Banu Qaynuqa` from Madinah, and the Banu al Nadir from their lands. Would they then leave him alone and return to their previous abodes in al Sham and in the promised land of Jerusalem, or would they confront him here in Arabia by rallying the Arab tribes to seek revenge from him?

 

Jewish Preference of Paganism to Islam

It was the latter idea that finally gripped Banu al Nadir. In pursuit of it, their leaders Huyayy ibn Akhtab, Sallam ibn Abu al Huqayq, Kinanah ibn al Huqayq, together with Hawdhah ibn Qays and Abu `Ammar, both of the tribe of Banu Wail, went to Makkah for consultation with the Quraysh leaders. When Huyayy was asked about his tribe, he told the Quraysh that he had left them between Khaybar and Madinah awaiting the arrival of the Makkans that they might join them in battle against Muhammad and his companions. When the Makkans inquired about Banu Qurayzah, he answered that they had remained within Madinah in order to plot against Muhammad and to spring against his men from behind once the Makkans launched their attack. The Quraysh hesitated. They knew only too well that in the last analysis, there was no difference between them and Muhammad except in this matter of his new faith; and even in it, they were not quite certain that Muhammad was entirely wrong since his worldly power had been on the increase every day. The Quraysh therefore asked the Jews to tell them, since they were the first People of the Book and held the keys of knowledge in the matters in which the Quraysh disagreed with Muhammad, whether or not Muhammad's religion was better than Makkan religion. The Jews answered by giving preference to Makkan religion over Islam and to Makkan rights over Muhammad's. It was to this that the Qur'an referred when it said, "Would you consider those who were given part of the scripture, that they believe in evil and injustice and commend to the unbelievers their own unbelief as guidance superior to the true faith of those who believed? Such men are accursed of God. And whosoever God curses, will never prevail. Nor will anyone ever come to his rescue." [Qur'an, 4:51-52] This attitude of the Jews toward Quraysh and their favoring of the latter's paganism over the monotheism of Muhammad was the subject of a severe rebuke by Dr. Israel Wolfenson, who wrote in his The Jews in Arabia: "It was the duty of the Jews not to allow themselves to get involved in such a scandalous mistake. They should have never declared to the leaders of Quraysh that the worship of idols was better than Islamic monotheism even if this were to imply frustration of their requests. The Jews, who have for centuries raised the banner of monotheism in the world among the pagan nations, who have remained true to the monotheistic traditions of the fathers, and who have suffered throughout history the greatest misfortunes, murders, and persecutions for the sake of their faith in the One God should, in loyalty to this tradition, have sacrificed every interest-nay their very lives-to bring about the downfall of paganism. Furthermore, by allying themselves with the pagans they were in fact fighting themselves and contradicting the teachings of the Torah which commands them to avoid, repudiate-indeed to fight-the pagans."

 

The Jews' Rallying of the Arab Tribes

This brazen self-contradiction, this favoring of paganism over monotheism and the encouragement of pagan forces to rise against the monotheistic forces-all this was not enough for Huyayy ibn Akhtab and the Jewish leaders who accompanied him on his trip to Makkah. After securing a definite date from the Makkans for the attack against Muhammad, the same leaders went to the Ghatafan clan of Qays Ghaylan, to the tribes of Banu Murrah, Banu Fazarah, Ashja`, Sulaym, Banu Sa'd, Asad, and all those who had fought with the Muslims to instigate a general mobilization on the side of Quraysh for a revengeful war on Muhammad. In order to placate these tribes, the Jews commended and praised their pagan practices and prophesied that victory would certainly belong to paganism. All these parties which the Jews had rallied against Muhammad marched against Madinah. The Quraysh sent an expeditionary force of four thousand infantrymen, a cavalry of three hundred, and a camel corps of one thousand five hundred. This huge army was led by Abu Sufyan in person. The flag of Makkah and, hence, the leadership of battle was assigned to `Uthman ibn Talhah, whose father had been killed carrying that same flag in the Battle of Uhud. The Banu Fazarah tribe sent a large number of infantrymen and a camel corps of one thousand under the leadership of `Uyaynah ibn Hisn ibn Hudhayfah. The tribes of Ashja` and Murrah supplied four hundred soldiers each, under the leadership of al Harith ibn `Awf and Mis'ar ibn Rukhaylah respectively. Sulaym, the tribe which engages; the Muslims at the battle of the well of Ma'unah, sent seven hundred soldiers. To this tremendous number, the tribes of Banu Sa'd and Banu Asad added more soldiers and more cavalry until the total number reached ten thousand or more. This whole army moved in the direction of Madinah under the general leadership of Abu Sufyan. After they had reached the outskirts of Madinah and encamped, the leadership of the army as a whole really revolved among the leaders of the various tribes.

 

The Muslims' Panic

When news of this tremendous mobilization reached Muhammad and the Muslims in Madinah, it struck them all with panic. The mobilization of the whole of Arabia against them instilled fear in their hearts as they faced the prospect of being not only defeated but wiped out. The gravity of the situation was evident in the fact that the army the Arab tribes had now raised surpassed in number and equipment anything the Peninsula had ever seen before. If the Quraysh had won a victory over the Muslims at Uhud single-handed, what was likely to be the outcome of a battle in which the enemy's force was many times greater in number and equipment? What would they do against such an overwhelming preponderance of men, horses, camels, arms, and ammunitions? Obviously, there was no defense open to them except self-fortification within the walls of Yathrib, the invincible city, as `Abdullah ibn Ubayy had previously described it. But would such fortification stand in face of such overwhelming power? Salman al Farisi, who knew far more of the techniques of warfare than was common in the Peninsula, advised the digging of a dry moat around Madinah and the fortification of its buildings within. The Muslims hurried to implement this counsel. The moat was dug and the Prophet-May God's peace and blessing be upon him-worked with his hands alongside his companions lifting the dirt, encouraging the Muslim workers, and exhorting everyone to multiply his effort. All the Muslims picked up their digging utensils, their picks and shovels, and borrowed more tools from the Qurayzahh Jews who remained true to their covenant with Muhammad. With tremendous effort and exertion, the whole moat was dug in six days. At the same time, the walls of the buildings on the perimeter of the city facing the enemy were also reinforced, their inhabitants were evacuated and the buildings were reserved for military use. The women and children were removed to the interior and placed within fortified walls. Rocks were gathered and placed on the inner side of the moat for use as possible projectiles against the enemy if the need arose.

 Quraysh in Front of the Dry Moat

The Quraysh and their allies arrived at Uhud hoping to meet the Muslim forces there. Disappointed in this, they proceeded to Madinah where, to their surprise, they found an impassable ditch surrounding the whole city. They never expected this kind of defense, and their anger and resentment became so strong that they accused the Muslims of cowardice for taking refuge behind such an unusual trick of war. Their army encamped in the plain called Rumah, and the forces of Ghatafan and its allies encamped in the plain called Dhanab Naqama. Muhammad amassed three thousand Muslims on the side of Sal' mountain in Madinah. Only the ditch separated him from the enemy. There the Muslim army built a number of tents to prepare itself for the long siege, and Muhammad had his own red tent erected for his use. The Quraysh and the Arab tribes realized the impossibility of crossing the moat and were, therefore, forced to restrict their military activity to the exchange of javelins for a number of days.

Soon, Abu Sufyan and his colleagues became convinced that they were going to have to lay siege to Yathrib for a very long time before they could storm it. The season was winter, the cold unbearable, and wind and storm continually threatened heavy rain. It was possible for the people of Makkah and Ghatafan to protect themselves from the storm only if they were in the shelter of their own cities. But here, the tents which they had put up before Yathrib provided little or no protection. They had joined the expedition in search of easy victory, expecting the whole affair to last a day or two, as did the Battle of Uhud. They expected to return quickly home, there to celebrate with songs of victory while dividing all kinds of wealth and booty. How could the army of Ghatafan return empty handed when the sole reason for its participating in this war was the Jewish promise that in case of victory a whole year's crop of the orchards of Khaybar would be theirs as a free gift? Now, they realized that victory was not going to be easy, for it was going to cost at least the trouble of spending the whole wintry season, and this alone counterbalanced all the fruits and crops of the orchards. As for Quraysh, they were eager to avenge themselves for the previous defeats. But it was becoming amply clear that victory was impossible as long as Muhammad controlled the other side of the ditch while the Banu Qurayzah supplied Madinah with enough food provisions to enable them to hold to their fortress for months and even years. No wonder, then, that some of the allies of Makkah began to think of returning home. Their leaders realized, however, that the remobilization of such an overwhelming force would not be easy to accomplish once they were demobilized and allowed to disperse. Led by Uuyayy ibn Akhtab, the Jews had been capable of mobilizing these tribes as they sought to avenge themselves on Muhammad for all the injuries he had inflicted upon them as well as upon the Banu Qaynuqa`. If this opportunity were to escape, would it ever return again? If Muhammad were to gain an easy victory by the withdrawal of the Makkans and their allies, would he then not turn against the Jews?

 

Jewish Fear of Makkan Withdrawal

Huyayy ibn Akhtab weighed all these considerations. He realized that there was no escape from using the very last trump card he had. He told his allies that he would convince the Banu Qurayzah to violate their covenant with the Muslims in order to join his camp, and that Muslim supplies would then be cut off and a road to the interior of Yathrib would lie open. Quraysh and Ghatafan were quite pleased with the news. Pursuing this scheme, Huyayy went to the quarter of Banu Qurayzah and asked to see Ka'b ibn Asad, their leader, whose door was slammed shut in his face. Apparently, Banu Qurayzah knew too well that treason might bring some advantages in case of Muslim defeat but that it would provide cause for extermination in case of Muslim victory. Huyayy, however, insistently kept knocking at the door until the gate was opened and he was let in. He asked Ka'b to listen to his warning that he had come with the greatest army ever assembled in Arabia, the armies of Quraysh, Ghatafan, and all their leaders and noblemen. He pleaded that all these allies and leaders had pledged not to leave the place until Muhammad and his companions were utterly destroyed. Ka'b hesitated, remembering Muhammad's loyalty to his covenant. He feared the evil consequences a sad turn of events might bring. Huyayy determinedly continued to reiterate the sufferings which the Jews had borne at the hand of Muhammad and which they would have to bear in case the war did not succeed. At last Ka'b weakened and began to lend his ear. Huyayy described the forces of the Makkan allies, their equipment and number, and reasoned that only the ditch prevented the forces from assaulting the Muslims and finishing them off in a brief hour. To Ka`b's question as to what would be the fate of the Banu Qurayzah in case the Makkans and their allies were to withdraw, Huyayy answered that he. and his party of Jews would then join the Bane Qurayzah in their own quarter and share with them whatever fate might bring. At this, Ka`b's Jewish feeling stirred, moving him to yield to Huyayy, to accept his demands, to repudiate his covenant with Muhammad and the Muslims, and to join the ranks of their enemies.

 

The Prophet's Warning to Banu Qurayzah

The news of this betrayal by the Banu Qurayzah reached Muhammad and his companions and shook them greatly. Sa'd ibn Mu'adh, leader of al Aws, and Sa'd ibn `Ubadah, leader of al Khazraj, together with `Abdullah ibn Rawahah and Khawwat ibn Jubayr, were ordered by Muhammad to ascertain the news and report back to him. They were instructed not to announce their findings in case the news was true, for fear it might adversely affect the army's morale. The delegates came to the Jewish quarter and found the situation worse than it had been reported. They sought by argument to bring the Jews back to honoring their covenant with Muhammad. But Ka'b impertinently required that the Muslims return the Jews of Banu al Nadir back to their quarters in Madinah. Sa'd ibn Mu'adh, with whose tribe the Banu Qurayzah were closely allied, sought to convince Ka'b that the fate of Banu al Nadir or something worse might befall them in case they persisted in this treason. Giving full vent to their resentment, the Jews began to insult the Prophet-May God's peace be upon him. Ka'b said: "And who is this so-called Prophet of God? There is neither covenant nor peace between us and him." The conversation was quickly ended, and the Muslims left the scene hastily to prevent the possible outbreak of open fighting.

 

Morale of the Makkans and Their Allies

Muhammad's delegates returned and reported to him what they had seen and heard. Muslim leaders were gravely apprehensive. They feared that the side of Qurayzah would now open for the Makkans and their allies, that the latter would enter the city and rout them. Their fear was not imaginary but quite real. As was expected of them, Band Qurayzah immediately cut off all supplies to the Muslims. On the Makkan side, there was rejoicing when Huyayy ibn Akhtab reported the treason of Banu Qurayzah, and their rallying to Quraysh and Ghatafan. The morale of the Makkan forces took a sharp rise as they began to prepare for the day of battle. The Banu Qurayzah had actually requested the Makkans, first, to wait ten days before invading Madinah so that they might prepare themselves; and second, to keep constant pressure upon the Muslims and thus prevent any Muslim attack upon them before their military preparations were complete. That was exactly what happened. The enemy divided itself into three main brigades. The first, led by Ibn al A'war al Sulami, was to assault the Muslims from across the valley. The second, led by `Uyaynah ibn Hisn, was to attack from the flank. Finally, the third under the command of Abu Sufyan was to launch its attack across the ditch. It was with reference to this deployment of enemy forces that the Qur'an said

"When they attacked you from above and from below, when your eyes knew no more where to turn and your hearts were ready to give up and you entertained all sorts of thoughts about God, then the believers were truly shaken and faced disaster. Then did the false pretenders and the disheartened doubt that what God had promised them and His Prophet was all in vain. Then did a group of them counsel the people of Madinah against war and suggested withdrawal while another group sought the Prophet's permission to withdraw on the ground that their houses were exposed whereas their houses were neither exposed nor in danger, but the suppliants only sought to flee." [Qur'an, 33:10-13]

It was only too human for the people of Yathrib to grumble with fear and panic. They were disappointed at this turn of events. Whereas Muhammad had promised them the wealth and treasures of Chosroes and Caesar, they now felt as afraid to venture outside the confines of their own city as did those who were disheartened at the prospects of the war. Did they not see death advancing upon them, shining in the brilliance of the swords which were being brandished by the Quraysh and Ghatafan tribesmen? Did they not have reason to be disheartened when their immediate neighbors, the Banu Qurayzah, threatened to attack them treacherously from within and to enable their enemies to infiltrate behind their lines? Would it not have been better for them, they pondered, to have utterly destroyed the Banu al Nadir rather than allow them to emigrate and take their possessions with them? Had the Muslims finished them then, Huyayy and his companions would not have now instigated this general Arab war. Certainly, this was a moment of great apprehension and danger. Surely this was a terrible and fateful day. Its disposal was in the hand of the Almighty alone.

 

Engagement of the Forces

The Makkans and their allies were encouraged and their morale was uplifted by the news of the new alliance. Some Quraysh horsemen, including `Amr ibn `Abd Wudd, `Ikrimah ibn Abu Jahl, and Dirar ibn al Khattab sought to advance across the ditch. After finding a point where the ditch was narrow, they succeeded in entering it and took position on its inner side near Sal'. 'Ali ibn Abu Talib and other Muslims proceeded to meet them and to seal the breach through which they advanced. `Amr ibn `Abd Wudd challenged the Muslims to a duel. When `Ali ibn Abu Talib answered his call, `Amr replied: "Why, 0 Cousin! By God, I do not wish to kill you." `All answered, "But I do." The duel started, and no sooner had it got under way than `All killed `Amr and the companions of the latter ran for their lives. They jumped over the ditch thinking only of the death which was following them. Nawfal ibn `Abdullah ibn al Mughirah sought to jump over the ditch shortly after sunset on that same day. But the ditch was too wide and both horse and rider fell into it to their death. Abu Sufyan then demanded one hundred camels as bloodwit. The Prophet rejected the demand, however, and condemned Nawfal as an aggressor whose death was unworthy of bloodwit.

The Makkans and their allies now launched a tactical war of nerves against the Muslims in order to destroy their spirit. In order to frighten the Muslims, tribesmen of Banu Qurayzah began to descend from their fortifications and occupy the houses closer to the Muslim quarters. Safiyyah, daughter of `Abd al Muttalib, was at Fari`, the fortress of Hassan ibn Thabit, which was also full of women and children. A Jew approached their house and started to circumscribe it, inspecting its sides and fortifications. Safiyyah asked old Hassan to go out and kill the Jew because he was obviously reconnoitering the fort preliminary to storming it. At the time the Prophet and his companions were busy with other matters, and Safiyyah felt that the danger should be eliminated at once by herself, if not by Hassan. When Hassan declined to do as she requested, she seized a solid bar, went to the Jew, and beat him with it until she killed him. When she returned, she asked Hassan to go down and to dispossess the Jew of what he had. She apologized, saying that she would have finished the job herself had the victim not been a man. Nonetheless, Hassan refused to budge.

 

Dividing the Enemies against Themselves

While the people of Madinah suffered from fear and threat, Muhammad concentrated his thoughts on finding means of saving .the community. Certainly no purpose would be fulfilled by forcing a confrontation with the enemy. The only alternative left for him was to attempt a ruse. He therefore sent a messenger to Ghatafan with the promise of one third of the total crop of Madinah if they withdrew and went home. Actually, Ghatafan was beginning to show signs of exhaustion and disapproval of this long siege for which they were not prepared. They had joined in this venture simply in order to appease Huyyay ibn Akhtab and his other Jewish companions. On the other hand, the Prophet sent Nu'aym ibn Mas'ud to the Banu Qurayzah, their old friend from pre-Islamic days whose conversion to Islam was not yet known to them, with the message that they should not join the ranks of the Makkans and fight with them unless and until the latter would give them a concrete guarantee that they would not be left alone to the mercy of Muhammad should the tide of battle turn against them. Nu'aym had been a very good friend of the Banu Qurayzah for a long time before his conversion, and they therefore had no reason to doubt him. He reminded them of this friendship and warned them that their rallying to the side of Quraysh and Ghatafan against Muhammad was liable to bring disaster, especially since neither Quraysh nor Ghatafan were likely to continue the siege for long. In that eventuality, nothing would prevent Muhammad from inflicting upon them great harm. This made such good sense that the Banu Qurayzah were dissuaded from their treacherous course. Nu'aym then proceeded to the Quraysh camp and there intimated to their leaders that the Banu Qurayzah had repented their violation of the covenant with Muhammad and that they were seeking to appease and befriend him anew by plotting to give up the noblemen of Quraysh that Muhammad might execute them. Furthermore, he counseled them not to send their men to the Banu Qurayzah for fear that the latter might seize them and give them up to Muhammad. Nu'aym then proceeded to Ghatafan and there repeated the same offer and warning. His ruse worked, and the leaders of Quraysh and Ghatafan began to probe each other on the matter. When Abu Sufyan sent to Ka'b, leader of Banu Qurayzah, asking him to advance against the Muslims on the morrow and promising to follow up their advance with an advance of their own by Makkan forces, his messenger was turned back with the message that since the next day was a Saturday the Jews would neither fight nor work. Angry at their disobedience, Abu Sufyan believed the words of Nu'aym. He sent word to them that they had better hold their Sabbath on another day as fighting Muhammad had become extremely necessary and the need for engaging him immediate. Abu Sufyan also warned that unless they joined the Makkans in battle on Saturday he would declare his pact with them null and void and, indeed, subject them to the brunt of Makkan attack. When the Banu Qurayzah heard this message of Abu Sufyan, they reiterated their resolution not to violate the Sabbath, reminding the messenger of divine wrath against its desecration. Moreover, they demanded guarantees for their future security. Their response dissipated any lingering doubts in Abu Sufyan's mind regarding Nu'aym's report. Discussing the problem with the leaders of Ghatafan, he discovered, much to his great dismay, that they deliberately hesitated to start the fight because of the Prophet's promise to them of one-third of the crops of Madinah. Evidently, the Muslims' maneuver worked, much as it was objected to at the time by Sa'd ibn Mu'a,dh, the leaders of al Aws and al Khazraj tribes, and other elderly consultants of the Prophet.

 

The Anger of Nature

On that same night a very strong wind blew and an extremely heavy rain fell. Thunder deafened the ears and the lightning was blinding. The storm was so wild that it swept the tents of the enemy off the ground and brought havoc to their camp. It struck fear into their hearts, and they believed that the Muslims were seizing this opportunity to launch their attack. Tulayhah ibn Khuwaylid was the first to rise and openly to suggest to the Makkans and their allies to flee for their lives. He claimed that these evil omens signaled the start of Muhammad's attack. Abu Sufyan followed him with the same counsel. "0 people of Quraysh," he said, "Surely this is no place for you. The date trees around are uprooted and our work camels have perished. The Banu Qurayzah have abandoned us and cooperated with our enemies; the storm has taken its toll. All these things have brought terrible disadvantage to us. Let us move away from here. I shall be the first to give up." The armies prepared to withdraw, and each man carried as little as his camel, horse, or shoulders could bear and began to move while the storm continued to rage. The withdrawal was led by Quraysh, followed by Ghatafan and their allies. When the morning came, there was not one of them to be seen in the area. The Muslims returned to their homes in Madinah with the Prophet and gave praise and thanks to God for their escape from the travails of war.

 

The Campaign against Banu Qurayzah

Muhammad pondered the general situation of the cause of Islam. God had seen fit to remove the outside enemy, but the Banu Qurayzah remain in the midst of Madinah. Surely they were capable of repeating their treason in another season. Were it not for the internal division and sudden withdrawal of the Makkans and their allies, the Banu Qurayzah would have attacked Madinah and helped in the routing of the Muslims. Did not the common saying counsel, "Do not cut off the tail of the viper and allow it to go free?" The Banu Qurayzah, therefore, must be completely destroyed. The Prophet-May God's peace and blessing be upon him-ordered a mu'adhdhin to proclaim: "No pious Muslim will hold the mid-afternoon prayer except in the quarter of Banu Qurayzah," and a general invasion began. He appointed `Ali commander of the operation. Despite their exhaustion after the long siege, the Muslims advanced fully confident of the result. It is true that the Banu Qurayzah had fortified houses like those of Banu al Nadir. But if these were sufficient for defending them from Makkan attack, they were futile against the Muslims who were already in possession of the lands surrounding the Banu Qurayzah. Upon arrival at the Banu Qurayzah quarters, the Muslims found Huyayy ibn Akhtab al Nadir! bitterly reviling Muhammad, refuting his message and attacking the honor of his women. It was as though the Banu Qurayzah had a notion of what was coming to them now that the Makkans and their allies had withdrawn. When the Prophet arrived at the scene, he was met by `Ali, who asked him not to approach the Jewish camp. Upon enquiry, Muhammad heard the Jews reviling him, and he said: "Miserable wretches that you are, didn't God Himself put you to shame and send His curse upon you?" In the meantime, the Muslims continued to pour into the area, and soon thereafter Muhammad ordered the siege to begin.

The siege lasted twenty-five days and nights during which only a few javelins, arrows, and stones were shot between the two combatants. The Banu Qurayzah did not dare leave their quarters a single time. When, exhausted, they realized that their fortifications were not going to avail them, and that they must sooner or later fall into Muslim hands, they sent word to the Prophet asking for Abu Lubabah, an al Aws tribesman and former ally, to negotiate with them. As he arrived, he was met by women and children in tears whose sight touched his heart. The Jews asked whether he counseled acquiescence to Muhammad's judgment. He answered, "By all means!" And, passing his hand over his throat, he said: "Otherwise, it will be a general carnage." Some biographer’s report that Abu Lubabah later regretted having given them this counsel. After he left, Ka'b ibn Asad, their leader, suggested that they follow Muhammad and convert to his faith, thereby securing themselves, their children, properties, and wealth from any harm. But the majority refused, promising not to abandon the Torah or exchange it for anything else. Ka'b then suggested that they kill their own women and children and go out to meet the Muslims with drawn swords free of any apprehension for their loved ones, and to fight Muhammad to the bitter end. His idea was that should they lose, there would be neither family nor children for which to worry, but if they should win, Muslim women and children would all become theirs. Once more, the Banu Qurayzah said "No." They argued that life without their families was not worth the effort. Finally, Ka'b said that there remained no alternative for them but to acquiesce in Muhammad's disposal of their case. After consulting one another, they decided that their fate would not be worse than that of Banu al Nadir, that their friends and former allies from al Aws tribe would give them some protection and that if they were to remove themselves to Adhri'at in al Sham, Muhammad would: have no objection to letting them go.

 

Arbitration of Sa'd ibn Mu'adh

Banu Qurayzah sent word to Muhammad proposing to evacuate their territory and remove themselves to Adhri'at, but Muhammad rejected their proposal and insisted on their abiding by his judgment. They sent to al Aws pleading that they should help them as al Khazraj had helped their client Jews before them. A group of al Aws tribesmen sought Muhammad and pleaded with him to accept from their allies a similar arrangement to that which he accepted from the allies of al Khazraj. Muhammad asked, "0 men of al Aws, would you be happy if we allowed one of your men to arbitrate the case?" When they agreed, he asked them to nominate whomsoever they wished. This was communicated to the Jews, and the latter, unmindful of the fate that was lying in store for them, nominated Sa'd ibn Mu'adh. Sa'd was a reputable man of al Aws tribe, respected for his sound judgment. Previously, Sa'd was the first one to approach the Jews, to warn them adequately, even to predict to them that they might have to face Muhammad one day. He had witnessed the Jews cursing Muhammad and the Muslims. After his nomination and acceptance as arbitrator, Sa'd sought guarantees from the two parties that they would abide by his judgment. After these guarantees were secured, he commanded that Banu Qurayzah come out of their fortress and surrender their armour. Sa'd then pronounced his verdict that the fighting men be put to the sword, that their wealth be confiscated as war booty, and that the women and the children be taken as captives. When Muhammad heard the verdict, he said: "By Him Who dominates my soul, God is pleased with your judgment, 0 Sa'd; and so are the believers. You have surely done your duty." He then proceeded to Madinah where he commanded a large grave to be dug for the Jewish fighters brought in to be killed and buried. The Banu Qurayzah did not expect such a harsh judgment from Sa'd ibn Mu'adh, their former ally. They thought that he would plead on their behalf as `Abdullah ibn Ubayy had done in the case of Banu Qaynuqa`. It must have occurred to Sa'd that if the Makkans and their allies had achieved victory through the treachery of Banu Qurayzah, the Muslims would surely have been subjected to the same fate of being killed and mutilated. He therefore imposed upon them the fate to which they sought to subject the Muslims. That the Jews showed great patience in the midst of tragedy is recorded for us in the story of Huyayy ibn Akhtab when he was brought for execution. The Prophet said to him, "Had not God put you to shame, 0 Huyayy?" Huyayy answered, "Every man is going to taste of death. I have an appointed hour which has now come. I do not blame myself for arousing your emnity." He then turned toward the people present and said, "0 Men, it is all right to suffer God's decree. This tragic fate has been decreed by God for Banu Isra'il." A1 Zubayr ibn Bata al Quraziyy, another Jew, had done a favor to Thabit ibn Qays on the day of Bu'ath when he let him free after capturing him. Thabit wanted to reciprocate the good deed on this occasion and asked the Prophet to grant him the favor of al Zubayr's life. The Prophet approved Thabit's request. When this came to the knowledge of al Zubayr, he pleaded that being an old man condemned to live in separation from his family and children, he had no use for life. Thabit then begged the Prophet of God to grant him also the life of Zubayr's wife and children, and the sparing of his property that al Zubayr might live in happiness. The Prophet again granted his request. After al Zubayr heard of his family's salvation, he inquired about Ka'b ibn Asad, Huyayy ibn Akhtab, `Azzal ibn Samaw'al, and other leaders of the Banu Qurayzah. When he was told that they had all been killed, he asked to be dispatched with them, pleading: "I ask you, 0 Thabit, to dispatch me with my people, for life without them is not worth living, and I shall have no patience until I have rejoined my loved ones." Thus, he was killed at his own demand. The Muslims were always opposed to killing any women or children. On that day, however, a Jewish woman was executed because she had killed a Muslim by dropping a millstone on his head. It was of this woman that 'A'ishah used to say: "By God, I shall never cease to wonder how serenely that woman met her death." On that day, four Jews converted to Islam and were saved from death.

 

Huyayy's Responsibility for the Tragedy

We have seen how the lives of Banu Qurayzah were dependent upon Huyayy ibn al Akhtab, though the lives of both were terminated at the same time. It was he who violated the covenant that he, himself, had entered into with Muhammad when the latter forced Banu al Nadir's evacuation from Madinah without killing a single person. Also, it was he who so incited the Quraysh, Ghatafan, and the other Arab tribes to fight Muhammad that he became the very embodiment of Jewish-Muslim enmity. It was he who indoctrinated the Jews with the idea that they should have no peace unless Muhammad and the Muslims were utterly destroyed. Likewise, it was he who inspired Banu Qurayzah to violate their covenant with Muhammad and to repudiate their neutrality in the struggle needlessly and at such terrible cost. Finally, it was he who came to the Banu Qurayzah after the withdrawal of the Makkans and aroused them to engage the Muslims in a hopeless fight that was doomed before it started. Had the Banu Qurayzah acquiesced in the judgment of Muhammad from the first day, and acknowledged their mistake in violating their previous covenant, their lives would have been saved. Unfortunately, Huyayy's soul was possessed by a consuming Jewish enmity to the Muslims. He imparted such a measure of this enmity to the Band Qurayzah that their own ally, Sa'd ibn Mu'adh, believed that even if they were forgiven, they would soon rally the tribes again to fight the Muslims anew. Such was their obsession with hatred of Muhammad and the Muslims that the Jews believed no life was worth living as long as the Muslim power was not broken and the Muslims were not subjugated or killed. However harsh the verdict which the arbitrator had reached in this regard, it was dictated by self-defense, as the arbitrator had become convinced that the presence or destruction of the Jews was a question of life and death for the Muslims as well.

 

The Spoils of War

The Prophet divided the properties, women, and children of Banu Qurayzah among the Muslims after he had separated one-fifth for public purposes. Each man of the cavalry received two shares, one for himself and one for his horse. On that day, the Muslim force included thirty-six cavalrymen. Sa'd ibn Zayd al Ansari sent a number of Banu Qurayzah captives to Najd where he exchanged them for horses and armour in order to increase Muslim military power.

Rayhanah, a captive woman of Banu Qurayzah, fell to the share of Muhammad, who offered her Islam. But she refused obstinately. Muhammad even offered to marry her, but she preferred to remain his captive. It was her strong attachment to her religion and people which must have prevented her from joining Islam as well as from marrying the Prophet. Her hatred for the Muslims and for their Prophet must have continued. No one had spoken of her beauty as they spoke of Zaynab, daughter of Jahsh, though a slight mention of this could be found in the chronicles. There was some disagreement as to whether she, upon entering the quarters of the Prophet, was asked to wear a veil as the protocol of the Prophet's house demanded, or whether she remained like most other women of the Peninsula without a veil. One thing, however, is certain: namely, she remained in the quarters of Muhammad until her death.

This expedition of the Makkans and their allies with its resultant destruction of the Banu Qurayzah enabled the Muslims to establish themselves as Madinah's absolute masters. The power of the munafiqun was finally broken, and all Arab tribes admired Muslim power, dominion, and the new prestige of Muhammad as sovereign of Madinah. The Islamic message, however, was not meant for Madinah alone but for the whole of mankind. The Prophet and his companions still faced the task of preparing for the greater task ahead, namely bringing the word of God to the wide world, calling all men to the true faith and making that faith secure against all enemies. That is precisely what awaited them, and what we shall study in the sequel.