once again, peace and security enveloped the arabian peninsula and this turbulent area began to experience a period of lull after a whole year war. the jews, however, whose treachery, intrigues and disloyalty made them taste all types of humiliation and disgrace, were not admonished. after they had been exiled to khaibar, they remained waiting anxiously for the results of the skirmishes going on between the muslims and the idolaters. contrary to their hopes, the events of the war were in favour of the muslims, therefore they started a new stage of conspiracy and prepared themselves to deal a deadly blow against the muslims, but were too cowardly to manoeuvre directly against them, so they laid a dreadful plan in order to achieve their objectives. twenty chiefs of the jews with some celebrities of bani nadir went to makkah to negotiate an unholy alliance with quraish. they began to goad the people there to attack the messenger of allâh [pbuh] promising them full support and backing. people of quraish, who had been languid and proved too weak to challenge the muslims at badr, seized this opportunity to redeem their stained honour and blemished reputation. the same delegation set out for ghatfan, called them to do the same, and they responded positively. the jewish delegation then started a fresh effort and toured some parts of arabia and managed to incite the confederates of disbelief against the prophet [pbuh], his message and the believers in allâh. quraish, kinanah and other allies from tihama, in the south; rallied, ranked and recruited four thousand men under the leadership of abu sufyan. from the east there came tribes of banu saleem, ghatfan, bani murrah, etc. they all headed for madinah and gathered in its vicinity at a time already agreed upon. it was a great army of ten thousand fighters. they in fact outnumbered all the muslims in madinah, women, lads and elders included. to tell the truth, if they had launched a surprise attack against madinah, they could have exterminated all the muslims. however, the leadership inside the city was on the alert and the intelligence personnel managed to reconnoitre the area of the enemies, and reported their movement to the people in charge in madinah. the messenger of allâh [pbuh] summoned a high advisory board and conducted a careful discussion of a plan to defend madinah. after a lengthy talk between military leaders and people possessed of sound advice, it was agreed, on the proposal of an honourable companion, salman al-farisi, to dig trenches as defensive lines. the muslims, with the prophet [pbuh] at their head, encouraging, helping and reminding them of the reward in the hereafter, most actively and diligently started to build a trench around madinah. severe hunger, bordering on starvation, could not dissuade or discourage them from achieving their desperately sought objective. salman said: o messenger of allâh! when siege was to laid to us in persia, we used to dig trenches to defend ourselves. it was really an unprecedented wise plan. the messenger of allâh [pbuh] hurriedly gave orders to implement the plan. forty yards was allocated to each group of ten to dig. sahl bin sa‘d said: we were in the company of the messenger of allâh [pbuh], the men used to dig and we evacuate the earth on our backs.
some preternatural prophetic signs appeared in the process of trenching. jabir bin ‘abdullah, seeing the prophet [pbuh] starving, slaughtered a sheep, cooked some barley and requested the prophet [pbuh] and some companions to accept his invitation, but the prophet [pbuh] gathered all the thousand people engaged in digging the trench and they started to eat until they were all completely full and yet the shoulder of mutton and dough that was being baked remained as they were undiminished. a certain woman brought a handful of dates and passed by the prophet [pbuh], who took the dates, threw them over his cloak and invited his followers to eat. the dates began to increase in number until they dropped over the trim of his robe. another illustrious preternatural example went to the effect that an obstinate rock stood out as an immune obstacle in the ditch. the prophet [pbuh] took the spade and struck, and the rock immediately turned into a loose sand dune. in another version, al-bara‘ said: on al-khandaq (the trench) day there stood out a rock too immune for our spades to break up. we therefore went to see the messenger of allâh [pbuh] for advice. he took the spade, and struck the rock uttering "in the name of allâh, allâh is great, the keys of ash-shâm (geographical syria) are mine, i swear by allâh, i can see its palaces at the moment;" on the second strike he said: "allâh is great, persia is mine, i swear by allâh, i can now see the white palace of madain;" and for the third time he struck the rock, which turned into very small pieces, he said: "allâh is great, i have been given the keys of yemen, i swear by allâh, i can see the gates of san‘a while i am in my place." the same version was narrated by ishaq.[ibn hisham 3/330,331] the northern part of madinah was the most vulnerable, all the other sides being surrounded by mountains and palm tree orchards, the prophet [pbuh] as a skillful military expert, understood that the confederates would march in that direction, so the trench was ordered to be on that side. the muslims went on digging the trench for several days; they used to work on it during the day, and go back home in the evening until it had assumed its full dimensions militarily before the huge army of the idolaters;[ibid] which numbered, as many as ten thousand fighters, arrived and settled in the vicinity of madinah in places called al-asyal and uhud.
"and when the believers saw ‘al-ahzab’ (the confederates), they said: ‘this is what allâh and his messenger (muhammad [pbuh]) had promised us, and allâh and his messenger (muhammad [pbuh]) had spoken the truth, and it only added to their faith and to their submissiveness (to allâh)." [al-quran 33:22]
three thousand muslims, with muhammad [pbuh] at their head, came out to encounter the idolaters, with allâh’s promise of victory deeply established in their minds. they entrenched themselves in sila‘ mountain with the trench standing as a barrier between them and the disbelievers.
on attempting to attack the muslims and break into madinah, the idolaters were surprised to see a wide trench, a new stratagem unknown in arabia before, standing as an obstinate obstruction. consequently they decided to lay siege to madinah and began to manoeuvre around the trench trying hard to find a vulnerable spot through which they could infiltrate into madinah. to deter their enemies from approaching or bridging any gap in their defences, the muslims hurled arrows, and engaged in skirmishes with them. the veteran fighters of quraish were averse to this situation waiting in vain in anticipation of what the siege might reveal. therefore they decided that a group of fighters led by ‘amr bin ‘abd-e-wudd, ‘ikrima bin abi jahl and dirar bin al-khattab, should work its way through the trench. they, in fact, managed to do that and their horsemen captured a marshy area between the trench and sila‘ mountain. ‘amr challenged the muslims to a duel, and ‘ali bin abi talib was deputed. after a short but fierce engagement, ‘ali killed ‘amr and obliged the others to evacuate in a state of panic and confusion. however, some days later, the polytheists conducted fresh desperate attempts but all of them failed due to muslims’ steadfastness and heroic confrontation.
in the context of the events of the trench battle, the messenger of allâh [pbuh] failed to observe some prayers in their right time. jabir [r] narrated: on the day of trench ‘umar bin al-khattab [r] came, cursing the disbelievers of quraish and said: "o allâh’s messenger! i have not offered the afternoon prayer and the sun has set." the prophet [pbuh] replied: "by allâh! i, too, have not offered the prayer yet." the prophet [pbuh] then went to buthan, performed ablution and observed the afternoon prayer after the sun had set and then offered the sunset prayer after it."[sahih al-bukhari 2/590] he was so indignant for this failure that he invoked allâh’s wrath on his enemies and besought allâh to fill their houses and graves with fire because they distracted him from observing the afternoon prayer. it was narrated by ahmed and shafa‘i that the events of that battle detained him from the noon, afternoon, evening and night prayers, but he observed them combined. the different narrations point to the fact that the situation lasted for a few days.[mukhtasar seerat ar-rasool p.287; sahih muslim 1/227]
it is clear that, and because of the trench standing between the two parties, no direct engagement took place, but rather there were military activities confined to arrow hurling, consequently the fight claimed the lives of a small number of fighters, six muslims and ten polytheists, one or two killed by sword.
during the process of fighting, sa‘d bin mu‘adh was shot by an arrow that pierced his artery. perceiving his end approaching, he invoked allâh saying: "oh, allâh, you know nothing is closer to my heart than striving in your way against those people (disbelievers) who belied your messenger and banished him from his town. oh, allâh, i deeply believe that you have decreed that we should fight them, so if there is still more fighting to go with them, let me stay alive in order to strive more against them. if it has settled down, i beseech you to ignite it again so that i breathe my last in its context."[sahih al-bukhari 3/591] he concluded his supplication beseeching allâh not to let him die until he had had full revenge on banu quraiza. in the midst of these difficult circumstances, plottery and intrigues were in fervent action against the muslims. the chief criminal of bani nadir, huyai, headed for the habitations of banu quraiza to incite their chief ka‘b bin asad al-qurazi, who had drawn a pact with the messenger of allâh [pbuh] to run to his aid in times of war. ka‘b, in the beginning resisted all huyai’s temptation, but huyai was clever enough to manipulate him, speaking of quraish and their notables in al-asyal, as well as ghatfan and their chieftains entrenched in uhud, all in one mind, determined to exterminate muhammad [pbuh] and his followers. he, moreover, promised to stay in ka‘b’s fort exposing himself to any potential danger in case quraish and ghatfan recanted. the wicked man went on in this manner until he later managed to win ka‘b to his side and persuade him to break his covenant with the muslims. [ibn hisham 3/337] banu quraiza then started to launch war operations against the muslims especially the secluded garrisons that housed the women and children of the muslims. on the authority of ibn ishaq, safiyah [r], daughter of ‘abdul muttalib happened to be in a garrison with hassan bin thabit as well as some women and children. safiyah said: "a jew was spotted lurking around our site, which was vulnerable to any enemy attacks because there were no men to defend it. i informed hassan that i was suspicious of that man’s presence near us. he might take us by surprise now that the messenger of allâh [pbuh] and the muslims are too busy to come to our aid, why don’t you get down and kill him? hassan answered that he would not do it, so i took a bar of wood, went down and struck the jew to death. i returned and asked hassan to loot him but again hassan refused to do that.[ibid 2/228] this event had a far reaching effect and discouraged the jews from conducting further attacks thinking that those sites were fortified and protected by muslim fighters. they, however, went on providing the idolaters with supplies in token of their support against the muslims.
on hearing this bad news, the messenger [pbuh] despatched four muslim prominent leaders sa‘d bin mu‘adh, sa‘d bin ‘ubada, ‘abdullah bin rawaha and khawat bin jubair for investigation but warning against any sort of spreading panic amongst the muslims and advising that they should declare in public that the rumours are groundless if they happen to be so. unfortunately the four men discovered that the news was true and that the jews announced openly that no pact of alliance existed any longer with muhammad [pbuh]. the messenger of allâh [pbuh] was briefed on this situation, and the muslims understood their critical position with the horrible danger implied therein. their back was vulnerable to the attacks of banu quraiza, and a huge army with no way to connive at in front, while their women and children unprotected standing in between. in this regard, allâh says:
"and when the eyes grew wild and the hearts reached to the throats, and you were harbouring doubts about allâh. there, the believers were tried and shaken with a mighty shaking."
[al-qur'an 33:10, 11]
now that the muslims were shut in within the trench on the defensive, the hypocrites taunted them with having indulged in delusive hopes of defeating kisra, emperor of persia, and caesar, emperor of the romans. they began to sow the seeds of defeatism, and pretended to withdraw for the defence of their homes, though these were in no way exposed to danger. here, allâh says:
"and when the hypocrites and those in whose hearts is a disease (of doubts) said, ‘allâh and his messenger ([pbuh]) promised us nothing but delusions!’ and when a party of them said: ‘o people of yathrib (al-madinah), there is no stand (possible) for you (against the enemy attack!) therefore go back!’ and a band of them asked for permission of the prophet ([pbuh]) saying: ‘truly, our homes lie open (to the enemy).’ and they lay not open. they but wished to flee." [al-qur'an 33:12, 13]
the messenger of allâh, [pbuh] wrapped himself in his robe and began to meditate on the perfidy of banu quraiza. the spirit of hopefulness prevailed over him and he rose to his feet saying:
"allâh is great. hearken you muslims, to allâh’s good tidings of victory and support."
he then started to lay decisive plans aiming at protecting the women and children, and sent some fighters back to madinah to guard them against any surprise assault by the enemy. the second step was to take action that could lead to undermining the ranks of the disbelieving confederates. there, he had in mind to conclude a sort of reconciliation with the chiefs of ghatfan on the basis of donating them a third of madinah’s fruit crops. he sought the advice of his chief companions, namely, sa‘d bin mu‘adh and sa‘d bin ‘ubadah, whose reply went as follows:
"o messenger of allâh! if it is allâh’s injunction, then we have to obey, but if it is a new course you want to follow just to provide security for us then we don’t need it. we experienced those people in polytheism and idolatry and we can safely say that they don’t need the fruit of our orchards, they rather need to exterminate us completely. now that allâh has honoured us with islam, i believe the best recourse in this situation is to put them to the sword." thereupon the prophet [pbuh] corrected their belief saying: "my new policy is being forged to provide your security after all the arabs have united to annihilate you (muslims)."
allâh, the glorious, the exalted, praise is to him, created something that led to the dissension of the enemies of islam and later on to their full defeat. a man from the tribe of ghatfan called na‘im bin mas‘ud asked to be admitted in the audience of the prophet [pbuh]. he declared that he had embraced islam secretly and asked the prophet [pbuh] to order him do anything that might benefit the muslims. the prophet [pbuh] asked him to do anything that could help the muslims in the present distress and use any strategem of avail. the man, in a shuttle movement, between the jews, quraish and ghatfan managed to incite each party to let down the other. he went to see the chiefs of banu quraiza and whispered in their ears not to trust quraish nor fight with them unless the latter pledged some hostages. he tried to lend support to his counsel by claiming that quraish would forsake them if they perceived that victory over muhammad [pbuh] was far fetched, and the muslims then would have terrible revenge on them. na‘im, then headed for the camp of quraish and managed to practise a similar strategem in its final result but different in content. he claimed that he felt that the jews regretted breaching their covenant with muhammad [pbuh] and his followers. he told them that the jews maintained regular correspondence with the muslims to the effect that quraishite hostages be sent to the camp of the muslims with full jewish allegiance paid to them as already agreed upon. na‘im then exhorted quraish not to send hostages to the jews. on a third errand, he did the same with the people of ghatfan.
on saturday night, shawwal 5 a.h., both quraish and ghatfan despatched envoys to the jews exhorting them to go into war against muhammad [pbuh]. the jews sent back messages that they would not fight on saturday. they added that they needed hostages from them to guarantee their consistency. on receiving the replies, quraish and ghatfan came to believe na‘im’s words fully. therefore, they sent a message to the jews again inviting them to war and asking them to preclude that condition of hostages. na‘im’s scheme proved successful, and a state of distrust and suspicion among the disbelieving allies prevailed and reduced their morale to deplorable degree.
meanwhile, the muslims were preoccupied supplicating their lord to protect their homes and provide security for their families. the messenger of allâh [pbuh] on his part invoked allâh’s wrath on the confederates supplicating:
"oh, allâh! you are quick in account, you are the sender of the book, we beseech you to defeat the confederates." [sahih al-bukhari 1/411,2/590]
allâh the glorious, the exalted, responded to the call of the muslims on the spot. coupled with the dissension and variance that found their way into the hearts of the disbelievers, forces of nature — wind, rain and cold wearied them, tents were blown down, cooking vessels and other equipage overthrown.
that very cold night the messenger of allâh [pbuh] despatched hudhaifa bin al-yaman to hunt around for news about the enemy. he found out that they were preparing to leave frustrated for their inability to achieve their target. allâh did really fulfill his promise, spared the muslims fighting a formidable army, supported his slave (muhammad [pbuh]) and inflicted a heavy blow on the confederates.
the battle of the trench took place in the fifth year hijri. the siege of madinah started in shawwal and ended in dhul qa‘dah, i.e. it lasted for over a month. it was in fact a battle of nerves rather than of losses. no bitter fighting was recorded; nevertheless, it was one of the most decisive battles in the early history of islam and proved beyond a shadow of doubt that no forces, however huge, could ever exterminate the nascent islamic power growing steadily in madinah. when allâh obliged the confederates to evacuate, his messenger was in a position to confidently declare that thenceforth he would take the initiative in war and would not wait for the land of islam to be invaded. [sahih al-bukhari 2/590]