Beginning of Jewish Fears
muhammad's teachings, example, and leadership had the deepest effect upon the people. large numbers of men joined the ranks of islam and their conversion consolidated and increased muslim power in madinah. it was at this stage that the jews began to rethink their position vis-à-vis muhammad and his companions. they had concluded a pact with him and were still ambitiously hoping to win him over to their side in order to increase their power against the christians. muhammad, however, was becoming more powerful than both christians and jews, and his command was growing in effect and application. muhammad had even begun thinking of quraysh, of their banishment of him and the muhajirun from makkah, and of their forced conversion of some muslims to the old idolatry. it was at this time that the jews asked themselves whether they should let his call, spiritual power, and authority continue to spread while remaining satisfied with the security they enjoyed under his protection and the increased trade and wealth which his peace had brought to their city. perhaps they might have done so had they felt certain that his religion was not going to spread in their midst and their own men would not abjure the exclusivism of jewish prophethood and the people of israel to convert to islam. a great number of their priesthood and a learned rabbi, `abdullah ibn salam, approached the prophet and announced to him his conversion as well as that of his own household. `abdullah himself feared the calumny of the jews and their defamation of him should they learn of his conversion. he therefore asked the prophet to inquire of them about him, before any of the jews had learned of his conversion. the jews answered muhammad, " `abdullah ibn salam is our master, son of our master, our priest, and learned rabbi." when, however, `abdullah went back to them as a muslim and called them to islam, they attacked him and spread in the jewish quarters of madinah all sorts of calumnies against him. this was the event which triggered their suspicions of muhammad and their denial of muhammad's prophethood. those members of al aws and al khazraj tribes who never entered islam or who did so in hypocrisy or for an ulterior purpose were quick to rally around the jews once their opposition to muhammad and to islam began to crystallize.
the war of words between muhammad and the jews
a war of words between muhammad and the jews, which proved to be greater and more sinister than that which raged between muhammad arid quraysh, followed ibn salam's conversion. unlike the hostility with quraysh, the new war in yathrib witnessed the connivance of treason, deception, and scriptural knowledge for the attack against muhammad, his message, and his companions, whether muhajirun or ansar. the jews sent some of their rabbis to feign conversion to islam in order to enter muslim ranks and councils. while showing all piety, these rabbis were commissioned to disseminate doubt and suspicion of muhammad among his own people. they asked muhammad questions which they thought might shake the muslims' conviction and arouse doubt in the message muhammad was teaching. a number of hypocrites from al aws and al khazraj tribes joined islam for the same purpose. both jews and unbelievers, however, reached such levels of deception that they denied either torah or god in order to ask muhammad, "if god created creation, who then created god?" muhammad used to answer them with the divine verses: "say, `god is one, the eternal. he was not born, nor did he give birth to anyone. none is like unto him.'[qur'an, 112:1-3]. the muslims soon detected their purpose and uncovered their attempts. when some of them plotting in secrecy in one of the mosque's corners were discovered one day by the muslims, muhammad had to command that they be expelled from the mosque. however, their efforts to split muslim ranks continued. a jewish leader called shas ibn qays passed one day by a group of al aws and al khazraj tribesmen enjoying one another's company in good harmony. he remembered how they were once divided and warring against each other, and thought that should the banu qaylah[le., al aws and al khazraj.] remain united in this territory the jews would not be able to live in peace for long. he therefore instructed a young jew who frequented their sessions to seek an opportunity to arouse memories of the day of bu'ath when al aws vanquished al khazraj. the youth did speak and recalled the memory of that war and succeeded in arousing the old pride and hatred of the two tribes, convincing some that a return to that dies nefastus was possible as well as desirable. when muhammad learned of this, he hurried with his companions and reminded the divisive elements how islam had sweetened their hearts and made of them mutually loving brethren. muhammad continued to talk to them, emphasizing their islamic unity and brotherhood until their tears ran down in emotion and they embraced one another.
the war of words between muhammad and the jews increased in intensity. the evidence therefore is what the qur'an has to say about it. the first eighty-one verses of surah "al nisa'," mention the people of the book, their denial of their own scripture, and condemns their unbelief and denial in strong terms
"verily, we revealed to moses the scripture and called after him messengers to follow in his footsteps. to jesus, son of mary, we gave manifest signs and we strengthened him with the spirit of holiness. `will you then, o jews, every time a prophet comes to you with what you yourselves do not like take to false pride and arrogantly belie some and kill others?' they rationalize and seek to excuse themselves by admitting to dimness of vision. god, however, curses them for their disbelief. little are they convinced of the truth! and when the book which came from god and which confirmed their own scripture was brought to them and invoked for their benefit they denied it. hitherto they were boasting of such revelation and deriding the unbelievers for never receiving any. now that the same truth which they had known beforehand has come to the believers from god they reject it. god's wrath will surely fall upon the unbelievers.”[qur'an, 2:87-89]
the story of finhas
sometimes, controversy and argument between jews and muslims reached such a level of intensity that the participants attacked each other. in order to appreciate how provocative the jews were in their war of words against the muslims, suffice it to remember the story of finhas. the gentleness, patience, and largezcr de coeur of abu bakr are proverbial. and yet he too could and did lose his temper. he once talked to finhas calling the latter unto islam. finhas answered, "by god, 0 abu bakr, we do not need god. rather, it is he who needs us. it is not i who pray to him, it is he who prays to us. we are self-sufficient and he is not. if god were self-sufficient, he would not borrow our wealth as your prophet claims. if he were truly not in need of us, he would not have prohibited usury to you and allowed it to us." finhas was actually referring to the qur'anic verse which said: "will you then lend god a good loan which he will repay to you many times over?"[qur'an, 2:245]. at this point in the conversation, abu bakr lost his patience and struck finhas on the face saying, "by god, were it not for the covenant between your people and mine, i would have struck your head off, 0 enemy of god." the said finhas took his complaint to the prophet and denied his blasphemy. it was then that this verse was revealed: "god has heard those who said, `he is poor and we are rich.' on the day of judgment, god will remember this as well as their murder of the prophets. then will he say: "taste the punishments of hell.”[qur'an, 3:181]
not satisfied with their attempt to divide the muhajirun and ansar, al aws and al khazraj, in order to dissuade the muslims from their religion and return them to idolatry without ever seeking to convert them to judaism the jews even tried to trap muhammad himself. a number of their rabbis, elders, and noblemen went to him one day and said: "you know who we are and you know well our prestige with our people. you know that if we should follow you, the jews would do likewise. would you then not help us against our people by giving a verdict in our favor when we bring to you our litigation with them to arbitrate? if you do, we shall then follow you and believe in you. at this the following divine words were revealed
"judge between them by that which god has revealed, and do not follow their desires. take care lest they sway you away from some of the revelations made to you. if they turn away from you, know that god is punishing them for some of their misdeeds. most of them are immoral. what? do they seek judgment on the basis of the idolatrous principles of pre-islam? is not god's judgment preferable? but they are people devoid of certain knowledge."[qur'an, 5:49-50]
orientation to the ka'bah in prayer
by this time, the jews had lost their patience and began to plot against muhammad, they sought to get him to leave madinah as the quraysh had succeeded in causing him and his companions to leave makkah. their method, however, was different. they said to muhammad that each and every prophet hitherto had gone to jerusalem and there established his residence. they challenged him by asserting that if he were a true prophet, he would only do as his predecessors had done in considering madinah only as an intermediate station between makkah and the city where al aqsa mosque stood. muhammad, however, did not have to think hard to realize that they were plotting against him. it was then, seventeen months after his emigration from makkah, that god commanded him to orient himself in prayer toward the holy mosque, the house of ibrahim and isma'il. it was then that the verse was revealed: "we see your yearning for a direction to take in prayer. let us then guide you to a direction that you will accept. orient yourself in prayer toward the holy mosque of makkah, and wherever you may be, turn your face toward it.”[qur'an, 2:144]. the jews condemned muhammad for this and sought to trap him once more. they went to him pleading that they would all enter into his faith if he would but return to jerusalem, his old direction in prayer. in this connection, god revealed the following verses
"some foolish people will ask, `what caused them to change their old orientation?' say: `to god belongs the east as well as the west. he guides unto his straight path whomsoever he wills." thus we have caused you to be a nation following the course of the golden mean, witnessing unto mankind and witnessed to by the prophet. the whole question of the orientation in prayer was intended by us to sift the true believers from the apostates and deceptors. to change orientation is a big travail only to those who have missed the divine guidance."[qur'an, 2:142-143]