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Bani Qurayza: Details of the Islamic Genocide of the Jews by Prophet Muhammad

In this study, I will discuss the genocide of the Jewish tribe of Bani Qurayza by the prophet of Islam and the consequent moral implications. I will organize the flow of this study as follows:

1. Prelude to a genocide: Bani Qainuqa

2. Background on the Bani Qurayza incidents

3. Muhammad attacks Bani Qurayza

4. Who is Sa’d Bin Mu’ad?

5. Bani Qurayza genocide

6. Can there be a sufficient apologetic defense to this massacre?

7. Muslim apologetics

a. Bassam Zawadi

8. A look to the future



Prelude to a genocide: the Siege of Bani Qainuqa

In 624 AD, Muhammad laid a siege upon the Jewish tribe of Bani Qainuqa. The siege lasted 15 days, after which the Qainuqa tribe unconditionally surrendered to Muhammad’s forces. One, who reads the narrations from authentic Islamic sources about the Qainuqa incidents, cannot deny the fact the Muhammad intended to behead all adult males of that tribe, and intended to enslave the women and children and take over their wealth. However, Muhammad was not strong enough yet in Medina, where he had emigrated to less than two years earlier (622 A. D). At the time of the Qainuqa incident, the powerful local leader of Medina was Abdullah bin Ubayy, chief of the Khazraj clan. He was a man of high status and was regarded as the city’s chief at the time of Muhammad’s arrival, although his power gradually declined thereafter with Muhammad’s rise. Nonetheless, Muhammad had to pay regard to Abdullah’s position and power, especially during his early years in Medina.

Arab tribes in those days used to form alliances with each other as part of their coexistence, as well as for mutual support in conflict situations. During the Qainuqa incident, Abdullah Bin Ubayy’s Khazraj tribe was an ally of Qainuqa. In a previous conflict, Abdullah’s own life was saved by Qainuqa warriors. So, when Muhammad started preparation to slaughter the Qainuqa men, Abdullah Bin Ubayy firmly intervened on their behalf. The following Sirat quote is very telling of Ibn Ubayy’s relation to the Qainuqa, and of Muhammad’s evil intentions to slaughter them:

Abdullah b. Ubayy b. Salul went to him when God had put them (the Qainuqa tribe) in his power and said, ‘O Muhammad, deal kindly with my clients’ (now they were allies with Khazraj),but the apostle put him off. He repeated the words, and the apostle turned away from , whereupon he thrust his hand into the collar of the apostle’s robe; the apostle was so angry that his face became almost black. He said, ‘confound you, let me go.’ He answered, ‘No, by God, I will not let you go until you deal kindly with my clients. Four hundred men without mail and three hundred mailed protected me from all mine enemies; would you cut them down in one morning? By God, I am a man who fears that circumstances may change.’ The apostle said, ‘You can have them.’ (Ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 363)

The above quote makes Muhammad’s intentions of slaughtering them en-masse clear. To save the lives of his allies, Ibn Ubayy firmly demanded of Muhammad that another option be given to them. He was not going to let Muhammad kill them all in cold blood.

History tells us that Muhammad, in face of Abdullah’s firm intervention, decided to expelled the Qainuqa tribe from Medina, which saved their lives. Although Muhammad took over their homes and property, he still suffered a substantial loss by failing to enslave the women and children.

Baun Qainuqa, thus, survived Muhammad’s worst evil, a fate that Banu Qurayza also desired at a later time but was not granted.


Background of the Bani Qurayza incidents

After Muhammad’s emigration to Medina, its Pagan inhabitants easily accepted Islam, but not the Jews. Well-versed in Abrahamic doctrines, they debated and scrutinized Muhammad’s religious doctrines and discovered various errors in his verses. Thus, they thought Muhammad was an imposter, not a true prophet. So they rejected his message. Because of religious disagreements and the Jews’s refusal to embrace Islam, Muhammad and his community became hostile toward the Jews of Medina.

There were three major Jewish tribes in Medina: Bani Qaynuqa, Bani Al-Nadir, and Bani Qurayza. As Muhammad grew stronger in Medina, and realizing that the Jews were not going to accept him as a prophet, his Qur’anic verses started becoming increasingly hostile towards people of the book (the Jews and the Christians). He also changed the Muslim prayer direction (called “Qibla” in Islam) from Jerusalem to Mecca.

In any case, Muhammad expelled the first two Jewish tribes – Bani Qaynuqa as well as Bani Al-Nadir – as he failed to genocide them due to intervention of powerful Abdullah ibn Obayy. In both occasions, Muhammad enriched himself and his community by capturing the wealth of those two rich Medina tribes. Bani Qurayza was the last major Jewish tribe left in Medina. In 627 AD, the stage was set for Muhammad to get rid of the last Jewish tribe of Medina. It was going to make him richer and stronger. So, why not?

The Meccans had had enough of the raiding and plundering of their commercial caravans by Muhammad’s robbing gang. So they came out to Medina to finish off Muhammad and his gang. They laid siege upon the community of Muhammad for a few weeks. As Muslims had dug a deep trench around their abode, which the Meccans could not overcome, they eventually had to withdraw the siege without achieving their goals. This came to be known as the Battle of the Trench (Al-Khandaq, A.D 627). After the Meccans were gone, words came to Muhammad that the Meccans were seeking the help of Banu Qurayza against him, and that Bani Qurayza had planned to extend their support. In reality, although a negotiation apparently did take place, Banu Qurayza never came to help the Meccans, thus staying true to their agreement with Muhammad not to help his enemies. The Meccan army did not make any attack on Muhammad’s community from the Bani Qurayza area of control, a testament to the fact that Bani Qurayza did not aid the Meccans during the Battle of the Trench.

In any case, this is one area of Arab history, where I wish there were people living in Mecca and Medina who documented such incidents and were neutral, or even anti-Muslim with regard to religious beliefs. The problem is that all we know about early Islam came to us from Islam-friendly sources. Imagine! All those horror stories we know about early Muslims came to us from Muslim-friendly sources! Those who refused Islam got killed, no questions asked. Saying negative things about Muhammad or Islam was no simple matter. Muhammad ordered the assassination of a hundred plus years old man, Abu Afak, just because he said some “not very nice things” about Muhammad. And when a mother of five, Asma Bint Marwan, heard of that and said some “negative” things about Muhammad, he ordered her assassination too. The assassin had to move away her nursing baby from her chest to be able to kill her. When you are talking about Muhammad and his Sahaba, you’ll be amazed at what that evil group of men can do. It is important for us to remember that even if the Qurayza tribe conspired against the Muslims, they never attacked or harmed any of them. And it is still true that no Meccan managed to get through to Medina and attack the Muslims through the area controlled by Bani Qurayza.

Again, I wish that we had more historical details about what exactly happened, but we don’t. If one is to rely on only Muslim-friendly sources, she probably won’t get the full story.

In any case, moving back to our story: When the Meccans left, Muhammad went home and started taking a bath during which a divine revelation came telling him to attack Bani Qurayza and get rid of them, and take all of their belongings:

Bukhari: Volume 4, Book 52, Number 68:

Narrated ‘Aisha: When Allah’s Apostle returned on the day (of the battle) of Al-Khandaq (i.e. Trench), he put down his arms and took a bath. Then Gabriel whose head was covered with dust, came to him saying, “You have put down your arms! By Allah, I have not put down my arms yet.” Allah’s Apostle said, “Where (to go now)?” Gabriel said, “This way,” pointing towards the tribe of Bani Quraiza. So Allah’s Apostle went out towards them.


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