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banu_qurayza.pdf THE MASSACRE OF THE BANU QURAYZA A re-examination of a tradition The story of the massacre of the Banu Qurayza (April 627 A.D./Dhu l-Qa'da 5 A.H.), l as recorded in various compilations of the Sira-literature, is concerned with the final blow which the prophet Muhammad struck at the last Jewish tribal group in Medina. According to the widely current tradition, transmitted by the early Muslim scholars of hadith, biographers of the Prophet, jurists and historians, Qurayza are said to have concluded a pact with the Prophet in which they committed themselves not to help the enemies of the Prophet. But when the enemies of the Prophet (i.e. the Confederates, Quraysh and their Allies, the Ahzab - K.) besieged Medina the Banu Qurayza are alleged to have aided the forces of the Prophet's enemies, the Ahzab. Huyayy b. Akhtab, a former leader of the exiled Jewish tribe of the Banu Nadlr is blamed for having instigated Ka'b b. Asad, the leader of Qurayza, to violate the agreement with the Prophet and for having pressed him to negotiate with the leaders of the Ahzab. The Prophet succeeded by stratagem to undermine the mutual confidence between Qurayza and the Ahzab and to spoil their strategic plans against him and against the Muslim community at Medina. The failure of the siege of Medina by the Ahzab and their disordered and hasty retreat marked a manifest victory for the Prophet and left Qurayza in a precarious position, facing the forces of the Prophet in isolation. Immediately after the withdrawal of the Ahzab the Prophet was actually summoned by the angel Jibril to march out against the Banu Qurayza. The siege laid by the forces of the Prophet on the stronghold of Qurayza brought about a deterioration of the situation of the besieged shortly afterwards. Their leader, Ka`b b. Asad put forward three proposals as solution: (a) that they should convert to Islam, (b) that they should kill the women and children and march out from the stronghold to fight courageously the besieging force of the Muslims, or (c) that they should l See J.M.B. Jones, The Chronology ofthe Maghazi, BSOAS XIX, 1957, pp. 274, 251. 62 surprise Muhammad and his troops by a speedy and unexpected attack on the eve of Saturday. All the proposals were, however, rejected by the Banu Qurayza. When the situation deteriorated Qurayza sent their messenger to negotiate with the Prophet the terms of their surrender. They proposed to surrender and depart leaving behind their land and property and taking with them movable property only, the load of a camel per person. When this proposal was rejected, the messenger returned asking that Qurayza be permitted to depart without any property, taking with them only their families; but this proposal too was rejected and the Prophet insisted that they surrender unconditionally and subject themselves to his judgment. Qurayza asked for Abu Lubaba, a Companion of the Prophet whom they trusted, to be sent to them in order to have his advice. Abo Lubaba indiscreetly pointed with his hand to his throat, a movement which clearly conveyed slaughter; he regretted his treason towards God and the Prophet, repented and the Prophet was glad to convey to him the joyous tiding of God's forgiveness, as it was revealed to him. The Banu Qurayza, compelled to surrender, descended from their stronghold and were led to Medina. The men, their hands pinioned behind their backs, were put in a court (dar) in Medina; the women and children are said to have been put in another one. When the Prophet was asked by people of Aus, who were allies of Qurayza, to show leniency towards their allies the Qurayza, he proposed to appoint as arbiter a man from Aus, Sa=d b. Mu-adh. Qurayza consented and so did the attending Muslims; among the Muslims were, of course, the Aus who in turn began to intercede with Sa-d for Qurayza; Sa-d's harsh answer was a bad omen for the fate of Qurayza. When all the parties agreed to abide by the judgment of Sa'd he gave his concise verdict: the men shall be put to death, the women and children sold into slavery, the spoils divided among the Muslims. The Prophet ratified the judgment and stated that Sa-d's decree had been issued as a decree of God pronounced from above the Seven Heavens. Accordingly some 400 (or 600, or 700, or 800, or even 900) men from Qurayza were led on the order of the Prophet to the market of Medina; trenches were dug in the place, the men were executed and buried in the trenches. The Prophet attended the executions, which were carried out by CAlI and al-Zubayr. Youths who had not reached maturity were spared. Women and children were sold into slavery; a number of them were distributed as gifts among the Companions. 63 The story of the massacre of Qurayza, of which a short summary has been given above, was thoroughly studied and analysed by several western scholars, who severely criticized the Prophet for it. 2 Although not unanimous in their assessment of certain details of the story, the scholars are in agreement concerning the cruelty of the judgment of Sa-d b. Mu'adh, Some Muslim scholars didn't deny the merciless character of Sa-d's judgment, but justified it pointing out that the Bam} Qurayza had yielded to the treacherous activities of Huyayy b. Akhtab and had committed deeds of treason. Sa-d's decree, although severe and harsh, was a vital necessity as he regarded the fate of the Jews as a question of life and death for the Muslim community. The responsibility for the killing of Qurayza should be placed on Huyayy b. Akhtab who instigated the war-activities against the Prophet.' 2 See e.g. Martin Hartmann, Der Islam, Leipzig 1909, p. 16: "Ein ewiges Schandmal bleibt die Ruchlosigkeit mit der Muhammed gegen den Stamm Quraiza verfuhr: 600 Manner erlitten den Tod durch Henkershand, die Weiber und Kinder wurden verkauft." W. Muir, Mahomet and Islam, London 1895, p. 151: "The massacre of Banu Coreitza was a barbarous deed which cannot be justified by any reason of political necessity... " "But the indiscriminate slaughter of the whole tribe cannot be recognized otherwise than as an act of monstrous cruelty, which casts an indelible blot upon the Prophet's name... " J. Andrae, Mohammed. Sein Leben und sein G1aube, G6ttingen 1932, p. 126: "Es war der letzte Jundenstamm in Medina, Banu Kuraiza, den er nun exemplarisch zu strafen beschloss wegen der Unzuverlassigkeit, die er wiihrend der Belagerung gezeigt hatte. Bei dieser Gelegenheit zeigte er wieder den Mangel an Ehrlichkeit und moralischem Mut, der einen weniger sympathischen Zug seines Charakters bildete... " F. Buhl, Das Leben Muhammeds, Trans!. H.H. Schaeder, Heidelberg 1955, p. 275: "... Diesmal war Muhammad jedoch zu erbittert urn Schonung zu gewahren: aber die Art wie er seinen Willen durschsetzte. hatte etwas in hohem Grade Raffiniertes und zeigt wieder seinen Charakter in einem sehr abstossenden Licht..." M. Gaudefroy-Demombynes, Mahomet, Paris 1969, p. 145: "L'incident des B. Qoraiza est une vilaine page de l'histoire de Mohammed, mais c'est un acte qui fut tres profitable a la gloire d'Allah et de son prophete ... " W. Montgomery Watt, Muhammad at Medina, Oxford, 1956, p. 214: "Some European writers have criticized this sentence for what they call its savage and inhuman character ... " Maxime Rodinson, Mohammed, New York 1974, p. 213: "It is not easy to judge the massacre of the Qurayza. It must be remembered that the customs of the time were extremely primitive ... " F. Gabrieli, Muhammad and the Conquest of Islam, London 1968, p. 73: "This dark episode, which Muslim tradition, it must be said, takes quite calmly, has provoked lively discussion among western biographers of Muhammed, with caustic accusations on the one hand and legalistic excuses on the other... In this case he was ruthless, with the approval of his conscience and of his God, for the two were one; we can only record the fact, while reaffirming our consciousness as Christians and civilised men, that this God or at least this aspect of Him, is not ours." 3 Muhammad Husayn Hayka!, Hayiu Muhammad, Cairo 135g, p. 321. And see e.g. Hafiz Ghulam Sarwar, Muhammad the Holy Prophet, Lahore 1967, p. 247: "No one can dispute the justice of the sentence on the Quraiza ... Traitors are always executed unless they ask pardon and circumstances justify the pardon being granted... Muhammad was absolutely 64 I Odd assumptions appear in W.N. Arafat's article on this subject.' Arafat tries to prove the unreliability of the account of the events of the massacre of Qurayza as recorded by Ibn Ishaq (d. 151 A.H.) and transmitted by later Muslim scholars, historians and biographers of the Prophet. The later historians "draw, and in most cases depend on Ibn Ishaq", states Arafat and comments: "But Ibn Ishaq died in 151 A.H., i.e., 145 years after the event in question".' Arafat's severe criticism refers first of all to the way in which Ibn Ishaq collected his information: his sources were untrustworthy, uncertain and late; his account is in Arafat's opinion "a sum-total of the collective reports, pieced together". Arafat quotes thrice the opinion of Malik b. Anas (from Ibn Sayyid al-Nas, 'Uyun al-athar) about Muhammad b. Ishaq: "he was a liar", "an impostor" who "transmits his stories from the Jews'" and stresses twice that "against the late and uncertain sources on the one hand, and the condemning authorities on the other must be set the only contemporary and entirely authentic source, The Qur'an." (Sura XXXIII, 26: "He caused those of the People of the Book who helped them (i.e. the Quraysh) to come out of their forts. Some you killed, some you took prisoner." [as quoted by Arafatj).? If 600 or 700 people were killed there would have been a clearer reference to it in the Qur'an; as only the guilty leaders were executed the reference in the Qur'an is very brief - argues Arafat. He rejects without hesitation the widely circulated story about the massacre of the Banii Qurayza and reiterates his argument: the verse of the Qur'an indicates clearly that only those men of Qurayza who were actually fighting were free from blame. The real culprit in this tragedy, for it was a most horrible tragedy... was Huyayy b. Akhtab... " Ameer Ali, A short history of the Saracens, London 1961, p. 13: "It was considered unsafe to leave the traitorous Banu Koraiza so near the city, as their treachery might at any moment lead to the destruction of Medina... This was a severe punishment according to our ideas, but it was customary according to the rules of war then prevalent." Muhammad Hamidullah, Muslim Conduct of State, Lahore 1961, §443: "... The females and children of the Jewish tribe of Banu Quraizah were, by the decision of the arbitrator nominated by themselves, enslaved and distributed as booty. This arbitral award was in conformity with the Jewish personal Jaw... "; §497: "... In the case of the Banu Quraizah, it was the arbitrator of their own choice who awarded exactly what Deuteronomy provided... " 4 W.N. Arafat, "New Light on the Story of Banu Qurayza and the Jews of Medina," JRAS (1976), 100-107. 5 Arafat, op. cit., pp. 101, U. 1-2. 6 Arafat, op. cit., pp, 10I, 1. 8, 102 ult. -103 1.1, 106 U. 2-3. 7 Arafat, op. cit., pp. 1011. 20, 103 1I. 11-15. 65 executed; according to the rule of Islam only those responsible for the sedition were punished. Killing a large number of people is opposed to the Islamic sense of justice and the Qur'anic rule regarding prisoners, argues Arafat. Why should the Qurayza have been slaughtered, asks Arafat, while other Jewish groups which surrendered both before and after the Banu Qurayza were treated leniently and were allowed to go. If so many hundreds of people were indeed put to death in the market-place and trenches were dug for the operation, why, asks Arafat, is there no trace of all that and no sign or word to point to the place? "Had this slaughter actually happened", contends Arafat, "the jurists would have adopted it as a precedent"; "in fact exactly the opposite had been the case" - asserts Arafat. Arafat stresses further that the details of the story imply inside knowledge, i.e. from the Jews themselves. Both the descendants of the Banii Qurayza and the descendants of the Medinan Muslims were eager to glorify their ancestors; it was one of the descendants of Sacd b. Mu-adh who transmitted the judgment of Sa-d and the saying of the Prophet to Sad: "You have pronounced God's judgment upon them [as inspired] through Seven Veils"." Finally Arafat raises some additional questions: how could many hundreds of persons be incarcerated in a house belonging to a woman of the Banu l-Najjar, and how can one explain the fact that some Jews are mentioned as remaining in Medina after the alleged expulsion of all the Jewish tribes? Arafat draws a comparison between the story of Masada as recorded by Josephus Flavius and the story of the Banu Qurayza. Arafat's conclusions are surprising: the descendants of the Jews who fled to Arabia after the Jewish wars superimposed details of the siege of Masada on the story of the siege of the Banu Qurayza. According to Arafat, the mixture provided the basis for Ibn Ishaq's story. Arafat's article was followed by another one by a certain Zaid. In his article entitled "The Masada Legend in Jewish and Islamic Tradition"? the author reiterates Arafat's arguments, arrives at the same con- 8 Arafat's rendering of this sentence is erroneous: min fauqi sao Cati arqi ' The references quoted above from the compilations of al-Shaybant, al-Shafi'T, Abu bought by Mu-awiya]; and see ib. p. 86, no. I; and see e.g. Ibn Hajar, al-Isaba, V, 744, sup.: the court (dar) known as dar bani nasr in Damascus was a church (kanisat al-nasaray; Malik b.