The Quraysh weren't the only enemies of the early Muslim community. Muhammad also had troubles with some of the Jewish tribes and Christian groups who lived in Medina. He had originally tried to win them over to his new religion, as he had attempted with the Quraysh, but like Muhammad's former tribe, they largely mocked him and cast aspersions upon his prophetic claims. Eventually, the Jewish Banu Qaynuqa were besieged under a dubious pretext and expelled by the Muslims. Another Jewish tribe, the Banu Nadir, were also banished after some of them allegedly attempted to assassinate Muhammad. In response, Muhammad had the whole tribe exiled to the Khaybar oasis.
The last remaining Jewish tribe in Medina was the Banu Qurayza. During the Battle of the Trench (627 AD), when the Quraysh and their allies had besieged Medina, the Qurayza contributed to the city’s defense, but on the whole remained neutral. After a fortuitous storm helped break the siege, the loyalty of the Qurayza was questioned, and Muhammad, inspired by another divine revelation, moved against them. A hadith records that after the Battle, the angel Gabriel – who always dictated Allah's revelations to the Prophet – came to Muhammad, who asked, “Where (to go now)?” Gabriel replied, “This way,” pointing towards the Banu Qurayza, and Muhammad marched against them. (Sahih Bukhari v.4, b.56, no.2813) As the Prophet began his attack on the Qurayza, he addressed them with hateful derision, calling them “You brothers of monkeys”, echoing the Qur'an's descriptions of Jews being transformed into apes and pigs (2:65; 5:60; 7:166).
The tribe were easily subdued, at which point Muhammad gave his men the responsibility of deciding what to do with them. It was eventually decided that the men of the Qurayza would all be put to death, while the women and children would be enslaved. Ibn Ishaq describes the grizzly scene: “Then the apostle went out to the market of Medina (which is still its market today) and dug trenches in it. Then he sent for [the men of Banu Qurayza] and struck off their heads in those trenches as they were brought out to him in batches.” Ibn Ishaq puts the number of men that Muhammad beheaded in this way at “600 or 700 in all, though some put the figure as high as 800 or 900.” Another Muslim biographer of Muhammad, Ibn Sa'd (d.845), also claims that “they were between six hundred and seven hundred in number”, and this mass killing is attested to in numerous hadith.
The Muslims decided who qualified as a “man” and who didn't by checking pubic hair, and “those who had begun to grow hair (pubes) were killed, and those who had not were not killed.” (Sunan Abu Dawud, b.38, no.4390) This makes it likely that many of the “men” killed on this day were in fact little more than boys who had just reached puberty.
Shortly afterwards, Muhammad moved against the Jews of Khaybar, some of whom were members of the Banu Nadir he had previously expelled from Medina. The Khaybar Jews were an innocent farming community and had not threatened or provoked Muhammad in any way. Even Ali, Muhammad's close companion and the revered figure of Shi'a Islam, did not know why the Muslims were attacking Khaybar. When he inquired as to the purpose of the attack, Muhammad replied: “Fight with them until they bear testimony to the fact that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his Messenger, and when they do that then their blood and their riches are inviolable from your hands but what is justified by law and their reckoning is with Allah.” (Sahih Muslim b.31, no.5917)
Indeed, the riches of the Jews of Khaybar were plundered and stolen during the subsequent raid. Ibn Ishaq explains that “[t]he apostle seized the property piece by piece and conquered the forts one by one as he came to them.” Ibn Sa'd reports that “[h]e killed ninety-three men of the Jews.”
In order to obtain the treasure of Khaybar, Muhammad had one of the Jewish leaders tortured. Ibn Ishaq describes this brutality as follows:
“Kinana b. al-Rabi, who had the custody of the treasure of Banu Nadir, was brought to the apostle who asked him about it. He denied that he knew where it was. A Jew came (T. was brought) to the apostle and said that he had seen Kinana going round a certain ruin every morning early. When the apostle said to Kinana, 'Do you know that if we find you have it I shall kill you?' he said Yes. The apostle gave orders that the ruin was to be excavated and some of the treasure was found. When he asked him about the rest he refused to produce it, so the apostle gave orders to al-Zubayr b. al-'Awwam, 'Torture him until you extract what he has,' so he kindled a fire with flint and steel on his chest until he was nearly dead. Then the apostle delivered him to Muhammad b. Maslama and he struck off his head, in revenge for his brother Mahmud.”
Eventually, Muhammad ended up with the booty – and more besides. He later selected Safiyya bint Huyayy, the wife of the man he had just had tortured to death, to be his wife. (Sahih Muslim b.8, no.3329)
The siege of Khaybar still finds a fond resonance in the hearts of jihadists. Following a series of retaliatory airstrikes on Gaza by the Israeli Defence Forces in early 2009, thousands of Muslims took to the streets of America and Europe in protest, some of them chanting the popular jihadist warcry, “Khaybar, Khaybar, O Jews! The army of Muhammad will return!” And in 2006 the Lebanese Shi'ite cleric Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah praised the terror group Hizballah for waging “a new battle of Khaybar” against Israel (see "Shiite cleric hails Hezbollah militants" at the link provided). Clearly, he views the siege as a great and noble act, to be emulated by Muslims in their conflicts with Jews today.
Stay tuned for the third and final part, coming soon.