The Conquest of Khaibar
(in moharram, 7a.h.)
khaibar was a spacious strongly fortified territory, studded with castles and farms, lying at a distance of 60-80 miles north of madinah, now a village known for its uncongenial climate. after al-hudaibiyah treaty, the major party of the anti-islam tripartite coalition — quraish, the bedouin horde of najd tribes and the jews — was neutralized, therefore, the prophet [pbuh] deemed it an appropriate time to settle his affairs with the other two wings — the jews and the najd tribes — in order that peace and security could prevail and the muslims may devote their time and effort in propagating the message of allâh and calling people to embrace it. khaibar itself had always remained a hotbed of intrigue and conspiracy, and the jews had always constituted it a source of military provocations and war instigation centre, so it was given a top priority on the agenda of the prophet’s compelling exigencies. the jews of khaibar had united by an ancient alliance with the confederates, triggered bani quraiza to practise treachery, maintained contacts with ghatfan and the arabians and they even devised an attempt at the prophet’s life. in fact, the continual afflictions that the muslims had sustained were primarily attributable to the jews. envoys were repeatedly sent to them for peaceful settlement, but all in vain. consequently the prophet [pbuh] came to the conclusion that a military campaign was a must in order to forestall their hostilities.
interpreters of the noble qur’ân suggest that capturing khaibar had been a divine promise implied in allâh’s words:
"allâh has promised you abundant spoils that you will capture, and he has hastened for you this." [al-qur'an 48:20]
i.e., al-hudaibiyah peace treaty and the surrender of khaibar.
the hypocrites and people weak of heart had hung back from joining the true muslims in al-hudaibiyah campaigns, so now allâh, the all-mighty inculcated the following words in his prophet’s ears:
"those who lagged behind will say, when you set forth to take the spoils, ‘allow us to follow you.’ they want to change allâh’s words. say: ‘you shall not follow us; thus allâh has said beforehand.’ then they will say: ‘nay, you envy us.’ nay, but they understand not except a little." [al-qur'an 48:15]
for this reason, the prophet [pbuh] invited only those who were willing to fight in the cause of allâh to accompany him in his march against khaibar. 1400 men only, who had sworn allegiance in response to his call.
meanwhile, siba‘ bin ‘arfatah al-ghifari was chosen to run the affairs of madinah. another incident of high significance is noteworthy, namely the islamization of abu huraira, a venerable muslim scholar and an authentic narrator of the prophetic traditions.
the hypocrites of arabia took notice of the fresh islamic intentions so they began to alert the jews to the imminent military activities. their chief, ‘abdullah bin ubai delegated an envoy to the jews of khaibar warning them against the dangers approaching, and nerving them to resist the muslims as they outnumbered the latter and were better equipped. on hearing the news the jews despatched kinanah bin abi al-huqaiq and haudha bin qais to their former allies, the tribe of ghatfan requesting military assistance, promising to grant them half the yield of the fruit that their farms could yield if they managed to beat the muslims.
the prophet marched by way of isra mountain and then went forward with the army till he halted in a valley called ar-raji‘, encamping between khaibar and ghatfan so as to prevent the latter from reinforcing the jews. the guides accompanying him led him to an intersection from which branched out three roads with different designations; all leading to his destination. he abstained from following the first two roads on grounds of their ominous designation and chose the third for its propitious indications.
it is noteworthy that some interesting incidents featured the muslims’ march towards khaibar; of which we mention the following:
- it has been narrated on the authority of salamah bin al-akwa‘, who said: we marched upon khaibar with the messenger of allâh [pbuh]. we journeyed during the night. one of the men said to my brother ‘amir: won’t you recite to us some of your verses, ‘amir? so he began to chant his verses to urge the camels, reciting:
o allâh, if you had not guided us,
we would have neither been guided rightly nor practised charity, nor offered prayers.
we wish to lay down our lives for you; so forgive you our lapses,
and keep us steadfast when we encounter (our enemies).
bestow upon us peace and tranquility,
behold, when with a cry they called upon us to help.
the messenger of allâh [pbuh] said: "who is this driver (of the camels)?" they said: "it is ‘amir." he said: "allâh will show mercy to him." a man said: "martyrdom is reserved for him; o messenger of allâh, would that you had allowed us to benefit ourselves from his life."[sahih al-bukhari 2/603; sahih muslim 2/115] the prophet’s companions had already known that he would never invoke allâh’s mercy upon a close companion but to single him out for martyrdom.[sahih muslim 2/115]
- on their way down a valley, the muslims began to entertain allâh’s greatness: shouting at the top of their voices: "allâh is great, allâh is great, there is no god but allâh." the prophet [pbuh] asked them to lower down their voices saying: "the one you are invoking is neither absent nor deaf; he is close to you, all-hearing.[sahih al-bukhari 2/605]"
- in a spot called as-sahba’, not far from khaibar, the prophet [pbuh] observed the afternoon prayer, then he called his companions to have whatever food provisions they had. what they brought was too scanty to satisfy them all. the prophet took it by his hand and it immediately grew in quantity, so they all ate to their fill. shortly afterward, he and the others, rinsed their mouths and performed the evening prayer without ablution [sahih al-bukhari 2/603]; he did the same for the night prayer [maghazi al-waqidi p.112].
the following morning, at sunrise, the muslims encountered the jews when they had come out about their jobs with their axes, spades and strings driving their cattle along. they began to shout in surprise: "muhammad has come along with his force!" the messenger of allâh [pbuh] said: "allâh is great, khaibar shall face destruction. behold! when we descend in the city centre, it will be a bad day for those who have been warned (but have not taken heed). [sahih al-bukhari 2/603, 604]"
for encampment, the prophet [pbuh] had chosen a certain plot of land he deemed suitable to serve as the headquarters of his army. however, a veteran fighter of his called hubab bin al-mundhir suggested that they, under the exigencies of war requirements and for the sake of providing maximum logistic facilities, shift to another place. on approaching the vicinity of khaibar, the prophet ordered his troops to halt, and began to invoke his lord saying: "o allâh! lord of the seven heavens and what they harbour beneath, lord of the seven earths and what lies in their wombs, lord of devils and whomsoever they have led astray; we beseech you to grant us the good of this village (khaibar), the good of its inhabitants and the good that lies in it. we seek refuge with you from the evil of this village, the evil of its inhabitants, and the evil that lies in it." then he ordered, "now march (towards the village) in the name of allâh." [ibn hisham 2/329]
"the banner", the prophet [pbuh] declared "would be entrusted to a man who loves allâh and his messenger and they (allâh and his messenger) love him." all the muslims came forward in the following morning hoping to be granted the honour of carrying the banner. the prophet [pbuh] called for ‘ali bin abi talib whose eyes used to hurt, and handed it to him. ‘ali, on his part, pledged he would fight the enemies until they embraced islam. the prophet [pbuh] answered him saying: "take things easy and invite them to accept islam and brief them on their duties towards allâh. i swear by allâh that if only one should be guided through your example, that would surely outweigh the best of our camels." [sahih al-bukhari 2/505, 606]
khaibar, it seems, was split into two parts with five forts in the first: na‘im, as-sa‘b bin mu‘adh, the castle of az-zubair, ’abi castle, and an-nizar in ash-shiqq; three others were in part two: al-qamus, al-wateeh and as-salalim.
the prophet [pbuh] began the campaign by reducing the minor strongholds one after the other. the first fort he was to attack was na‘im, the first defence line with a formidable strategic position. marhab, the leader of the fort, invited ‘amr bin al-akwa‘ to meet him in combat and the latter responded; when ‘amr struck the jew, his sword recoiled and wounded his knee, and he died of that wound. the prophet [pbuh] later said: "for him (‘amir) there is a double reward in the hereafter." he indicated this by putting two of his fingers together. ‘ali bin abi talib then undertook to meet marhab in combat, and managed to kill him. yasir, marhab’s brother, then turned up challenging the muslims to a fight. az-zubair was equal to it and killed him on the spot. real fighting then broke out and lasted for a few days. the jews showed courage and proved to be too formidable even to the repeated rushes of the veteran soldiers of islam. however, they later realized the futility of resistance and began to abandon their positions in an-na‘im and infiltrate into the fortress of as-sa‘b.
al-hubab bin al-mundhir al-ansari led the attack on as-sa‘b fortress and laid siege to it for three days after which the muslims stormed it with a lot of booty, provisions and food to fall to their lot therein. this victory came in the wake of the prophet’s [pbuh] invocation to allâh to help banu aslam in their relentless and daring attempts to capture that fort.
during the process of the war operations, extreme hunger struck the muslims. they lit fires, slaughtered domestic asses and began to cook them. when the prophet [pbuh] inquired about the fires and cooking, he ordered that they throw away the meat and wash the cooking pots, forbidding the practice of eating such meat.
the jews, meanwhile, evacuated an-natat and barricaded themselves in az-zubair fort, a formidable defensive position inaccessible to both cavalry and infantry. the muslims besieged it for three days, but in vain. a jew spy told the prophet about a subterranean water source that provided them with water, and advised that it be cut off in order to undermine their resistance. the prophet [pbuh] did that so the jews got out to engage with the muslims in fierce fighting during which some muslims and ten jews were killed, but the fort was eventually conquered.
shortly after this battle, the jews moved to ’abi castle and barricaded themselves inside. the same events recurred; the muslims besieged the new site for three days and then the great muslim hero abu dujanah sammak bin kharshah al-ansari — of the red ribbon — led the muslim army and broke into the castle, conducted fierce military operations within and forced the remaining jews to flee for their lives into another fort, an-nizar.
an-nizar was the most powerful fort, and the jews came to the established conviction that it was too immune to be stormed, so they deemed it a safe place for their children and women. the muslims, however, were not dismayed but dragged on the siege, but because standing at a commanding top, the fort was impregnable. the jews inside were too cowardly to meet the muslims in open fight but rather hurled a shower of arrows and stones on the attackers. considering this situation, the prophet [pbuh] ordered that rams be used and these proved effective and caused cracks in the ramparts providing an easy access into the heart of the fort, where the jews were put to rout and fled in all directions leaving behind their women and children.
with these series of military victories, the first division of khaibar was totally reduced, and the jews in the other minor fortresses evacuated them and fled to the second division.
when the prophet [pbuh], along with his army, moved to this part of khaibar, al-katiba, he laid a heavy siege to it for fourteen days with the jews barricading themselves inside their forts. when he was about to use the rams, the jews realized that they would perish, therefore, they asked for a negotiable peace treaty.
there is one controversial point in this context. was this part of khaibar (with its three forts) conquered by force? ibn ishaq clearly stated that al-qamus fort was conquered by force. al-waqidi, on the other hand, maintained that the three forts were taken through peace negotiations, and force, if any, was resorted to only to hand the fort over to the muslims; the two other forts surrendered without fighting.
ibn abi al-huqaiq was despatched to the messenger of allâh [pbuh] to negotiate the surrender treaty. the prophet [pbuh] agreed to spare their lives on condition they evacuate khaibar and the adjacent land, leaving whatever gold and silver they had in their possession. however, he stipulated that he would disavow any commitment if they concealed anything. shortly afterwards, the forts were handed over to the muslims and all khaibar was reduced and brought under the sway of islam.
this treaty notwithstanding, abi al-huqaiq’s two sons concealed a leather bag full of jewels, and money belonging to huyai bin al-akhtab, who carried it with him when banu nadir had been banished. kinanah bin ar-rabi‘, who had hidden the musk somewhere, was obdurate in his denial and so he was killed when the musk was discovered and his dishonesty was proven. abi al-huqaiq’s two sons were killed in recompense for breaching the covenant, and safiyah, huyai’s daughter was taken as a captive.
in accordance with the agreement already concluded, the jews would be obliged to evacuate khaibar, but they were anxious to keep on cultivating the rich soil and fine orchard for which khaibar was famous. they, therefore, approached the prophet [pbuh] with the request that they be allowed to cultivate their lands and they would give half of the produce to the muslims. muhammad [pbuh] was kind enough to accede to their request.
the messenger [pbuh] divided the land of khaibar into two: one half to provide the food to be stored in case of any accidental calamity that might befall the muslims, and for entertaining the foreign delegates who started to frequent madinah a lot; the other half would go to the muslims who had witnessed al-hudaibiyah event whether present or absent. the total number of shares came to 36, of which 18 were given to the people above-mentioned. the army consisted of 1400 men of whom were 200 horsemen. the horseman was allotted 3 shares and the footman one. [za'd al-ma'ad 2/137, 138]
the spoils taken at khaibar were so great that ibn ‘umar said: "we never ate our fill until we had conquered khaibar." ‘aishah [r] is narrated to have said: "now we can eat our fill of dates." [sahih al-bukhari 2/609]
on their return to madinah, the emigrants were able to return to the helpers of madinah all the gifts they had received. all of this affluence came after the conquest of khaibar and the great economic benefits that the muslims began to reap. [za'd al-ma'ad 2/148; sahih muslim 2/96]
the conquest of khaibar coincided with the arrival of the prophet’s cousin ja‘far bin abi talib and his companions along with abi musa al-ash‘ari and some muslims from abyssinia (ethiopia).
abu musa al-ash‘ari narrated that he and over fifty companions, while in yemen, took a ship which landed them in abyssinia (ethiopia) and they happened to meet there ja‘far and his companions. he said, "we stayed together until the prophet [pbuh] sent an envoy asking us to come back. when we returned, we found out that he had already conquered khaibar, yet he gave us our due shares of the spoils." the advent of those men came at the request made by the messenger of allâh [pbuh] to negus, king of abyssinia (ethiopia), through a prophetic deputy, ‘amr bin omaiya ad-damari. negus sent them back, 16 men altogether with their wives and children on two boats. the rest of emigrants had arrived in madinah earlier. [muhadarat tareekh al-umam al-islamiyah 1/128]
in the same context, safiyah, whose husband kinanah bin abi al-huqaiq was killed for treachery, was taken as a captive and brought along with other prisoners of war. after the permission of the prophet [pbuh] was sought, dihyah al-kalbi chose one of them and she happened to be safiyah. the other muslims, however, advised that safiyah, being the daughter of the chief of bani quraiza and bani nadir, should be married to the prophet [pbuh], who agreed to their opinion, invited her to islam, freed and took her as wife on her embracing islam. the wedding feast consisted of dates and fat, and was held on his way back to madinah at a spot called sadd as-sahba’.
after the conquest of khaibar, a jewish woman called zainab bint al-harith offered the prophet [pbuh] a roasted sheep she had poisoned. he took a mouthful, but it was not to his liking so he spat it out. after investigation, the woman confessed that she had stuffed the food with poison alleging that if the eater were a king, she would then rid herself of him, but should he be a prophet, then he would be bound to learn about it. the prophet [pbuh], however, connived at her treacherous attempt, but ordered that she be killed when bishr bin al-bara’ died of that poison.
the number of muslims who were martyred was controversial, but it ranged between 16 and 18, while the number of jews killed came to 93.
the rest of khaibar also fell to the muslims. allâh cast fear into the hearts of the people of fadak, a village standing to the north of khaibar, and they hastened to ask for peace, and be allowed to leave in safety, and give up their wealth in return for that. the prophet [pbuh] entered into an agreement with them similar to the previous one with the people of khaibar. fadak was exclusively the prophet’s because neither muslim cavalry nor camelry were involved in fight thereby.
no sooner had the prophet [pbuh] discharged the affair of khaibar than he started a fresh move towards wadi al-qura, another jewish colony in arabia. he mobilized his forces and divided them into three regiments with four banners entrusted to sa‘d bin ‘ubada, al-hubab bin mundhir, ‘abbad bin bishr and sahl bin haneef. prior to fighting, he invited the jews to embrace islam but all his words and exhortations fell on deaf ears. eleven of the jews were killed one after another and with each one newly killed, a fresh call was extended inviting those people to profess the new faith. fighting went on ceaselessly for approximately two days and resulted in full surrender of the jews. their land was conquered, and a lot of booty fell in the hands of the muslims.
the prophet [pbuh] stayed in wadi al-qura for four days, distributed the booty among the muslim fighters and reached an agreement with the jews similar to that of khaibar. [za'd al-ma'ad 2/146, 147]
the jews of taima’, hearing beforehand about the successive victories of the muslim army and the defeats that their brethren, the jews, had sustained, showed no resistance when the prophet [pbuh] reached their habitation. on the contrary, they took the initiative and offered to sign a reconciliation treaty to the effect that they receive protection but pay tribute in return. having achieved his objective and subdued the jews completely, the prophet [pbuh] made his way back home and arrived in madinah in late safar or early rabi‘ al-awwal 7 a.h.
it is noteworthy that the prophet [pbuh], being the best amongst war experts, realized quite readily that evacuating madinah after the lapse of the prohibited months (muharram, dhul qa‘da and dhul hijja) would not be wise at all with the presence of the desert bedouins roaming in its vicinity. such a careless attitude, the prophet [pbuh] believed, would tempt the undisciplined mob to practise their favourite hobby of plundering, looting and all acts of piracy. this premonition always in mind, the prophet [pbuh] despatched aban bin sa‘id at the head of a platoon to deter those bedouins and forestall any attempt at raiding the headquarters of the nascent islamic state during his absence in khaibar. aban achieved his task successfully and joined the prophet [pbuh] in khaibar after it had been conquered.