“Our current hypothesis about Mahomet, that he was a scheming Impostor, a Falsehood incarnate, that his religion is a mere mass of quackery and fatuity, begins really to be now untenable to any one. The lies, which well-meaning zeal has heaped round this man, are disgraceful to ourselves only.” Thomas Carlyl.
The objective of the series is to dispel myth about the Last Prophet. This post is about his interaction with Jews. Prophet is accused of being
1. Anti-Semite or Anti Jewish
2. Expelled Jews of Banu Qaynuqa and Banu Nadir because he hated Jews.
3. Executing all males of Banu Quraizah and enslavement of all women and children of Banu Quraizah.
For the rest we will need a bit of background on Medina, but the charge of Anti-Semite or Anti-Jewish can be dealt with straightaway.
Anti-Semite – Quraysh (the tribe Prophet belonged to) traced their lineage to Abraham through Ishmael, and Jews trace their lineage to Abraham through Issac, since they are both Semite and sons of Abrahams. So the accusation of being Anti-Semite barely holds any weight.
Anti-Jewish – Even after expulsion of the three Jewish tribes, several Jews continued to live in Medina, and this is confirmed even by his worst critiques who unashamedly lied about him. If he was Anti-Jewish why weren’t all Jews expelled from Medina? Aucontrair, Prophet Muhammad call Jews, “People of the book”, elevating their status over his own family and tribe who were called Polytheists.
Background to Jews of Medina : Medina, known as Yathrib during those days had principally five tribes, two Arabs and three Jewish. The two Arab tribes were Aws and Khazraj and had enmity between themselves for generations. An year before the Pledge of Aqabah a bloody battle was fought between these two tribes called Battle of Buath. Buath was a huge slaughter that killed almost every elder and the charge of tribes went to relatively young men. The Jewish tribes were relatively very small and had to be under protection of one of the Arab tribes to survive in lawless land of Arabia. However, Jews believed Arabs to be inferior to them, they boasted of their superiority over Arabs on several grounds, like education, language, culture, history, art, prophets, their “chosen people” status with God Almighty among others. And Arab tribes of Medina had completely bought Jewish superiority, they truly considered themselves to be inferior to the Jews, many had even left their religion and had become Jewish. But this social pecking order of was going to change with arrival of prophet Muhammad, and this loss of status contributed to a lot of Jewish angst.
While prophet was being persecuted in Makkah, he believed that Jews and Christians would be his natural allies against the Polytheists of Makkah. He thought that Jews will have goodwill for him against polytheists, because Jews believed in monotheism, prophets, last day and life after death, things Makkans did not believe. When Prophet arrived in Medina, he made a pact with Jewish tribes for joint defence of Medina against Quraysh and other polytheists. The terms of covenant were pretty simple (full covenant here), Jews would be equal citizen, free to practice their trade, laws and religion but if the dispute is between Muslims and Jews, Prophet would be the judge. Finally, the Jews will have to defend Medina from any attacks and they were prohibited to help Makkans in any Makkan endeavours.
However, things would not go the way Prophet (peace be upon him) thought, Saffiya the wife of Prophet who was from Jewish heritage narrated that when Prophet arrived in outskirts of Medina, her father and uncle went to meet him as they were among the chiefs of their Jewish tribe. When they came back from Quba in the evening, weary and tired, Saffiya heard her father and uncle confirm that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was the Prophet they were waiting for, but instead of accepting him they had decided to become his enemies.
Soon, Abdullah bin Salam reverted to Islam. He was son of one of the Jewish leaders and priests and with his conversion Jews felt threatened to loosing their sons to Islam. Jews were not happy with Islam and Prophet as were loosing their status and influence among Arab tribes whom they considered inferior. Arabs tribes had followed various things of Jews, like their attitude to menstruating women but Islam was changing that, Arabs were abandoning the Jewish practices they used to do. The final nail in the coffin was changing of direction of prayer from Jerusalem (North from Medina) to Makkah (South from Medina). This was the thing that made them enemies of Muslims. Both Arabs and Jews knew that with changing of direction of prayer Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had declared that Makkah is now the centre the of religion and the symbolism of Jerusalem had come to an end.
Expulsion of Banu Qaynuqa : Filled with angst about loosing their high status among Arabs, it started with small incidences. For example, once a Jew called Shas bin Qais saw Aws and Khazraj chatting and laughing together. He became angry by seeing this unity, so he sent a boy to these men to recite songs of pride and courage they sang during battle of Buath. And the old rivalry was rekindled and led to a fight that reached Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and he had to reconcile the two groups. In everyday life, they started tightening ropes of financial dealings with Muslims. If they happened to owe a Muslim something, they would shirk their obligations on grounds that he had converted into a new religion and they would allege the basis of agreement was no longer valid. If it was the other way, they would never cease to harass him day and night to pay back the debt. All of this was a desperate attempt to decrease the influence of Islam on Arabs and regain their old position and status.
The victory of Badr had made Banu Qaynuqa jealous of Muslims, and they used to insult Muslims and boast about themselves that it was the inexperienced Quraysh that Muslims fought, had the battle been them (ie Banu Qaynuqa) and Muslims, they would have shown Muslims their superiority in war. They said this on back of 700 warriors and their expertise in metallurgy and weapon making. To settle constant bickering and complaining Prophet reached Banu Qaynuqa and tried to calm the matters and invited them to Islam. However, they insulted him with the same Badr insult saying that Quraysh were not warriors, had it been Jews they would have known war. This insult resulted in Prophet receiving a revelation of two verses (this and this) which basically warned Jews of their transgression ending with God’s statement that it is He who grants victory to whom He wills. The reply that came from Banu Qaynuqah tantamounted to declaration of war, but Prophet suppressed his anger and walked away with Muslims he came with.
In this environment one Jewish jeweller had a Muslim female customer and he pinned her clothes in such a way that when she got up, her genitals were visible. Seeing this a Muslim man killed the Jewish shopkeeper and the Jews killed the Muslim man. The family of the man came back to Muslims saying that covenant of Medina has been breached and Banu Qaynuqa must be punished. Prophet agreed and laid a siege on their forts with his uncle Hamza as incharge. After 15 days Banu Qaynuqa surrendered, their punishment was that they would surrender all their wealth and leave Arabian Peninsula.
To end, Prophet forgave their treachery first time. When he went to them for peace they used words that tantamounted to war. Next they murdered a Muslim and broke the covenant, and breaking Covenant meant that they had to face consequences for it.
Expulsion of Banu Nadir : The loss of Uhud had led to celebration in the camp of Banu Nadir. After this Banu Nadir were in continuous contact with hypocrites in Medina and Makkans trying to form an alliance against Muslims. This news had reached Prophet but since nothing concrete could be proven, they were given benefit of doubt. But it was clear that their ill will towards Muslims was reaching an unbearable level.
One day, Prophet and 3 other companions had to go to Banu Nadir for seeking help with raising finances for erroneous killings, this was in line with the pact. The Jews from Banu Nadir agreed to pay and asked Prophet and his companions to wait at a certain place while they arranged money. The Prophet and his companions agreed and went and sat down with their backs in support of a house of a Jew. Banu Nadir had no intention to pay, instead they decided to kill Prophet and his companions, Amr bin Jhash was supposed to throw and mill stone from the roof on to the head of Prophet. However Arch Angel Gabriel informed Prophet Muhmmad of the plot, upon which he left the area quickly.
Thereafter reaching Medinah, Prophet gave Banu Nadir ultimatum to leave Medinah within 10 days. However they decided to stay, saying that they will not move and it was upto Prophet to do whatever he could do. Prophet immediately ordered a siege, after sometime fate of Banu Qaynuqa started to bother them and they asked for a surrender. Prophet accepted the terms of surrender which included that apart from arms, they could take as much wealth as they could, and they did not leave anything behind, to the extent they even took pegs and beams fitted in the ceiling of their houses.
To end, Banu Nadir planned and plotted to kill their allies instead of protecting each other. Prophet was the uncrowned King of Medina, plotting his murder was treason, and treason can not be forgiven or excused. They had to pay for their crimes, and that is what Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) made them do.
Banu Quraizah Background : Medina was protected by desert, mountains, lava fields and date palms, there were only two places for someone to attack Medinah. One was open plain that everyone used to come and go from Medina, another was through strong fortifications of Banu Quraizah. Makkans had attacked Medina with Arabia’s largest army to finish of Muslims once and for all, they had declared that they will kill all Muslim men, women and children, putting this religion to end once and for all. On hearing, this some Muslims wanted to go out of Medina and fight, thinking that their deaths would suffice for the blood Makkans were after and then Makkans would spare women and children from slaughter. Among other suggestions, Salman Al Farsi’s advise was to stay in Medina and dig a trench since Arabs did not know anything about trench warfare, he was sure that they would not be able breach it. However, the trench had to have a heavy guard on it all the time. The Makkan attack was stopped by the trench, several attempts were made to cross the trench by Makkans, but they failed in all.
Banu Quraizah were supposed to protect Muslims during the time of invasion. However, like Banu Nadir before them, they were in conversation with Makkans on joining the alliance with Makkans. Soon, Banu Quraizah declared that their pact has ended and no pact or alliance exists between Muslims and Banu Quraizah. When this news reached people on the trench it ran a panic because every single fighting man was posted on Trench. All of them them had come forward leaving women and children behind in the city open for slaughter either by Makkans or by Banu Quraizah. This was very worrying for all Muslims to top this hypocrites started saying that Muhammad (peace be upon him) made us dream of conquering Persia and Rome only to be slaughtered in our own backyard. Anyone can imagine what this would have done to the morale of troops posted on the trench.
During this tumultuous time came conversion Naim bin Masud who was from a tribe Allied to Banu Quraizah. Naim hid his conversion from Banu Quraizah and sowed seeds of discord and doubts between Makkans and Banu Quraizah, delaying the planned attack on Medina and Muslims. And then one night came a desert storm which absolutely devastated the encamped Makkan Army, the next morning they all started to leave as they could not stay any longer without any provisions left.
Siege and Punishment of Banu Quraizah : After Makkans had left, Arch Angle Gabriel told Prophet not to rest till Banu Quraizah had been delt with. Banu Quraizah’s action were most trecherous of all. Their treason was not just to the Prophet himself but every single Mulsim man, woman and child. They had to be punished. After command from Gabriel, Prophet ordered a siege to be laid on the fortifications of Banu Quraizah. Trapped in their own fortification their leader Kab bin Asad offered them three options,
1. To embrace Islam, this would ensure their life and property.
2. To kill their women and children and then fight Muslims
3. To launch a surprise attack on Saturday as Muslims would be completely unprepared for Jews attacking on Saturday.
All three options were rejected, soon they were ready for surrender. When they were brought to their hands tied to their backs the Arab tribe allied to them the tribe of Al-Aws pleaded for mercy. On hearing their plea Prophet agreed that they be judged by Al-Aws themselves. Hence Jews and Aws together chose the chieftain of Al-Aws, Saad bin Muadh as judge.
Saad has had very close relations with Banu Quraizah and had fought with them against Khazraj during Battle of Buath. He was known for his friendship with Banu Quraizah and Banu Quraizah were among those who nominated his name as the judge. Saad was wounded in the battle and arrived sitting on a donkey. Prophet turned away as a mark of respect for Saad to be able to judge without being influenced by the Prophet. Saad had spent a long time with Jews, he was very well versed with Jewish laws, and the punishment that he gave was according the Jewish Law and described here in Deuteronomy 20:10-14. Hence all able-bodied males were put to sword, other men, women and children were taken as prisoners. All the wealth of Banu Qurayzah was also seized and distributed as per rules. Some people from Banu Qurayzah accepted Islam and they were restored with their life, properties and families.
To end, this accusation of genocide is also wrong because
1. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was not the the judge, Saad bin Muadh was.
2. Saad bin Muadh was nominated as a judge by the Jews themselves.
3. Saad judged them according to their own Jewish law mentioned in the Bible.
4. Those who apologised and accepted Islam not only lived but had their properties restored to them.