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Prophet Muhammad’s Strategy against Jews

Under category : The Prophet and the Jews
10924 2009/01/11 2024/02/25
Article translated to : العربية

the study of the policies our prophet (saws )[1] , adopted in dealing with jews highlights

 many givens that help us understand some of the supreme principles of islam on one hand and reveal some of the suitable aspects we can use to deal with jews in general on the other hand. this is really important in light of our struggle against the zionist enemy that represents the bitterest challenge in our modern history.


in order to understand the prophet s (saws ) tactics regarding the jews during that period, we have first to touch upon the nature of the jewish presence in arab peninsula then.  


the jewish gatherings in arab peninsula at that time were mainly in al-madinah, north of it and in some area in yemen south to al-madinah. in this paper, we will focus on the gatherings in al-madinah and north of it. they consisted of three jewish powers inside al-madinah: banu qaynuqa , banu an-nadhir, and banu qurayza. outside al-madinah there were the gatherings of khaybar, fadak, taymaa among others along 42 kilometers north of al-madinah until the northern borders of the arab peninsula. it is said that the number of jewish tribes in this part was over twenty.


these jews came to the arab peninsula because of the babylonian and assyrian oppression in palestine where their temple was destroyed and thousands of them were taken captives at the hands of nebuchadnezzar in 587 b.c. as a result some of them immigrated to hijaz where they settled in its northern part. in 7 b.c. and as a result of roman oppression, some other jewish tribes immigrated to hijaz and settled in yathrib [2]

  , khaybar, taymaa etc. a limited number of arabs embraced judaism as well.


these gatherings were very introverted. they kept their racial and religious idiosyncrasies though they spoke arabic and used arabic names and clothes. although arabs allow them to live peacefully and dealt with them fairly, they despised arabs and called them illiterates. they had the belief that the wealth of arabs was their right. allah (swt )[3]

says in the noble qur an what can be translated as “and they said, there is no way over us as to the common folk. (i.e., the illiterates or the gentiles) and they say lies against allah, and they know (that) .” (tmq, 3:75) they did not even have the enthusiasm to spread their religion. they rather devoted their efforts to magic, predictions, and usurious practices.    


they also controlled the trade traffic in general and the trade of wine and weapons in particular. they used usury widely and did their best to raise arab tribes against one another in order to keep wars going on. through this they would ensure their continuous gain through selling weapons and lending by usury. as a result they became powerful and wealthy. 


out of their knowledge of the scriptures, jews were sure of the truthfulness of prophet muhammad (saws ) and that he was really the last prophet.[4] however, stubborn as

usual, they refused to follow him and embrace islam. allah (swt ) says what can be translated as “and as soon as a book came to them from the providence of allah, sincerely (verifying) what was with them-and they earlier prayed for an opening (victory, conquest) over the ones who disbelieved-yet, as soon as there came to them what they recognized, they disbelieved in it; so the curse of allah is on the disbelievers . (tmq, 2:89)   


such rejection of prophet muhammad s (saws ) call was out of their pride on one hand and their fear that they would lose their power and wealth because they knew that such call would change the face of the earth culturally, economically and politically. therefore, they exerted their utmost effort to undermine the nascent state in al-madinah. they prepared for war and although they perpetrated many crimes and wove many plots the prophet (saws ) gave them one chance after another until it was clear that they would never change their attitude. only then, it was imperative on muslims to defend themselves against the serpent in their lap.


al-madinah charter 

once the prophet (saws ) settled in al-madinah and started to establish the nascent muslim society, he drew a written agreement to delineate the relations of all the powers, sects, gatherings and individuals within that society. given the tolerance of islam and its protection of the rights of minorities, the prophet (saws ) allowed the jews to be a part of that charter that was and still is the greatest document regarding the protection of the rights of ethnic and religious minorities and a true embodiment of the supreme principles of islam. we have to put in mind that al-madinah society at that time was a distinctive political entity with the prophet (saws ) as a supreme leader, al-muhajireen [5] and al-ansar [6] the majority, and jews the minority. 


the charter stated the rights and obligations of the jews. it gave them the freedom to participate in any battles and take their share in war spoils. the charter also stated that jews would not cooperate with any of the enemy forces quraysh, for instance-, betray the people of al-madinah, and disclose the secrets of the society. otherwise, this would be a violation of the provisions of the charter.


the jews accepted that and it was supposed that they would respect the charter. the jews that participated in the charter were those living in al-madinah and near it: banu qurayza who were living at the southern east suburb of al-madinah, banu an-nadhir who were living at the western suburb of al-madinah, and banu qaynuqa who were living inside al-madinah together with the tribes of banu awf[7] and banu an-najjar. they were

 allies of al-khazraj while banu qurayza and banu an-nadhir were allies of al-aws.


as for the jews outside al-madinah such as khaybar that was 8 miles away and had the most daunting forts in arab peninsula, fadak, taymaa among others they were not a part in al-madinah charter.


a glimpse at the way the prophet (saws ) dealt with the jews would show absolute justice and reflect islamic supreme principles in dealing with the other. the prophet (saws ) tried hard to achieve co-existence between muslims and jews. this was a unique experience of the co-existence between the majority and the minority in all times and places. the prophet s (saws ) concern regarding developing the said charter was a unique precedent.


however, jews did not fulfill their promises and it was logical that the prophet s (saws ) policy would change as well. he considered the charter regarding the participating parties as null and void and dealt with the other parties on the basis of reaction to individual events.


jews moved in many fronts to fight the islamic call and launch a hostile propaganda against islam, the prophet (saws ) and his wives. they paid money to arab tribes to wage wars against the nascent society. they also planned many times to assassinate the prophet (saws ).


we can divide the policy in defending against the jews in al-madinah into two parts: getting rid off jewish war criminals and leaders of subversion, and waging wars against jewish gatherings.


the first part included getting rid off such evil jewish figures as ka b ibn al-ashraf, ibn saninah, and salam ibn abu-al-haqiq, war sponsors against the nascent islamic society. they were the main players in encouraging arab tribes to wage wars against al-madinah, writing slanderous poetry about muslim women, launching hostile propaganda campaigns against muslims, and trying to cause a civil war through spreading rumors. the assassinations of such figures were their due punishments for the crimes they had been perpetrating and a way to intimidate the parties involved in conspiracies.


the second part involved the invasion of jewish gatherings. it started with banu qaynuqa who were a part of al-madinah charter. however, they started to harass the muslims, especially after the latter won the battle of badr. they started threatening muslims to wage a war against them and defeat them because they thought they were stronger than quraysh. they started to harass muslim women. they even were about to cause another civil war between al-khazraj and al-aws, a serious matter that could not be tolerated and deserved a reaction.


every time the jews did a hostile action, the prophet (saws ) used to advise them not to repeat that and to fulfill their obligations and promises. however, they insisted on undermining the society and muslims had to take a decisive action.


the jews went too far in their transgression, presumptuous behavior and licentious practices. one day a jewish goldsmith provoked a muslim woman whose genitals become uncovered when he had tied the edge of the garment to her back. a muslim man happened to be there and killed the man; the jews retaliated by killing that muslim. the man s family called the muslims for help and war started.[8]


this event was the last straw that put an end to any agreement between the muslims and banu qaynuqa . the prophet (saws ) decided to wage war against them. muslims surrounded them in 2 ah for fifteen days. they surrendered in the end and left al-madinah.


we have now to realize the following points:

the jews of banu qaynuqa were the ones who violated the agreement. assaulting the muslim woman was not the first accident. they took pride in their military powers and wanted to fight muslims. they threatened muslims once and again. they were the cause of troubles and unrest within the society and were once about to cause a civil war.

the prophet (saws ) dealt with them as fairly as possible. he was so patient and advised them once and again to respect the society they were living in. however, when it became evident they were intent on dismantling social security of al-madinah society, the prophet (saws ), being the supreme leader of that society, saw that his duty was to face plots and put an end to the cause of unrest in order to take care of other important constructive steps in establishing the nascent society. even when he surrounded banu qaynuqa he did not order muslims to kill them. rather, they surrendered after fifteen days. although it was the right of the prophet (saws ) to take them as captives, he allowed them to go safely out of al-madinah. through this, he achieved social security inside al-madinah society and punished the jews, mildly though, for their conspiracies.

the prophet (saws ) wanted to co-exist peacefully with banu qaynuqa according to the values of islamic justice. however, banu qaynuqa did not opt for peace and stability. then, the prophet (saws ) punished only them and not the other jews. as for banu an-nadhir and banu qurayza, he continued to deal with them according to the terms and condition of the charter until they themselves violated it.  

although the settlement with banu qaynuqa was not that harsh, it achieved the aim: the internal front of al-madinah society needed protection. once banu qaynuqa left al-madinah, this was materialized.


as for the jews of banu an-nadhir, they violated the provisions of the charter and broke their promises and obligations. like all other jews, they had malice and grudge against muslims. they funded the propaganda campaigns against islam and encouraged arab tribes to attach al-madinah. the frequency of their plots increased significantly after the battle of uhud when quraysh defeated the muslims. the jews of banu an-nadhir exploited such a demoralizing situation to contact the disbelievers and the hypocrites and prepare schemes against muslims. however, the prophet (saws ) did not want to fight them. he went to them to negotiate a peaceful agreement. however, they tried to assassinate him. he would have been killed if allah (swt ) had not told him to leave the place immediately. 


later, the conspiracy was revealed. it was not an individual action. rather, it was a decision taken by their leaders to kill the prophet (saws ) while at their place. it was like waging war against muslims. as a punishment of such a betrayal, the prophet (saws ) asked them to leave al-madinah. when they refused, muslims surrounded them for six days until they surrendered. they were allowed to leave al-madinah and take what they can carry from their luggage and wealth but leave weapons. compared to what they had been doing, this was a merciful punishment. 


the betrayal of banu qaynuqa and banu an-nadhir did not affect the way the prophet (saws ) dealt with the only jewish tribe that was remaining in al-madinah, that is, banu qurayza. this remained until they committed the greatest treason ever. in collaboration with other jewish tribes, they prepared, funded and helped arab tribes in the battle of al-khandaq (trench). they even told the invading forces that they would let them enter al-madinah through stronghold. once the invading forces surrounded al-madinah, the prophet (saws ) sent some of his companions to banu qurayza to know their situation. they told the delegation that they did not have any agreement with muslims. they even started to abuse the prophet (saws ) himself and threaten muslims. afterwards, they tried to intrude into one of the forts at which muslim women took protection but they failed because of the courage of safiyyah bint abdul-muttalib (ra )[9] who killed one of the

attacking jews so that the attacking force thought there were a lot of men inside.


allah (swt ) helped muslims in the battle of al-khandaq and sent down a storm that forced the attacking tribes to withdraw. it was natural that banu qurayza must be punished for their various betrayals during that critical time in spite of the agreement between them and the prophet (saws ).


once the prophet (saws ) returned to al-madinah, he ordered the army not to take rest and march to banu qurayza. muslims surrounded them until they surrendered. as they were allies to the tribe of al-aws , they asked for sa d ibn-mu aaz, the leader of al-aws to mediate the settlement. he judged that the betraying men to be killed, women to be taken captives, and money to be distributed among muslims. it was a just punishment for their multi-faceted betrayals.


these were the practices of the prophet (saws ) with the jews of al-madinah. at the beginning, he gave them the chance to co-exist peacefully with muslims. he gave them the same rights of citizenship he gave muslims and asked them for the same obligations. however, they betrayed muslims on many occasions and were a destructive force. therefore, they deserved to be punished. however, their punishment was proportionate to or less than their serious violations.


there were still some jewish gatherings outside al-madinah. they were not a part of the charter and hence were subject to the same criteria of struggle between muslims and other arab tribes. these gatherings were khaybar, taymaa, fadak, and wadi al-qira. khaybar, eight miles away from al-madinah, was the most important and the wealthiest jewish tribe in the arab peninsula. like all other jewish tribes, it masterminded many of the hostile plots against muslims. it was the starting point for the attack during the battle of al-khandaq. it had strong connections with the hypocrites inside al-madinah. after being expelled from al-madinah, the jews of banu qaynuqa , banu an-nadhir and banu qurayza took shelter in khaybar that became the hotbed of plots and intrigues against islam and muslims. there they started preparing for another round of attacks against al-madinah. therefore, it was imperative on muslims to take preemptive action to undermine these evil trials.


once al-hudaybiyya peace treaty was drawn with quraysh in 7 ah, muslims forces marched to khaybar[10] . it was a hard prolonged battle. in the end, muslims succeeded in

 entering khaybar. the prophet (saws ) let the people of khaybar work on the land in return for a part of the crops. he confiscated their weapons in order not to attack muslims again. this happened as well with the jews of fadak and wadi al-qira. the jews of taymaa offered to sign a reconciliation treaty to the effect that they receive protection but pay tribute in return.



it is clear now that the way the prophet (saws ) dealt with the jews was fair. he wanted to co-exist with them. however, he had to defend his society at times against the hostile attempts of the jews to undermine the nascent islamic society in al-madinah. the prophet (saws ) knew how to deal with the various situations whether through peaceful settlements or war but he always had the initiative.




[1] salla allah alayhe wa salam [all prayers and peace of allah be upon him].

[2] the old name of al-madinah before the immigration of the prophet (saws ).

[3] suhanahu wa ta'ala   [glorified and exalted be he].

[4] the people of al-madinah used to listen to the jews saying that a prophet was about to rise, for the time for a new dispensation had arrived. jews said they would follow that prophet and kill their enemies. [rahmat- al-lil'alameen 1/84; ibn hisham 1/429; zad al-ma ad 2/50].

[5]   the muslims of makkah who immigrated to al-madinah.

[6] the people of al-madinah, mainly the tribes of al-aws and al-khazraj . 

[7] one of the provisions of the charter reads: “the jews of bani awf are one community with the believers. the jews will profess their religion, and the muslims theirs.”

[8] ibn hisham 2/47,48. the sealed nectar , p. 150.

[9] radya allah anhu/anha [may allah be pleased with him/her].

[10] in muharram 7th year after hijrah . 

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