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What Happened to the Jews of Arabia?


A story that should make every Jew shudder

Did you know that Saudi Arabia once hosted a thriving Jewish community? For almost a thousand years (three times longer than the Jews have been in America), Jews lived in the oases of Teyma, Khaybar, and Yathrib (later known as Medina), in the northern Arabian Peninsula. According to Dr. Hagai Mazuz, an Orientalist specializing in Arabic language, Islam, and Islamic culture, “The Jewish community of northern Arabia was one of the largest ancient Jewish communities in the history of the Jewish people.”1

They were powerful and wealthy. They were respected by the local Arabian tribes for their religion, culture, erudition, and literacy. They built castles on mountaintops and developed productive plantations. They had military prowess, horses, and advanced weaponry. And they were almost totally annihilated in the short span of a few years.

Their story should make every Jew shudder.

The Jews of Medina were divided into three groups: The Banu Qaynuqa were blacksmiths, weapon wrights, and goldsmiths. The Banu Nadir had date plantations. The Banu QurayUa were wine merchants. These groups often quarreled. Sometimes the hostility among them broke out into actual fighting.

When Mohammed fled from Mecca in 622, he went to Medina. At first, he entered into an alliance with the Jews. He studied in their study halls and adopted many of their customs into his incipient religion (e.g. not eating pork). But when, after two years, Mohammed could not convince the Jews to accept him as a prophet and convert to his religion, his attitude turned toward open hostility. He instructed his friends to murder and decapitate Ka’b Ibn al-Ashraf, a renowned Jewish poet and chief of the Banu Nadir (date farmers tribe), and ordered his followers, “Kill every Jew you can.” 2

Mohammed then besieged the Banu Qaynuqa (blacksmith tribe), knowing that the other two Jewish tribes would not come to their aid. Although the Banu Qaynuqa were proficient warriors, the lack of food and water due to the siege weakened them to the point of surrender.

Stop the story here! If I were reading a Hollywood screenplay that developed like this, I would reject it as unrealistic and absurd. Here the protagonist, Mohammed, has openly declared his intention to kill every Jew. And he has started his killing campaign with the grisly beheading of the head of the date famers tribe.

Is Jewish unity such a bitter pill that Jews would rather swallow cyanide?

Mohammed’s forces at that point were weaker than the combined Jewish forces would have been. Why didn’t the date farmers and the wine merchants unite to break the siege and save the blacksmiths? How could they sit on their hands and let their brethren perish? Even if they hated their fellow Jews, surely they should have realized that uniting in order to eradicate the murderous Mohammed’s forces would be in their long-term self-interest. And these are supposed to be smart Jews? With a sneer, I would toss this screenplay into the wastebasket.

History, however, is less sensible than Hollywood. The other two Jewish tribes did nothing to save the Jewish blacksmiths. After the surrender, Mohammed wanted to slaughter the vanquished tribe, but his ally Abdullah Ibn Ubayyy prevented the massacre, and instead they were exiled to Edri (now in Jordan).


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