57 – Bani Nadir

The Jewish tribe of Nadir had long been confederates of the Bani ‘Amir, and the Prophet decided to ask them to help him pay the blood-wite. So he went to them with Abu Bakr and ‘Umar and others of his Companions and laid the matter before them. They agreed to do what he requested, and invited them to stay until a meal could be prepared for them. The Prophet accepted their invitation, and some of the Jews withdrew, amongst them one of their chiefs, Huyay, ostensibly to give instructions about the entertainment of their guests. While they were sitting there, in front of the fortresses, Gabriel came to the Prophet, unseen by any save him, and told him that the Jews were planning to kill him and that he must return to Medina at once. So he rose and left the company without a word, and everyone assumed that he would quickly rejoin them. But when some time had passed and he had not returned Abu Bakr suggested to the other Companions that they also should go, so they took their leave of the Jews and went to the Prophet’s house. He explained to them what had happened and then he sent Muhammad ibn Maslamah to the Bani Nadir, telling him what to say to them. He went with all speed to their fortresses and some of their leaders came out to meet him. “The Messenger of God,” he told them, “hath sent me to you, and he saith: ‘By your purposing to slay me, ye have broken the pact I made with you.'” Then, having recounted to them the exact details of their plot, as the Prophet had bidden him do, he delivered the gist of his message: “I give you ten days to depart from my country,” said the Prophet. “Whosoever of you is seen after that, his head shall be cut off.” “O son of Maslamah,” they said, “we never thought that a man of Aws would bring us such a message.” “Hearts have changed,” he replied.

Most of them had already started preparations to leave, but Ibn Ubayy sent word urging them to remain and promising his support, and Huyay, not without difficulty, persuaded them to stand firm, for he felt sure that their Bedouin allies would not fail them in this crisis, let alone their powerful home allies, the Jews of Bani Qurayzah; and having dispatched urgent appeals for help to all of these, he sent his brother to the Prophet with the message: “We shall not leave our dwellings and our possessions, so do what thou wilt.” “Allahu akbar,” said the Prophet, “God is most great,” and his Companions who were sitting with him echoed his magnification. “The Jews have declared war,” he informed them. Immediately he mustered an army and placing the banner in the hands of ‘Ali he set off for the settlements of Nadir, a little to the south of the city. They prayed the afternoon prayer in a spacious courtyard which the Jews had now vacated since it was outside their defenses. After the prayer the Prophet led his troops toward the fortresses.

The ramparts were mannered by archers and slingers, who had also rocks at their disposal in case the walls came to be attacked. The two sides kept up an exchange of arrows and stones until dark. The Jews had been astonished by the speed of their attackers; but the next day -so they thought- help was bound to come from Qurayzah and Ibn Ubayy; then, in two days or three, their allies of Ghatafan would be with them. Meantime the Muslim army was being increased by a continual stream of men from Medina who had been unable for some reason or another to set out with the Prophet. By the time of the night prayer the greatly increased army was large enough to surround the enemy on all sides. The Prophet prayed with them, and then returned with ten of his Companions to Medina, leaving ‘Ali in charge of the camp. They chanted a litany of magnification the whole night long, until it was time for the dawn prayer. The Prophet rejoined them in the course of the morning.

The days passed and the Bani Nadir began to despair of the help which many of them had thought to be certain. The Bani Qurayzah refused to break their pact with the Prophet, the Bani Ghatafan maintained an enigmatic silence, and again Ibn Ubayy was forced to admit that he could do nothing. As the hopes of the besieged men dwindled, the mutual animosity amongst them increased. The tribe had long been rent with ill feeling and bitterness; and now that they were completely cut off from the outer world, with no sign of help from any direction, the situation was felt to be intolerable. It became altogether so when, after ten days or more, the Prophet gave orders to cut down some of the palm-trees which were in sight of the walls. This was a sacrifice, for he knew that the territory was virtually his own; but it was done by Divine permission,[1] which could be taken as a command, and it had the immediate effect of demolishing the enemy’s resistance. They gloried in their palms, which were one of their chief sources of revenue; and if they were compelled to leave their land now they would still think of it as theirs, for they had reason to hope that in the near future they would have the opportunity of regaining it. Quraysh had promised to eradicate Islam from the oasis. But if the palms were destroyed it would take many years to replace them. Only a few had been cut down, but to what length would this destruction be carried? Huyay sent word to the Prophet that they would leave their land, but the Prophet said he he was no longer prepared to agree that they should take all their possessions into exile with them. “Leave your land,” he said, “and take with you all that your camels can carry, except your arms and armor.”

Huyay at first refused, but his fellow tribesmen compelled him to accept; and they resumed their preparations that had been cut short two weeks previously. The doors of their houses and even the lintels were loaded on their camels; and when all was ready they set off for the north upon the road to Syria. Never had a caravan of such magnificence been seen within living memory. As they made their way through the crowded market of Medina, the camels went into single file, and each one as it passed was an object of wonder, both for the richness of its trappings and the wealth of its load. The splendid curtains of the howdahs were drawn back to display the women in their garments of silk or brocade, or velvet, green or red, most of them laden with ornaments of the finest gold, set with rubies, emeralds and other precious stones. The Bani Nadir were known to be opulent, but until now only a small portion of their riches had been seen by others than themselves. They went on their way to the music of timbrels and fifes, and proudly gave it out that if they had left their palms behind them, they had others equally good elsewhere, and to those they were now going. Many of them stopped and settled on land which they owned in Khaybar, but others went further north and settled in Jericho or in the south of Syria. According to the Revelation, the land of the Bani Nadir and all that they left behind them was the possession of the Prophet, to be given to the poor and needy, and in particular to the poor emigrants who have been driven from their homes.[2] Only two of the Helpers were given a share, and that was on account of their poverty. But by giving the main part to the Emigrants the Prophet made them independent, and thus relieved the Helpers of a heavy burden.


[1] Qur’an 59 : 5
[2] Qur’an 59 : 8

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