Syed Ameer Ali.

The spirit of Islâm : a history of the evolution and ideals of Islâm online

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from the country came to their bazaar or market (Suk) to^sell
milk. The Jewish youths insulted her grossly. A Moslem
passer-by took the part of the girl, and in the fray which ensued
the author of the outrage was killed ; whereupon the entire
body of the Jews present rose and slaughtered the Moslem. A
wild scene then followed. The Moslems, enraged at the murder
of their compatriot, flew to arms, blood flowed fast, and many
were killed on both sides. At the first news of the riots,
Mohammed hastened to the spot, and, by his presence, suc-
ceeded in restraining the fury of his followers. He at once
perceived what the end would be of these seditions and disorders
if allowed to take their course. Medina would be turned into
an amphitheatre, in which members of hostile factions might
murder one another with impunity. The Jews had openly and
knowingly infringed the terms of their compact. It was
necessary to put a stop to this with a firm hand, or farewell to
all hope of peace and security. Consequently Mohammed
proceeded at once to the quarter of the Bani-Kainuka', and
required them to enter definitely into the Moslem Common-
wealth by embracing Islam, or to vacate Medina. The reply
of the Jews was couched in the most offensive terms. " O,
Mohammed, do not be elated with the victory over thy
people (the Koreish). Thou hast had an affair with men
ignorant of the art of war. If thou art desirous of
having any dealings with us, we shall show thee that
we are men." 2 They then shut themselves up in their fortress,
and set Mohammed's authority at defiance. But their reduc-
tion was an absolute duty, and siege was accordingly laid to
their stronghold without loss of time. After fifteen days they
surrendered. At first it was intended to inflict some severe
punishment on them, but the clemency of Mohammed's nature

1 Tabari, vol. iii. p. 8.

2 Ibn-Hisham, p. 545. Tabari gives the speech of the Kainuka' with a
slight variation. But all historians agree in its being defiant and offensive.
I cannot understand whence Gibbon obtained the excessively meek reply he
puts into the mouth of these people.


overcame the dictates of justice, and the Bani-Kainuka' were
simply banished.

All these circumstances were rankling within the breasts of
the Bani un-Nazir. They only waited for a favourable
opportunity to rid themselves of Mohammed, and therefore
looked upon his arrival amongst them as providential. But
their sinister designs, as we have before said, did not escape the
eye of the Prophet. He immediately left the place without
raising the suspicions of the Jews, and thus saved himself and
his disciples from almost certain destruction. 1

The Bani un-Nazir had now placed themselves in exactly
the same position as the Bani-Kainuka' had previously done.
They had by their own act put themselves outside the pale of
the Charter ; and therefore on his arrival at Medina, Mohammed
sent them a message of the same import as that which was sent
to the Kainuka'. Relying on the support of the Munarikin
and Abdullah ibn-Ubayy, the Bani un-Nazir returned a
defiant answer. Disappointed, however, in the promised
assistance of Abdullah, and of their brethren, the Bani-
Kuraizha, after a siege of fifteen days 2 they sued for terms.
The previous offer was renewed, and they agreed to evacuate
their territories. They were allowed to take all their movables
with them, with the exception of arms. 3 In order to prevent
the Moslems from occupying their dwellings, they destroyed
these before leaving. 4

Their lands, warlike materials, etc., which they could not

Rabi I 4. a h carry away, were distributed by the Prophet

= junetoJuiy with the consent and cordial approval of the

625 a.c. Ansar, among the Muhajirin, who, up to this

time had been entirely dependent for support on the generosity

of the Medinites. Notwithstanding the strong brotherly love

which existed between the " Refugees " and the " Helpers," 5

Mohammed knew that the assistance of the Medinites afforded

1 As any betrayal of suspicion by Mohammed or his disciples of the intents
of the Jews would have made these people desperate, and precipitated matters,
the Prophet went away by himself, leaving his followers behind, which led the
Jews to suppose he was not gone far, and would quickly return.

2 Tabari says eleven days (vol. iii p. 54).

3 Ibn-Hisham, pp. 652, 653 ; Ibn ul-Athir, vol. ii. p. 133 ; Abulfeda, p. 49.

4 Koran, sura lix. ver. 5. 5 See ante, p. 53.


but a precarious means of subsistence. He accordingly
assembled the principal men from among the Ansar, and asked
them whether they had any objection to his distributing among
their poor brethren who had followed him from Mecca the goods
left behind by the Jews. With one voice they answered,
" Give to our brothers the goods of the Jews ; assign to them
even a portion of ours : we willingly consent." Upon this the
Prophet divided the property among the Muhajirin and two
of the Ansar who were extremely poor. 1

The expulsion of the Bani un-Nazir took place in the month
of Rabi I. of the fourth year. 2 The remaining portion of this
year and the early part of the next were passed in repressing
the spasmodic hostile attempts of the nomadic tribes against
the Moslems, and in inflicting punishments for various
murderous forays on the Medinite territories. 3

Meanwhile the enemies of the Faith were by no means idle.
Far and wide the idolaters had sent their H _ d

emissaries to stir up the tribes against the May 626 to 23rd
Moslems. The Jews were the most active in pn 27
these efforts. Some of the Bani-Nazir had remained behind
with their brethren settled near Khaibar, and there, fired with
the hope of vengeance, had set themselves to the work of
forming another league for the destruction of the Believers. 4
Their efforts were successful beyond their utmost hopes. A
formidable coalition was soon formed ; and an army, con-
sisting of ten thousand well-appointed men, marched upon

1 Ibn-Hisham, p. 654 ; Ibn ul-Athir, vol. ii. p. 133 ; Tabari, vol. iii. p. 54.
A principle was henceforth established that any acquisition, not made in
actual warfare, should belong to the State, or the chief of the State ; and
that its application should depend upon his discretion (vide Droit Musalman
by M. Querry, p. 337). Sura lix. of the Koran treats almost entirely of the
circumstances connected with the banishment of the Bani un-Nazir.

2 According to Ibn-Hisham, p. 653, and Abulfeda, p. 49 ; Tabari, vol. iii.
p. 55, says it was the month of Safar.

3 Of this nature was the expedition against the Christian Arabs of Dumat
ul-Jandal (a place according to Abulfeda, about seven days' journey to the
south of Damascus), who had stopped the Medinite traffic with Syria and
even threatened a raid upon Medina ; these marauders, however, fled on the
approach of the Moslems, and Mohammed returned to Medina, after conclud-
ing a treaty with a neighbouring chief, to whom he granted permission of
pasturage on the Medinite territories. — C. de Perceval, vol. iii. p. 129 ; Tabari,
vol. iii. p. 60.

4 Ibn-lsham, p. 903 ; Ibn ul-Athir, vol. ii. p. 639 ; Tabari, vol. iii. pp. 60, 61.


Medina, under the command of the relentless Abu Sufian.
Meeting no opposition on their way, they soon encamped
within a few miles of Medina, on its most vulnerable side,
towards Ohod. To oppose this host the Moslems could only
Shawwai a h nrnster a body of three thousand men. 1 Forced
=2 February thus by their inferiority in numbers, as well as
by the factious opposition of the Munafikin
within the city, 2 to remain on the defensive, they dug a deep
trench round the unprotected quarters of Medina, and, leaving
their women and children for safety in their fortified houses,
they encamped outside the city, with the moat in front of them.
In the meantime they relied for the safety of the other side, if
not upon the active assistance, at least upon the neutrality of
the Bani-Kuraizha, who possessed several fortresses at a short
distance, towards the south-east, and were bound by the
Compact to assist the Moslems against every assailant. These
Jews, however, were persuaded by the idolaters to violate their
pledged faith, and to join the Koreish. As soon as the news of
their defection reached Mohammed, he deputed " the two
Sa'ds," Sa'd ibn-Mu'az and Sa'd ibn-'Ubada, to entreat them
to return to their duty. The reply was defiant and sullen :
" Who is Mohammed, and who is the Apostle of God that we
should obey him ? There is no bond or compact betwixt us
and him." 3

As these Jews were well acquainted with the locality, and
could materially assist the besiegers by showing them the
weak points of the city, the consternation among the Moslems
became great, whilst the disaffected body within the walls
increased the elements of danger. 4

The idolaters and the Jews, failing in all their attempts to

1 Ibn-Hisham, p. 678.

2 Referred to in the Koran, sura xxxiii. vers. 12, 13, 14, etc.

3 Ibn-Hisham, p. 675 ; Muir, vol. hi. p. 259.

4 The whole scene is so beautifully painted in the Koran, sura xxxiii. (Surat
ul-Ahzab, " The Confederates "), that I cannot resist quoting a few verses
here : " When they assailed you from above you and from below you, and
when your eyes became distracted, and your hearts came up into your throats,
and ye thought divers thoughts of God, then were the Faithful tried, and
with strong quaking did they quake ; and when the disaffected and diseased
of heart (with infidelity) said, ' God and His Apostle have made us but a
cheating promise.' "


draw the Moslems into the open field, or to surprise the city
under the direction of Jewish guides, determined upon a
regular assault. The siege had already lasted twenty days.
The restless tribes of the desert, who had made common cause
with the Koreish and their Jewish allies, and who had expected
an easy prey, were becoming weary of this protracted campaign.
Great efforts were made at this critical moment by the leaders
of the beleaguering host to cross the trench and fall upon the
small Moslem force. Every attempt was, however, repulsed
by untiring vigilance on the part of the Prophet. The elements
now seemed to combine against the besieging army ; their
horses were perishing fast, and provisions were becoming
scanty. Disunion was rife in their midst, and the far-seeing
chief of the Moslems, with matchless prudence, fomented it
into actual division. Suddenly this vast coalition, which had
seemed to menace the Moslems with inevitable destruction,
vanished into thin air. In the darkness of night, amidst a
storm of wind and rain, their tents overthrown, their lights
put out, Abu Sufian and the majority of his formidable army
fled, the rest took refuge with the Bani-Kuraizha. 1 Mohammed
had in the night foretold to his followers the dispersion of their
enemies. Daybreak saw his prognostications fulfilled, and the
Moslems returned in joy to the city. 2

But the victory was hardly achieved in the opinion of the
Moslems as long as the Bani-Kuraizha

. ° , . 5 A.H. =28th

remained so near, and in such dangerous February 626 to
proximity to the city of Islam. They had 2 4 March 62 7
proved themselves traitors in spite of their
sworn alliance, and had at one time almost surprised Medina
from their side, — an event which, if successful, would have
involved the general massacre of the faithful. The Moslems
therefore felt it their duty to demand an explanation of
the treachery. This was doggedly refused. The consequence
was that the Jews were besieged, and compelled to surrender
at discretion. They made only one condition, that their
punishment should be left to the judgment of the Ausite
chief, Sa'd ibn-Mu'az. This man, a fierce soldier who had been

1 Ibn-Hisham, p. 683 ; Ibn ul-Athir, vol. ii. p. 140.

2 In Moslem annals this war is called the " War of the Trench."

nd that
of the
} "It


wounded in the attack, and indeed died from his wounds the
next day, infuriated by their treacherous conduct, gave
sentence that the fighting men should be put to death, and that
the women and children should become the slaves
Moslems ; and this sentence was carried into execution,
was a harsh, bloody sentence," says Lane-Poole, " worthy of
the episcopal generals of the army against the Albigenses, or
of the deeds of the Augustan age of Puritanism ; but it must
be remembered that the crime of these men was high treason
against the State during a time of siege ; and those who have
read how Wellington's march could be traced by the bodies
of deserters and pillagers hanging from the trees, need not be
surprised at the summary execution of a traitorous clan." 2

The punishment inflicted on the various Jewish tribes has
furnished to the Christian biographers of the Prophet, like
Muir, Sprenger, Weil and Osborn, a ground for attack. The
punishment meted out to the Bani-Kainuka' and Bani un-dV
Nazir was far below their deserts. The Bani-Kuraizha alone
were treated with severity.

Human nature is so constituted that, however criminal the
acts of an individual may be, the moment he is treated with a
severity which to our mind seems harsh or cruel, a natural
revulsion of feeling occurs, and the sentiment of justice gives
place to pity within our hearts. No doubt the sentence on the
Bani-Kuraizha, from our point of view, was severe. But,
however much we may regret that the fate of these poor people
should have been, though at their own special request, left in
the hands of an infuriated soldier — however much we may
regret that the sentence of this man should have been so carried
into effect — we must not, in the sentiment of pity, overlook
the stern question of justice and culpability. We must bear
in mind the crimes of which they were guilty — their treachery,
their open hostility, their defection from an alliance to which
they were bound by every sacred tie. Nor must we altogether
forget the temptations which they, the worshippers of the
pure Jehovah, held out to the heathen Arabs to continue in the

1 Ibn-Hisham, pp. 686-690; Ibn ul-Athir, vol. ii. p. 141 et seq. ; Tabari,
vol. iii p. 68 et seq.

2 Selections from the Koran, Introd. p. lxv.


practice of idolatry. Some Moslems might naturally be
inclined to say, with the Christian moralist : "It is better that
the wicked should be destroyed a hundred times over than that
they should tempt those who are yet innocent to join their
company." *

These Moslems might say with him, with only the variation
of a word : " Let us but think what might have been our fate,
and the fate of every other nation under heaven at this hour,
had the sword of the Arab 2 done its work more sparingly.
The Arab's sword, in its bloodiest executions, wrought a work
of mercy for all the countries of the earth to the very end of
the world." If the Christian's argument is correct and not
inhuman, certainly the Moslem's argument cannot be other-
wise. Other Moslems, however, might look upon this fearful
sentence on the Bani-Kuraizha in the same light as Carlyle
looks upon the order of Cromwell for the promiscuous massacre
of the Irish inhabitants of Drogheda : "An armed soldier
solemnly conscious of himself that he is the soldier of God the
Just, — a consciousness which it well beseems all soldiers and
all men to have always, — armed soldier, terrible as death,
relentless as doom ; doing God's judgment on the enemies of

We, however, are not disposed to look at the punishment of
these Jews from either of these points of view. We simply look
upon it as an act done in complete accordance with the laws
of war as then understood by the nations of the world : "a
strict application of admitted customs of war in those days." 3
These people brought their fate upon themselves. If they had
been put to death, even without the judgment of Sa'd, it would
have been in consonance with the principles which then pre-
vailed. But they had themselves chosen Sa'd as the sole
arbiter and judge of their fate ; they knew that his judgment
was not at all contrary to the received notions, and accordingly
never murmured. They knew that if they had succeeded they
would have massacred their enemies without compunction.
People judge of the massacres of King David according to the

1 Arnold's Sermons, 4th Sermon, " Wars of the Israelites," pp. 35, 36.

2 In the original, of course, Israelites.

3 An observation of Grote, Hist, of Greece, vol. vi. p. 499.

S.I. F


" lights of his time." x Even the fearful slaughters committed
by the Christians in primitive times are judged according to
certain " lights." Why should not the defensive wars of the
early Moslems be looked at from the same standpoint ? But,
whatever the point of view, an unprejudiced mind 2 will
perceive that no blame can possibly attach to the Prophet in
the execution of the Bani-Kuraizha.

The number of men executed could not have been more than
200 or 250.

In the distribution of the surviving people, it is said, a young
Jewess of the name of Raihana was allotted to the Prophet.
Some say she was previously set apart. The Christian
historians, always ready to seize upon any point which to their
mind offers a plausible ground for attacking Mohammed, have
not failed to make capital of this story. Leaving the examina-
tion of the question of slavery to a later chapter, we will here
only observe that the allotment of Raihana, even if true,
furnishes no ground for modern attack, as it was perfectly
consonant with the customs of war recognised in those days.
The story about Raihana becoming a wife of the Prophet is a
fabrication, for, after this event, she disappears from history
and we hear no more of her, whilst of others we have full and
circumstantial accounts.

1 2 Sam. viii. 2 : " The conquered Ammonites he treated with even greater
ferocity, tearing and hewing some of them in pieces with harrows, axes, and
saws ; and roasting others in brick-kilns " (xii. 31) ; Maitland, Jewish
Literature and Modern Education, p. 21. Compare also Stanley's Lectures on
the Jewish Church, vol. ii. p. 99.

2 I can only remember M. Barthelemy St. Hilaire, Mr. Johnson, and Mr.
Stanley Lane- Poole among Europeans who have not been carried away by


THE formidable coalition formed by the Jews and the
idolaters to compass the destruction of the new
commonwealth of Medina had utterly failed, well
might the Moslems say, miraculously. 1 But the surrounding
tribes of the desert, wild and fierce, were 6 a.h. =2^6.
committing depredations, accompanied with April 627 to 12th
murders, on the Medinite territories : and the pn
existence of the State required the employment of stern
measures for their repression. Several expeditions were
despatched against these marauders, but the slippery sons
of the desert generally evaded the approach of the Moslems.
The Bani-Lihyan, who had requested Mohammed to send
a few of his disciples among them to teach the precepts
of Islam, and who, on the arrival of the missionaries,
had killed some and sold the rest to the Meccans — had, up to
this period, remained unpunished. But the time had come
when this crime should be avenged. In the month of Jumadi
I. of this year, a body of troops, under the personal command
of the Prophet, marched against the Bani-Lihyan. The
marauders, however, receiving timely notice of the Prophet's
approach, fled into the mountains, and the Moslems returned
to Medina without having accomplished their purpose. 2

1 Comp. Koran, sura xxxiii. ver. 9.

2 Ibn-Hisham, p. 718; Ibn ul-Athir, vol. ii. p. 143; Tabari, vol. iii.
p. 72.


A few days had only elapsed when a chief of the Bani-
Fizara, a branch of the nomad horde of Ghatafan (Khail-
Ghatafan), suddenly fell upon the open suburbs of the city,
and drove off a large herd of camels, murdering the man who
had charge of them, and carrying off his wife. The Moslems
were immediately on their track, and a few of the animals were
recovered ; but the Bedouins escaped into the desert with the
larger portion of their booty.

It was about this time that the Prophet granted to the monks
of the monastery of St. Catherine, near Mount Sinai, and to all
Christians, a Charter which has been justly designated as one
of the noblest monuments of enlightened tolerance that the
history of the world can produce. This remarkable document,
which has been faithfully preserved by the annalists of Islam,
displays a marvellous breadth of view and liberality of con-
ception. By it the Prophet secured to the Christians privileges
and immunities which they did not possess even under
sovereigns of their own creed ; and declared that any Moslem
violating and abusing what was therein ordered, should be
regarded as a violater of God's testament, a transgressor of
His commandments, and a slighter of His faith. He under-
took himself, and enjoined on his followers, to protect the
Christians, to defend their churches, the residences of their
priests, and to guard them from all injuries. They were not
to be unfairly taxed ; no bishop was to be driven out of his
bishopric ; no Christian was to be forced to reject his religion ;
no monk was to be expelled from his monastery ; no pilgrim
was to be detained from his pilgrimage. Nor were the Christian
churches to be pulled down for the sake of building mosques
or houses for the Moslems. Christian women married to
Moslems were to enjoy their own religion, and not to be
subjected to compulsion or annoyance of any kind on that
account. If Christians should stand in need of assistance for
the repair of their churches or monasteries, or any other matter
pertaining to their religion, the Moslems were to assist them.
This was not to be considered as taking part in their religion,
but as merely rendering them assistance in their need, and
complying with the ordinances of the Prophet which were made
in their favour by the authority of God and of His Apostle.


Should the Moslems be engaged in hostilities with outside
Christians, no Christian resident among the Moslems should be
treated with contempt on account of his creed. Any Moslem
so treating a Christian should be accounted recalcitrant to the

Man always attaches an idea of greatness to the character of
a person who, whilst possessing the power of returning evil for
evil, not only preaches but practises the divine principle of
forgiveness. Mohammed, as the chief of the State and guardian
of the life and liberty of the people, in the exercise of justice
sternly punished every individual guilty of crime. Mohammed
the Prophet, the Teacher, was gentle and merciful even to his
greatest enemies. In him were combined the highest attributes
that the human mind can conceive — justice and mercy.

A chief of the tribe of Hanifa, named Thumama, son of
Uthal, was taken prisoner by the Moslems in one of their
expeditions against the unruly Arabs of the desert. He was
brought to Medina, where he was so affected by the kindness
of the Prophet, that from an enemy he soon became the most
devoted follower. Returning to his people he stopped the
transport to Mecca of provisions from Yemama, and this
stoppage by Thumama reduced the Meccans to the direst
straits. Failing to move the Hanafites, they at last addressed
themselves to Mohammed, and besought him to intercede for
them. The Prophet's heart was touched with pity, and he
requested Thumama to allow them to have whatever they
wanted ; and at his word the convoys were again permitted to
reach Mecca.

Endless instances might be cited of Mohammed's merciful
nature. We will, however, only instance two. A daughter of
his — a beloved child — was, after the treaty of Hudaibiya, fleeing
from Mecca. She was far advanced in pregnancy, and as she
was mounting her camel, a Koreish named Habrar, with
characteristic ferocity, drove the butt end of his lance against
her, throwing her to the ground, and eventually causing her
death. On the conquest of Mecca the murderer was pro-
scribed. After hiding for some time he presented himself
before the Prophet, and threw himself on the mercy of the
bereaved father. The wrong was great ; the crime was


atrocious — but the injury was personal. The man was to all
appearance sincere in his penitence and the profession of the
Faith. Pardon was unconditionally granted. The Jewess who

Online LibrarySyed Ameer AliThe spirit of Islâm : a history of the evolution and ideals of Islâm → online text (page 14 of 55)