The Jews comprised three tribes living in and around Madinah, namely the Banu Nadir, the Banu Qainuqa and the Banu Quraizah.
The Banu Qainuqa tribe lived in Madinah and paid tribute to the Arab tribe, Khazraj. Banu Nadir and Banu Quraizah lived to the south of Madinah, behind it and they paid tribute to the Arab tribe of Aws. (Ar Raheeq il Mahktoom, page 282)
The Jews had a flair for trade and controlled the trade of dates, alcohol and farms. This made them extremely wealthy. They used to forward loans to the Arab chieftains at absurdly exorbitant rates of interest (which the Arabs squandered for show). In return, the Jews kept as security their lands, farms and gardens.
The Jews conspired to spread mischief and cause war amongst the ignorant Arabs who had no idea of their subtle cunning and deceit. They followed the policy of ‘divide and rule’ and would incite the tribes against each other, then sit back to watch the spectacle of the Arabs destroying themselves. (ibid, 282)
These Jewish tribes were responsible for the prolonged war between the two above mentioned tribes, Aws and Khazraj.
In their dialogues with the Arabs, the Jews kept telling them that soon there would appear a prophet from among themselves and that he would lead them to humiliate the Arab idolaters. They kept on repeating this Jewish dream in front of their fellow residents until Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) appeared and came to Madinah.
Thereupon, everything changed because they started to deny their dream and claimed that he was not the long-awaited prophet but just a pseudo-prophet, completing a package of falsifications woven by their Arab contemporaries.
They knew in their hearts that he was a prophet and not a liar, yet they opted to be arrogant rather than surrender to the truth. They wondered why the long-awaited prophet came from the Arabs.
In the Jews’ opinion, they themselves were the most deserving of that honor, and as they saw it jumping in someone else’s lap, they decided to destroy it.
Two of their rabbis were conversing when the Prophet reached Madinah and one of them said to the other, “Is that him?” i.e., is he the prophet?
And the other answered, “Yes, it is him.”
The other continued, “Are you sure it is him?”
And the answer came, “By God, I know him as much as I know my own son.”
“So what will you do with him?”
And the final answer came, “I will bear enmity to him till my death.”
(Saifur Rahman al-Mubarakfuri, Ar-Rahiq Al-Makhtum, Dar As-Salam, 1998, p. 145)
When the Prophet settled in Madinah, he wanted to create a cooperating human community and establish an exemplary civil society at a time when these poor Arabs could never imagine what a civil society could mean. So for the first time in history, he established the pact of Madinah or what I like to call the constitution of coexistence.
In this constitution, all signing parties — including Muslims, Jews, and other (pagan) Arabs — agreed that they would live in Madinah together as a society and would defend it in case of an attack and would never help any outsider against any of the other signing parts and would never betray the agreement.
Some important terms of the treaty were:
- • The Jews and Muslims would be considered one entity, the Jews and Muslims were free to follow their respective religions, freemen and slaves alike.
- • The Jews were responsible for their affairs and the Muslim for theirs.
- • If any member of the treaty went on war with another party, the other members would support it and cooperate with each other. As long as the war continued the expenditure would be born by all the members.
- • The Quraish tribe and their helpers would not be given asylum in Madinah.
- • Any mutual dispute between the members of the treaty would be settled by Allah and His Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him. (Ar Raheeq il Makhtoom, page 298-300)
Yet, at the first juncture, the Jews started disrupting the society when one of them, knowing he was backed by others, attacked a Muslim woman who went to buy something from a Jewish shop in the Jewish district of Banu Qaynuqa’. They simply created chaos and disruption in the society (Saifur Rahman al-Mubarakfuri, Ar-Rahiq Al-Makhtum, Dar As-Salam, 1998. p. 191).
In order to stop the chaos and let society enjoy the peacefulness reached in the agreement, the Prophet gave them the option to leave Madinah or else people whose children were killed would start avenging them. The decision was they would leave, and that was really the best and easiest option. It needed no justification because their offense was very clear.
The relationship between the Jews of Banu An-Nadir and the Arabs was not much better. Banu An-Nadir conspired to kill the Prophet when he was going to talk with them.
Imagine how you would feel if you were visiting one of your friends and he was preparing to kill you at his house instead of offering you food and hosting you. Imagine if he met you with a conspiracy rather than with hospitality.
The threat here was against the leader of the Muslim community and the head of the state; it was actually a conspiracy that reflected how much hatred they bore for the Prophet and how betraying they were.
Thereupon, they had to leave, not because of the Prophet but because of their own handiwork. The Quran tells us at the beginning of Surat Al-Hashr that the believers never imagined that the Jews would leave Madinah and were not even planning for that, but the Jews themselves brought that to themselves. And when the Prophet gave them the option, they chose to leave. Actually, that was the least punishment they could get.
Banu Quraizhah, on the other hand, remained in Madinah, but again they did not keep their word and breached the agreement. They helped a confederate army consisting of Quraish and other Arab idolaters who came to attack Madinah.
The Muslim army, which by the highest estimates was only one thousand-strong, was facing a ten thousand-strong army in full arms. The Muslims had to dig a trench in a desperate attempt to defend themselves, and all of a sudden, they discovered that their fellow citizens (the Jews), who were entrusted to defend from the back, were actually helping the enemy.
It was the mercy of Allah that the confederates left without fighting and He blew fear into their hearts, but the unforgivable offense of these betraying Jews was not to pass unnoticed.
The kind Prophet went to them and asked them to choose someone who would issue a judgment in their case. Banu Quraizhah chose Sa’d ibn Mu’az, may Allah be pleased with him, because they knew he was their friend and would be fair with them. Sa’d chose a verdict from their own holy scriptures, the Torah: that the men were to be killed and the women and children were to be enslaved.
Thereupon, many Companions of the Prophet, driven by mercy, told them that they could intercede and get them an amnesty from the Prophet. But Banu Quraizhah said:
“No, we will never violate the judgment of the Torah.”
Actually, this verdict given by Sa’d is purely from the Torah, and no similar punishment can be found in any Islamic source. Some of them chose to seek forgiveness and were exempted from killing, but many others chose to die to apply the Torah. If they had chosen the merciful Prophet, he would have forgiven them, but arrogance took them to their destiny.
Even the Jews, who went to settle up north with their fellows in Khaybar, did not stop conspiring and stirring enmity against the emerging little Muslim community in Madinah. These actions reached such a degree that we can conclude that, like any criminal, they were a massive threat to the public security of the society and were to be dealt with accordingly.
(This article is from Reading Islam’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.)