Copyright
D. S. (David Samuel) Margoliouth.

Mohammed and the rise of Islam online

. (page 22 of 32)
Online LibraryD. S. (David Samuel) MargoliouthMohammed and the rise of Islam → online text (page 22 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


by the Prophet, who foresaw that this act would
give rise to grave scandal, but gave the usual mar-
riage feast, and, indeed, with special luxury, his
followers being entertained with bread and mutton, §
whereas on other similar occasions they had to be

* W. R. Smith, Kinship and Marriage, 2d ed., 53. Wellhausen
(Ehe, 141) says the scandal was caused by Mohammed's breach of his
own law.

f Musnad, Hi., 101, etc.

\Ibid., iii., 195.

%IHd. % iii., 98, 24a,



The Destruction of the Jews 321

content with dates and whey.* This liberality did
not prevent severe comments from those who re-
garded adopted sonship as real sonship — for which
view Mohammed's institution of brotherhoods gave
some support — and who, therefore, regarded this
union as incestuous. How deeply the scandal
agitated the Prophet is evinced by the fact that
Zaid's name is mentioned in the revelation in
which this delicate business was afterwards handled.
The whole responsibility for the event is thrown on
God ; the Prophet's hesitation to marry Zainab was
due to his fear of men, whereas God only ought to
have been feared. Zaid is described as a person
whom both God and the Prophet had favoured, and
the Moslems are assured that there was no occasion
for the Prophet to giner himself (the French word
renders the Arabic exactly) in privileges which be-
longed to the Prophetic office. An adopted son
was not the same as a son, and was not to count as
such. The jealous Ayeshah at a later period, sar-
castically proved from this verse how faithfully the
Prophet delivered the messages which were en-
trusted to him to deliver; for if any verse of the
Koran might have been concealed with advantage,
this one might.f It seems as if the Prophet did not
venture to communicate this revelation till another
victory had secured his position. And Ayeshah
had little reason to find fault with it, since she her-
self presently profited by the divine interest in
the Prophet's domestic irregularities. The figure

* .\fustiad, iii., 99, 172.

\ Muslim, i., 63.



322 Mohammed

of Zaid himself in the story is mute. We should
gather that he was not a man of strong domestic at-
tachments, since he repeatedly went through the
form of marriage and divorce. He is credited (we
know not with what truth) with having at the outset
of his career preferred Mohammed to his parents,
who having lost him by captivity, wished to reclaim
him, and Mohammed to the end placed in his pow-
ers an unlimited confidence which the Moslems did
not share, and was so little convinced by the revela-
tion in which adoption was declared to have no legal
value that, if Ayeshah may be believed, he intended
to make Zaid his successor.* The revelation, how-
ever, was regarded as law, and adopted sons were
handed up to their parents or former owners.f
Even a man who had been adopted by a Meccan
in pre-Islamic times, Mikdad, son of Al-Aswad, re-
sumed his original filiation as Mikdad, son of 'Amr4
The Jews, who had so easily abandoned their
strongholds, were now trying hard to get others to
fight ; to one centre and another they sent deputa-
tions, denouncing the impostor who wished to sub-
jugate all Arabia. As in old times their ancestors
had denounced Christianity before pagans, so now
they told the Meccans that their religion was better
than Mohammed's. Possibly the Meccans remem-
bered how a few years before the Jews were the
witnesses whom Mohammed cited to attest his state-
ments, and to whom he appealed when in doubt



* Isabah.

f Ibid., ii., 109.

%Ibid., hi., 932,



The Destruction of the Jews 323

about himself. The indignation displayed by Mo-
hammed when he heard of the Jewish patronage of
idolatry appears to have been unfeigned. However,
their emissaries had succeeded in making a treaty
with the Meccans within the curtains of the Ka'bah,
by the terms of which the parties were bound to
oppose Mohammed so long as any of them were
alive.*

Besides the Meccans the Jewish emissaries had
succeeded in stirring up the tribes called Ghatafan,
of which three, the Banu Fazarah, the Banu Murrah,
and the Banu Ashja', made their way to Medinah
under their leaders 'Uyainah, son of Hisn, Al-Harith,
son of 'Auf, and Mis'ar, son of Rukhailah. The
tribes Asad and Sulaim also joined.f These tribes
had, it was said, been stirred up by Jews from
Khaibar, who had promised them a year's date har-
vest for their trouble : and the Prophet, to warn the
Jews of Khaibar, sent Abdallah, son of Rawahah, to
lure some of them away from the city, on the pre-
tence of an honourable visit to the Prophet, and
murder them on the way : a mission which was suc-
cessfully executed, the Arabian Jews being as incau-
tious as they were cowardly.^ The purpose of the
great expedition was to take Medinah and thus stop
the mischief at its source. Two years before Medi-
nah had been supposed by its inhabitants to be
inexpugnable. Perhaps the feeble resistance made
in the Jewish quarter to an attacking party had

* Wakidi ( W,\ 190.

\Ibid. t

% Ishak, 980.



324 Mohammed

convinced both Mohammed and his enemies that
this was an error. Pickaxes, shovels, and baskets
were lent by the Banu Kuraizah.

To a certain Salman the Persian is attributed the
idea of defending Medinah by a trench. This per-
son appears to have been a slave at Medinah when
the Prophet arrived there, and to have adopted
Islam, perhaps thereby gaining his liberty, since the
freeing of slaves was one of the earliest acts of
charity imposed on the Moslems who could afford it.
The accounts given of his antecedents are so evi-
dently fabulous that we cannot quote them here : we
should be inclined to guess from his name that he
was a Nabataean, who had, perhaps, been born, or
lived, in Persia : certainly the name which he gave
to his " trench " (Khandak) is pure Persian. It
would also appear that the plan of defending one's
possessions by this simple expedient was displeasing
to the Arabs, whose notions of war were, as we have
seen, rather chivalrous than practical. But in any
case there was one side where the buildings of Medi-
nah were not sufficiently close together to constitute
a defence. The Prophet, with the good sense which
he so often displayed when occasion required it,
took a pickaxe himself, marked out the line of
entrenchment, and divided the work of digging
between his three thousand followers, who worked
continuously in relays. The tradition records how
the Prophet, as he worked, sang :

" There is no life save that of Paradise.
Pardon the Helpers, Lord, and Refugees " ;



The Destruction of the Jews 325

and how his followers answered :

Unto Mohammed we have pledged our faith,
To fight his foes and flee not until death."*

The line went " from the ' fort of the two old men '
to Al-Madhad, then over Dhubab and Husaikah
towards Ratij — including the mountain of the Banu
'Ubaid in Khusbah " \ — all these names became
obsolete shortly after: the places appear to have
lain to the north-east of Medinah, beyond the eleva-
tion called Sal', where the Moslem army was sta-
tioned. The women and children were meanwhile
placed for security in the towers.

The digging of the trench is one of the episodes in
the history of Islam that gave most occasion for
mythical embellishment.

The numbers of the invaders are put by the
biographers at ten thousand % ; whether this be an
exaggeration or not, apparently what was wanting
was not force, but strategy. The trench planned by
Salman the Persian proved an insurmountable
hindrance to their advance. The Prophet and his

*Musnad, iii., 205, etc.

f Wakidi(lV.), 192. Tabari, i., 1407.

\ Kuraish with their allies 4000

Sulaim 700 §

Fazarah 1000

Ashja* 400

Murrah 400

The numbers of the Asad and probably some other tribes are not
given.

§ Wakidi{W.) t 191.



326 Mohammed

followers had, indeed, to endure considerable hard-
ships, in guarding it during the cold winter nights;
but only a few of the latter lost courage. The
campaign, which lasted close upon a month, may be
summed up as follows : the invaders waited outside
the trench in the hope that the Moslems would
come out and fight. When they discovered that the
latter had no intention of doing so, the invaders
went away again. A crossing, indeed, at one point *
was effected by a venturous party, but it never even
occurred to the general to see that they were sup-
ported, and the result was a duel, in which a Kura-
shite champion, 'Amr, son of Abd Wudd, was slain
by the redoubtable Ali. A few casualties also were
due to the archery practice, among which a wound
inflicted on the chief of the Aus, Sa'd, son of Mu'adh,
was destined to have serious consequences. Khalid,
son of Al-Walid, commander of the Kurashite cav-
alry, had some opportunities of furbishing his Uhud
laurels, but failed to use them ; and a number of
futile attacks were made by the other Meocan leaders
which were frustrated by the vigilance of the Mos-
lems, and their own inability to co-operate. This
was the best and also the last chance given to the
Meccans and Jews of breaking Mohammed's power.
And it was utterly wasted, partly for want of physi-
cal courage, but chiefly because there was no man
with brains in command. The unforeseen stratagem
of the trench seems to have paralysed them as com-
pletely as the machine gun might paralyse an enemy
who had never heard of gunpowder.
*Ishak, 678.



The Destruction of the Jews 327

An army must be well organised and well disciplined
to stand delay. These hordes were neither: and
even if the commander of the Kuraish had some
notion of what his purpose was, the auxiliary tribes
were very much in the dark about it. It is said that
Mohammed started negotiations for buying their
retirement, and that these were abortive, not for
any loyalty on the part of the tribes to their allies,
but because of the fanaticism of Mohammed's fol-
lowers, who then, as often, took a more exalted view
of the honour of Islam than its founder took. The
chief sufferers were destined to be the Jews, those
Banu Kuraizah whose tender sense of their obliga-
tions to Mohammed had kept them from making
common cause with the Banu Nadir the year before.
The Nadirite agitator, Huyayy, son of Akhtab, who
had failed to obtain their help at that time, found a
readier hearing now that he appeared in company
with ten thousand troops of Arabs. The Jewish
tribe was not very numerous, but such an internal
enemy could have done serious work, when the
whole force which Mohammed could muster was
occupied with an external foe three times its num-
ber. Without authorisation Huyayy appears to
have offered them hostages from the Meccans as a
pledge that the latter would not leave them in the
lurch * ; and by this promise the head of the tribe,
Ka'b, son of Asad, was induced to tear up their
contract with Mohammed : Zubair, son of 'Awwam,
sent by the latter to watch their proceedings,
reported that they were highly suspicious. A

* Wakidi ( W.\ 206.



328 Mohammed

deputation of eminent Medinese was then sent by
the Prophet to urge the Kuraizah to remain quiet:
they failed to produce any effect, but did not inform
the Moslems of their failure, which they reserved for
Mohammed's private ear*; according to a custom
of which Palgrave's history of the Wahhabis gives
illustrations. The Kuraish were not destined, how-
ever, to profit by their alliance with the Jews, though
the latter seem to have shot an occasional arrow.
When the Kurashite chief sent to demand a vigor-
ous demonstration inside the city, once again the
Jewish tenderness of conscience stood in the way:
it was the Sabbath, and they could not fight on that
day. It is also asserted that a man of the tribe
Ashja*, of Ghatafan, named Nu'aim, son of Mas'ud, a
deserter and convert, undertook to sow discord be-
tween the Kuraizah and the Kuraish, and persuaded
the Kuraizah to refuse to move unless the Kuraish
gave them the promised hostages, while on the other
hand he assured the Kuraish that the purpose of
these hostages was to enable the Kuraizah to make
their peace with Mohammed. In another form of
the story f the treachery on the part of the inter-
mediary is made out to be unintentional and due to
a lie told by Mohammed ; and this is more likely to
be true since Nu'aim was unable to keep a secret, %
and the Prophet is unlikely in such an emergency to
have trusted to his discretion. Whichever story be
true, it is evident that the Kuraizah were desirous



* Wakidi ( W.\ 197.
\ Isabah, iii., 844.
% Ibn Duraid, 168.



The Destruction of the Jews 329

that other people should fight their enemies for
them, and unwilling to risk their own necks. We
may easily believe that during this hour of stress
members of the clan went about the streets in
which the women were entrenched, exulting over
the disaster which was overtaking the Prophet : nor
is there any improbability in the story that one of
those men was killed by Safiyyah, the Prophet's
aunt. Had they been faithful to either the Prophet
or the Kuraish, they would probably have been
saved, and saved others. The course they took
was that middle road which inevitably leads to
destruction.

It does not appear that Abu Sufyan and his
friends had any idea of starving out the people of
Medinah, and indeed within their entrenchment the
latter appear to have been able to carry on some
of their normal industries. What finally drove the
Meccans away was bad weather. The cold nights
were too much for them. The faint-heartedness of
the Kuraizah had communicated itself to their allies.
The trench had done its work. The plan of taking
Medinah was abandoned and Abu Sufyan with his
allies returned to their homes. The Moslems lost
only six martyrs.*

Mohammed, it is said, had spent most of the time
of the siege praying, though any advisers who had a
feasible plan to suggest, or who offered to execute
any useful project, always found a ready hearing.
And when he learned that his prayers had been



* Ishak, 699. Dhu'l-Ka'dah, a.h. 5; identified with March-
April, a.d. 627.



330 Mohammed

answered, and the great gathering of the Gentiles
had dispersed, he would not put off his armour be-
fore he commenced the work of vengeance on the
Kuraizah, and that this vengeance was to be sum-
mary was indicated by the delivery of the standard
to the notorious AH. Huyayy, son of Akhtab, who
had organised the original campaign, loyally re-
mained with the Kuraizah in their extremity. The
Moslem forces invested the dwellings of the Kurai-
zah, and apparently offered no terms of any sort. By
the advice of Hubab Ibn al-Mundhir, communi.
cation between the different forts was cut off,
the Moslems stationing themselves between them.*
Little fighting seems to have been attempted ; yet
one Moslem, Khallad, son of Suwaid, is said to have
been killed by a millstone hurled by one of the Jew-
ish women ; for which inglorious death he was
promised a double share of martyr's earnings. The
story told of the council that was held among the
besieged may be an invention of the fancy, but it
probably gives a faithful picture of what did take
place where one or two men were trying to inspire a
herd of nerveless followers with something like reso-
lution. Should they abandon Judaism and become
Moslems ? No, their consciences would not permit
them to do that. Should they make a holocaust of
their families and possessions and, having thus
saved their honour, risk their lives in a final en-
counter? Should they then be successful, wives and
children would easily be replaced. No, they could
not be so cruel. Then should they try a sortie on the

* Ibn Sd 'd II., ii., 109.



The Destruction of the Jews 331

Sabbath, when the Moslem vigilance would probably
be relaxed ? Oh, no, to violate the Sabbath would
be too shocking ! There remained the plan of fall-
ing at the feet of the conqueror and supplicating
mercy. But what mercy could they expect who a
few days before had been in jubilation over his dis-
tress, and who still refused the only homage for
which he cared ?

At their request a member of their former allies,
the Aus, named Abu Lubabah,* at times employed by
Mohammed as lieutenant-governor of Medinah, was
permitted to visit them, in order to advise, and he
seems to have told them to hold out like men, as
the Prophet would show no mercy — sound advice
for which he afterwards atoned by tying himself to
a pillar of the Mosque, only to be released by Mo-
hammed after six days or a fortnight, when Allah
had revealed his pardon. After some four weeks'
siege they apparently capitulated on condition that
their fate should be decided by a member of the
Aus — hoping doubtless that as favourable terms
would be procured for them as the chief of the Khaz-
raj had three years before procured for the Banu
Kainuka. The man to whom their fate was committed
was however no half-hearted partisan like Abdallah
Ibn Ubayy. Sa'd Ibn Mu'adh, formerly a friend of
the Jewish tribe, had but a few days before been
wounded during the skirmishes about the trench,
and was in no merciful mood. Three times had his
median vein been cut and cauterised by Mohammed,
the hand swelling more and more in consequence

* Wakidi, 373, conceals his name.



3?>2 Mohammed

By an act of will he is said to have kept himself from
bleeding to death till he was avenged on the Banu
Kuraizah.* His award was a foregone conclusion.
The men were to be killed, their goods to be seized,
and the women and children to be enslaved ; which of
the lads were to count as men and which as children
was determined by medical examination.! A great
trench was dug, into which the Jews after decapita-
tion were cast. Such a trench, into which the Mar-
tyrs of Najran had been cast, not many years before,
had roused the horror and indignation of the Prophet,
to which he gave expression in a revelation ; so true it
is that the acts which men most abhor are those
which they themselves commit. Care was taken to
make some of their former allies assist in the execu-
tion. The lives of a very few were begged of the
Prophet by their friends, who found little difficulty
in obtaining their request. Some of the captives
were exported to Nejd by Sa'd, son of Zaid, of the
Banu Abd al-Ashhal, and arms and palm-trees
obtained in exchange. % In order to encourage mo-
bility, the few horsemen among the Moslems were
rewarded with threefold shares of the rich booty —
two for the horse and one for the man. In one case
at least the gift of life was not accepted by the man
for whom it had been granted : Al-Zabir, son of
Bata, preferred to die with the great men of his
tribe, though his family seem to have survived.



* Musnad, Hi., 350, 363. Wakidi (W.\ 222, puts the operations
after the massacre.
\ Isabah, iii., 873.
%Ibid., ii., 152.



The Destruction of the Jews 333

On Sa'd son of Mu'adh, who had pronounced the
doom of the Israelites, Mohammed bestowed the
highest compliments to which his fancy could rise.
He declared that Sa'd's death, which followed
shortly after, shook the Throne of God ; that the
room where his body lay was so crowded with angels
that a seat could scarcely be found ; and that if any
Moslem corpse might escape the pressure of the
grave, it would be Sa'd's.* Years after when a rich
robe was presented him he declared that one of the
kerchiefs of Sa'd in Paradise was superior to it.f

The facts as recorded by the historians elicit little
sympathy and little admiration for any of the parties.
The great invasion, which Mohammed declared to
have been miraculously frustrated, was due or believed
to be due, to the propaganda of members of the Banu
Nadir, whom the Prophet had been satisfied with
banishing. Should he banish the Kuraizah, he would
thereby be setting free a fresh set of propagandists.
On the other hand, those who had taken part openly
with the invaders of Medinah could not very well
be permitted to remain there. To banish them was
unsafe ; to permit them to remain was yet more dan-
gerous. Hence they must die. Only a few of the
disaffected Medinese were shocked by the execution.
And since it would appear that the Kuraizah had
turned against the Prophet merely because he was in
extreme danger, having received no fresh provocation
from the time when they had lent him tools to dig
his trench, their fate, horrible as it was, does not



* Musnad, vi., 55 (Ayeshah).
f J bid., iii., 207.



334 Mohammed

surprise us. If they had not succeeded in harming
him, they had manifested the will to do so. We
must also try, in estimating this matter, to think of
bloodshed as the Arabs thought of it: as an act
which involved no stigma on the shedder. The
Prophet indeed offered them one more alternative —
to accept Islam, and not only preserve their lives
and possessions, but become one with the conquer-
ors. Most stormers of cities have not been willing
to sacrifice to an idea the whole fruits of victory.

It seems surprising that so very few of the con-
quered availed themselves of this escape. The poet
Jabal, son of Juwal, is mentioned as one such con-
vert.* Even a woman, Raihanah, whom Mohammed
made his slave-concubine, long preferred concubinage
as a Jewess to wifedom as a Moslem.

The theoretical love and practical hate of Moham-
med for the Jewish race is a phenomenon so easy to
illustrate that it scarcely calls for attention. That the
Israelites were " chosen out of the world " is a theme
which the Koran never tires of repeating. He used
to spend whole nights in telling stories about the
Children of Israel,f and Sprenger is probably right in
thinking that for a long time the dearest wish of
Mohammed's heart was to be recognised by them.
Their failure to do so at Medinah cut away the
ground on which he had built at Meccah ; but it was
like the temporary wooden bridge which is removed
when the stone fabric, erected with its aid, is com-
plete. Each victory of the Prophet, and especially

* Isabah, i., 453.
f Musnad, iv., 437.



The Destruction of the Jews 335

each accession of plunder, rendered the arguments
of the expert Jews less and less weighty ; and after
the destruction of the Kuraizah it became a matter
of indifference to him whether the Jews followed
him or not. The change from a basis of reason to
a basis of force had taken place gradually, but now
was finally achieved.

One other party was also given its coup de grace
by the campaign of the trench. The disaffected
Medinese, called in the Koran the Hypocrites or the
Faint-hearted, had given encouragement and futile
promises to the Banu Nadir ; but they are not men-
tioned by trustworthy authorities in connection with
the attack on the Banu Kuraizah. They endeavoured
to shirk the task of digging, and, on the ground that
their houses were exposed, endeavoured to leave the
defenders of the trench and return to their homes.
The unexpected termination of the campaign extin-
guished their hopes. If Mohammed asserted that
the forces of nature had taken his part, and that the
Kurashites had been driven off by hosts of angels,
the event was on his side. We can but admire
his wisdom and forbearance in contenting himself
with sarcasms on their behaviour, delivered in the
Koran, and avenging himself in no more practical
way. To the principle, however, of accepting as
final a man's utterance about Islam, and declining to
enquire into the sincerity of such profession, he finally
adhered. Victories and success were environing
Islam with fame and glory ; and whereas the pro-
fession of it was at first a matter of shame, it was
becoming a subject of pride.



336 Mohammed

The triumph over the Kuraizah was completed by
the assassination of Sallam, son of Abu Hukaik, one
of the organisers of the late attack. He had taken
refuge at Khaibar, and five cut-throats went with
the Prophet's blessing to murder him in his bed.
They were members of the Khazraj and their pur-
pose, we are told, was to emulate the glory of the mur-
derers of Ka'b, son of Al-Ashraf, who were members
of the rival tribe. The Jews of Khaibar, when they
heard of the fate of the Kuraizah, had bethought
them for a moment of uniting the whole Jewish
population of Arabia in an attack on Medinah ; but
their courage evaporated very quickly.*

Of the effect on public opinion of the result of
the whole campaign we have no record, but it is
likely to have been very great. A victory won by
the help of angels and spirits was far more valuable
than a triumph secured by physical force. Those
who would not rest quiet when defeated by mortal



Online LibraryD. S. (David Samuel) MargoliouthMohammed and the rise of Islam → online text (page 22 of 32)