MUHAMMAD'S RELATIONS WITH THE JEWS
IT has already been remarked that at the time of the flight from Mecca numerous and powerful tribes of Jews were settled in and around Madina. At first Muhammad made repeated attempts to win them to his side. He not unnaturally hoped that as he came preaching the unity of God the monotheistic Jews would receive him with open arms, and welcome him as an ally in the fight against idolatry. But to all his advances the Jews had one reply. No prophet, they said, could arise out of Israel. Syria and Palestine were the home of the prophets, and Mecca could never produce a true successor to Abraham and Moses and David. Indeed in the Tafsiru'l-Baidawi, (p. 381) it is recorded that the Jews ridiculed the prophet in these words:
الشام مقام الأنبياء فإن كنت نبياً فالحق بها حتى نؤمن بك.
‘Syria is the home of the prophets. Therefore if thou art indeed a prophet, repair thither that we may believe on thee.’ For once Muhammad's natural astuteness seems to have deserted him. He failed to see that the Jews were but mocking his Meccan birth, and, instead, took their words as serious advice, for, Baidawi proceeds
فوقع ذلك في قلبه فخرج مرحلة.
‘That (advice) appeared pleasing to him; so he set out and went a day's journey.’ After which the inevitable ‘revelation’ caused him to return.
With the object of gaining the good-will of the Jews Muhammad made constant laudatory references to their ancient Scriptures. They were ‘the word of God’, and ‘a light and guidance for men’ which the Qur'an was but sent down to confirm. But the Jews would have none of Muhammad or his Qur'an; rather they ridiculed and lampooned the prophet upon every possible occasion. Thus when Muhammad approached them with questions concerning their ancient Scriptures they hid the matter from him and told him instead some legendary tales from their traditions. Muslim has preserved for us a striking utterance of Ibn ‘Abbas with reference to this practice of the Jews. He says:
قَالَ ابْنُ عَبَّاسٍ فلما سَأَلَ النَّبِيُّ صلعم عَنْ شَيْءٍ من أهل الكتاب فَكَتَمُوهُ إياه وَأَخْبَرُوهُ بِغَيْرِهِ فَخَرَجُوا وَقَدْ أَرَوْهُ أَنْ قَدْ خْبَرُوهُ بِمَا قَدْ سَأَلَهُمْ عَنْهُ.
‘Ibn ‘Abbas said that, when the prophet asked any question of the People of the Book, they suppressed the matter, and in place of it told him something else, and went away letting him think that they had told him what he asked.’
Moreover it is difficult not to believe that Muhammad's egregious mistakes regarding Bible history afforded a constant butt for the ridicule of the Jews. We have no space to refer at length here to these anomalies, but if the reader of this book will take the Bible and the Qur'an and compare the histories of any of the Patriarchs as recorded in those books, he will quickly see how very far the Qur'an is from ‘confirming’ the words of the former. One who was so ignorant of Bible history as to confuse Mary the mother of Jesus with Miriam the sister of Moses and Aaron, could scarcely expect much respect from an intelligent and educated community such as the Jews of Madina were—and he received none. The latter at length began to lampoon the prophet in verse, and this so stirred his anger that he renounced for ever all hopes of winning them to his side, and, instead, embarked upon a campaign of murder and oppression which only ended with the complete expulsion of the Jews from the city and its neighbourhood.
In the Siratu'r-Rasul there is preserved to us the story of a Jewess named ‘Asm abint Marwan which illustrates the new policy that was adopted by the prophet. This woman had incurred the displeasure of Muhammad by composing some verses in which he was held up to ridicule. When this reached the ears of the latter he was filled with rage and exclaimed, ‘Shall I not exact satisfaction for myself from the daughter of Merwan?’ A Muslim named ‘Umair bin ‘Udai heard the words of Muhammad, and, rightly interpreting them as a desire for the death of ‘Asma entered her house at night and brutally murdered her. On the following day he acquainted the prophet with the accomplishment of his purpose. The latter on hearing of the death of ‘Asma exclaimed, ‘Thou hast helped God and his apostle, O ‘Umair.’
Another murder carried out about this time at the direct instigation of Muhammad was that of a man named Kab-binu’l-Ashraf. This is fully detailed in the Siratu'r-Rasul (vol. ii, p. 73-74). Briefly the story is as follows: becoming annoyed with Kab, the prophet one day exclaimed, ‘Who is for me in the matter of Ibnu'l-Ashraf?’ A disciple of the prophet immediately exclaimed, ‘I am for thee in his affair, O apostle of God; I shall kill him.’ Then, after consulting with Muhammad, and taking with him several companions, the murderer stole forth to the house of Kab, and having enticed him outside on the pretence of pawning some arms, foully murdered him in cold blood.
Another Jew killed by the direct orders of Muhammad was an old man named Abu Rafi. His story as related by Bukhari is as follows:
بَعَثَ النَّبيُّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ رَهْطًا إِلَى أَبِي رَافِعٍ فَدَخَلَ عَلَيْهِ عَبْدُ اللَّهِ بْنُ عَتِيكٍ بَيْتَهُ لَيْلًا وَهُوَ نَائِمٌ فَقَتَلَهُ.
‘The prophet of God sent a party to Abu Rafi. Then, when he was asleep, ‘Abdullah bin ‘Atik entered his house at night and killed him.’ These murders and others mentioned by the historians, for which we have no space here, led the Jews to see that their very existence was at stake, and as one by one, the neighbouring Jewish tribes were attacked and their goods plundered they were driven to despair. Not a few in order to save their lives apostatized and embraced the faith of the conquerors. Thus Ibn Hisham tells us in his Sirat p. 186, that numbers
فظهروا بالإسلام واتخذوه جنة من القتل.
‘pretended to have embraced Islam; but they (really only) embraced it as a protection from being killed.’
The terror of the Jews was intensified by a fearful calamity which overtook a Jewish tribe called the Bani Quraiza. This is related at length in the Siratu'r-Rasul (vol. iii, pp. 9-24); the Kitabu'l-Maghazi, (p. 125), the Mishkatu'l-Masabih in the Kitabu'l-Jehad and other books, and briefly is as follows: the Bani Quraiza had in one of the wars of Muhammad acted in a hostile and treacherous manner which called for reprisals on the part of the Muslims. When, therefore, Muhammad obtained the necessary leisure he put himself at the head of a large band of armed men and attacked the Bani Quraiza. These latter shut themselves up in their fortresses, and only capitulated when compelled by the pangs of hunger and the sufferings of their wives and little ones. Their prayers for mercy were unheeded, and the decision as to their punishment was given into the hands of their bitter enemy Sad bin Mu’adh. This latter was, at the very time, suffering from wounds received in battle, and immediately advised that all the males over puberty should be slain, and the women and children given into slavery. Muhammad, upon hearing the verdict exclaimed:
حكمت بحكم الله.
‘Thou hast ordered according to the command of God’ (Tafsiru'l-Baidawi, p. 556 and Siratu'r-Rasul, vol. iii, p. 92). Trenches were forthwith dug in the bazaar at Madina, and between six hundred and nine hundred Jewish males were beheaded in cold blood. The number of the murdered is stated differently by different authors, due probably to the fact that the corpses were not counted, but only approximate estimates made of their number. The lowest number given is six hundred, whilst Ibn Hisham says that
المكثر لهم يقول كانوا بين الثمانمائة والتسعمائة.
‘he who amongst them estimates the number highest says they were between eight hundred and nine hundred.’ Then, proceeds the same biographer of the prophet,
إن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قسم أموال بني قريظة ونساءهم وأبناءهم على المسلمين.
‘The apostle of God divided the property of the Bani Quraiza and their wives and their children amongst the Muslims.’
The inhuman massacre narrated above, which has cast an indelible stain upon the character of Muhammad, is referred to thus in the Qur'an: ‘And He caused those of the people of the Book who had aided (the confederates) to come down from their fortresses, and He cast dismay into their hearts. Some ye slew. Others ye took prisoners. And he gave you their land and their dwellings and their wealth for an heritage—even a land on which ye had never set foot’ Qur'an Al-Ahzab 33:26-27. Amongst the share of the plunder claimed by Muhammad was a beautiful woman named Raihana, whose husband had just been murdered by the orders of her captor.
Another Jewish tribe to feel, later on, the heavy hand of Muhammad was that inhabiting the fertile oasis of Khaibar, situated about a hundred miles to the north of Madina. These Jews had done nothing to incur the resentment of the Muslims, but their wealth and prosperity were well known to the freebooters who now ruled over Madina, and a strong force under the leadership of the prophet himself was soon on its way to attack the unsuspecting Jews. The latter were overcome, and were compelled to hand over enormous booty to the conquerors. The latter allowed the Jews to remain in possession of their lands on the condition that one-half of the produce should be regularly remitted to Madina! The importance of this raid may be judged from the fact that Ibn Hisham devotes no less than eighteen pages to his account of the expedition and the events connected with it. One of the latter is of special interest, and may be mentioned here. It is related that the widow of one of the Jewish slain, named Zainab bint Harith, resolving to avenge herself upon Muhammad, cooked some mutton and having poisoned it placed it before him. Muhammad, as well as some of his companions, ate of the poisoned meat, and one of the latter died in consequence. Muhammad himself escaped death, though he suffered severe pains; and he was wont to declare that until the day of his death he felt the effects of the poison he had taken. When the woman Zainab was brought before Muhammad, the latter asked the reason for the attempt upon his life, and was met by the following reply:
فقلت إنْ كان ملكاً استرحت منه وإنْ كان نبياً فسيُخبر.
‘I said (to myself) “If he is (only) a king, we shall be rid of him; but if he is a prophet, then he will be informed (regarding the poison).”’
Another event indicating the hostility of Muhammad and his party to the Jews is that relating to a Muslim named Tu'mah ibn Ubayriq, who, so the story goes, stole a coat of mail from a neighbour and hid it in a bag of flour. Tu'mah being suspected, he in conjunction with some others, 25 endeavoured to cast the blame upon an innocent Jew named Zayd ibn As-Samin. Muhammad himself, we are told, not wishing to punish his disciple, determined to make a scapegoat of the Jew by inflicting upon him the legal punishment for theft, namely, amputation of the hand. He was, however, miraculously restrained from carrying out his unjust intention and was ordered, instead, to ask pardon from God for his momentary weakness (Tafsiru'l-Baidawi on Qur’an An-Nisa’ 4:105).
Muhammad's latest utterances regarding the Jews and Christians were characterised by the deepest enmity and hostility. When he was a helpless and persecuted man at Mecca he could say, ‘Dispute not, unless in kindly sort, with the People of the Book, save with such of them as have dealt wrongfully with you, and say ye, “We believe in what hath been sent down to us, and what hath been sent down to you. Our God and your God is one, and to him are we self-surrendered.”’ At Madina, on the other hand, when he found himself a powerful chieftain surrounded by warlike Arabs, he addressed his followers thus, ‘Make war upon such of those to whom the Scriptures have been given as believe not in God, or in the last day, and who forbid not that which God and His Apostle have forbidden, and who profess not the profession of the truth, until they pay tribute out of hand, and they be humbled’ Qur’an At-Taubah 9:30.