the jews' fear of muhammad
it was during these times that ka'b ibn al ashraf was killed. this event instilled in the jews such fear that none of them dared leave his house. muhammad's blockade and expulsion of banu qaynuqa` intensified these fears.
they then came to muhammad pleading their cause and accusing the muslims of having killed ka'b deliberately, in spite of his personal innocence. muhammad answered, "the man whom you claim to be innocent has indeed harmed us deeply and composed libelous poetry against us. had he remained quiet like his coreligionists, nothing would have befallen him." after long discussion of the matter, muhammad invited the jews to enter with him into a new covenant agreeable to both and which both would henceforth respect. but this covenant did not allay fears. their plotting against muhammad continued as later events were to make evident.
the `iraq route to al sham
how was quraysh to conduct her trade now that muhammad had cut off its route? makkah, it must be remembered, lived on trade. without trade, its whole economy was bound to founder. by cutting her trade route as he did, muhammad had practically imposed a blockade on her which would soon destroy her place and influence in arabia. it is reported that safwan ibn umayyah advised the quraysh at this stage that 'muhammad and his companions have spoiled our trade. what shall we do with him and his companions if they do not remove themselves from the coastal area? the muslims befriended the tribes who inhabited the coastal regions and most of these have even joined their party. what shall we do with ourselves? to live in makkah devoid of trade is tantamount to eating up our capital funds and then starving. our whole life in the city, therefore, depends upon our summer trade with al sham and our winter trade with abyssinia." to this al aswad ibn `abd al muttalib replied that the makkans ought to abandon the coastal route to al sham and henceforth take the eastern route passing through al `iraq. to help satisfy this requirement, al aswad suggested to safwan that he should appoint furat ibn hayyan, a tribesman of banu bakr ibn wail, to show him the new route he should take. furat explained to them that the eastern route was safe because none of muhammad's companions ever approached it, but that it was an empty, waterless desert. the desert did not frighten safwan because the season was winter and the need for water relatively small. he gathered merchandise amounting to one hundred thousand dirhams and prepared to start off toward al sham. nu'aym ibn mas'ud al ashjaƋ, who was in makkah at the time, learned of the preparation of this caravan. upon returning to madinah he reported this news to muhammad. the prophet sent zayd ibn harithah with a hundred riders to intercept the caravan at the oasis of al qardah in the center of najd. the makkans ran away at the encounter, leaving behind the caravan which the muslims took away as booty. upon zayd's return to madinah, muhammad took one-fifth of the booty and divided the rest among his men. furat ibn hayyan, the guide of the caravan, accepted islam and thereby saved himself