61 – Bani Qurayzah

They had only a few hours to rest. When the noon prayer had been prayed Gabriel came to the Prophet. He was splendidly dressed, his turban rich with gold and silver brocade, and a cloth of brocaded velvet was thrown over the saddle of the mule he was riding. “Hast thou laid down thine arms, O Messenger of God?” he said “The Angels have not laid down their arms, and I return this moment from pursuing the foe, naught else. Verily God in His might and His majesty commanded thee, O Muhammad, that thou shouldst go against the sons of Qurayzah. I go to them even now, that I may cause their souls to quake.”[1]

The Prophet gave orders that none should pray the afternoon prayer until he had reached the Qurayzah territory. The banner was given to ‘Ali, and before sunset all the fortresses had been invested by the same army, three thousand strong, which had opposed Quraysh and their allies at the trench.

For twenty-five nights they were besieged, and then they sent to the Prophet to ask him to let them consult Abu Lubabah. Like the Bani Nadir, they had long been allies of Aws, and Abu Lubabah had been one of their chief links with his tribe. The Prophet bade him go to them, and he was beset on his arrival by weeping women and children so that much of his sternness against the treacherous enemy was softened; and when the men asked him if they should submit to Muhammad he said: “Yea,” but at the same time he pointed to his throat as much as to warn them that in his opinion submission meant slaughter. The gesture was in contradiction with his assent, and might have prolonged the siege still further; and no sooner had he made it than an overwhelming sense of guilt added itself to the guilt which he already felt in the depth of his soul on account of the palm-tree which he had refused to give to his orphan ward at the Prophet’s request.[2] “My two feet had not moved from where they were,” he said, “before I was aware that I had betrayed the Messenger of God.” His face changed color and he recited the verse: Verily we are for God, and verily unto Him are we returning. “What aileth thee?” said Ka’b. “I have betrayed God and His Messenger,” said Abu Lubabah, and as he went down from the upper room he put his hand to his beard, and it was wet with his tears. He could not bring himself to go out the way he had entered and to face his fellow Awsites and others who, as he knew, were waiting eagerly to hear his news and to escort him to the Prophet. So he passed through a gate at the back of the fortress and was soon on his way to the city. He went straight to the Mosque, and bound himself to one of the pillars, saying: “I will not stir from this place until God relent unto me for what I did.”

The Prophet was waiting for his return, and when he finally heard what had happened he said: “If he had come to me I would have prayed God to forgive him; but seeing that he hath done what he hath done, it is not for me to free him until God shall relent unto him.”[3]

He remained at the pillar for some ten or fifteen days. Before every prayer, or whenever it was necessary, his daughter would come to untie his bonds; then after he had prayed he would bid her bind him once more. Yet the grievousness of his plight was lessened on account of a dream he had had one night during the siege. He had felt himself to be embedded in a bog of foul slime out of which he could not pull himself until he almost died of the stench of it. Then he saw a flowing stream and he washed himself clean in it and the air about him was fragrant. When he woke he went to Abu Bakr to ask him what it could mean; and Abu Bakr told him that his body meant his soul and that he would enter into a state of soul which would oppress him sorely and that then he would be given relief from it; and during his days at the pillar he lived on the hope of that relief.

As to the Bani Qurayzah, Ka’b suggested to them that since many of them believed Muhammad to be a Prophet they should enter his religion and save their lives and their property. But they said that death was preferable, and that they would have nothing but the Torah and the law of Moses. So Ka’b made other suggestions, putting before them other possibilities of action, but these also were unacceptable. Now there were three young men of the Bani Hadl -descendants, that is, of Qurayzah’s brother Hadl- who had been in the fortresses of their kinsmen throughout the siege, and they reiterated the first proposal that Ka’b had made. In their boyhood they had known Ibn al-Hayyaban, the old Syrian Jew who had come to live amongst them, and they now repeated his words about the expected Prophet: “His hour is close upon you. Be ye the first to reach him, O Jews; for he will be sent to shed blood and to take captive the women and the children of those who oppose him. Let not that hold you back from him.”[4] But the only answer they receive was “We will not forsake the Torah”, so the three youths went down from the fortress that night, and telling the Muslim guards of their intention to enter Islam, they pledged their allegiance to the Prophet. Of the Bani Qurayzah themselves only two followed their example. One of these, ‘Amr ibn Su’da, had from the beginning refused to countenance the breaking of the pact with the Prophet and had formally dissociated himself from it He now suggested that if they would not enter Islam they could offer to pay the Prophet tribute or a tax -“but by God, I know not if he would accept it”. They replied, however, that it was preferable to be killed than to agree to pay tribute to the Arabs. So he himself left the fortress, and having passed through the guards as a Muslim, he spent that night in the Mosque in Medina. But he was never seen again, and to this day it is not known whither he went or where he died. The Prophet said of him: “That is a man whom God saved for his faithfulness.” The other man, Rifa’ah ibn Samaw’al, eluded the guards and took refuge with Salma bint Qays, the Prophet’s maternal aunt, Aminah’s half-sister, who had married a Khazrajite of the Bani an-Najjar. It was in her house that Rifa’ah entered Islam.

The next day, despite Abu Lubabah’s warning, the Bani Qurayzah opened the gates of their fortresses and submitted to the Prophet’s judgment. The men were led out with their hands bound behind their backs and a space was allotted them on one side of the camp. On another side the women and children were assembled, and the Prophet put them in the charge of ‘Abd Allah ibn Sallam, the former chief rabbi of the Bani Qaynuqa’. The arms and armor, the garments and the household goods were collected from each fortress and all gathered together in one place. The jars of wine and fermented date juice were opened and their contents poured away.

The clans of Aws sent a deputation to the Prophet asking him to show their former allies the same leniency that he had shown the Bani Qaynuqa’ who had been the allies of Khazraj. He answered them saying: “Will it satisfy you, men of Aws, if one of yourselves pronounce judgment upon them?” And they agreed. So he sent to Medina for their chief, Sa’d ibn Mu’adh whose wound had not healed and who was being cared for in a tent in the Mosque. The Prophet had placed him there so that he might visit him in the more often, and Rufaydah, a woman of Aslam, was tending his wound. Some of his clansmen went to him, and mounting him on an ass they brought him to the camp. “Do well by thy confederates,” they said to him on the way, “for the Messenger of God hath set thee in judgment upon them for no other purpose than thou mayst treat them with indulgence.” But Sa’d was a man of justice; like ‘Umar he had been against sparing the prisoners at Badr, and their opinion had been confirmed by the Revelation. Many men of Quraysh who had been ransomed on that occasion had come out against them at Uhud and again at the trench; and in this last campaign the strength of the invaders had been largely due to the hostile activities of the exiled Jews of Bani Nadir. If these had been put to death instead of being allowed to go into exile, the invading army might have been halved, and Bani Qurayzah would no doubt have remained faithful to their pact with the Prophet. The arguments offered by past experience were not in favor of leniency, to say the least. Moreover, Sa’d had himself been one of the envoys to Qurayzah at the moment of crisis and had seen the ugliness of their treachery when they had thought that the defeat of the Muslims were certain. It was true that if he gave a severe judgment most of the men and women of Aws would blame him, but that consideration would not have weighed much with Sa’d at any time and now it weighed not at all, for he was convinced that he was dying. He cut short the pleas of his clansmen with the words: “The time hath come for Sa’d, in the cause of God, to give no heed unto the blame of the blamer.”

Sa’d was a man of might stature, of handsome and majestic appearance, and when he came to the camp the Prophet said “Rise in honor or your liege lord,” and they rose to greet him saying: “Father of ‘Amr, the Messenger of God hath appointed thee to judge the case of thy confederates.” He said: “Do ye then swear by God and make by Him your covenant that my judgment shall be the verdict upon them?” “We do,” they answered. “And is it binding upon him who is here?” he added, with a glance in the direction of the Prophet, but not mentioning him out of reverence. “It is,” said the Prophet. “Then I judge,” said Sa’d, “that the men shall be slain, the property divided, and the women and children made captive.”[5] The Prophet said to him: “Thou hast judged with the judgment of God from above the seven heavens.”

The women and children were taken away to the city where they were lodged, and the men spent the night in the camp where they recited the Torah and exhorted one another to firmness and patience. In the morning, the Prophet ordered trenches, long and deep and narrow, to be dug in the market-place. The men, about seven hundred in all -according to some accounts more and to others less- were sent for in small groups, and every group was made to sit alongside the trench that was to be his grave. Then ‘Ali and Zubayr and others of the younger Companions cut off their heads, each with a stroke of the sword.

When Huyay was led into the market he turned to the Prophet, who was sitting apart with some of his older Companions, and said to him: “I blame not myself for having opposed thee, but whoso forsaketh God, the same shall be forsaken.” Then he turned to his fellows and said: “The command of God cannot be wrong -a writ and a decree and a massacre which God hath set down in his book against the sons of Israel.” Then he sat beside the trench and his head was cut off.

The last to die were beheaded by torchlight. Then one old man, Zabir ibn Bata, whose case was not yet decided, was taken to the house where the women were lodged. The next morning, when they were told of the death of their men, the city was filled with the sound of their lamentations. But the aged Zabir quieted them, saying: “Be silent! Are ye the first women of the children of Israel to be made captive since the world began? Had there been any good in your men they would have saved you from this. But cleave ye to the religion of the Jews, for in that must we die, and in that must we live hereafter.”

Zabir had always been an enemy to Islam and had done much to stir up opposition to the Prophet. But in the civil wars of Yathrib he had spared the life of a man of Khazraj, Thabit ibn Qays, who wished to repay him for this, and who had gone to the Prophet to ask him to let Zabir live. “He is thine,” said the Prophet; but when Zabir was told of his reprieve he said to Thabit: “An old man, without wife and without children, what will he do with life?” So Thabit went again to the Prophet, who gave him Zabir’s wife and children. But Zabir said: “A household in the Hijaz without property, how can they survive?” Again Thabit went to the Prophet, who gave him all Zabir’s possessions except his arms and armor. But thoughts of the death of all his fellow tribesmen now overwhelmed Zabir and he said: “By God I ask thee, Thabit, by the claim I have on thee, that thou shouldst join me with my people, for now that they are gone, there is no good in life.” At first Thabit refused, but when he saw that he was serious he took him to the place of execution and Zubayr was told to behead him. His wife and children were set free and their property was returned to them, under Thabit’s guardianship.

As to the other women and children, they were divided, together with the property, amongst the men who had taken part in the siege. Many of these captives were ransomed by the Bani Nadir at Khaybar. As part of his share the Prophet had chosen Rayhanah,[6] the daughter of Zayd, a Nadirite, who had married her to a man of Qurayzah. She was a woman of great beauty and she remained the Prophet’s slave until she died some five years later. At first he put her in the care of his aunt Salma, in whose house Rifa’ah had already taken refuge. Rayhanah herself was averse to entering Islam, but Rifa’ah, and his kinsmen of the Bani Hadl spoke to her about the new religion and it was not long before one of the three young converts, Tha’labah by name, came to the Prophet and told him that Rayhanah had entered Islam, whereupon he greatly rejoiced. When it became clear that she was not pregnant, he went to her and offered to set her free and to make her his wife. But she said: “O Messenger of God, leave me in thy power; that will be easier for me and for thee.”


[1] I.I. 684
[2] See chapter 48 – The People of The Bench
[3] W. 507
[4] I.I. 136
[5] Sa’d’s judgment was no doubt directed mainly against their treachery; but in fact it coincided exactly with Jewish law as regards the treatment of a besieged city, even if it were innocent of treachery: When the Lord thy God hath delivered it unto thy hands, thou shalt smite every male therein with the edge of the sword: but the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself. Deuteronomy 20 : 12
[6] I.I. 693

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